Index of slides from this report.
Sailing to NoumeaOur plan was to grab a relatively light NW'ly - caused by a front pushing through south of LHI - use it to get a little east of the great circle to Noumea and then let the veering to the W, then SW start to push us north.
Day 1 - WednesdayWe motored out of the lagoon in calm conditions, raising main and spinnaker as soon as the NW wind made itself felt, around 10am. We spend a sunny afternoon under spinnaker making better and better speed as the NW wind built towards 12 knots. We doused the spin just after sunset but opted for full main as the conditions seemed stable.
In contrast to the feeble and fleeting crescent of the trip to Lord Howe, we had a spectacular full moon, quite appropriately "comme le point sur un i." Malheureusement pour nous, l'ivresse de notre bateau etait borné a un seul ballon pendant le déjeuner. Medically necessary, as it promotes the taking of an afternoon nap. Anyway, the moon was absolutely brilliant.
Day 2 - ThursdayKarin came on watch at 10pm but it wasn't until 3am, when winds rapidly built to 20 knots, that we tucked in the second reef in hopes of salvaging some sleep. We'd been averaging 9 knots all night which made for a bouncy ride. After a couple of hours of 15 - 20, the winds dropped back down to 10 - 15 and started veering more west and then west-south-west.
We ran fast all morning, putting down a boat-record noon-noon run of 220 miles. Under the feeble assumption that bad weather, like the state patrol, would be reluctant to pursue us across borders, it was nice to be well north of the border between the Tasman and Coral seas.
Winds moderated and moved SW as the day wore on, leaving us with just 8 knots at nightfall. Since we no longer in danger from unruly Tasman weather, we decided to put in the first reef for the night.
Day 3 - FridayThankfully, it was a restfull night with winds staying around the 8-knot mark all night. It clouded over and started to rain but that didn't stop us both from getting a good night's sleep.
At sea, one day seems to blend seamlessly into the next. Time is marked only by the little rituals of passage, morning coffee, the thrice-hourly summons of the egg timer, plotting a position on the chart (every 4 hours). Without consulting the log, I have trouble remembering whether it was yesterday or the day before that we had the kite up but, I find that I start looking forward to morning coffee at about noon the day before.
At some point, we expected winds to change from the W/SW/S at the bottom of the high preassure we were sailing across, to SE or E at the top. The barometer was no help as it had been nearly flat the entire trip. I'd vaguely expected at least a few hours of doldrums in the middle of the high, but the wind just veered sharply over the course of an hour, making a neat right angle in the GPS track that we gaped at for half an hour before deciding that this was indeed the change and jibing over to resume our old course.
There's this magic to driving the spinnaker. The ideal is to keep the luff (front edge of the sail) quivering, just starting to curl over. Sounds easy, but it involves constant, subtle adjustments to the helm. Initially, I usually overcompensate one way and then the other, but after half an hour or so of fumbling around I can find "the groove" and am able to keep the boat above 1.5 times windspeed for minutes at a time by making only the tiniest corrections with the helm. The feeling is addictive and keeps me hand steering for hours. It is also very comfortable as the boat pretty much runs with the waves. At 5:30 after a particularly long and whooshing run Karin came out of the cabin and informed me that running 16.5 knots in the gathering dusk in the middle of the Coral Sea might be considered pushing one's luck just a bit too hard.
We stowed the spin. and, a few hours later, reefed for the night.
Day 4 - SaturdayAt sea, one day seems to blend seamlessly into the next. Time is marked only by the ... See what I mean?
Current? I am shocked, shocked to find a contrary current. But what else could explain this persistent discrepancy between boat speed and GPS? I can't think of anything so irritating as having the SOG readout of 7 knots burst the bubble of self congratulation that I gleefully inflated after trimming up the boat for a steady 9 knots of boatspeed.
The day was frustrating in other respects as well. For much of the (early) morning we'd sailed through rain squalls which played havoc with the wind direction. Just when one was irritated to the point of going out and retrimming the sails the winds would snap back to the SE. We motored for a few hours around mid day and I think it was this act of disdain which caused the winds to blow vigorously out of the SE for the next few hours.
Everyone is busy with time/distance calculations involving various malign wind shifts (or motoring) as we've only got 140 miles or so to go. We would have liked to run with full main for at least part of the night, but the recent history of squalls and sudden wind shifts argued against it, so we reefed for the night. After reading and re-reading all the various guides, I changed the waypoint from Dumbea to Boulari as the latter seemed more widely recommended. Saves us 2 miles, too.
Day 5 - Sunday
This sort of situation gives one a new appreciation for the GPS. We'd been almost sailing 48 hours since the last opportunity for a celestial fix an we were looking for a reef pass about half a mile wide on a cloudy, hazy day. The traditional way of solving this problem would be to introduce a bit of error into the course, so instead of aiming right at the Amedee light one would aim 5 or 10 miles south of it and then turn north as soon as the reef was sighted. If you were unlucky enough not to sight the reef during the day, you'd need to heave to overnight. The only nice thing about the situation was that the wind was offshore.
Thankfully, the winds picked up to 10 - 15 knots out of the ESE and we made good time toward the Passe de Boulari under first reef. We sailed through just about noon ship's time (11am local time). There's a bit of a dog-leg between Amedee and a nearby reef and then pretty much a straight shot north, 15 miles, to Noumea. Endless Summer skipped along through the light chop in the lagoon while we gawked at the new landscape.
Interestingly enough, the French seem to request that one fly both a courtesy flag, and, a Q flag when clearing in. The Australians were quite clear that one flew only a Q flag when clearing in and then a courtesy flag after. There is a certain pleasing binaryness about the latter arrangement, the Q flag meaning: "I want to come visit your country" and the courtesy flag meaning: "I am legally (and courteously) visiting having completed whatever formalities are required." Ever the cultural imperialist, I stuck with my version.
I think that the log may be reading a little fast, however, I am confident that naturally occuring marine growth will soon bring it into line.
NoumeaUpon arrival, the marina wrote us out a certificate for free drinks at "Le bout du monde" ("The end of the world") which they were pleased to point out was just across the street. The local beer here is called "1". There must be some navigational relationship between that and the "33" available in France but I can't smoke it out.
Our newfound lattitudinal bliss lasted almost exactly 18 hours at which point Nicoline grumbled that it was "just a bit too hot." But the weather is really ideal, 16° at night and up to 26° or so during the day.
New Caledonia uses the French Pacific franc, for some reason abbreviated as "CFP," which is delightfully reminiscent of the old French francs. The larger bills are the size of small bath towels, though not as absorbant. 1 CFP is almost exactly 1¢ so converting prices is easy.
While Ozzies have discrete 2 and 3 litre boxes of wine, here in New Cal one finds the practical French 5-litre size. Table wine is very good this year so there must be some problem of oversupply in the wind industry. Hic. Foi gras and goat's cheese, both in plentiful supply, are supposed to help the liver cope. The town market is right next door, every morning, and has just about everything imaginable, and several sorts of large tubers which aren't. We're able to live from day to day, walking no more than a few hundred metres. The kids have already been braced with the vocabulary necessary for purchasing bread and are sent out nearly every morning.
Fashion is at that awkward stage where a fashionable girl in low-waisted slacks and 4-inch heels might bump (with an audible frisson) into another fashionable girl in a high-waisted skirt and jewel-tone flats. Adding a touch of irony to all the decadent Euro-fashion are the mother hubbard dresses, near universal among the pious Kanak women.
A couple of berths down from us is a French cat named Cyrano. While one would expect it to have a bowsprit at least half the length of the boat, it has... none! The owners seem to compensate for it by decking the whole family out in matching sailor shirts. While it may, as a general rule, be impossible to indoctrinate one's children, we have succeeded to a certain degree. Steve Martin's adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, Roxanne, is a boat favorite. All of us howl with laughter at the mere approach of such lines as "I take a meat sandwich with me when I go," which now serves as slang meaning "I am about to do or have already done something really stupid."
Karin was laid low for a day by some sort of stomach flu which she combated in the traditional Dutch manner: by removing some glue from the door frame with naptha and giving one of the heads a savage cleaning. I suppose that the logic is similar to that which justifies drinking heavily during international flights: a hangover is not really that bad on top of jet lag. She was about to start on the second head when I sent her back to bed.
EvasionWe took the bus (ligne vert) to an out-of-town beach with a good restaurant and anchorage (Anse Kuendu). We asked the driver for the Anse Kuendu stop, but, mysteriously, he dropped us off at a fork in the road a kilometre or so from the beach. Since the bus took the left fork, we struck out on the right under the assumption that he had brought us as close as possible. Sure enough, the beach materialized out of "la brousse" and we spent a pleasant couple of hours there. Instead of walking back the way we came, we decided to try the coastal road indicated on the map at the Anse Kuendu bus stop which looked like it should connect to the neighborhood into which the bus had turned after it left us.
A ten minute walk down the indicated road brought us around to the neighborhood, but the road dead ended in an imposing security fence, the sort topped with inward leaning razor wire, usually indicative of a strong desire to prevent escape from within.
Since it was a long walk back, and it looked like one could skirt the fence and walk along the breach, we did so in hopes of finding a way to the bus stop. Oddly, the fence just stopped at a parking lot so we left the beach and wandered through a distinctly institutional looking campus. Pretty clearly we were in some sort of mental institution.
Having asked for directions from one of the more stable inmates, and having followed them, we found the main gate which was, thankfully, open and seemingly unattended. Fifty metres to go, and we saw the bus coming down the street. Throwing caution to the wind we broke into a disorderly gallop, waving at the driver to stop. That he did not immediately flee is a testament to the French sang froid.
"Nous ne sommes pas evadés" I gasped as we jammed our way, panting like dogs, through the door of the bus.