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Tuesday, October 31, 2000

November 1, 2000-Weekend Fun in New Caledonia

Windsurfer Boy

On the weekends the French residents of New Caledonia hit the water. This is a boater's paradise and the French upper class enjoy it to the max. Saturday we sailed WINGS to Baie Maa, just 10 miles north of Noumea. When we rounded the corner to enter the bay we saw 20 sailboats anchored and another 10 or so power yachts. Then as afternoon wore on the smaller boats showed up; at least a couple of dozen 20-30 footers with several towing water skiers. Baie Maa was nice but it seemed too crowded for us. Finally at 1:30 we upped anchor and motored another 10 miles over to Baie Papaye. There were a number of boats there too, but it was too late in the day for us to move further.

Anyhow, we know what happens on Sunday afternoon: before sundown the locals head home. One by one the powerboats and local sailboats upped their anchors and headed south to Noumea. By sunset there were a few boats left, cruising yachts mostly, and the bay was peaceful. A couple of dolphins cruised through and we sat in the cockpit watching them and enjoying the silence. On the hill above us we spotted a small herd of horses waiting at a gate to be let back to the barn. We listened to Neil Young on the outside speakers until it was dark, then a little longer.

The first time I was aboard WINGS at night was motoring through the Lake Union Ship Canal in June 1986. It was after work one night and we were moving WINGS from Lake Union through the locks to Shilshole Bay Marina, which would be our home for ten years once we moved aboard WINGS later that month. As we motored along I remember a thrill I had looking down from the deck into the cabin and seeing Judy moving around the galley in the light of the fixture on the forward bulkhead while I steered from the deck above. It thrilled me because it was ours and because it was a real ship. I stood on deck, in the darkness, near the main hatch, with the tiller extension in my hand, steering through the night, and while Judy, bathed in light, worked below. WINGS was a whole world which moved steadily through the darkness. My view that night was lights and bridge tenders and watching for kayaker's silhouettes in the city's lights reflected on the canal's rippled waters. Judy's world was light and cabin and the steady thrum of the engine. Together on that night, we were a team on our way to tomorrow. Now, 14 years later, as I stand on that same deck in a small bay outside of Noumea, Caledonia, 6000 miles away from Seattle, and 14 years later, not much has changed. Tonight we are not underway, we are anchored in Baie Papaye, in New Caledonia in the South Pacific, listening instead of the engine to Neil Young's mournful song on the outside speakers, But it is still WINGS and it is still Fred & Judy, it is still the same broad flat deck, the same unobstructed view forward, and below, even the same bulkhead light. Judy moves around with the same confidence that we are OK that she did those 14 years ago in the Lake Union Ship Canal. This is our life, and I feel so fortunate to have found it on that night all those years ago in Seattle...and to have it still now.

On Tuesday we motored out across the lagoon to a small desert island. Just a sand dune really with a few bushes on it. We thought it would be fun for some swimming and to play on the beach. Of course it rained and the wind blew from the wrong direction and we had to set our GPS on anchor watch that night in case the anchor didn't hold, which it did, but it was still an uncomfortable evening. Then the next day we noticed that we had a school of large Remoras under the boat. We lured them out with some left over couscous and counted about a dozen, each about three feet long. They are probably harmless but they look like sharks, and besides, don't they normally hang around with sharks? Nearby some other fish were making a fuss and thrashing up the water but we couldn't see what they were. Judy said she was ready to leave this place at any time, and she wasn't going swimming here. We moved on.
Baie de Vincent

On Wednesday we reached Baie St. Vincent, on the Southwest coast of New Caledonia. On Thursday we moved towards its desolate inner reaches, a huge, empty, yet beautiful bay of innumerable islands, small coves, and barren rounded hills. Much of Baie St. Vincent is shallow so you can't get too far into it. The whole area is surrounded by mountains. In this bay the silence and size of its emptiness overwhelmed us. Through 360 degrees we were surrounded by an unpopulated void. On the beach of the small island behind which we sought shelter from the persistent wind was a house, or more precisely, a corrugated iron lean to. However, it was unoccupied and for now at least, abandoned. In the far distance, beyond the edges of this bay, we saw in the surrounding mountains the occasional small speck which was a building, and among the lower hills, a row of transmission towers. But still, the distance which separated us from those signs of civilization, five to ten miles at least, made us feel alone. As night fell we played mournful eerie music on the stereo because it fit the surroundings, and we sat outside and watched the bay fall into empty darkness. A quiet mood fell over us. When it became black on the edges of our world, some of the distant specks turned into lights winking at us, and we knew that we were not really alone. To the southeast the clouds reflected a vague light, which we knew was Noumea, so we were not so far away after in the back of the vast South Pacific ocean, alone was still a relative concept.

Friday morning I got up before Judy, when daylight awakend me, and made coffee. Then I went on deck and coiled a few lines. Later we motored around the bay and explored it in detail, then sailed back to the desert island called Mbe Kouen to meet Ed & Julie on CINNABAR. Saturday we had a wonderful sail upwind in 20-22 knots, blue sky and blue seas, tacking behind the points to stay in flat water and get the lifts coming out. We made good time on some other boats going the same direction. It felt great. Now we are back in Noumea for the Pacific Arts Festival. We'll write to you to tell you how it was.

Click here for another photo
Click here for another one.

Fred & Judy SV Wings, New Caledonia


Monday, October 23, 2000

October 23, 2000-Noumea, New Caledonia


New Caledonia 10/18

Another month, another country. We arrived in Noumea, New Caledonia at 2:00 PM Tuesday, after a fast, if wet, 50 hour trip from Port Vila, Vanuatu. If our complaint about a "wet" passage is getting familiar to you, it is getting old to us. Once again we were getting splashed by big waves for far longer than we wanted and once again, too much of it got below and dripped all over everything. No permanent damage but we got some books soaked and a lot of laundry to do. So we have another "anti leak" campaign planned.

Noumea, totally French, is pretty big and absolutely modern and civilized. This is the biggest and most normal city we have seen in the Pacific outside of New Zealand. It looks like some kind of French flavored Southern California beach town, but big. And everything looks new. We've just got here and haven't yet had time to check it out much, but we will.

So we just wanted to let you know that we arrived safely, and we'll write more later.

New Caledonia 10/23

WINGS is tied securely to the dock in Noumea where we are enjoying the Pacific Arts Festival. A few thousand Pacific islanders from 23 island countries have come here to dance, sing, and display various native arts and crafts. A few hundred cruising yachts from all over the world have come here to flock in herds to the various festival venues, drink too much French wine, and spend too much money, but we love it!

We will write more later.

Fred & Judy, S/V Wings, Noumea


Tuesday, October 10, 2000

October 10, 2000-Waiting in Vanautu


Usually cruising boats in Vanuatu are waiting for something.

Waiting for mail, waiting for parts or, for a lot of us, waiting for the weather.

The problem is that the islands of Vanuatu lie in a string from Southeast to Northwest. The wind blows mostly from the Southeast. Going up the island chain is easy, coming back is not so easy. Sailing Southeast to Tanna Island or even South to New Caledonia is a wet beat in the typical Southeast Trades. So boats sit in harbors and ports throughout Vanuatu and watch the weather. If the Southeast Trades shift to Northeast, then there is a big exodus as they all try to get to the Southeast. Even if the wind just slackens a little people head out, figuring they can motor or beat into a light wind. This morning the wind was light and the weather report was for Northeasterlies. Several boats up and down the chain headed out going south to the next island or the next country.

On WINGS we are waiting too, but right now its not for the wind to change. We are waiting for our Monday dinner date on a boat called ONLY BLUE to try some of their famous curry. We are also waiting until Wednesday when our Australian visas will be ready. Then maybe we'll leave for New Caledonia or maybe we to will wait for weather.

Meanwhile we are enjoying our little Hideaway anchorage. Calm water, nice view, a pretty island close with a resort and restaurant and bar, and a long beach behind us where the surf breaks. Kind of a South Pacific Tennecatita. There is a school at one end of the beach and in the evenings the boys play basketball on an outdoor court there. We can hear the backboard rattle far into the night.

Today the sun was shining and we went for a snorkel on the reef nearby. It was great. We took some bread to feed the fish and it attracted several schools, some of some quite big fish. When a few dozen two footers came close to our masks with their mouths open it surprised Judy and she let out a yelp. Good thing she was on the surface at the time, yelping underwater leads to salt water in the mouth. Then we went to the shore and walked along the long white sand beach. There is a river mouth there and some local families were doing laundry. They smiled and said "Hi," and the naked kids splashed water on each other. Back on the boat we sewed some more on our torn genoa, and then went on deck to eat lunch and enjoy the sunshine. I heard some sails flapping, crisp like new dacron, and looked up to see a boat tack around and head back out of the bay. They had just come in for a look. I guess seeing another boat here they thought it was too crowded. It was an interesting boat however, low and flat and angular, like a Beeker design maybe, only the main and boom were more like BOC style, with the gooseneck on deck and the boom pointed up sharply. It looked brand new and too radical to be out here cruising, but here it was. A shirtless tanned young man in a ponytail was sailing it and when he tacked a woman's head appeared in the hatch. They went out around the island the hardened up heading for Vila. I watched until they came out behind the other side of the island to see how they looked going to weather. Against the tide and waves, with a small jib and a reefed main, they made steady, if slow, progress. I wished we were out there too to compare boat speed with them. I thought we could beat them to weather, which is true of most boats we see.

I swam from the boat to cool off after working on the sails, and I didn't put the swim ladder out. I wanted to practice climbing up the anchor chain then pulling myself over the bow pulpit. I thought it was a good test of my strength, good for my health. The joke was on me. I got up OK, but in doing so I kicked the side of the boat and agravated a sore toe, so now I am limping again. My strength seems OK, but my stupidity is superb.

In the evening, as light faded in Hideaway, we enjoyed a pleasant cocktail on deck. The colors went from brilliant greens, yellows, and whites to subdued blues and purples as twilight fell. There had been a number of families on the beaches all day, this being Sunday, and in the darkness we could still hear the sounds of children playing in the water. That sound is universal. We also listened to the basketball sounds from the schoolyard, those boys must be getting pretty good by now. We went below for dinner and after dinner we watched the Olympics closing ceremony on TV. At night the boat hardly moved in this quietest of anchorages, we slept well.

Fred & Judy, SV WINGS, Hideway Anchorage, Vanuatu


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