Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Season 3 Photo Journals

Season 3 Route

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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Dream Passage...So Far

Current Location: Underway from New Caledonia (day 3)
Current Position: 23°07.47' S 161°58.02' E
Next Destination: Bundaberg, Australia
Miles to Go: 545

If passages were always like this, then I can guarantee more people would be out sailing. I, the one who despises passages, can't believe how absolutely beautiful the last two days have been! Yesterday I told Chris that if everyday could be like this then I'd be willing to sail thousands upon thousands of miles. Alright, maybe I'm getting carried away, but, especially after the really crappy passage-making year we've been having, I'm just in shock of how great the conditions are.

We departed Noumea (New Calendonia) on Saturday morning. Once we were out of the pass, the winds were aft of the beam and we were cruising along under full main and jib at over 6kts. The seas were unbeleivably flat, and for the first time this year, they weren't confused; just nice little waves all rolling in from the same direction. To add to the already excellent conditions, the sun was out and there was barely a cloud in the sky. We lost the wind that night, having to motor 12 hours, but in really really flat seas. Yesterday was a repeat of Saturday; winds a bit lighter, seas absolutely flat, and everything aft of the beam. We had just enough wind to carry us along between 5 and 6 kts (we are trying to keep our boat speed average around 5.5 minimum so that we'll make it in to AU by Friday afternoon, thereby avoiding weekend overtime charges). By 10pm we'd once again lost the wind and had to motor until about 7 this morning. Today the winds are even lighter, so we are hoping for just a few more knots, but we are managing along nicely, even if slowly (only 4 - 4.5kts).

This is what sailing was meant to be. In the day the blue sky extends forever, merging with the dark blue sea. Chris and I sit on deck, enjoying the endless sun and relaxing with our books. At night the sky is lit with thousands of twinkling stars; endless galaxies stretching as far as the eye can see ... reminding us just how tiny of a spec Billabong is in this big 'ol universe of ours!

The forecast shows continued light winds, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that they'll be just enough to keep us under sail, but not so much to increase the seas. Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Continue reading "Dream Passage...So Far"...

Friday, October 27, 2006

New Caledonia

September 30 - October 27, 2006

It seems that our third year of cruising, was a tough year of sailing.  Starting with the passage down from Majuro we had a lot of weather work and a lot of wind.  It was never overly frightening ... not the kind of stuff that makes you worried about boat or life, but just tiring work, the kind of stuff that you just get plain sick-and-tired of.  The kind of stuff that, quit frankly, makes you want to stay put once you reach a destination.  I think that's what happened to us in New Cal anyway ... once we got to Noumea we were so happy to be relaxing on the dock, in the sunshine, not worrying about the weather, that we more or less found ourselves 'stuck'!  But if you're going to stick somewhere, Noumea seems as good of a place as any!

As I'm tired of bitching about all of our passages, you can refer to our Blog, if you haven't already read it, for a brief synopsis of the trip over from Vanuatu.  As noted, the only good thing about this passage was the delicious tuna we caught.

Unfortunately we were both quite sick upon arrival, and Chris remained sick for most of our first week there.  As we were at a 'real' dock for the first time in some while we took advantage of the facilities, especially the free flowing water!  We did mounds of laundry and gave Billabong a good wash down.  Chris got a kick out of my money saving tallies -- I would point out all the money we were 'saving' by doing the laundry by hand, cooking on the boat instead of eating out, and so on ... thereby justifying staying at the dock another day or two!!!

We thought Port Vila was decadent with the various restaurants and awesome cheese selection, but Noumea easily outdid Port Vila 10-times in the food department (and so began our steady weight gain as well)!  We did eat out a few times, and had to laugh when even the Chinese vendors served their dishes with a baguette (the French staple) on the side!  Luckily Noumea is pretty big, so we were doing quite a bit of walking which helped shed a few of the thousands of calories we were taking in!

On Thursday, the 5th, we visited the city museum and then bused out to the Cultural Center.  We found both places quite nice, but were disappointed in the lack of English information (or any non-French language).  It just seemed that these two places should at least be multi-lingual.  This was also the last time we'd venture out on the bus for any distance ... The buses had been on and off strikes over the last week (and we heard that this is always the case), we hadn't thought much of it because everything was running smooth that morning.  Well, just our luck the bus we need to get back to Noumea from the Cultural Center isn't running anymore, as they went on strike!  I suppose we could've just called a cab, but they are pricey, and we are not only cheap, but stubborn.  So we started by walking (trying to hitchhike, but no one would pick us up) out to the main road.  Once there we continued walking and hitching.  We stopped at another bus stop, thinking that a non-strike bus might be able to at least get us closer, while Chris and Island Sonata rested and read the schedule I continued to stand, thumb out next to the busy street.  Lucky Days, a guy pulled over.  I think he was shocked enough to see Chris was with me, but his eyes opened wide we he also saw John and MJ.  He was driving a small two-door car with an eight year old already in the passenger seat.  He told us to go ahead and try to cram in (which we did, quite funny when you consider John is over 6 feet, and the four of us were trying to fit in the back all together).  We were a bit concerned by the mass of empty, crushed beer cans on the floor, but our driver was currently drinking a Yahoo, so we hoped the cans were left over from a different day.  He didn't speak much English (and we speak no French), but he was extremely friendly and thrilled to learn we were on yachts.  He dropped us in town (which was out of his way) and we thanked him with some gasoline money (which he hadn't even asked for).

The next day a street fair of sorts was taking place.  It was mostly 'crap', but fun to walk along the stalls and listen to the loud & obnoxious music blaring away.  I saw a cute dress in one of the stalls and, in my newly learned French, asked how much it was.  And here-in lies the problem with only learning part of a language.  It was great that I could now ask the cost of something in French, but what to do when they reply in French and I know no numbers???  Luckily she also spoke some English.  I wanted to try the dress on, which they said was okay, but there was no place to go ... just here she told me.  Here???  I was standing in a very open stall in the middle of the street with tons of people walking past.  Ah yes, the difference between most of the world and Americans ... we are such a conservative, reserved culture when it comes to our bodies and nakedness!  Anyway, I scurried into a corner and tried to get on the dress, over my shorts and with my bra still on.  Well, the ladies were clearly laughing because I was so modest, and I joined in.  It was a halter-top dress and my bra was just not looking right, so the ladies had me take it off too.  Well, I didn't end up buying the dress, but the changing in public was a first for me (post-adolescence anyway)!

On Monday, we were thrilled when Convergence showed up as we hadn't seen them since the previous year and weren't sure if we'd meet up this year or not.  We decided to all go for dinner that night ... and learned yet another thing about the French, they tend to be closed on random days!  After much walking Sally-Christine finally spotted a open restaurant.  Chris and I were only mildly embarrassed that after being in Noumea for over a week we still didn't know where anything was or when they were open!

Tuesday we took a car trip with Jean and Mark on Renaissance 2000.  It was a great way to explore part of the island ... and even better that we could do it without moving Billabong!  We had some great views (such as pictured right), found a terrific spot for lunch, and got a glimpse of the huge nickel plant.

Thursdays the city centre park hosts a number of stalls, varying from food to crafts and with some type of performance going on.  We heard it was 'hit or miss' ... as you never knew who or what would be there.  With rain looming in the sky we went to check it out.  It was pretty low key, but there was some tasty food, including a traveling wood stove for pizzas.  The rain finally hit so we called it a night without waiting for the local entertainment. (We also went a few Thursday later, and were overwhelmed by the number of people that were there.  We once again enjoyed the huge range of food, and this time took in a bit of the entertainment which included dancers from Tahiti).

Sunday we attempted to eat out again ... this time with Dave & Judy on Freebird.  They always seem to know where to eat, so we trusted they knew where to go.  Hah!  Turns out even fewer things are open on Sunday than Monday ... unless you have a car and can get to the tourist drag (which we didn't).  After discovering the one restaurant we were trying was closed, we looked for a cab and when none appeared we started sticking out our thumbs.  We weren't having much luck when a couple in the apartment above the corner from where we were standing saw us and asked what we were doing.  We asked if they would possibly call us a cab, and were completely shocked when instead they came down and gave us a ride!!!

After two weeks in the marina, we figured we should get out and 'do' something.  Not yet convinced we wanted to go anywhere far (as eventually, either going or coming back we'd have to beat into it), we opted to go out to Isla Mate, a small island just three miles from Noumea.  The backside of the island is a huge kite & wind boarding haven.  I didn't feel confident enough to give it another go, but Chris spent a few days of the week trying to remember how it all worked (we hadn't kite boarded since La Paz, Mexico).  He did pretty well, but ended up hurting his ribs a few days into it, forcing him to call it quits.  Our friends on Ram, Roxanne, Freebird, and Traveler were all out there as well, so we enjoyed a few drinks, and games aboard the various boats.  I spent a lot of timing baking and cooking it began to dawn on me how much food we had that would not be allowed in Australia (mainly honey, cashews, and dried cranberries).  In order to spread the calories, I'd send Chris out to the other boats every afternoon with the treats.  The other source of entertainment were the gigantic Remoras.  Until then all of the remoras we had seen were quite small and usually attached to small-ish sharks (under 6 feet).  These remoras were so big that at first I thought they were sharks (I'd hate to see the size sharks these guys attach to)!!!  And they are quite aggressive, going after the various scraps Chris and I would throw over.

Isla Mate gets cram-packed over the weekend.  Tons of boats flood from the city, out to enjoy a bit of R&R and get in some kite/wind boarding.  On Sunday afternoon the anchorage again clears out as everyone heads home.  What was particular 'funny' about Sunday (the 22nd), was that just prior to the boats heading in, a VHF Securit√© message came on.  It was, of course, all in French, except one word which doesn't translate ... Cyclone.  Well, if you didn't know any better it would seem quite frightening to hear the word Cyclone and then see all these boats head back to the marinas!  Luckily we have other methods of getting weather and were able to figure out that Cyclone Xavier had just formed, north of Vanuatu.  Directional predictions were not yet in.  Monday, we thought it wise to get a slip in the marina before they all filled up ... '"just in case".  We just got one of the last slips in Port de Sud (pictured right).  The next few days were focused on weather and Xavier ... everyone trying to predict where it would go.  I don't think we ever were too worried about it hitting New Cal, but the marinas did start to get out the cyclone chains!  We were however quite concerned for the number of boats up in Luganville, Vanuatu, and for the islanders themselves.  Luckily Xavier missed most of Vanuatu and Fiji and finally died out.

We finally decided that, while we would be missing out on some great sites, we just didn't want to beat to weather anymore, and therefore didn't really want to go anywhere else in New Caledonia.  With that decision made we opted to join the Port to Port Rally, a free rally hosted by the Bundaberg Yacht Club, traveling from either Vanuatu or New Cal to Bundaberg, Australia.  On Saturday October 28th, we departed Noumea for Bundaberg.
Continue reading "New Caledonia"...

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Off to Oz

Current Location: Noumea, New Caledonia
Current Position: 22°16.65' S 166°26.42' E
Next Destination: Bundaberg, Australia
We've had a great time in New Cal. The sun has been shining, the food has been excellent, and the kite-boarding fantastic ... and thankfully the tropical cyclone, Xavier, never made it down this far! But all good things come to an end, and in our case lead to other good things! Tomorrow (Saturday the 28th here in New Cal) or Sunday, we're off for Bundaberg, Australia.
It's about six or seven days ... we'll try to post something along the way. Wish us luck fishing!

Continue reading "Off to Oz"...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sunshine Days

Current Location: Noumea, New Caledonia
Current Position: 22°16.65' S 166°26.42' E
Next Destination: Undecided, New Caledonia

I am loving the weather here in Noumea. After months of clouds and rain in both Fiji and Vanuatu, the endless sunshine that has beamed down on us since arriving in New Cal is most welcome. On top of that a cool breeze seems to continuously blow, perfecting the temperature such that even the likes of Goldilocks couldn’t complain!

Living dockside these last few days has also been terrific. No wet dinghy rides, no “car-pooling” or schedule synchronization. We just step right off and on and come and go as we please, either together or separate, no longer having to coordinate with each other. Our location is ideal too … just a few short blocks from the city center. Shopping and sites mere minutes away.

The only huge downer is that Chris has remained off and on sick, so we’ve yet to really be able to explore and take advantage of our great location and the ideal weather.

The language barrier can also be a bit frustrating – very few people speak English, and I only know about three words in French. I had an especially comically time at the outdoor veggie market today. MJ (Island Sonata) and I walked over just to grab a few items. I didn’t have any change or super small bills, but the market here is a bit more ‘advanced’ and hoppin’ then other countries, so I thought I’d be alright. First stop was some terrific looking vine-tomatoes. I grabbed three, the vendor weighed them and I saw the price of 144 (which is roughly about $1.50 US). I pulled out a 1000 bill (about $10 US), and asked, “Change?”. The lady gave me a strange look and shook her head no. I was a bit surprised because 1000 isn’t really that much, but figured maybe she was just a small vendor and business had been slow. Not having anything smaller, MJ spotted me some change. On to another vendor …. this time I’ll buy a few more things so I can get change. I pick out some onions and garlic, and he shows me the price on the calculator (as neither of us can communicate the price) – 680. Ahh perfect! I try to hand him my 1000 bill, but he shakes his head no. What?, I’m thinking and re-look at the numbers of the bill thinking that perhaps I grabbed a 10000 instead of a 1000 ($100 US vs $10). Nope I hadn’t. I kind of look at him again and he still shakes his head no, almost looking at me in slight disgust. Gee, well fine, I can’t believe he doesn’t have some 400 in change, so whatever I think and we move on, telling him we can’t buy it then. By now I’m a bit frustrated, I mean, what’s the deal, I’ve got to have the exact amount??? I’m not giving up yet, we move on, but this time before I pick out my desired capsicums (bell peppers) I pull out the 1000 and ask, “This ok?”. The lady shakes her head no. UGH! But with my wallet open she can see inside and points at my money. So I start digging through it, only seeing larger sized bills, but she is adamantly pointing, so I’m still looking. I pull out another 1000 and she still shakes her head no and points. But there’s nothing smaller in here! Finally I just hold out my wallet and tell her to show me, and she touched another 1000 bill. I just don’t get it, I’m thinking, and say to MJ, “But it’s the sa….” and that’s when I notice that the color and texture between the two 1000 bills is different. A closer inspection and I’m feeling like quite the fool… my other two 1000 are Vanuatu money!!! Neither MJ or I had noticed and the other vendors didn’t speak enough English to tell me …. no wonder they thought I was nuts … trying to pay in New Cal with Vanuatu money! Well, I was able to pay for my capsicums and then went laughing back to the onion/garlic guy and showed him my French money and laughed, gesturing dramatically to let him know I knew what a fool I was. He instantly smiled and laughed along, handed me my items and, still laughing, my change …. in Pacific French Francs!

Continue reading "Sunshine Days"...

Monday, October 02, 2006

Getting to Noumea, New Caledonia

Current Location: Noumea, New Caledonia
Current Position: 22°16.65' S 166°26.42' E
Next Destination: Undecided, New Caledonia

Billabong's crew is getting just a wee-bit tired of weather work. It seems this season has been full of it, and honestly it is wearing me down! Not only that but the winds have been higher this year too ... 15-20 if we're lucky, and even then always closer to the 20 knots (which when beating into it is closer to 25 apparent). I long for some aft of the beam, 15 knots apparent, sailing. I know what you are thinking -- stop your bitching, look at where you are! And thankfully that is my saving grace, so far every destination has been worth the effort and sea-sickness to get there.

We spent five, mostly rainy, days in Revolieu Bay trying to get a somewhat decent weather window for the beat back to Port Vila. Finally on the 22nd we were off .... a 12 hour sail against the winds, but luckily in not-to-bad of seas.

We spent a week wrapping up errands around town and on the internet, while waiting for another weather window to get us to New Cal. Early morning on the 28th, we released the mooring and headed towards New Caledonia.

Port Vila to Noumea is another 'beat', we waited for the winds to clock as much as we thought they would and then left in time to hopefully arrive before they clocked South. Our first day out was hell ... and I don't feel as though that is an exaggeration. We had 25+ knots at 55 degrees, with big confused seas. We were tossed and thrown all over the place and continuously punched our bow. Waves threw themselves into our cockpit, and green water ran down the rails, spilling over to the cockpit floor. For the first time we actually took a few waves directly into the cockpit, leaving standing water (even if only a few inches)! I was the sickest I think I've ever been, both nausea and a splitting headache that I'm sure went beyond migraine status. Chris was a trooper and let me lay like a dead fish, barely moving but to let him know I was okay.

Renaissance 2000 had departed the day before us, and on the SSB reported that the first 24 hours was bad, but everything had smoothed out by the second morning .... so there was hope that all would be better "soon". The first night Chris took all the watches, as for only the second time in our three years, I was, as Chris put it, "driving the porcelain bus"!

True to prediction, the following morning was ten-times better, with flatter seas from a single direction. By night fall things were nearly peaceful and the sailing was terrific. We were sailing with 15 knots, at about 65 degrees. I was able to take watch and give Chris a near solid 6 hours of sleep (as solid as one can get aboard a moving sailboat anyway). At 5am, during Chris' watch, we caught a big-eyed tuna (about 30-35 lbs). Surprisingly I didn't mind getting up to help bring the guy aboard -- happy knowing that not only would we be docked or anchored that afternoon but we'd also be having a terrific Sushi dinner!

We couldn't believe the beautiful mountains and landscape as we sailed to Noumea. And as we rounded the last 'corner' the gigantic city emerged before us -- boy was it big. We had known Noumea was great for kite boarding, but we hadn't expected 30+ kite boarders along with numerous wind surfers to be zooming about. By 3pm we were relieved to finally be safely docked and ready to relax. Both of us were feeling a bit under the weather, but we still had to get through the check-in procedures. We lucked out with one of the easiest quarantine searches we've been through, perhaps because it was after 5 on a Saturday night. We'd heard rumors that the quarantine lady was quite strict and would search out our frig in detail ... however she barely glanced into our fridge & cupboards.

That evening was calm and relaxing, we enjoyed the stillness of the marina along with the continuous flowing hot water showers! Unfortunately we were both a bit sick, especially Chris with a low-grade fever and shivers.

Sunday was a combination of relaxation and chores. Chris was still sick, so spent a huge portion of the day in bed, while I took advantage of endless fresh water, to wash down the boat and do laundry.
I still can't believe how big of a city Noumea is ... no doubt a culture shock. And with that
big city comes big city French prices. On one hand you can buy just about any meat, cheese or vegetable, but on the other hand most of it is beyond our budget! It's especially shocking after the low market prices in Port Vila. It's weird to be somewhere with so many white faces -- even if they are still speaking a different language. And, as with the other French countries we've visited, Noumea is ALL French and nothing but French!!! So far French Polynesia and Noumea are the only tourist areas we've been where signs, pamphlets, etc are not in more than one language .... it makes it a bit tough to get around, but we're making due and dusting off the French dictionary!

Continue reading "Getting to Noumea, New Caledonia"...