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.

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