New Caledonia 2003
Wow, we’ve certainly entered a different part of the Pacific here. There are cars driving around the atolls, high rise hotels in the capital city Noumea, and a cosmopolitan mix of a young, fashionable French community. Very far from tribal village life in Vanuatu. It’s a good half way point for us before we immerse ourselves back in the modern world of New Zealand in December.
We had a long passage from Papua New Guinea, spending 22 days at sea before reaching land at Vanuatu. We had the company of the wandering ocean birds as we crossed the Solomon Sea, and occasionally the large birds would rest awhile on our solar panels and take a break from their long flight. When the squalls came upon us in the night we dropped the sails while they howled over us, and the birds fortunate enough to be close to Moet would take shelter on our decks until the winds had passed, huddling down low to take refuge from the angry weather.
It was good to have some more time in Vanuatu, and one of the highlights of our return was a 2 day hike into the hills of Santo island, to stay in a custom village. We were accompanied by our local friend, Vira, who knew the area and its languages very well, and he took us across huge rivers, jungle covered hills, and through isolated villages where the men wore only loincloths, and the women just a few leaves around their waist – hardly sufficient even to be called a grass skirt. The hospitality was incredible, in every village we stopped for a bowl of kava and some laplap (island dish made from pounded cassava and coconut), and the villagers asked Vira questions about us and where we had come from. They were fascinated to hear we were people of the sea and had traveled amongst many of the Pacific countries, and were keen to hear how the people of these other countries lived.
The village where we spent the night was at the top of a high mountain; the area around the huts had been cleared of grass, and the soil was a deep red colour and cracked from the heat of the sun. They were having a festival to celebrate their belief of eternal life, which consisted of dancing day and night for several weeks. The musicians banged bamboo poles on huge wooden slabs, and the dancers ran in a circle around the group, whooping and chanting.
After we returned to Vira’s house, his wife taught me how to weave a basic palm frond basket. We made several large ones, then Vira and his brothers filled them with yams and bananas and other gifts from their gardens. Since we had been to their home and their village we invited them to Moet to see how we lived. Vira, his wife Faye, and their 5 children all stayed on board for 2 nights – that’s 9 people on a 12m boat, just over a metre each! The children were really excited to be sleeping in little bunks and the older boys piled in together. We went for a sail across the small channel and let everyone have a turn at the helm.
But now, back to New Caledonia, where we arrived in July after a very rough passage from Santo. The seas were huge with breaking crests which dumped masses of blue water on top of us, and it felt as if we were literally being thrown from one wave to another at times. It was the sort of passage that made us swear we would sell the boat at the next port! But a ferro-cement boat has the advantage of being heavy, and therefore relatively stable in rough seas, and we felt we were in safe hands. It sometimes seems amazing the forces that act upon the boat and how everything holds together!!
Being so much further south than we have been, it suddenly feels very cold here (its still 70 degrees plus, but I guess its just what you’re used to!), and we rarely go in the water without wetsuits. The watersports here are fantastic. I have to let you in on a secret – the surfing is incredible. There are literally miles of perfect reef breaks, and all completely uncrowded. The weekends sometimes attract a few local surfers, but the rest of the time it is an untouched paradise. This morning we were in the water and there were only the dolphins surfing in the water with us. Magical. We have been spending time with some old friends Josh and Nelia on ‘Caledonia’, and Frans and Josh have been surfing and windsurfing nearly every day. Frans is currently resting from all the activity, as he has a broken rib from a surfing accident. Fortunately Josh and Sasha were on hand to help him out, and he should be back on his board in a few weeks – and in the meantime is acting as surf cameraman using Josh’s little digital camera which has a 3 minute video option –perfect for filming those waves!
We also met up with Cindy Mosey, who is the women’s world champion kitesurfer. Frans bought his first kite from her (part traded for some flexible watertanks!) and was given his first lesson. New Caledonia has some amazing kitesurfing potential, and we hope to come back and organize some trips here.
I am writing this next part from New Zealand – which is very cold as it’s nearly winter here – and it’s hard trying to remember just what life was like in the tropics!
We had our first family visit whilst in New Caledonia. My (Sylvia’s) dad and his partner Margaret came to stay with us for 3 weeks in August to see what cruising life was all about. It was their first travel so far from home and I think many of their friends had not even heard of New Caledonia before! So from a hectic 9-5 schedule and a comfortable home in England, they came to the free and easy sailing community and the simple life of boats. Dad was quite impressed that there were plenty of people his own age, his peers, people just like him, doing this too – often on boats smaller than our own. He was amazed by the friendliness and intimacy amongst the cruising community as we were often being invited over to other boats for evening drinks. I liked to see him experience a different way of life, and for him to see we were surrounded by good people.
We sailed to several islands, including a tiny uninhabited islet we named ‘Eagle island’ – though it could quite as easily have been named ‘Snake island’ as there were dozens of slithery trails along the beach. While being deadly poisonous, the sea snakes are very timid creatures and their mouths are too small to bite deeply so they are no real threat. Still, it’s unpleasant to walk along the beach on a dark night with them wriggling underfoot, hidden in the darkness!
Dad and Margaret adjusted well to boatlife – the way decisions are made and then changed as soon as the wind comes up from another direction. They experienced a typical ‘Moet’ bucket shower, helped haul up the anchor and take the helm, although we didn’t quite get them up the mast!
New Caledonia will always be a special place for us, as in September 2003 we discovered we were going to be parents! It really was a great start to pregnancy and for the new life growing inside me, being bathed by the sun and the tropical waters and living in our boat by perfect little islands. We have many friends who have young babies and children on boats and it seems like a wonderful way to raise a family. We are very much looking forward to this next stage in life.