Day 180, Year 2: WAG or SWAG

Day 180, Year 2: WAG or SWAG
Date: Sunday, October 21, 2007
Weather: Overcast and Windy; Winds E 15-20 with Higher Gusts
Location: l’Orphelinat Bay, Noumea, New Caledonia

Okay. I have to be a little crass in order to share with you what WAG and SWAG mean, if you don’t know already. WAG is a “wild-assed guess” and SWAG is a “scientific wild-assed guess.” I learned this from Paul on Ranger today, and evidently I should have known this, but did not. When I heard it, I thought it was quite humorous. When you are getting ready to leave on a major passage, the weather is of upmost importance, but just like at home, weather reporting is a SWAG. That’s just a step above
being a WAG. I’d never want to be a meteorologist because the weather changes every few hours, sometimes dramatically, and people are just not that flexible. If they hear on one day that the weather tomorrow will be sunny and beautiful, and then it ends up to be partly cloudy, they think the meteorologist is crazy. Actually, he is probably just fine, but the weather decided to take a turn. This is is what we are dealing with in our preparations for our passage to Australia. Day before yesterday
the GRIB files looked like we would have a good passage, yesterday they looked terrible with a low coming south and causing all kinds of havoc, and then today they look great again. Who knows? Actually, no one. You have to take the weather information (that’s the scientific part) and put that together with your knowledge of the passage and come up with a SWAG–your best scientific wild-assed guess. We put so much effort into this and often the conditions we experience on passage are totally opposite
of what was expected. Makes one think that just going with a WAG might be as accurate. But we will always add in the scientific and hope it makes the difference for us.

Today we went to the market early, took the veggies back to Windibird, and then went back in to town to the internet cafe to download weather information and to make a Skype call to our son Justin. Afterward we started our second day of the museum marathon. We walked across town to the Maritime Museum. It was small and not all that impressive, but we managed to enjoy it. We watched a video in French talking about an expedition to the north pole, and about halfway through that we decided that
we should head back in the directions of the marina. Mark and I headed for the Museum of new Caledonia. It was a much better museum. The first floor was devoted to Kanak culture while the second floor expanded its reach to include artifacts from many of the neighboring islands in the South Pacific. In a separate wing was an exhibit of work by students who were obviously studying their history and traditions.

After visiting the museums we went back to Ranger to continue our weather discussions with Paul, Marie, Gerry and Donna. Since the information we have been getting from various sources is not always the same, we have decided to prepare to leave but to expect that we may be here for a few more days. And we will continue to monitor weather reports daily.

Day 179, Year 2: Museum Marathon–Mix of Nature and Culture

Day 179, Year 2: Museum Marathon–Mix of Nature and Culture
Date: Saturday, October 20, 2007
Weather: Overcast and Windy; Winds ESE 15-20 with Higher Gusts
Location: l’Orphelinat Bay, Noumea, New Caledonia

We started our day before 6 AM with a Sat phone call to our boat insurance agent and we were assured that we are insured. That was a relief and once again, we want to thank our daughter Heather for taking care of that for us. Time gets away from us out here where there are few deadlines, and the delay in written communication other than email can result in weeks or even months before we get notices. No excuses, but just the way things are when we are between ports. Thank goodness someone on lands
looks after us. And if you were wondering why we called the poor insurance man so early in the morning it is because our 6 AM on Saturday was his 3 PM on Friday afternoon.

Our next phone call was via Skype at the internet cafe. We called our daughter Heather and linked up the webcams. We were so anxious to see Sam. We got to see him briefly while in Port Vila, but the connection was not very good and we kept getting frozen video. Today the video was great. Everytime we see Sam he looks more and more grown up. He had his nine-month check-up and the doctor discovered that he has an ear infection. She started him on antibiotics. Since his congestion has just been
dragging on and on, maybe the antibiotic will put him back on a healthy track. But I must say that being sick doesn’t seem to slow him down. He is in constant motion reaching for the video camera and trying to eat it, grabbing the computer key board, then grabbing the mouse. He is certainly enough to keep Heather and Jed busy 24-7. By the time we finished with that call and downloaded some weather information, it was time for Mark to take his computer back to Ranger and meet Marie and Paul, and
Donna and Gerry of Scot Free and come back to the bus stop where I waited to catch the Noumea Explorer. This was to be our transportation today for our marathon museum tour. It was another whirlwind day, and we enjoyed every aspect of it.

The first stop for today was the Parc Zoologique & Forestier or Zoo and Botanical Gardens. There were spectacular views of Noumea as we climbed to the top of a summit where the park was located. We had only an hour and 45 minutes here in order to catch the bus to the next stop, so we walked as fast and saw as much as we could in the alotted time. We saw the flightless, quickly disappearing cagou which is New Caledonia’s official territorial bird. Some of the showiest birds were beautiful white
peacocks that enjoyed fanning their tails for us. In much too little time, we had to hop back on the Noumea Explorer and make for the next destination, the Jean-Marie Tjibaou (pronounced chee-bauw). Tjibaou was a leader of the Kanak people and was assassinated by one of his own people who felt he was selling his people short by signing the Matignon Accords in 1988. Tjibaou had intended the Accords to be only a stepping stone to independence of the Kanaks. The center cost $50 million American
dollars to build and was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. The architecture of the place is overwhelming. There are ten huge metal and wood structures that represent the shape of a traditional Kanak case or home. These structures tower over the very long building that is divided into three parts. The inside was nice but the grounds were spectacular. A botanical garden winds around the main building and is filled with references to Kanak legend, accompanied by Kanak art, and more information
on native plants than I have seen anywhere in the Pacific. There is a ceremonial area with three traditional case or homes. One of them must have been thirty to fifty feet high. The final touch was a nine foot tall bronze statue of Tjibaou that stands on a hill overlooking the center. Tjibaou started out as a Catholic priest and left the priesthood with the Pope’s permission. He did not feel that he could best serve his people in his role as priest. He remained a spiritual man, however, and
the center is a great tribute to him. We spent two and a half hours here but could have spent the entire day. Then on we went to our final stop for today, the Aquarium des Lagons. This was a small but very well-done aquarium. The highlight for me was seeing the nautilus float through the water. We have found nautilus shells, but we have never seen a nautilus while in the water. So that was a thrill. It was also so much fun to see so many of the fish that we have been seeing when we snorkel.

That last Noumea Explorer pick-up was at 4:20 and somehow we made it. We had not eaten all day, so when we were dropped off right next door to McDonald’s, we decided to join all of the teenagers and have a quarter pounder. They are called Cheese Royale here, but they taste the same. Donna and Gerry actually had Happy Meals and we had great fun playing with their Happy Meal toys. It was a fun ending to a great day.

Back on Ranger we took a look at all of that weather information we downloaded this morning and saw that we might not really be able to leave on Monday. There is a low pressure system that would cross our path and leave us with fluky winds coming all directions. We will watch tomorrow and Monday to see exactly where that low ends up, and make our decision then. Until then, the museum marathon continues with a visit to the New Caledonia Museum and the Maritime Museum. We will visit both tomorrow
after a very early morning trip to Noumea’s fine fresh food market. That should be a real treat.

Day 178, Year 2: Port to Port Rally Gathering

Day 178, Year 2: Port to Port Rally Gathering
Date: Friday, October 19, 2007
Weather: Sunny, Windy Day; Winds ESE 15 (Down from 20-25 in the AM)
Location: l’Orphelinat Bay, Noumea, New Caledonia

Today started on a very windy note out here in the Baie de l’Orphelinat, and even though it still sounds very windy, things have settled back down a bit. We spent our morning reading through land-based emails we received yesterday and found that our boat insurance expired yesterday unless they had received a filled-out questionnaire from us. We had asked our daughter Heather to deal with this for us, but we didn’t know yesterday was the expiration date. We knew Heather and Jed had taken Sam to
Boston for some tests today, so we waited until we thought they would be home to call. Heather had taken care of everything, so hopefully we still have boat insurance. Thank you, Heather. Insurance is a good thing since the marina we are going to in Australia won’t let us in without it. Heather also had good news about Sam for us when we called. His terrible cold is getting better and all of the tests at Mass General Hospital today verified that he has no serious problems with his digestive
system. He simply has an immature system resulting in a bad case of reflux. This wakes him up and that is the reason he sleeps in very short stints. So if the parents can survive, he will be fine. Tomorrow is his nine-month check-up with his regular pediatrician, so I know he’ll be glad when all of the tests and shots are over with. We are supposed to do a Skype video call first thing in the morning, end of the day in the eastern US, so we can see Sam. He is trying his best to crawl, and we
are anxious to see him.

Next we headed to the Port Moselle Yacht Club, packed for the day and the evening activities. Mark spent the better part of his day at the internet cafe again, this time making reservations for our plane trip home from Australia. We have ended up deciding to stay in Australia until after Thanksgiving to give us time to get all of the boat work done before coming home. We are planning on staying in the US until the first of May, and will have to leave Bundaberg as soon as we arrive in order to
get to Darwin for the Sail Indonesia Rally in late July. We would have a more leisurely trip if we could return to Australia by the first of April, and we will do that if work schedules allow. We based our current reservations to meet time schedules imposed by some possible job opportunities that might not even pan out. We were afraid to wait any longer to make the reservations, so hopefully what we have decided will work out for us. While Mark did this, I did a walk about town trying to find
large envelopes for mailing things home. I had to walk all the way across town to the information center to find out where to go. While in that part of town, I went to the Museum of Noumea to buy museum passes for us, for Ranger, and for Scot Free II. I made a quick tour through the museum while I was there, but the serious touring will start tomorrow morning. Of course, the place I needed to go to buy mailing materials was back across town where I started, so I hiked back, taking in the downtown

This evening we attended a “get-to-know you” function with other cruisers participating in the Port to Port Rally. We will all be heading to Bundaberg sometime during the next week. This rally is organized basically for the fun to be had in Bundaberg once we arrive, but it was nice to meet others face-to-face that will be on our radio sched as we cross. We met one young man, Garrett, who is crew on Silkie out of North Carolina. Garrett lived in Boston while getting his Masters in Aerospace Engineering
at MIT and we enjoyed talking about the marinas in Charlestown. He had done a lot of sailing out of Constitution Marina, and we lived at Shipyard Quarters Marina, just a few piers away. We very much enjoyed talking with some of the cruisers from Australia about what we might expect during our passage and once we arrive.

Tomorrow is museum tour day, Sunday morning is market day, and Monday is check-out and fuel up day. If the weather cooperates, we will be out of here on Monday afternoon, but we will just have to wait and see.

Day 177, Year 2: A Day in Noumea

Day 177, Year 2: A Day in Noumea
Date: Thursday, October 18, 2007
Weather: Sunny Day with Evening Sprinkles; Winds SSE 18
Location: l’Orphelinat Bay, Noumea, New Caledonia

It is 8 PM and we just got back to Windbird after twelve hours ashore. We are anchored in the bay around the corner from the Port Moselle Yacht Club and downtown Noumea, so it is easier to dinghy the mile or so to the yacht club dinghy dock than it is to find a place to come ashore in l’Orphelinant Bay and then take a bus around to town. Because of the distance, once we went to town today, we just stayed there, but actually the day flew by. Ranger is on a dock at the yacht club, so Paul and Marie
invited us to use Ranger as our home base for the day. We dropped extra bags there, popped into the marine office to register our dinghy to make it “official”. It costs about $23 per week to have yacht club privileges if you are not paying for a slip. For this, you get to use the dinghy dock, bring your trash ashore and put it in their bins that are hopefully disposed of properly, and you get a key to the bathrooms and showers. There is one other place to leave a dinghy, but they say it is not
safe. The yacht club is totally safe, so it is worth the money.

When we arrived at Ranger, it was almost time for the first VHF radio contact with the Port to Port Rally. A man named Kerry on Ef-Jay from Australia is “hosting” the more than twenty boats that will be leaving for Bundaberg from Noumea. Another twenty some are leaving from Port Vila in Vanuatu, and still another fifteen or so are leaving from Luganville in Vanuatu. There are 54 boats in total that are participating in the rally. Tomorrow is the get-to-know party where we will meet the other
boats leaving from Noumea. After that, each boat will make the decision to leave based on weather information. You can leave any time, but the idea is to get to Bundaberg by October 31. It is a seven-day passage, give or take a day or two depending on boat speed. Based on our weather research to date, we are thinking of leaving on Monday afternoon. But that could change, probably will change, so stay tuned on that one.

As you leave the very new and modern Port Moselle Yacht Club, the first sights you see in the city are two tributes to America. One is the American Memorial to those Americans who gave their lives during World War II. Over 40,000 American troops were stationed in Noumea and according to the Lonely Planet, many Noumeans still feels a strong attachment to Americans for their contribution in ushering in a period of modernization. Right across the street is MacDonald’s, another American monument that
is found in most countries in the South Pacific. Our next stop was an internet cafe, one of our favorite stops when we come to “civilization” as we know it. This is not, necessarily, what we think civilization should be, just the reality of what it is. That editorial comment out of the way, we indulged in high speed internet access. I checked the website and deleted the hundreds of spam emails that are sent our way, sifting through to find the legitimate comments. We had a couple of interesting
emails in response to my question about whether we should be using paper or cloth napkins and we appreciate that input. We had some questions that I will answer in the next two or three logs or will send personal replies when I get a chance. A man from Australia who is thinking about buying an island in the Maskelynes in Vanuatu got my attention. To those of you who write to the website, we just want you to know how much we appreciate and enjoy your comments. After I finished checking out the
website, I started checking out new weather sites. MetVu in New Zealand doesn’t cover the Australian coast, so it was time to check out Australian sites. The Australian government and the US Navy won the awards for best weather sites today, so we will be using those sources over the next few days to help us pinpoint a departure time. While I was doing this, Mark was updating our finances, or lack there of, on Quicken, paying bills online, downloading our landbased gmail account, and searching
for a good deal on tickets for our flight home from Australia. Before we knew it, it was almost 1 PM and definitely time for lunch. Marie of Ranger was also in the internet cafe, so she went with us as we searched for a place to eat. Cheap is always good, but we ended up in a semi-cheap Asian snack bar. We had a good shrimp curry with rice and then continued the day. Mark went back to the internet cafe to continue to look for flights while Marie and I visited the Office du Tourisme de Noumea
et de la Province Sud, better known as the ‘i’ center. A young man was very helpful and informed us about a package deal on seeing all four museums in the area as well as the aquarium and botanical gardens and zoo for only $17. Not a bad deal. And there is a bus that runs from one of these venues to the other all day long. We will probably visit the six locations over the next three days, interspersed with getting ready for the passage to Australia. A little work, a little play.

After our visit to the tourist information center, Marie went back to the yacht club and I went back to the internet cafe. The cheapest tickets Mark is coming up with are more than $2,000 each, but I guess that is going to be as good as it gets. We did got to a travel agency, but they were more expensive than the prices we are getting on the web. We’d had enough of flight searching for one day, so we went back to the yacht club to get ready for the evening activity. Each Thursday evening in the
Place des Cocotiers, the park in the center of downtown Noumea, a street market takes place. Each week there is a different theme, and this week it was Vanuatu. There were traditional dances, music, booth after booth of Vanuatu arts and crafts, and lots of food booths. It was great fun and we even made some purchases of things that we wished we had bought in Vanuatu and didn’t. We topped the evening off with French waffles topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Yummy!

Day 176, Year 2: Arrival in Noumea with a Stop at Maitre Island

Day 176, Year 2: Arrival in Noumea with a Stop at Maitre Island
Date: Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Weather: Sunny Day; Winds ESE 20
Latitude: S 22 degrees 17.144 minutes
Longitude: E 166 degrees 26.143 minutes
Location: Noumea, New Caledonia

Here we are in Noumea, a city with a population around 150,000. This is a big city by South Pacific standards. Suva in Fiji had a population of 170,000, so I think it must be the largest, but Papeete in Tahiti also had a sizeable population. Tahiti had a population of about 180,000 people, but I don’t remember what percentage lived in the city. Comparisons aside, we have left the simple beauty of islands where people still live simply, eat only what they grow and catch, and where the lights go
out with the setting sun. From the anchorage here, we can see the neon lights of a nightclub. We have not been downtown yet, but from here this looks like the most modern city we have seen since Auckland in New Zealand.

We left Uere Island this morning and sailed about five miles to Maitre Island. Maitre is a small island only three miles from Noumea. As we approached the island, all we could see were the modern “huts” built out over the water. This is the Coral Palms Island Resort. There were mooring balls in front of the hotel, so we picked up one and then took our dinghy to another mooring ball closer to the reef. While we were still in the dinghy, we saw a green turtle just lying on the surface of the water.
He would put his head up to look at us and then put it down again, but he didn’t dive down. Finally we got just a little too close and he took the plunge. Once we were in the water, I saw one more turtle, but the stars of the show today were the large fish–not super large, but just larger than we normally see. Normally when we snorkel, we see fish no longer than a foot. But today many of the fish were closer to two feet long. There were various groupers, chocolate hinds, unicornfish, and pencilstreaked
rabbitfish. The Picassafish today were definitely larger than usual. We saw a couple of different varieties of sweeplips with their black, white, and yellow stripes and polka dots and a number of polka-dotted fish that were either groupers or Harlequin Thicklips. This is what we would call a silty reef with some coral and lots of grass. It was fun swimming with the larger fish, but the coral where we were was very sparse. I’m not sure I would go back, but I was glad that we made the stop.

On our way back to Windbird we stopped to talk to John and Helen on Ubi Bene, a New Zealand boat that we have heard on the radio but not met before. Then we were off for the big city. We did not go to the Port Moselle Marina. Both Scot Free and Ranger are there at a dock. We decided we would anchor and save the money so spend on some of the fine French cuisine here. We are anchored in Baie de l’Orphelinant. We had planned to dinghy around to Port Moselle once we got settled, but we opted to
just dinghy around l’Orphelinant and then sit in the cockpit and watch the sights. The French navy trains in this bay and we watched dinghy after dinghy being overturn and then righted again by the trainees. There was a late afternoon yacht club race with lots of showy spinnakers, and a beautiful sunset. Tomorrow we will head out early and explore downtown Noumea.

Day 175, Year 2: Another Day at Uere Island

Day 175, Year 2: Another Day at Uere Island
Date: Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Weather: Sunny Day; Winds ESE 15-20
Location: Uere Island, New Caledonia

We decided to stay put today, do a little boat work, and just enjoy where we are. And that we did. I started the day by doing most of the stainless on deck and then washing down the teak deck. We manage to polish the stainless about every two months, but this is the first time I have cleaned the teak deck this season. I just used dish detergent, but it really brightened up. While I did this, Mark worked on his computer backing up photos on CD’s. We keep our originals on Mark’s computer and
then transfer them to our Maxtor hard drive. When Mark’s computer gets full, he then makes a second back-up on CD and erases the photos from his computer. That’s scary because we would really hate to lose our photos from this trip, but we do have them backed up on the hard drive and CD–not as tangible as a negative, but we will just have to hope that technology holds out for us.

While we were sitting in the main saloon working on pictures, I heard the strangest noise. Mark rushed up on deck to see what it was and reported back that the marine gendarme, like our Coast Guard, had just dropped anchor right next to us. We figured they were going to come aboard all boats in the anchorage and check to see if we were legally checked into New Caledonia. But they didn’t drop their dinghy in the water and didn’t come visiting. Mark was hesitant to get into the water the finish
the bottom cleaning with them next door. This island is not part of the Southern Marine Reserve, but since we are not clear on the laws here, we didn’t want to take a chance. So we headed to shore to go for a walk. Scot Free had already gone in, and Ranger came in when we did. We walked on the island with Marie and Paul, forging our way through tall grass and bushes and made our way to the high end of the island nearest Noumea. There we found some transmitter shacks and three men with a tractor
and trailer. They were obviously delivering something. We saw the road that they had used to bring the tractor up the hill, so we walked back that way. We ended up on the beach in the first place we anchored yesterday, and then walked back around to the horseshoe-shaped bay we are anchored in. We found Donna and Gerry of Scot Free sitting on the beach sifting through the thousands of very small shells around them. Marie and I saw Donna’ bounty and decided that we would like to sit and sift ourselves.
I already had a couple of “not perfect” nautilus shells that we had found on our walk, and I enjoyed collecting the very tiny but beautiful shells from the shell beach. Eventually we made our way back to the dinghies. Mark, Paul, and Gerry got back first and were watching a chicken-like bird with a red beak. It was not very close and by the time I got my camera out of my backpack, it was gone. From the little I saw and the description the guys gave, it sounded very much like a pukeko. This is
a bird we saw in New Zealand, and I assumed it lived only there. Donna and I tried to follow the bird into the bush where it escaped, but it was out of sight. On our way back to Windbird in the dinghy, Mark spotted a couple more of these birds on the beach. so I got out my camera and we headed slowly back to shore. I was able to get some pictures, and sure enough, the birds are definitely pukeko. They look a little like a chicken, except that they have longer legs. Their beaks are bright red
and the upper part of their body is blue. The wings and back are black with a touch of white on the tail feathers. I got out my New Zealand bird book and found that these birds nest between September and December. They either nest in pairs or in communities, and they share the incubation of the eggs between several birds. So I figure we were seeing the birds that were off-duty out foraging for food. We saw these birds several times in New Zealand, but they always escaped before I could get a
good picture. I was thrilled to get the pictures today.

In the late afternoon , our gendarme neighbor pulled up anchor and left the anchorage. Mark immediately got out the snuba gear and headed under the boat to complete the bottom cleaning. Australia is really, really picky about letting boats in that might be harboring creatures. Since we do all of our bottom painting and cleaning ourselves, we have no certificates declaring dates that the work was done. We are hoping that a clean appearance will be enough to keep us from having to immediately haul
our boat out of the water for a bottom cleaning when we arrive.

As we sat sifting through the shells on the beach today, we all lamented about the end of our South Pacific cruising days. There’s still a lot of world to see, but we know the South Pacific will always hold a special place in our hearts. The beautiful people, the beauty of land, the wildness . . . it is a wonderful part of Planet Earth.