Author Archives: Jack

In search of a little wisdom 

Our wipers are still slapping the same tune, it’s just a different day. We thought that before leaving charming Dunedin we’d check out the town’s famous railway station. Built in 1903 with local blue stone, mosaic tile, and perfectly manicured gardens, it’s impressive but with all the fog, rain, and spray (FRS) you inevitably rush just to get back in a dry car. 


Today featured our usual trifecta (FRS) plus, as an extra added bonus, miles and miles of unsealed, sloppy, washboard roads in Cyclone Cook’s pouring rain. 


I can’t recommend traveling in this weather but we were determined to make it to New Zealand’s southernmost point whether we could see it or not. As it turns out, mostly not. First up was something called the petrified forest. I don’t know, you be the judge.


After a muddy slog, feeling like a rally driver, we reached an innocent-looking gravel car park with an all business looking gate posted with a sign that demanded to be kept closed. With no discernible path we quickly closed the gate and noticed a person far off in the FRS. This must be the place. 


First order of business was dancing around all of the sheep dung, which was everywhere, and then avoiding a thousand pairs of starring eyes. I find this creepy. While buying my water-resistant jacket we had the foresight to pick up a tiny folding umbrella and when I deployed it I sensed a certain tension in the sheep. All over the field was evidence of inattentive footprints sliding through sheep shit patties. The sheep may look up but I’m looking down! 


It seemed like years but like all treks, you get there eventually, maybe a little wiser but a lot wetter. Even in the rain at 46 degrees 40 minutes 40 seconds South, Slope Point is an awesome place and is as far south as you can go on South Island.



On the way to Bluff Point, I couldn’t tell you when, I noticed the little Yaris wasn’t bouncing and shuddering anymore. Pavement, it’s a beautiful thing. We found two Bluff Points, one apparently illegitimate but we don’t judge. 


Invercargill finally hove into view and that’s where we sleep tonight. There are rumors for a dryer day tomorrow with Cyclone Cook moving off. One can only hope.

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Slip sliding away

With the windshield wipers slapping time I seemed to sluggishly break through the fog in my brain into a kind of hazy state of consciousness, suddenly aware that I was driving ok, but on the wrong side of the road. In times like this I find it important not to do anything hasty. Through the fog, rain, and spray I could barely make out the red tail lights I’d been following just ahead of us. No reason to panic so I just kept repeating my Down Under mantra, “Keep Left!” which I’m finding works pretty well for most everything in my life these days.

One wind-whipped blustery dinghy ride, a bus ride, a train ride, a 90-minute flight, a shuttle ride to a motel clear across Brisbane, a 4:am wake up call for another airport shuttle ride back across Brisbane, a 3-1/2 hour flight across the Tasman sea, and finally a two hour rain soaked drive in a little white Toyota Yaris, has had it’s way with me and it hasn’t been pretty. Improperly caffeinated, we pulled into something brand new called The Farmer Center just at the edge of town and found a minor miracle. In an austere, stark, almost Dansk-like, nearly empty interior a cute young Chinese cashier said yes they have coffee, how would you like it? At least I’m sure she thought she was speaking English and used some of those very same sounds. That’s when I saw it. A pot of brewed coffee. You see, Dear Escapees, the Kiwis have got it into their minds that the epitome of good taste and refinement is a thing called a long black, instead of an effing cup of coffee. It’s a fiddly expensive thing where you get a tiny cup of espresso with an accompanying glass of water and you mix in enough water to approximate a cup of coffee. It costs double and you have to do the work yourself. 

So as I say, after several halting fits and starts I resorted to pointing and pantomime, I was not to be denied and while trying to interpret her blank stares I came to the realization that the Kiwis can’t understand me just as much as I can’t understand them. Perfect.

Properly caffeinated now the stark reality of driving all day in the fog, rain, and spray — let’s agree to call it FRS — began to weigh upon me. Marce, my personal concierge, cheerfully pointed out the high points along the way like ‘that would be coastline filled with lovely ocean surf if it weren’t for this fog’ and ‘that over there is a field of wet sheep, all doomed, see the way their tails hang down?’

I haven’t mentioned that we Escapees have joined another shopping quest and this time M. has determined that I really should have a waterproof jacket, but at a price that reflects good value, as the Aussies say. Should have just brought my foulies.
Soon after a few hours of splashing about, we pulled into Oamaru, not today’s main event but kind of a quirky fun stop we’re prone to from time to time. It’s called “Steam Punk HQ” and from M’s disbelieving stare when I questioned what it was I’ve got to assume everyone knows about this phenomenon but me. It’s kind of found Victorian Industrial Futuristic art…with a twist.




After a long damp drive to Moeraki in worsening conditions we realized that the long list of criteria for a more substantial waterproof jacket for me would have to get more flexible and as luck would have it, you enter the Moeraki Boulders Beach through, wait for it, the gift shop. After a long search we found that water resistant would have to do. We suited up at the car. Boots, water proof pants, jackets, and hats. Some of the crew opted for gloves and scarves. It started to rain in earnest as we slip-slided down the steep water-logged moss-covered steps down the cliff toward the beach. I imagine they have a nice beach here but it’s FRS and high tide so there’s not much beach to see or walk on. 




We’re not good with tide tables even at the best of times but it’s not like we have a choice so it’s slog down the sodden beach, take the photo, tick the box, and head back to the car. A few more hours of FRS driving found us up on the third floor of the Dunedin Law Courts Hotel buried under every blanket they had, with both electric blanket controls turned up to 10.

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The view from the back porch.

 
Maybanke Cove, Pittwater Bay Australia, Saturday races.

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Oz. Land of large strange rocks

As adventures go this one seemed doable. In video production, my former hobby before becoming a yachtsman, we used to call it a 101: Loving couple enters elevator, they embrace, doors close, music up, fade to black, and credits roll. Easy peasy.


Life is good here in Bantry Bay. We’ve even learned what all those strange numbered rustic buildings lining the western shore are…or were. Explosives storage. Normally I feel drawn to do just what signs like NO ADMITTANCE ON LAND say not to do, but knowing the Aussie love for mischief I could just see some bloke snickering about how surprised somebody someday is going to be when they step on the exact spot where he buried this little hand grenade. It dampened my own enthusiasm for pushing my luck. 


So, where were we? Oh yes the adventure of the day. Well, it’s a 101 with a twist. M, our crack activity director found a few trails that wind around through hill and dale ending at something called The Natural Bridge. I’m thinking Utah! Yeah, I’m up for that but it’ll be a stretch so we’ll have to see how tough the trail is and there’s always the option to stop at the mountaintop viewpoint. As if! 


First thing in the morning, before it gets too hot, we tie up Catnip to the park dock and immediately run into a couple of older gents that are hiking the upper trail. Turns out it’s 440 steps to the upper trail. As luck would have it the Bay Trail bifurcates just before the stairs get serious. Ah, this is more like it. A well-prepared path with gentle undulations, reminiscent of a New Zealand park trail. Ya see that’s how they suck you in, just like the frog in the water pot. 


Before long you’re climbing rocks, reaching for anything to keep from tumbling down a precipice and sweating like Nixon at a debate! Do you have any water left? Maybe we can call it a day at the mountaintop buena vista view del mar. Are you sure you don’t have any water left? I mean the Natural Bridge was always intended as a kind of bonus goal if things were easy. 

The viewpoints on the way were really spectacular and finally we arrived at the top of the mountain on a huge domed rock with hollowed out sandstone features. Other worldly. They like their rocks large and strange down here in the land of OZ. We could see downtown Sydney off in the hazy distance.

 
It was still a bit of a hike to the Natural Bridge on a trail called the Engraved Trail which is supposed to have Aboriginal Art carved in stone but it seems they would prefer to keep it to themselves. 


Of course Marce had to curb my curiosity by grabbing my tee shirt as I headed over the fence. Real Stone Age Art meters from where I stood. What kind of a person doesn’t want to see that? It soon became obvious why this area was sacred to the aboriginal. Large strange rocks. Large strange rock formations. Not a large pile of rocks but the whole damn mountain top was as near as I could tell, one huge rock. 



The path down to the bridge was steep and torturous and really a bridge too far. I suppose it didn’t help that as we reached the bottom of the ravine I noticed that a stream passed under the trail and I must be standing on The Natural Bridge. It was a Spinal Tap moment. When Nigel, not good with figures, confuses inches for feet and a tiny Stonehenge trilithon descends to the stage. Let’s just say it loses impact, even though it’s beautiful. Rocks big, bridges small. 


Like most adventures, it’s all about the journey.

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Escape from Blackwattle

It takes about half an hour to walk from our anchorage in Blackwattle Bay, in the shadows of Sydney’s ANZAC Bridge, to the four story Broadway Mall which has just about anything a human could need. Farm markets, supermarkets, food courts, theaters, clothing of every conceivable style except half-off sailor stuff, and a genuine Apple Store. I have a collapsible wheeled cart that makes it possible to lug it all back to the dinghy and home, but I never relax until I see Escape Velocity bobbing at anchor right where we left her. Generally Blackwattle has good holding in mud but there are areas where there’s nothing but silt, and a cubic foot of silt over your anchor means that it’s only a matter of time until you come around that last corner to find nothing where your home used to be. 



We’ve really enjoyed the buzz of Sydney and charm of Glebe Point and the convenience of the fish market but we’re both getting that restless feeling. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the dead pig just drifted past the boat.

I’ve been hard at work scraping the hull and props which requires a lot of free diving in Blackwattle’s water which can only be described as a kind of seafood chowder with periodic infestations of jellyfish and whatever this effing thing is.




The pull of many pleasures, including good friends, has kept us here but moving day is upon us and we’ve decided to try the other end of Sydney Harbor, past The Sound, around Middle Head into Hunters Bay if things go well. 


My efforts seem to have earned us an extra knot or two so when we raise Hunters Bay it’s still early enough that we decide to keep moving across The Bar looking for something…homey. At Middle Harbour we had to slow down to accommodate the bascule bridge at the spit for their 10:15 opening. 


I couldn’t describe what we’re looking for but I know we haven’t seen it yet. 


Quakers Hat Bay, Sugarloaf Bay…maybe on the way back down. Finally beautiful Bantry Bay nestled like a fiord cleaving a wooded mountainous national park with one last mooring ball #079 open and waiting just for us. Engines off, strange bird calls, breeze rustling the nearby trees, gentle lapping of clear bay water. Home.

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Things are looking up

It’s a long walk from Coffs Harbor to the grocery store. Come to think if it, it’s a long splashy ride in Cat Nip from out in Coffs rolly anchorage into the inner harbor dinghy dock, but the saving grace is that there’s ice cream waiting at the waterfront. This marina was destroyed last year in a storm so it was a surprise to see almost everything shipshape. While trekking to the grocery store every day, we even found a nice river walk path just to break it up a little bit.


Once again we Escapees found ourselves waiting for a little decent weather. One rainy afternoon we noticed an unusual number of racy sailboats entering the harbor. Soon we were surrounded by sailboats, maneuvering all around us. Turns out we were being used as a start marker for a sailboat race. Fun but scary.


Finally, on an overcast rainy morning we left Coffs Harbor for Broken Bay, just north of Sydney a couple hundred miles away. 


Thinking back on it, what I picture about Coffs Harbor is 100 percent cloud cover with rain and no desire to even try to leave the boat. At least it wasn’t a Friday but the seas were still nasty and our mainsail woes are still with us. We made landfall in another patented Escape Velocity midnight arrival after two days mostly motor sailing. We tucked in behind something the Aussies call Barren Joey Head just around back of an old lighthouse high above on the headland, to wait for morning. 

We’re down one iPad already and our trusty old C-80 Raymarine chart plotter has a failing screen and it has decided that it would rather not have to read the Australian chart so what you get is a collection of trapezoid shaped land masses under what can only be called a blurry stained looking screen with some blank spots. This leaves us with our old iPad 2 holding up things navigational and doing double duty with Marce’s heavy domestic needs as well. 


In the morning, coffee in hand, I went out into the cockpit to see where we were. When you anchor in the dark it’s always a surprise to see where you ended up and I’m not suggesting that you ever do anything this stupid but it’s kind of the only good thing about entering a harbor and anchoring in the dark. It was right about then that I noticed a cute motorboat heading straight toward us. Turns out it was our old friend Sherm whom we first met in Opua, New Zealand. What are the odds? Turns out Sherm and his wife live here in Pittwater and they were half of our official welcoming committee. 

The other half of our welcome crew, Di and Bruce of Toucan, finagled a mooring for us about an hour up the bay. Things may be looking up. Pittwater is really beautiful and we slid past what seemed like several thousand sailboats, tied up to our mooring ball, and paid the man. 


Heron Cove has several redeeming features beside excellent protection from weather, our mooring, and a sand spit that uncovers every day where people sun bathe and play with their dogs. Now, I don’t know who invented the thong bathing suit, if you can call it a suit, but it sure is popular down here with the young women who compete for the tiniest version. Yep, things are looking up.


Bruce on Toucan found a replacement C-80 chart plotter for a song. Things are really looking up. After a round or two of nautical holiday get togethers with the Toucs, and a long-awaited family reunion on Escape Velocity even the weather seemed like it was calming down out in the ocean and it was time to make the final dash to Sydney. 

This time we left bathed in sunshine for a change, saying goodbye to Toucan who armed us with an Aussie study guide, and motor-sailed south. 


The used but nearly new chart plotter worked perfectly with bright, bold, and clear colors on the screen. What a difference! Bouncy but benign by Pacific standards the sea showed us a little mercy and we even timed the 20 mile trip to arrive in the daylight for a change. I say 20 miles from Barren Joey Headland to North Headland but anchor to anchor it was about 30 miles. The last five miles is where this story lies.

As we rounded North Head — is there a more famous headland? — the wind picked up considerably and we decided to douse the jib knowing that maneuverability would be paramount in Sydney’s crowded harbor. Right away a half dozen Hobart super maxi racing sleds and a few of Sydney’s famous ferries were apparently sent out to greet us. We instinctively went into New York Harbor mode, which has served us well in the past. Marce called out threats and I played dodge-’em with little runabouts, jet skis, carbon fiber Super Maxi racing sleds, double decker ferries, pontoon patios, super yachts, kayakers, and I’m sure I’m missing a few. 


I managed to cross the traffic stream to hug Bradley’s Head and that’s when the Icons of Icons hove into view. The Sydney Harbor Bridge and Opera House. We finally made it. We still had to wind our way through a very narrow railroad swing bridge and then under the lyre-like ANZAC Bridge into a backwater anchorage called Blackwattle Bay with the skyline of Sydney laid out before us. Magnificent. 


Anchor down, drinks all around. Things are definitely looking up.

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An inauspicious beginning

It will probably come as no surprise, Dear Escapees, that sailors have a lot of superstitions. Now I know a lot of them but I also know that I don’t even know half of them. When you deal everyday with the capricious nature of Neptune I guess you could think of it as harmlessly buying a little insurance rider for a specific passage. Recently we anxious few leftovers waiting for weather had a serious discussion during happy hour while holed up at the waterfront Brasserie Bar, Noumea, New Caledonia, concerning how generous Neptune’s passage offering should be. Jann, skipper aboard Bumpy Dog, said just a tot would do but crew shook their heads in disbelief insisting only the whole fifth of rum would work as insurance for what would be a dicey passage. Yours Truly felt that the quantity and quality should be commensurate with the degree of your nervousness, but my point is that it really didn’t matter because starting a passage on a Friday trumps (sorry about that) the Neptune Rum Quandary.

And so it goes. We have good friends that won’t start a passage with bananas on board, a common superstition. We like to observe the seafaring traditions when we can but not starting a passage on a Friday is one superstition we observe. You could say we earned that one the hard way. The only time we turned around and limped back into port was on our 2014 ill-fated Galapagos to French Polynesia passage which only lasted for 450 miles, 2500 miles short of landfall at Fatu Hiva. It started on a Friday.

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After three weeks of stressful weatherwatching, a small window opened up with an acceptable level of promised discomfort. We waited for Saturday to roll around to depart. Motoring out of sunny Port Moselle, New Caledonia, our thoughts were on a tropical depression forming just north west of New Caledonia that was predicted to either bear down on New Caledonia, or dissipate completely, or rejuvenate and hunt us down somewhere out in the Coral Sea. It all depended on which weather model you believed and none of them agreed. The man with two watches never knows what time it is.

Let’s see, where were we? Oh yes, motoring out of sunny Port Moselle when Skpr. noticed more smoke belching out of the evil twin starboard diesel engine than is necessary. Engine temperature was hottish but that bastard always runs hot. No one knows why. I shut it down and started the port engine, told Marce that after all we have two engines and I’ll think about that after the sails go up. Of course we should keep calm and carry on. Whenever I do something like this, invariably a newspaper headline pops up in my mind that reads something like, “The crew knew about the cyclone but sailed right into it anyway.”

The sail hoist went smoothly until we noticed the main sail had come out of the sail track about two thirds of the way up the mast. After trying two more tries with the same results we turned around and limped back into port. There’s some shit up with which you must not put!

Before we could grab a mooring back in Port Moselle Marce already had a rigger on the way out to Escape Velocity. While we waited I found and fixed the starboard engine problem. OK, I admit it, I hadn’t kept calm.

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The rigger, Georges from Vietnam, did a lot of head scratching but up and down the mast he went and eventually found the problem to be the boom angle even though the sail rolled up in the boom beautifully. We had to dinghy Georges back to his car and then dinghy back into town for some ATM francs. We had skillfully spent all of ours before we left.

Six hours after our initial departure and still sunny, we motored EV back out of Port Moselle, no smoke this time and the mainsail stayed in the sail track as it should. Soon we were just hanging onto the bucking bronco called Escape Velocity. We had plenty of wind from a good direction but the Pacific was up to its usual washing machine mashup of white caps and breaking waves. Think of a rubber ducky in a tub with an overactive toddler. Good progress was being made but this is the kind of passage that reminds me of the dowager explaining one’s marriage night duties by saying, “Just close your eyes and think of England.” Or Australia.

It didn’t take long before 100 percent cloud cover became our default condition. All clouds, all day, all night, everyday. By Tuesday we were nearly half way there and the sun began to poke through the thick cloud cover. The heavy rains that were predicted for the passage never materialized but the huge seas were still pasting us along with 20+ knots of wind. This is not our first rodeo so while the wind was blowing we took full advantage of the power which meant that the compromise between comfort or speed was definitely pointing towards the later. Still, prudently reefed we bounced from wave to wave all in the effort to put distance between us and that circulating evil. The wind dropped down into the mid teens but the seas stayed large and wild. The course we’d decided on described an arc from New Caledonia to northeast Australia where we would decide how far south we could safely make it.

Escape Velocity sails well with 9-10 knots of breeze which is good because on the fourth day out that’s all we had, but the sun was back and the seas had moderated to the point that I fried eggs and toast for crew and Yours Truly. So far the GRIB file didn’t show any fronts, ridges, troughs, depressions, or any of the usual miseries the Aussies like to throw at you.

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Have I mentioned that it’s considered bad form for the prudent sailor to comment about what a lovely sail they’re having? No? Well, after a lovely day of sailing, tall thunderheads, the kind with the curly-cues on top, appeared on the horizon. This is the kind that go all the way down to the sea, getting darker and uglier the lower they come. I have to say, Dear Escapees, that Yours Truly had a weakening of his resolve as we relentlessly sailed toward what looked like the end of the world, Mate! (Obviously I’ve been practicing my Strine.) Left to right from horizon to horizon there was nothing for it but to plunge right in. It was a “Hey, who turned out the lights?” moment then the wind went from flat calm to 20kts in the blink of an eye but right on the nose (OTN) with the patter of rain on the acrylic wind screen. You’ll want to write that one down.

Right on time, according to the weather model we placed our bets on, the wind dropped dead. We’d been eking out 3-4kts with a 6-7kt breeze but this was profoundly dead. With the engine running it was decision time. This was a built-in go/no go undefined failsafe waypoint we’ll-know-it-when-we-get-there kind of thing. Think T. Boone Pickins bronco riding that bomb all the way down after passing the failsafe. Do we divert to Brisbane or press on regardless (POR) to Coffs Harbor? Coffs it is.

The regardless part of the equation got very real in the form of numerous nasty looking black cells on the horizon complete with a lot of cloud-to-cloud lightning, but we heard no thunder.

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We fired up our radar to check out what we were dealing with and there on the screen were a dozen or so storm cells dancing about, combining or separating, each heading in different directions like a defending army in a video game. We can acquire several targets at once and tag these cells following them on our chart plotter. We watched as their location, direction, and speed changed repeatedly. Our operating theory assumed that the system as a whole would be moving north up the Australian coast. It was about 20 miles ahead of us as we headed west southwest so we altered course 20 degrees to the south thinking we can do an end-around. That’s when great balls of Aussie hellfire arced down striking the ocean and the sky lit up in a spiderweb of jagged electrical fingers with ocean strikes all around us. We turned hard to starboard — north — in a seemingly futile effort to avoid the worst of the lightning. Rain was hammering down as we actually seemed to be making progress around this huge Tesla coil.

We watched the radar screen as great chunks of the cell would break off like the amorphous blobs in a lava lamp and zigzag around helter skelter. And we thought Costa Rica was bad! One cell nailed us, going right over the top of EV giving us a bird’s-eye view up through our roof window, but good karma and clean living on the straight and narrow held Thor’s hand so we just marveled at a magnificent close up display of cloud-to-cloud electricals. It took about three and a half hours for the system to pass, leaving us with confused seas and about 12 kts of wind. I’d been up for most of Marce’s watch and we were both spent but I knew I couldn’t sleep and we were already into my watch so M. went off to la la land. The storm cells dissipated so slowly that I didn’t notice until there were very few ocean strikes. That’s how it works sometimes.

Morning found Yours Truly, a tired and humbled adventure-seeker, hanging on to the steering wheel staring out at a placid ocean. We had to get a move on so we began a pattern of motor-on, motor-off sailing depending on the wind velocity. You don’t loiter in the Coral Sea.

First came the flies. How do they do that this far out? Then the first ships began to appear as little purple AIS triangles marching across the chart plotter screen. We even saw a large majestic sloop with Kevlar sails making 12 kts down the coast. Chatter on the VHF radio began to pick up. A few more birds were wheeling about, but still no cloud build up over land like you see in the islands. Then, the now familiar crack of thunder made us look up from the breakfast table. Oh, not that again. Yes, that again. The good news was that it was daylight. The wind went up to 28 kts but it was right OTN, it began to pour and we could see a complementary train of large wind-driven breakers that we would need to bash through between us and Coffs Harbor. Now EV loves to hobby horse, lively romping into a head sea. We don’t. With the speed over ground down to less than two knots we tacked over towards the light house on South Solitary Island, not that we could actually see it. Five knots in kinda the wrong direction beats taking big greenies over the bows while doing 1.5 kts on the rhumbline into Coffs Harbor. Finally on another tack I saw our goal through the wind, rain, and fog. I bellowed “Land Ho!” winning the coveted “chrome toaster award.”

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What a strange scene unveiled as we entered the harbor. Huge stone block sea walls, twenty feet or more high with concrete antiwave blocks on top giving the protective seawalls a crenelated look. They don’t build anything this massive unless it’s needed. Obviously Coffs Marina has been fully restored after last year’s destructive storm. A half dozen yachts bobbed at anchor as we dropped our hook while enjoying a beautiful sunset. I think of it as a kind of peace offering. Seven days, six hours after leaving New Caledonia we have contact with the land called OZ. We’ve come to the land Down Under. Hide the silver!

Nothing to do but feed all the kangaroos.

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You can lead a cruiser to culture but you can’t make them cogitate

I absentmindedly let Catnip putt along all the way from the anchorage into Port Moselle Marina. It was early on a warm sunny morning so it was no hardship for us. The leg work had all been done on several forays into city center of Nouméa. We were a little fuzzy about the exact location of the bus ticket office, but hey it’s early, and we’re not late for work. After encountering the parlez-cousin Francais sticklers when calling the reservation desk at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre, short of learning French this afternoon, I found the only way to book a reservation for the 2:30 tomorrow afternoon traditional dance show was to get in the dink and run into the marina office, have them call the reservation desk at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre, and parlez-vous in French. I fear something might have been lost in translation, but more about that later. Our friendly marina manager hung up and smiled,”It’s all set.” Done and dusted.

So where were we? Oh yes, walking through downtown Nouméa on a beautiful sunny morning looking for the little bus ticket office. After a few circuits around the park we found it, bought two tickets and were informed that we could catch our #40 bus back near where we started. No worries, it’s sunny, getting warmer and it’s still early. Our bus came and soon we were enjoying a breakneck race through Nouméa, but we know this always feels like a dice with death after months at five knots on the boat. At the end of the line we discovered the Tjibaou Cultural Centre.


We’d been enthralled with glossy brochure photos of dramatic ribbed beehive sculpted structures thrusting high above the treetops that apparently were part of the center. On the lengthy walk from the bus stop to the center the architects toyed with the visitor using peek-a-boo views of the structures. At the reception desk we were told to speak to the head cheese, Mai. It fell to her to deliver the bad news. It turns out that there may have been a communication breakdown somewhere between us, the Marina office, whoever booked the show at the centre, and the person who makes sure that the brochure copy is up to date. “Oh there hasn’t been a show on Thursdays for ages, just Tuesdays.” By this point I just wanted to find out what drugs this architect was taking. What did these modern ribbed football shaped structures have to do with ancient Melanesia Culture. Mai had suggested that we start outside in the gardens because “it gets hot later in the day.” It already was hot but we knew how closely intertwined the Kanak people and culture were with nature so we strolled the grounds in and around these crazy but magnificent structures.
We came upon a gent wandering down the same path who said his name was Roger, and when we asked where he was from he answered after a significant pause for emphasis…wait for it…”London.” Then he snickered, adding,”The French have such a whimsical way of displaying someone else’s culture.” Point well taken Roger, but what is it with the French and the English? 

Nearing the lowest point of the walk adjacent to the bay we came upon three large pointed huts, examples of the traditional architecture of the three regions of New Caledonia. They are all kind of football shaped with carved finials at the top.

Yes dear Escapees, if you haven’t switched back to Facebook already we have discovered the key to the architect’s inspiration.

 

Turns out the architect is Renzo Piano who also designed the Pompidou centre in Paris and the Shard in London. He’s Italian and he was chosen by New Caledonians as the winner of the design competition. It’s really a magnificent design, inside and out. Along with artifacts they have an extensive collection of early photographs taken when these amazing cultures were first discovered by western man. 

Inside the “footballs” we found multimedia displays, exhibit spaces, and contemporary studio spaces along with admin. offices and a tasty snack bar. Early sketches and work drawings by Monsieur Piano were used as clever decorations in one space showing the evolution of the wonderful Tjibaou Cultural Centre.

Disappointed about the dancing but well worth the 200fp bus fare.
 

  

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Technical difficulties

We apologize for the delay in posting blogs on New Caledonia. One of our iPads, the one we use for blogging, photos, email, and all internet functions in general, has gone to the great tech garden in the sky, at least temporarily. We will be able to get it repaired or replaced in Australia, but in the meantime we have to rejigger our blogging method and set up some other device for the purpose. Bear with us. There are lots of great photos to share with you. 

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In the wake of McHale’s Navy

After days of deliberation and navel gazing we gave up, eased and then slipped our lines, losing the last of our grip on Port Vila, Vanuatu. Next stop Noumea, New Caledonia. Or maybe Lifou, with its sheltering Baie Du Santal. Yes that might be nice if we need to divert. See how this works? This shouldn’t be a particularly tough passage. Short frequency choppy waves are always expected but the GRIB files show a small but significant backing of the prevailing SSE trade winds to the East. These are the winds that bedevil sailing back down under. If we get pushed too far west the backing trades will help us make New Caledonia. I guess one could call this a predicted developing window. The only other problem might be squeezing past Tiga, Ile Dudune, Vauvillier, Oua, and Leliogat Islands all strewn about in our path between Mare and Lifou, but the catch is we’ll probably have to do it in the dark.


Gulf Harbour Radio promised a very sporty day and it delivered a particularly nasty sea state, but with good wind pressure, which was critical because we had to pinch up into the wind, something gentlemen are not supposed to do. Marce was not pleased with this state of affairs. The following day the breeze failed us and we began to motor-sail. From that point on the wind would come and go according to the rhyme and reason of the sea, with no heed given to computer files, little animated arrows, or seemingly anything else. We dodged around the Islets between Mare and Lifou in the middle of a dark and moonless night but the arrival math told us that we were so late that we would be way too early to transit the famous Havannah Pass into New Caledonia’s lagoon. The only thing for it was to drastically slow Escape Velocity down. Something tells me that I should have payed more attention to word problems in grade school. And here I thought we were already in slow motion. With the Volvo ticking over a patient beat, and the jib up for appearance sake, ships came and went in the night keeping a respectful distance, as we shuffled toward New Caledonia.


Havannah Pass was beautiful, but a non event. At least it was accomplished in the daylight. With forty miles left to go we cast about for a rest stop and found one in a southern bay called Baie de Prony hanging off a beautiful small island called Ile Casy which was just big enough to fend off the nasty chop that followed us into the bay. We still had a 30 mile slog up the coast to Noumea where we could check in to New Caledonia, so it was early to bed and early to rise for Yours Truly and crew.
It was the kind of morning that can make you stay another day. Birds chirping, sun just waking after a brief shower, calm transparent water with large colorful fish swimming around the boat looking up at you while we looked down into their world. Life is good. 



Lines slipped, we motored out of Baie de Prony into that nasty chop again which was soon forgotten where the flood at Pointe Noukouma squirts through the narrows at three plus knots. This left us with just two. It took a while to get past. This place has the rowdiest lagoon in a 25 knot blow that I’ve ever experienced. You never saw two more relieved sailors than when we squeezed through Petite Passe into Port Moselle, only to find out over the VHF radio that the marina had no room at the visitor docks for us. That’s when long time Escapee, Wayne on Journey called and gave us the skinny on anchoring in the bay, sending us over to a mooring field that I wouldn’t have even stuck my nose into without encouragement. Still it was windy and boats were packed in nuts-to-butts. As the stress level rose aboard EV I noticed a guy in a dinghy motioning for us to follow him…so I did. Turns out after following a tortuous, circuitous route through the mooring field he found an unused mooring ball and he helped us tie up. I’m sure that his French was excellent but his English was nonexistent. His gestures seemed to indicate that we should ask permission to stay on the mooring from the young woman in the pretty little green boat a couple of balls over. We turned and he was gone in a cloud of spray. 

So…greetings from the land of McHales Navy. Be sure and hide the silver, Ensign Parker.

 

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