Thursday, October 29, 2015

Heading to Petit Paris!

Something always needs attention on deck during a storm!
New Caledonia along with French Polynesia is the other French Territoire d’outre-Mer in the Pacific Ocean. It is 20 degrees south of the equator which makes it Tropical, but the climate is slightly cooler. Yet it has the feel of the tropics with the white sand beaches, coconut palm trees and coral reefs. Actually, some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are in the Loyalty Islands just 50 nm east of the main island of Grande Terre.

So for the cruiser who has been in the remote authentic Melanesian islands of Vanuatu, New Caledonia is a wonderful place with French bread, cheeses, wine and pastries! The French believe in making fresh baguettes several times a day so there is always fresh bread. And they don’t keep it from day to day like we have to on the boat. There are no preservatives so it a challenge to keep it from molding.
Unfortunately, we only get a chance to buy it when we are near a market – which isn’t very often unless we are in a main port.

This is a little stronger than I like. 18-20 knots is just fine!
I am looking forward to buying some of the things I discovered here last year: Casino cappuccino, Orangina in large bottles, fresh prawns and a lot more. Of course, I will have to wait until I get back to Noumea for most of these items. I will be stocking up as there are things you learn to love in one country only to never find it again! Before heading to Australia, I will get quantities of things I want for the second half of this journey. Of course, I must be careful that what I buy will not be confiscated by the biosecurity cops in Oz (Australia, as it is known out here in the islands and New Zealand).
I saw it coming when day turned to night!
And it was only 3:45 PM and sunny.
We had a lovely sail for the first afternoon and night. The steady winds continued in the morning and we continued to sail along at 18-20 knots without much lumpiness. Trillium loves this kind of wind, especially when it is ahead of the beam. She flies!

I was really enjoying the trip until I noted the black sky ahead. Suddenly it seemed like nighttime in the middle of the afternoon. The winds leapt up to 25 knots with higher gusts and then it started to rain. Dennis came up to give me a hand and we turned on the radar. There we were in the middle of three squalls! We were hit by one and managed to skirt by the other two with minimal gusts and little rain. Of course, something on deck needed attention so he clipped on and went out to take care of it! I surely can't do that!

Our first landfall will be on Lifou in the Loyalty Islands. Since we must clear in with Customs, Immigration and BioSecurity first, we have rejoined the Island Cruising Club’s Pacific Circuit Rally, which we highly recommend as a way to see places throughout the South Pacific cruising season. Lyn and John Martin have a great program and are fun people with whom to rally! They enjoy beach fires, singing and fun and games so their program has something for everyone. And their personalities are delightful – plus they sail along with the entire fleet throughout the rally.

Are you having fun yet? Still?
Even though the Loyalties are near New Caledonia and part of the government, they are different in terrain and racial composition. The islands are not mountainous, if fact, they are more like atolls. The people are Melanesian. The national language is French, but the local language with a French twist is spoken in the villages.

I failed to learn French even though I promised myself I would after last year’s visit to New Caledonia. I have been working on it with my Rosetta Stone program, but I did not start soon enough. And I am a bit intimidated with the pronunciation! At least I can now understand some of the words and will be a little better at reading menus and grocery labels.

Check out the red areas. We are in the center of the circle
under the biggest squall at 4 PM with two more ahead!
The passage from Port Vila, Vanuatu to Lifou, Loyalty Island is an overnight sail if you leave really early, have good wind and can make it into the anchorage with good light. Since we were the last to leave Port Vila (for a number of reasons), we decided to make it a two night passage to arrive in really good light conditions since we had not been here and the entry has to be right on the way points. It was actually a nice passage. I had a few moments of concern – if you know what I mean, but held it to just queasiness.

The reason we were late leaving Vanuatu was that the entire fleet used up all of the fuel at the fuel dock and we had to wait along with Caduceus and Heat Wave for the fuel truck. And of course, by the time they filled up, it was time to close the fuel dock for the day. Not that the operators wanted to make one more sale before leaving for the day! That would be against island protocol – or whatever you may call it. Not too many enterprising people in the islands!

The morning after sunrise on my 5 AM watch.
The plus was that we had more time to do our duty-free shopping and pick up Pacific francs for New Caledonia money. Needing different money in every country becomes a challenge in itself. First you have to find a bank that has money for the next country before you head out. Then you have to recalculate the USD exchange rate so you know what you are spending in the new currency. And hopefully, you have very little, if any, of the previous country's currency left when you leave. Oh, yes! Then there is the issue of the currency being out of date! That's right! Several of these islands have updated their currency since last year so we have money that is no longer in circulation!

Of course, we restocked with wine and liquor. The price was so right: $13 USD for a liter of Absolut! It was a good time to try some of the expensive single malts - not for me, though. And I benefited the most being my birthday AND duty-free! Put two and two together and think about something lovely in iridescent grey that goes around your neck! And it happens to be Tahitian with pedigree papers. As Dennis admits, he doesn't always do gifts. But when he does ... Lucky me!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Moving On Across the Pacific

Beautiful anchorage off Avokh Island, Maskelyne, Vanuatu
There comes a time when you must continue your journey. Now is that time. Actually, today is the second anniversary of the start of this adventure. We left the dock in Maryland on October 25, 2013. My! Time flies when you are having fun!

We are not across the Pacific Ocean yet. And we still have the Coral Sea, Indian Ocean (a really big one!), the South Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea to cross before we get back to St. Lucia, our starting point for the World ARC. Our intended arrival date is April 2017. We still have some land cruising to do in Australia and SE Asia.
Jennifer and her son. She is Chief Kaisa's daughter
It was very difficult leaving Avokh Island and Vanuatu. We both have great memories and have made friends with whom we will continue to support in some way. Once we were back in Port Vila to prepare for our passage to New Caledonia, the emotional and physical exhaustion set in. We were both surprise to feel such low energy for a few days.

Vincent, Shelta, Karina, Nella and their little guy.


I still get teary-eyed when I think about the friends we left and will probably not see again. I have over 1000 photos of the experience so it will not be forgotten. And I do wonder how they feel: a) are they glad we finally got out of their hair!, b) are they wondering how to continue what we started, c) are they feeling the void of our absence, d) are they wondering what hit them when S/V Trillium arrived,) or are they trying to understand why we gave them so much? Or all of the above?

Vincent's parents

Chief Nawa


We shared many meals with Chief Kaisa, Vincent and their families.


One of the many talented musicians.
Goodbye Mother Hubbard dresses. Not my style!
Fortunately, the weather dictates when a yacht must move on, otherwise, one might get stuck in one place for a long time. This is what happens to many people who have left shore without a time frame for cruising. Suddenly they find themselves somewhere in the ocean world after eleven years! We do have a time frame for returning to land so we must sail with the weather windows.
Curious weavers!
Cruising friends from S/Y La Quilta and S/Y Celine

Our welcoming and goodbye party!
Next stop: the Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia. We have heard they are beautiful and one of the top beaches in the world in on the Atoll D’Ouvea island of Ouvea. Since Customs and Immigration require westbound yachts to sail to all the way west and around the bottom of New Caledonia to Noumea on Grande Terre to clear in, most yachts miss this stop in the island group to the east. Since we are sailing with the Island Cruising Club’s Pacific Circuit Rally on this leg, we have the privilege of clearing in on Lifou. The ICA flies the officials to Lifou for the clearance process.

Mal de Mare Update:

I am pleased to report that I have now made four passages without being seasick! In the traditional Root Cause Analysis mode, you must ask: what changed! I started eating more before and during the passages. When I was having so much trouble, I didn’t want to put anything in my stomach as I did not want to see it again. Now I realize it was the stomach acid causing the dry heaves. So far, eating has worked and I feel much better. Still a little queasy, but managing it. Life has gotten better!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

We Are Now Family

Nella, one of my "little girls."
The villagers kept asking us when we were leaving. I was thinking that they would like to get back to their normal lives and get these white people out of their hair!

They were actually trying to plan a surprise thank you ceremony for us and we made it difficult between the weather not being right and the projects not being completed. So our intended departure date kept moving. And the mourning for George was a factor.

Big sister, Karina, is the other one!
The Thank You ceremony was also to bless the solar lighting
in the church and the new computer for the school.
In the end, they had a beautiful Thank You ceremony for us in the church on Friday just before the mourning service for George was to take place. The canoe came to the boat to collect us at 7:30 am and we were taken to the church.

The service was both a thank you to us and a prayer service to bless the solar lights and the computer. They are a very faithful group of people who strongly believe in prayer. Little did they know two white people for America would deliver!

Mr. Bill, the school's headmaster and son of the Parmount Chief, spoke on behalf of the village and school. Dennis gave some kind remarks about Chief Kaisa, Vincent, Mr. Bill and the village, which Bill translated into the native tongue. There were smiles and tears.
The girls made flower necklaces for us and presented them.
We were given two beautiful handwoven mats. Woven mats are an essential part of their lives. There are specific uses for specific types of mats: some for sleeping, some for sitting and others for eating. Of course, there are mats made for the siding of their homes also. The most special of the mats are the ones given as gifts.

Good example of how mats are used.

Weaving panels for the siding on the house.
Even Mrs. George was involved in making
the mats. She is carrying pandanus from
the gardens for weaving on Monday. 

They were weaving Dennis' mat! Beautiful!

Every woman in the village was weaving for the ceremony.
I was trying to help them figure out how to make a small sea
turtle so they could sell them in the market we are trying to
help them get started. A market was a new concept here!
On her school lunch break, this little gal sat down next to me
and just took over what I was weaving! Loved it as she was
so into it and serious about it. I hope the girls sell things.

The most senior lady did the finishing on Dennis' mat. She
also tried to figure out how to make the turtle. She will get it!
Our mats are the most colorful and beautifully woven ones I have seen anywhere. The funny part is that, having been a weaver and basket-maker myself, I actually spent the day sitting and weaving with the women while they were making our mats.

I learned how they get the colors: dye from Port Vila. Note
 the pot (old can) on the fire to her right; that is a dye pot.
Of course, I did not know they were for us and I kept commenting on how beautiful they were. The ladies would all smile and speak in their native tongue. Now I know why! They probably thought it was funny that I didn’t know they were for us. I was thinking of offering to buy mats from them.

She is weaving a sitting mat.

Actually, I have been trying to convince the women of having a market when visitors come to the island. Most yachties are looking for fresh fruits and vegetables and local crafts. Fresh bread is a big seller, too. I shared with them photos from other markets we have visited throughout the South Pacific.

They just can't believe that someone will pay for these items. They have often traded, but not sold. In the past, trading may have worked, but in today's economy, they need cash to buy rice and flour, etc.

This was precious! These two were sharing one lolly while
the mothers were weaving the mats!
We also introduced the idea of selling freshly baked bread to yachties. Fresh bread is a real treat when you have been out for a while. And since everything here is fresh and organic, bread molds quickly. Therefore, yachts need a place to buy bread! So simple to us; so difficult for them to grasp. The bread they make is wonderful and would sell well.

And I got the feeling that the women did not think they were capable of making things to sell. Really! Just look at the mats. And the bracelets they made for me. I guess, once a woman business owner, always an entrepreneur! I hope I gave them something to inspire a market in their future.

Chief Kaisa and Dennis: Now brothers!
Actually, that day was another one of the highlights for me as I loved weaving with the women. However, I could not sit like they do and my body was aching. The little children were hanging all over me, touching my white skin and yellow hair! They are so cute. Unfortunately, I did pick up a nasty cold from the runny-nosed little ones! It is their winter now and they are barely dressed on these cold (by island standards) damp days.
They even had refreshments after the ceremony.
Fresh lemonade and their version of bagels or
donuts. Very tasty, but quite greasy!

We were also given two carved wooded sculpture drums – one from the village and one from the school, and a carved wooden pig.
Dennis had been wanting a drum. The pig is a special animal here in the islands. They roam freely and are part of ceremonies and special meals. The Pig Killing Ceremony seems to be a rite of passage for men and only those who have completed it can see or dance the kastom dance.  

My mat has my favorite colors and is beautiful, too.
As one of our gifts to the village, Dennis gave Chief Kaisa a set of wood carving tools to be shared by those with the skills or desire to learn carving skills. The island's master carver used them to make the drum and pig.

Amazing work!
Our next challenge is getting them shipped home so the Australian authorities don’t take them from us. They are very particular in what can come into Australia and plant, fiber and wood products are a no-no unless specially treated and certified. Since our gifts came from the artisans, there is no certification.
(We later learned that we could take them to the Vanuatu Agricultural Department and have them treated and certified so they will be traveling with us!)

Dennis' mat has the orange in it. Mine is the other one.
It was a bittersweet day when we left the island. We worked in the rain until dark to finish the church gutters. Then we took our gifts and were paddled to the boat.
The following morning Chief Kaisa, Vincent and his daughters, Karina and Nella paddled out to the boat to send us off. But – they wouldn’t let go of the boat. They really did not want us to leave.
My girls!
Finally, we told them we had to go because we had the right weather window. Sadly, we watched them paddle away, waving as they went. I am sure we all felt the same sadness with the separation. We will always have the people of Avokh Island in our hearts and on our minds.
I get teary-eyed just writing these blogs!
Note: After pricing out the shipping of the gifts to the USA was over $900 and that probably does not include customs charges, we took the goods to the quarantine center and paid $20 USD to treat and certify them. Hopefully, it will get them through biosecurity in Oz!

Goodbyes are hard!
So long, Avokh Island! It has been one of our most
wonderful experiences in life. Thank you for your friendship!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Let the Games (Opps, I Mean Work) Begin!

Removing and repairing the school guttering was the first job.
Now that we had solved some of the monetary issues that had the village at a standstill, it was time to get the projects underway. Chief Kaisa stayed in cell phone contact with the other chiefs on the island while we were in Port Vila to keep them up to date on the activities.

They are dependent on rain water for drinking
and cooking. Many of their catchment systems
were damaged by Cyclone Pam in March 2015.
Once the roofing materials were acquired, he directed the Community Building Committee to start preparing the wood for the trusses. The sheet metal was en route and its transfer to Avokh Island was arranged. It was exciting to see action!

Chief Nawa is learning to use the electric drill.
The way they show appreciation for those
who work on community projects is to
provide a lunch as it keeps them on the job!
There was only one problem: George, the man with the failing heart had died just before we left for Port Vila. In this culture, the mourning period is lengthy. It seems that for 20 days after someone dies, they cannot do any major work and they don’t “cleanse themselves.”

I am not sure what that means other than I know they do not shave their beards or wash their hair during this time. Vincent and Chief Kaisa did shower in the marina, but maybe they don’t on the island. It is interesting, but frustrating as the work on the Community Building will not begin until after we leave! We so wanted to see it roofed and put in the solar lights.
Chief Nawa is the keeper of the tools now!

A decision was made to put the solar light in the church instead. During the cyclone, the whole village of 200+ stayed in the church as it is the strongest building. It is made of cement blocks and has a metal roof attached with roofing screws. They have been using the church as the community meeting place since the storm.
Many of the younger men were interested in learning.
Dennis worked with the men repairing the gutters at the school. In the process, he was teaching them how to do it and how to use the tools that had been donated in New Zealand and by us. Some of the young men seemed very interested in helping and learning. That is a good sign.

Their curiosity was entertaining. Everyone handled and examined the tools. Some tried to use them in very inventive, but unsuccessful, ways. We did keep a watchful eye on our own tools to make sure they came back to the boat with us.
Now it is time to install the solar lighting in the church as
this was one of the top three priorities, along with clean
drinking water and the roof on the Community Building.
The only problem was back to the issue of things being free here! When tools were taken ashore when we first arrived, men just helped themselves.

We call it “stealing.” Here  it is known as the Cargo Cult syndrome! People drop stuff off on the islands and it becomes every man for himself trying to grab what he can! It was very frustrating for us as we had a plan and specific uses for things.

Chief Nawa has been put in charge of the tools now and has tried to get most of them back together for the community to use. We purchased a large tool box with a lock to secure the smaller tools. Anyone needing to use the tools will sign them out with Chief Nawa so he knows where they are and how to get them back.

To help the community understand which items were donated to the community and not to any individual, we have created the Trillium Trust for Avokh. Everything that we have given is given in trust that it is for the community to share and that specific people will be responsible for maintaining the gifts.
People will be able to sign out a tool for personal use and sign it back in when returned. Hopefully that will keep the tools together for projects. We are labeling things Trillium Trust so they will be easily identified if an individual seems to keep them too long.

Quite a team: Mr. Dennis and Chief Nawa

This ties in with the idea that the benzene fuel is not "free" anymore. People will have a vested interest in maintaining things and making sure there is a way to replenish if they have to put in a little money, time, talent, etc.

This solar panel was donated NZ. We bought a battery and
all of the parts to make it work without having measurements!

It has been our decision to commit to working with one island, get to know the people and culture and make friends rather than hop through all of the islands visiting different villages. Our personal mission was to be involved with the people and experience their culture and way of life. And hopefully, we will have made a positive difference here, leaving it a little better than we found it.

The old gutters were carefully taken down to be reallocated
throughout the village. We bought a new larger guttering
system to replace it. It took several days and many hands.
Just as the last piping was put into place, it started to rain!
The sweetest music ever: rainwater coming
out of the pipe and spilling into the cistern!
As a result, we haven’t made it north of the Maskelyne Islands, but we have found this approach to be most rewarding. We have a vested interest in this village and hope to maintain contact with Vincent and Chief Kaisa over the years.

We won’t see all of Vanuatu, but we didn’t have time to see all of French Polynesia either. We do have a desire to get back to the USA and family and friends by 2018! So we will be moving on to New Caledonia once we finish here in Avokh.

And look at the smile as this boy fetches
clean water from the cistern with a hook
made from a tree branch lowered into it.
Sweet Success! Happy People - and tired!