Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ahhh! The Land of Oz!

Our first dinner in Oz at the Newcastle Cruising Yacht
Club with Anita and Glenn. So good to be on land again!
We have arrived in Australia! Or Oz as it is known here. Or is it Auss? Or Ahhhs?

All I know is that it took me a while to figure out people were talking about Australia when they were referring to Australia in this way. Whatever it is or whatever they call it, we are here now! And we will be based here until September 2016 to avoid cyclone season in the South Pacific Islands.

Just like in the USA and Caribbean where boats need to be out of the hurricane belt during the months of June through October. That is, if you want your insurance policy to cover any damages. Most policies will not pay out if you are hit in a named storm if you are not out of the designated latitudes. Down here cyclone (hurricane, if in the northern hemisphere) season is from November through April.

Like everything else, we need to “stand on our heads” to figure things out. Everything seems upside down and backwards. The seasons are the opposite; the winds move in opposite directions from the northern hemisphere, etc. And then there is the challenge of meters and liters vs. feet and gallons! Add to that the temperature conversions. I still have not figured out an easy way to convert it.

We are now coming into the heat of summer while back in Michigan, winter has set in. Today is going to be another 100+ day. The temperature could go up to 400 Celsius which is something like 1070 Fahrenheit. Someone told me that 280 C is 820 F. So I know that I am not going to like anything higher than 280 C! You may think I am crazy, but I miss those snowy days and a warm fireplace!

The Down Under Rally has planned a
very busy week of fun activities. We
look forward to getting to know the
other cruisers in the Rally and sailing.
Since this is a huge country, almost as big as the continental USA, we plan to do some land cruising. Instead of buying a vehicle like we did in little New Zealand, we will probably fly to a region and rent a car for touring the area. Then fly to another area and do the same. The distances here are huge! And there is not much between the major areas – except kangaroos and other critters. And the kangaroos are like Michigan deer: they like to hop in front of you and do damage!

This is now home for the next few months. The
Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club is a great club and
they have given us complimentary social memberships.
How is that for welcoming us to Oz!
Another challenge here is the visa issue. We have a 12-month visa which allows us to leave and re-enter as often as we like. That is nice. The challenge is that it also requires us to leave after 90 days before returning. We must clear out of the country and clear back in. The boat can stay; we have to leave! If they would study the loss of revenue while we are gone, they might rethink this policy. I am just saying ...

Look at the name of the racing sailboat across from us!
I don't think I want to mess with him rounding a mark!
So now we have a very tight travel schedule which makes it challenging to move with the weather. And sailing is weather dependent! We will leave for the first two weeks of February and take a Mekong River cruise to see Vietnam and Cambodia. We will return to Australia for 90 days and then fly to San Francisco for a few days and then to Michigan for six weeks. In between, we will see as much of Australia and, hopefully, Tasmania before rejoining the World ARC in late July. Then in September, we sail to Indonesia and on across the Indian Ocean to South Africa where we will spend Christmas next year. So we are working our way back home!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Time to say: Au revoir to New Caledonia

Thank God for Dennis, Anita and Glenn. They
ruled the galley when I was seasick -again!
We have had a great time in New Caledonia – especially in the Loyalty Islands and Ile des Pins. The Bay of Prony was lovely as well. And of course, we like Noumea as it is the first real city we have seen since leaving Auckland last April. Sometimes it is nice to have a healthy dose of restaurants, supermarkets and some of the amenities of life!

Our friends from Norway and Sweden arrived as planned but our departure from Noumea was delayed a week waiting for a package with a part for the Watt & Sea water generator. Since the Watt & Sea provides a lot of electricity while we are sailing, we wanted it functioning for the 1100 nm crossing to Australia.

Anita at the helm. She took my watch. It was the first
time I was too sick to do my watch. I was disappointed
with my inability to get the mal de mare under control.
Even though the package was sent the “fastest” way on FedEx, it took over 10 days for it to arrive in New Caledonia. It made a number of stops before arriving here, but then there is customs, etc.

It sat somewhere for a few days and since the FedEx tracking did not give us notice, we did not have any idea of where it was. Then, of course, there was the weekend!

We finally hired someone to search for it. She found it and arranged to have it delivered. After waiting for nearly two days for the delivery, she finally drove Dennis to where he could put his hands on it!  
Dennis loved eating "European style!" Cheese, sausage,
rye breads, sardines, and more yummies!
So late on a Friday, with package in hand, we finally sailed out of Noumea! Since it was too late in the day to maneuver through the numerous islands and reefs inside the barrier reef, we took a mooring ball for the night at Ilot Maitre in preparation for an early morning departure though the Amedee Pass southwest of the Amedee Lighthouse. From there on, it was a straight shot on the rhumb line to Newcastle, AU – 1088 nm as the crow flies.

Fixing the Watt & Sea before leaving New Caledonia
Our goal was to arrive in Newcastle, which is about 60 nm north of Sydney, Thursday or Friday (6-7 days). The winds were favorable at the start and we sailed along nicely. Anita and Glenn were great crew so we took three hour watches twice a day which made the watch schedule easy.

There were a few days with little wind so we motor sailed some; there were a few days with a lot of wind, so we flew. And there were days when the wind clocked around 3600 and back again. At one point and at night, of course, the wind turned the boat around 1800 in less than 30 seconds! Anita was alone at the wheel and didn’t know what hit her! It had happened to Dennis twice before. And it always seems to happen at night.

I hate it when Dennis stands on the stern platform at sea!
On Wednesday night, we had finished a lovely cockpit dinner in nice conditions when there was a big change in the wind. I started my watch at 2000 hours (8 PM) and the wind was a steady 19 knots – nice sailing. Within minutes it jumped to a steady 30 knots so I called Dennis to tell him what was happening. We discussed a strategy and he went below to prepare for his sleep time, but said to call him if it when any higher. I don’t think he even had time to brush his teeth when I yelled: It is 35 knots!

Anita, this is NOT how you keep your day watch!
That was the beginning of a very long 36 hours! Earlier in the day, we were only going 2.5-3 knots under sail so we made a decision not to motor since we couldn’t make it into port during daylight hours so we would have a relaxing day to let us arrive on Friday without having to stand off shore overnight.

It was a good day until my watch began! The wind was ranging between 35-48 knots! Now we are moving along at 8-12 knots which is too fast as our hull speed is 7.5. And the waves are crashing over the top and we can’t see anything in the dark night. We can only feel the size and direction based on what they were doing to the boat!
Most of the passage was beautiful sailing.
These conditions continued throughout the day on Thursday making galley work challenging. It was impossible to sleep as we were being thrown around in our berths even with lea cloths to hold us in. No one got any real sleep and our muscles were tired from trying to stabilize our bodies.

At least during the day we could see the size of the swells: 3-4 meters! No wondered we were being tossed about all night. Our weather report showed no indication of these conditions. In fact, it was predicted that we would have a nice sail with some motoring on the rhumb line all of the way. Right!

At times there was no wind.
When nightfall came again and I went on watch at 2000 hours, it kicked up again in to the high 30’s and low 40’s. I knew what to do so I just went with the plan and held on! Actually, we had gotten closer to Australia than we wanted to be at that time so we turned south to stay further off shore. And once we got over the continental shelf that runs along the coast, the waves settled down somewhat. There is a dramatic change where the depth goes from 3000-4000 meters deep to 150 meters once you make it onto the shelf. That brought some relief.


Glenn is a great sailor - and a 747 Captain!
The next challenge: the southbound current! There is a strong southbound current that runs down the east coast of Australia at the rate of 3-5 knots depending on where you are and local conditions. We hit the current just after arriving on the shelf. So now I am trying to keep us on the shelf and off shore with the wind behind us. We had out less than 20 % sail just to stabilize the boat and balance it for the autopilot. So here I am: little sail, strong wind, fast current and cargo ships!

This is what the saloon looked like during the passage.
I guess we didn't stow very well - or was it the wild ride?
Newcastle is a huge coal mining area and there are numerous cargo ships coming in and out in addition to the regular cargo traffic up and down the coast. Much of the coal goes to China and Japan so they come out of Newcastle and turn left to go up the coastline. I had to maneuver through a field of moving targets for several hours as there were seven ships moving in the area. I like to stay at least a couple of miles out of their path, but that was impossible so several times I was within less than a mile of them. Thanks to AIS (Automatic Identification System), I could see their speed and course over ground. It also told me our closet point of contact and when it would occur. It made for a very interesting watch!

This is what it was like at 8:30 PM of the coast of Oz.
At about 2230 hours (10:30 PM), I passed the entrance to Newcastle. We were headed south and the current and wind had us going up to 12 knots at times. There was no way to slow down so I figured I should just keep steering through the traffic and we will deal with our position when the guys come up for their watches. I knew we should turn back to the north, but that required waking people up and putting us back into the cargo traffic.

At the beginning of the passage, we had moonlight.
During the last two nights it was blacker than coal and
you could not see anything except the waves hitting!
During Dennis’ watch following mine, he awoke Glenn and they turned us around to head back north toward Newcastle. The trigger for this was when he saw a huge black cloud down by Sydney and lots of lightening. No sailor wants to deal with lightening! So once we were headed north in the current, our boat speed dropped to 3 knots with the engine running! It was that north wind and the southbound current working against us. We finally approached the entrance to the Newcastle Harbour about 9:30 AM and were happy to see a sunny day with light winds – AND LAND AHOY!

The black cloud over Sydney was described as a “tsunami cloud” and it was in the BBC news. I posted tis on my Facebook page right after we read about it. The result is that we had a fun and exciting passage with the best crew ever – so much fun with Anita and Glenn! – and we made it there safely with a bit of excitement.

Happy to be at the dock. Sundowners for some - not me!
I was happy to be on land again. The “Passage Diet” kicked in again on the first day right after lunch. This time the mal de mare was the worst ever and I was not able to do my watch for the first 36 hours. Just when I thought I had mastered the problem … Delta, Alpha, Mike, November!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Truly Cruising in New Caledonia!

Sometimes he scares me to death: standing on the lifeline!
It seems that the passages between countries become the main focus of cruising. It is the hard work time. Passage making requires a lot of preparation: provisioning, making passage meals, weather routing, sail plan strategies, physical endurance, etc.

When sailing with the World ARC, we were more focused on passage making as there was a weather-driven schedule to reach the next scheduled stop. This is important on the World ARC as it is a 16-month sail around the world rally. And it is a wonderful event for those who want to do just that! I highly recommend it.

Lovely sunsets in Port Moselle Marina
We knew before leaving the USA that we wanted to spend more time in the South Pacific. It is work getting here so why not stay for a while? So we have and, in fact, we have stayed a year longer than planned as there is so much to see.

In fact, we should stay another year to really appreciate sailing and land cruising in Australia – but we aren’t going to do that. And then we could stay another year to see Indonesia … It is time to start moving toward home. And I am looking forward to having some time with the grandchildren who are all growing up so fast.
This year in Vanuatu, Tonga and New Caledonia we finally became real cruisers! By that I mean, just hanging out and enjoying wherever we were at the moment. With no sense of urgency to move on, it is easy to relax and appreciate the current location.

Anita at the Aquarium
It is easy to see why so many cruisers find themselves out here for years! Time means nothing and each day folds into the next. In fact, you never look at the calendar and frequently ask: what day is it?

We spent more time playing with friends, sharing sundowners or dinners on different boats, sightseeing, meeting the native people, etc. There is still much we will not see or do as you could stay out here for several years.

Of course, the Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia are my most favorite in the world so far and Ile des Pins is not far behind in the standings. And Noumea is one of my favorite cities. So New Caledonia ranks pretty high in my book.

Now add to that having fun people join you to crew! Anita and Glenn from Norway (although, he is Swedish) flew in to make the passage to New Caledonia with us. Since we had a few days in Noumea waiting for a package, we had time to play there.


Our visit to the Aquarium was terrific. The featured exhibit was coral so we saw beautiful coral in the tanks with the fish, sharks and turtles. This was one of the finest aquariums in the world.

We also had a lot of good laughs with Anita and Glenn. We decided we wanted pizza so we went to a pizza place a few blocks from the marina. It was Monday night. There was no pizza as they had just sold the last two to the table next to us! It was only 7 PM! What kind of a pizza place is that? So we left and went to the food trucks to pick up dinner.
However, before we left, the guys noticed a sign for fresh mussels and asked if they were available. No, not tonight as the sign (in French) apparently said “tomorrow.” Okay, we will go back for pizza and mussels on Tuesday.

Tuesday we went to the aquarium in another part of town and we saw an ad for a wood-fired pizza place. When we left the aquarium, we walked about a mile to find the place. It is now 4:45 PM and the place is not yet open. Okay, we can wait as they probably open at 5 or 6 PM. Then we ask someone who told us they don’t open until 7 PM!
Not your typical Italian pizza. This is France, remember?
No, we are not standing around here for two hours so we grabbed a cab back to the other place where we can have pizza and mussels! Well, the person who makes the pizza is not yet there so we order a cold drink to wait. And can we order mussels? Oh no, there were no mussels! But the sign says … Yes, it says tomorrow, but there are no mussels today – maybe tomorrow. Picture a French woman saying this!

Waiting for the pizza ...
The pizza lady showed up so we got our pizzas. They were okay, but I make better ones using tortillas on the stove! We had a good laugh about the whole pizza ordeal. In fact, the four of us did more laughing in our two weeks together than we have done in the last year. It was so much fun.

It made Lil' Caesars and Domino's look like gourmet pizzas!

And the funny thing is that we really did not know Anita and Glenn. We had met them on the World ARC where there were crewing on several other boats. Somehow I just knew we would make a good fit. It turned out to be the most fun passage yet and we miss them now that they have left Australia! I know we will be with them again somewhere in the world sometime.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Down Time at Ile des Pins

Another big beautiful fine sand beach at Baie du Kuto
One of the most famous down under vacation spots especially for boaters is New Caledonia’s Ile des Pins. It is a collection of reefs, atolls and islands about 60 nm southeast of Noumea, but still within the barrier reef that surrounds New Caledonia. There are only a few passages to enter the barrier reef and as you might imagine, there are a number of shipwrecks where others tried to create their own entrance! The charts are well marked, but one should navigate in good light only.

Sometimes you need a little help from your friends
when parking your "car" on the sandy beaches!
Since our draft is 2.2 meters or just over seven feet, there were a number of places where we could not enter the lagoons as they were too shallow. This is when we would look at our friends on catamarans and wave from a distance! There are many beautiful places where we could anchor on the west side.

Dennis and Brian are off to the boulangerie for baguettes!
It is over a mile's walk and they are only open between
6 AM and 11 AM so you have to get up and get going!

We chose to base ourselves in Baie de Kuto and land cruise, walk the beach and veg out for a week. We had been on the move for some time and it was the right time to just hang on the hook. We played a little Boule with Sue and Brian on S/V Darramy, enjoyed the beach bar patio and the treks to the store for fresh baguettes. In fact, we found a Boule set in the shop so we have our own now!

Dennis found an artist’s studio and boutique nearby so we stopped there to see the painted garments.  Too stiff for me as I know how to paint on fabric and I didn’t think I wanted to wear these. Interesting and good for tourists. But we decided a long time ago that we are not tourists and do not buy something to remember every place we have been. Too much stuff!

I love these fences along the road.
We hung out with a few of the Pacific Circuit Rally boats and met some of the ones who will be heading to Australia. Those from Australia (also known as Oz) gave us some insight on what to see and expect while we are there. Cruisers are the most generous people you will ever meet. There is no scarcity mentality out here. We all share information, tools, skills and time. And friendship!
The snorkeling lagoon.
Baie de Kuto is full of sea life. There are a number of sea turtles that just swim around the boats. We saw rays and a type of fish or shark that attaches itself to the bottom of the boat to eat anything growing there. I think it is called a remora or something like that and I do not have Internet to research it right now. Of course, there are many fish of different varieties and across the way in the inner lagoon, the snorkeling was said to be good. It has been too cold to enjoy snorkeling so we passed on it. Dennis did dive on the boat to check things out underneath and to look for a part that we lost overboard – not to be found.
We rented (or as they say: hired) a car and drove around the island to see the historical sites, visit the caves and have lunch at the Meridian Resort on the far side. We ventured down two-track paths and under low hanging trees and vines to find the places of interest. We saw the prisons and a cemetery from a more brutal time in their history.

There is a lot of danger to avoid when sailing inside
the barrier reef. Here is a sample from Ile des Pins
New Caledonia has a history of the French vs. the Kanaks, the indigenous people. Like many of the island countries we have visited, the native people were not treated well and are just coming into social equality in the last 50 years or less. Of course, change follows a fair amount of unrest, but eventually things are changing.

In fact, the official name of the French territory is Nouvelle-Cal├ędonie and may soon be changed to acknowledge the Kana
k people and culture. There is an accord that stated that “a name, a flag, an anthem, a motto, and the design of banknotes will be sought by all parties together, to express the Kanak identity and the future shared by all parties.” We have seen the new flag which was adopted in 2010 and is flown in the outer islands as the flag. This makes New Caledonia one of the few countries or territories in the world that has two flags.

More breathtaking views of paradise.
We have seen flag and currency changes throughout our travels - especially banknotes and coins. Many countries are removing Queen Elizabeth from the bills and coins. In fact, some of the money we used in those countries last year was not accepted this year. It made for a trip to the bank to exchange old for new. Many of the countries are now printing colorful banknotes on a type of poly material. It makes them hard to counterfeit and they are waterproof. It helps those sailors and locals who somehow manage to get their money wet! 

We enjoyed a nice lunch at the Meridian Resort where
they have a beautiful lagoon and beach that goes for miles.
But the real adventure began after lunch. As we turned to go down the road to the Meridian, a guy was trying to wave us over. We just ignored him and kept going. We had a lovely lunch in a beautiful location. It is always nice to be off the boat for times like this.

The history of prisons on these islands is
old and not very pleasant.
When we came out and turned the wrong way, the same guy came up to the car as we were turning around in a parking area. He was a local and wanted to know if someone could ride to Kuto with us. Then he introduced an attractive young lady. Dennis said, “Sure.” I was skeptical, as usual! As we began to clear out the back seat of this little compact car to make room for her, two more guys wanted to ride along, too! Now I am really unhappy.

The caves were interesting and not real touristy so it
was an adventure finding them on our own.
As it turns out, this was a television crew from Japan filming a travel log for their station and You Tube! Of course, I know how hard reporters work to get their stories and meet deadlines, so I finally warmed up to the idea of this entourage! We stopped at several places so they could film, including a well-known church on the island. Since they had a whole support team following in a van and another car, we looked like we were invading when we arrived somewhere.
This is the "road" to one of the caves.
At one point on the highway, the car was so weighed down with people and gear that we had to make several attempts to get up one of the hills! The guys were going to get out and push, but we finally got enough momentum to make it!

We stopped at the artist's boutique because Dennis had learned that the wife spoke Japanese. So it was fun to watch them all chatter away in Japanese and capture it in their project.

Not sure how we fit five adults into this car!

We continued on to the Baie de Kuto and showed them our boat at anchor. The reporter had never been in a dinghy so we took her and the camera man for a short ride around the anchorage and around S/V Trillium. She was thrilled and so excited. Unfortunately, we didn’t have room for the sound guy to go with us. Then we took them back to shore and said goodbye. We hope to find the video somewhere on You Tube. Maybe some of you will find it before we do!
This was the "gang" we picked up - actually, they
picked us up and it turned out to be fun.

The crew at the boutique.

The sand is so fine it cakes on you. Think powdered sugar!

Our friendly manta ray swimming by the boat.
And here is the Captain swimming by the boat - actually
under it and looking for something!