Thursday, 26 July 2018

Love rainbows, hate boats

I once made myself unpopular with a group of kiwis (people not birds) by announcing that I hate rainbows.  Rainbows are up there with kittens, fairies, balloons and babies and you’re supposed to like them.  I wasn’t being flippant, I really don't like rainbows very much.  Rainbows usually mean the end of rain and I can never get enough rain. 
Or so I thought…
Rain in a house is a fabulous thing: cosy, refreshing, soothing…
Rain on a boat just sucks.  Everything gets damp (including spirits), everything starts to smell (including people) and everything’s just that little bit harder. Rain is great for filling up the water tanks.  It's rotten for getting sheets dry.  

If the person you love most insists that once through the industrial marina dryer will definitely get the clothes dry and then when it doesn’t you discover that the marina office has shut and there won’t be anyone to sell you little gold laundry tokens for two days, your salon might end up looking like this:

You will want to wash yourself because like everything else on the boat, you’re beginning to grow mould, but all the towels will be sodden rags hanging on the railings growing their own ecosystems.  A spell of sunshine will send you into a pegging out frenzy and the outside of the boat will rapidly disappear under a hopeful, brightly-coloured patchwork tent of damp fabric, but then the skies will darken and you’ll scowl and go into a different kind of frenzy, shaking your fist at the sky as you throw all the still-damp fabric back into a compost heap on the cockpit floor.
All the things you once took for granted - clean clothes, dry linen, a ready supply of fresh food, a car to get from A to B, a bath, white goods, a room of your own - will all seem tinged with a golden, mythical, otherworldly glow.
I would give anything for a boring, easy life on land, you will think.  Anything.

But then the sun will come out, really come out, a towel-drying breeze will blow up, and you'll finally get to that varnishing job on deck, watching turtles and sharks cruise around the boat in water so clear it gives you vertigo to look down.

Love boats.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Snorkelling underground

Mama, it's okay, we all lived.

In the Company of Cats

Not much blogging from the Pandion crew lately; we’ve been too darn busy.  We left Noumea and sailed down to the opening of Bay de Prony on the south west tip of Grande Terre where we rendezvoused with two CatsWithKids, Bella Luna and Gonyonda.  Cruising with kids is such a random and illogical thing to do that the chances of running into PLU (people like us) is relatively high and we have loved hanging out with these two families. The wind was out of the northwest, unusual during the trades, so we took the opportunity to sail south to Ile de Pins.  We hooked along at 7.5 knots and blitzed the 40 mile passage in just over five hours, but were still roundly outstripped by The Cats, who averaged 10 knots.  That’s one thing about traveling with cats: they will always outpace you.  Another thing is that they can anchor in shallower water, so while we are being tossed (gently) around on the edge of the deep water, they can tuck up into a placid swimming pool about 2 metres from shore.  (My mild bitterness is leading me to exaggerate.)
Cat in a swimming pool
The whole time we were at Ile de Pins the trades were blowing with gusts up to 30 knots, but we huddled in Kuto Bay and behind various islands and barely noticed the weather. 
We traveled out to a couple of islands (Moro and Brosse) where the kooky New Cal “Island Beautification” trend was in full swing.  I didn’t have a camera on Moro, but one corner of the tiny island had been totally manicured: raked sand, mobiles made of shells, old man’s beard draped decoratively under the archway made of driftwood, solid timber furniture, fire pits, swings for the kids and an open-sided kitchen.  These islands remind us so much of the islands in the Capricornia Bunker Group back home – they even smell the same – but we giggle when we think what QLD National Parks would do if someone tried to “pretty up” their pristine islands.   
The pass into the lagoon at Moro was a boat length wide, which I helmed through with white knuckles and very terse monosyllables.  “If it stresses you out so much, why don’t you let me helm through sections like that?” asked Miles afterwards.  Because I don’t trust you not to get distracted by that surf over there and run us aground, I could have answered.  And tricky helming is strangely addictive.

After the scarcity of kid boats the whole way up the east coast of Oz, we have been truly spoiled on this leg of our journey.  With The Cats we have kids aged 14, 11, 11, 10, 9, 7, 7 and 7.  It’s been a social whirlwind: pizza nights, movie nights, adults only card nights (we played Rat-a-tat-cat) and raucous romps on the beach. 

In spite of the absence of teenagers, Rems has been happy as a clam. She drifts from the kids to the adults as the mood takes her and says at least once a day, “I just love sailing.”  She’s happier than we’ve seen her for years and we’re loving seeing her silly side re-emerging.

We hired a car on Ile de Pins because we wanted to go caving and to visit the Natural Swimming Pool.  We jammed a lot into that day (see Milo’s vid) and saw so much.  First we hit the local marche where kanak women chuckled at the kids’ faces as they politely refused a bags of (live) snails.  It’s handy having kids in tow; one old lady pressed a free pamplemousse on us “pour les enfants.”  These markets were much cheaper than the Noumea ones so we stocked up on fruits and greens (but not molluscs).  Then we hit the first cave, trekked in to the natural swimming pool, an azure expanse of salt water completely protected from swell, with stunning coral and enough Christmas tree worms to satisfy Sylvo.  We “slammed down some lunch”* and trekked out again before making our way to the second cave.  We dropped the car off at dusk, tendered out to Pandion and collapsed into bed by eight having ingested large bowls of pasta.  “Why am I so tired?” Miles asks every night, completely mystified.

Funky trees and Xmas tree worms

Ile de Pins is seriously covered in these funky pine trees, weird elongated members of the family that clad every headland and the flat interior of the island.  

The swell had been beefy for days, so we planned our passage back to the mainland on a day when the seas had purportedly dropped to two metres, but it was ugly out there, in spite of winds and swell at our backs.  Sailing directly downwind spurred Milo on to trial a new sail plan – twin headsails. Look how happy he is.  We’re calling it The Stingray.  It got a bit hairy when the autopilot conked and sent us veering out to port and backwinding the starboard headsail, and also when we took the darn thing down and Miles had to lie spreadeagled on top of the sail to stop it going over the side as Reminy dropped the halyard.  (Loving using all this sailing jargon.) 
The Stingray

With much relief, we pulled back into the lake-still Baie De Prony and have spent the last week exploring her many inlets, peaks, rivers and hot-springs.  Baie de Prony is surreal: delicate filigrees of coral growing out of muddy banks, red boat-staining dirt wherever you walk, mangroves giving way to crystal clear rapids in the space of a few metres, reef sharks swimming around the base of the jetty leading up to the hot springs. 

So, when I say Hot Springs, technically they should be called Tepid Springs.  We first tried to visit them on a weekend, when enthusiastic Noumeans pour out of town in their hundreds and go adventuring all over the place, and the spring had almost disappeared under a mash of bodies.  The next day we rose at 7 (which is super early for us) to zoom up to the springs, determined to beat everyone else there.  Foiled.  A motor boat was already tied up to the jetty so we left, unsatisfied.  This morning we got up really early (6.30) and triumphed.  We found some other hotter springs that bafflingly appeared on our chart in the middle of a tidal mudflat. Closer investigation at low tide revealed a bricked in pool and several chimney-like structures to direct the hot water into it.  Unfortunately in the years since the chimneys were built the vents have moved several feet, so the pool was cold.  
Personally, I don't think it was worth the effort...
Four of the crew of Pandion were scarred for life by one of Miles’ “Nah, this’ll be great!” moments.  We were moving from one anchorage in the bay to another in 20 knot winds and Milo decided it was the perfect opportunity to jump into the tender and grab some photos of Pandion under full sail (“See ya!”).  Long story short, the swell picked up, the wind picked up, the boat was seriously overcanvassed, Miles disappeared in our wake dragging his prop-wrapping painter beneath him, both fishing lines out, one snagged around the big boat’s prop, the main preventer wrapped around the jib sheet and flogged against the side of the boat, Sylvie inexplicably tottered around the very busy cockpit with a bowl full of water trying not to spill her “pretty red leaves,” cliffs approaching at speed, etc etc.  The kids and I managed to get the sails in and hove to and Milo caught up with us, unwrapped the prop and came up grinning.  “Wasn’t that awesome?” he said.  Er, no, not especially.  We’re still debriefing and Sylvie can only just talk about the incident without bursting into tears.
Tomorrow we might head out to Amadee Island for a few days before heading back to Noumea for a lunch date.

Budsa keeping us well stocked in coconuts

*We’ve noticed that as well as starting every video with “Here we are…,” Milo also likes to talk about eating in a curiously violent way: “I’m just going to punch down some porridge,” or “Let’s just slam down some crackers and get out of here.” It’s all part of his endearing Must Adventure Every Second Of My Life, Food Is Fuel character trait.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Stocking UP

After three weeks at sea, Pandion’s various larders, tanks, cupboards and fridges are running low. The promise of a large reprovision holds a certain excitement.  It’s just shopping, fixing, spending, cleaning, laundry and walking carrying heavy things – but with a purpose that transforms the mundane into the extravagant.  A fresh apple is a jewel, clean undies are savoured (even smelt) and 10 baguettes to be cut and bagged in the freezer feels like wealth beyond measure.  As Reminy said, it’s like laying down stores for winter. 

We’re back in Noumea, the weather is fantastic, and we are looking for a fast turnaround to spend the next three weeks in the southern lagoon, Isle des Pines and hopefully the south west reefs.
Some boats abhor marinas and will avoid them at all costs (specifically the cost), but we are more the “let’s just book in, make it easy” and then get out as quick as we can.  Invariably though that is the honey trap - marinas are easy, but it’s also easy to say, “let’s just stay one more day.”  Two other Aussie boats have recently made the passage from Australia, Gonyonda and Bella Luna, both fantastic folk we know from Iluka. We’re all berthed next to each other, and I’m looking forward to a collective catch up tonight.  The kids, as all kids do, but especially kids on boats deprived of company, have formed an instant gang and are playing hide and seek. Budi asks, “Can they please come to our boat? They know their boat so well, my hiding spots are no good.”
Last night we had long showers, the first in three weeks for me, we shopped at the Carrefour Supermarket near Marina de Sud, baffling our way through the French produce, all of which is expensive.  Slowing we are figuring out what is cheapest and eating lots of that. Thankfully the various deliciously flavoured fresh baguettes are cheap, as are pan au chocolate.  Melissa was up at dawn and shopping like a local at the market.  Today instead of “Bon journee” everyone says “Bon Dimanche,” Happy Sunday. We filled up with diesel and unleaded, rationed one beer per day for the next three weeks.  Before lunch Liss and I ventured to the other supermarket, while the kids rinsed all the wetsuits, vacuumed the boat, and (unsuccessfully) cleaned the coconut stains from the deck.  Tomorrow I will make the obligatory visit to the chandlery, however Pandion has been no trouble lately, so it will be a small shop.  My maintenance in the last three weeks has largely been in the category of improvements.  I installed an extra solar panel on its own regulator (the sun here is weak, not like our own hardcore cancer inducing ozone depleted atmosphere), hardwired an inverter into the 240v circuit so we can charge electronics in multiple rooms, installed some lovely shiny press clasps to hold the after cabin sole carpet down, reinstalled the screens that Ruby and Budi repaired in Iluka, and much to Reminy’s delight, installed a curtain between her and Budi in the forward cabin. I also successfully ignored finding the leak in the auto pilot and updating the chart firmware –the weather is too good and beer supplies too low for that sort of work.
For those interested in such things, the cost of a three week cruising provision for 2 adults and 3 kids looks something like this.
Food $690
Fuel $180
Alcohol - $60
Marina $ 160
Laundry $120
Fishing lures/wetsuit/speargun rubbers $170
Patisseries $30
Chandlery $15
Total $1425
Pandion swallows it all.  She’s a well-built blue water cruiser and has masses of storage.  We are now loaded up, the fridge, freezer, Shop, Cannery, Dairy, Joy Locker and Bogg-Sellars (as the various food lockers are known) are full, we have 1100 litres of water, 400 litres of diesel, 75 litres of unleaded and all that translates into a wonderful feeling of possibility.  To be honest some days feel like the main possibility is a days of chores, annoying life maintenance and some arguing kids, but others feel like, well… I don’t think I can put it better than this, from “My family and other animals” by Gerald Durrell. 
“But then the dark skin of night would peel off and there would be a fresh day waiting for us, glossy and colourful as a child’s transfer, and with the same tinge of unreality.”
Post script: we did get stuck in the marina.  Two extra days. Two boats turned up from French Polynesia and NZ respectively and they had TEENAGERS on board.  Philocat ena belongs to an Austrian/German couple with three little kids and one 18 year old, and Pickles from California has been cruising for 10 years. Their 4 kids are now all teenagers, the oldest flying out from Asia in August to start university.  What a contrast; at Maclean High it might take Reminy weeks to build up the courage and opportunity to join a new group, further complicated by the boy/girl dynamic.  Here there is none of that painful social dance.  Within hours all 6 of them aged 13 to 18 were in the cockpit playing cards, making sushi, laughing and swinging through the rigging (literally). The adults had six free drinks courtesy of the Marina so we swapped stories in the bar while the kids entertained themselves.  We escaped this morning and are heading south to Ilse des Pines.  Stay tuned.