Friday, 6 July 2018

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.

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