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. 

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Le singe sur mon dos *

* The monkey on my back

Wow, we’ve been out island hopping up the west coast of Grande Terre for three weeks, and now we’re sailing back into Noumea to restock the pantry.  We went north with the expectation of finding some “family friendly surf”, as it was pitched to us back in Oz.
Okay - obviously this is not me.  But you can understand why Miles, sitting in the tender half a kilometre away, might have thought it was me. This is at Tenia Rights on the one awesome day that it was working.
Here’s my take on all things concerning les vagues here in New Cal:
*You sit on your surfboard a ridiculous distance from land.  The nearest dry surface is the tender, anchored an awfully long paddle from where you’re sitting, and the next closest dry surface is Pandion, anchored so far away you sometimes lose her against the backdrop of the mountains.  In case I haven’t made this perfectly clear, you’re sitting in the middle of the ocean.
*Unless it’s le weekend, the only other people who are in the surf are related to you, so that comforting feeling you get when somebody else joins you in the surf and decreases your chance of being eaten by a shark is conspicuously absent, because you’re quite fond of everybody in the line-up.
*There are sharks. Yesterday at Tenia Lefts, I’d just paddled back to the tender while Milo and Budi stayed out to catch one more wave, when I saw a long brown shape in the water, a swish and splash, and then a GEYSER of blood spurt through the air.  I made the international sign for Shark! at Milo (hand on top of the head, eyes like Beaker from the Muppets), frantically pulled in the anchor and burned in to pick them up.  Miles was characteristically blasé. “Probably just a reef shark.” 
* Just say it is le weekend.  Everyone in the line-up will be speaking a foreign language.  Just say you get caught inside and dragged across the reef for a six wave set.  When you emerge from your hellish ride and somebody nearby says to you reassuringly, “Hey, it’s okay, hardly anyone ever dies here,” you won’t be able to understand them.  On the whole, the few people we’ve encountered surfing have been super friendly in a smiley, non-verbal kind of way.  But it would still be handy to know when somebody calls out, “Paddle out guys, a monster set’s on the way.”  Just saying.
*About that reef.  It’s not soft and squishy like sand.  (Sand, sand, how I miss your inconsistent yet forgiving influence on the surf.)  Coral is hard and jagged and lumpy and sharp and if all that isn’t enough, it also messes with your mind.  “If you were a wave at Frasers, I’d be all over you like smallpox,” you tell the wave as it rears up.  You turn, you start to paddle with something approaching tremulous enthusiasm, and then you glance down the face as you go to stand up, see water draining out of coral just below you and perform the Human Parachute, aborting the wave with a dangerously accelerated heartrate and some very bad language. 
* If there is a 7 year old member of your surfing safari who doesn’t actually surf, she will need to be occupied in some way on one of the above-listed dry surfaces.  One day Miles, Rems and I went for a surf at Ouano Lefts and left Budi and Sylvie anchored in the tender about 100 metres away from us.  They waited, quite cheerfully, for THREE HOURS while Rems tried to get “just one more wave.”  They had food, they had shade (a cubby house made of surfboard covers), they had each other and they had massive turtles endlessly surfacing right beside the boat.  It was a stellar effort, but there’ve been other days when various permutations and combinations of folk have stayed on a very rolly sailboat, turning greener and greener and willing the surfers to hurry the flock up.

Cheerful little tender flower
*On the up side, if you do manage to wrestle that monkey off your back, your rides will be long and fun. You'll sit in a couple of metres of crystal clear water watching fish dart in the coral beneath your feet, and cheer as someone you love nails another wave.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Surf and goats - (not at the same time)

After spending a few days at Ilot Tenia (see Reminy's film) we are now at Baie des Moustiques preparing for 3 days of bad weather.  We will get good protection here from the predicted winds, although the rain could lead to cabin fever and the potential burial at sea of a child. Despite the name, it is stunningly beautiful here. The landscape is Jurassic, towering folded, green mountains.

Reminy looking east towards Tenia
Baie des Moustiques -  Pandion
The island is empty of people, although we were told it is owned by Kanaks who have some holiday houses here.  The land is full of goats and horses, which we've had fun following around.  Today some hunters turned up in a dingy and shot four goats.  They left before I had the chance to take the tender over and ask for some meat. The kids found the bone yard later on.  After this weather we might head north and look for some more surf at the next pass. 

And just to temper the scene: we are all sick, infected throats and fevers.  In the incubus that is Pandion's saloon the bug is methodically moving from one person to the next. No amount of honey, lemon or rum seems to stop it.    Based on Budi's experience I  have one more day to go.  Joy.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

In Search of the Egg

The Noumea markets are four or five all weather pavilions clustered right beside the port, perfectly situated for our family of gourmands.  My French vocabulary was stretched to breaking point in the brief interactions I had with multiple stall holders who invariably responded to my qu’est-ce que c’est? (what's that) with long complicated monologues about (I think) varieties, place of origin, pricing and ripeness.  I did a lot of nodding and smiling. 
But I gave as good as I got the day I confidently walked up to a woman and said, “Je cherche pour les oeufs.”  Literally, I search for the eggs, or I am looking for the eggs.  The woman looked utterly baffled.  Turns out I had accidentally pronounced the final “f” in oeuf, which meant that I had announced that I was looking for The Egg.  The One True Egg.  Her bewilderment turned to alarm when I started miming a chicken, and it’s probably only because I had cute little earnest Sylve with me that she didn’t write me off as a foreign nutjob.  “Oh, the eggs!” she said at last, helpfully providing me with the correct pronunciation of the plural for eggs.
The women at the marina office were lovely and commiserated with me on many occasions about how difficult French is to learn.  “C’est tres complicee, madam,” they’d nod in sympathy as I staggered my way through another tortuous sentence.  They were super keen to help clear up any questions I had: like the difference between encore (again) and autrefois (another time).  (I’m still not totally clear on that one, as their answer (in French) lasted for about twenty minutes.) 

Lunch quickly became our favourite meal:  baguettes with some form of cheese, basil, tomatoes, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, fresh cucumbers. Unfortunately we had to leave the markets behind when we left Noumea so we’re back in the land of cardboard-y gluten-free wraps and corn thins.    

Miles leapt into the "8 Hours and You're fluent!" Michel Thomas French series, but only lasted twenty minutes, so he has one sentence which has been surprisngly useful:
"Ce n'est pas tres bon pour moi." It's not very good for me.
Hydraulic oil spills all over the raincatcher, it's not very good for me.
We run out of tomatoes, it's not very good for me.
The wind turns off shore, it's not very good for me.
Yes, it's slightly negative, but we're all trying to develop a Gallic acceptance of shite happening.