More Mare

October 1, 2008

We are still enjoying the island of Mare . The anchorage is beautiful with big pine trees on a high plateau all around, and caves in the coral wall by the sea. There only other boats here are two small French boats out of Noumea with young people on them. One boat has Sebastien and Elsa, both nurses at a Noumea hospital, and the other has Stefan, an urban cartographer and friend of Sebastien and Elsa. We had the three of them over to Sabbatical III yesterday evening for wine, baguette, brie, and other goodies that we bought earlier in the day.

Our anchorage in the Baie de Pede is very pretty. The water is crystal clear but there is coral everywhere, which makes it a challenging place to anchor. Two days ago we hiked on a beautiful path that starts at the white sand beach and goes for about 3 km through the pine woods and then through a coconut plantation, and then finally through a mixture of pines and palms on a path beside the south-facing beach. Off the beach, breakers were crashing onto a fringing reef. Inside the reef the water was a diverse palette of blue. It was cool and breezy on the walk – not like the hot humid walks we usually have in the topics. The pine trees smelled delicious and the walk was great. The best part was finding that the walk ends at a very beautiful and fancy French resort – really the only really fancy place we have seen on this whole trip and we were just in time for their beautiful Sunday buffet brunch! We didn’t even ask the price. (Turned out to be very reasonable). They set up a table for us on the veranda by the swimming pool and we helped ourselves to plates of delicious Indian food, salads and several kinds of deserts. We decided to hitchhike back to the boat and it only took a minute for someone (from the hotel) to pick us up. Back on the boat, we watched a beautiful sunset while watching the silhouettes of the pine trees on the hills in the distance.

Yesterday was market day in Tadine, the town 5 kilometers to the north. We hitchhiked to town – it only took one minute to get a ride. There was plenty of fresh veggies in the market but almost no fruit, and once again, no bananas. There is not much in Tadine except a post office, gendarmie, bank, and a small grocery store, the Magasin Trop Tard. We took a look around the grocery store and found that they had none of the delicious French soft cheeses that we like. Indeed, the refrigerator case was almost empty. We walked down to the pier and noticed the ferry “Havannah” from Noumea was being unloaded, including palettes of grocery items. We hung around town for an hour and then returned to the store just as workers were stocking the refrigerator cases with the newly delivered goods. We hitchhiked back to Baie de Pede with bagging bulging with fresh foods.

We have snorkeled every day that we have been here. The best place seems to be to the south where the peninsula capped with the tall pine-covered headland meets the reef. There is a maze of deep underwater canyons with interesting fish and coral, plus an abundance of white-tipped sharks. The sharks and us have an unspoken understanding that we stay away from each other. We also saw a beautiful spotted eagle ray, a banded sea snake, and a moray eel swimming on the bottom rather than holed up in a coral crevasse as they usually are. Sebastien and Elsa have seen a number of turtles in the bay, but we have not as yet.

Today we will once again hike the path through the forest that ends at the hotel. There is something appealing about ending a hike at a restaurant.

M. and L.

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Passage to Baie de Pade, Mare Island (Loyalty Islands)

September 28, 2008

We are anchored in Baie de Pade on the island of Mare (Loyalty Islands). We arrived yesterday (Saturday) afternoon at 3:15 pm local time after a 14 hour passage from Lifou Island. Thursday evening, a swell from the north rolled into Baie de Doking in Lifou and worsened on Friday. The wind was still ESE in Lifou so we took the swell on the beam which makes the boat roll uncomfortably. The forecast called for wind shifting to northerly, but it was slow in coming. We planned to leave Lifou for Mare on Friday but the wind stayed ESE and it rained. Since Mare lies to the ESE of Lifou, that would make for an unpleasant day of motoring. So we took the kayak out to explore the cliffs and caves, and then went to bed early hoping to leave very early Saturday morning. Just before 1:00 am the anchor alarm went off. I rushed outside to find that the wind had shifted from the north and the boat had merely turned on the anchor, and that the rain had ended. I downloaded new weather info and then woke Laura. By 2:00 am we started to raise our anchor. The anchor chain was caught on coral, and because of the dark so we could not see enough to figure out which way to turn to free our chain. After 20 minutes of maneuvering, the chain and anchor were retrieved and we were off. It was an easy passage with a mix of sailing and motoring. We were constantly looking out for whales, which are said to spend September in these waters, but were disappointed to not see any. Baie de Pade looks very pretty and is much more protected from swell than Baie de Doking. One great advantage of stopping in Mare is that it will make it much easier to get to Ile de Pines which lies pretty much due south of here.

M.

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Still Loyal to the Loyalties

September 25, 2008

We remained anchored at Baie de Doking on Lifou Island (Loyalty Islands). It is very comfortable here and we are in no rush to begin a difficult upwind passage to Ile de Pines. The wind is forecast to back around to the northeast on Sunday and Monday. That makes our current location less comfortable and safe but also makes a move to the east-southeast much easier. So we will head for Ile de Pines or perhaps Mare, the easternmost Loyalty Island, when that wind shift occurs.

All the other ICA boats are now gone, including our friends on Tackless II. However, Dandelion and Exocet are here. Dandelion is a South African-built Leopard catamaran with a South African family who we first met in Fiji. Their youngest daughter Fern, who is 7, took very ill the morning after they arrived here (Monday) and was sent to Noumea in an air ambulance with her father, Roger. Her mother Sharon and older sister Storm (11 years old) remain on the boat. Fern had emergency surgery to remove an intestinal obstruction. She is doing well and she and her father may return tomorrow or Saturday. Exocet is a beautiful and very fast French-built Outremer catamaran built as a racer/cruiser and sailed by Luis and Natalya, a young couple from Colombia. We made friends with them in Ambrym (Vanuatu) and saw them in a few other places in Vanuatu. We went snorkeling with them yesterday but could hardly keep up. They dive 25 feet under the surface and just hang out there for a few minutes before they need to come up for air. We saw a huge squid and two sharks, among other things. Luis spears fresh fish or octopus for dinner every day. We ate on Exocet last night, and had fresh poisson cru and ceviche, along with Laura’s famous meatballs from Shirley’s recipe. At the end of the evening, they begged for the recipe.

The coral in this bay is very nice and the water is especially clear. We are less than 200 miles south of Port Vila but the climate is very different. The temperature falls into the mid-60s at night, so we sleep with two blankets and wear sweaters and long pants in the evening, and it only gets into the mid-70s during the day. The water is quite cool – if you jump in wearing just a bathing suit you need to get out after 15 minutes. We wear full body wetsuits of 3 mm neoprene to snorkel, as do the others. The added buoyancy makes it difficult to dive under the surface without wearing dive weights.

Lifou is a raised coral island about the same size as Tahiti, but with only 10,000 inhabitants. The shore is a very steep cliff of ancient coral. There is no beach and no good place to tie a dinghy. Getting ashore involves using both a dinghy anchor and a line tied to a rock ashore. Then one has to ascend about 200 steps to the plateau on which the small village sits. The cliffs have been eroded into a pattern of deep caves with stalagmites and stalactites visible from the water. It is a beautiful setting.

Repair issues continue to be a bother. On Sunday evening, our watermaker started spraying salt water all over the engine room and I had to shut it down. I hoped that it might just be a loose connection but soon found out that it was more serious. In order to diagnose the problem and affect a repair, I had to unbolt the whole apparatus containing the pressure tubes from the engine room bulkhead and ceiling and bring it on deck. To do that, I had to remove duct work and piping in order to get access to the bolts. With Laura’s help, I took it apart and found that the high-pressure fittings at one end had corroded. Fortunately, I had a set of new fittings that I had ordered from France 3 years ago and kept as spares. It took all day to remove the old fittings, re-assemble the pressure apparatus, and then put everything back together in a very difficult to access corner of the engine room. If I was 5 feet 2 inches tall, 100 pounds, quite strong, and had nimble fingers, the re-installation would have been a lot easier. But I am none of those, and am still sore and bruised from my efforts. The watermaker now works perfectly, and without leaking a drop.

The village here has only the tiniest store. Yvette, a friendly older Kanak woman, runs the store and lives next door with her husband Pierre. If she is not in the store, which is much of the time, you just ring the cow bell in front and she soon appears from the house. The only fresh food in the store are onions and garlic, plus delicious bread. One afternoon after the bread truck delivered, people from the village waited impatiently for Yvette to open the store but she did not appear even after many rings of the cow bell. So someone took a screwdriver, removed the lock hasp, and opened the door. Everyone took bread and left their 200 francs on the counter, then screwed the hasp back in place and returned the lock.

We needed more food than this little store could provide plus we desperately needed to get more French Polynesian francs. The only francs we had were the small starter amount we bought in Vanuatu. There is no foreign exchange service in Ouvea, our first stop in the Loyalty Islands. So on Tuesday, we arranged for Pierre to take us and Don from Tackless II to the capitol city of We on the other side of the island in his cute little Renault truck. He took us to the bank, a Thai restaurant for lunch, the combination fruit/vegetable market and bingo parlor, and the small supermarket. There was not much local produce as it was not a regular market day – we could not even get bananas – but were able to load up on tomatoes, lettuce, bok choy, papaya, and imported apples. Pierre has arranged for some bananas to be available for us at the local store today.

M.

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Baie de Doking, Lifou Island

September 20, 2008

We are anchored in the Baie de Doking on Lifou Island, about 40 miles east-southeast of Ouvea. We left Ouvea a bit earlier than we had planned to take advantage of a brief weather window to make a passage to the east. Otherwise we may have had to remain in Ouvea for another week. That would not be a hardship, but time is getting short.

On Tuesday, September 16 the village at Ile Mouli, the island off which we were anchored in Ouvea, hosted a big feast for the Island Cruising Association (ICA) fleet as well as the fleet of the Cercle Nautique Caledonien (CNC). The Cercle Nautique Caledonien is the yacht club of New Caledonia which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this month. Fourteen CNC sailboats came out to celebrate their anniversary and made the ICA boats honorary members of the CNC for the year. We all got CNC shirts and an invitation to their grand fete in Noumea at the end of the month. The food was good and plentiful. After lunch, the CNC members led us all in singing “Alouette” and then the ICA sang some Kiwi (New Zealand) songs in Maori since the ICA is based in NZ and most of the membership are Kiwis.

Our Belgian friends Roger and Lucy on Catamini corrected Laura’s French pronounciation of Ile de Pines prior to her conversing with the French-speaking CNC members. Laura’s pronounciation was “Ile de Peen” which means “island of ‘coarse word for penis'”. The correct pronounciation is “Ile de Pahn” as in the French word “pain” for bread. Roger took delight in constantly reminding Laura of her earlier mispronounciation.

Wednesday we did a tour. utilizing every van and mini-bus on Ouvea. There is not much to see on Ouvea. One of the highlights was to be the coconut oil distillery, but it was closed. As in many places we visit, the best views are from our own boat, in this case, we had a view of 20 miles of white sand beach and azure water. The CNC boats left Wednesday morning, and the ICA boats, now no longer a fleet, all dispersed by yesterday. However, five ICA boats are will us in Dokin, including our American friends on Tackless II.

The yellowfin tuna I caught coming into the pass at Ouvea turns out to be one of the best tasting fish we have ever caught. We gave some to our English friends Jackie and Brian on Songster, as well as to Gwen and Don on Tackless II, and they loved it.

We will hang out in Lifou for a few days before making the passage to Ile de Pines, to the east of Grande Terre, the main island of New Caledonia.

M.

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Passage to Ouvea, Loyalty Islands

September 15, 2008

We are anchored in the southeast corner of the azure colored lagoon of the Ouvea atoll (Loyalty Islands of New Caledonia). The lagoon is huge, more than 20 miles across. We came through the Passe du Coetlogon yesterday about 8:30 in the morning. We cannot leave the boat until checked in by customs and immigration. That should have happened already except that the customs and immigration officers missed the flight this morning from Noumea. So all the boats in the ICA rally are waiting for them to arrive.

Preparation for Departure

We left Port Vila on Friday evening around 5:30 pm, which is about as late as we could leave and still have enough light to get through the narrow exit of our bay and pick our way through the anchored boats on the other side. We were not going to leave until Saturday morning but the weather forecast suggested that we might have a greater chance of making most of the passage under sail, rather than power, if we left Friday evening. Even an hour before we left, we were not sure that we were leaving that evening since we still had not completed all preparations to go to sea. All of our time was spent preparing the boat (and ourselves) for the trip since we returned to Port Vila five days previously. Armed with long lists of things to do, we spent the week trying to get at least 80 percent of the things on the list done. Among other things, we had the carberator of our outboard cleaned (it had been the victim of bad fuel, as were the outboards of other cruisers), filled up Sabbatical III with 415 liters of duty-free diesel, bought new gasoline for the outboard, refilled our big propane bottle, changed oil and filters on engines, reprovisioned, bought duty-free wine and beer, had laundry done, uploaded photos and video to our web site, and even got haircuts (at Headhunter salon, an interesting name for a hair salon in a recently cannibal society).

Reprovisioning is a complicated process. It involved numerous trips to the supermarket, Au Bon Marche Nambatu. We go there on the mini-buses that ply the main road along the waterfront. You just wave them down and hop in and they drop you were you want for 100 vatu a person (about $1). We ordered steak, veal, and mince (hamburger) to be vacuum-bagged and frozen plus an export certificate that should permit the meat to enter New Caledonia. We also shopped at the open air fruit and vegetable market that is open 24 hours a day except Sunday. There is not all that much for us to buy in that market unless you like to stock up on taro, yams, and sweet potatoes. There are bananas and occasionally pamplemousse — no pineapple, mangoes, or other tropical fruits — plus plenty of bok choy and lettuce which are very good but do not stay well on a boat. Tomatoes came into season just before we left. In any case, one cannot legally bring fresh fruit and vegetables into New Caledonia.

Passage to Ouvea

The forecast called for winds from the east at about 10 knots on Friday night, becoming light and variable Saturday, and then 15 knots from the SSE Saturday night and Sunday. South-South-East (SSE) is right on the nose for this passage so the plan was to sail to the east of the rhumb line(the rhumb line is the most direct route) Friday night and Saturday morning so that we would have an angle to sail when the wind came up from the SSE. We took it as a good omen that the sunset was so beautiful as we headed out of Port Vila and were pleasantly surprised that the wind was 12 knots out of the ENE once we left the wind shadow of Efate Island. That allowed as to sail well east of the rhumb line and probably more east than any other boat in the ICA fleet. It was a beautiful night — with flat seas, a full moon in a clear sky,and steady wind from a good direction, so we were under sail all night. By 9 am Saturday the wind died as forecast, and we turned on the engine and I put out a couple of fishing lines. At 2 pm, as we sailed under clouds that stretched out to the southern horizon, the wind came up from the SSE at 20 knots very suddenly. By 3 pm the wind increased to 25 knots and by 4 pm it was blowing 30 knots, still from the SEE. The seas, which had been very flat, got ugly as quickly as the wind rose. This was not forecast and I hoped that it was just the passage of a small front and would quickly be gone. That hope was not realized. We had sailed so far east in the previous day that we could sail in this wind because our course was now further to the west, but just barely. It would be impossible to make progress under engine alone in these seas and wind. We had up just small handkerchief size sails as the boat pounded badly in confused seas — waves coming from different directions.

The decks were constantly awash and there was only a tiny place in the cockpit big enough for just one person to be safe from drenching spray. Every so often Sabbatical III would fall off a large, steep wave and come crashing down in the wave trough. The masts and rigging shook violently. I kept telling myself that Sabbatical III was built to take a pounding. There was lots of radio chatter in the fleet about what to do. Boats to the west of us now realized that they could not easily make the preferred southeast pass to Ouvea, there was too much wind and wave on the nose, so they decided to bear off to the west and try for another pass on the northwest side of the 20 mile wide lagoon. That pass has the drawback of being unmarked and strewn with reefs, so one needs good light to do an eyeball entrance. We continued to head for the preferred Passe du Coetlogon, which is buoyed, on the southest side of Ouvea. We could do this because we had headed so far east of the rhumb line before the bad weather came up.

It was a very trying evening and night. It was impossible to sleep as the boat pitched and rolled, and the noise of the wind in the rigging was impressive. The wind did move to SE over the night and gave us a somewhat better sailing angle but the seas stayed large and confused. For the first time in the five years that we have sailed Sabbatical III, she was pooped. In this case, it means that a large wave broke over the side of the boat and completely filled the cockpit with water. The companionway was open, so some seawater poured down below. Now we understand why the boat was designed with an enclosed depression at the bottom of the companionway stairs. It’s job is to contain any seawater that finds its way down. After being pooped,and evacuating the water that found it’s way below, we kept the companionway slider up to keep water from getting below again.

I decided to slow the boat down so that we would approach the Passe du Coetlogon in good light. I was concerned that waves might be crashing into the pass, so I wanted a good look at the sea state to the northeast of the pass before committing to an entrance. As it turned out, the pass was well protected from breaking waves and it was an easy entrance.

The fishing lines had been out all night since I did not want to go the stern of the boat and mess with them after the seas came up, and even as we approached the pass, we were rolling too much for me to leave the safety of the cockpit. About 4 miles from the pass, as we sailed along the east side of Ouvea, a mahi-mahi (dorado) took one of the lures. We saw him jump and thrash trying to get unhooked, but he was on good. I could not pull him aboard in in these conditions, so we decided to just tow him behind us until we entered the lagoon. About one mile before the pass, something hit the other line very hard. So hard that the latex shock absorber was torn from the backstay where the line was attached, and the line dragged low in the water. When we entered the lagoon the wind still blew hard but the water was relatively smooth, so I went to the stern and hauled in a nice green and gold mahi-mahi. It was dead — asphyxiated by our 8+ knot run to the pass. It had managed to get my two fishing lines tangled together. After landing the mahi-mahi, I tried to untangle the mess of lines and retrieve my other fishing line. There was very little pressure on the other line until I had it just behind the boat when suddenly it came to life — there was a very large yellowfin tuna (ahi) on it. This tuna was the fish that broke the shock absorber a mile back but must of stayed on the hook and was starved for oxygen by our fast run to the pass. Once we slowed in the lagoon, it came to life. It was so heavy, I had to strain to lift it on the boat. So there I was, completely exhausted by lack of sleep and a difficult passage, with two large fish on the afterdeck begging to be gutted and cleaned. As Laura motored slowing around in the lagoon, I got to work. The result was a huge amount of the two best-eating species of fish in these waters. So, after a nap, we had fresh yellowtail sushi and broiled mahi-mahi for supper. We were hungry since we had not eaten since lunch on Saturday. We still have enough tuna left for 25 meals and enough mahi-mahi for six meals. We hope to give much of the tuna away.

We have now cleared customs and immigration but are waiting for quarantine to visit the boat. OK, quarantine just left, taking our onions and garlic with them. I took the Q flag down and put up our tattered French tricolor. We are cleared in and ready to enjoy what looks like very beautiful place. The wind is still howling but in the lagoon the boat is comfortable and the lagoon calm. The temperature was a freezing 73 degrees this morning and the humidity was just above 50 percent. We have not seen that for awhile.

M.

Ouvea (satellite view)
Ouvea (satellite view)

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Ambrym festival videos are now available

September 10, 2008
We are in Port Vila and have just posted a few videos of the festival in North Ambrym. Just go to our photos
and video page at

http://www.sabbatical3.net/slides.htm
and scroll down to the video section. Select the videos from Ambrym. Laura’s favorite is “Men Cooking”.
We will be adding more photos to the blog in a day or two.  We will leave Vanuatu for Ouvea in the Loyalty Island (New Caledonia) on Saturday (September 13). More on that later. M.

Mark M. Pitt
Professor of Economics

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Plans

September 5, 2008

We anchored in Southwest(Metenovor) Bay, Malekula for almost three days now. We left Malua Bay on Tuesday (September 2) intending to go to Dixon Reefs. The passage was pleasant enough to start but then the seas starting to build and it got wet and wild. We knew that Dixon Reefs would not offer reasonable protection from the large seas so we kept on going to Southwest Bay, where Sabbatical III lies quite comfortably.

We have had a few visits from Solomon and Rita, and their two small children, who come out from the village in their dugout outrigger canoe. We met Solomon when we were here last month when gave him a bag of rice as a gift. This time he came to us and brought us a load of pamplemousse, some papaya, and coconuts. We have provided some new gifts to them as well. We have enjoyed their visits.

We have been plagued with a series of repair issues for the past few days that have taken most of our time to address. The heat exchanger on the generator sprung a leak and sprayed salt water over half the engine room. I was able to fix the leak. However, equipment in the engine room will corrode if exposed to salt water, so I had to clean it all with fresh water and then apply Lanacote anti-corrosion spray to everything.

Even more annoying is the failure of our outboard engine. It sputtered in Espritu Santo and failed entirely when I tried it here. It would start fine but die within a minute or two. I replaced the spark plugs, the fuel filter and the fuel hose but nothing worked. It turns out that the likely culprit is the gasoline that we bought in Musket Bay, Fiji and stored in a large jerry can — it seems to be bad. Since that is the only gasoline that we have left, we are stuck on the boat. I hope that I will be able to get the outboard engine working again once we get to Port Vila.

Our Plans

We have been waiting for a weather system to pass by. It should be gone by tomorrow and we plan to leave for Port Vila (Efate Island) tomorrow (Saturday, September 6) around 3 pm . With the wind and waves on the nose, it may take 18 to 20 hours to make the passage.

On September 13, we will leave Vanautu for Ouvea Island in the Loyalty Islands. The Loyalty Islands are administered by France as part of New Caledonia. Ordinarily, it is very hard to visit the Loyalty Islands on a private boat, especially Ouvea Island. There is no Port of Entry in the Loyaltys and the French are strict about these things. Boats are allowed to stop in Lifou Island for a few days before either sailing to Noumea, the capital city of New Caledonia, for check-in, or paying for a Customs oficer and an Immigration officer to fly to Lifou and do the check-in. To get around this, we have joined with a set of boats organized by the Island Cruising Association of New Zealand. They have organized a “rally” to Ouvea. The boats in the rally essentially share the cost of flying officials out to the seldom visited island of Ouvea for a check-in on Sep 16.

More on all of this later. We just wanted to provide a heads up on our plans.

M.

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