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Tuesday, November 14, 2000

Nov. 14, 2000-Tradewinds to Australia

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Wings in New Cal

It took us two tries to make it out of New Caledonia.

After the wind-up of the Pacific Arts Festival the 300 cruising boats in Port Moselle started looking at departure dates for leaving New Caledonia. For most, including Wings, the next destination was going to be Australia, and, as the season was advancing, we were all itching to go. Boat projects were hurried along, provisions taken aboard and the weather was checked and checked again.

Even then many of us got it wrong.

The winds had been westerly and we needed SE for an easy passage to Australia. On Wednesday, November 8, the wind was still westerly but with a decent but not definitive weather forecast for SE winds the next day, the herd mentality took over as crews around the harbor who heard that others were keen to go in the morning decided that it was time for themselves as well. A rush of boats, Wings among them, departed Thursday morning and many were soon heading east across the lagoon for Passe Dumbea. Before long this fleet encountered strong westerly winds, squalls, and heavy rain instead of the Southeast Trades which were hoped for. It seemed that a pesky low had developed overnight just southeast of Noumea and we were getting the clockwise wind on the back side of it. In the hurry to get underway that morning few had looked carefully at the new weather information we had available and now we were paying the price for this haste. Motoring towards the pass boats were bucking and slamming into a sharp chop with rain and wind whistling through the rigging. The ocean outside the pass looked rough.

We turned back before reaching the pass. It was one of the rare times when we’ve turned back in the face of bad weather and it was a tough decision, particularly since Sandy & Lloyd Banta, on Warrior, with whom we had an informal race to Australia, were going on, but we didn’t see the point of heading out to beat ourselves up in rough conditions and contrary winds. That night, back in port, we felt good about our decision as we listened on the SSB radio to the boats which had carried on complain about their wind conditions. Meanwhile the weather office confidently stated that Friday morning the wind would finally go SE. We prepared to get underway again Friday, never mind the old superstition about the bad luck of leaving on a Friday.

So, on Friday we set out again and this time we had favorable winds. With a good heading and a number 4 jib we were soon reaching to the SW. Saturday and Sunday passed with steady breeze and we made good speed. By Monday we started thinking that this was probably going to be one fast trip; we continued to experience ideal conditions with southeast trade winds at 15 to 25, reasonably smooth seas and clear sunny skies. It was beautiful sailing and we were going like crazy on a beam reach with a full main and #4 headsail, doing over 7.0 knots continuously. We logged a noon to noon run of over 170 miles, a very nice distance for us, and by Tuesday we’d averaged 7.75 for a couple of days, making a run of 187 miles. Our destination was Bundaberg, Australia but we jibed and headed a little north of the rhumb line and we found better wind than the other boats traveling the same route more to the south. We were optimistic about our chance of beating Warrior’s time. The next day we logged 186 miles.

Besides being fast, this passage was easy, not too windy or rough, few sail changes, few squalls or rain, just lots of rest and reading, and a full moon at night to make the night watches easier.

This is how passage making ought to be.

We finished off the trip with one squally night as we approached the Australian coast. Surfing in south of the Great Barrier Reef we reduced sail to arrive at Bundaberg at dawn. In four days and 21.5 hours we covered the 800 mile distance that had been estimated by the majority of the cruising fleet as being a five to eight day passage. We wondered how Warrior had done.

While we enjoyed the sail we were also happy to be in Australia. Australia! We'd arrived in the land of Ayers Rock and Alice Springs, of 'Roos and Wallabies, and Dancin' Matilda. This is an exciting landfall for us and we can hardly wait to get ashore and look around.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Bundaberg, Australia

Click here to see more photos.

Click here to see the hardcopy log of the trip

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Wednesday, November 08, 2000

November 8, 2000-Pacific Arts Festival

Pacific Islander

We have just completed a fantastic two weeks watching the Pacific Arts Festival in Noumea, New Caledonia, and this event was outstanding. If you have a chance to see it yourself, either by visiting one of the countries hosting it sometime in the future, or seeing it on TV, do yourself a favor and add it to your schedule. It is great. We are wondering if we can make the next one in Palau in 2004?

It was hard for me to imagine wanting to watch native dancing every single day for 12 days in a row. I mean, just how much dancing can you see before you feel that you've seen it all and start getting tired of it? If you'd have asked me about a month ago I'd have said that I could take about 1/2 hour, max. Well, let me tell you that this year I watched native dancing and other acts for a couple of hours a day for nearly two weeks along with thousands of local and visiting audiences, as well as several hundred other cruisers, and none of us, myself included, seemed to get enough. The dancing, singing and music were just that varied and just that good.

Pacific Arts Festival

Twenty three Pacific Island countries, covering the area from Easter Island to Guam, Hawaii to Australia, sent delegations to Noumea for this festival, and invariably these groups, which included artisians, administrators, and politicians as well as the performers and their support people and equipment, were hardworking and talented entertainers who put on two or three shows per day, generally under a blazing sun, day after day, and right up to the last show on the stage the night of the closing ceremony they displayed energy and enthusiasm as well as grace and beauty. We were enthralled. We also don't know know how they did it. The dances were highly physical, the venues were blisteringly hot, and it must have been exhausting. Then there were the mundane things like accommodations, (hotel rooms ran out and some of the Tahitians, for example, were lodged in native huts on the grounds of the museum at the Cultural Center), meals, and the logistics of the performances. Just the laundry issues must have been daunting. One night I stumbled into the dorm where the Fijian dancers were housed and it was a jumble of clotheslines and ironing boards as the dancers themselves prepared their costumes for the next day.

Click HERE to see all the pictures.

While there were wide variances in the dance styles and music, as well as in the dress and racial characteristics of the peoples themselves, there is a common musical and dance thread throughout the Pacific and the pounding, frenetic, rythmic, native drums were pervasive. We couldn't keep our feet from tapping. In addition to the music and dancing there were art exhibits, fashion shows, plays and films, and demonstrations of craftwork and native cooking. All of this was spread out over about ten venues throughout the city. Each day we reviewed the schedule, made out our own agendas, and tried to figure out how we would arrange our transportation. We walked, bussed, taxied and dingyed all over the Noumea area.

As wonderful as the formal festival was, an equally neat aspect for me was unscheduled and unorganized. I loved being surrounded by the multicultural crowds. This festival is really a gathering of Pacific peoples and throughout the city, on every festival ground, in every park, bus, restaurant, and hotel lobby, there were families, small groups or crowds of people here from all over the Pacific. They wore their own colorful clothing and displayed a wide variety of physical characteristics from the small Asian people from Guam to the huge Polynesians from Tonga and Samoa, from the dark Melanesian Aboriginies from Australia to the light skinned and fine boned Easter Islanders. We saw every shade of brown skin, every shape of nose, and all kinds of hair, all of it surrounding smiling, happy faces of holidaying families. The little kids were everywhere too, with wide open bright eyes filled with wonder and enthusiasm. If we were watching the dancing with interest and enjoyment, the little kids were captivated by it. They crowded to the front and sat google eyed from start to finish. I didn't even mind getting poked and prodded by tiny elbows and feet on kids totally oblivious to their surroundings, just because it was so much fun to share their excitement.

Festival aside, we have also been enjoying the city of Noumea. It is an interesting mix of modern and late 1800's layout, with a French, native Kanak, and oriental population. Facilites and services available are great, if expensive, and the harbor offers good protection. On the downside, there is a horrible pollution problem which finally forced us out of the marina. Noumea seems wealthy but they have chosen to continue to dump raw sewage into the inner harbor which not only being unhealthy, spoils the natual beauty of this nice setting, and stinks to high heaven. Even walking in town the smell and sight of sewage running in the gutters was appalling. Oil is also present in the harbor in quantity, and we spent hours scrubbing filth and gummy black deposits off of our waterline. We were also dissapointed in the transportation system here, buses stop at 6:30 and taxis are nowhere to be found; if you call one you pay a high surcharge for their trouble of comming to pick you up. Of course the people who run this country don't mind, they are all driving their own high priced French or German luxury automobiles. The thoroughly subjugated native Kanaks simply walk or stay home. A minor inconvienience with a humorous aspect was the curioius habit of Noumeans of serving and drinking their red French wines chilled nearly to ice. When we ate out it was a struggle to get a good, unchilled, wine (oh what hardships we cruisers must suffer!).

So now we look towards Australia. Wings, along with a few hundred other cruising boats, is getting ready to head out. We closely watch the weather, cyclone season is approaching, and try to time our departures for a fast safe passage. We have our boat ready, we need only a few provisions and a load of duty free fuel, then we will set sail for the 5 to 8 day passage to Bundaberg, on Australian's sunny Queensland coast. We'll write about that passage after we arrive, but don't worry if you don't hear from us for a while, we might not even leave for a week or more, depending on the weather. In the meanwhile, we'll continue to search for a good, unchilled, red wine.

Fred & Judy, S/V Wings, Noumea, New Caledonia

Pacific Arts Festival


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