November 1, 2000-Weekend Fun in New Caledonia
On the weekends the French residents of New Caledonia hit the water. This is a boater's paradise and the French upper class enjoy it to the max. Saturday we sailed WINGS to Baie Maa, just 10 miles north of Noumea. When we rounded the corner to enter the bay we saw 20 sailboats anchored and another 10 or so power yachts. Then as afternoon wore on the smaller boats showed up; at least a couple of dozen 20-30 footers with several towing water skiers. Baie Maa was nice but it seemed too crowded for us. Finally at 1:30 we upped anchor and motored another 10 miles over to Baie Papaye. There were a number of boats there too, but it was too late in the day for us to move further.
Anyhow, we know what happens on Sunday afternoon: before sundown the locals head home. One by one the powerboats and local sailboats upped their anchors and headed south to Noumea. By sunset there were a few boats left, cruising yachts mostly, and the bay was peaceful. A couple of dolphins cruised through and we sat in the cockpit watching them and enjoying the silence. On the hill above us we spotted a small herd of horses waiting at a gate to be let back to the barn. We listened to Neil Young on the outside speakers until it was dark, then a little longer.
The first time I was aboard WINGS at night was motoring through the Lake Union Ship Canal in June 1986. It was after work one night and we were moving WINGS from Lake Union through the locks to Shilshole Bay Marina, which would be our home for ten years once we moved aboard WINGS later that month. As we motored along I remember a thrill I had looking down from the deck into the cabin and seeing Judy moving around the galley in the light of the fixture on the forward bulkhead while I steered from the deck above. It thrilled me because it was ours and because it was a real ship. I stood on deck, in the darkness, near the main hatch, with the tiller extension in my hand, steering through the night, and while Judy, bathed in light, worked below. WINGS was a whole world which moved steadily through the darkness. My view that night was lights and bridge tenders and watching for kayaker's silhouettes in the city's lights reflected on the canal's rippled waters. Judy's world was light and cabin and the steady thrum of the engine. Together on that night, we were a team on our way to tomorrow. Now, 14 years later, as I stand on that same deck in a small bay outside of Noumea, Caledonia, 6000 miles away from Seattle, and 14 years later, not much has changed. Tonight we are not underway, we are anchored in Baie Papaye, in New Caledonia in the South Pacific, listening instead of the engine to Neil Young's mournful song on the outside speakers, But it is still WINGS and it is still Fred & Judy, it is still the same broad flat deck, the same unobstructed view forward, and below, even the same bulkhead light. Judy moves around with the same confidence that we are OK that she did those 14 years ago in the Lake Union Ship Canal. This is our life, and I feel so fortunate to have found it on that night all those years ago in Seattle...and to have it still now.
On Tuesday we motored out across the lagoon to a small desert island. Just a sand dune really with a few bushes on it. We thought it would be fun for some swimming and to play on the beach. Of course it rained and the wind blew from the wrong direction and we had to set our GPS on anchor watch that night in case the anchor didn't hold, which it did, but it was still an uncomfortable evening. Then the next day we noticed that we had a school of large Remoras under the boat. We lured them out with some left over couscous and counted about a dozen, each about three feet long. They are probably harmless but they look like sharks, and besides, don't they normally hang around with sharks? Nearby some other fish were making a fuss and thrashing up the water but we couldn't see what they were. Judy said she was ready to leave this place at any time, and she wasn't going swimming here. We moved on.
Baie de Vincent
On Wednesday we reached Baie St. Vincent, on the Southwest coast of New Caledonia. On Thursday we moved towards its desolate inner reaches, a huge, empty, yet beautiful bay of innumerable islands, small coves, and barren rounded hills. Much of Baie St. Vincent is shallow so you can't get too far into it. The whole area is surrounded by mountains. In this bay the silence and size of its emptiness overwhelmed us. Through 360 degrees we were surrounded by an unpopulated void. On the beach of the small island behind which we sought shelter from the persistent wind was a house, or more precisely, a corrugated iron lean to. However, it was unoccupied and for now at least, abandoned. In the far distance, beyond the edges of this bay, we saw in the surrounding mountains the occasional small speck which was a building, and among the lower hills, a row of transmission towers. But still, the distance which separated us from those signs of civilization, five to ten miles at least, made us feel alone. As night fell we played mournful eerie music on the stereo because it fit the surroundings, and we sat outside and watched the bay fall into empty darkness. A quiet mood fell over us. When it became black on the edges of our world, some of the distant specks turned into lights winking at us, and we knew that we were not really alone. To the southeast the clouds reflected a vague light, which we knew was Noumea, so we were not so far away after all...here in the back of the vast South Pacific ocean, alone was still a relative concept.
Friday morning I got up before Judy, when daylight awakend me, and made coffee. Then I went on deck and coiled a few lines. Later we motored around the bay and explored it in detail, then sailed back to the desert island called Mbe Kouen to meet Ed & Julie on CINNABAR. Saturday we had a wonderful sail upwind in 20-22 knots, blue sky and blue seas, tacking behind the points to stay in flat water and get the lifts coming out. We made good time on some other boats going the same direction. It felt great. Now we are back in Noumea for the Pacific Arts Festival. We'll write to you to tell you how it was.
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Fred & Judy SV Wings, New Caledonia
Labels: New Caledonia