“A travel adventure has no substitute;
It is the ultimate experience,
your one big opportunity for flair.”
Paris of the Pacific
Departing for Noumea
Jenny looks back at Aneityum. For the first few days on each passage she usually wears a Scopolamine transdermal patch behind the ear to help combat sea sickness.
The weather in the western South Pacific is known for its capriciousness, and for its propensity to harangue the sailor with adversity. So we were not caught off guard when, two days out we encountered a passing convergence. A line of hard-edged, oleaginous clouds assailed and began spewing tempestuous winds that soon had Suka bucking well-reefed into whitecaps catching her broad on the port bow. The island Mare now stood in our path. To gain sufficient offing in order to safely skirt its shores we battled throughout the day, sailing close-hauled in 25 to 30 knots of wind. The futility was becoming increasingly apparent, though, so eventually I swung the helm hard over, Suka came about onto the port tack, and when Jenny clambered forward and handed the jib, the ketch lost way and began drifting slowly seaward. During our next bi-hourly radio contact I reported to our friends that we had elected to lay to. Bob said that Tukua would continue alone.
“Lay-to, Stand-to, Hove-to:"
stopping the boat with the sails and rudder trimmed contrarily.”
Switching on the radio again four hours later, we were surprised to learn that Bob had followed suit, and that Tukua now stood-to, an estimated eight miles south of us. Because he was without a sat-nav, Bob was unsure of Tukua's set and drift, and he was concerned about her proximity to Mare Island.
"We can see your masthead light," he asserted. We found this odd as we could not see his vessel's light.
"OK, I'll flip it off now," I told him. "...Did it go off?"
"No, it's still on."
Stepping to the companionway and sliding open the hatch, I peered skyward. Indeed, our light had extinguished. "Well, Bob," I deduced, "there must be another crazy fool hove-to out here."
Eighteen hours after the blow's onset the sou'wester had backed and mitigated. And at the first hint of dawn the conditions began improving markedly. So Jenny and I climbed outside, bent the jib to the headstay, and sheeted in the shortened mainsail. Suka shot away. Then belowdecks at the appointed hour I spoke with Tukua's skipper, who was also under way. We deliberated at length as to our relative whereabouts, but to no avail. An hour later, while peering through binoculars Jenny sighted the sloop as a tiny dot appearing intermittently against the far horizon, as it lifted to the crests of the larger waves. Then as the morning progressed we found that, remarkably, the two ships were sailing on a convergent course. In another two hours both yachts were sailing side by side, neither having altered heading or speed.
At dusk we arrived within 15 miles of the New Caledonia reefs. Again we hove-to for the night, having intentionally positioned ourselves well upwind of Havana Pass so that the anticipated strong south-easterly current would carry us into position by daylight. But as the night wore on, the sat-nav indicated that our drift was practically nil.
By prior agreement, we each switched on our vessel's masthead lights every two hours, in order to ascertain each others relative position. Also, we had scheduled a 4 a.m. radio contact. A blaring horn woke Jenny and I abruptly. I jumped to, and looked out a port. Tukua. 4:30 a.m. We had overslept. Chagrined, we scrambled topsides and set sail.
As a yacht lies hove-to during a long and impenetrably dark night, nothing arouses her crew's imagination so redoubtably as a nearby coral reef. But when, bereft of the anticipated current, we found ourselves a whopping twenty miles from the pass, I could only admit that we had contrived an excessive margin of safety. In any event, in the company of her consort Suka made for the expansive lagoon's entrance.
Sailing with Tukua, an aircraft flies overhead, no doubt checking us out - for what we do not know.
Approaching New Caledonia in bulbous seas
We closed with a prominent white obelisk while Tukua's skipper relayed the appropriate directions from Alan Lucas's new guidebook for the New Hebrides. Unfortunately, though, the information proved incorrect, requiring that we revert to our personal judgment.
In quiet waters inside the barrier reef.
“As the two yachts sailed in ultra-tight formation, Bob heaved half the tuna carcass into Jenny's lap, while she yelled an animated whoop!”
Entering the pass, Bob happend to land a tremendous yellow fin tuna, then while rounding the cape he appealed to us to maneuver close by. As the two yachts sailed in ultra-tight formation, the end of Suka's main boom almost threatening Tukua's cabin top, Bob heaved half the tuna carcass into Jenny's lap, to which she let out an animated whoop. After I had steered away to a safer distance, she set to work in the galley. Five minutes later she was pan-frying an inch thick, ruby-red steak of fresh tuna, seasoned with marjoram and minced garlic clove. Lacking refrigeration, we were unable to store leftovers, so our half of the fish victualized us for the ensuing three and half days. And after reaching port we would indulge almost to excess in my favorite seafood recipe: fish salad served on fresh baguettes.
After we had rounded the cape and emerged from the wind's compression zone jammed against the steep-to lee shore, the funneling south-easterlies freshened. The ships ran along the coast, their sheets eased free and their sails drawing taut. During this final 30 mile jaunt to Noumea Jenny and I staged a yacht race, not against Tukua but against the ever sinking sun. While Jenny stood at the helm I eased the main boom far to starboard, housed the vang tight to increase its "windprint," and foreguyed the boom forward to preclude any inadvertent, precipitate jibe. I snap-shackled the topping lift, the foreguy, and afterguy to the whisker pole, and braced it out to port. To this I set the jib, wing-on-wing opposite the mainsail. I prevented the mizzen boom athwartships to port, and vanged it to the quarterdeck. Then I hoisted the spinnaker to starboard, wing-on-wing opposite the jib. Never had Suka shown herself so nautically adroit.
Eventually we reached civilization, in the form of the Club Med and its beach Ansavate - noted for its daring windsurfers who tear across the water at break-neck speeds, and for its beautiful French girls, topless and strewn everywhere. We had arrived.
A yacht passed by, heading the other way; her skipper leaping into the air excitedly and waving his arms. At first we could not imagine why all the agitation, but when he railed at our American flag, and then cheered at his Australian colors, his meaning materialized. The America's Cup races had recently finished, and apparently the American team had lost to the Australians.
Reaching the Noumea harbor an hour before sunset, we lowered and set the bower. But promptly an immigration officer arrived aboard a skiff and requested that we shove along to the customs wharf, in order to obtain entry.
Yachts in Noumea bay
While Suka lay alongside the wharf, the immigration officers came and went. She had arrived too late to clear customs, though, and was therefore directed to stand by until the following morning. So that evening Jenny stole away on an after-hours mission to fetch whatever fresh comestibles were to be had at the nearest shop.
After we had showered away some of the briny crust from our bodies, and tidied Suka's cabin, in the company of Tukua's crew we converged upon a lavishly appointed platter of fresh-broiled tuna, fresh-baked baguettes, and Bleu d'Auvergne cheese, all washed down with a few fruit flavored sundowners. And while comparing notes of the passage, we enjoyed a most congenial yarning session that closed with the wee hours. As always, we were grateful to have reached calm and safe waters once again. Why do we cross oceans? Primarily, it now seemed, because the arrival at the next port imparted a sensation of unparalleled luxury.
Yves and Louisette
The visitor's wharf at the local yacht club was undergoing repairs, albeit imperceptibly, so the foreign peripatetic yachts peppered Baia de Moselle, conveniently fronting the bustling city. After gaining our clearance and then moving our brig out into the anchorage, Jenny and I paddled ashore.
Our initial impression of the city was one of high anxiety while attempting to cross the first street. A seemingly endless stream of automobiles volleyed past, grande prix style, and as mere pedestrians we felt rather like slow moving targets. As a matter of fact, later that same evening, and at that same intersection, a woman and child were catapulted on eternity's last ride by some overly spirited motorist. And judging by the high-strung ambiance, we imagined that this sort of mishap occurred with some regularity.
Pulling a heavy-duty, 100 amp alternator from an old truck motor.
At first we perceived only negative aspects of the senselessly brisk style of driving, but then we discovered Auto-plat, Noumea's well appointed wrecking yard. This was a cornucopia of spare parts for the tinkering yachtsman. Here I extracted a heavy-duty, 100 amp alternator from a truck motor, and purchased it at modest cost. Elsewhere in the jumbled yard I found a suitable mounting bracket. These I adapted to Perkins, replacing its original and decidedly inadequate 35 amp alternator.
Generally, we lacked the ability to converse in the attendant tornado-tongued version of the French dialect. One day, after stepping onto a bus and asking directions, we eventually wrote our destination on a scrap of paper, and handed it to the diver. "Onze," came the reply. When bus number eleven rolled to a stop a few minutes later, its driver nodded affirmatively at our note. Soon we were bounding away for Ansavate beach.
A Windsurfer tearing across the water at break-neck speed.
Nice pair of Hobies.
While sunbathing contentedly in accordance with local vogue, we watched spellbound the daring antics of several high-speed windsurfers. Often some would meet untimely ends to their rides. Loosing balance, they would tumble brain-box-over-breech through the air, and skid recklessly across the face of the compliant sea.
In part, I spent my evenings practicing a plethora of self-invented tunes, as well as J.S. Bach's Jesu Joy and his son C.P. Bach's Solfeggietto, which Jenny was patiently teaching me, note at a time.
To our deepest regret, the South Pacific cruising season was drawing to a close, meaning that the time was at hand to depart for safer waters, to remove Suka from the hurricane zone. From Tahiti westward, each island group had enticed us the more, yet the waning season had allowed less dawdling. We had merely scratched the surface of Fiji's prolific gunkholing potential, and at New Caledonia we scratched it not at all. Two weeks had glided past on silent wings when our departure mark on the calendar presented itself.
With the passing of a weak cold front, the weather charts now looked amenable for plying the high seas; and in the next two days a mini fleet of half a dozen yachts blew town. This was a time of heartfelt partings with the crews, most of whom were bound for New Zealand.
Dy Chior, however, would remain in French-speaking Noumea for a season while her crew replenished their cruising coffers. The night before Suka's departure, Yves and Louisette invited us to dinner aboard their floating homestead. Louisette prepared a gourmet's spectacle over the flames of her modest little kerosene burner. We dined on fresh fish, poisson cru (fish marinated in coconut milk), baguettes, wine, bavettes (steaks), frites (fried potatoes), salad and cheeses.
October 12, 1983 dawned clear. Jenny and I weighed, made sail, and reluctantly headed out.