Disloyalty

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Index of slides from this report.

"That's two weeks."

Said the nice lady behind the desk at Port Moselle.

"Two weeks?"

Counting rapidly on my fingers I establish that it has indeed been two weeks.

Mark & "Baggs" from Hide Away stopped by to photocopy some Vanuatu charts. Visa extension denied so they're off to Vanuatu in a couple of weeks. They copied a couple of charts and gave us a symbolic gift of Tim Tams.

The Cagou

The flightless Cagou is the New Caledonia state bird and appears in stylized form on highway signs and other government impedimentia. They're hard to see in the wild, but the zoo in Nouméa has some.

Having seen the Cagous in the middle of their large enclosure I decided that the best photograph could be obtained by walking all the way around to the high side of the paddock and then using maximum zoom and steadyng the camera on the fence while balancing precariously. No sooner had I put this plan into effect than the previously circumspect cagou walked right over to where Karin and the kids were standing and proceeded, with, deliberate unconcern, to forage for grubs 10 minutes. I know when I'm being mocked.

After collecting my telephoto shots, I walked, with well simulated deliberate unconcern, around to Karin and the kids, shoved the lense through the fence and ripped off a couple of dozen wide angle close-ups of the recalcitrant little beast.

Mont Khogis Adventure Park

David (of Ship Shop Service) had invited us out for a "hike" up Pic Maloui. David is tigerishly fit and seems to have cast himself into the French mold. As a general rule, the French do not seem to "just go for a hike." Either they are dead serious about some specialized discipline (mountaineering, orienteering, endurance racing) or they stay back at the auberge and admire the view. The hike with Dave (an endurance racer) was nice albeit rapid, but the highlight of the trip was our discovery of the adventure park. An enterprising caldoche has strung together a treetop pathway of ropes and cables and, for a modest renumeration, he provides you with a climbing harness and some zip-line instruction turns you loose on it.

Centre Culturel Tjibaou

Named for Jean-Marie Tjibaou, the popular leader of the Kanak independence movement, the Tjibaou Centre is a very concrete symbol of the uneasy peace between the indiginous Kanaks and the French. Tjibaou himself was killed on Ouvea. Public histories, while characterizing the killing as an assasination, are stangely silent on the (Kanak) killer's fate or motivation.

One of the rooms at Tjibaou was devoted to modern art from Papua New Guinea. It was quite modern stuff but with handy Pidgin subtitles in case the viewer should be unclear on what the picture is about:

"Dispela bus, him bigpela, igo long Port Moresby"

captures the flavor, but like the Klingon used in Star Treck, is probably baby talk. I didn't have anything to take notes with. Anyway, it seems to me that this technique could be salubriously applied to a great deal of modern art.

Speaking of Pidgin, the Hide Aways were captivated by certain Pidgin expressions, for example:

"basket blong titty"

for brassiere, a garment, alien to their culture (the antecedent of "their" may be considered to be either "the melanesians" or "the male Australian Hide Aways"), whose very existence (the brassiere's, not the Australian males', smart ass) was bound to cast some shadow on the sagacity of white women.

But I digress.

We took in a native dance/botanical tour of the Centre grounds I was amused to notice the sole female Kanak dancer wearing a sort of grass-skirt mother hubbard dress. The traditional grass skirt (on display in the same museaum) is a strictly waist downward affair, not big on what the Victoria's Secret catalog primly terms "coverage," and even the risque and uncomfortable (or so I'm told) coconut brassiere thing comes from Radio City if it comes from anywhere. In point of fact, monokini was the traditional dress of Pacific Island women everywhere with the bikini not coming into vogue (anywhere) until the US used the atoll of the same name as a nuclear test site and the French motivated by an inscrutable logic of their own decided that, while women would probably not pay to sunbathe in their underwear, they would pay for this new form of swimsuit as long as it were termed a "bikini." The thong-monokini of today, so close to nude that it isn't even sexy, is just another of modernism's dying howls; the great strip mine of shock finally run out of ore.

So, we get to see "traditional" Kanak culture modeled by devoutly Christian Kanaks, while nominally "Catholic" French girls, ever in search of a good frisson, sunbathe topless at Baie des Citrons. The South Pacific is a very strange place.

Nicoline was quite intrigued by Melanesian "money" which is usually some small intricate handicraft which is exchanged on various ceremonial occasions. Oddly, I found it very sophisticated and abstract, much like western money which endured a tortuous evolution from trade goods to the current abstract token of shared belief. Perhaps because things with tangible value were uniformly present in the environment, the melanesians moved directly to a more abstract form of currency. No sense in trading your coconuts for someone else's.

Exploring Inland

We rented a car for a few days to explore inland. It rained most of the time giving the already prehistoric looking landscape a real permian touch.

Not to the Loyalties

Our provisioning gradually reached a crescendo and with the fridge and freezer stuffed full, the heads packed with grapefruit and onions and the shower filled with apples, it was clearly the optimal time for departure. We'd laid in a good supply J. P. Chenet table wine which comes in a surrealist melty sort of bottle which, if contemplated innocently, can cause a pleasant overestimation of one's state of inebriation.

We left Nouméa in a brisk 15-knot southerly which became increasingly "faible" as the day wore on finally dying away to nothing just outside Canal Woodin. We motored through, pausing briefly to check out Anse du Pilot and finding it unsatisfactory, on to the now familiar Bonne Anse in Prony where we tried out the much lauded anchorage "C".

The next morning, we had an easy sail out the Havannah Channel and up to the anchorage at Yaté. It was a gloomy looking little place and the looks weren't helped by the fact that it started to rain soon after we arrived and continued to rain all night.

We awoke to find it still raining. We couldn't get the VHF weather forecast, and I had to conclude, based on the charts from the past couple of days, that the SPCZ was camped out in the vicinity. We considered hanging around on the east coast, but if Yaté was exemplary of the sort of shelter we could expect, it was a dismal proposition. Furthermore, the size of the Loyalties makes it hard to box the winds and the thought of sailing around the islands in the rain in search of a sheltered anchorage wasn't too appealing. We decided that, given that there was still plenty to see in the southern lagoon, it would make more sense to sail back to Prony, hunker down for the duration of the bad weather, and then go exploring.

So, we motored out of Yaté and pointed it south. Even though winds were light off Yaté there was a lumpy, short period swell which suggested that winds were blowing strongly nearby. We went with the first reef. At the entrance to Havanna Passage I was at the point of sheepishly suggesting that we shake it out when the wind went from 5 knots to 20 and the rain started to come down in earnest.

We were rocketing down the channel on a beam reach, expressing relief that, at least, we wouldn't have much traffic to worry about in this temps de chien when looming up out of the gloom ahead we saw a sailboat. And another. And another. Evidently we were sailing into some sort of race, and us on port tack. We played dodgem for half an hour or so before arriving off the mouth of Prony. Winds were by this time over 25 knots so we did a chicken jybe (tacked through 270 degrees) and blasted into the bay at 15 knots. Safely inside and past Îlot Casey, we rounded up and dropped the main entirely, proceeding at a safe and sane 7 knots under jib alone until the bay closed in just a mile or so from Baie du Carenage.

Prony Again

We spent three nights in Baie du Carenage.

The weather improved slightly.

We moved to Baie des Ruines, the only place in Prony that we hadn't been, and spent a couple more nights there. The swimming holes in the creek there aren't as good as those above Carenage but it was nice to have some new territory to explore and the nearby beaches were great for shelling.

At low tide, Tristan broke out the big longboard and surfed "the world's smallest wave" off a sandbank at the river mouth.

Baie de la Tortue Again

As you recall we spent a night here before being chased out by westerly winds. We decided to return and do some of the exploring that we'd planned the first time. Also, when we'd last spoken to the Ganeshes they were planning on stopping off at Baie de la Tortue on their way back to Île des Pins, and we figured that they might have delayed their departure from Nouméa due to the same bad weather that kept us hunkered down in Prony.

We made sail from Baie des Ruines, first reef as the wind in Canal Woodin would be gusty. Jybing down Canal Woodin, we crossed tracks with Amber Nectar, one of our many acquaintances from Nouméa. While the Canal wasn't bad, the bullets coming down the east coast of Île Ouen made us really glad we'd reefed: a couple of 20-knot gusts had us surging along at 14 knots. Only a couple of other boats in the bay and they left the next morning.

Early the next day, we heard the Ganeshes on the radio and a few hours later they pulled up and dropped the hook next to us. We spent a pleasant couple of hours swapping storm-hunkering-down sorts of stories over coffee and cake.

The winds were cooperative and we were able to stay at turtle bay for three nights, hiking, swimming and snorkling to our hearts content. The jade "mine" was actually a large pile of jade boulders. We disuaded Nicoline from bringing some of the larger specimens back to the boat.

Îlot Mato

The Ganeshes had spoken highly of Îlot Mato, just 7 miles from Baie de la Tortue and so, light winds in the forecast, we followed them through the deep L-shaped channel between Récife U and Récife Niagi. The channel is 40 metres deep and about 200 metres wide with giant reefs on either side. It is reputed to be a good place to catch fish. We saw lots of fish jumping but with three lures in the water between the two of us (1 per hull), we still came up empty. Lamb curry for dinner.

The anchorage at Îlot Mato is a sand bottomed lagoon surrounded on all sides by coral. Marvelous snorkling along the drop-offs. Of particular note, brilliant blue starfish on the top of the reef and a pencil-sized tricot rayé Hopefully Nicoline's underwater pictures came out.
The island itself is only a few hundred metres around. We explored the island finding a couple of nautilus shells right off the bat.

We saw dozens of the fashionably striped sea snakes, "tricot rayés." We could tell they were the French kind because they were lounging insouciently and smoking Gaulois.

While the family continued on around the island, I followed a little path up one ridge to the summit. The path was little because it lead through the most amazing sticker bushes which enthusiastically deposited burrs on anything unfortunate enough to come in contact with them. The nervous keening of a pair of eagles suggested that there might be a nest in the vicinity and on the way back down, I saw it. Calling it a nest is quite generous for it was really no more than a slovenly collection of sticks with some clumps of discarded feathers. I was just about to turn around and retrace my steps to the path when one of the "clumps" blinked at me. The baby eagles were playing dead. Given that mom and dad, large birds, were in a considerable state of agitation, I decided that 10 metres was close enough. I needed my liver intact for our last few days in Noumea and it seemed a sure bet that the burrs would side with the eagles if it came to open hostilities.

The sad part of cruising is always saying goodbye to the wonderful people that you have just met. The only consolation is that you did at least get to meet them. After three relatively bouncy nights, we were all sick of the anchorage at Ilot Mato. The Ganeshes moved back to Turtle Bay for a bit and, after a last snorkle, we headed back to Nouméa. We had a Brilliant Spinnaker Run, the highlight of which was provided by a zealous French windsurfer who proved that while he was indeed faster than we were, our wind shadow packs quite a whallop.

Yachtie Details

Gebo Hall of Shame

Endless Summer was fitted with top of the line, offshore-rated hatches from Gebo. Would it surprise you to learn that they were expensive? I thought not.

I'm not very happy with them:

  • On my boat, the glass has been drilled for handles in three different positions, only one of them correct. In some cases the dogs on the handle barely engage the flange on the frame, in others they engage the flange too deeply, rubbing on the frame and making the handle hard to close.

  • The handles are ridiculously flimsy plastic affairs held together by screws threaded into the plastic instead of bolts. The result is that the screws can only be tightened N times before stripping out and requiring the replacement of the entire handle. I've seen this "screw threaded into plastic" arrangement in a number of other bits of gear and I have to say that it is a really dimwitted way to save a few pennies on a product that retails for hundreds of dollars. I'd be happy to pay an extra $5 for a proper stainless bolt. Ultimately such screws always strip out and the user has to buy a brand new chunk of plastic at the usual exorbitant rate charged for spare parts.

  • The locking mechanism is secured to the window by a couple of plastic pins that shear off under only moderate pressure. After they've sheared off, the lock is no longer effective.

  • The scew holding the handle together always loosens with use. When the screw loosens, the handle begins to leak through the latch.

  • The exterior handles are glued together and the glue fails quite rapidly causing the exterior handle to fall off the hatch. The dealer has thus far replaced only 4 of the twenty identical exterior handles on my boat.

  • If the hinge is tensioned enough to keep the hatch open, it makes a ghastly squeaking noise.

  • The screens fit poorly, leaving gaps between the flange and the frame of the screen. In addition, the plastic corner pieces of the screen frame seem to work loose from the aluminium sides.

I traded notes with a friend who had recently replaced an 18-year old Gebo hatch with one of the new ones and he was also upset with the new hatches. In addition to some of the quality issues that I had, he noted that the new flange was markedly inferior to the old one in keeping out water, particularly when one opens a hatch with some water on it.