LINKS FOR THE YEAR 2001
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Log For the week of November 4, 2001 Noumea New Caledonia by APW
My week to write already? It can't be possible. We are already in the start of cyclone season and are still a thousand miles from Australia but are thoroughly enjoying ourselves in the midst of a surprisingly delightful spot on this planet. We came so close to skipping New Caledonia as most of the books paint the picture of a bare landscape ravaged by mining operations. To quote cruising guru Jimmy Cornell- "The once stunning scenery alternates between thick forest and bare slopes mined for minerals, for the mountains of Grand Terre (the main island of New Caledonia) are almost solid mineral deposits."
At the beginning of the week we were still up at the very end of Prony bay on the southernmost tip of the island. We shared the bay with a few other boats but had our anchorage to ourselves. No other houses, towns, hotels, or jetskis for hundreds of square miles. There are countless red ochre dirt roads crisscrossing mountains, encircling bays with not a soul on them. Streams and waterfalls always within a few yards for a quick cooling dip. Orchids and exotic shrubs growing like weeds. I could have stayed up there forever, but we had to get back to begin the import process for Stewart. I think the isolation and distance walking into nowhere made Phil nervous, as he kept asking me questions he never asked before. "Do you have the medicine for insects in case you get stung?" Stuff like that.
On the way out of Prony Bay we anchored for the night off a long strip of beach in the crook of the Prony bay reef. There was not another boat or person in any direction. Despite the relatively cool temperatures, we were determined to go snorkeling.
Late that afternoon we did a small dive just to get a flavor of the underwater scenery. We were completely blown away. In just seven feet of water we saw very healthy coral, soft coral, anemones and more fish than anywhere previous. The fish were big too. This area is a protected park so spear fishing is illegal. I wish more countries would do this. What could possibly be the sport in shoving skewers into an aquarium? If people need income or food they should fish the areas away from reefs. The reefs should be "safe zones" where fish can escape human predators. Besides the reef fish are more likely to carry ciguatera toxin.
The following day we went back to the same reef but at low tide, so were more on the periphery. It was still just as breathtaking. Phil and I were sticking close together as we saw stonefish and other very venomous fish the day before. Phil was pointing and saying something through his snorkel which sounded like "fish fight". I had the cameras so went in closer for a good look. He grabbed me by my fin and dragged me back. Three feet away was a sea snake that had gone to the surface for air. One would think the black and white bands would be remarkably distinctive in turquoise blue water. But the light refraction patterns near the surface and small wavelets, made this snake almost invisible. They are not aggressive, but if provoked, as with a careless swimmer crashing into them, they can inflict more toxin through their fangs than a king cobra. Needless to say Phil spent little time getting back into the dinghy and had his gear off and the engine started, before I even had my hands anywhere near the gunwhales. We didn't see any sharks though! But it made me realize that once we get to Australia I probably ought to look into having some anti-sera on board for stonefish and sea snakes.
My poor mother sends us ‘mother-type email' on a regular basis expressing concerns for our safety. It's probably not good to add to her list of fears but Phil and I vowed to write and "tell it like it is", or at least, how we perceive things. One thing I never did write about, is the one thing, the only thing, that I now lay in bed fearful of. I no longer lie in a sweat thinking about the container that peeled off the ship North of here and is now lying on the rumbline semi-submerged, waiting like a crouching steel tiger ready to inflict the lethal bite into Iwalani's hide. Nor do I have fears of the appendectomy I will have to do on Phil at sea. Cyclones, emerging volcanic islands and pirates deserve respect, but not sleepless nights. My fears revolve around the fact that the Brittish drive on the wrong side of the road. In Fiji I came very close to doing an impersonation of the giant bug flattened on the windscreen of a big truck. I could smell the breath of death over my shoulder. It was that close. It almost happened in London with a double decker bus, several years ago. No matter how long we stay in a Brittish influenced country, I just can't get it into my blonde head to be looking the other way for approaching traffic. Australia may have salt water crocodiles that will tear you apart if you are in cloudy water, great white sharks, lethal spiders and plenty of poisonous snakes- they also have backwards traffic patterns.
Around the time I was trying to reassure my mother not to worry, a big black war ship came into Noumea harbor. This ship was painted a flat black and was so black that it was even absorbing the light from the surrounding buildings. The U.S. Navy ships look like gaily painted bathtoys next to this deathship from Singapore. Just its mere presence gave cause for concern.
We are anchored not far from a French army water obstacle course. They have floats, ladders, shoots and ropes all coming out of the water. Each station seperated by one hundred and fifty yards of water. I looked through the binoculars and told Phil "Piece of cake, I could do it with my eyes closed." That was before I saw them drop into the course from a helicopter, each man carrying a fifty pound pack and wearing army boots. I have new found respect for the French Army.
I have had a lot of time to think about what is going on in America and why we Americans are so vilified. I can only think it stems from a language misunderstanding and fear of what is unfamiliar. Our only contact with what is going on back in the US comes from reading the Australian version of Time magazine. I read how the general feeling is that it is time for Americans to come out of their isolationist stance. At first I thought this was nuts. We are always at the forefront to give aid or drop bombs. Then I got to thinking about it. We have our own system of electricity, our own appliances and TV's, no UHT cream, no canned butter. When we were in Fiji we were told of a new DVD system by RCA which can't be read by multi zone DVD players. Our navigation system, buoys and nun's are opposite the rest of the world. Red, right, returning, will only work when returning to America. When I was in America I naively thought the rest of the world was different. It didn't occur to me that it's the Americans who are different. In reality, we probably are the one's driving on the wrong side of the road. My technology battle with the French was lost, when I was shown a microchip on the back of all the French credit cards. This is inserted into the phones and all calls get automatically debited from the credit card. No punching in of fifty three numbers, only to find you punched a three instead of a four half way through the process. The break up of the bell phone company was a really dumb thing to do. From a Global perspective, breaking up Microsoft is a really dumb thing too. So what if it's a monopoly? It works. Let the other countries create competing operating systems if they want.
We are the only country whose population can not speak two languages well. My own language disablities are a huge embarrassment to me and I supposedly went to good schools. We may learn French and Spanish in high school and college, but we sure aren't taught how to speak them. Could we, as a nation, learn that 31 degrees centigrade is really very hot and not a time to be sharpening the ice skate blades? Can we learn that a 10K hike is just a hop through the woods?
So far in New Caledonia I have only had one French man yell at me. We were at the internet café and I had a question for the technician. He was working on a computer and speaking in French to another fellow across the room who was also on a computer. He had stopped talking and the other guy wasn't saying anything, so I asked my question. He told me "not to be so rude and interrupt people". Because I didn't know French, I didn't realize he was only pausing in mid sentence for effect. World wars have probably been started over such stupid things.
Wednesday, Halloween arrived with a four foot army of witches and warlocks, all heavily influenced by Harry Potter, invading the town and surrounding waters. They took to the sea in dingies in search of candy treasures. For the first time in the life of Iwalani we were low in candy as I sort of went on a feeding frenzy in Prony bay and cleaned out the candy larders. We had not had a chance to restock. Try explaining that to a bunch of hungry Goblins- in French. I did scrounge into the emergency stash of cookies and Cream savers. I told them to come back later when we a would have more. We pulled out the ceramic pumpkin and restocked from shore, only to have no other trick or treaters. We will be forced to eat all the excess candy. What a shame.
In French Polynesia and (New Caledonia seems to be no different), they will make any excuse for a holiday. Halloween is a four-day National Holiday, with banks, post offices, internet cafes, pretty much everything, closed down. I guess really they are celebrating "All Saints Day", but like Christmas the real meaning is gone and it is pretty much, a four day costume parade.
I have been worried about Stewart's heart. I am sure he has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease that is usually secondary to his hyperthyroidism, even though his thyroid levels have been back to normal following the radioactive iodine treatment two years ago. I would like for him to have an echocardiogram, before I start him on any drugs, as well as to do some bloodwork, to make sure his kidney function is ok. I have been dealing with the Australian's, hoping this could be done as soon as we arrived there. It wasn't looking like it would be possible and I was sinking lower and lower into a depression, hence my candy eating binge. I just assumed it couldn't be done in New Caledonia, after the huge disappointment with the one vet. in American Samoa. On Friday, we walked to the Vets office and found they were open. We (I) barged in last week through the parking lot door, which will gave you an idea how nice this hospital was- that the back section could be mistaken for the front. This time we went to the front door and walked into a beautiful hospital, with two very nice English speaking French Vets. I was very impressed and had finally found some vets who follow my own belief that the animal's welfare should always come first. They could care less with the New Caledonian bureaucracy and rules, which don't allow a foreign cat to come to shore. Stewart is scheduled to have his echo on Tuesday. He's not impressed but I am thrilled. Hurray for the French!
If anyone would have told me how rare books are in these parts I wouldn't have believed them. I think we have read all the English books in the entire Pacific. Phil is now reading the 1,531 page tome "Upgrading and Repairing PC's" while I am reading a recent textbook on cell physiology. We are really scraping the bottom of the barrel, but we've actually been enjoying these books. After awhile, novels and even autobiographies leave you feeling cheated. We did manage to find an old hard bound edition of "In Quest of the Sun" by Alain Gerbrault, detailing his circumnavigation aboard the "Firecrest" in 1925. He basically followed the same route as we. Amazingly enough, not much has fundamentally changed in the intervening years since he first wrote. He berates the French for their trying to change the Polynesians into French people and praises the Americans for their hands off handling of the Samoans. Seventy-five years later, I think that the Polynesians have fared better in the long run. It is sad to think that his tomb and memorial now lies in a sandlot, wedged between the overnight package delivery office and a parking lot, on Bora Bora.
We have now caught up with the class of 2000 and have met some interesting people. Phil practically had a coronary when he saw a pinky schooner and had to meet the people on board- a slightly older couple that bought the boat in New Zealand, with little idea what they got themselves in to. We've also met a nice couple on board a smaller version of "Sunbow", which was also designed by Chris White. This "Son of Sunbow" was built in Australia for the same price a used Moorings catamaran would have sold for in the US. Neither of the women on board these two boats could single-handedly bring the boats into port should something happen to their husbands. It doesn't seem to bother them too much.
We also finally caught up to the other remaining Maine boat builder that was out here- David Nutt. He is from the peninsula right next to ours in Maine and Phil had never met him. His wife is a physician and the operating budget difference between the income of a vet and that of an MD, is readily apparent when you put our two boats side by side. But what the heck is a wooden boat builder doing with a 65 foot steel boat? I told Phil that this guy is one we should get to know, as he obviously has brains. No, that's mean. I don't intentionally knock Iwalani or her wooden body, its just the worm thing and the fact we are very limited in where and for how long we can get hauled out. We couldn't afford to be out here if we built her out of anything other than wood, so wood does have its advantages. I'm also anxious to talk to another woman about things other than ziplock bags, shopping and making carbonated soda from yeast and syrup.
When we were at the Vet's office I saw a sign for a Grand Prix horse show which was supposed to take place on Saturday. I was quite keen on going and Phil dutifully acquiesced. First he had to go to the pinky Schooner and help them install their weather fax program. When he arrived back at Iwalani hours later, I was dragging my feet. Most of the horse shows I was in as a kid, usually started early in the morning and ended by three or so. We didn't have any clue where we were supposed to go either. Off we went to the tourist information office-(closed for the holiday) got in a taxi, went to the vets office, so the driver could read the sign and figure it out. Ten minutes later we were at a stable in the suburbs of Noumea. We asked the taxi driver if he could come back at four o'clock. He didn't seem overly enthusiastic about it.
I should have figured the French would do things differently. The show had really just started, even though it was two in the afternoon. We both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves watching the riders go over fences, get trampled on, or fall off when the horse refused a fence. The French do everything really fast, including riding and it seems there were a lot of horses taking corners too quickly and falling over. No one got hurt though. There were some good riders, one or two really good horses, but the jumps weren't too high or scary. At four o'clock the taxi guy stood us up, so we stayed for awhile longer and watched a costumed parade of the Noumea Pony Club. They broke the judging up into categories based on pony height. The judges started with the smallest of the small, the ponies less than 36 inches high (or nine hands) and made them jump over a single fence, which started at ten inches. The entry to the jump was lined with rows of potted plants, funneling down a straightaway to the adjustable fence. This way, the ponies could pick up a lot of speed but couldn't turn away at the least minute. The crowd tripled as everyone came out to cheer these little folk on. After each round the fence was raised and after each clean jump, they played the theme from "Star Wars". The competition got reduced to six riders. The fence got higher. One pony preferred jumping the potted plants and was disqualified. Another pony refused the jump, stopped, looked at it and decided to hop over it from a standstill.
Finally the event was reduced to just two riders- a "sultan" and a "princess" with a fence that was about 30 inches high. The sultan's pony was by far and a way the best and cutest horse in the show, standing all of about 28" high at the withers. He could have easily jumped a fence four feet high and really enjoyed jumping. The princess went first and her slightly taller pony knocked the rail down. The sultan lined his pony up, charged down the potted plant alley and easily cleared the fence. The crowd went wild. The pony was prancing in time to the Star Wars theme. The rest of the show went on late into the night with the stoic riders jumping with the aid of outdoor lights. Stewart had to have supper so we reluctantly called the taxi cab company for a pick up.
"What hotal are you at?" I was asked.
"Non, not at a hotel, a horse show, cheval, chevaux, beaucoup de chevaux." The first taxi driver had nodded and said the name L'etrier when shown the horse show sign. I figured that had to mean something.
"Madam, I can not get what you say. Horse, oui, but what hotal?"
"No, no we are not at a hotel. We are at a horse show, at l'etrier."
"L'etrier? I do not understand L'etrier?"
I took a deep breath. This had the potential to be a very late night, with a very long walk home. My word bag was empty. So I decided to just repeat slowly over and over:
"L'etrier, chevaux, L'etrier, L'etrier."
"Ah oui!" he said "L'etrier!" ( I could not tell the difference in his pronunciation, maybe more tongue twist, with the first "r") I will have cab there in five minute."
"Merci beaucoup monsieur."
Log for the week of November 11th, 2001 Noumea New Caledonia by PS
Stuck in New Caledonia. The problem is Stewart's importation into Australia. Despite the fact that we are making every attempt to "Do things right", we are hitting walls at every turn. The latest is some paperwork that can only be signed by a single "Official State Veterinarian" in Maine. (This requirement went into effect after we had left the State's.) We faxed the papers to him over a week ago. After several e-mails and phone calls, we discovered, from his secretary, that he was at a conference in Pennsylvania. Amy finally made phone contact with him on Friday, only to discover that the State of Maine's policy is not to do this kind of thing by fax! Not only that, but he would be on vacation till Tuesday, November 13th (Wednesday in Noumea). Our patience was snapping like the strings on a tightly tuned ukulele.
When Stewart has his signed importation papers, we will be going over all our trials and tribulations in detail. As we've mentioned before, we don't have to import him. We are trying to do things by the book. Amy is a veterinarian. If we can't get him imported, how are other cruisers with animals and less patience going to do it? Stay tuned.
We are spending every day working on Stewart's importation so I will break from my usual Monday-Sunday report.
Last week, a pinky schooner arrived in Noumea. Traditional wooden boats are a rare treat for me. (You may recall that Amy said I almost had a coronary when I saw it.) "Attu" is a 50-foot schooner built from the plans of Howard Chappelle. Sandy and Don bought her in New Zealand and are going to spend the cyclone season in Australia. I helped set up their weather fax program and gave them our copy of the GPS moving map system that was supposed to go to the Fijian Navy. "Attu" is almost twice as heavy as "Iwalani", making everything about her harder to handle. Don is very enthusiastic though and the aroma of pine tar has him under a spell. I look forward to meeting up with them again.
Another interesting boat we've seen here is a 32-foot Alden schooner. She could have been 120 feet, because everything about her was so well proportioned. Chris was from Alaska and spent the last 10 years building her. He was the only other cruiser that we have met so far that has built his own traditional wooden boat. With no engine or self-steering and only his dog for crew, he was a rugged voyager.
When we first arrived in Noumea, we had planned to see lots of movies at the theater. After sitting through a French movie, we decided that DVD's would be a good substitute. We've been anchored in town for several weeks and have almost exhausted their library. Our usual nightly routine is to make the 20 minute round trip dinghy ride to the store, make some ice cream and watch a movie. This lifestyle is hard on our bodies, so we usually offset the weight gain with long walks.
We took a taxi to the hippodrome to see a polo match. We had the usual routine with the taxi driver. "Hippodrome", we repeated over and over. After about the 5th time he said "Hippodrome". "Oui", I said. Amy had read in the newspaper that it started at 0900, so we got an early start. I thought it was a bit early for the French and sure enough the parking lot was almost empty. There were a few horses and riders batting some balls around the field though. I asked Amy what to expect at a polo match. She said, "Well dressed ladies in straw hats." Sure enough, around 11am, several ladies in white dresses and straw hats made their way to the spectator stands! Young girls came around with roses and handed them out to the ladies in the audience, including Amy. The first matches were young riders on ponies. It was a bit of a toss-up as to who moved the ball farther, the riders and their mallets or the horses kicking with their feet. After a lunch of canned iced tea and potato pizza (that's right the French put potatoes on pizza) we decided to walk back to town. It was a pleasant walk and took us about an hour. We passed a few old houses tucked in between new concrete apartment buildings. The small, one story, Mansard styles are Amy's favorite.
We are still checking in with "Willy Bolton" on the SSB and keeping track of their progress from Tonga to New Zealand. After some rough weather at the start of their trip, things calmed down to the point of no wind. As of Sunday they were half way (600 miles) and motoring. They plan to put in to the Kermedec Islands and wait for some wind. Hopefully, nature will not try and balance things by giving them more then their share.
For Amy and I, things are quite blissful. We awake in the morning to the sounds of birds singing and the boat so quiet and still that we think we are on land. Neither of us is looking forward to being out at sea again. The 4 hours on 4 hours off will be a shock to our systems. Not to mention the lack of nightly DVD's and ice cream.
We are not the only ones that feel like this. Several boats in the harbor have their previous hailing ports painted over with the words "Noumea NC." A sure sign that someone's dream has come to an end. PS
Log for the week of Sunday November 17, 2001 Noumea New Caledonia by APW
This past week was spent getting ready to go to sea. Phil climbed up the ratlines and re-worked a lot of the chafing gear aloft. I went down under and sponged off the slime which had started to form on Iwalani's bottom-side. I found a bizarre little "fish" clinging to the rudder. I looked it up and found it was a mud skipper, an amphibious fish found in mangroves, that must have hitched on to Iwalani while we were up in Prony bay. He had tiny little arms and big bug eyes. He seemed highly intelligent as he scooted around on his front feet playing hide and seek with my sponge.
The Nautix antifouling paint still looks great. We decided to go in search of more while we are in a French territory. After hiring a taxi and driving around most of outer Noumea we came up empty-handed. Our taxi driver was from Italy and spoke English with an assortment of accents, having spent most of his life moving from one place to another around the world. He "entertained" us with gruesome stories of his childhood spent hiding in caves in Northern Italy to avoid the US bombs during World War II. I am not sure whether his stories were meant to scare us, or to show us that after all these years he no longer held any animosity toward Americans. He told us we would probably be able to find the paint in Australia, as they have everything imaginable there. In fact that was one of his complaints about living in New Caledonia. Car parts are never available and take two weeks to arrive once ordered. "Things are expensive and the natives keep demanding more and more handouts. But otherwise it's an ok place to live," he said while swerving around a car stopped in front of us.
We shopped, stowed and got our clearance papers on Friday. We had to be gone by four p.m. Sunday. The weather faxes all looked the same, with the usual high, then low, then high, alternating weather systems marching across the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand. Lows in the Southern hemisphere circulate clockwise. We needed to time our departure with a high-pressure system passing below us to reinforce the trade winds.
We were all set to leave by four p.m. Saturday. None of us were looking forward to it. The DVD movies, the ice cream every night, the birds singing every morning, the greens and pinks, reds and yellows from the flowers on shore. The frangipani flower wafting its heavy fragrance out to the boat, the snorkeling, walking on a non- heaving surface, the French chocolate filled croissants, leaving a cold glass of water down on the table and coming back to it a few minutes later in the same position. Why would anyone want to leave this? We certainly didn't, so we decided to depart on Sunday. Besides there was a big black cloud to the west.
Sunday arrived with twenty-five knots of wind from the Southeast. We had run out of excuses and with only a few grains of sand left at the top of our fictitious hourglass, we were forced to haul up the anchor and head off to the west. The pinky schooner "Attu" flew out of the harbor a few minutes ahead of us bound for the Southern pass. They had two friends fly in from the States to serve as crew for the passage. With one reef in our mainsail, we went with a quartering breeze to the westward pass, hoping to avoid any sailing to windward. I must admit I was quite sad to leave New Caledonia. The sadness was eased by the speed at which we were going past the local French sailing fleet. Iwalani roared past both shorter and longer boats at close to eight knots. That'll teach the French to think a gaff rig is an antiquated thing of the past.
I was almost starting to gloat. And then came the "S" turns. We began sailing like a boat leaving a cocktail party. Our wake had a long series of serpentine turns and the autopilot was making some strange groaning sounds. Phil and I looked at each other. The "Autohelm" had given us sixteen months of trouble free service, was it now finally loosing its mind? The boat was balanced and we didn't have too much sail up for the conditions, so why was it behaving so strangely?
We decided to head back to Orphelinat bay, our home for the last month and find out what was making it behave so erratically. This is the one piece of equipment that is indispensable. I had actually thought I would buy another one, as back up-up when we got to Australia, as everything is at a half-priced sale there, or so Phil keeps telling me. We have "Tillie" my father's antique Tillermaster, but that's a little like asking your grandmother to steer. It could be done, but for how long?
We hand steered to windward, the six miles back to Orphelinat Bay, against twenty- five knot head winds. This only reinforced the importance of the self-steering. Stewart got sick down below. His ankle is better, but he wasn't happy to be back jouncing around at sea.
By the time the anchor was down Phil already had the Autohelm apart. On the way to Samoa, several months ago, he had to tighten the push rod cap that rests on the trim tab pin. If it had gotten any looser it would have fallen off.We thought nothing more about it at the time. It appears that we should have paid more attention. Salt water entered the "factory sealed with no owner serviceable parts inside" part of the unit. The push rod extends from the servomotor by a long threaded steel rod. The rod is supported by hundreds of tiny little bee-bee sized stainless steel ball bearings. They work their way to the end of the threads, fall down a hole into a tube and re-circulate back to the beginning. The rod had pitted corrosion on one end and when Phil removed all the tiny little balls, out fell a lot of aluminum dust and rust flakes. He spent the rest of Sunday cleaning the rod and one by one putting each of the little stainless steel balls back in place. I decided to pull out the manual and do a little reading. On page 41 it talks about compensating for erratic sailing in southern latitudes by re-entering the latitude and setting the auto adapt to "South" at the compass key pad. Neither of these had been done. We had been further "south" when we were in Prony bay but with much milder conditions the autopilot wasn't working as hard, so wasn't feeling the effects of compass dip.
Phil had been moping around all last week complaining of the lack of mental stimulation. Reading, writing, painting, whittling, scrimshaw, macramé just about all shipboard pastimes, completely bore him. Even the movies and ice cream were becoming commonplace. But with compass dip he is once again a happy man. All of the cards on all of our compasses are pointing toward magnetic north. But with the shortest distance to magnetic north being straight through the earth, the cards tilt downward. The card gets stuck in the gimballing mechanism as a result. This morning Phil spun around the cabin holding our main compass and staring into it for at least forty-five minutes like a wizard looking into a crystal ball. I had a lesson on how the ferrous parts of the compass work and how to adjust the compass for dip.
So now what are we going to do? Will it take two weeks to get parts like the taxi driver said? Should we just leave with two questionable autopilots and the worst weather of the whole trip possibly lying just ahead of us? Will we move Iwalani to Prony Bay and just live there for cyclone season? Phil can buy a motorcycle and take the infinite number of dirt roads to town when we need to restock the cream larder. I could write and paint and we could recommission Iwalani up there, far from civilization. I have made a small amount of money selling copies of some of my New Caledonia paintings to a gallery in downtown Noumea. With more paintings I could perhaps stave off the cash flow hemorrhage. Stewart would not be sentenced to prison time. It's awfully tempting. Stay tuned for what lies ahead. APW
Log for the week of November 25, 2001 by PS
It seems as though a "Higher Force" has reached down and steered Iwalani away from danger once again.
The four-day weather forecast looked good when we left last Sunday. By Monday, a large low-pressure system had formed just below our planned route. In the Southern Hemisphere, winds around low-pressure systems rotate clockwise. This means that a system passing to the south of our route would give us headwinds. This particular system developed into a "storm" with winds (500 miles from the center) to 55 knots! We were very glad to be in a snug harbor, watching the drama on the incoming weather faxes!
Monday morning we headed to Port Moselle Marina to find out what we should do about checking back into New Caledonia. They weren't sure, so they started calling around. After some "Fast French" over the phone, they told us (in English) to report to Customs. We hiked across town and were greeted by the very friendly and English speaking Customs lady. She gave us a temporary permit and called immigration for us. This saved us a bit of legwork.
When our Autopilot gave out on Sunday, I called "Attu" on the VHF. They had headed out just minutes before us, so were still in radio range. I knew they had their Autopilot fixed in Noumea, so I hoped to get a name of a repair center. They gave me directions to the shop they had used. This was a big help, as there is that "language problem" which can make even the smallest task monumental. I no sooner got off the radio with "Attu", when another boat called us. No one calls us, so I was a bit taken aback. "Sidereal Time" had been shadowing my conversation with "Attu" and had some additional in formation. It seems that he didn't have a high opinion of the person "Attu" mentioned. "Sidereal Time" recommended Marine Corail, who was a dealer in Raytheon/Autohelm hardware. As much as we dislike the radio, passing information across the airwaves can be a great help.
We headed to Marine Corail after our visit to Customs and were hoping to buy a new Autopilot ram and get our old one rebuilt. Bad news. Things were even worse than the taxi driver said. "It will take at least four weeks to get a new one." was Eric's reply. Aggg. Welcome to "Paradise." We asked about getting ours repaired and were given directions to their "Technician" across the harbor.
We hopped in the dinghy and headed for the repair shop. Luckily we had brought our old part along because we had some trouble finding the place. We tried our best to ask for directions, but weren't getting back anything we could understand. Once they saw the part in my hand, they pointed to the back of one of the buildings and said "Jean Luc". This was a name I could remember, being a "Trekky" fan. (Captain Jean Luc Picard, for those of you not into Star Trek.)
A rastifarian character greeted us. His hair looked like electrified bedsprings, jutting out at odd angles. Jean Luc spoke excellent English and was surrounded by Autopilots exposing various parts of their guts. We told him about the corrosion inside the ram and asked if he could re-build the bearing assembly. "No" was his reply. "You need a special machine". He tested my re-build job and said the ram worked fine. Amy jokingly said I must be a "special machine" because I rebuilt it without one. We tried to pay him for his time, but he just sent us off with a smile and wish for a safe voyage.
We stopped back at Marine Corail to order a new ram. As luck would have it, the manager mentioned that they had a similar unit en-route from England. He expected it to arrive by the end of the week. The unit was the same make and physical size, but not quite as powerful.
While speaking to Jean Luc, we discussed the possibility of putting our drive motor onto another unit. He said it was a good idea because the "GP" drive motor we had was far superior to the regular 4000 series.
With this information, we reserved the incoming unit and kept our fingers crossed that it would really arrive in a week.
I spent Tuesday working on the ram support for the trim tab. While we had "Tilley" as a back up for the Autohelm, the truth was the two units were not inter-changeable. I had to re-position the bracket to make the Tilley unit work. This was not something I could easily do under bad conditions, hence why we had to hand steer back to Noumea. I was violating one of my own rules. Never have something that's a " looks like" piece of equipment on board. Amy had an emergency tiller on her boat "Petrel". The main steering was a pedestal with cables. She had never used the Emergency tiller, so I hauled it out of the cockpit locker one day while we were sailing. It sure looked like and emergency tiller. When I hooked it on the rudder head we could only steer to port. The pedestal was in the way! That's what I mean by a "looks like" piece of equipment.
"Dansa" returned to Noumea on Tuesday, so we invited Dave and Judy to homemade pizza and ice cream aboard "Iwalani". Dave is a boat builder and Judy is a doctor. We really enjoyed their company and they couldn't believe they were eating home made ice cream aboard a boat! Welcome to "Paradise" Iwalani style. We may not have fancy woodwork, but watch out when we have UHT cream aboard.
Amy has been doing some painting. She is getting used to the quirks of acrylics. There are some excellent art supply stores in town. One of the gallerys had some interest in doing a show of her work. She's been cranking out a bunch of painings, so who knows.
I called Nathaniel on his birthday, the 20th at 9pm his time, the 21st at 1pm our time. Ben answered, so I got to talk to him for a while. Things are going well for him at RIT and he was home for the Thanksgiving holiday. Nathaniel was his usual quiet self. He was doing the dishes on his birthday. Some birthday, huh? He had his party the weekend before so I guess life was back to the usual routines. It was good to talk to him. A persons voice can tell you alot more than the written word.
Judy from Dansa called us on the VHF and invited us to a Thanksgiving "Dock party" on Thursday. Amy baked a pumpkin pie and one of the turkeys. It seems that the local stores take advantage of the American holiday and stock up on frozen birds for the cruisers. The cabin was getting quite hot both figuratively and literally. The wind had shifted to the west and our anchorage was getting rough. There were braking waves all around us. The appointed hour for dinner was 4pm. At ten minutes to four, I decided to move Iwalani. Amy was all ready to go to the party. This would have been a good time to own one of those take apart catamarans, you know, where each hull can go its own way.
Iwalani was moved to a quieter anchorage, although not after adding more fuel to the already hot atmosphere. Before we hauled up the anchor, I had shortened the dinghy painter. Amy subsequently let it out because the dinghy was banging into Iwalani's rudder. She forgot this fine point when she started backing down to set the anchor. Unbeknownst to me, (I was busy at the bow, letting out the correct amount of chain) Amy backed over the painter. She tried to remove it from the propeller with the boat hook, only to have the boat hook break. Then she jumped overboard, in her party clothes, to retrieve the piece of boat hook that was floating away. When I came aft, she was nowhere in site. I thought she had gone to the bathroom. Wasn't I surprised to hear a shout from the water, "Could you shut off the engine and get me my mask?" By the tone of her voice, I could tell the water hadn't cooled her off any. Our "shaft razor" had made short work of the one inch braided line, but a loop we used to haul the dingy up on deck had gotten around one of the propeller blades. Talk about Murphy's law. Anyway, Amy got over being mad at me when she discovered that the party hadn't started without us.
We really aren't party people, so we spent our time listening to conversations about the weather, other cruising yachts and mechanical breakdowns. I was brought into one of the conversations, when it was discovered that I worked on computers. I had been spending most of the week trying to revive two laptops from Dansa. Amy insisted that I try and fix them because I was going batty not having my mind challenged. One was a Dell with power supply problems and the other an IBM ThinkPad with a bad keyboard mouse. The Dell wouldn't stay powered long enough to bring up the screen, so I gave up on that one early on. The ThinkPad at least gave you a screen to look at. The ThinkPad had water spilled on the keyboard months ago and only worked for two weeks. The error was during the POST, power on self-test. From what I could find on the Internet, (I didn't find anything on the IBM site) the entire keyboard needed to be replaced. When I hooked up an external mouse I had control of the cursor, but got the same error message. Why is it that a company like IBM would design a POST that would disable the entire computer for a bad mouse? No really, what were they thinking? That would be like waking up in the morning and not having any feeling in your right pinky finger. You wouldn't even be able to get out of bed. Then you would have to get someone to call your boss and tell him you couldn't make it to work. Really.
I suppose that if I could get the signal information that the post was looking for, I could by-pass it. If this were my computer, I would cut the signal cable from the mouse. I think it would work because the error is probably similar to a stuck key. Which brings up the IBM post diagnostics. They are terrible. It says the system board needs to be replaced. The whole test is very vague. The Tome I have been reading says that the IBM diagnostics are the least helpful. They are sure right about that.
Which brings me back to the thanksgiving conversation I was brought into. There was a debate about using a laptop on–board as opposed to a desktop system. I am now a firm believer in a desktop system. If the computers I was working on were desktops, I could easily swap parts or buy generic replacements. The laptops have proprietary parts only available from the manufacturer at a premium price, if they would even sell them to you.
Friday the autopilot had arrived, but had not been processed through the receiving department. "Come back tomorrow and it will be ready." we were told. I was tempted to open the box with my pocketknife, but thought better of it. What's the rush? There was another big low forming off of Australia…
Saturday we sailed to a bay about 15 miles to the north to test out the three autopilots. They all worked fine, so we will be keep the new unit in reserve, and Tilley as the backup for the back up. And you thought only the Space Shuttle had three redundant systems.
We are still trying to decide where to spend the cyclone season, New Caledonia or Australia. When we head back on Monday we'll find out if New Caledonia would even let us stay here for another six months. Then, we will have to find out if the marina will let us leave Iwalani, while we fly to New Zealand for two weeks. Amy is not happy about Stewart spending thirty days in Jail in Australia. Being allowed to visit only once a week is not something she wants to subject herself or Stewart to. My dream of being tied to a marina, with water, electricity and Internet are dead. The marina fees here are three times as much as Australia and Amy hates the marina life. It also doesn't help to see Stewart run to his catnip pillow everytime he hears the anchor chain coming up.
So, life goes on. We still have e-mail on the boat and the SSB radio keeps us in touch with our friends thousands of miles away. Just last night we made contact with Sunbow. Ken happened to be scanning the dial on his SSB looking for world news when he heard us talking to Willy Bolton. He called us and we had a great "catching up conversation". Speaking of communication, our worldvoyagers e-mail still has the "SirCamWorm". I just can't seem to get our ISP to fix it.
Well, that's all for now. Maybe next week we'll know where we are going. PS