Monday, September 11, 2017

Après Pacific? Vamos por Mas!

In our last blog post, we mentioned strong westerlies while we were at Ile des Pins. On our return to Noumea, we found they had strong westerlies too.  But the bay in Noumea is wide open to the west and here the wind was blowing 45 knots.  That was enough to separate five boats from their moorings and send them all to their death on the rocks of the harbor.  It didn't take long for Noumea's hoodlums to leave their mark.

We were a bit sad to encounter the graffiti on private property all around the city of Noumea.  We saw some of this on the island of Tahiti too.  But here it's rather prolific.

Even the beached harbor flotsam and rocks can't escape the tagger's spray paint.

So you just force yourself to look away.  And when you do, you just might see two boats that have traveled thousands of sea miles to get here.  Both 62 feet long.  One has a mast short enough to clear the 65 foot bridges in Florida.  The other, a gorgeous Oyster yacht "Red Cat", who's German owners Wolf and Marget we first met in Fiji, has a mast that soars to 90 feet.  Wonder which one is faster...

From this dock we waited for the weather to settle into what might provide good conditions for the 1000 mile trip to Australia.  We didn't have to wait long.  

We didn't have the wind we wanted for a fast passage but the conditions were about as smooth and comfortable as we've ever had.  Along the way we enjoyed some spectacular sunsets right off the bow to remind us we were headed due west.

Not wanting to get the formalities of arriving in Australia wrong, we hoisted the quarantine flag early, taking particular care to get it right side up.   

The last night on passage the airborne sediment in the sunset reminded us we were getting close to Australia.

In the morning, there she was.  The land down unda.  The continent of Australia.  Our first continental land fall (besides North America).  OZ!!

We covered the 985 miles in 5 days 5 hours arriving on Sunday which meant we could not depart Moonshadow until Monday when the authorities would be able to clear us into Australia. Not a problem, we needed some rest anyway.  But Monday's processing was like none we'd experienced so far.  It all began with the realization that we had not acquired a visa before entering Australia.  23 previous countries we've entered had no such requirement.  But in Australia, that's technically a crime, which was pointed out to us by the Australian Border Force.  They also reminded us there are other countries that have this requirement, like ah... the USA.  Since we were quickly sized up and judged not to be your typical criminal aliens, the Border Force helped us with immigration to sort out our own screw up.  

But first we had to deal with the fact that we were smuggling liquor into Australia far in excess of the allowed amount.  We were asked if we had liquor, we said yes.  How much?  Well, who knows?.. we don't keep records.  Somewhere during the process of opening every single locker aboard Moonshadow, the Australian Border Force tallied up 23 bottles of wine, and 9 liters of spirits, not counting the opened bottles which they didn't bother with.  At that point we produced four more bottles they had missed.

You are allowed something like 2.5 liters per person, so you could say we were a bit over.  OK, smuggling might be a stretch, but the excess had to be dealt with.  If you are a country, you simply cannot have people bringing in their own wine and booze.  So our choice was to pay duty on the entire lot, or secure it aboard so when the allotment runs out we are forced to buy still more from locals.  Fine, lock it up.   We don't have a locker that locks and if we did, probably couldn't be trusted not to simply unlock it when the booze ran out, so the Australian Border Force, anticipating just such an event has a solution.  Seals.  Only the carefully numbered seals are really just stickers, and are laughably tiny stickers at that.  Somewhere between a US fifty cent piece and a quarter, they're so small they barely span the gap on the locker door.  Within a few hours Moonshadow's gentle rolling, the play in the locker's latch, and the tamper-proof slits in the stickers conspired to break the Border Force seals.  We're beginning to think we probably are criminals.

Somewhere, locked up in our unlockable locker with broken seals, is this bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir, which we bought (four nations ago) simply because the name reminded us of the Baja Ha-Ha, an annual rally from San Diego to Mexico that attracts 150+ cruisers.   

 The Baja Ha-Ha reminds us of Mexico. 
Mexico reminds of us Philo Hayward.  

Philo Hayward, Sailor, Musician, Friend, so much more.  RIP.  (photo Latitude 38)

Like us, years ago Philo sailed to the South Pacific.
He was gone two years and missed Mexico.
We've been gone two years and miss Mexico.

Philo sold his boat, moved back to Mexico, created Philo's Bar in La Cruz 
and that changed everything.

We think we're just like Philo.
Only different.

We don't want to sell Moonshadow, or start a bar.  Hell we can't even sing!  But we do want to get back to Mexico with Moonshadow so....drum roll please....

...come January, 2018, we will drive Moonshadow into the bay of a Float-on, Float-off Yacht Transport ship in Brisbane.  A month later we'll start the engine and motor out of the ship and into the bay in Ensenada, Mexico.  

8,000 miles straight upwind without having to hoist a sail.  Or fix anything.
That's brilliant!!

From there, we'll divide our time between San Diego in the summers and Mexico in the winters, where we'll always be close to family and friends.

The last two years we've covered over 12,000 ocean miles and stopped in 135 beautiful places in the South Pacific.  We've also taken over 12,000 photographs.  From those, we've selected 165 images we feel convey the essence of our South Pacific experience. This can be viewed in the slide show below.  Enjoy, as we have.

Now, here's some graffiti we can agree with!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Pacific Cruise Sunset

In our last blog post, we claimed we'd be looking for some good sunsets.  Some time ago, Moo-Crew-Deb challenged the rest of the crew to never miss a sunset, and the crew has responded.  Unless it rains, we're all present and accounted for in the cockpit, cameras and cocktails within reach, looking for that perfect sunset.  

Is there such a thing?

Aren't they all perfect in their own way?

So, while exploring southern New Caledonia, we've been hunting sunsets. Here are a few we think are worth sharing:

But it wasn't all about sunsets.   We were out to discover Le Grand Lagoon, at the south end of New Caledonia's main island called Grand Terre. Surrounded by a barrier reef, the western lobe of the lagoon is a vast area of deep water protected by the surrounding reef, sprinkled with treacherous interior reefs and ilots (French for small island).  

We stopped at four ilots, looking for that ideal tropical spot to swim, snorkel and paddle-board.

But relentless trade winds followed us until we found Ilot Kouare, offering some protection from the wind and chop.  We went ashore for a picnic and had the island all to ourselves.

The local family of Osprey kept a watchful eye on us.

We walked all the way around the island, until we found Moonshadow again, right where we left her.

We couldn't wait for sunset, so made our own with a shell found on the beach.

Grand Lagoon's eastern lobe is more of the same but features a beautiful island Captain Cook named Isle of Pines.  The French, for some reason, now call it Isle Des Pins.  We never saw any pins but the pine trees Captain Cook saw are ginormous and extremely slender.  

Located 500 miles further from the equator than Fiji, this part of New Caledonia has a decidedly cooler and dryer climate. You find the occasional palms, but the rest of the vegetation is nothing like the tropical islands we've left behind.

The seawater is about five degrees (Fahrenheit) cooler than Fiji, but when the wind is southerly, it brings a much cooler air mass from the Tasman Sea and the sweaters come out!  Also, it's the middle of winter here.

Weather systems regularly cross the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand and as each system passes, the wind makes its way all round the compass.  While in Ile Des Pins, fresh Westerlies sent us around from Kuto Bay to Kanumera Bay for protection.  Ashore we found evidence of New Caledonia's French Colonial past, like this massive stone wall that enclosed the fortress of the original administrative section.

We hitch-hiked to the nearby village of Vao where the modern day government office walls incorporated chunks of coral instead of stone.

Vao is where the Catholic church was built 1860.

The grounds and buildings have changed little in 150 years.

Our ride back to Moonshadow was in the back of a large Jeep with this family, whose beautiful girl never took her eyes off us.

So now we're back in Noumea, looking at a possible weather window for departure to Mackay, Australia, a voyage of just under 1000 miles - maybe five days and change.

Meanwhile we're still looking for that perfect sunset...

...and maybe some apres sunset scenes to ponder: 

What comes apres Pacific!?


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

South Seas Light Shows

Celebrating the Fourth of July in Musket Cove, Fiji reminded us just how fast the cruising season was passing.  We had to move on, but first dress up Moonshadow for Independence Day!

Perhaps the very best part of the cruising life is when you hear someone hail "Moonshadow", then you go on deck to find friends in a dinghy who you haven't seen since that exotic anchorage a year or more ago.  That happened on the fourth when Gina and Jose found us in Musket Cove, Fiji.  We last saw them in Moorea, and before that in Aliza's cozy bar on the Fakarava atoll, and before that in La Cruz, Mexico.  What's better than that?  Well, Jose, Gina and some other cruisers put on a tremendous fireworks display on the reef after dark.  Wonder where the next reunion will be...?

Speaking of old friends, San Diego buddies Greg and Barb Darling came to visit us in Fiji.  We had fun showing them all the cool spots we'd been testing out before their arrival, like the cruiser friendly Castaway Island Resort.

This is Cloud 9 bar, a barge that attracts younger adults who are interested in things like drinking colorful cocktails and jumping off the second story deck into 80 degree turquoise water.

What are the chances of this?  Barb and Deb appeared on deck the first morning sporting matching Skorts and Tanks!

Greg quickly adapted to his yachting role as Moonshadow's Mixologist.  
Between his Pusser's Painkillers and legendary Bloody Mary concoction, 
we were well taken care of.

We all yelled "WILSON!!!?" several times, but he was just gone.  No sign of Tom Hanks either here on Monuriki Island where his movie CAST AWAY was filmed.

You just can not have visitors in Fiji without some great snorkeling.  The sea life and coral are abundant and quite healthy here.  And there's that 80 degree water.

Another day and another matching outfit!! ?

Besides being a master mixologist, Greg gave John some lessons on the UKE.  And he thought he was coming for a vacation!

Our last night at the Manta Ray Resort came too soon, but...

What the HELL???  How many matching outfits can they possibly have?

When Barb and Greg flew home we quickly reprovisioned for our 490 mile passage to Vanuatu...

...a fast and uneventful trip...except for the four hookups inside an hour.  We think these are young Blue Marlin, but have no bill.  We let them go.

The Island of Tanna has an active volcano which cruising friends have told us is a must see.  First we had to sail Moonshadow to the town of Lenakel, about half way up the western coast of the Island, where we checked into Vanuatu with Customs and Immigration, and visited the bank.  Having arrived quite early, we hoisted our anchor and motored back around to Port Resolution on the southeast corner of the island.  

This well protected bay was named by Capt. Cook, who really got around back in the day.  It is also very close to the active volcano, Mt. Yasur, visible on the Google Earth map above and from our anchorage.

The entrance to the bay is guarded by these tree covered sandstone sentinels.

What we had thought was smoke from islanders burning brush as they do in Fiji was actually steam venting from hot springs. 

After all there is a volcano nearby!  Steam vents from several places up the hillside next to Moonshadow...

... but the locals don't seem to notice.  They're looking for fish to catch with nets from their dugout outrigger canoes.

Joe, here told us he made his by from a breadfruit tree.  

Except for the synthetic cord and fabric used to lash the outriggers and the modern nets, these craft are probably not much different that what Capt. Cook would have witnessed.

Speaking of old timers, we found this beautifully preserved gravestone.

It sits just alongside the Port Resolution Yacht Club...

... where our friends Mark and Deanna visited aboard their catamaran Speakeasy last year, leaving behind their Canadian flag.

The natives have very little...

...and everything one could want.

From here a "road" leads to the volcano.

At the base of Mt. Yasur, the locals put on a traditional dance performance.

The trip to the rim of the volcano was a lifetime bucket list item.

Upon arrival at the area where we disembarked a truck to walk the remaining distance, we immediately felt an earthquake and looked up to see rocks the size of Moonshadow’s dining table flung hundreds of feet overhead. 

We walked up a steep trail which took us to the upper rim of the volcano.

There was a lower rim from which one would be able to look down almost vertically into the fiery center of molten lava. But later we watched several red glowing rocks land in that area which explained why no one was there. 

The setting sun took on an amber hue viewed through the rising ash.

We stayed until after dark which made the explosions look like a fourth of July fireworks display, but with a bit of terror thrown in.

The whole thing reminds John of a story his parents tell of one of the three boys sitting Mom down on the couch during a loud thunder storm and saying...

...tell me again... that part about God!

Back aboard Moonshadow, we took advantage of the good passage weather and returned to Lenakel to check out of Vanuatu in preparation for our passage to New Caledonia.

Barely a divot in the coastline, the anchorage here is possibly the worst we've seen anywhere.  

It just doesn't feel safe with a big concrete wharf off our stern and large breaking seas on a reef closer than we'd like...

... but we stayed there until 4:00 AM to plan for a daylight arrival in New Caledonia's reef strewn south lagoon.  That meant we got to enjoy a beautiful sunset painting the sea red with the volcano's ash palette.

Our passage to New Caledonia was uneventful.  The best kind.  And the sunsets down here never disappoint.

It's an hour long entertainment.

And sometimes you get a curtain call.

We quickly adapted to Noumea's French influences, where at a restaurant we mysteriously ordered wine.

The place reminded us of another restaurant we visited back in 2013 in Bonaire.  Oddly, we ordered wine there too....

Over dinner we sketched some plans for how to make the most of our short time in New Caledonia.  Usually our plans are recorded in the sand (at low tide) but here there are:  185 miles of short hops all through the turquoise waters of the south lagoon to Iles de Pines and back..

...where along the way, we hope to capture some images like this one taken by 
  aboard the yacht Moira in the lagoons we'll be visiting...

...and add to our collection of sunset pictures!