Surprises salvage bumpy trip
LAST year, I prepared for this voyage from Tahiti to Australia in every way possible. I recruited crew and organized the dates they would come and go. I bought stacks of tourist books and cruising guides. I ordered boat parts and oversaw their installation. I even brought some art supplies to fill those calm evening hours at anchor.
While working to get ready, however, I forgot a basic tenet of travel: Trips are almost never what you expect them to be.
The major difference between my dream trip and reality is the customary killjoy: the weather. The South Pacific tradewinds have not lived up to their advertising, which is gentle breezes from the southeast.
Wonderful, I thought. After sailing a hard three weeks upwind last year to get to Tahiti, downwind sailing with following seas will be heavenly.
It rarely happened. Most of the time, we've been either beating into head winds or reaching in side winds while rolling in big south swells. Several times, squalls became storms that pounded us silly and made me seasick all over again.
"This trip isn't what I thought it would be," Scott said one day as we stared at his sea-water-soaked bunk. During a rough spell, the forward hatch had sprung a leak. "I thought I'd be baking bread and lying on the deck as the boat went gently downwind."
Me, too. We also thought we'd have more time to dive and snorkel on remote reefs. Adverse winds, however, meant our passages were longer than planned, leaving us less time to explore.
Sailors from this area have told me the winds are unusual this year. Well, OK. It happens. What I was not prepared for, though, was the cold. The winter temperatures here in New Caledonia are usually a bit lower than Hawaii's, but this year is record-setting.
We felt the cold at sea before we arrived. We dug out fleece pullovers, long pants, shoes and socks. Then we added foul-weather gear to keep out the wind. As we neared Noumea, we even wrapped blankets around our bundled-up bodies.
Still, we were determined to go snorkeling and diving. But even in full, hooded 5.5-millimeter wet suits with vests beneath, we were shivering cold, as were our dive masters. "The water and air are cold for us this year, 20 to 21 degrees," one said. (That's 68 to 70 to us.) Add howling wind and we Hawaii folks were beaten. Shaking and blue, we gave it up.
Are we having fun, though? We are. When anchoring was bumpy and cold, I docked the boat in marinas. I might not have done any snorkeling in Fiji, but I sure enjoyed exploring its capital, Suva. And now I'm discovering that Noumea's nickname, Paris of the Pacific, is apt. I can't get enough of its cafes, museums, markets and boutiques.
As a bonus, I have my very own group of sea snakes hunting openly in the coral near my slip.
No, this voyage has not been what I expected, but it's given me some terrific experiences. And that, of course, is why I'm doing it.
Tomorrow, I leave for Australia.