BAPTISM OF FIRE

So we’re holed up still in Port Koube, Ile Oueun. Our friends are just south-west of us at Ilot Mato. We thought of going down there, it’s not far but the winds are from the south-west and that’s exactly the direction we would be travelling in. So instead, tomorrow we will head to Amadee where Easy Tiger is heading, before we both run in to Noumea on Monday, us to our berth, them to check out some possible rudder damage. Amadee has a lighthouse on it and that’s where we first entered the Lagoon after our 6 day passage from Australia just about 2 months ago.

So what do we do in this huge bay where we are on our own? Well, Ron cleans the bathrooms and I take photos and write up the blog. Of course! He’s nothing if not self-motivated. The scenery is just beautiful. We have hills all around us. Very red earth, rocky escarpments, greenery interspersed by palm trees. It so reminds us of north-west Australia. When we go ashore, we just think, o my gosh, crocodile territory, then we remember there are none here. The most dangerous critter is a snake, but they are not aggressive; they can be curious though. Apparently the local kids play with them. Don’t think I’ll be doing that. A friend had one wrapped around his shoulders when he was snorkelling, thought it was a rope hanging down from his dinghy. He managed to remain calm and extricate himself. Yikes! They have very small mouths but can open wide to inject very toxic venom. Apparently would be fatal. But very rare fortunately!

We met an Aus couple yesterday on a mono, Mr. McGyber (or similar). Very nice couple, Patsy and Dave. Patsy reminded me a little of Pauline (for my DamBusters friends). She’s a VET teacher in the islands, last stint was 12 weeks in Fiji and she has just been offered another stint this time in Vanuatu. She’s not sure she wants to do it but the money’s good (didn’t get around to asking who pays her) and keeps their ‘cruising kitty’ topped up! Dave had also been in the navy so he and Ron had a good chat and reminisced. They have no internal shower on their boat!!

We have the VHF radio on a chat channel for other rallyers. This is how we coordinate destinations or drinks ashore or on others’ boats. Sometimes there are local Frenchies speaking on this channel so I have fun trying to interpret what they are saying. There is a bit of mining activity on the other side of the hill and a helicopter comes and goes so we think it may be them. At least they speak a little slower on the radio so I can pick up a few words. I have been able to communicate a little in French but understanding them in return is quite difficult. I haven’t listened much to the weather channel but when I have, I haven’t made head nor tail of it! Apart from ‘vent’, wind. Victoria, I need to do those French sketching classes! Or were they conversation classes?

Easy Tiger, which is 15nm away, just invited us for lamb roast tonight. Aaagh!!! I suggested we run down there NOW but Ron’s up to his elbows in the bathrooms so it didn’t go down well. Lamb roast……. Or clean bathrooms? No competition in my book… I shall have to get a lamb roast when I get home. Roast veggies, haven’t had them in a while. We eat mostly barbecues, chicken curry, spag bol (Greg will remember these fondly I’m sure), and salads. It gets quite cool at night so it’s ok to cook.

We are thinking of coming back next year and arranging a 6 month visa before we come. We’ve barely scratched the surface of this tiny island. Soon we will head to Vanuatu and only have 6-7 weeks there so will probably feel the same about that. O well, we’re very fortunate to have done what we have.

Sometimes, when sitting on the boat, we hear a whooshing noise in the water. On investigation, there is often a large school of fish jumping out of the water, like goats jumping fences. It goes on and on around the bay. Obviously being chased by something! It’s amazing!

We left for Amadee at first light aka 6am. Very quickly past Ilot Mato and just about ran into Easy Tiger! Ron said, ‘o didn’t realize it was that close!’ Grrr. Could have had lamb roast! Got to Amadee around lunchtime. It was very busy at Amadee, being a Sunday, and when Ron got the hook on to the mooring buoy, the ring on the hook snapped. I’m at the helm, there’s snorkelers all around, even between moored boats!, so I’m directed to the next mooring. Degree of difficulty now there’s no hook, 8. Anyway, R manages to hook on, engines in neutral, and I run up the front to help with hauling lines every which way to get us secure. 10 minutes later we’re all hooked up. Ye Gods. Then it’s Easy Tiger’s turn, that’s no problems and we’re all set. After a snorkel – lots of fish, it’s a conservation area, turtles, big fish, little fish, lots of reefy bits – then some lunch, we decide to dinghy ashore. Well, that was a mistake. We try to tie up at the wharf and ask a guy from one of the tourist boats. We can tie up at the wharf, no taking dinghies ashore, too many swimmers, so we let off our passengers, Steve & Leanne, we’re getting swamped by waves, and decide it’s too dangerous to leave the dinghy there, so Ron and I go around the point to where the smaller fishing boats are. No one is ashore, they’re all anchored near the shore. We dinghy in but are still getting swamped by waves, decide it’s too dangerous to take the dinghy up on to the beach. So we all clambour aboard again, some of us are VERY wet, and head back to the boats.

Best thing is Leanne says she has a bit of roast lamb left and a whole heap of roast veggies, would we like to share? Would we? Dumb question! So back to the boat, bit of a rest, then I get my prawns ready and back on board Easy Tiger. O the lamb and veggies were sensational.

Wake up and it was a beautiful morning after a stupendously rolly night. I didn’t mind it so much but of course Ron couldn’t sleep. It was noisy and quite violent but I felt secure on the mooring. After a couple of hours, as the tide is receding, the rolls settle a bit. Leanne has a snorkel, then we all go ashore, this time to the western end of the island. Because it’s Monday, there are no tourist boats today, just a few locals in fishing boats. Sadly that means there are no lighthouse tours. Bummer. Plenty of snakes around, under logs, along the beach, in the bush walk. I wouldn’t have noticed really!! Someone’s snake radar is working fine. They’re dreadfully toxic but not aggressive so I’m not particularly wary. Had a beautiful walk around a bit of the island hoping the lighthouse keeper will come out and maybe give us a private tour.  Have heard that’s happened. Alas, no such luck. So after an hour we head back to the boats. I jump in for a last swim and then away we go, heading to Noumea.

Now the reason for the title of this post. Just as we approach the Harbour, we radio in we’re arriving. Head to our berth, radio operator says, and tie up stern to, attach to the buoy. Ron terminates the call and says ‘she said something about tying up to a buoy’. ‘What?’ says I. ‘ I think you need to confirm that’. So he radios again and yes, she wants us to tie up Mediterranean style. O f**k. We’ve never done this. ‘What are we going to do?’ We crawl down the clearway, summoning up encouraging words for each other. We see a port employee waiting for us. We see the little white buoy, marking where the bigger buoy is below. ‘What do you want me to do?’ I ask our fearless skipper. ‘I don’t know’ comes the reply. He doesn’t know how to handle this either. O God. Ok. I get my Wonder Woman shirt on (in my head). We can do this. ‘Which is our buoy?’ he calls. ‘Um, looks like that little white one. Hopefully it’s above a bigger one’. Trouble is, ALL the other buoys in the clearway are bigger on top, why is ours different? So I’ve got the boat hook in hand, I hold it in the direction of the buoy. Ron can no longer see it, so it’s difficult. ‘Have you got it?’ he yells. Er no, not even close. So I grab the rope under the little white buoy with the boat hook. Quickly grab one of the mooring lines which had been previously used at Amadee. Thread it through, all the while keeping an eye on what Ron’s doing, trying to turn the boat around so he can reverse into the pen. There are boats either side with about 3 feet clearance. Thank God it’s not blowing a gale (although Ron tells me later it was blowing 8 knots sideways which was enough to add a degree of difficulty). I quickly grab the other line and thread that through as Ron dances the boat backwards. I tie the lines on then race down the rear and throw the lines astern for the employee to grab and tie us up. I also quickly tie Wilson (big fender) up on the side we’re most likely to touch next door boat. Then I realize the lines I’ve tied at the front are too tight, we’re not going to be allowed to go back enough. Quickly race up the front and loosen those off. Race down the back as Ron’s yelled the bait tray is going to be broken by a line that’s curled around it. Like I give a flying f**k. Back and forward we go. Ron very deftly manoeuvres the boat into position. Only problem is I’ve threaded the lines thru the tiny rope that goes from the marker buoy to the big line that’s connected to the big buoy. And that big line is what I should be threaded through. No worries, wonder woman quickly grabs the paddle board that fortunately hasn’t been deflated and put away, chuck it into the water, kneel on it and paddle around to the front, fully clothed mind you, and with Ron’s assistance, thread the ropes thru the proper loop. My leggings are ruined, the water is filthy.

I think I’ve explained before why tying up to a buoy and anchoring use two different bridle systems on this boat. Just again briefly, we have an anchor under the mast, not at the front of the boat as is more usual. So the bridle system that’s used for the anchor comes from under the boat. No way, other than a tricky pulley system, to bring it up to the front for a buoy. (For the uninitiated, a bridle is a rope system, a rope from either side of the cat meeting in the middle, so forming a triangle; it keeps the two hulls off the buoy or anchor chain.)

I can’t believe we did all that. I can’t believe I didn’t vomit over the side. I can’t believe I didn’t curl up into a foetal position! You have to do what you have to do and hope for the best. In this case, we somehow managed to make it work. Not expertly, and not without mistakes, but we got there. I pour us each a stiff drink.

We go to the marina office and have a little chat. They explain why they’ve put us down there. They only have a few spots on pontoon A for long termers. It’s a visitors’ wharf. And they’ve worked hard to get us this spot. We explain what happened. They laugh with me when I call myself Wonder Woman. I’m going to wear the t-shirt tomorrow and show them I really do have one, thanks to the Irish dragonboaters! We then go to the chandlery and spend a hundred bucks on new rope for a new bridle. Then we go to Herve’s office and sort out paperwork and contract him to be our boat’s ‘guardian’ while we’re away (compulsory apparently; this trip home is getting very expensive). Didn’t even ask how much that will cost, it just has to be done. Back to the boat, send an email to Herve so he can have the local police sign a form saying our boat is here, so we can get on a plane back to Noumea otherwise we won’t be able to board our return flight in Sydney. Ye Gods. I hope my son appreciates all this. He’s turning 30, as is his wife. And of course we want to see our little grandcherubs.

We’re in bed quite early that night! It’s quiet up this end of the marina, away from the restaurant. But it’s a good 15 minute walk back to the office which is our usual starting point for shopping etc. Hopefully when we return we can move the boat up to the other pontoon as we are going to have to provision for a month.

This boating life is exciting!!!

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