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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sept 26th - Sailing to New Caledonia and Tsunami Evacuation! – Ouvea

Our passage to New Caledonia only took two nights.  Leaving at 5 PM from Port Vila we enjoyed about an hour of perfect sailing, then when we passed the protective barrier of the mountains and exited the bay for open water the bash began!  For about 14 hours we rocked and rolled in 2-2.5 meter seas with 25+ knot winds.  I told Frank that he would have to live on muffins and brownies, nuts and fruits because I wasn't even going to go into the galley, much less make an effort to heat up prepared meals.  He was OK with that, being a junk food junkie at heart. 


Then on my first Watch of the night, as I went below to grab something to drink I became overwhelmed with the smell of diesel fumes.  I had a flashback to last year's fuel line leak and at first I put it off as residual vapors from our recent fill up.  After a few hours of heeling to starboard, however, I could smell the fumes wafting up through the companionway.  Crap! The fumes grew stronger and began to pervade the entire salon and galley area.  When I awakened Frank for his watch I voiced my fears that our repair of the former fuel-line leak last year in French Polynesia had been compromised.  I knew there was nothing I could do about it while alone on Watch, so he dove into the locker to check. Yep – we had a leak!  So far about a cup of diesel had accumulated in the refrigeration compressor locker. We spent the next several hours mopping and tossing sodden paper towels overboard, then washing the locker with grease cutting soap.  For the rest of the night this was the drill – mop, sop, clean, toss, tighten the fittings, then come up for air.  It was absolutely nauseating!  For a while even Frank got queasy.  Eventually all we could both do was to sit in the cockpit, keeping the locker open to air out until the nausea passed and we could start the operation again.


By mid morning the leak was sealed but the fumes were horrendous!  We sprayed air fresheners, wiped the area with vinegar, Simple Green, lemon, dryer sheets.  It was so bad that I had removed everything from the entire area – top, middle and bottom shelves and spent the day re-organizing our food and supplies.  Thankfully the seas had settled down and we enjoyed a beautiful day of sailing.  We moved canned goods into the locker, and called it good.

Our second night out was lovely! We had a fantastic trip the rest of the way. We arrived in New Caledonia at the island of Ouvea, in The Loyalties, at daybreak and were anchored in time for a nice breakfast and a generous pot of coffee.  Our anchorage in Mouli Bay was as pretty as a picture.  Many cruisers compared it to the Bahamas.  I have not been to the Bahamas so I just compared it to Heaven!  The sand was pure white and so soft I couldn't get enough of burying my feet into it.


On September 30th we were scheduled to take a group tour of the island beginning at 10:00 AM.  We were happy about the prospect of sleeping in a little.  At 6:50 AM we were awakened by a blaring air horn!  I turned to Frank and said, "What kind of jerk would do such a thing at this hour of the morning?"  He said, "Well it's probably Lizzie, they always blow the horn when they leave an anchorage, so they must be leaving and saying goodbye".  (Lizzie is a huge custom motor yacht that is part of our rally group.)  He rolled over to go back to sleep.  I got up to go to the bathroom and saw through the porthole that several yachts were leaving.  So I casually remarked, "Well, it looks like a parade out there – lots of boats are leaving".  Then we began hearing more horn blasts real close to our boat.  I went over to turn on the VHF, and immediately heard several boats hailing us. They had been blowing the horns to get our attention!  A Tsunami warning had been issued and all boats were ordered to evacuate. We jumped to it; Frank started the engine as I headed forward to raise the anchor.  While Frank was negotiating our way out of the bay I phoned my brother and Sis-in-law on the Sat phone to let them know of the evacuation in the event something happened and they would need to inform the family. We were out of the bay within minutes, heading for deep water.  Fortunately, this atoll is surrounded by very deep water – fathoms!  It didn't' take long to get far enough away to feel reasonably safe.  Many of the boats threw out fishing lines and used the opportunity for some trolling. We made coffee and began tuning into various radio stations on the SSB to try to get some kind of report in English because Noumea Radio was broadcasting in French.  All we knew was that a deep ocean earthquake had occurred off the coast of Samoa, which triggered a Tsunami that was headed our way.  We waited in deep water until around 10:00.  Thankfully it turned out to be a non-event.  Nothing happened here in New Cal.  So we made our way back and got re-anchored.  I am immensely proud to say that this was our first experience responding to this type of emergency situation, and we handled it with amazing calm and order.  We were a unit, working in concert with one another.  In fact it felt a little exciting, although neither of us wanted to admit that until later when it was all over.


We all hustled into our dinghies to go in for the tour.  When we arrived at the designated spot on shore, however, two of the vans had left having given up on us when they saw all the boats leaving the anchorage, (can't say I blame them!), so half of the group went in the available vans and the rest of us returned to our boats happy to just hang out and do nothing.  We did manage to get the buses back the next day to take the remainder of us. It isn't difficult to see the island in one day – there is one road, one town, one significant resort, (a beauty by the way called The Paradise; very befitting!), and a small airport.  We visited a soap factory where copra is made into soap and washing powder – we made come purchases there.  We visited the lovely Catholic Church, and some sacred lagoons. It is a beautiful island but we noticed that the people of New Caledonia – the Kanaks – are not very friendly.  In fact they are vastly unfriendly to outsiders.  One group of cruisers had rented a car for a couple of days, and when we all had gone into shore for the tour, it was noted that all 4 tires of the rental car had been slashed and the petrol siphoned.  We made a note to self – do not rent a car here – or if you do, do not leave it unattended overnight.


We had seen all and done all that we could here, and knowing that we had three weeks to see New Caledonia, we made plans to leave for Ile des Pins before heading to Noumea and getting ready for the passage to Australia (OZ).
while at sea: (note:the sender must include the character sequence "//WL2K" in the subject line of the message.)
Skype ID: frank.barb.gladney

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