"Arctracer" Letters

Ouvea & Lifou, Oct 2002

We're back at the southern end of New Caledonia after a boisterous trip south from Lifou Island. We had a lot of 25-30 knot winds again and square seas to contend with. We ended up slowing down to about 3 knots to have a more comfortable ride, so it took us a while to sail the 130 miles (with tacking). We still find that doing a one-night sail is very difficult. We don't get into the rhythm of the seas and night watches. It is much easier on our bodies and minds to make a 2- week sail than a one or two day sail.

Since we wrote last, we took five male Kanaks from Ouvea to Beautemps- Beaupre, a small island about 25 miles north of Ouvea. It is now uninhabited, but used to have a village of about 30 people. The people left the island because there was not much water, and also because they wanted better access to schools, doctors, stores, and all the other modern things on Ouvea.

All the men we took were members of the family which provides the paramount custom chiefs of Ouvea, and the oldest in our group is likely to be chosen as the next one later this year. Beautemps-Beaupre was the home of his grandfather but he had never been there before, so this was a sort of pilgrimage. He made an offering to the spirits of his ancestors by leaving a bit of cloth, some stick tobacco and some matches on a post that was once part of his grandfather's house. He strongly felt that they would not be there when he returned to the scene. He did walk around the island the second day, but we never confronted him with whether the gifts to the spirits were still there or not. Since he didn't mention it, we assume they hadn't disappeared.

Zacherie got a huge coconut crab out of its hole by putting in some burning branches, so we ate well that night. We had never seen this done before so it was very interesting. We had seen people put open coconuts on branches and then go out at night with flashlights to get crabs eating them, but didn't know about finding their holes and smoking them out. All the guys did a tremendous amount of fishing, and the next day we took about 30 good-sized fish (kept in the refrigerator and a cooler of ice) back to Ouvea to help feed the horde of people assembled for a wedding feast. Nina and I didn't go to the feast, but saw some of the week-long wedding preparations. It was like a big reunion, with people eating, talking and living together in big shelters beside the church. Since we weren't part of the family and didn't speak much French, it got rather boring after a while, but they were having a wonderful time.

(view Beautemp Beaupre photos)

We sailed from Ouvea to Lifou on October 28th. It was alight wind day, and we had to motor almost half the way, but it was a pleasant passage against the direction of the normal trade wind. We anchored by ourselves off a small village and enjoyed the tranquillity. The day after our arrival at the village of Easho, another boat arrived, "Pacific Sky of London" (out of Sydney) with perhaps 1500 passengers! It was only in the anchorage from 8-4 so tranquillity returned when they left.

We worked more on our starboard hull and then moved about a mile and a half to Chepenehe Village where we enjoyed the 10th anniversary of a custom dance group from October 31st to November 3rd. We saw these Lifou dancers first at the Pacific Arts Festival in Noumea in 2000, then in Port Vila this August. It was wonderful seeing them on their home ground. One troupe of Lifou dancers just returned from a performance tour of Hawaii, San Francisco and other California locations. During the festival we watched several groups from Lifou, a wonderful, dynamic group from Futuna Island in Vanuatu, and two groups from Grand Terre. We met a couple of guys from the San Francisco area who were there to take lots of photos and videos of the groups. They had just helped sponsor them on their trip to the USA. At one arts festival in California, John said it was amazing to see the Lifou group with their bamboo drums, while the other groups used all kinds of modern technology. However, the Lifou group had a wonderful response from the audiences.

(view Lifou photos)

After we get our starboard forepeak strengthened we'll be heading to Noumea to get diesel, propane, water, and groceries to get us to New Zealand. Then we'll wait for a high to come off the Australian coast so that we have wind from a decent direction to get us south-east.