Thursday, September 25, 2008

Shiriri Saga # 56. New Caledonia. Drawing on the Present Moment.

Approaching Havannah Pass.

"Dad, Could you come up? We need to figure out some lights."I emerge from my rest into the predawn darkness to join the crew who are looking at the chart and cruising guide and then at a collection of twinkling lights spread across the blackness ahead of us. We are nearing the end of another mostly rough passage but have been tacking back and forth slowly downwind for half the night in light airs to delay our arrival at Havannah Pass for dawn and slack water. This pass into New Caledonia has a reputation for being difficult when wind and wave meet a strong current ebbing out of the pass.

We never do understand the lights, but the dawn suddenly shows the obvious picture of a broad pass with a beacon tower to starboard on Gorro Point. In the distance ahead is a hill with two range marks to guide us as we enter. Already the tide has turned to flood and even though the wind has turned against us and Shiriri is putting all her engine effort into butting through the confused waves and swirls of current we still rush past Gorro Point with the current. We look around at this new land in the almost cool air. We have been edging south ever since Suvarov atoll in the northern Cook Islands and the cool wind and somber new landscape say that we are leaving the true tropics. Still, that is a coral reef that edges the shore and ...Wait! "Did you see that mermaid?" A dugong has surfaced to welcome us. Those old time sailors were quite sure, after several months at sea. that dugongs were mermaids. The hills are dark and slashed with red. Tall candelabra pines (similar to Norfolk Island pines) line the shore.

This headwind will make it impossible to make it all the way to the main town of Noemea on the west coast to check in, especially when the tide turns against us, so we turn into a long bay and drop anchor in the lee of a hill. Ah, heavenly peace! The smell of eucalyptus and earth wafts across to us on the stray gusts of wind that reach over the hill. Time for breakfast and a rest. Nothing can feel quite so good as a successful landfall and a peaceful anchorage at the end of a passage.

Baie de Prony.

A while later I emerge into the cockpit with my sketchbook, write up the morning`s events and then settle down to draw the landscape across the bay. A single yacht is anchored over there against dark rippled hills. I use my pen and watercolour pencils to feel the push and pulls of the contours, to catch the dark reds and shadows, the rush of wind and cloud. As we have sailed across the Pacific this journalling and drawing has become more and more important to me. At first, I added funny little sketches when I felt like it, but this has now become an important part of my experience of the journey. Even in the toughest hours I have to believe that someday I will need to look back on these times. Recording the passing moment is a way to validate that it exists. I am discovering that the process of writing and drawing also makes the present more vivid. Even though, unlike today, I may not write down or draw the day until more time has passed, I know that I will and that affects how I experience the present moment. There is now a second eye that notes things as they happen and provides a synthesis of the truest aspect with all the details that support it saved and with all the clutter filtered out.

In the afternoon we row ashore to a red beach and climb up a rough red track to the top of the hill. Heather pauses to rest and to examine the strange plants: one looks like a rhododendron, another a pine with long soft needles. A few are familiar like the palms and screw pines but we know we have crossed a botanical divide and are closer to Australia. A brilliant blue butterfly flits down a tunnel the trail makes through the vegetation. Presently we can see back across the Baie de Prony and down to Shiriri in the bay below tugging at her anchor in the gusts. At the summit in a landscape of crumbling black, red and ochre rocks we discover the beacon and the guiding range marks which at the beginning of this day were some of the confusing lights that flashed at us out on the the open ocean.

Looking back along the way we have come we can follow the line of white fringing coral reef to the beacon at the entrance to Havannah Pass and lift our eyes to the rim of the ocean to the east. Somewhere back along the wind`s way is Fiji and beyond that all the islands we have visited over the past few months. All of them separated by the watery world of the great ocean that covers nearly all of our blue planet. While everyone know this fact intellectually, while living on or close to a large continent and in the midst of a busy human society, we have experienced this in a very personal way. The islands are so widely spaced, the land is so precious. We know that although we have been able to sail across the ocean, that it is land we are made for and which supports our voyages. During our nights alone under the stars we have realized that the earth itself is a precious island in the ocean of space. We have had a long thoughtful moment in our lives that will influence us forever, we are still part of it.

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