Before we departed Noumea I hit the grocery store and stocked up on a few things; not exactly essentials but items that make the occasional afternoon a little less ordinary. I found excellent prices on olives, sun-dried tomatoes, smoked mussels and pate- yes, I know pate, but at $1.00 a tin even we can afford such luxury.
I also filled the “wine cellar” as good French wine was affordable. For the past few years in Fiji I have mostly avoided wine, a mediocre Aussie bottle would set me back $15 a screw top and there was no guarantee how it had been stored. When we go to New Caledonia I practically danced down the weekly wine special isle, how could I pass up a 2012 Cote de Rhone for 8 bucks? I didn’t go overboard, just 12 bottles; a few Rose, a couple Gamay, a Bordeaux or three. I stowed them safely in hard to reach secure cupboards, wrapped in foam or snugged inside a wool sock. All except the last bottle I grabbed as we were trying to spend the last of our French Polynesian Francs; a 2010 Bordeaux. That I tucked into the bottom of the laundry hamper, easy to reach for a celebration on the other side.
The morning we pulled up anchor in Port Boise and pointed our nose towards the channel was like the beginning of every trip. There was a palpable excitement in the air, we were enthusiastic about heading to a new country, about starting a new adventure, about spending a couple days living by the rhythm of the sea.
Ask about being on passage and I will tell you of long sunny days and rolling seas and that time we caught a mahi mahi that was almost as long as I am tall. I will recount the beauty of a starry night when the meteorites were so frequent I lost count after only 5 minutes. I have stories of marlin, and giant squid, and humpback whales, and dolphins that played on the bow at night, their glowing trails of phosphorescent nothing short of magical.
I forget about the malaise that overcomes me on windward passages, the occasional sudden violent fits of vomiting, the dark nights on watch I sit in the cockpit clinging to a winch wondering who would break first; her or me. I forget about the difficulties of moving around the boat when she is heeled 20 degrees and charging headlong into a 2-3M sea; how even getting to the head is an accomplishment let along staying on it in mid-stream. I forget about the feel of salty, unwashed hair three days old, and clammy sheets and perpetually cold feet.
They say that humans cannot remember the feeling of pain; that is we can remember that something was painful but we cannot recall the exact sensation of hurting. And so it is with sailing.
It took us 2.5 hours to claw our way out the Havannah pass and another hour before we bounced over the shallow banks that surround the Grand Terre, as they call it. By then my excitement had started to wane and a fog had begun to settled over me. I was hopeful that when we passed the Loyalty Islands late that night we could bear off and the boat would settle and I would perk up, but the winds did not cooperate. On the second day I made lunch but didn’t stay long to eat it. By the third morning I was back to normal, no longer in Survival Mode, as I like to call it, where the day’s activities are limited to eat, sleep, sail. But by then the trip was almost over.
We turned the corner late that afternoon, tucking into the wide expanse of Mele Bay and headed toward our anchorage for the night. The seas calmed enough that I could tidy up downstairs; strip the beds, wipe the salt off the floors, straighten up the galley. The excitement had returned, albeit for the prospect of a hot shower and a good night sleep, but excitement none the less.
When we dropped anchor in Port Villa the next afternoon I remembered that bottle of Bordeaux. Steve dug it out of the now full laundry hamper, which he commented was remarkably like a proper wine cellar; dark, damp and slightly earthy smelling. He pulled the cork (real not plastic!) and topped up my wee juice glass (that is the only cup I have made of actual glass). We sat in the sunny cockpit, clinked our drinks together and I took a sip.
It seemed the wine had fared as well as I did on the passage; the first glass was not great, the second glass was passable and by the third it was much, much better. An ocean going sail boat is perhaps not the best place to cellar wines, laundry hamper or not.