16 August 2009
After our very eventful lobstering adventure, we decided to leave Beveridge reef for Niue island, 140 miles away. The alternative was to wait several more days for the winds to die down before we could venture out again. All three boats left together, just after 10 am on August 14th. Tane did one final pass dive by hanging onto the ladder of Kena and dragging behind as we left, and then we set our sails for the day and night passage. Contrails was the first to land a fish, a skipjack tuna, and then a short time later, Content caught one as well. I was at the helm several hours later when I saw a few birds, frigate birds high above, and some larger fish splashes so I called out to Tane and Tomas, both down below, that there were fish around. They both came up to the cockpit just in time for a triple strike --- all three lines had a fish on within seconds. From there, it was a bit of a bun fight as we were hand steering so I had to remain at the helm. After a bit of confusion, we managed to land two beautiful yellowfin tuna---the third managed to throw the hook and get away.
We separated somewhat from the other two boats during the night, then on Tane's watch, we went storming past Contrails. By morning, we were all very close together rounding the bottom end of Niue and it was a race to the finish---we just managed to get in first. The anchorage, if you can call it that, is very deep, completely unprotected from the north through west. There are several moorings provided by the Niue Yacht Club, all of which were full when we arrived. In fact, there was a waiting list of three boats ahead of us. This meant we had to find a place to anchor for the next few days as we waited. This made us somewhat nervous, as there's essentially no sand, plenty of coral crevasses, and the place has the reputation of being an anchor-eater. We managed to find a relatively shallow spot (50 feet) and Tane and Tomas dove overboard to check the bottom. We seem to be holding OK for the moment. By the evening of our arrival, three boats had left (friends we now know well on Honeymoon, Thumbs Up, and Julia Max), so now we three boats are next in line. Several boats will be leaving tomorrow (Monday) so we're hoping for a mooring sometime soon, at which time we'll feel much more secure.
We did have a nervous moment when the large schooner, Wayward Wind, pulled up her anchor to move to a mooring ball. Their anchor was across the coral in front of us, and they had to move back and forth to free it, forcing us to back up rapidly, paying out more chain, in order to avoid being hit by them.
Niue is very different from most of the other islands. It's very flat, unlike most of the Cooks, the Marquesas, and the Society Islands, which all feature volcanic peaks. Apparently it was once an atoll, which is formed when the sea floor subsides, but then the sea floor has since risen a few hundred feet. The result is a limestone (coral) island with a reef most of the way around (although with no lagoon), with caves and arches in many places.
The visibility in the water is at least 75 meters. Right now, there are humpback whales everywhere. We had a great sushi/sashimi celebration with the tuna from all three boats on Victory Cat last night. During the party, you could hear loud whale blows all around us---the whales come through the mooring field and amongst the boats. This morning, at 4 am, I was woken by the sound of whale calls reverberating through the hull of our boat. First a long deep moaning call from an adult, then a softer, higher and shorter squeaky reply from a calf, over and over, moving around both sides of us, for at least an hour.
We rented mountain bikes yesterday afternoon, and today circumnavigated the island. The total distance is over 60 kilometers, in company with Nick and Marls from Content, and Jim and Barbara from Contrails. It rained most of the day, which kept us cool, as we stopped at many sites to go out onto the reef, to walk around the edges of huge deep pools in the limestone at the inner edge of the reef, and to explore the dense jungle that covers much of the island. Here and there, there are houses on the island side of the road, and in manicured lawn patches cut out of the trees on the sea side, there are graves --- there must be thousands of them all around the island. We started at about 11 am, and stopped at the Washed Away cafe and bar, an open air place above a little beach, for dinner and beefs at 5 pm. The remaining part of the ride back to the boats, 10 kilometers, was in the gathering dark until, toward the end it was almost completely dark. Needless to say, we had no lights, so it made for yet another interesting night experience.
Another feature of the anchorage, and diving and swimming here, is the large number of sea snakes. They can be seen in the water around us, we saw them in the limestone pools and caves, and apparently they can appear in large numbers when you're diving. One boat told us today of finding a sea snake in their engine intake line, and there are reports of them crawling up into galley and head sinks. We probably need to be vigilant when sitting down on the head.
We're hearing that there will be some severe convection activity in the Tonga - Niue area next weekend, right about when we'll be considering the passage to Tonga. This could make life a little too interesting!