07/29/2012, Alofi, Niue
We've been moored off "The Rock" for a few days now. Though we look forward to jungle treks next week, most of our exploring so far has been by water; snorkeling, scuba diving and caving.
The whole environment here seems defined by the interaction of water and limestone. Niue is a raised atoll, once coral, now dense limestone riddled with caves above and below the water. Even the barrier reef that closely fringes most of the island is often a maze of caves and canyons.
Sage and I have done a couple 'adventure-coast-caving' expeditions. We dinghy down the coast with eyes peeled for promising caves. Dropping the anchor in a patch of dead coral we then hop in, swim to shore (avoiding sea-snakes and urchins) and let a small wave seal-land us onto the coral. A short climb then brings us to a cave-mouth great exploring of caverns that wind and ascend and often open again to sea or jungle. Back to shore, hop in to wave and dinghy to the next.
On returning from our first such trip we spotted a whale in the anchorage, with a few cruiser and guided dinghies of snorkelers in train. Lola has already blogged about it, but it was pretty amazing snorkeling with a whale for the first time! Hopefully we'll spot the next before the crowds arrive and get to go a bit closer.
The SCUBA has been great. While the coral is not as crazy as in Fakarava or Suwarrow, it's definitely starting to recover from the giant cyclone they had 8 years ago and the fish population seems quite healthy and diverse.
The great diving starts at the anchorage; just behind our boat a narrow canyon in the coral leads from 30' down to 90, complete with a couple ancient big iron anchors long ago lost.
A short swim towards shore from our mooring is a reef with great fish and coral and a labyrinthine array of caves and slots. It's nice by snorkel but better with scuba and has become our regular afternoon dive. We anchor (always on dead coral) the dinghy, hop in and play a slow winding game of follow-the-leader with frequent stops to admire new fish and coral. The dive is shallow enough that our 40'-waterproof camera can come along so we get to indulge in some underwater photography; and tanks last forever at 20-30'!
Our favorite fauna so far is probably the local sea snakes (or, technically, kraits). These range from 1' to 4'; striped like a king-snake and with similar head and manner but flattened tail. They are around every time one enters the water; curious but not aggressive, so mellow one is tempted to hold them. Except that their poison is 20x as potent as that of a cobra.
On each of the last two mornings Lola and I have done some dive exploring, starting near the buoys the local dive operation uses. First was the chimney; a sloping vertical cave starting reef-top at 20' and coming out at the base of the reef at 90' where a cyclone-deposited Toyota Landcruiser rusts slowly away. Mainly a novelty dive, it's nonetheless cool to drop into a tunnel you can't see the end of. The outer face of the reef is also quite nice, with many new varieties of fish.
Today's AM exploration dive was VERY cool. We started trying to find the "bubble cave." Probing along the cliffs on shore 1/4 mile from our boat we came around/under a house-sized boulder and into a dark cave. We'd brought lights and sure enough, perhaps 50' in there was air instead of rock above us. We popped up, inflated our BCs and doffed our masks. It was pitch black aside from the beams of our lights, with stalactites and shallow caverns all around. There were a few snakes, but not the myriad which reportedly sometimes are found here nesting.
Perhaps the coolest thing, though, was the air. The humidity was 100%, there being warm water below and rock above. The pressure in the cave varied with each passing swell; one's ears popped and needed clearing every few seconds. With each surge of pressure the moisture in the air condensed into a thin fog; as each swell receded the fog instantly evaporated. Our flashlight beams would thus show the far wall of the cave through clear air; then a column of fog; then once again the clear-air cave. It felt a little like being inside some big breathing creature.
As cool as it is going into the caves, I think the best part is coming out. One's dive partner is often silhouetted against the bright blue opening of the cave, with schools of fish, snakes and coral accessorizing the view. Quite nice.
After the bubble cave we found another underwater cliff-cave opening, this one leading to a a cave accessible through the face of the cliffs. we were tempted to leave our dive-gear and go caving but in the end left this for another day. Instead we headed out onto the 20' deep reef, where a narrow chasm caught our attention. Dropping down between narrow walls we found ourselves in a winding slot with perhaps 20' walls. We followed this down through the reef until, like yesterday's chimney, it opened onto the base of the outer wall. Here we progressed slowly, admiring the many fish and healthy coral. At one point I heard Lola yell underwater and turned to see her pointing enthusiastically. I swam over and saw sticking out of a hole in the coral perhaps the coolest eel I've ever seen. Bright electric blue, it's slender gaping mouth had yellow flaps on nose chin. It tolerated us for a while, then retreated into its hole.
The rest of the dive wound around giant boulders and canyons, revealing incredible new little coral and fish at every turn. We headed back to the dinghy, happy that there are miles of similar coastline waiting to be explored.
07/26/2012, The Island of Niue
I have a cold. Bah. This morning was our usual - wake, eat, drink, read, priject, Sage does homework. We did a little SCUBA this morning up a canyon and saw some really cool fishes. We also found some nice fishing gear on the coral and a "Milo" breakfast bowl. Sweet! The breakfast bowl was a little scungy but further on Lorca found a sponge and scrubbed the bowl up on the rest of our dive. Funny. The water is SO CLEAR. Unbelievably clear. You can see forever here.
We went back to the boat, rested, Sage finished her work and then she and Lorca went out adventure dinghy exploring. They tooled around looking for caves and such but I'll let Lorca blog about those. I stayed on the boat and finished my horrible 5 book series. Thank goodness it's done. They're AWFUL! They're the "Song of Fire and Ice" books. Dreadful. I read nearly 5,000 pages hoping they'd get better and I just hated them more and more. Anyway - I'll save it for an Amazon book review. Suffice to say that Martin should never have been called the American Tolkein. LOTR is literature. Martin's books are are total schlock. Anyway, I'm SO GLAD it's done.
I had just gotten up to stretch when I hear Sage jump on the boat excitedly yelling, "MOMMY COME COME COME! WHALE IN ANCHORAGE WE CAN SWIM WITH IT!!!! HURRY!" After nearly killing myself running up the companion way steps while tearing off my clothes to get into my bikini we hopped in the dink and dinghied out to where the rest of the anchorage dinghies were gathering and slid into the water. She was about 100 or so feet down just hanging out. SO BEAUTIFUL. Young and small - maybe only 20 feet - and I think a humpback. After about 5 minutes of hanging out she made very slowly for the surface and came within 20 feet of me. I made eye contact with her before she veered off and surfaced and fluked. OMG. She didn't look so small that close to me. We followed her as she dove again, hung out and surfaced, blew, fluked and dove again but by then she swam farther away and it seemed right to leave her alone. She looked rather chunky and I'm wondering if she's pregnant. This is a short post - I have a cold and feel like crap but also, I just can't figure out what to say. I friggen snorkeled with a WHALE today and I'm BLOWN AWAY. Never, in a million years would I have ever thought I'd have a chance to do something as amazing as this. Snorkeling with a whale. She came within 20 feet of me. I made eye-contact with her. WHOA. Maybe by the end of the week I'll have found a way to process it.
For now, I'll just eat more dark chocolate. Lola out.
07/26/2012, The Island of Niue
have to start by quoting my daughter. This evening we had the very lovely crew over from, "Ganga." (no, not ganja, Ganga - as in the river...) We're meeting more and more weonderful people the father west we get! Anyway, they were asking Sage what she wants to do when she grows up and she replied, "Oh, well, it's a really long list. Uh....Marine Biologist, Scientist, Teacher, Jiu Jitsu Teacher, artist, Doctor, Nurse, adventurer, the founder of the, "MonkeyFish Adventure Company. You know, I have some talents...but...(then said very pensively) none of them seem to go together." Yep, that's my girl: The Pragmatic Dreamer. Totally cracked me up. SUCH a great kid. She's long of limb, sharp of mind, kind of heart, wild of being and the perfect child. I get to say that because I'm her mom. A mother's right, you know. The best part is that she's still 100 percent kid. With adolescence lurking 'round the corner, the urgency to really take in every kid moment with her is more fully present in my psyche. We've not long to linger in this stage of life...she's 11 now and while she still may be all kid...it's not long before the chemicals that dictate body changes start making big changes to her personality and her wants as well. For now I will soak up the glory of being the mother to a kid. And then, when she's an adolescent, I'll only tear out part of my hair. And next, when she's a teen-ager, I'll work a lot and drink heavily. OK, not really, mostly because I don't drink - the Asian thing - but I do spend some time worrying that I won't be a good mom to a pre-teen and teenager....
We checked weather last night and saw that there's very little wind and clear skies for the next many days. YES!!!! It's gonna be a really amazing week. Niue is incredible. I had been so sad to leave Suwarrow that I hadn't bothered to reflect on the the coolness that is Niue. (I *think* is pronounced, noo-WAY) I keep wanting to do the dipthong thing with the i/u combo or the glottal stop because the consonant/vowel ratio is one my poor brain and tongue won't team up to conquer. Niue language is remarkable. It's likely I have a little parrot in me - I'm a pretty decent mimic. And, I have a facility for languages and I love languages. But this Niue language is the hardest parts of Polynesian language, has these deep, throaty sounds like the French '-euille' sound but harder and it seems a little tonal as well. Lost. Totally lost. I repeated the word for hello to myself about 50 times and it's already gone. I'm so glad the official language is English. Though, I can't say it helps much....two accents layered (Niue and New Zealand) with some rapid fire speech and colloquialisms all mixed up and I look like a deer in the headlights. Honestly, I was doing better understanding crazy Island French. Whoa. I thought we were in and English-speaking country?!?!
The people here are GORGEOUS. They're very different looking than the Polynesians. I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know if they're melanesian or micronesian here...if you know, comment below...They're big here. Not as big as Tongans, but they're big. Broad features, that gorgeous bronze skin and big, warm smiles, which seem to be ingrained in any of the South Pacific Island cultures.
As we entered the harbor yesterday, the smell of tropical flowers wafted over the boat and we all drank deeply of the fragrance. Oh JOY! It's cold here....about 70 degrees when we arrived early yesterday morning and only 72 degrees now. BRRRRRR... I need to dig up my long pants and sweaters and tee-shirts. The people are deeply religious here and there are hefty fines for indecency so it's probably good that it's cooler - it will make it way easier to wear more clothing (which I deem and utter nuisance out here) The cool nights makes sleeping much cozier but I'll need to ditch my fleece blanket and use out big comforter - I was cold all night last night but too tired to actually fully wake and get more blankets. We're all grateful for a full night's sleep. Really grateful. I slept like the dead for most of the night and I was so tired I SNORED. Heavens..poor husband.
We easily picked up our mooring (it would have been fine if we had arrived in the middle of the night - there are range markers and the buoys are bright orange. There were 4 boats when we got here and there are only two others now. We're early in the season here The mass of boats making West are behind us a few weeks to a month. I like it because I hate crowded anchorages but, it's not so good for Sage. She's shy like her daddy but needs people like me. (though as I get older I'm content to be remote for longer periods of time as well.) Sage loves the remote anchorage with lots of other cruising boats. We're hoping a few more boats will come in particularly ones with kids.
Niue is one of the largest, raised coral islands in the world and it's the smallest independent Island in the world as well. That being said, I believe they receive huge subsidies from New Zealand to keep "The Rock" afloat. Today I will research the Island's History and write about it later. Usually I read about where we're going on passage but this last passage was a little rockin'-n-rollin' so I pretty much just started at the horizon and slept poorly. (Aimee, I took your spot on the boat...it really is the best place to be if you're suffering a little mal-de-mer.) Every time I'd go below to cook or something, I'd get a little woozy and head straight for the Aimee spot and I'd feel better almost instantly and I'd think of you!! And then I understood why you stood there for hours at a time on passage!)
Yesterday was a blur. We hailed Niue Radio on VHF 16, switched to 11, the took a bunch of info and then told us to stand by on VHF 16. They called back in just a few minutes to say that we should be at the Quay at 0945 (it was 0930) and that customs would pick us up. OH CRAP! Fortunately Lorca had gotten the dink ready on the sail into the harbor and it was only a mild rush to get ready. We had read in the Compendium that it's not prudent to be even a little bit late so we really hauled bootie to get there on time. A beautiful Island man picked us up in a car that had the driving wheel and controls all on the wrong side (must have been on sale) and he drove us to the immigration office on the wrong side of the road. He must be really important because everyone else drove on the wrong side of the road to accommodate him. ;-) I just want to take a moment to say how very wrong it feels to drive on the opposite side of the road as we do in America. It's like wearing your underwear backwards or going for a hike with your shoes on the wrong feet. My brain refused to understand that we really weren't going to have a head on collision for driving on the wrong side of the road. My poor butt cheeks were tight the whole time thinking we were going to crash into someone. We'll rent a car during our stay here and make our way round the Island and I'll try not to be one of those awful tourists that drives a snail's pace. Or maybe I'll just let Sage drive. She's long enough now.
After we checked in and did all of our paperwork, we went to the Niue Yacht Club - so cool!, then to Cafe Uga (pronounced oo-NGAH) an had a very mediocre meal that set us back 42 New Zealand Dollars. Everything is REALLY expensive here. Fortunately we have a giant boat with lots of provisions and while we enjoy dining out, we'll save that pleasure for Fiji and Tonga. Threre is, however, a festival next week-end where they'll serve traditional foods and we'll likely take part in that celebration. The best part of the Uga Cafe is that they have a terrace that overlooks the Alofi harbor and it was a GORGEOUS day yesterday and we could gaze down at our beloved Pandion swinging on her mooring ball. She really is a gorgeous boat. We then went to the office of tourism and checked some stuff out, got a map and made a few inquiries. Then, back to the boat. We got to the boat and went for a snorkel right from the boat into the shore. The water is SO CLEAR. Clearer than anywhere we've ever been. It's a tad cold but amazingly clear. The coral structure is stunning though you can still see the destruction that Cyclone Heta served up in 2004. But, the coral is making a great comeback. There lots of FLFs (funny looking Fishes) including one that looks like a baboon. I'm not kidding. It's apparently one of the unicorn fishes but it really should be called a baboon fish. But the BEST part of the snorkeling here are the DEADLY POISONOUS sea snakes. They're GORGEOUS. They're docile and have no interest in biting - I think they're more of a danger when you're OUT of the water. Meaning if they're in the shallows and you happen to step on one and you're barefoot and they manage to get a hold of a piece of skin small enough for their little mouths, then you'd be in troubles but other than that it's pretty hard to get bit by one. So, it's fun to snorkel with them because they're curious and come close enough that you can really appreciate their beauty. There was a big burly one that took quite an interest in me and with my history of getting bit by things I am often more cautious than necessary and in response to his interest I was calmly finning my way away from him...backwards (legs hanging down in the water) My VEH (very evil husband) saw this and was behind me and snook up on me and pinched my bootie. (like a nibblin' snake) I went EEEEEEK! and he went GIGGGGGLE! The snake lost interest and swam away. There were lots of little caverns for Sage and Lorca to dive under and out of. I had forgotten my weight belt so I stayed on the surface and enjoyed watching my merhuzz and merchild frolicking in the water together. That's some good joy right there.
After our snorkel we went back to the boat for a little rest. I made bread. Lorca and Sage read and did schoolwork. And then, before I knew it, it was dinner time. We ate, visited with Ganga (Bridgette and Ben, a young and very cool couple who bought the boat in Spain and are going home to Oz.), did dishes and went to bed. I fell asleep with in minutes of my head hitting the pillow and dreamt colorfully and deeply and beautifully.
I woke this morning with a sore throat which I hope is leftovers of exhaustion rather than the herald of a cold. I made some hot coffee which soothed my throat and made my way above decks to discover an amazing sunrise over Niue - the Island looked AFIRE! The supply ship has come in with a whole bunch of cars atop and the cars were being unloaded onto a moderately-sized barge-tender combo. The cars were unloaded via crane which looked like it was going to be nearly impossible to accomplish. We watched in awe as everything went very smoothly. Today, day 2 is full of possibility. We're excited to explore and so happy to be here.
07/25/2012, The Island of Niue
I was unable to BLOG daily reports on this passage because the first 36 hours were a little rough. So here's a recap instead.
Suwarrow to Niue (Alofi) 546 miles 68 hours anchor to mooring ball
Weighed anchor in Suwarrow about Noon, local time which is UTC minus 11. Much current in the pass - 4- 5 knots out-going. Sad to say goodbye to our friends on "Reality" from San Francisco...but we hope they will catch up with us soon. We spent lots of time in Suwarrow...lovely peeps. Passed s/v Blue Rodeo from Idaho on the way out - a neat Daschew one-off. Crew instantly recognized our boat as a Deerfoot/Sundeer. Had to tell them that she's actually only a Deerfoot from the deck up. Hee hee. Made radion contact with s/v Convivia - we were about 11 miles out and there were 11 miles from coming in. DAMN! We really like Convivia's people and we were SO BUMMED to have missed them by just hours. We totally would have stayed a few extra days to get some hang time with the good-vibe folks of Convivia. *sigh* We were briefly tempted to turn back but we had such good winds!! So, ahead we went. Good wind, made 9 knots steadily and ticked off a >200 mile day. Despite the big waves Pandion, per usual performed like a champ. This was a beat to weather but her awesome hull-design let her charge through the big waves (sometimes 15 feet) waves like they weren't even there. I was blown away by her sailing performance. She never one felt like she was being overworked or pushed. Sometimes a big wave would hit her on the side and, being aluminum, she'd make big sound below decks, but that's about it. She sailed like she was on a rail with a balanced helm. We sail pretty conservatively at night having learned our lesson in a big squall with over 40 knots of wind in it on our way to the Maruquesas from Mexico. Nighttime brought a double reef to the main. We had greater than 20 knots by evening so we also furled the genoa and unfurled the staysl. Smart idea. On my watch there was, at times, up to 27 knots. Whew! Happy for reduced sail area.
Day continued to serve up good wind and bumpy lumpy seas. We were all still green at the gills. Lorca and Sage less than me. Sage barfed for the first time ever on a boat. Oh dear. Poor thing. She was mortified. I managed OK. I was woozy but not too bad. Lorca was pretty seasick but he was moving around a lot more than I. He did the net in the morning which involved sitting below decks for quite sometime until we could call in for roll-call. And he did a little cooking. I lay bout eating nothing but crackers and tea biscuits. Fortunately the sails didn't need anything. Pandion sailed herself here. This boat LOVES to go to weather. She takes amazing care of us the old girl. Nighttime brought some relief as the sea and wind began to moderate slightly. Thank the Gods.
Gorgeous tradewindsailing. Seas maybe only 6-10 feet now with greater period and 15-18 knots on the beam. Pandion charging ahead and we're still mkaing great time. We would have basked in the glory of the conditions but we were all pretty beat up from the previous days so we lay low all day long watching videos with Sage. I rallied and cooked some food. We'll sort of. It was a hot meal anyway. I can't really call it cooking.
Day 3: Amazingly calm water through the night and we actually slept a few hours when we were off watch. We arrive in Niue about 0830 AM, picked up a mooring ball and high-fived each other for another successful passage. Sage cackled like lunatic for sometime with excitement. Niue is really fricken cool. Stay tuned for posts and maybe pictures....internet here is really SLOW. Slower than our SSB email. TRULY!!!
07/18/2012, Suwarrow, Cook Islands
Lorca and I had the realization today that we've only ten weeks left before we need to change direction which means only 9 weeks to enjoy Niue, Fiji and Tonga. ( a week of that will be passage time.) So, sadly, we'll leave Suwarrow on Monday since it's our best weather window. *sigh* I've been charmed by this place and I don't know if I'll ever be back so it's a little sad for me. On the other hand, what a joy to have had the opportunity at all.
Yesterday we went SCUBA diving with the folks from s/v Reality, Sharon and Vaughn. They're a SF-based couple that commuter-cruises 6months on and 6 months off. They live in Grass Valley when they're not traipsing about the Ocean on their beautiful boat. They've just gotten back into SCUBA diving and since we now have two dive compressors on-board we're able to fill their tanks as well. We had a lovely dive out at what we've come to call the "Pinnacles." about 2 miles away from the boat. This is some of the best snorkeling we've ever done. When the sun is high there is a veritable riot of colors in the 3-15 foot range with incredible coral structure. We weave between the coral pinnacles drinking in the beauty and despite the fact I've been there 4 times now, I still emerge drunk on bliss for having been there.
It was a really long ride out to the spot - we weren't able to plane the dink with all the gear all of us so we puttered along in the rough lagoon waters - the wind has been quite strong kicking up lots of short-period wind waves. The ride back to the boat was challenging to say the least. We had little waves crashing into the side of the dink necessitating constant bailing and making it hard for us to see at all because we were getting sprayed by the water. After a few minutes we all donned our dive masks because our eyes were stinging and we couldn't see. It was pretty comical. We felt silly. I'd bail out the boat then we'd take a couple wave and the boat will have water again and Lorca would look at me and say, "I thought you were gonna bail the boat???" Silly.
We finally made it back to the boat and by then we were all FREEZING cold - could cover all day long, wet, lots of spray...etc etc. It's only been in the low 80s here and with the wind and cloud cover and being wet we get quite cold sometimes, which is odd since we're in the tropics. At the boat we took care of our gear, got the tanks to filling and had some hot soup and hot drinks. Ahhhhhh....
The rest of the day was for relaxing and later in the evening we had Reality over for dinner. Lovely company, yummy food and Sage, who is still really into making crepes made us dessert crepes which were totally scrumptious. We'll go to dinner at their place tonight.
We're no longer the biggest boat in the anchorage - the 70 something aluminum boat that looks like a Bougainville or a Kanter has made its way down from Penryn and is anchored next to us. She gorgeous and the crew and captain are super nice.
We have just today and tomorrow to enjoy this wonderful place so I'm going to try and make the very most of it without being sad that we're leaving. Hopefully the GRIBS are right and we'll have good wind to carry us quickly to Niue. It's 530 nm which should take us 3 days at 7 knots. It could take as little as 2.5 days if we do 9 knots which is easy for Pandion but that would put us there at a funky time...making mooring difficult. So, we'll see. The seas a little bigger, it seems, in this part of the ocean but there doesn't seem to be that nasty and horrible cross-swell from three directions that plagued us most of the time from Mexico to the Societies. We'll join the "Rag of the Air" roll-call on Monday before we leave (8173.0 Hz if you have a HF radio.) where we can check in and get daily weather reports from a great weather guy, "Dave." He has access to atmospheric conditions and can give us a much more complete weather report. We also get a weekly synopsis on Sundays from Bob McDavitt in New Zealand. So, per usual, wish us luck. All your good thoughts and luck-wishing has been working. We've been incredibly lucky and have had really good weather so far. Let's hope it holds!
Niue has internet so stay tuned for PICTURES! of Suwarrow and our two passages.