01 October 2008 | Alofi
We arrived in Niue last night about an hour before sunset. On approach we hailed the Niue Yacht Club on 16 and they directed us to the last mooring available. The yacht club guys are awesome. Call them and they will help you with everything you need. Their only fee is 10 NZ (maybe $8 US) a day for the mooring. You pay this to anchor as well but after diving in the anchorage I would advise against anchoring. There are some sandy channels between the coral spurs but you have to be lined up with them or your chain will be pulled across a coral ridge, greatly reducing the angle of the chain to the anchor shank, and thus your effective scope. This is also hard on the coral and your chain (rope is a non starter).
You would be better off anchoring a bit farther back in the 80 foot water where there is a sandy shelf. I don't know how thick the sand is though so I can't comment on the holding. The yacht club has 20 moorings and at this time of year they are highly contested for. It is not unusual to see yachts rafted together in stable conditions.
Once settled on our mooring we put the boat away a bit more than normal when in a roadstead. I like to have the boat ready to sail at all times when in this type of anchorage. That said we were expecting 25-30 knots of wind and 3.5 meter short seas this afternoon. The island was between us and the weather but just barely for the first few hours and I didn't know what to expect. The mooring looked good though and the island rises up sharply in front of us to about 100 feet. This is usually the best kind of protection from the wind. Cliffs too tall have funky drafts that can make strong wind worse. Sea level atolls do nothing to stop the wind. Islands like this, especially if you can get in fairly close to a low cliff, send the wind whipping by just overhead, taking all of the windage out of the anchorage.
That all said the variables are many and you never do know for sure until you've been in a spot in various conditions. We zipped up the sail bag, put on the facing canvas, moused the halyards away from the mast and put up the cockpit enclosure to keep things as streamlined and dry as possible. If nothing else I was expecting the swell to bend around into the mooring field with some authority for several hours. While no one likes a swell on the beam, a catamaran is certainly the preferable platform for such events.
The Niue yacht club told us that things were pretty much shut down on the island so we flew the Q and shut down as well.
In the morning we hailed Niue Radio for clearance into Niue. The Niue Yacht club is a private outfit that runs the moorings, onshore showers and restrooms, a bar and grill (with tasty food and smoothies), and provides all sorts of services including propane fills, trips to the gas station for diesel or gasoline, laundry and whatever else you might want.
Niue Radio is the government run VHF station that takes care of the formalities. They will get your boat details over the radio and when you're ready send customs out. The customs officer waited on the quay for us. I picked him up in the dinghy and he inspected our boat (fairly thoroughly I might add). He was particularly interested in fire arms and asked a few leading questions to see if my story would change. He wanted to know our route over the last 6 months. After I told him he made me fire up the chart plotter to see if our track agreed. It was sort of comical. I asked him if they had a big smuggling problem on the one island nation of Niue. He had no comment but I think I embarrassed him enough that he finally quit digging around our house.
After dropping the customs guy back at the quay we lifted the dinghy out with the crane. Niue has no harbors, no marinas, no docks and no beaches safe for landing. It is a raised coral atoll and the cliffs rise up about 100 feet from a sea level coral apron with no deep indents in the entire circumference. This leaves an open roadstead mooring field and a concrete quay that is very lively as the only access by sea. If you were to tie your dink up at the quay for any period of time it would be pounded to a pulp on the huge tires strapped along the concrete wall. The swell surges through the area rising two to three feet on a mellow day.
To solve this problem the quay has a self service crane on top with a big hook for lifting boats onto the platform. It is actually fairly easy to use. We just ran a piece of line trough the lifting eyes in our AB to create a four point harness, then we tied loops in the lines such that the boat would be evenly distributed on the legs going down to the eyes. Hideko jumped ashore and lowered the hook. I put the three eyes (one from the port bow to the port stern, on from the starboard bow to the starboard stern and one from the port to starboard stern) on the hook and wait until she lifts it enough to make it taught. Once the boat is lifting I hop out and we pivot the crane over the quay and lower away. There is a little hand truck with a big flat bed for moving the dinghies about the quay on busy days.
A bit of work, yes, but you will never feel more secure about you dinghy than when it is high and dry like this. I was impressed to see a good sized steel fishing boat hauled out with this rig. It is a substantial crane. I can imagine conditions getting too rough to make use of the system though.
Once ashore we stopped in at the yacht club to say hi to some of the yachties hanging out. Adventure, Independent Freedom, Thulani, and some of the crew from Ogopogo were there. After a tasty smoothie we rambled down to the Police station to clear immigration. It was fast and easy. They took my photo and charged me $10NZ for a Nuie driver's license (nice souvenir), which you must acquire to drive on the island.
We had lunch at a little coffee shop across from the police station. The coffee shop looks over an amazing little lagoon. You would think that Niue would be a boring island, coastline wise, and from sea, perhaps it is. However, every inch of the coast line is intriguing when explored from land or by dinghy. The water is amazingly clear, whales frequently visit the anchorage, and every inch of the coastline is riddled with limestone caves, arches, depressions and little lagoons within the coral apron that surrounds the island. It is really spectacular.
The people here are also amazingly friendly and helpful. I have said this about most of Polynesia but I have to say that Niue is the friendliest place we have been yet.