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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Yacht Rest Stop
Randy
10/03/2008, Alofi

Our friends on Godspede, a 40 foot Swan, made their way in to Niue today. They had a rough time because the weather the last few days has been hostile and they had a problem with their main and their auxiliary, so they sailed in under jib alone.

Once they were in the neighborhood the local yachts cooped to help them onto a mooring (tough to jib sail it with 25-30 knots on the nose). Thulani tied up to the port and we tied up on the starboard. Ino grabbed the mooring for them and the Godspede crew did a great job of bringing her in.

In the evening we joined Independent Freedom for an entertaining dinner party with Thulani. A great time was had by all.

Niue
Around Town and Under the Boat
Randy
10/02/2008, Alofi

It has been pretty gray today but no rain yet. We stopped in to look around Alofi this morning. Alofi is the capital of Niue and there are a number of little restaurants and shops in town. We joined up with Thulani and Independent Freedom to make a diesel run with jerry jugs. Ernie from the yacht club drove us for the price of his gas. The yacht club is a great asset to the cruising community.

In the afternoon we joined up with the crew of Ino for a scuba dive in the anchorage. There are lots of sea snakes here and we saw three pretty big ones on our dive. The anchorage has many interesting limestone structures but not a lot of coral. The combination of fish and sea snakes made it a very interesting dive though.

Niue
Niue
Randy
10/01/2008, 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.

Niue
Coming around Niue
Randy
09/30/2008, Niue

We had a beautiful night of motor sailing (with the exception of the motor). A long flat 5 foot swell rolled through the ocean mixing with other smaller swells from distant parts and various directions. The sky was clear except for the occasional fair weather cumulus and a myriad of stars. Nights like this with no moon are great for viewing shooting stars and bio-luminescence in the wake, both of which we enjoyed last night.

We rolled up the jib just after sunset as the wind began its predicted passage to the south, crossing our bow. At 2AM we were down to 7 knots over ground and we needed to be more in the 8 range to make Niue by sunset in the coming day. At the shift change (2AM for us) Hideko and I pulled the jib out on port tack and trimmed things up. We had about 5 knots from the SE (aft of the beam) and with one Yanmar at 2,000 RPMs we managed to push the wind around to 55 degrees off of the port bow, producing the desired 8 knots of way.

Normally no one is allowed alone on deck on our boat when underway without a harness/PFD and tether. The wind and seas were so calm we agreed clipping in with harnesses would not be necessary if you stayed in the cockpit. Oddly enough we were so used to wearing our fairly light inflatable pfd/harnesses that we both felt more comfortable wearing them. If you fall off of your boat while on passage in the ocean when your spouse is sleeping the prognosis is not good. The likelihood of falling off in these conditions is not high but then again it is free to clip in.

We are really looking forward to Niue. Our friends on O'Vive said they loved it and wished they were there. We had whales in the anchorage in Palmerston which was amazing, and Niue is supposed to be visited just as often by the Humpbacks. In Niue you are allowed to snorkel with them as well, which everyone reports to be the experience of a lifetime.

We had a nice day of motor sailing today with flat seas and 5 knots of wind. We made 8 knots at 2,000 RPM all day, keeping our timetable. Just as we sighted Niue the new pink squid lure I had rigged started running. then Hideko's ceder plug hit as well. Hideko's got off but we landed a nice Tuna on the other line.

We are now less than three miles from Niue where it is about 4PM. We should have no problem making the mooring before sunset at 6PM.

Niue
Out from under the SPCZ
Randy
09/29/2008, South Pacific

The weather last night decided that we are going to Niue. We may sail up to Samoa for fun anyway but it is getting late in the season so we'll have to see how the schedule is shaping up. We are going to make some investigations as to visiting Australia while in Fiji. Australia is not a dog friendly place so we're still more likely to head north via Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

Our sail last night was not bad. It was pretty flat (for the middle of the ocean) and we were way reefed down after being hit with three 30 knot squalls in the early part of the evening. We did about 6 knots through the night in pitch darkness. It was not only very overcast but a new moon. It is bizarre humming along at 6-7 knots totally blind. You keep a look out for lights but in this part of the ocean you really don't see other boats too often (never on this particular passage). The radar helped us see the various showers and squalls about. Most were too big to avoid so we simply stayed on the rhumb line.

In the morning the sun was impossible to see. It just got lighter. The SPCZ oppression slowly lifted though throughout the day. The wind is very light on this side and from the NW. We have been motor sailing and it looks as if we will make Niue tomorrow late in the day.

The afternoon turned out to be perfect, if you must motor. The sky was blue with just enough fluffy cumulus to reduce the skin cancer rate. There was a little breeze and it was nice and cool. The ocean is as flat as I have ever seen it and we are just buzzing along at 8 knots under main, jib and Yanmar.

189nm to Niue

Cook Islands
Sailing north around the weather
Randy
09/28/2008, South Pacific

We were so sad to leave Palmerston. It was a magical 24 hours. We arrived and friendly folks helped us to a mooring. All of the people living on Palmerston that haven't married into the family are descended from one man, William Marsters. Mr. Marsters came from England, picked up three Polynesian wives and relocated to Palmerston in the 1800s. He had three sperate family groups, one with each wife, and these persist to this day. There are now 8 families living on Palmerston (about 50 people), four of them from one of the family groups and 2 from each of the other two groups. They get about two supply ships a year and they never know exactly when they ships will show up. There is no airport, so yachts are by far the most common visitors.

When you arrive a host comes to meet your boat. This person takes care of you while you are at Palmerston. They will get you a mooring, take you back and forth to the island, feed you lunch, take you on a tour of the magical little town with its sand streets and generator powered lamps nestled between the coconut trees. Edward, our host, offered to take me fishing but alas we couldn't stay long enough.

Hideko snorkeled to che3ck our mooring and reported that the reef around the island is amazing. We visited the town and had a wonderful lunch of Parrot fish and Mullet. The island is amazingly clean and the people are all disarmingly friendly.

We arrived in the morning yesterday but knew the weather was going to deteriorate. All of the boats were leaving when we arrived except two (there had been six). One, the catamaran Margarita, was having mechanical problems and could not leave. The helpful Palmerstonians guided the 46ish foot cat through the deepest pass into the lagoon at slack high water in the late afternoon. It is a big lagoon so there is still some serious chop when the wind goes north (as it was scheduled to do) but at least there would be no 2 meter swell! I really wanted to follow them so we could spend more time here, but the pass is 4 feet at high water. We draw 4.5 feet. I don't know what Margarita draws but she has boards so I would guess no more than three feet with the boards up.

The other boat, Free Spirit I think, was a 40 footish mono hull and they stayed on the mooring with us. I had a spot forecast for wind from the NE at 16 knots which would progressively move north overnight. Northeast is fine at Palmerston because the atoll moorings are in the arching west side to the reef, pretty well protected from the NE through the SE. North or South or any West and the swell is going to come right in.

We had a cocktail party with Independent Freedom after dusk and enjoyed the wonderful company of the crew. Steve, the skipper is a retired Brit with a knack for fixing boat stuff and lots of interesting stories from his travels around the world. His wife Dia is a software programmer, and their crew Paul is a Scottish fisherman from the North Sea.

Normally at Palmerston you would not have to put your dinghy in the water, your host will provide you with all the transpo you need (including exhilarating runs through the little pass at the anchorage which is very tight, has lots of turns, and can have big currents). We had to put the dink down to ferry folks between the boats after hours though. When we finally dropped everyone from Independent Freedom off at their boat around 11PM the wind was up to 20 knots (quite a bit above forecast but that is often the way of the GFS model I find). It was getting pretty choppy in the anchorage as the wind had backed to about 20 or 30 degrees. I was doing well but a big wave came over the bow just as I was about to get them to their boat, giving everyone a good wake up shower (this usually only happens to my Mom in the dinghy).

Back at Swingin' on a Star we stowed the dinghy and got the big boat ready for sea. It was pretty tough bringing the dink up in the 2 foot chop, because you have to get the dink broad side at the transom and the waves just barrel under the bridge deck bouncing it all over the place. Don't get anything you want to keep between the dink and the stainless steel pipe of the swim platform while this is going on.

Once the dink was stowed we decided to stay the night on the mooring. Hideko had checked the mooring and it was chain with a good anchor so I felt confident that it would not break if things got interesting. Things got interesting.

It was a bumpy night on the mooring. We kept an anchor watch all night. I am really glad we have our Raymarine Smart Controller wireless. In these situations we take the controller to the bedroom and set every alarm it has. We had the depth alarm set to 40 feet (we were in 43 feet of water), we had the anchor alarm set for 1/100th of a minute (this is 60 feet however and would have probably warned us just before we crashed onto the reef if the mooring broke), and we had the high wind alarm set to 25 knots (this went off a few times in gusts). We also walk the deck every hour and check the bridle and our position. We check out the hatch more often and look out the escape hatch to check the mooring in the water as well. This doesn't make for the best nights sleep but if your mooring breaks in conditions like this with the west shoulder of the reef 100 meters away you have limited time to correct the situation.

Hideko and I had drilled our exit in advance. Our out was 270 magnetic. Hideko would turn on the deck light and cover the bow with a flood light to free any mooring remains and ensure that the props did not get fouled. I would start the engines and back us around to the NW to get the props out of the way of any streaming debris from the bridle, which would now have been down current and wind, and this would also drive us out to sea away from he reef. Once the bow was secure we'd head off on 270 until we were in deep water.

It, of course, did not come to that, but it was an interesting night. By 18:00 hours it felt as if we were anchored in the open ocean. The wind was north and the point to the north of us was doing little to stem the 3 foot seas built up by the 20 knot winds. We had two loops on the mooring, which we always set for safety (one line on the port crossbeam cleat through he ring and back to port and another line on the starboard). Independent Freedom was just putting to sea as we fired up the engines. Hideko loosed the port line first to lay us back with our starboard side to the wind. This got us pointing NW. Hideko then pulled the starboard line and tracked the mooring for me as we motored clear of the mooring field.

We had 25 knots apparent as we lined up to raise the main. The SPCZ was reincarnating bellow Niue this morning, the more north we were, and the slower we went west, the mellower the conditions would be when the cold front at the convergence went by. Given the choppy seas set up by the blustering north wind we decided to sail into it with the wind 45 degrees off to starboard. It was a good thing Steve had helped us fix the traveler, the way it was jammed before we would have had a hard time on starboard tack, much less pointing.

We double reefed the main and triple reefed the jib to keep the motion under control and keep our speed under 7 knots. Just as we got the boat set up we got hammered by a 30 knot squall. Hideko didn't have her side curtains in yet and I was on the radio trying to copy the ANZAC net. Of course Roq decided this would be the best time to pee. After scrambling about in the 30 knot squall we both sat down with a big exhale as the wind began to calm. Hideko was soaked from putting up the curtains, I had dog pee on my leg (thanks Roq). It was time for a coffee.

After the morning's excitement we settled into an eventless mid day day beating to weather at about 6 knots. We were right on course for Pango Pango, American Somoa. As they say, where ever the wind takes you...

As afternoon came to a close we hit the clam before the proverbial storm. We rolled up the jib and fired up the starboard aux, motor sailing in almost no wind. I turned on the radar to see where the dragon was and bam, there it was. Six miles out, a huge wad of rain. It was the biggest solid mass I had ever seen on the radar. We were running with full sails up by the end of the afternoon so we went back to reef one to prepare for the tempest.

It is 6PM now and we are still in the front with constant rain and lots of wind. We haven't seen anything worse than 30 knots so far and the seas, while lumpy, aren't that big so it is really fairly comfortable. The only thing I don't like is the occasional lightning flash. Good thing I have been practicing with the sextant.

As it stands we are heading for Pango Pango (American Samoa). We may change back to Niue one we get out of the mess and download new weather reports. Have to wait and see where we can sail.

348nm to Niue 437nm to American Samoa

Cook Islands
Palmerston
Randy
09/27/2008, South Pacific

We arrived in Palmerston this morning around 9AM. A great group of Cook Islanders checked us in and out and fed us a wonderful lunch. These people are amazing. The atoll is beautiful. I would stay here a week if we could. We stayed the day on one of their moorings but weather is kicking us out. We will be making for Niue this evening or Tonga if Niue is untenable (lots of west wind going around. Steve on Independent Freedom helped us get our traveler jury rigged to actually move again but still hold the boom down. Thanks Steve! More tomorrow.

Cook Islands

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