10/05/2008, South of the Anchorage
It is Sunday in Niue. To say Niue shuts down on Sunday would be an understatement. We decided to spend the day on the boat and we wanted to get in some diving but most activities on Sunday are prohibited. We called Niue Radio to ask if diving around the anchorage would be ok and the radio operator said that they thought it would be fine. I think that since we are out in the anchorage and not disturbing the folks on shore she felt we would not be a distracting influence. We have since heard to opinions to the contrary.
If was another gray day but that never stops us from diving. The Godspede crew and the Ino crew were interested in checking out the dive sites south of the anchorage so we made a run down that way in the afternoon. It was a nice dive on a 100 foot bottom with a chasm to the south and a swim through arch. Lots of highly venomous but aloof sea snakes and plenty of fish about.
In retrospect I would advise a full suit, gloves and booties. The sea snakes really are not a problem but just in case you accidentally bumped one or scared it the penalty for getting bit would be extremely high as there are few things in the world more venomous. That said, their mouths are pretty small and they would have a hard time biting anything much bigger than you pinky.
After the dive we filled tanks, made lattes and had a great chat aboard Swingin' on a Star. Roq was very happy to entertain all of the company.
10/04/2008, Northwest Niue
It was another gray day today. These are often good days to go diving. The Ino crew had met some Marine Biology students ashore who knew some good spots up the island.
In the early afternoon, Hideko and I headed over to Ino to join the dive excursion. We tied our dinghy up on their mooring and piled on Ino, a 40 foot steel sloop. Ino's skipper, Marnix, is a young doctor from Kenya and he has British Ben, Divemaster Hanna, and Maria from Greece crewing for him. Jeff from Ogopgo and Paul from Independent Freedom also joined for the day. Add Mike and Doman, the marine bio guys, and you have a healthy crew of 10.
Ino is a pretty neat yacht. She has a lifting keel and can get into places even we can't with Swingin' on a Star. She also has a very open layout below making her feel large for a 40 footer. There is an identity crisis going on however. Marnix seems to think she is a sport fisher. They rarely leave the anchorage without a good five lines in the water. On the way to the dive site Ino picked up a 25 pound Wahoo. We had fantastic sashimi on the way to the dive.
Once at the site Paul and Maria stood off with Ino and the rest of us jumped in to check out an 80 foot chasm. It was a great dive. We were inspected by a huge snapper upon entry. We saw many sea snakes and a 6 foot moray, along with many interesting limestone formations.
It was a blustery day and we had a nice sail back to the anchorage. Everyone was enjoying Ben's coffee and tea on the way back to the mooring field, seeing as how the sun was not fulfilling its responsibilities today. Back at the boat Marnix distributed Wahoo to everyone as we all headed home for the night.
A very fun day indeed.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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