27 August 2009
We're just across the international date line, so we've advanced a day.
The passage to Tonga has had its share of ups and downs (and side to sides). The first 36 hours we had to motor for much of the time as the wind was either too light or unfavorable. We made only 85 miles in the first 2 hours, but this has made the difference in our arrival time. Had we been able to wait a day or so before leaving, it would have been a great sail all the way --- once again, having a deadline (in this case, my flight out of Nukualofa) has made all the difference. We are now 3 for 3 with airline flights making us make passages in conditions that would have been much different a few days later. Once the wind settled in the south, and now the south east, we've been able to make around 6 knots, and as I write this, we're less than 10 miles from Tongatapu, and it's 5 am. Lights of houses are visible as we approach the small island of Euaiki, a few miles ahead.
Our problems with the jib have worsened, as there is now a rip on the leech (the back edge), so at most we can only deploy a small, undamaged portion. All of the damage is confined to the edging/cover material, but that also contains the control cords so the sail really cannot be used without risking major damage. We've been using the staysail instead, and since the winds have been from 15 to 30 knots, it has been enough. At present, in fact, we're under just the staysail and double reefed main, doing 6 knots in 25 knots of wind. The nearest sail repair facility is in Va'vau, so Tane and Tomas will have the job of taking it in for the fixes.
We caught two large mahi mahi on the passage, the most recent yesterday afternoon. Tomas was given the job of cleaning the most recent one, which was around 35 lbs. The conditions were quite uncomfortable -- a powerful beam reach in up to 30 knots, with the occasional wild roll. He did fairly well, although we do have a bag of small chunks that were cut off the carcass after the wild slabbing. Actually, this was a very good first attempt, as he and Tane, his instructor, were really being thrown around, and the decks were slippery with blood and washdown water. The refrigerator is now overflowing with fish, and guess what's on the menu?
Here are a few additional observations about Niue:
The population has been, and continues to, decline. From a peak of 7000., it was 3000 in the 1980's and is now under 1000. It has a very small town and friendly feel. Yachties are a significant presence, much more so than in Rarotonga. We met the owner of the honey export business, a Kiwi. This is just one of his areas, with the major ones in New Zealand and other islands. He was quite a character, claiming that his was the only real export from the island, and giving us a hierarchy of visitors, with the yachties being the bottom feeders (all in good humor, as he encouraged us to stay as long as we could). He said some real (fly in) tourists had been spotted somewhere --- they are the rarest and most sought-after by island businesses! The Air NZ flight comes once a week (Thursday?) Never lost a boat on the moorings, but a close one with national geographic. The fishing industry here has shrunk to one boat, owned by an Israeli who has pieces of several businesses. There was a much larger fleet in the past. We saw the boat being lifted onto the wharf, and were informed that the crew was from Indonesia as the locals just don't seem to work out. The bakery is manned by a Nigerian, who is now looking for a lady of appropriate nationality to wed. He sells wonderful coconut bread. The Indian restaurant is run by a couple of Indians, arrived directly from Punjab within the last couple of years, with very little English. They work very long hours. In the past, people would come to Niue (or the Cook Islands), open a business, then obtain citizenship within a few years. This gave them a New Zealand passport, and they then moved to New Zealand. This citizenship trick doesn't work anymore, and New Zealand issues the passports according to their own rules now. There are several people on the island who arrived in questionable ways, and who cannot board a flight to New Zealand as they cannot obtain visas. There is an organic Noni farm. We're told it suffers from competition from the other islands. Only way to get money is to put it on a Visa card, or change other currency. There are no ATMs, and no other cards are accepted. They use New Zealand dollars, so it's a good idea to arrive with plenty in hand. Obtaining money on Visa card took us about 15 mins, others said it took 2 days. Jim claims Niue should revert to part of NZ again. The graves by the roadside, all around the island, are a prominent feature. We saw many with flowers, and one with a TV and stereo, others with books, and one, sadly, with a tricycle.