Friday, 31 October 2014

Catching up - Suwarrow, Niue, enroute Tonga

Greetings!

The last two weeks have been busy! When last I wrote, we were preparing to leave Suwarrow on 14 Oct, and now we have left Suwarrow, sailed to Niue, visited Niue, and left for Tonga.

Our first day out of Suwarrow was sunny and clear, with beautiful sailing. This was also our last day of lovely sailing! We passed through a bit of a convergence zone that night (I saw some lightening in the distance on my watch; Max's entire watch was punctuated by lightening on all sides, prolonged winds in the 30-kt TWS range, and bucketing rain. Not fun. We wrapped our handheld electronics in foil, put them in the oven, and hoped for the best) The rest of the passage is a bit of a blur to me, as I had two good days (oddly enough, days 1 & 3) and I was seasick for the rest. The kids were a big help, and were even able to give Max 30-40 min naps by taking the watch together. We also experimented with a repeating 15-min timer for naps. Maintenance-wise, the passage left us with a dodger panel to repair: we took a big wave over the side in the middle of the night that tore the snaps off the dodger, filled the cockpit, and even dumped water on the aft bunk through the dorade. Suffice to say that conditions were such that we weren't writing emails on that passage, and even though it was "only" 4 1/2 days, it seemed much longer. [It was quite a mix of sailing. After the deluge and light show of the convergence zone we had very light winds and we had boat speeds down to 2 kts in 4 to 6 kts of wind in big swells - 3 to 4 m - followed by beating to windward for a day. Catching a yellow fin tuna was nice though they are my favourite as we seem to be catching everything else but yellow fin. Max].

By Sunday, we had all "had enough" and by carefully trimming and sailing fast, Max brought us to Niue in time to anchor just before sunset. We had thought we would end up heaving to just off the island for much of the night, so it was a huge relief to be on a mooring ball before dinner! It was also nice to sail right up to the mooring to avoid using the leaking engine.

Oct 19 (the day of our arrival) is Constitution Day in Niue, and as this year marked the 40th anniversary of their current arrangement with NZ (independence and free association), it seemed that we couldn't have chosen a better time to visit; the whole country was enjoying a week-long national holiday.

"Radio Niue" (ie the lady who monitors Ch 16) arranged for Customs & Immigration to meet us at the wharf at 1100 on Monday morning. I was a bit mixed up when she called us to confirm the time, because my watch already said 1105, but it turns out that we had changed time zones when we arrived :) The paperwork was quickly completed in the little hut near the wharf (nice view from their office!) and we were off to explore the town. First stop: lunch ashore! We met another cruising couple at the cafe, and they told us that there would be a flag-raising ceremony at the government building at 1400. We found a shady vantage point across the street, and I couldn't help but thinking that we couldn't likely arrive in Ottawa on 30 Jun and have front row seats for Canada Day celebrations on 1 Jul! The flag ceremony was followed by free food and drink in the open air commercial center. It was a nice chance to meet some other cruisers and tourists, and to chat with some Niueans. Despite our big lunch, everyone was hungry when the food came - roast chicken, roast pig, potato salad and green salad (hooray!), sausages - it was a protein rich, but delicious meal. Our meals were served up by the sailors from RNZNS OTAGO. I am not sure if they are following us or if we are following them, but this was our third port visit together, and it was fun that some of them recognized us as "that family from Suwarrow".

Bringing our dinghy ashore was a unique adventure in Niue: there is such swell and surge at the dock, that they have installed a crane to hoist the fishing boats and cruiser dinghies onto the wharf. We were glad during the next 24 hrs that the local people relied on the crane as well, as it malfunctioned, and we are quite sure it wouldn't have been fixed so fast during a holiday week if it was just there or the visitors! As it was, we were grateful for our friends on L'il Explorers, as when we got back to the wharf, the crane was out of service, and they had their dinghy in the water, so they were able to shuttle everyone back to their boats, and we hoped for a repair the following day.

I had hoped for a tour of the OTAGO; L'il Explorers actually took the initiative to arrange one for us. At 0800 Tuesday morning, we had 10 kids and six adults waiting for the RHIBs to come and get us. I am not sure they knew what they were in for! It was interesting to see a new ship - OTAGO is only 6 years old [as compared to the ships Max served on which were commissioned in the 1960's and 70's]. When asked if they had been aboard a ship before, Victoria was quick to tell about "Grampy's ship" HMCS Sackville, the Canadian war memorial ship. Fun to stand back and watch :)

After checking in at the Niue Yacht Club (owner of the beautiful new mooring ball we were using) and some other logistics, Tuesday evening saw us walking to the highschool for Multicultural Night. Niue is an island of 1500 people, and we were astonished at the variety of dances we saw. All the performing groups but one were from the island, and we had Niuean, Cook Islands, Samoan, Philippine, Tongan, Fijian and Tuvaluean dances (and possibly some that I have forgotten). The one group "from away" was a group of Niueans who were home to visit from NZ. The high school was at the top of a big hill, and I think that every car that passed us offered us a lift. We wouldn't see that in Canada! It was especially interesting to see dances from places that we will visit next year - it was nice to have a little taste of their culture ahead of time.

Wednesday and Thursday saw us switching gears into "tourist mode". We rented a van (the Bongo Van adventuremobile) with a couple who were completing their six-year passage from Scotland to NZ (via the Falkland Islands and Cape Horn), and we spent Wednesday with them and Thursday on our own, exploring Niue's coastline (to give a sense of scale, it takes about two hours to drive non-stop around the island). Words can hardly do justice to either the beauty or the uniqueness of the places we visited, but I will try :) The island is made of a kind of jagged limestone coral, onto which various plants have taken root. The ring road joins all the coastal villages, small pretty groups of houses, separated by woods/jungle along the one-lane road. Most of the places we visited were some kind of cave or chasm, open to the ocean, where swimming was generally available at low tide; however, our first stop was a cave/chasm entirely fed by underground springs of cold, fresh water. It was accessed by about 100 concrete stairs, and the one other visitor summed it up nicely when he arrived and said, "this is a sacred space". Indeed, it was.

Benjamin and I enjoyed numerous "adventures in baby wearing" as we accessed the points of interest; despite the sometimes rough terrain, there were very few places that we didn't go all the way to the end - e.g. the next stop (lunch!) was accessed by a 27-step ladder down into an enclosed oasis, complete with sand and palm trees, but no water. I fed him at the top (so he would quiet) and moved him to my back, but otherwise, we hiked down with the group :) In the afternoon, we went to a swimming cave which had amazing rock formations both above and below the waterline. The water was extraordinarily clear, but since it was a mix of salt and fresh, it was a but surreal swimming, as the focus through the mask was sometimes perfect and sometimes looked like someone had done a messy watercolour painting. We will post photos of our various stops; for now, it is enough to say that we had the island almost entirely to ourselves. Most people rent a car to see Niue, and there would be at most 2-3 cars anywhere we went, and most of the time, we were the only ones there. Although most of the whales had gone for the season we were also treated to one coming through the mooring field just after sunset one evening.

You may have seen photos of Benjamin in his hammock. It was Johnathan who added the most recent safety feature to it: he hooked a bungee cord through the top "rails" of the hammock and pulled them up well above Benjamin's reach. Now when we leave him to sleep, we have a little longer response time when he wakes before he can get out :) I have tried putting him there on passage, but in general, the motion has been too rolly, and he has woken up right away. He will sleep there for long stretches at anchor, however. At sea, Benjamin is generally within arms' reach of one of us. He has been wearing his harness 24/7, and is not a bit bothered by it. We keep him tethered in the cockpit well, and down below, it is handy to be able to reach him and 'redirect' him if necessary!

Our on-watch conversations with the kids have been interesting. The love to design in their heads and then tell us about their plans. On the passage from Suwarrow, we were hearing about the rockets they were going to build (fun for Max, as he used to build model rockets); on this passage, their attention has returned to the sailboats they are each going to design.

Niue provided a nice mix of other cruisers (and kids) to visit with, as well as local folks to meet and chat with. We met one local man who was coming ashore from fishing in his small outrigger canoe who had just caught a yellow fin tuna. We were impressed (and perhaps a little jealous ..)

One unique highlight of our visit to Niue was our stop at the Meteorological office. I had met a girl who works there during the multicultural night, and she had invited us to drop in. We got to show the kids the "black box" that is used to send/receive our sailmail messages. It looked just like the equipment we have on the boat, but in a big box :)

Many people visit Niue earlier in the year to see the humpback whales and their calves (I have heard stories of them coming right up to touch boats at anchor...) We thought we had missed them, but one evening, just before sunset, a lone whale transitted the anchorage about a boat length away. It was an extraordinary moment. The whales weren't gone afterall!

This passage has been slightly better than the last one in terms of weather. For some reason (knock on wood) I have not been seasick, which is a welcome change. Our weather has been all over the place - we even had a day of non-stop rain yesterday. We had planned to leave at dawn on Sunday, but after an afternoon of playing and visiting on Saturday, we elected to do what we see many folks doing - leaving just after an early supper, before sunset. We have decided that our preference is an earlier in the day departure! We don't like heading out with dark approaching (even though lots of folks do this). In order to time our arrival into Tonga for dawn at the visual navigation area, we hove to for supper and the evening tonight. A midnight departure from here, and a speed of 5 kts, should get us to this area around dawn, then we will transit through the reefs and into the anchorage for a welcome respite!

The highlight of the passage thus far was our fishing success yesterday. We always tow two hand lines. Max had *just* gone off watch after a long day in the cockpit, and sunset was approaching, when I called down "Fish On!". I had checked one of the lines, and seen a brilliant flash of blue and gold, so I knew we had at least one fish. Both lines were tight, so we either had two fish or we had a tangle of lures; either way, Max came up to bring the lines in. Long story short - we had a pair of beautiful dorados, each as long as the kids are tall! We had heard that they swim in pairs and mate for life, but this is the first that we have caught a pair of them. The romantic in me feels a bit sad to have lured them both to their demise, but at least they won't be lonely. We will be especially grateful when we see them on our plates!

We have been sailing under foresail only for the last half of the passage. We had some stitching come out on the main sail, so once we managed to furl it back into the boom, we have left it there! The sail gave us many reasons to be grateful - we were enroute Tonga, rather than enroute NZ, it was daytime, the rain had stopped long enough for us to sort it out, Benjamin was asleep on the settee throughout, we work well as a team. On the down side, we have some stitching to do before we leave Tonga! At least it was a seam that came undone; the fabric didn't rip, and the sail cooperated enough to allow us to bring it down to the deck, and then roll it entirely into the boom to store it away. So it goes ... (BTW, we are "hove to" with our staysail only. This is putting the wind and seas more on our beam than they would usually be, but we are stable in the water, with about 0.5 kts of boatspeed and 1.5 kts over the ground with the current, so we decided to leave well enough alone) [If we need to we can bend on our trysail in lieu of the mainsail but it is all downwind to Tonga so the genoa or staysail will suffice].

We expect to arrive in Tonga tomorrow (currently our Wednesday, but soon to be our Thursday, as we will be crossing the dateline as we arrive), and then spend a few days on logistics/fueling, pick up Doug, etc before heading to Minerva Reefs to wait for weather to go to NZ.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2014/10/30 5:30 AM (utc) Fluenta's position was 21°07.70'S 175°09.63'W

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