The Pacific Diaries

The Passage to Niue

12 August 2005

Staying put at anchor on the reef shelf at Palmerston as the weather changes is not an option. Not unless you plan on staying put indefinitely. But, however imperative the need to move, it is just as well to be clear about what you are moving off into. The weather patterns in this part of the ocean are notoriously changeable at the whim of the South Pacific Convergence Zone and if we misjudge things, the second half of the trip to Niue could be a brutal windward affair.

Our 3 day forecast grib data ( graphical forecast showing wind speed, direction and sea conditions in 6 hour steps ) shows 2 weak fronts between us and Niue, but I think that we can keep the wind on the beam for the whole trip by sailing in an arc to the North instead of taking a direct route.

It works like a dream right up to the last 20 miles, when the final front arrives 6 hours earlier than forecast, so we have put up with a 3 hour beat to Niue. Could be worse. What a miracle of technology to receive this astonishingly precise forecast by satellite email in mid ocean.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that we have arrived at Nuie on Sunday evening just as a Westerly system is getting up steam. We don’t even bother to come round to the West to look at Alofi, the island’s capital and only port. You don’t need Einstein on board to get the picture. The anchorage looks like a disaster waiting to happen on the chart. It is totally exposed to the West and in these conditions must be a deadly lee shore.

On a traditional long - keeled boat, the answer would be to heave - to in the shelter of the island and go to sleep. Unfortunately, you cannot heave to with an Aerorig. The rig has been a joy all the way from England, but nothing is perfect and this is part of the price for the years of effortless sailing that we have enjoyed. So we take 2 reefs in the main and put away the jib and beam reach up and down in the lee of the East side of the island for 36 hours at a sedate 2 - 4 knots. The boys are kept happy with a little treasure hunt for Lego. All things considered, it is quite a restful experience.

Arrival at Niue

16 August 2005

Thank God for good decisions. We finally come around to Alofi on Tuesday morning to find a local longliner torn off its mooring and impaled on the reef and a couple of rather shaken American cruisers who (can you believe it?) decided not to leave with everyone else because they had not cleared out before the office shut for the weekend.

As we watch, the island’s main workboat, essential for unloading the supply ships, is launched as a rescue vessel, fouls its prop on a loose tow line and is instantly pitched onto the rocks to keep the longliner company. The locals float off the rescue boat on the next tide, but the longliner has taken up permanent residence.

Once we are safely moored, we have to clear Customs. The paperwork is easy here, but the Customs Officer takes one look at the SW swell pouring onto the dinghy dock and asks me to bring the papers to his office ashore instead of visiting the boat as usual.

I watch a couple of locals going ashore to demonstrate the technique. Five foot waves are breaking against the concrete dock and the idea is that you motor up with your hoisting lines at the ready, slip them onto the derrick hook and jump for the dock at the top of the wave as matey starts to lift your tender out of the water and onto the dock. Terrific.

In fact it works surprisingly well for such a hare brained scheme. The only problem is you can’t guarantee that there will be anyone around to help you put the boat back in the water. By the time that formalities were complete, everyone had left for the day and I was stranded on the dock with no means of getting back afloat.

Mercifully, Catherine was on the case and seeing my predicament through the binoculars, put out a radio call for help in her super sexy VHF voice. I could have called on the handheld radio, but I’d probably have spent the night sleeping on the dock. With Catherine purring into the handset, ( remember those Cadbury’s Caramel advertisements in a West Country burr? ), the Niue police turned out in force within minutes to help me relaunch the dinghy and made a heroic effort to conceal their disappointment at finding me on the dock instead of her. 

You will not be surprised that the cruising fleet voted her the Sexiest Voice on the Radio 2005!

Niue Yacht Club

23 August 2005

Niue turns out to be a charming place where you can rap with the locals. The people here are lovely and we get a much better reception than Captain Cook. We are finally safely moored in lovely calm conditions and can relax enough to spend a happy few days touring the island and exploring its treasures, sea snakes, limestone grottos, tidal sea pools to swim in surrounded by spectacular gorges and rainforest hikes full of bats and huge coconut crabs.

The water clarity is unbelievable, so at least we are able to see the sea snakes coming.  Their venom is absolutely deadly, but apparently their mouth is too small to bite you, so they are not dangerous.  This advice may sound a bit suspect, but it must be right as you see lots of sea snakes but never actually meet anyone who has been bitten by one.

Despite Niue’s charm, its population is falling rapidly. The people have a right to settle in NZ and the pace of migration has risen sharply in the wake of the devastating cyclone that struck 2 years ago. Its ferocity was almost beyond our imaginagtion. The clifftops above the harbour are about 100 feet high, yet most of the houses on them were not blown away, but swept away by the waves. We see a 3 tonne concrete bock used to anchor a mooring in the harbour overgrown by creepers and grass in the garden of a derelict house. A wave has thrown this from the bottom of the harbour over a 100 foot high cliff. Wow!

There are only 2,100 islanders left, 40% less than before the cyclone. The Niue Yacht Club, now based at a café on the cliffs, as its own premises blew away in the cyclone, believes that its membership of 1200, increasing every year with cruising visitors, will exceed the population within 5 years. This will make it the only yacht club in the world with a bigger membership than the population!

After another Westerly blow forces us out of Alofi to shelter behind the island again, we have had enough and take a weather window for Tonga.

An uneventful trip except for the fishing. Got totally smashed up by a black marlin on the way. Major aerobatics then wound itself round the keel. I had to cut the line before we got the prop fouled. We have caught and released many Blue Marlin on the trip now, but we still have not fought a black marlin to the boat. They always seem to have enough in reserve to make a final plunge for the keel as you bring them in. Black Marlin: 5 La Novia: 0 since Panama…

We are getting into the kind of territory usually reserved for the England football team.