As the distinctive peaks of Bora Bora disappeared in the distance we settled down to our watch pattern. Bora Bora was lovely but there isn’t very much to do there when wind howls and the rain pours so we were glad to get away when forecast started to show a break. We set off at 06:30 with 2 reefs in the main and half a genoa but when we were just 2 hours out we heard on the VHF that Moonshiner was having problems with her engine again and would have to return to Raiatea.
It was too late to turn around to help but Dick, the skipper, seemed to have things under control.
At 1100 miles, the trip to Niue was the longest we had done for some 2 months so the 2-3 meter swell made us a bit queasy on the first day after all that easy sailing inside reefs and between islands. We took a rogue wave over the aft deck at 2am which managed to get under the gap in the hatch and soak the bed though luckily we weren’t sleeping in it at the time. The next day with 873 miles to go we managed to drag the mattress out on deck to dry in the sunshine. The skipper thought it looked a comfortable place to sleep and promptly did so… Big mistake and a painful red bottom was acquired! That afternoon while making a log reading Sue noticed on the chart that we had passed over a 3000m mountain under the sea, lucky we were in 4000m of water but the undulations that the sea covers are amazing and soon we would be encountering even greater depths below. The wind was up and down and the reefs were in then they were out again but eventually it moderated, the sea calmed down and with the sun out it took on the most astounding sapphire blue colour. The winds were now holding out nicely at F3-4 from the port quarter giving us a nice broad reach and we are traveling at 6-7kts most of the time. Creaming along!
Our third night started getting bumpy again and we were getting squall after squall crossing over us. Fortunately nothing like the Atlantic but still blowing at 30-35kts at their peak giving us speeds of up to 8.4kts which is about as fast as we would like to go in Camomile as she starts getting fractious above this speed. It’s difficult to move around the boat in those conditions but you get used to holding on with your legs and elbows while trying to cook the dinner or work at the navstation.
579 miles to go, we covered 158 miles in the last 24 hours which although isn’t a record for us is pretty good going all the same.
The wind was coming from behind us and unfortunately we didn’t rig the twizzle before we left so we had to jibe back and forth with the main and half a genoa always making sure that the boom was prevented the moment it was over. The sea became very rolly, we got as little as 3 – 4 hours sleep in 24 and, as the wind dropped, it started spilling from the sails with the motion of the boat making for lots of banging and snatching…. No good for boat or crew!
The wind finally dropped away almost completely so we stoked up the engine and set about motoring the last 90 miles which Sue spent industriously making a courtesy flag for Niue complete with its multiple stars over a union jack. Pretty nifty sewing.
During our approach to Niue we had been in touch by email with Keith, the commodore of the yacht club. He gave us really useful weather and landfall information, how to get ashore and who to see when we arrived. He even whetted our appetites for some of the sites we might choose to see when we got there, this was definitely the best pre-arrival information we have had on our trip so far
We sighted Niue at 2.15 in the afternoon of the 7th day, it’s always a relief to see land after a passage whether it’s been easy or difficult and, although we were a little non-plussed with this one, any passage that gets you there is good as far as we’re concerned.
As we continued down the west side of the island to the main town of Alofi where the yacht club has laid buoys we could see the profile of two distinctive “wedding cake” shelves forming the cliffs around the coast. This is the result of the island being formed by an uplift of the limestone seabed in 2 stages many millennia apart. Then just to round the passage of beautifully we had a wonderful dolphin escort on our approach to welcome us in.
It was dark by the time we got to the buoys but luckily they have retro reflective strips all over them so with the help, by VHF, of another yacht already in the anchorage we had no problem and finally tied up at 8pm. 1093 miles in 183 hours making an average of 5.97 kts which is fairly good going and we didn’t see a single ship or yacht all the way. Now it’s time to catch up on some sleep before we went exploring tomorrow!
There is no harbour anywhere on Niue, just a wharf and the coast with it’s wave crashing cliffs for 360 degrees of the compass. In order to get ashore you land a crew member from the dinghy and then stand off
while they work out how to operate the crane used to lift the dinghy and place it on the jetty. You then leap for the jetty having secured the lifting strops and pluck the bobbing RIB from the roiling swell. This family let their kids enjoy the ride but fortunately Keith was on hand to help us and, with the minimum of bumping and scraping, we got ashore and left the dinghy parked on its wheels.
Keith (a retired Kiwi headmaster) was just fantastic and so enthusiastic about his adopted home. He whisked us up to the customs and immigration office and took Sue off for a mini tour of the town in his car (a maxi tour is not possible – too small) while I booked us in.
We had a wonderful 3 days in Niue but we knew our time would be limited, not just by the rally schedule this time but by the weather which makes the anchorage untenable in any wind west of south west despite having the very best mooring tackle I have ever seen. The water there is uncannily clear due to there being no run-off from the island and we could clearly see our mooring blocks some 35 meters below us. We received a warm welcome in the yacht club which, since the club house was swept away in a cyclone, is based in Mamatoa’s ice cream and snack bar. After tea and buns we walked to the motorbike hire shop, saw some
shiny machines parked outside and decided to hire one for the following day.
When we turned up in the morning, together with an Aussie couple, Dave and Joanne from Mintaka II we discovered that the shiny bikes were nowhere to be seen and the remaining tatty little Suzuki 125s had no indicators, no horns, no lights, no speedo, no rev counter and the stuffing coming out of the seat. It was probably 30 years since we had ridden a motorbike and my blood was up. So what if it belonged in a skip, the engine and the brakes worked and it’s a very small island so off we went. Sue wasn’t convinced but she soon remembered how to lean with the bike when we cornered and was reasonably happy about it until she burned her leg on the hot exhaust. If only it had been a Harley!
Niue is a limestone geological dream and as Dave is a geologist he was able to explain something of what we were seeing which gave us a really fascinating insite into the way it was formed. The island has some of the most amazing caves and chasms we have ever seen.
We climbed through several which were full of stalactites and stalagmites in their superb forms making the interiors appear to be lined with melting candlewax. The
eroded landscape had an otherworldly quality about it with its razor sharp pinnacle rock formations strewn and ancient remains of coral with verdant tropical jungle growth
clinging to the inhospitable ground wherever it could. Along our motorcycle circuit of the island we stopped to explore some of the interesting sites like
the Togo Chasm with its steep descent on a narrow walkway and ladders leading to what looks like a mini film set from Lost World at the bottom. Further on we swam in a pool that was so clear it looked empty but with fresh water flowing out of the limestone rocks layered on top of the seawater it made your vision blurry when you snorkel through it. It was also very cold on the surface but warm underneath and inhabited by tropical fish and sea snakes.
These latter are very poisonous but unable to open their jaw any bigger than your little finger so not a threat in theory however they are inquisitive so can be a nuisance particularly for the feint of heart.
Sadly the island has lost 75% of its population to New Zealand over the years and a lot of the properties were abandoned. It seems that this accelerates after every bad blow and some villages were like ghost towns.
When it blows in Niue it is really frightening and some brave soul caught the last one on video. Seeing the breakers surging through the anchorage over the jetty and up two hundred foot cliffs was awesome, particularly as someone was chasing a loose forty foot container across the width of the jetty. What did he think he was going to do if he got hold of it? Despite all this there was only one fatality when someone left the refuge and entered their home before the all clear was given. Against this adversity it is to the enduring credit of the islanders that there is still a lovely friendly community there and it was a joy to watch 3 generations practicing their ritual dance steps on the playing field of the local school. Everyone we met seemed genuinely pleased to see us but never once made us feel out of place.
All too soon the wind veered and spelled the end of our sojourn. Our last night on the anchorage was so rolly that we resorted to the saloon sea berths and leeboards to snatch what little sleep we could. It was time to move on but before we did I decided to take a last swim in the sea off the transom.
At certain times of year this anchorage is full of whales and, as I looked down into the crystal clear depths I caught sight of a large animal. Unfortunately it was a three metre shark. I made an undignified but quick boarding and decided yes, it was time to move on to Fiji and rejoin the rally in time to wish them Bon Voyage for the rest of their trip