The Peaceful Sea
Magellan must have witnessed a very different Pacific Ocean when he christened it Mar Pacifico, the Peaceful Sea. Our experiences have been anything but peaceful. But on our voyage between Bora Bora and Niue, not only was there very little wind, there was also no swell. We could have been sailing on the world’s largest lake.
Like most ocean passages, there wasn’t much to see except for sea, stars, the occasional seabird and the odd signal on our AIS receiver showing a cargo ship many miles away. But this time, we picked up this strange signal from a fishing buoy with an odd MMSI number. We later saw many more of these, probably associated with a Chinese fishing fleet. We gave them a wide berth.
Another odd event was catching a fish. The Mahi Mahi we caught was big enough for dinner that night and lunch the next day. Sadly, that lure proved to be a one-hit wonder. Something larger grabbed it two days later and snapped the line on the lure. I’m going to start making my own. At this rate, the cost of fish is getting close to £200 per kilo.
Dolphins came to join us after about a week. This is the best photo we could get;
Welcome to Niue
After ten days of very slow sailing and only two benign squalls, we arrived at Niue. We took that as a good result. The weather can be decidedly sketchy in this area, but Bob McDavit, the NZ-based weather router, helped us to dodge anything too lively,
I had been looking forward to coming here since reading an article about Niue Yacht Club, the Biggest Little Yacht Club in the world, over a decade ago. Thanks to the help of Keith Vial, the commodore of Niue Yacht Club, we managed to secure one of the moorings before the first wave of the World ARC Pacific flooded over the horizon. The relentless progress of the ARC boats is the main reason we didn’t visit Maupihaa on the way out of French Polynesia. If we had gone there, there was no way we could have stopped at Niue before the ARC fleet arrived. But, as we know, we can’t see it all – and I really wanted to see this place.
Niue is a tiny island country 1,000 miles west of French Polynesia and 1,500 miles northeast of New Zealand, with which it is in free association. It has been described as a single chunk of coral jutting out of the South Pacific Ocean, looking like a molar poking its way through the Pacific, and as a verdant thick crust pizza floating in the ocean. I favour the latter courtesy of Chris and Lorraine Gryphon II in Niue.
Clearance was easy. Niue radio tells you when to get to the customs office, then it’s just a matter of heading ashore, negotiating the dinghy lift, plodding up the hill with paperwork in hand and presenting it to each of the friendly officials (customs, immigration and health) in the same hall. And they allow clearance in and out simultaneously, which saves an extra trip ashore. That is important because the only difficult part of the process is the dinghy lift, which could be one of the tougher games in Ninja Warrior in boisterous conditions. Fortunately, we had some help from the crew members of Rumpus, a boat that arrived before us, who got the hoist in position and helped with our lines.
After clearance, we walked directly across the road to the Niue Visitor Centre to get general information on the island, arrange car hire and pay for our mooring.
We discovered that if we wanted to hire a car, we needed to buy a Niue driving license. So after lunch and purchasing a SIM card so we could connect to the internet, we headed up to the police station with Elliot and Miranda, who had arrived just before us. On the way to the police station, we were accosted by the man pictured below – Keith. He was driving down towards the dock as we walked up to the police station. He was a welcome sight. The heat was getting intense, and that police station seemed a long way away.
Keith bundled us into his car, took us up to the station and spoke to the policeman on our behalf. The bad news was that he couldn’t issue driving licences until Monday (when we would be gone), but the good news was that we could use our international driving licence.
Keith then arranged accommodation for us near the dock for the following day. But after looking at the sea state later that afternoon, we decided not to return to Jamala. The sea was boiling below the dinghy lift, and Jamala was also rolling beam to beam in the swells. That wouldn’t have made for a comfortable night. So, after checking that we could stay in the apartment earlier than expected, Keith drove us back up the hill, past the police station, to the supermarket and bond store, where we stocked up with essentials: toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, beer and wine. He even paid for the things we bought at the bond store because our Visa and Mastercard credit and debit cards wouldn’t work in their machines.
So there we were true grotty-yachtie style with no change of clothes but with acquired knowledge of how to dry knickers on a desk fan.
The food here is very different to that in French Polynesia. It is spicier and a lot less expensive. The photograph below shows Maria looking very pleased with her chicken curry from the Vanilla restaurant.
The dock had calmed down a lot at nighttime.
Around Niue – Day One
Shortly after picking up the car, we bumped into Elliot and Miranda again and invited them to join us for the ride. That worked out well, especially as it took away the stress of navigation from Maria. It isn’t that difficult to find your way around, but it is easy to miss the scenic spots, of which there are several. On our first day, we visited Namukula Sea Track and Limu Pools to swim in the beautiful fresh water.
While Elliot was busy battling a stubborn coconut, I checked my emails. I found one from Keith asking if we were with the crew of Fortaleza (Elliot and Miranda) because they needed to move their boat to another mooring before the cargo ship arrived. Fortunately, using the Marine Traffic app, we could see the ship was still a few miles out, so we had plenty of time to get back to the quay. The good news out of this bad news was that we could return to Jamala for spare clothes, which meant no more hanging underwear out to dry on the car’s door handle.
After the minor emergency, we called into the tourist office and met Shontell, who helped with our online booking.
Things became lively soon after the cargo ship tied up to the dock. The 20ft shipping containers are shuttled between ship and quay two at a time on an aluminium boat resembling a large builders skip. It was rough. And that’s probably why the Niue port authority wanted to move Elliot and Miranda’s boat – to avoid a potential blunder if the cargo ship were to drag onto Fortaleza.
With the mooring ball and clothing crises successfully resolved, we continued to explore the island. This time with a visit to Avatele Oneonepata Beach, where we saw one of the many sea snakes in these waters. They are poisonous, but with fangs a long way down their throat, you’d have to be a candidate for a Darwin Award to get bitten.
Then we briefly stopped at one of the many lookouts around the island. Whales make a regular appearance around Niue during the southern winter (as well as in Tonga and French Polynesia) as they come to warmer waters to give birth and mate.
And that concluded the sightseeing for the day. We dropped Elliot and Miranda off near the quay and returned to the apartment to treat ourselves to a much-needed shower and change of clothes.
The Crows Nest is a popular place on Friday evenings for fish and Fridays, But by the time we arrived, they had run out of fish. But large scallops and hot dogs were still on the menu. We met a large group of people who, we think, were celebrating a change of staff at the bio-security division, The boss was there paying for drinks, so they were a happy bunch. Also present was the woman who helped us get our paperwork back from immigration earlier that day.
Around Niue – Day Two
On day two, we cleared out of our apartment and paid our bill of $100 (around £50) for two nights. Then we picked up Elliot and Miranda, drove off to Anapala Chasm, braved the steps down to Togo Chasm, and admired the creative use of everyday junk at the Hikulogi sculpture park. After that, we collected the eggs we ordered from the bond store and drove to Keith’s house to pay him the money for the beer and wine he bought for us. And later, after returning the car, we tackled getting the dinghy back in the water with the help of Elliot and Miranda.
This isn’t the recommended way to use the dinghy lift, but it works well when the sea state is a bit lively. It goes something like this:
- Try to push to the back of your mind everything that could go wrong
- Wheel the dinghy on a trolley to a position near the hoist
- Have someone on the hoist to control the lift
- Attach the dinghy harness to the lift
- Ensure you have someone to steady the dinghy as it is lowered, preferably against the vertical rubber fenders against the dock wall.
- Lift the hoist until the dinghy can be swung over the water
- Start to lower the hoist
- Lower the outboard motor on the way down
- Prime the motor ready to start
- Start the engine as soon as it hits the water
- When the hook goes slack, release it
- Pick up your crew
As soon as we got to Jamala, we set about getting the outboard motor off the dinghy and the dinghy up on the davits before the forecasted large swells arrived. We know from experience that trying to wrangle the outboard and dinghy onboard in a bouncy sea is not fun.
The following afternoon, Sandy, whom we met at the apartment, swam over to Jamala from the quay. He is a regular visitor from New Zealand with his family – and clearly a powerful swimmer. Perhaps being a commercial diver helps. And later, Miranda and Elliot came over to share photographs.
And that was it for our visit to Niue. We would have liked to have stayed longer, but by Monday, the ARC boats had taken possession of the moorings, and the forecast swell had just started to arrive. It was time to head west towards Vava’u in Tonga.