Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Niue post

It seems that I've mentioned Niue twice now, but haven't really blogged about my stay there.  This is that post.

However, before getting to Niue: I'm currently moored in Neiafu, which is in the Vava'u group of islands in Tonga.  I'm planning on leaving Neiafu to go exploring some of the 40 or 50 local anchorages for a week or two, soon.   Its beautiful here, as well as easy, social, sheltered and many other good things. More on all of that in some future post.

Ok.  Back to Niue.

Niue is a small coral island, a raised coral atoll, and is one of the world's smallest independent countries and one of the largest coral islands.  Niue is in 'free association' with New Zealand, and all of the Niue citizens are also citizens of New Zealand, which seems like a pretty good deal if you're a Niue'ian.  While walking around the island, the New Zealand connection is pretty apparent and seems like a good thing.

There is only one harbor in Niue and the surrounding coastline is too deep and the seabed too rugged to allow anchoring.  Its not that the seabed would be poor holding, rather, it would likely be really excellent holding.  However, the holding is so good you may never retrieve your anchor as there are many limestone chasms where your anchor could slip in and have a very hard time slipping out.  There is a Niue Yacht club on shore which maintains around 20 moorings, and that's what you use when you're here.  The moorings are inspected regularly and are very sturdy.

When the winds are from the predominant direction, between east and southeast, the anchorage is very comfortable.  When there is any west in the swell, then the anchorage becomes very rolly as its completely exposed to anything with any west in it.  These were the conditions for the first four or five days while I was there and the boat was rolling from rub-strake to rub-strake, side to side.  For those who don't know what a rub-strake is, or where it is on a PSC37, that's a pretty deep roll.  Rolling far enough that cups left on counter tops launch themselves across the cabin.  However the swell backed around to the south and continued further to the south east and the area became more and more comfortable.

Going from your boat to shore involves coming to the wharf and then raising your dinghy onto the wharf using the crane supplied.  I had read about this before coming and was nervous about how it would work for a singlehander, but it turns out to be pretty easy and I ended up going back and forth to shore without any problems.

There are great opportunities to stretch your legs here.  You can easily rent bicycles, motorcycles or cars - I opted for a bicycle.  The local roads are in good shape and they are often shaded by trees as you pass through forested areas.  As you ride along the coastal roads there are many signs pointing from the road down to the sea identifying a sea track.

All of the sea tracks I saw were in very good shape and were well built, leading to a view, a cave, the shore line, a swimming area or some other attraction.  Often you would get all of those in one track.  Most of the sea tracks that ended at or close to the sea also had a fresh water shower toward the top of the track, so you could swim in the ocean and then rinse off with fresh water before continuing along the road to the next track.  There appears to be lots of water on the island, all of it drinkable.

The island is mostly composed of limestone and the shoreline is very rugged - there isn't a lot of beach here, although there is a little.  Its, mainly, not a shoreline you would want to walk along in bare feet.

While the shoreline is rugged and not barefoot friendly, it is absolutely beautiful.  The water clarity at Niue is well over 100 feet.  My boat was moored in 90 feet of water and I could see the bottom clearly.  From what I have read, Niue seems to be a diving destination.

The sea tracks often lead down a steep trail to shore, going through caves and ending up in more caves.

s/v Estrellita pulled into Niue a few days after I did and we got to hang out for a while.  Estrellita is not a large boat, perhaps around the same volume as Luckness, but they have really packed a large number of cruising-toys into their boat.  They have dive gear, and while were were there I accompanied them on a dive - me in mask and fins, them with all their dive stuff.

As you can tell, its Livia on the left, Carol on the right

Another amazing feature of the waters around Niue is that humpback whales frequent the area.  They were here while we were, and it was amazing.  (There I go again, over using the phrase 'it was amazing' or 'it is amazing'.  Oh well.)  Most nights you can hear the whales breathing as they dive through the mooring field and during the day they were frequently around, diving, broaching, hanging around.  We tried a couple of times to swim in the same water the whales were in, and on one occasion got pretty close.  Or anyway, Carol and Livia got close.  I ended up on the wrong side of those two and the whales...I could see the whales better than you would imagine from the photo.

Look close, and you can see that there are whales in the background.  Carol and Livia in the foreground.  Those two have pictures of the same encounter and Livia's pictures are National Geographic quality, really outstanding.  So when you look at the photo above...just try to imagine the whales being very large, close, interesting and amazing, that's how I remember it.

A hurricane hit Niue in January 2004 and did quite a lot of damage.  From what I understand, the population of Niue before the hurricane was something like 20,000 people. Currently its around 1,600.  A lot of people left after the hurricane for New Zealand - around 90 to 95% of the Niue population is currently living in New Zealand.  This has left many properties unoccupied and abandoned, which is a little sad to see.  Each property does however have a caretaker, and you can see that the lawns are all kept in check, which is no small thing in this area.

As I was going through the photos I had taken while I was in Niue, here in Tonga, I realized that I have been a bad photo journalist.  I have no pictures of Alofi, the capital city of Niue, where I spent most of my time.  Its a nice little town, mostly a single main road with a variety of restarants, stores, a bakery, a hardware store, gas station, etc.

Niue is a fantastic little island.  They are currently promoting themselves to New Zealanders as a tourist destination - so if you want, visit now, before its 'discovered' by the masses!

So, that's Niue.  While I'm posting to my blog, I can't help but to add some boat project related stuff.  When I first got to Niue my dinghy hadn't been used for over 20 days, as I hadn't used it while I was at Beveridge reef.  When I got to Niue, I put the dinghy in the water, mounted the engine and went to start the motor.  It wouldn't start, or would start, run poorly and then sputter and die.  This engine had been causing me problems for quite some time and it was back causing problems again.  Getting from Luckness to shore would be a little challenging by rowing my dinghy as the wind was initially fairly strong and blowing through the mooring field - but I could have moved to a closer mooring and this might have worked.  However, I decided to finally try to fix the damn thing, or destroy it in the process and deal with that.  So I remounted the engine onboard, reviewed the information I had about rebuilding the carb and started taking it apart.  I managed to get the carb off the engine without losing anything - while I was doing this there was a pretty good swell coming into the anchorage, rolling Luckness deeply, side to side.  I took the carb down below and took it apart further.  I found a bunch of gunk inside, sprayed it liberally with carb cleaner, squirted compressed air through the little passage ways I could find, sprayed more carb cleaner, more air, etc until it seems to be about as clean as I could make it.  I didn't break the carb down to its smallest bits, just opened it up and cleaned what I saw.  Anyway, I reassembled, remounted and it started on the second pull and has been running like a champ ever since.  I should have done this months ago - it wasn't that hard.  I did lose a gasket when I remounted the carb - the boat lurched and the gasket got least I didn't lose anything really important as it seems to run fine without the gasket...

On the topic of losing important engine parts, I almost lost the entire engine.  Remember that I was moored in 90 feet of water.  Half way through the carb cleaning I was hearing my dinghy engine lift contraption banging against the hull, as I had forgotten to secure it.  So I went out and brought the block aboard.  I grabbed the end of the hook-thing and dragged it aboard, and as I was doing this it just came apart in my hand.  It seems that the pin that held the shackle together had been slowly untwisting and it must have been just barely being held by the last thread.  It finally came apart at the best possible time - I managed to lose the pin overboard but saved the hook and the body of the shackle.  A few hours earlier I had attached the engine to this shackle/hook as I lowered and then raised it from and to the boat - in 90 feet of water.  If the shackle pin had come lose either of those times, and it easily could have, I would have lost the engine to the deep until I arranged for a diver to retrieve it, and then would have had to deal with a salt water logged engine.  That was a close call!  The hook is now attached with a little piece of dyneema, which is plenty strong enough for this application.

So, anyway, I'm in Tonga.  I've been here for a little over a week now.  Its nice here and as I mentioned earlier, I'll talk about Tonga in a future post.  I'll only show one teaser photo from where I am.  There is a good, daily market here full of local produce.  Lots of tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, onions, and so on - all organic and super fresh.  They had carrots on display at one of the vendors, so I bought one.  It should last me for a few meals.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tonga Bound!

Date: August 7th, 2014
18° 45' S 172° 26' W
Water Temp: 77.0
Distance to go: 140

I left Niue yesterday morning, bound for Neiafu, Vava'u Group, Tonga. Niue was a wonderful stop, and I stayed there just over two weeks. Niue is beautiful, the people are all very friendly, there is lots of good hiking, renting bicycles is easy, the food is good, people speak English - it was an easy play to hang out and I loved being there. I also had a chance to hang out with Carol and Livia of Estrellita, a boat I have been following for quite some time. They are also from the Pacific Northwest. We've crossed paths briefly several times and circumstances seemed always to get in the way, but not this time. They're awesome.

After two weeks I felt that I had seen enough of Niue to carry on, I'm really curious about my next destination, Tonga. I'm hoping I can find a decent internet connection in Tonga so that I can upload some pictures from Niue to the blog, the internet on Niue was super slow - but inexpensive!

All is well here. I'll drop another note a day or two after my arrival in Tonga.

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