Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Fantastic Sail to Niue

[Kyle]It was pretty drizzly, damp, and miserable when we pulled up anchor to leave Beveridge. The temperature had also dropped to below freezing so we had to figure out where we put our sweatshirts. Below freezing in the tropics is when our bottle of coconut oil solidifies. It seems to happen at about 23C (73F). After being in a hot climate for at least six months, it really does feel uncomfortable at that temperature if there's no sun to take the edge off.

It was pretty drizzly and miserable when we pulled up anchor to leave Beveridge. The temperature had also dropped to below freezing so we had to figure out where we put our sweatshirts. Below freezing in the tropics is when our bottle of coconut oil solidifies. It seems to happen at about 23C (73F). After being in a hot climate for at least six months, it really does feel uncomfortable at that temperature if there's no sun to take the edge off.

Our source in Niue, the boat that had evacuated the wreck victims, sent us a message telling us there were four moorings available in the harbor. The “anchorage” at Alofi has LOTS of coral and is 35m deep, which makes it terrible for actually anchoring. Because of this, the Niue Yacht Club has installed 20 sturdy moorings for use by visiting yachts and maintained by scuba divers. What this means is that if there are no balls available, you're not going to get to visit Niue.

As we were getting ready to go, one of the other anchored boats called to say goodbye to some of their friends. They had just pulled up their anchor and said they were going to Niue.

Uh, oh...

We had a blustery, wet sail across the lagoon, which fortunately has few obstructions, all of which are visible in poor light. Once we got through the pass into the deep ocean, we heard the mother ship call one of the flotilla and say they were thinking about leaving for Niue right away instead of a couple of days later, since the weather would be no good for diving. They had a little back and forth about it and eventually decided they were going to leave for either Niue or Tonga. Niue is very slightly off the direct line from Beveridge to Tonga, so they decided to head for Niue and make the decision later.

Oh, great! The mother ship is a pretty fast boat when it's going downwind. There was a pretty good chance they would pass us.

Within an hour and a half, the rest of their fleet plus another two all upped anchor and left with the same plan – a total of seven boats including us.

Oh, crap!

We had planned to arrive the next day at midday, which would allow us to ease of the throttle, so to speak, and have a stress-free semi-slow passage.

At this point, the first boat was about eight miles ahead of us. We were the second. The third was a particularly fast monohull about three miles behind. We had been watching their big purple spinnaker getting bigger and bigger for the last couple of hours. The three of us all had definite plans for Niue. The others were still planning to decide when they got there. All of their targets could already be seen zooming across the lagoon on our AIS receiver. We knew Purple Spinnaker Boat didn't like to fly their big sail at night, so we knew they would slow down at dusk, probably just after passing us. The others, we weren't sure about, but they were all bigger than us, which means they are generally faster.

Now we had to change our plan. Maryanne and I have been planning to go to Niue for a long time and we weren't about to lose one of the limited mooring balls to a bunch of boats who were just popping in for a look on a whim. We were now going to have to be there at first light, hopefully far enough in front of the pack to get a ball.

Our only secret weapon is that Begonia was designed in an era when most of the performance/comfort compromises were still settled on the performance side. We set everything up and then rolled up our jib and deployed our spinnaker. Our speed doubled! After a short while, it became clear that the big purple spinnaker was getting smaller again. By dinner, they had disappeared over the horizon and we were handily passing the boat ahead. By sunset, they were also about to disappear over the horizon behind us.

We were pushing Begonia pretty hard. We had eaten up enough miles to be able to go back to our original speed and still arrive just after dawn. We stowed the spinnaker and slowed to a speed that didn't require constant vigilance to maintain.

During the night, the mother ship called the boat we had just passed and asked if they knew where we were, since we didn't transmit on AIS (we have a receiver only, but no transmitter as most of them do). With no AIS transmitter, we are only detectable at night by either our lights or by radar. This means instead of sitting watch inside in front of the AIS screen, someone would have to periodically go outside in the rain and look around for us, which I got the feeling they were trying to avoid.

Their response was that we had gone bombing by them earlier going really fast and we were so far ahead that we were no longer in the area.

We were chuffed by this. It was nice to hear them acknowledge that, at least for a time, we were the fastest boat in the bunch. Yay, us! We're awesome! We were especially pleased that they remembered our name.

We have anchored more than a dozen times with this tight-knit group of boats. We have met them all ashore while clearing in or out or while walking around in various places. We all made the overnight passage between Rarioa and Makemo within sight of one another and we even spent several hours sharing beers and swapping stories with them in Fakarava.

Still, since we're not in their group, they never seem to acknowledge our presence unless we initiate the interaction or do something like get stuck in the same gendarmerie at the same time. They're all really nice people individually and we all get along well together, but it seems that as soon as we are out of sight, we are out of mind.

“Hey some catamaran just passed us. And, as a completely unrelated aside because it has absolutely nothing to do with it, has anyone seen Begonia?”

“Be-who?”

There was then a bunch of back and forth about the expense of a stop at Niue and the hassle of clearing in and out for a stay of only a few days. The wind was also forecast to start dying out in a couple of days. They all eventually decided to skip Niue and head straight for Tonga while they still had wind.

But then they kept making a beeline for Niue. I had a feeling their minds weren't really made up yet.

When Maryanne woke me for my watch, she pointed out the lights of the mother ship. They had passed us and were receding so fast that all we would have been able to do is match their speed with the spinnaker. Another catamaran was also overtaking from behind and looked like they would pass us soon.

I was tempted to take the bait, but our speed was perfect for arriving at first light, so I just left them to it.

At 3am, the mother ship was about eight miles ahead of us when they finally made a noticeable course change for Tonga and the other cat was just passing abeam. That would make is the second boat in, provided no one was approaching the island from a different direction.

When daylight came and the first boat arrived, our mooring source called to tell us there were plenty of open moorings. It seems a few boats had left. That was a huge relief. There was room for the two of us plus the two in the flotilla that broke off and didn't go to Tonga, plus a couple more.


Arriving in Niue for first light - and greeted by Mom & Baby Humpback Whales

As soon as we arrived at the mooring field, we had to slow way down to allow room for a Humpback Whale and her calf that were hanging out near the jetty. We turned north and picked up a mooring as they loitered around. As we were tidying up, a small pod of Spinner Dolphins came by to see us. When they left, we went inside and heard a spout. We rushed back outside to find the mother whale and her calf passing between us and the next boat. How cool is that? We haven't even been ashore yet and already this place is amazing!

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Beveridge Reef (Niue)


{Maryanne:Beveridge Reef is just a shallow submerged atoll in the middle of nowhere - with a small sand-spit peaking above water to the west at very low water - but normally there is just the breaking surf to let you know it is there. The surf may just show as a thin white line on the horizon as you approach - but as you can see from the photo of the dinghy exploring from inside of the atoll, that surf is big and very powerful even on a relatively normal day. Add to this that some electronic charts don't clearly show the reef except at certain zoom levels, and that the reef is marked 3 nautical miles SW of its actual position - it is not surprising that boats sometimes hit it.}

[Kyle]There are actually two obvious wrecks on Beveridge at the moment: the very recent. The catamaran Avanti was one (Wrecked in the early hours of August 27th 2017, but still floating), the other is a steel fishing boat just a little way from where we were anchored (wrecked several years ago, and sitting on the bottom in shallow water, and with some of the structure clear of the water). We swam across the sand shelf to the fishing boat. It was a real struggle against the wind and current. Small pieces of the hull were strewn in a path to the main wreck. The prop and keel were badly damaged. Rust and growth were already taking over and several fish had moved in, the boat has been stripped of anything useful long ago.


Exploring a wrecked Steel Fishing Boat on Beveridge Reef
The wreck is of the MV Liberty - apparently Niuean trawler

Next, we let the current take us to the new wreck, a 15 meter catamaran. From our conversation on the radio the day before, we knew they had hit the reef from the outside. Their keels, drive legs and rudders were sheared off, as they crashed into the reef where they sat (most likely bounced) until high tide eventually nudged them into the lagoon and they dropped anchor. The weather had been horrible here that night, so it must have been terribly violent and very frightening. The family seemed surprisingly good-humoured about it, describing their path as “a shortcut”, humour that is only possible after the fact.


The catamaran Avanti still floating after some severe damage to her undersides

From the look of their debris path, it looked like they very nearly also hit the fishing boat along the way. We found their anchor at the end of the trough it had plowed. We followed the chain to the boat and were surprised to find it not resting on the bottom, but afloat, with the stern submerged to the cockpit. Most catamarans (including Begonia) have foam-filled buoyancy compartments that are designed to prevent even a breached boat from sinking (and here they were clearly functioning well). I swam under the hulls and found a giant hole in one and the bottom basically gone from the other. We took lots of pictures as a record for the owners to have of the progress of the state of the wreck in their absence .

We climbed aboard and found lots of heartbreaking damage. Stanchions had been bent. Hatches had been torn off. Everything in the cockpit was underwater and a life jacket that had auto-inflated was waving uselessly in the current.

We didn't go into the cabin, but we opened the door just enough to get a record of the water level inside. Whew! It had the smell of rotting food and wet everything. Some items were piled out of the water on top of the salon table, but condensation had the walls and ceiling dripping onto everything. The scene brought back memories of the slurry we had to wade through to recover what we could from Footprint's cabin. Those poor people.

We slid back into the water and swam back to Begonia, pleased that she was floating on her lines.

Along the way, we were in the almost constant company of a handful of Almaco Jacks (fish) who were very curious and swam so close they practically seemed like they were trying to cuddle. A little further off were a series of gray reef sharks who would come charging up ominously from behind until they were five or six feet away, at which point they would wander off. All of their prey is less than two feet long. Maryanne thinks they race up to see what we are and then stop their pursuit once they realize we're not two-foot fish.


Some of the underwater company on Beveridge Reef:
Amber Jacks, Peacock Flounder, Reef Sharks, Sting Rays, Black Jacks (there were many others), and Kyle checking on the anchor

We had a couple of really windy days after that. Beveridge has no land. At high tide, more of the outside swell makes it over the reef and it gets a little boisterous. At low tide, it calms down considerably. This makes it easy to feel the state of the tide by how tranquil or rough it is. Still, we were glad to be given a break from having to be in the big seas outside.

The Catamaran Jadean, a familiar boat to us during this year's Pacific travels, arrived followed shortly by the rest of this season’s flotilla. They promptly arranged a BBQ amongst themselves and left us to ponder the end of the peace from radio chatter. A couple more boats came in that were not attached and soon the anchorage swelled to the wreck plus eight more. We met a couple from the boat Matilda personally, and spoke on the radio to others to explain the deal with the wrecked catamaran.

They all knew about it. Apparently, it has been front-page news on all of the islands in the region and has been all over the television.

Maryanne especially has taken her role as protector and recorder of the wreck very seriously. She makes sure we swim over at least every other day to take more photos of the waterline and anything succumbing to wave action. She then compiles a summary and emails it to the owners every time we upload our weather files. She understands well how knowing the state of the boat, even if the news isn't good, is better than not knowing and letting your worries get the best of you.

This area of the Pacific has a lot of areas like Beveridge, where the charts, which are based on old surveys, are wildly inaccurate or just plain wrong. Not only that, but volcanic activity around Tonga is making new islands that weren't even there before. There are extensive lists of all of these anomalies, which almost everyone we have met keeps in their onboard library. Maryanne took it one step further and spent a whole day actually transferring them to one of the electronic chart programs we all seem to have. This converted a list of numbers into a series of big, red circles on the actual charts, each the size of the object, if known, plus a good margin. Now it will be much easier when plotting a route to see if there are areas of concern or to be avoided entirely. She put it on a chip to share so hopefully more and more boats coming into the area will have access to the information as people trade around the files.

Our last day at Beveridge was supposed to be spent snorkelling in the clear, flat water after the winds finally died off. They did, but then it was cloudy and drizzly all day. After Maryanne did her regular swim to the wreck, we spent the day doing this and preparing for the overnight trip to Niue. It looks like it will be tailwinds and following seas this time. That will be a welcome change.

{Maryanne}National Geographic have recently completed filming for a documentary about Beveridge Reef and Niue and we'll certainly be keeping an eye out for it once published (and recommend you do too) - these are special and beautiful places on planet earth.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Rough Passage to Beveridge Reef (Niue)

[Kyle]We knew our next sail was not going to be a pleasant one. The forecast all week had been calling for strong winds and big seas to swing forward of our beam for the trip. We didn't have enough time to jump in front of it and our fourteen day limit was up in Suwarrow. I'm sure Harry and Katu would have allowed us to stay longer if we really needed to wait out the weather, but the anchorage would not offer good protection when the weather hit Suwarrow, so we decided it would be safest at sea.

As we left, it was just starting to blow hard from the southeast. We put up a tiny amount of sail and had a pleasant run around the outside of the atoll, which started as a downwind run and progressed to a fast upwind beat in the flat seas in the lee of the reef.

Once we left the southern tip of the atoll, the seas built quickly and we changed tactics. We reduced sail to slow Begonia to between five and six knots. This kept us from launching from one approaching wave into the next and made for a smoother motion. We were still moving around a lot, but at least it didn't feel like we were getting thrown around. We were able to make progress about fifty degrees off the wind heading due south. Our hope was that when the worst of the wind passed and we couldn't make headway, we wouldn't be blown too far downwind. That way we wouldn't have to beat too far back upwind to get to Beveridge.

When the wind picked up a couple of days later, the ride started to get uncomfortable again. We hove to, keeping just enough jib out to keep Begonia from turning through the wind onto the other tack. We then lashed the helm with the rudder centered.

To our happy surprise, Begonia did not slip sideways downwind, but rather continued on her original 50 degree upwind course at just over a knot. With help from the current, we moved sixty miles further upwind in the next day, steering a surprisingly straight course with no input to the rudders.

Our watches got pretty boring then. We weren't really moving, there were no controls to manipulate, so there was little to do except watch for other vessels. Two or three times an hour, an errant wave would come from an off direction, slam into us and break completely over the boat. It seemed to always happen when I was looking the other way and right after I was starting to feel dry again. Bloody waves!

After heaving to for two days, we had actually made it far enough south that it looked like it would be possible to bear off and head across the wind to Beveridge. The only problem was that the waves had built up and we would have to sail parallel to them, which could be anywhere from uncomfortable to dangerous. We decided to test it out for a few minutes and see how it felt.

It wasn't too bad. With more sail up and with the keels un-stalled and producing lift, the roll was dampened to a tolerable level. Most of the big waves just lifted us and rolled under. The remaining distance to Beveridge was such that we would have arrived in the dark at our present speed. The charts around the reef are horrible and wildly inaccurate. Slowing down to arrive well into daylight meant we didn't have to push Begonia too hard.

Two mornings later, we had slowed down even more and were comfortably far from the reef, plus a generous buffer. The radar picked up the line of breakers about half an hour before we could actually see them. Behind, we could see two sailboats at anchor. That was surprising because the weather had been so bad we thought no one would have wanted to be there with no land to offer protection. We took a wide path around the reef toward the pass on the western side.

One of the boats saw us approaching and called us on the radio for a chat. They said they were leaving that morning after a stop at the pass for a snorkel. They explained that other boat was a wreck that had hit the reef two days earlier. He had the family on board, who were all okay, and were taking them to Niue. He explained that a salvage boat was being sent by their insurance company from New Zealand to recover it and asked that we look after it while we were there and to please not take anything. We told them not to worry and exchanged contact details so we could send them updates.

They pulled up anchor just before we got to them. We exchanged waves and dropped ours on the sand shelf near the wreck in eight feet of crystal-clear water. We were tired from the passage so we decided to wait until the next day to have a closer look.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Relaxing Stay in Suwarrow (Cook Islands)

[Kyle]We took a lazy day aboard after arriving and clearing in and an early night. The next morning, we were lounging in the cockpit when Dave from Capistrano swam over. (He swims everywhere.) He said there was a going to be a big pot luck ashore on the beach the later that day and invited us. Jeez, we haven't even been here a day and we already have social plans!

We had a swim and a wash and Maryanne started making some food while I got the dinghy out of lifeboat mode. We went ashore a couple of hours early to have a look around Anchorage Island. Katu showed us the trail to the other side of the island and then explained how we could get back by following the shore around. As we were walking, another boat showed up and motored through the pass. Harry was fishing outside the pass and had to give up so he could return and clear them in. They and another boat that came in after us the same day brought the total in the anchorage to five.


First impressions in Suwarrow

When we got done with our walk, we returned to Begonia to pick up the food for the potluck. On the way, we passed by the new boat. It was Pickles, the boat we had last seen in Ua Pou in the Marquesas who helped us out so much on the Day We Couldn't Get Anything Right.

We were a bit late getting back with the food, but we still beat everybody else. Katu was husking coconuts so he could use the fiber for fuel for the fire. Harry showed up with a big tray of what must have been all of the fish he had caught that week. The other sixteen people arrived one boat at a time.

The fire was lit and Harry and Katu went about the long and particular process of preparing the flat metal grill for cooking. They spent an hour scraping it, pouring water on to boil off and then examining it carefully. They did this over and over again until the surface was finally deemed to be ready for the meat. While they did this, we got caught up with old friends and met some new ones.



Sunset & BBQ Fun - Look at the size of those crabs!

It was getting too dark to see so Harry left Katu to cook while he went and retrieved a car battery and a light with their wheelbarrow.

It was a great evening. More than one of us remarked about how marvelous and strange it was to be standing on a beach on an uninhabited island (Harry and Katu are seasonal caretakers and are not residents) eating fish cooked over coconut husks by light powered by a car battery in a wheelbarrow. There was no opulence of any kind, but I doubt any of us could have felt more privileged.

As a cap for the evening, Harry took us to see the coconut crabs. Up until now, we had only seen the island's hermit crabs. They are adorable as they totter around all off-balance, looking for anything to eat. They made an efficient cleanup crew for all of the scraps left by the potluck. We left our plates on the ground and it looked as if somebody's dog had licked them clean (You know who you are!).

Coconut crabs are another story altogether. They are nocturnal, so they only come out of their burrows at night. Like the hermit crabs, they'll eat pretty much anything they can find. Harry explained that they are called coconut crabs because they have the ability to get into a coconut, not because that's what they like to eat most. One look at them and you know why. They are enormous! The first one we saw could have easily straddled a dinner plate. It was nervous because of all of the attention, so it was standing in a defensive posture with its long, spear-like second legs stabbing up toward us two feet apart. It had a whole lot of appendages all waving around. At the front were big claws, then came several sets of legs, with the last ALSO having claws (smaller ones). From its face under its beady eyes waved six antennae; two regular and four with joints like big spider legs. Harry explained that this was a medium-sized one.

I am SO glad the first one of these I ever met was when I was forty-nine. If I had been eleven, these horror-movie monsters would have given me nightmares for the rest of my life. As it is now, I can regard their beady-eyed nervousness as kind of cute. Their expression seems to be imploring us not to hurt them. That said, if I woke up and found one on my chest, I'd scream bloody murder.

Tom Neale, who was the sole inhabitant of the atoll for many years, tells a story about going to one of the other motus and setting up a second get-away home. On his first night there, he fell asleep on the beach. Later in pitch-black darkness, he was awakened by one giving his leg a good snip. Yikes!

Despite the late night, we were up early for the dinghy ride to the nearby manta cleaning station. Again, we arrived first and found nothing. What is it with mantas and island time?

The family from Midnight Sun showed up and shortly after the mantas arrived. The water was the shallowest of all of the feeding stations we have seen; only about four meters. I used my trick of hanging onto some dead coral as the rays passed by. These mantas were especially tame. I was able to swim with one with my head about mid-wingspan. Our eyes were only inches apart!


I dropped Maryanne off at another spot and took the dinghy back to the boat before swimming back to join her. We ended up taking a long, meandering circuit of the anchorage which stretched into miles of swimming along the reefs. One notable find was what looked to be the remains of a relatively recent wreck. The wing keel of a big monohull and a big chunk of the adjacent hull was resting on the bottom. Nearby were several smaller pieces, none with much growth.

We were thinking about what sort of busy evening we were going to have when the early wake-up and the miles of swimming kind of got to us. Maybe tomorrow...

Tomorrow arrived

During the day another boat arrived. Whoops, plus a latecomer – two. It's starting to get a little crowded here. We spent most of the day aboard doing unpleasant but necessary boat things. Meh...

The Day After That

We were up early again for another try with the mantas. Again they were late, although there were more of them this time. There were also WAY more of us. ALL of the dinghies showed up, which gave the place the instant feel of being overrun by too many tourists, we could hardly blame the mantas for not showing up.


We kept our visit short and headed back to Begonia via all of our new neighbors, which ate up most of the rest of the afternoon. The newest arrival was Duplicat, who we had first encountered in Fakarava. Rick is an IT guy with lots of knowledge (like Maryanne) and we were able to exchange problems back and forth. A fresh set of eyes can be very helpful in sorting things out.

Word came down that there was another potluck planned for the next night. Oh, boy! Our social schedule way out here is way busier than it is when we're in a city.

Just before the potluck started, a medium- sized military boat showed up. It was Samoan and marked “POLICE”. There were around twenty aboard. They came ashore and explained to Harry that they were rendezvousing with another boat who was to bring them some fuel. He was trying to appear good-natured about it, but was clearly pretty annoyed at never being given notice of such visits. He kept apologizing to us for the disruption to the pot luck and pacing around looking anxious. We weren't bothered. The Samoans were all nice guys and seemed to make a point of staying just long enough for introductions before returning to their boat for the evening.

Two of the boats in the anchorage had cleared out and were planning on leaving the next day. Harry wished them a safe voyage with a traditional chant from the northern Cooks and then he even persuaded shy Katu to do a Haka from the south as a farewell. That was pretty cool.

There were twenty-three of us on the remaining seven boats, which made for lots of variety. We ended up with way more food than anybody could finish. The remainder was put into bowls For Harry and Katu to keep them going until the next one.

In the morning, the Samoans were much more in evidence. Some did laundry, others hung out on the beach and the rest foraged for coconuts. We were particularly impressed with how they weaved big baskets from the fronds at hand to carry their haul. Rumor was they would be staying another night for their rendezvous.

We took a slow day off the island snorkeling and visiting other boats, including Capistrano, who had decided to wait one more day before leaving. Ted, the seventy-nine year old Captain, designer and builder of the boat was kind enough to give us a tour and regale us with stories of his two-plus circumnavigations. We were amazed. His fifteen year-old boat looks like he was delivering it home from the factory.

The departing boats were just pulling up anchor when we surfaced the next morning. The Samoan Police boat was also gone. Harry later told us their orders had changed and they left at first light.

I rigged the sailing kit for the Pudgy and we decided to sail over to the manta cleaning station for another try. We had the usual spotty attendance, so after staying a short while, we put the sails up and headed home. Since we were under sail and not using the motor, we took the long way on a meandering route meant to cover most of the local 'sights'.

Just before we got back into the anchorage, we crossed paths with Duplicat, who had just pulled up anchor and was motoring toward the pass. Just before they would have had to give way to us (power gives way to sail), we tacked and sailed alongside, waving and yelling, “Bon Voyage!” The pudgy was outmatched and we quickly lost that race. We tacked again and headed home.

At Begonia, we switched to oars and rowed ashore. Katu said that one of the other boats had cleared out and wanted to have ANOTHER potluck tonight. Fine, we'll go home and whip something up. I was kind of hoping to get to bed at a reasonable hour, but that was off. Harry hadn't had a chance to go fishing since the previous one, so Katu grilled up some fish from another boat's freezer. Perhaps it's time to ease up on the potlucks for a while.

Fight!

Maryanne wanted to return to the mooring ball at the manta cleaning station again. Instead of swimming over the bommie at the mooring, she had the idea to swim across a deep channel to a large shallow area a few hundred meters behind. Jackpot! There were mantas everywhere, shuttling back and forth across the bank. We often would see six or seven at a time, but their different markings indicated there may have been fifteen or twenty in the general area. The bank was also shallower than the one by the mooring, so it was a lot easier to get up close without having to dive too deep. It was marvelous! We spent the rest of the morning there with them.


Some awesome Manta Time

We dropped the dinghy off at Begonia and did a long, sweeping snorkel of coral in the anchorage. Along the way, I spotted a Crown of Thorns sea star. This intimidating looking creature is beautiful, but it is also considered invasive, as large populations can decimate coral like locusts. Katu told me one of their ranger duties is to keep records of any found and then dispatch them before they can do any more harm. He said the best way to deal with them is to swim them to a sandy, shallow spot where they would succumb to overexposure to the sun.


Being the well-meaning good citizen that I am, I found a nice long piece of dead coral and pried it off of it's live coral prey. With it clinging to the end of my 'stick' as a thorny ball, I swam for shallow water. After boring of it's defensive ball posture, the star decided to climb down the stick toward me. Fortunately, they're slow, so I had some time, but I was now in a race to get rid of it before it got to me. Oh, did I mention that the Crown of Thorns is one of only two varieties of poisonous stars?

Just as I was about to fling both it and the stick into the sand, it got me. It pushed one of its thorns into my finger near the end of the nail and drove it in until the tip had nearly reached the knuckle. For good measure, I think it also stung me with one of its venomous feet. The pain was quite debilitating for a moment, but I soon regained my composure and we resumed our snorkeling, squeezing my left arm against my chest with the good right one. This seemed to keep the throbbing down.

Maryanne arrived with a much bigger branch of dead coral. We picked up the star again and batted it hockey-style to a spot sufficiently sunny and far from food to improve the chances that the battle would ultimately be won by us. I was in a lot of pain, but it did only seem fair considering my intent. Good on ya, spiky thing, but ow!

I toughed it out for a little while longer. Before we got to the beach, I had to admit to Maryanne that I thought it would be best if we made a beeline to the boat now. When we got there, she removed the spike, which was way longer than I had expected at the time and then cleaned it and covered it with antiseptic cream, etc.

We then went ashore for a circumnavigation walk around Anchorage island, the highlight of which was finding the nests of two placid boobies. They were juveniles, already in their new adult plumage, but they hadn't fledged yet. We were worried we would scare them into making their first leap from the safety of their nests at our approach, but they seemed as curious about us as we were of them.



We ran into the others at the beach (all of 'em). They all had decided not to depart today after all, but were going to wait until tomorrow. Could we meet on the beach later for sundowners? Sure, why not? This was at least easier; a potluck with no food.

We were getting pretty low on sundowner-on-the-beach supplies. The last two of our cold beers had disappeared at the first potluck. Cocktails were too complicated and the only wine we had left was a box of truly awful rose that we had been slowly choking our way through. There was something wrong with that wine. We think it may have spent too many hours on the dock in the sun between leaving the supply ship and being taken to the store. It was at least partially vinager-ized. We seemed to have three, maybe four glasses left in the bag, so we took that as our supply. We would be happy to be rid of it once and for all and I figured the taste would keep us from going through it too quickly.

That was the plan, anyway. What happened was Maryanne poured herself half a glass, took one taste and then just sat there holding it the rest of the night. I would take a couple of big gulps of mine, choking it down like cough medicine, looking forward to being through my share. Maryanne would top me up when I wasn't looking. Later, when I would see her glass fuller than mine, I assumed she had topped it up and that I wasn't pulling my weight, so I would bring mine up to the same level as hers. Damn those wine bags! It's so hard to keep track of the level. In this way, Maryanne had half a glass (half of which she poured into mine to get rid of it) and I had the rest.

I was okay for a while and then suddenly I was not. Not eating lunch wasn't helping either.

We made our excuses and then headed back to Begonia, which essentially broke up the party. When we got there, I was NOT feeling good and collapsed into bed with a minimum of preamble.

In the morning, I felt awful. I had hangover symptoms as expected, but mostly I just felt exhausted. It took me an hour just to muster the strength to roll over. When I did, not just my punctured finger, but my whole arm protested with stabbing pain. I felt around and all of the nodes up my arm felt like they were swollen to almost bursting. That ain't good.

I managed to get up for a few minutes, but just standing there made me feel like I was sprinting. I collapsed into a lump in the cockpit, where I didn't move for a couple of hours. At some point, I noticed my heart was pounding. I could see my watch so I took my pulse. It was 128 beats per minute. I hadn't moved anything except my heart, diaphragm and eyelids for two hours. Usually it's in the low 60s at such a time. I ordinarily need to break into a slow run to get a heart rate that high.

It seemed to be time to admit that maybe we were dealing with something more serious than a puncture wound. It seemed my body was trying to fight a more serious infection. Maryanne did a bit of research and soon produced a course of antibiotics from our medical kit. She also found out that some of the symptoms of Crown of Thorns venom include weakness and dizziness. Not only that, but alcohol thins the blood and speeds up delivery of the poison. Bad, bad and bad.

Apart from two five-minute periods where I sat halfway up, I spent the rest of the day doing my best impersonation of our floor mat. The other two boats in the anchorage left mid-afternoon, but I was too listless to take much notice. By the time I gave up feeling human and went to bed, my heart rate had fallen to ninety. The next morning, it was seventy and I felt only a little tired. I really wanted to spring back into action, but sensibly spent the day resting again, which we agreed was probably the best thing.

Feeling Better

Day three after being stung, I was down to having a really swollen finger and a sore arm below the elbow. I decided these were not things I would be needing much that day so we headed to Maryanne's Manta Spot in the morning, followed by a trip ashore to let Harry and Katu know we hadn't been trying to ignore them. They said they figured we needed a rest after all of the social activity as I'm sure they did as well.

It was low tide, so Maryanne and I took a walk along the fringing reef to adjacent Whale Island to see the nesting birds there. The water was ankle-deep. Maryanne stayed near the breakers, while I followed the inside edge looking for the spot where we left “my” Crown of Thorns. I couldn't find it.


Birds on Suwarrow

The inrush of lots of cool water over the reef from the deep sea made for some stunning variety and color of coral. Inside the lagoon, maybe only 20-40% of the coral surface is alive. Here, it was above 90%. It was difficult to pick our way through while treading only on either dead coral or sand. That was very good to see.

When we got back to Anchorage Island, we took a walk around its perimeter at the edge of the reef as well. The stuff near the pass was also over 90% living. Along the way, we kept surprising Reticulated Moray Eels. Maryanne spotted two in a vicious looking fight. Another one fled from me and tried to take shelter under one of her shoes. I can confirm that she can scream like a girl.


Eels abound in the shallows

Fun Overexposure

It was time to stop goofing around and get some chores done.

We had been leaving it too long, but now it was time to go ashore with a big ol' bag of laundry and our best bucket.

Anchorage has a backup cistern that isn't part of their drinking supply that is tucked a short walk into the jungle. We were told we were welcome to use the water if we needed to do any washing. When we got ashore, Katu changed the story and told us we were welcome to his much more convenient 40-gallon barrel of rainwater at their compound. He then sweetened the deal by offering us the use of his big tin wash basin.

Katu also told us he had gone snorkeling early that morning. He said he found a Crown of Thorns and from his description of the location, it sounded like the same one.

I was feeling back to normal again, apart from my finger, which was at the peak of multicolored gruesomeness.

The laundry was horrible, sweaty work in the midday heat, but we kept ourselves in good cheer by reminding ourselves that at least it wasn't costing us $30 a load like the last batch.


Exploring and Laundry - an odd mix of fun

We took our wet laundry home and then dressed Begonia for what appeared to be a weird and sad parade. It was plenty windy and for the first time since we arrived, we had no afternoon showers. By sunset, everything was dry and smelled of sunshine and clean air that hadn't seen a city for at least a thousand miles. Those pillows were so nice to lay our heads on.

The Crowds are Back

I climbed out of bed to find another catamaran milling around looking for a place to drop anchor. He eventually picked a spot right by us. I guess with only us there, it's hard to judge the size of the anchorage. It turned out to be Hans Peter, a Swiss singlehander who has lived in New Zealand for a while. He built his boat himself. We invited him over for dinner and we got to hear his whole interesting story. He took the long way, leaving from the Baltic and rounding Cape Horn. He told us a lot about Chile and pretty much convinced us not to go as far as the Horn, even though we think he was trying to do the opposite.

Three more boats also showed up that day. We spotted them coming in when we were over at the manta spot and made a point of stopping by each on our way home and saying hi and giving them the lowdown on what's to do. One of them hinted that there were another couple of boats on the way.

Sensing that there was no way seven boats would be able to be in the anchorage without having a potluck as a way of getting to know the group, Maryanne took charge and floated the idea to Harry and Katu for the next evening. It would have been a whole week by then and they were all for it. Harry said he would go out the next day and catch some fish. He has to go all the way out of the pass and into deep water to do so, since there's no fishing allowed inside the lagoon. I'm sure he might enjoy a chance to get out, but it's no minor task for him. We're very grateful.

We took a morning row ashore to have a walk and forage for some coconuts. As we emerged from the trail onto the beach on the pass side of the island, we could see a sail approaching on the horizon. Harry and Katu went out to meet them, and then another appeared and then yet another. By the time they were done clearing in the last boat, a Norwegian singlehander named Harold, it was too late to go fishing. Fortunately, one of the new arrivals had caught way too much the night before and was looking for a use for it. Problem solved!

Unlike the previous potlucks, everyone was pretty punctual and we actually managed to get all of the cooking done before it got dark, which was way easier than trying to do it by headlamp. It was a great crowd.

We were particularly taken with Harold. He hadn't planned to stop in Suwarrow and was all smiles and amazement at the place. His circumnavigation so far has taken a very long path. From Norway, he sailed west to North America via Greenland. He then sailed down the east coast and then to the Panama Canal. From there, he went counterclockwise all of the way around South America and then through the Panama Canal again. Then he went up the west coast to Alaska before sailing to Hawai'i and then heading south to us. He had stories of staying with the Inuit and being robbed at gunpoint in Rio, where they left him tied to the mast while they fled. Jeez!

It was still a pretty reasonable hour when the crowd dispersed. We were glad for the extra rest. We were planning on leaving the next morning and knew we would have to get up early to get ready. Since we had to go ashore for the potluck, we weren't able to get the dinghy into lifeboat mode ahead of time as usual.