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.
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.
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?”
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!