Sunday, September 23, 2018

Passage to Tonga

[Kyle]Since we were at a mooring ball in Niue, all we had to do to leave was untie the lines and we were freely drifting in the ocean. We hadn’t needed the engines since repositioning closer to Ganesh back at Beveridge Reef (weeks prior).

The wind blew Begonia backwards. I put the helm over to one side to slew her sideways, then Maryanne unrolled the jib, cranked it in to make it bite, and we were off. What a lovely, peaceful departure – no noise, no fumes, just Niue slowly slipping behind.

We had two days of nice, strong winds from almost dead astern, which would have been perfect if there hadn’t been an annoying cross sea coming in from the north and tossing us around a bit. We curved north of the direct line in anticipation of a wind shift that was predicted for the morning of our arrival. I was really hoping to avoid any upwind unpleasantness.

My plan was working beautifully until 0210 on the third day. I was sitting at the computer, looking at the new weather forecasts when the jib started luffing. I went outside to find us heading directly into the wind and slowing rapidly. The rudders were losing their effectiveness and the autopilot was freaking out trying to keep us pointed a direction we could no longer go.

I shut it off and spun the wheel to get air back into the sails, but with the current also against us, we were now heading ninety degrees from where we wanted to go. Eighty-nine would have been better. I tacked and had the same problem on the other side of the wind. Suspecting the wind shift was due to a short lived squall, I gave up and hove-to in order to wait it out. That didn’t work either, because the wind was going crazy and shifting around faster than the boat reacted, so half of the time we were hove to and the other half, we had full sail pulling us fast in the wrong direction.

Maryanne took over and I was glad to hand my problems over to her. As I was falling asleep, I did a little calculating in my head and realized our only chance of getting into Tonga the same day was to start an engine now. We tried each tack again, as the little bit of speed the engine provides can often give us another knot and allow us to point ten degrees further upwind. That didn’t work, either, so we eventually ended up stowing all sail and just motoring the rest of the way.

We made it to the Customs dock right at the end of civil twilight, just as it was starting to get really dark. We had expected to have to raft up to all of the others that had left Niue before us on the same day we did, but we were the only other boat there. We suspected the others had been a bent the rules and anchored out on the way in (making our arrival much easier). They all mysteriously arrived as we were pulling away after clearing in the following morning.

We're back in Tonga!

Friday, September 21, 2018

Niue - 'The Rock'

[Kyle]In Niue again, after all of that time and all of those miles, it felt like we had only been gone a week. We cycled, and rented a car, snorkeled and generally relaxed. Occasionally we hitchhiked (or people would just pick us up if we looked lost), it was easy to get around. It didn’t take us long to revisit all of our old favorites: Limu Pools, the Talava Arches, Togo and Anapala Chasms and one trip to almost all of the island’s restaurants.

Back in Niue!

A few things had changed. The yacht club lost their space, so they have no physical presence. Mooring fees are paid to Harry at Gill’s Indian restaurant. In only his first week, Harry shows signs that he may well regret having volunteered for the duty. He makes the best Indian food on the island, though. The grocery and liquor stores moved into Zebignew building in the middle of the island, which is way nicer than the old one by the wharf, but way less convenient. Getting there requires renting a car or hitchhiking and buying enough stuff to convince them to give you a ride back. Bummer.

Cycling about warranted a fancy cocktail to aid recovery
And we shared a little time with some of the locals (Jeremiah and Enez)

At Limu Pools, we met a really nice local couple who we liked so much, we invited them to the boat the next morning. Neither of them had been on a sailboat. They had a million questions and it was nice to remember what it was like when it was all new and strange for us.

Talava Arches

Togo Chasm, and the Freshwater Anapala Chasm

Some snorkelling fun - Kyle has a baby octopus on his wrist
(he found it in our speed wheel)

At the parking lot at Togo Chasm, Maryanne went to check out a piece of litter someone hadn’t bothered to put in the nearby bin. It turned out to contain two tiny abandoned kittens. They were Silver Tabbies no more than a week old. We stopped at the first house in the next village that looked like it had activity. We were hoping to find directions to a shelter or the Wildlife Agency. A woman reluctantly opened the door for us just before we were about to give up. I think she thought we were going to try to sell her something. When we showed her what was in the box and explained the situation, she offered to look after them herself. She had a little boy of about seven who got a peek in the box and from the look on his face, he was going to make sure his mom took care of his adorable new kittens. If only we didn’t have all of the international quarantine problems, we would have adopted them ourselves. They are going to be so cute in a few weeks when they get old enough to be clumsy, jumping balls of fluff.

We also managed to get in a visit to the Washaway Café, which is only open on Sundays. They have a great location, delicious food and a self-serve honor bar, where you can just go back and get whatever you want. Just write it in the little book on the bar when you do.

This year, mostly at Maryanne’s insistence, we went for a whale watching tour. We balked at the price last year, but ended up regretting it. Everybody we knew that went came back beaming with the excitement of their encounters. She went out twice with Oma Tafua (Niue’s local whale watching research organization) on their volunteer research boat in 2017, but had no luck then either. She was determined to do all she could to get an actual whale encounter this year.

We signed up with Magical Niue Adventures and promised each other not to think about the price. Once it was spent, it was gone and there was no use worrying about it. The fact that our visit coincided with Maryanne’s birthday helped to justify the expense, and Maryanne suggested that if I objected to the cost we’d save money if she went alone… Naturally we both went. {Maryanne: The price really was reasonable, $175NZ each, but just way more than we’re used to paying for the treats along our travels}.

We met Magical Niue Adventures at the pier at first light. We spent the whole morning searching and searching, but we found no hint of whales. The Spinner Dolphins that the tour often gets to swim with also seemed to be off of the island, so our guides took us to a few nice spots for snorkeling, including one really cool chasm near the mooring field that we totally missed.

It was hard not to be bummed out about forking over a bunch of dough to go snorkeling. We always knew we might not get lucky. It’s real nature, not a zoo, after all. We tried to imagine how many thousands or tens of thousands we have saved by snorkeling without guides all of this time. That only helped a little. The next morning, we swam from Begonia to the chasm (The Belly of the Whale) and made a point of lingering to get our money’s worth.

After settling up and eating a last meal at Gills, we cleared out of Niue and returned to Begonia to get ready for the passage to Tonga. As I was about to hoist the dinghy, Rami, the owner of Magical Niue, raced over in his big, orange dive boat. He said he just spotted some whales and told us to get in.

We evacuated Begonia. The hatches were open. The dinghy was under the davits. I didn’t find out until we got back that Maryanne had actually managed to shut the main door before we left. On the boat were Rami, two guides from his staff and us. We had an impromptu private tour!

After a little searching, they relocated the pair they had sighted before. We thought they were moving, so we went ahead after their last dive to have them intercept us (there are strict rules for approaching whales). When the whales resurfaced, they hadn’t moved. We went back. Mindy, the guide, went in and found them. When she gave the thumbs up, everybody but Rami went in.

When we first saw the whales, they were so deep that all we could see was a little bit of contrast between their dark bodies and the white leading edges on their pectoral fins and their flukes. They weren’t moving fast and if Mindy hadn’t pointed them out, I would have thought we were looking at strips of sand.

Then they slowly, imperceptibly surfaced. The contrast improved and slowly the strips of sand resolved into two giant whales. Actually, for whales, they were normal sized, but they were by far the biggest things with which we’d ever swam. They pirouetted around one other in a big helix, gently caressing each other with their long fins. They seemed quite aware and unconcerned that we were at the surface watching them. We had to back out of the way to let them surface. They leveled off and gently broke the surface just enough to get their blowholes above the waves. I’ve never seen the below water part before. It’s big. Then they pumped their flukes and effortlessly pulled ahead of us.

Just after we lost sight of them, we spotted them circling back to us. It was as if they were saying “Why didn’t you follow”. Yay! They did some more showing off for us and even did a few fin and fluke slaps for us. Then they started to get a little bit breech-y and Mindy had us back off. You do not want to have a boisterous whale land on you.

We returned to the boat and shadowed them for a bit. When they calmed down, we went back in with them and got to spend the few minutes before sunset just hanging out with them. Then they effortlessly pulled away and went wherever whales go at night. Back in the boat again, Rami raced us back to Begonia so he could get the dive boat out of the water before it got really dark.

We're finally in the water with Humpback Whales!

Wow! We had gone ashore for the last time and were less than 20 hours from leaving and we finally saw whales! All of it was because Rami was kind enough to speed over at the end of the day and collect us on his own time. We couldn’t thank him enough.

We found out where those whales went. At 0330, I was in a brief period of wakefulness when I heard a very large spout right next to our berth through the open hatch above our heads. Then there was the dripping of water, presumably off of the flukes and then the gurgling sound of the water closing in behind.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Passage to Niue

[Kyle]The sail from Beveridge to Niue was exactly the way we would like every passage to be. We had medium-ish tailwinds and following seas. We flew our spinnaker the whole way, only dousing it and switching to the jib at the very end. I wanted more control over our speed, since it’s possible to roll it up to reduce its size. This allowed us to ghost our way into the mooring field at Alofi Harbor and pick up a mooring without using the engines. We coasted to a stop about half a meter too far from our first one so we fell off, picked up speed, tacked, and came back for a successful second try. We called Niue Radio and reported our arrival and were told to report ashore the next morning for clearance. We were back in one of our favorite places.

Another South Pacific Passage - this time to Niue

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Chilling in Beveridge Reef

[Kyle]Once we were safely anchored at Beveridge Reef, and settled in, we called Ganesh for a longer chat. We invited Fatty and Carolyn to dinner the next evening. Even though we ended up anchored just over a mile away from them, they offered to make the trip in their dinghy so that we would not have to go through the trouble of de-lifeboatifying ours.

Life at Beveridge Reef
Visitors, Chores, and Snorkeling

As I said before, we have been admirers of Fatty’s writing for a long time. Over the years, I’ve secretly been hoping we would find ourselves in the same place one day. They were in Greece the same time we were, but by the time we found out, we were in Italy and they had rushed ahead all of the way to Spain. Years later, I was in Chicago stuck in some horrible weather waiting for Air Traffic Control to let me take off and fly to some other equally bleak place when Maryanne texted me a photo of Fatty with his arm around her at the boat show in Oakland. Damn! By then, our boats were pretty much at opposite longitudes from one another, so our chances of ever meeting them became very slim. Once we took a whole year to make the big South Pacific loop, they were able to catch up to us. We saw them on the AIS in Huahine just as we left, but we were leaving, so maybe some other time.

The time had finally come. They arrived all dressed up and wearing broad smiles. We invited them aboard and within no time at all, we were laughing and swapping sea stories. Not only have they got a million of them, but they were also good listeners who seemed genuinely interested in hearing about the long, meandering path that had brought us into the same lagoon with them.

I told Fatty I had a bone to pick with him. He put on his patient and understanding face and braced for it. He gets a lot of angry letters to the editor from people who don’t get him.

”Back when we used to get your magazine,” I said, “I’d read your column and you almost always made me cry, you jerk!” I’m sentimental.

His face opened into a wide grin. “Finally! That’s what I was trying for!”

So there I was, sitting at lunch on our boat with a beaming Cap’n Fatty. I couldn’t have been more pleased if Bill Bryson sat next to me on a train and asked if I’d help him with the crossword.

The day went by much too quickly and we were soon parting so that they would have time to return to Ganesh in daylight.

The next two days were too windy for any of us to even consider leaving our own boats. Maryanne and I used the time to sleep in, watch movies and get a few jobs done on Begonia. My first priority, of course, was to figure out what had gone wrong with our windlass when we left Suwarrow. The relay box clicked when the buttons were pressed, but the motor wouldn’t turn at all. The event seemed too quick to have burned out the motor and it was way too new for the brushes inside to be worn out already. It was acting like either a fuse had blown or the gearbox was jammed. I had a vague memory of some sort of cutoff labeled “Windlass”, but couldn’t find anything. The vexing thing was the click. If power was getting to the relay box, there was probably not a blown fuse. We have several layers of fusing in our electrical system and most would have caused other things to fail, all of which were working.

That left the gearbox. In order to test that, I had to remove the whole windlass so I could get the cover off of the electric motor and disconnect that. Once that was done, I was able to determine there was nothing wrong with the gear box. Okay. Next, I disassembled the electric motor, found that it still looks brand new and put it back together. When I tested it, it still wouldn’t work so I did it all again for good measure with the same result. Weird. I then wired both it and the spare motor from our old windlass directly to the batteries and discovered they both work fine.

That left me with no other alternative than work my way through the entire electrical system all of the way between the batteries and the windlass motor. This meant we had to tear apart the boat and empty lockers so I could wriggle my way into the deep, dark innards of the boat with our multimeter to trace the problem. I swear, every time I do this, I think I will be too old for it in another week’s time.

At great length, I learned a couple of interesting things. First was that the power to the windlass control uses a completely independent circuit than the power that goes to the motor. That’s why the relay clicks even when there’s no power to go through it to the motor. Second was that our port motor does NOT actually have to be running for the windlass controls to be activated as I have thought for years, the switch just has to be on. That saved a lot of fuel doing the diagnoses.

Eventually, I figured out it couldn’t be anything except the power over the big wires from the battery to the windlass motor. I was hunched over the batteries, diligently tracing every wire attached to each and looking for a fuse I may have missed when I saw it: the windlass circuit breaker. It was off.

I look at that thing every time we use the engines, but since it has never tripped, I guess I stopped seeing it and started thinking it as part of the wallpaper, so to speak. I flipped it back on and, sure enough, everything worked just fine. At least I learned a lot and now our electrical system has had a good inspection. Groan.

We took a few breaks to go snorkelling
That last picture is an octopus (another highlight for Kyle)

Fatty called and said he was having the same symptoms with his windlass. I tried to save him the same trouble I had by going through what I learned over the radio. After a while, he called back and said his motor was bad. Our spare motor is a little less powerful, but it was from the same manufacturer and looked like it would fit their windlass, so we offered it to them, at least until they could get a proper replacement. With ours up and working again, we upped anchor and moved closer to them to shorten the transit distance. By the time we were settled in, Fatty said theirs was fixed. Their motor was old and dirty and had been overdue for a good refurbishing. Once it was polished up, it was like new again.

The howling winds of the previous few days started to abate and they called to invite us to dinner aboard Ganesh the next day. Wow, she is really lovely and well appointed for this type of cruising. Even though they probably have about as much interior space as we do, Ganesh seemed much less cluttered. They are on their fourth circumnavigation and their boat is also their only home, but you couldn’t tell by the clutter. They even have room for bulkhead art and little knick-knacks as souvenirs of their travels.

We had another rousing evening that passed too quickly. At the end Fatty and Carolyn both signed our dog-eared copy of “Chasing the Horizon” and gifted us a copy of his book “Red Sea Run” about their trip through Pirate Alley to the Med. We learned why we had missed them in Greece and why they had gone that way in the first place instead of going around South Africa as usual; they were rushing to Spain to attend the birth of their granddaughter. Their stories of both routes sound harrowing, but I think we are still very much favoring the southern route.

In the morning, they called us early and surprised us to say they were leaving. I popped my head out into the cockpit and could see them heading toward the pass, already with sail up. We wished them farewell and watched as they slowly receded over the western horizon. They were heading for Tonga.

That left Begonia as the Royal Palace for both North and South Beveridge. We stayed for another week. Apart from one other boat that arrived to swim the pass and then left again the same day as Ganesh without saying a word, we neither saw nor heard anyone else.