13 – Niue Passage

Passage to Niue, Day 1

Miles traveled day 1: 109
Miles traveled total: 109
Miles left to Niue: 957

On Tuesday we finally cast off the buoy at the Bora Bora Yacht Club, went to town and provisioned, then left behind one last chunk of money at Bloody Mary’s having lunch. Wednesday morning we put things away, packed up the last of the groceries, and got us and the boat ready for our first long passage in months. It’s just over 1,000 nautical miles from Bora Bora to Niue on a southwest heading. When we left yesterday we headed northwest in very light winds, sailing with the wind on our beam to keep the sails full and move as quickly as possible north. There are remnants of a system south of us that we’re trying to scoot over the top of. We’ve turned southwest this afternoon and are now headed at Niue.

There’s no guarantee we’ll get to make landfall at Niue when we get there, but that’s where we’re hoping to stop. The weather south near Rarotonga has been too stinky so we’re going to skip even an attempt at a stop there. The harbor is small and completely exposed to any passing northerly winds, which we’ve had a lot of lately. So we’ll hope the weather is settled enough at Niue for a stop and a little exploration. The diving there is reported to be spectacular, with exceptional visibility and lots of marine life. There is no harbor, though, just a bunch of buoys on the northwest side in 100′ of water. So if a northerly blows, people reportedly either just leave or go around the other side of the island and heave to and wait for the weather to settle. After a 10 day passage we’ll hope there’s no waiting for a buoy. The next jump to Tonga is only another couple of days from there.

Right now we’re slogging along in light winds, which we expect to get through this afternoon or evening. Friends 350 miles ahead of us right now are sailing in 20-28 knots. We’d be happy with halfway between the 10 we have and the 25 they have, but we’re committed now and just have to take what we get. We’re hopeful this will be a nicer passage than the ones we made after we reached the Marquesas.

Today on Yohelah we’re getting our sea legs back and hoping for a smooth ride west….

The boat is here

13 - Niue Passage

Passages Are Like ….

Miles traveled day 2: 99
Miles traveled day 3: 118
Miles traveled day 4: 156
Miles traveled total: 482
Miles left to Niue: 598

I’ve been trying to figure out what it is with passages and how to understand them. We’ve had pretty good luck and basically enjoyed our passages right up until we made landfall in the Marquesas. Since then I’ve been pretty challenged to come up with something good to say while we’re on passage, and may even have broken our strict “no whining” in the blog mandate. The first four days of this passage have again made writing without whining difficult. Every day has been different from the previous one, but they are getting better. As a matter of fact we’re having a marvelous sail right now. Bouncy, but mostly marvelous and making good time in the intended direction.

About day 2 I had a little realization that maybe you can’t just define a passage as one thing. Sometimes a passage is going to have lots of different personalities. So I thought maybe Passages Are Like Relatives. There are days when you feel like you’re back at Crazy Aunt Sally’s on Thanksgiving, and there are days when you’re sitting in the sun on the deck at Ray’s Boathouse having lunch with your sister. You can’t pick ’em, you just get what you get. But that’s not entirely true – we could have waited another week or month to try and get a perfect weather window for this passage. But with a 10 day passage and no way to forecast accurately further out than 5 days, you can’t really pick a perfect passage.

Then I thought maybe Passages Are Like Cliches. It is what it is. But in the end, I realized that Passages Are Like Forrest Gump’s Box Of Chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.

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Niue Passage Day 5

Miles traveled day 5: 128
Miles traveled total: 610
Miles left to Niue: 474

We continue to make pretty good time on the way to Niue. The weather has eased considerably and as I look at the weather charts I see no more fronts between us and our destination. When we left Bora Bora we had reasonably good weather, but it was pretty stinky south towards the Southern Cook Islands. So we headed north to give us a little breathing room. It turned out to be a good decision. Friends of ours who left a few days ahead of us and headed directly southwest reported 30 hours of winds with gusts to 40.

Our first night out the winds died and we motorsailed until the next morning when we met our first front (actually, I think it was a convergence zone). The winds howled and it poured rain all day long. We sailed with a reefed main only and made not such great progress. That night we were between fronts and the wind died and we motorsailed again. I could actually see both fronts on the weather chart and knew we’d be heading back into it again. Sure enough the next morning brought strong winds and rain again all day. The seas were a huge mess, with big swells and troughs about 15′ deep just aft of our beam. Luckily, just before dark the winds eased and we rolled some jib back out and have had a lovely sail ever since then.

Right now the skies are mostly sunny and we have about 15 knots of wind off our port stern quarter. We have out a reefed main and full jib and are making about 5 knots. The seas have settled considerably and we have a pretty quiet ride right now. And the forecast is calling for more of the same of this as we get closer to Niue. It’s still blowing 25 there, so we may encounter some stronger winds as we approach, but actually with it behind us we’re better off with 20 than 15.

We’re scheduled for a Friday arrival at the pace we’re making, but the winds are forecast to still be blowing from the northeast when we get there, so we may have to slow down (rats) and not arrive until Saturday. Niue has no protected harbor. The main town is on the leeward side of the island (northwest), in a little indent that you really can’t even call a bay. There are a dozen or so mooring buoys that are in 100+’ of water. The island is just a big rock that essentially comes straight up out of the ocean. I’ll post more info on Niue after we get there and checked in.

The boat is here

13 - Niue Passage

Niue Passage Day 6

Miles traveled day 5: 129
Miles traveled total: 739
Miles left to Niue: 348

Today’s lesson is that if the weather is settled and you’re going to need to cook you should do it now and not wait until tomorrow. Yesterday was an absolutely blissful day of sailing, with winds behind us and flat seas. I had pre-cooked and frozen meals for 6 days and needed 8, but just was enjoying the calm yesterday so much I didn’t feel like cooking. About 1:30 last night the wind piped up strong and shifted further to the east. Suddenly the seas were lumpy and confused and we started rolling like mad. Today we continue rolling around in big lumpy seas. They’ve settled and are less confused, but are about 3 meters high. We tried turning downwind and putting them behind us while I cooked but it didn’t help too much. I think I’m going to write to the Olympic Organizing Committee and suggest that cooking while on passage be added as an Olympic sport.

Bored Maya

Besides that all is well. Maya is bored to tears. We should be in Niue late morning Friday, and the weather forecast is changing in our favor. It was supposed to turn back to a southeasterly on Saturday, and that’s moved up to Friday night now. So hopefully it’ll keep moving up and there’ll be a nice quiet calm anchorage when we arrive. Our friends Marcy & David on Nine of Cups are on their way from Suwarrow and should arrive on Friday also.

13 - Niue Passage

Niue Passage Day 7

Miles traveled day 6: 131
Miles traveled total: 870
Miles left to Niue: 220

It suddenly occurred to me last night when Rob woke me up for my 5:00 watch that our watch schedule is so not in my favor. All this time I thought Rob had it really tough on watches because he has the 2:00 am to 5:00 am watch, and by the time he goes to bed at 5:00 am he’s only had 3 hours sleep (from 11:00 pm to 2:00 am). But what I finally realized (and it only took me three years to figure this one out) is that I get woken up twice every night, and he only gets woken up once! It’s like I’ve done twice as many night watches as he has, because getting out of the bunk and back outside is really the hardest part. And once I’m up for the 5:00 watch I just let him sleep until he wakes up, which is usually sometime before 9:00 am.

The reason I realized it last night is because for the first time since we left Northern California, we’re fully dressed in foulies, fleece and all, and it takes a long time to get all that gear on and off twice every night. I’m amazed how cold it’s getting at night, and we’re not that far south yet. We’re only at 18 degrees south, which in Mexico terms is the Gold Coast (Barra de Navidad and Tenicatita), where it was plenty warm at night. Here and now, however, we’re in the dead of winter and there is absolutely nothing between us and Antarctica to warm up this southeasterly wind.

We continue to have a lovely sail – bouncy but lovely. The wind is scheduled to clock around to the northeast this afternoon, which will be interesting with the southeast swell we always have coming from the southern ocean. But we only have two days left, so it should be bearable. And maybe the northeasterly wind waves will flatten the southeast swell a bit and give us a quieter ride.

The weather forecast continues to improve for our visit to Niue. We’ve made contact with the guy in charge of the buoys there and he thinks the weather will be fine to pick up a mooring mid day Friday. We’ve heard from other folks there recently that the whales are there at the island and you can practically hop overboard and go for a swim with them. Don’t really know if that’s on my need-to-do list, but it will be nice to see some whales. And we’re told that there is “a big Village day here on Saturday as well as an ear piercing ceremony. Never a dull moment.” We’ll see what that’s like on Saturday.

13 - Niue Passage

Niue Passage Day 8

Miles traveled day 8: 122
Miles traveled total: 992
Miles left to Niue: 107

We’re just about to put this passage behind us, with just over 100 miles to go. We’ve slowed down significantly because we need to arrive during daylight. We realized a couple of days ago we couldn’t guarantee going fast enough to make it Thursday night because the winds were going to ease, which they have, so we’ve slowed down. At night we like to keep the jib out as much as possible to steady the boat so it’s easier for the off-watch to sleep, so right now we have no jib out at all and we’re poking along (or rolling along should I say) at 3.2 knots. We’ll speed back up after dark, timing our arrival to pick up a buoy right after daybreak tomorrow. The weather has continued in our favor and the winds should be fine for an early morning arrival.

The water temp has increased and is back up to 75, which is very good. It had dropped down to 72 for a while, which helps keep the freezer cold (we have a keel cooler), which helps with power consumption while on passage. But 72 is not so good for diving when we get there. One thing we need to add to our supplies is a pair of wetsuits. When we left we thought we wouldn’t want to dive in places where the water was too cold for our noeprene skins, but that’s not necessarily true. Hopefully there’s a dive shop on Niue with some wetsuits to rent if the water stays cold. My travel guide pre-dates the last hurricane that nearly flattened Niue, so I don’t know which of the services that they list have been reopened since they picked up the pieces after the big blow (I think it was about 3 or 4 years ago).

We had a big event this morning when the wind did turn far enough to the northeast that we had to gybe the sails. That’s the first time we’ve done anything besides roll the jib in and out in 8 days. All is quiet now, as we’re just waiting out the day reading some books and looking forward to the last night watch of the passage.

13 - Niue Passage

The Bora Bora to Niue Passage

This was an interesting passage. As a friend currently in the Caribbean recently wrote us, we haven’t been having a lot of fun on South Pacific passages recently. With some twists, this one seems to have changed our luck.

Sitting in Bora Bora looking at the weather, we were all dismayed at the procession of lows and fronts coming at us from the west. Some friends of ours left four days before us, a few boats the day before, and some others were still dubious of the weather when we left. We looked at a passage forecast straight to Niue and another heading north toward Suwarrow then turning south toward Niue. The northern route looked best with maximum winds of 29 knots for a few hours, the rest pretty good. We left on the northern route.

The first couple of days we ran through some pretty stormy weather as we passed through two fronts. No surprise since we’d seen them on the New Zealand fleet codes, but the wind was in the mid-thirties for a few hours. A boat just behind us tore their mainsail and hove-to for 12 hours while the front passed. On the third day the weather seemed to settle into the mid teens, very sail-able even if the wind was further south than normal.

The rest of our passage was a standard tradewind passage with winds in the teens, clocking from south to the northeast. We jibed the sails once, somewhere around day seven. We were actually quite enjoying the sail and agreed it was one of our better passages since leaving the Marquesas.

Meanwhile, the boat that left Bora Bora four days before us, and sailed a route 150 miles further south, tore their mainsail in some more stormy weather. Another boat heading into Suwarrow met with 40 knot head winds, shredding their main. A ketch that left a few days before us also tore sails and are looking for a sail maker in Tonga. We know of two boats that had sails shipped into Bora Bora after ripping them in the Society Islands.

So what’s behind this rash of ripped sail cloth? In some cases the difference between cheap manufactured sails from Taiwan and Thailand and robust hand-made cruising sails from sail makers like Hasse are the difference – the cheaper sails don’t last as long. Of course, at a fraction of the cost you can buy several sets for what a hand-made sail costs, so the decision is a wash. But you do end up shipping more sails around with the cheaper ones. The other reason is age. Two of the boats on the passage have been cruising for around 10 years, another is on his third South Pacific loop. Ten years is about the lifespan of a sail in the tropics and the sharp wind shear we’ve had in the fronts and squalls is particularly hard on sails. Our Hasse sails pulled right through the stormy weather and we’re happy a fire drill in the middle of the night was unnecessary.

Since we arrived in the South Pacific we have realized the number one priority in safe sailing for us is to be able to shorten sail quickly. Especially at night with one person sleeping. Our roller furling jib has been getting a real workout since it’s much faster and easier to roll in the jib than go forward and drop the hank-on staysail. We are seriously considering converting the staysail to roller furling so we are using our all our sail combinations in various wind strengths as intended. Just need to talk to our sail maker and rigger to see what our options are for our hank-on storm jib.

So that’s it. Out of the four boats we kept in contact with on this passage we seemed to have had the best of it. While I’d like to claim superior weather knowledge, it just wouldn’t be true – they’ve all been cruising for 10 years or more and have the same weather tools we have. I think we were just lucky, for a change.

And one last thing, I seem to remember Teresa reporting an Epiphany in her log the other day about watch schedules. I can only say, if you get awakened twice during the night, it’s because you had two times you were asleep. If you only get awakened once, it’s because you only slept once. Whiner :-)>

Today on Yohelah we are rolling around in the anchorage at Niue.

13 - Niue Passage