Thursday, June 28, 2012

Enjoying Savusavu

We are alive and well--just busy with activities and haven't gotten around to the blog updates yet.

Savusavu Harbor

But I did want to share this great pic that our friend Kennedy on Far Star took from the top of the mast yesterday. This kind of sums up Savusavu. Unfortunately, he emailed a reduced copy of the picture, so I can't (yet) let you click and see a blow-up (if you're interested).

But Soggy Paws is the boat off the float plane's right wing tip in the picture, and note the float plane making its way through the moored boats.

More later, I promise!!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Passage from Tonga to Savusavu Fiji

June 18-21 (still catching up)

The nasty weather finally cleared from Tonga, and we left our nice quiet anchorage at Hunga at 0945 on the 18th of June.

We had waited an day to let the wind, rain, and swells die down after the frontal passage, but as we got clear of Hunga, we could tell that the swell was still pretty large. But the wind had died down to 15-20 knots, so it wasn't bad. After a few hours the big waves were down noticeably.

It took 48 hours of fairly nice downwind sailing to make it to our first waypoint--Katafun1 just outside the Katafunga Passage through the Lau Group of Fiji. We had timed our departure to hopefully arrive and transit most of this part of the passage during daylight hours. Fiji is very reef-strewn and the charts are still largely inaccurate--in some places they can be off as far as 2 miles (we are told). Even though we had pretty good waypoints (from Curly's Neiafu to Fiji briefing charts), we still wanted to be able to see the reefs. It turned out to be a 'cakewalk'. The passage was several miles wide conditions fairly benign by that time.

Once we got inside the reef area, the waves died down completely and we enjoyed a really nice sail for the afternoon. But on the evening of the 3rd day, when we were fully within Fiji's reefy waters, the wind died completely.

We were already running the engine anyway. We were having some battery problems--I had noticed that our battery voltage was down in the 10 volt range while the fridge was running the night before. With the big swell and lighter winds, we were working the autopilot pretty hard. We ended up having to haul the Honda generator out and start it up to get the engine started!!

Without the battery issues, we could have sailed in at about 3.5-4 knots once we got through charging, but we were also racing an approaching front and needed to keep our speed up above 5 knots to get into Savusavu before the next bit of nasty weather arrived. So we just kept motoring through the night.

We arrived in Savusavu at 2:01pm Fiji Time (UTC+12). Our original ETA was 1:30pm, but we were reading about the check-in process on our approach, and discovered that the official lunch period in Fiji is 1pm to 2pm, and (small) overtime charges may apply. So we slowed our approach a little. (Later someone told us they'd never heard of anyone being charged for arrival during lunch--they just wait til lunch is over to do the formalities).

Our friends on Sea Flyer had arranged a mooring for us with the Copra Shed Marina--good thing too, because 2 or 3 other boats arrived before us, and we would have been without a mooring otherwise. As we picked up the mooring, of our friends called us on the VHF that we already had reservations for dinner at the Indian restaurant for 'Curry Night'.

We finally got finished with the volumes of Fijian paperwork around 4:30pm (3 officials representing 4 different agencies, about 10 pages of forms, and over $250 FJD to clear in). The officials were ferried out to our boat by the Copra Shed Marina launch, and all were very very nice. (We didn't actually have to pay the fees until the next day when we had money).

We are anchored in a small creek-like area (but not really a creek). Picture something like the anchorage area by Dragon Point in Indian Harbor Beach. Someone told us there were 79 boats here about 2 weeks ago, but things have cleared out a lot since then.

The Copra Shed Marina is a nice facility with a bar, a snack bar, restaurant, showers, laundry, small chandlery, travel agent, real estate agent, and a 'yacht club'. They have dock space for 6-8 boats and about 20 or so moorings. I was skeptical about the Yacht Club part until I saw a bunch of Opti's and Lasers stacked up next door, and sure enough this morning (Saturday) all the kids were out in the Optis. Feels almost like home.

We finally have decent internet for the first time since we left the U.S. in January, so as soon as I finish the urgent issues, we'll try to get some photos posted.

At 06/22/2012 4:23 AM (utc) our position was 16°46.67'S 179°20.05'W

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Passage from Niue

June 10-17 (still catching up)

We weathered a very mild front our last day or so on the moorings at Niue. I was very nervous about it, because the winds were forecast to back all the way around through the west, leaving us totally exposed. However, it was forecast to be very light winds. So we prepped the boat for a quick departure, in case we got unexpected strong westerlies. Fortunately, the forecast was 'golden'. Light winds, a smattering of light rain, virtually no bad swell.

After turning in our car Saturday morning, doing a last load of laundry, and saying heartfelt goodbyes to our friends at Niue Backpackers/Niue Yacht Club, we set sail for 'points west' on Sunday. We were heading for Fiji and Dream Away for Vavau, Tonga. But the course to Fiji goes right past the N end of Vavau, so we were again traveling in company. Again we are amazed at how well matched Soggy Paws and Dream Away were in speed and sailing angles. Without really trying, we stayed within 20 miles of each other the whole trip--within VHF range.

We had a pretty short weather window between passing fronts, with fairly settled E-SE winds. But it was obvious we weren't going to get all the way to Fiji before the next front passed. So when we reached Vavau, we opted to duck into a small island and wait for the front to go by.

Dave Hauling in the Fish (using YoYo)

Nice Mahi Mahi!

Cleaned and Ready to Eat!

On our way around the north end of Vavau, we trailed our fishing line and caught a nice 4-foot Mahi Mahi. Fresh fish for dinner!!

Our friends on Dream Away headed in for Neiafu to check in to Tonga, and we hope to see them again in Fiji later.

This trip was 250NM, completed in 52 hours, anchor to anchor, for an average speed of 4.8 knots (the wind was pretty light and behind us most of the way). We ran the engine for 5.7 hours, mostly for making water and charging batteries, but also getting in and out of the harbors.

It took a couple of days longer than we expected for the front and it's westerly winds and rain to clear Vavau. But finally on Monday the 18th (Sunday, US time), we left Vavau finally for Fiji.

At 06/19/2012 6:42 PM (utc) our position was 17°26.61'S 178°06.67'W

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Fast Lane Meets the Slow Lane

While in Niue, we managed to arrive at the same time as part of the World ARC fleet. Most cruisers shudder at the approach of the World ARC. They tend to come and go in groups, somewhat like locusts, sucking up all the local resources (and raising prices on everything). But I was really interested to meet some of the boats and people.

The World ARC is a 'cruising rally' organized by World Cruising (formerly Jimmy Cornell, but now run by someone else), and they make it around the world in about 2 years (see The participants pay quite a fee to enter--something like $30K, and this entry fee smooths their way around the world. They are 'coddled' at every port by ARC representatives.

In Niue, there was an ARC representative waiting for each boat ashore, with the Niue Yacht Club representative, a cell phone to arrange things, a car, NZ dollars, and lots of local information. One boat's crew was whisked off to the Bottle Store (liquor store) by the ARC rep for a couple of cases of beer before they even cleared Customs (obviously very thirsty). Also the ARC helps immensely with the tedious process of trying to get repair parts in remote places.

There was an arrival banquet arranged (free to them, but we had to pay $25NZ to attend). The ARC had split up a little on this leg, and only about 6 boats were in Niue when we were. A few that were supposed to be here had gone to American Samoa to assist one of the ARC boats who had gotten holed in bad weather in Suwarrow. And another contingent had been through previously and were already in Tonga. We met a couple of the crews--nice guys from Glamorous Galah, an Australian boat. But they don't really meet many real cruisers, because they are moving so fast. Most of them arrived on Friday and left on Sunday. They had one day to tour Niue and then blast off again. THAT'S how they make it around the world in 2 years!!

They were due in Tonga about 1 June (obviously the folks we met in Niue were running a little late) and their next rally point is Musket Cove, Fiji (on the west side of Fiji) on July 4th. So they are doing all of Tonga and Fiji in less than one month!! Obviously they only catch the high spots--but for someone who can only afford to take two years off, the ARC makes it possible by helping with all the logistics.

They were pretty blown away when we told them that we had been underway for 5 years and have only made it 1/3 the way around the world.

Niue Land Touring

June 2-10 (still catching up)

On Sunday in Niue (as in Tonga), everything in town is closed. It is forbidden to do much of anything in Niue on a Sunday--including fishing and diving. Though I'm sure we wouldn't be arrested or anything, as a courtesy to our host country, we try to abide by local customs.

So Ira suggested we do some of the Sea Tracks on the east side of the island (away from town and somewhat remote), and then finish off with lunch at the Washaway Cafe. This is a nice cafe overlooking a cove and beach on the SW corner of the island. It is only open on Sundays, and serves burgers and fish sandwiches. After lunch we stopped at an ice cream place for ice cream. And of course finished off with Happy Hour at Backpackers/Niue Yacht Club.

We did more touring every day--hitting all the 'best' Sea Tracks, as well as some of the lesser ones. Some were quite arduous hikes over spikey coral and bushwhacking through Pandanus forests, lasting several hours, and some were a 10 minute stop in the car at a car-accessible lookout point. We took a bazillion pictures, and when we get internet, I'll try to post some of the best ones. Most, however, had a well-marked parking area, and well-marked trails, and some very interesting topography.

Tuesday morning was 'town day'--where we took care of shopping, cash, car rental formalities, buying some Niuean stamps, signing up for internet access on board, etc etc. There is supposed to be an open market in Alofi (the main town on Niue) on Tuesdays and Fridays. We had been told that it opens early and finishes early. Some people start arriving around 5:30am and it's all done by 8am!! We just couldn't make it ashore that early, and sure enough when we got there about 8:30am, everyone was packing up their stuff, and there was one lady with crafts, and one lady with a sad little papaya. We vowed to get there earlier on Friday. But the 2 grocery stores were nice--we scored a $35 bag of nice lamb chops (about 8 meals worth), and bought some cheese and a few other things that were unavailable in Tonga.

At stops at each of the 2 gas stations on the island, we discovered that one of the hydroponic gardens on the island was selling their veggies there. We were elated to find fresh bok choy and some nice tomatoes--enough to get us to Tonga or Fiji.

We sampled almost all the restaurants on Niue--we went twice to the Indian restaurant, and twice to Crazy Uga's Cafe, and lunch and dinner at Falala Fa. All were pretty good, but pricey--a typical lunch was $12-15NZ plus drink. Beer is $4-6NZ and Wine by the glass is $6-7NZ.

One day we hiked the Vinivini offroad bike trail in the Huvalu Forest Conservation Area--walking about 7km and then we planned to walk back to the car another 7km on the road. Fortunately another tourist stopped and picked us up, as we were pretty tired and thirsty by then. In retrospect, only the eastern half of the trail was very interesting--the rest was semi-cleared 'bush gardens'. Next time we'd park our car at the eastern entrance, hike in to the corner, and hike back out.

The 4 of us and another couple from NZ that we met hiking were all keen to see the Vaikona Chasm, described as a 'Guided Only' hike. We tried hard to arrange a guide, but the only guy who normally did the guiding was otherwise occupied. So we hiked it by ourselves (6 of us). We did manage to find the chasm and go down the ropes into a deep dark cave, but we failed to reach the final cave, which you have to swim underwater to (inside a deep dark cave).

By the end of the week, we had checked out all 'Sea Tracks' on the map except 3. Avril from Dream Away was still trying to get interest to do the last 3, but we never did. On our final morning with the car, Dave and I opted to do a second day of diving with Niue Divers, while Graham and Avril went to a 'Village Day' at Hakupu Village.

We'll post some pics of our adventures when we get to Fiji.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Niue Arrival

June 1 - 2, 2012

We really really enjoyed our time in Niue. We arrived on a Friday afternoon of a 3-day weekend (Queen's Birthday is Monday and a holiday), so we were really fortunate to arrange clearance on Friday afternoon, just before things shut down. We had heard that since the weekly Air NZ plane comes in at 2pm on Friday, it is difficult to get cleared on Friday after about 10am. But a combination of emails ahead of time to Niue Yacht Club, telling them we were arriving mid-day Friday, and the presence of part of the World ARC fleet, also trying to clear in on Friday afternoon, helped us out.

Our first adventure in Niue was the unique way they handle dinghies. Because Niue has no natural harbor, the only pier is a huge concrete pier in the open roadstead. Even on a good day, the ocean swell sloshes around the pier enough to make it hazardous to small boats, and in winds from NW to SW, the swell would pretty much smash any small boat left at the pier. So the Niueians use a crane to lift their boats out as soon as they arrive at the landing. The hook is left hanging about 4' from the water, so you have to unload your 'stuff', hook a bridle to the hook, hop out, and lift the dinghy with the crane. Sounded difficult, but it's not in calm weather. At high tide (when the waves are coming over the tiny reef surrounding the pier), or in swelly weather, it's quite a feat to just get out of the dinghy safely, not to mention get the dinghy up too. But we managed (after watching another boat do it just before us).

We did our paperwork with Customs on the pier (no charge) and then walked up to Immigration. Thanks to a phone call from Keith at Niue Yacht Club, who had met us on the pier, the nice lady at Immigration had stayed after hours to help us complete our clearance on Friday afternoon. Clearance in is free, but there is a $35NZ Departure Tax per passport.

Once we finished the paperwork, we found the Niue Yacht Club, which is currently located in the ground floor of Niue Backpackers facility. It's thirsty work doing all that paperwork!! So we had cold beers all around.

Ira and Brian, who own and run Backpackers, also handle a lot of the day-to-day stuff for Niue Yacht Club. Ira (pronounced ear-ah), started helping us almost as soon as we walked in the door. We'd been trying to arrange a car rental, but by the time we finished clearing in, both rental places were closed. No problem, Ira phoned the people at Niue Rentals at home, and insisted they deliver a car down to the Yacht Club for us ASAP. She said we could have the car for the weekend and do the paperwork with Niue Rentals on Tuesday morning. So by early Saturday morning, we had the keys to a nearly new 6-passenger van. We ended up keeping this car for a week, splitting the cost with Graham and Avril on Dream Away. The cost was $300NZ ($240 US) for the week (all inclusive).

The next challenge at Niue is getting cash. Since our trip to Niue was totally unplanned, we had Tongan, Fijian, and US dollars. Niue operates on New Zealand dollars. And this is one of the very first places in 5 years where there were no ATM's. And all the banks were closed. Most of the businesses do NOT accept any credit cards (and those that do, only Visa). Fortunately, Dream Away had a wad of NZ cash, and said they could stake us for the weekend, and we'd pay them back on Tuesday when the bank and businesses were open. (We ended up working a cash advance with Niue Rentals, using their Paypay 'pay for your rental by credit card' account, as the only bank in town has an extremely unfavorable exchange rate, and high cash advance fees).

We also got a shower key from Niue Yacht Club. You pay a deposit for the key, for which a small fee is deducted when you return the key. In return, they maintain two very nice family style showers on quay, with HOT WATER!! (our first hot water showers since November!!)

By Saturday morning, we were "sorted"--having gotten maps and info from the very nice Tourist Bureau, and a personal briefing from Ira on where to go and what to do--especially useful since it was a 3 day weekend, and everything's closed on Sunday. We had also made preliminary contact with Niue Divers, and talked about doing some dives with them during the next week.

So Saturday afternoon we spent doing the 'Sea Tracks' on the NW coast of Niue. A Sea Track is a trail and/or steps whereby you can access the water. Each one leads down to a beach, reef, or dramatic cave on the water. Ira told us "every one is different", and encouraged us to try to see all of them, if we had the time. (If you don't have the time, see the 'highlights' ones in the Tourist Brochure--they are the best).

We were amazed at how clean and orderly Niue is. Each of the Sea Tracks we visited were well-marked on the map, well marked with a nice sign by the road, had trash cans and sometimes a toilet and showers, and the grass was mowed and often the area was nicely landscaped. Compared to the 'take it or leave it' attitude of the Tongans (and the trash all over), Niue is a tourist's paradise.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Diving in Niue

We had a great couple of dives with Niue Divers. I don't have time to write much text, but here are the best of the pictures that Dave took on our 4 dives.

The Niue Divers Boat

Note: I am not as fat as this picture shows... the wide angle lens makes me look terrible, but it's a great shot otherwise.

A Poisonous Sea Snake Napping in a Cave

Our Group in the Cave

A Poisonous Sea Snake Swimming

Me Playing with Sea Snakes

A Golden Spotted Moray Eel

Another Great Shot by Dave

Big Lobster in a Cave (in a no-take zone)

A Tiny Colorful Nudibranch

A Spotted Eagle Ray Glides By

Jet Blue Spiny Sea Urchin

Sea Snakes Mating

Obviously... Sea Snakes are one of the main attractions in Niue.

The other main attraction are the whales, but it's not whale season yet. There have been some scattered whale sightings while we've been here, but not consistent enough so that we can go out and swim with them. June is early early whale season... July is better, but the whale season peaks in August and September.

The Humpback whales come to Niue and Tonga to have their babies in the mild winter weather. During peak whale season, Niue Divers does 'swim with the whales' adventures... wish we were going to be here then...

All photos copyright Dave McCampbell 2012. Permission required to reprint or republish in any form.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Arrived Niue

We are happy to report that after an easy 48 hour passage, Soggy Paws is on a mooring at the Niue Yacht Club.

The wind has already gone east of south, but the swell is still coming from the SSW, but lots better than yesterday. We are rolling some, but it should get better over the next few days.

A few of the World ARC Rally boats have also just arrived today, and they are having a BBQ tonight ashore for them, and we get to go.

We have already seen our first sea snake.

Passage Summary: 264 NM, almost exactly 48 hours anchor to anchor, for an average speed of 5.5 knots. We motored a few hours to get in and out of the anchorages, and for an hour or two once a day to top up the batteries.

More on Niue later.
Sherry & Dave
On our way to Niue for a week, then Fiji

At 06/02/2012 12:46 AM (utc) our position was 19°03.27'S 169°55.43'W

Friday, June 1, 2012

June 1, Twice

The weather is improving--the wind has backed to the SSW and eased a little. Last night was fairly 'lively', and we ended up really reefed down, surfing down big waves, with the wind on our quarter. With the wind behind us, it was 'freezing' in the cockpit, with a cold icy NZ wind blowing down our necks. But this morning the sun came out, and late this afternoon, the started dropping off a little and swinging more south. Tonight is supposed to be a beam reach in 15 knot winds, with 2/3 of a moon. Should be a nice night to be on watch.

Even though the wind has dropped, the wave action is still HUGE. There is a deep low somewhere down south of us kicking up some really amazing big swells. The Niue 'harbor' is exposed on the western side--just an open roadstead. Though the wind is forecast to be SE by the time we arrive mid-day tomorrow, the swells are still forecast to be coming from the SSW. This could be interesting--really really rolly for a day or so, until the storm south of us gets far enough east to swing the swells to the SE.

We are crossing back over the 'dateline' that we crossed on our way from Samoa to Tonga last year. (In actuality, at about 174 West Longitude, Tonga is physically EAST of the dateline, but their time zone is +13, making them over the dateline, for calendar purposes). Niue, on the other hand is -11. So as we transit between Tonga and Niue, we get to do do June 1 twice--today and tomorrow, but the time doesn't change!!

For those of you 2012 Puddlejumpers (and other cruisers) interested in Niue, make sure you download my Cooks and Samoas Compendium--there is a good section on Niue in there, too. (
Sherry & Dave
On our way to Niue for a week, then Fiji

At 06/01/2012 5:40 AM (utc) our position was 19°36.99'S 171°33.12'W