Thursday, October 16, 2014

Aitutaki Beach -

From Niue -

I was disappointed today, they have fresh, but it's so expensive! Still really happy about the shopping and provisions we did in Panama, but we don't have fresh and we're getting close to the end of our monthly rations. I hear Tonga is cheaper, but less able to find anything much in stores there. $4 for lettuce was our best, so we had salad tonight. $8.80/kg for apples, $7/kg for carrots, $3.90 for a 12 oz. can of spaghetti sauce, $5.60 for a 1 kg bag of sugar, $13.00 for a 12 ounce can of lamb tongues (wonder how well these things sell), 5kg frozen french fries discounted from $20 to $16 and a few other unaffordable items. We'll break down again tomorrow and get some fresh stuff, but it's going to add up. And it's 3% more to use a credit card. We don't have New Zealand money. And there's no ATM here to get local money, and the banks don't change money, only the rental car agency will change money for 8% or a total of $30 for as much as you want. So, the rental car agency is our best bet to change money. 

Tomorrow we'll rent a car, go explore some caves, launch the motorcycle, drop off our 4 bags of garbage that we've been collecting for the past month without a place to burn or drop it off. We have a key for the "yacht club" warm showers, I think that'll happen tomorrow too!! It's a beautiful place, the people are very friendly, it's great to check it out!!

We are on a mooring, lots of deep coral for anchoring. It's really rolling here in the anchorage! I feel bad for the mono-hulls, I've been watching them, they are really bouncing around! Then you take the dinghy to the concrete stairs, try to offload with it bouncing up and down the wall as you try to offload kids onto wet stairs. Then they have a lift and you hook up your dinghy and haul it out into the parking lot. It's an interesting process. I think the anchorage is made worse by the current winds, maybe in a day or two things'll calm down a bit. If not, going to keep us on our toes every time we try to offload!!



Passage to Niue -

Monday morning we dove on the shipwrecks at Beveridge reef. There is an old wreck with very few remnants left, although there is a lot of thick chain left on the ocean floor from the attempted recovery of it. The other wreck is sitting up on the reef. It's a fishing boat named Liberty and has a substantial net wrapped on it's propeller. Not sure if that was the cause of it washing up, but then again, it never helps to have your prop wrapped. The kids LOVED exploring on it, climbing and checking it all out. It was slippery with moss and rusty, but other than that, excellent playground. We left the boys there with a radio to call if any emergent issues and went for a quick snorkel. We checked back to pick them up and they requested a picnic lunch on the wreck. When we did not return with lunch soon enough, they chose the emergency channel to alert us that they were nearly starving! 

This passage was only about 140 miles, so shouldn't be ridiculously long. We left Beveridge reef Monday afternoon when the slightest amount of wind was starting. We knew it would be slow going, but it was actually smoother outside of the reef in the glassy ocean than anchored inside where waves breaking over all sides made sort of a soup bowl, especially at high tide. It was great and interesting, but we were ready to go. So we headed out and drifted at sea. Our batteries were running low, so we motored for a little while at a very low idle to charge them and make a little ground. Then we shut it all down and drifted for awhile. The rain and wind picked up during the night, so we began to move some. By this morning we put in a second reef in the sail with winds as high as 31.5 knots. Shortly thereafter, the winds have been dying and seem like they are coming from every direction. Every time we adjust our sails and course, it's different wind, new speeds, different direction. So, we're heading nowhere fast, but it's good. 

This section is called the dangerous middle. The first passage to French Polynesia is the coconut milk run. From French Polynesia to Tonga (I think) is called the dangerous middle because you start getting more weather, bigger seas, more obstacles, etc. Our friend on Malua had his biminy and sails torn during this passage here in 21 foot seas. Carpe Diem had to do sail repairs in Palmerston, I don't know if it was the seas or the gear that failed them. Rhapsody lost their mainsail 200 miles out from Tonga in big seas and winds. These are just the boats we know. So, light and variable winds with minimal waves are a welcome crossing, we anticipate arriving tomorrow morning, and if not, we will probably start the motors. 

We had a dorado on the line as we left the pass of Beveridge, but somehow it slipped the line. Not sharks this time and our lure was intact, so no gain and no loss. 

We have heard rumors of hot showers in Niue. Not holding my breath, but quite interested in the proposition. Haven't had a hot shower in, well, forever. Since February. I'm tickled when I have collected rainwater and get to rinse off in fresh water, but warmed up?? Also heard from another boat that they do a lot of hydroponic gardening there and there's a great variety of fruits/vegetables. She said they don't confinscate our fresh stuff (many islands do). Fortunately, that's not an issue, I have a few onions and garlic, but that's it!! We ran out of fresh stuff days ago. Really looking forward to a salad and some fresh fruits and a warm shower and exploring some caves!! 

As an aside, Innocence took it upon herself to "take care of her little brother" Valiant. He now has his toe nails polished and is sporting a new haircut. It wasn't a terrible job, but his little straight blond hair shows the irregular cuts. Vitality definitely did more of a number on her hair on our long passage and still hasn't recovered, but I re-iterated to them that they just can't be cutting their own, or in this case, each other's hair. Valiant seems pleased with his new doo.


Shark Feeding Frenzy -

It is a calm day and we are enjoying a glassy flat sea. 

As we were leaving the pass this afternoon we were trolling and got a bite! Within 30 seconds I had the fishing rod in hand and the battle was on. Then out of everywhere sharks attacked with a giant splashing of fins and tails. The fishing line screamed, then went slack. The fish and the lure were in the sharks bellies!! 

Now we are enjoying a wonderful sunset, and by tomorrow maybe even a little wind!


Hot Weather -

We are melting in Beveridge reef!! Nice snorkel and swim this morning, good rain last night, so we bathed everyone today. We made a slide on our back swim steps with an upside down paddle board and had some fun with the kids. 

Integrity earned his ipad today by finishing reading his first chapter book. He's very pleased with himself. 

Our thermometer read 100 degrees on the front dash (which gets some reflective heat also), there's almost no breeze, and a few of our fans are broken!! It's HOT!! But it's beautiful and nice. We've pulled out our squirt bottles and are spraying the fresh and colder rainwater at each other to cool down. There's no wind, the ocean was glassy! When there's wind, we will likely be heading off to Nuie, which sounds like cool caves, etc. to explore! 


Great Snorkel Day -

We had a great snorkel today at the reef. The winds have changed, so we moved to another part of the anchorage. The reef was very alive and had lots of schools of fish at the second one we went to. Saw a couple of sharks, tons of jacks, some groupers, sea urchins, etc. We found a few areas of sand on the reef and were able to stand. Only land you can stand on, but it was 2 feet deep or so and the waves coming over it would push you over, risking hitting the coral or other sharp things, so we didn't stand at Beveridge reef for long.

We also washed 2 loads of laundry (some rainwater and some watermaking). It will be nice to have lots of fresh clothes, bedding, and things. 

The guys are calling for dinner, so I'm off. Also have to take in the second load of laundry before the squall on the horizon hits. But it's a neat place. From my understanding, it's the death of an island. How the Tuamotus will look in x number of years from now. 


Palmerston Island -

Palmerston Island was an interesting island in the Cook Island chain. They have no airport, but do have a supply boat that comes every 3-4 months (apparently give or take). Their history goes back to the 1800's where their great, great grandfather (I don't know how many generations back) married 3 women (I believe from Penryhn, another Cook Island). There are now 3 families on the island, 61 people total. They have 16 house structures. They live on a little inland and have 4 roads that make a square throughout the island. They were much more developed than most other remote islands we've been to. They have a very nice schoolhouse with multiple rooms for their 23 students. It has a volleyball court, a playground with climbing structures and trampolines, and an indoor/outdoor arena area. They have 3 full time teachers, and 3 part time teachers. 

Most of the teachers are locals, but one is a woman from England. Her father was shipwrecked on this island in 1954. He was here for 9 months repairing his ship. They helped him and hosted him during his stay. He had a best friend on this island with whom he continued to communicate until he died. She came to see the island and brought his ashes to bury him next to his friend. She then decided to stay and because she's a special education teacher, and there's a student with ADHD here, she was given a grant to stay for 3 years. She's really been enjoying it. Fascinating story.

There is a nurse on the island from Fiji. She orders supplies, can test blood sugar, cholesterol and basic vital signs. She manages all patients on the island unless she needs to transfer out. They can't do it by helicopter, but they send a boat. She has about 24 hours to manage a patient that she thinks needs transfer until transportation arrives. Not promising for a heart attack or stroke. She has transferred a diabetic foot infection causing sepsis and an acute gallbladder. Things she could improve/treat, then wait. Good for her, and I'm sure her liability isn't too terrible with her limited resources, but it's a lot to take on if things get bad!

The islanders live mostly on collected rainwater and it hadn't rained in a couple of months, but there is also a well that they can use, they water gardens with, etc. and can boil it to drink it if necessary. They have a generator for the town, it runs 6 am - noon and 6 pm - midnight. One family had 9 freezers. I wouldn't be surprised if that was similar across the board. They get foods from New Zealand for months at a time. And they catch parrot fish on the reef to export when the supply ship comes, which they fill the freezers with in the weeks before it's arrival. They get $10/kg for them. The boat then sells them for about $16/kg in Rarotunga. Most family's also have a generator in case they need more power. Their houses were made of brick and concrete for the most part. They have a solar program going sponsored by humanitarian work of New Zealand mostly, some from the Cook Islands. That is nice. They said they spend $28,000 on fuel for the generator per year. They do get money from the Cook Island government based on their population, infrastructure and services, etc. He said this year they got about $350,000, which is about $5,000 per person, which is in-line with other industrialized nations. It's fascinating to me how these economies work. I understand catching fish, but that doesn't explain the imported chicken and ice cream and 9 freezers from New Zealand! Each child gets a stipend. Each adult over 60 also gets a retirement check. Then there's many government paid positions, like the teachers, and the administrator of the government, and Courage said there was a police officer?? And so it works. 

Rarotunga apparently makes 90% of it's income on a VAT tax, and 8% on income taxes. I just don't see that they are producing what they are consuming, so I am fascinated at the sustainability of it all. But, they are living more meager than most, certainly planning ahead longer than most people do!! They were wonderful people and very hospitable!!

The pass was crazy!! It was narrow and often had breaking waves across it. Of course the waves come and go in size, but we took it with our dinghy once, and that was enough. We would not have made it back out without their escorting us with their bigger metal boats. You have to come in full speed riding a wave, pointing at a channel marker dead on. Just before the channel marker, take about a 45 degree turn left into a 10 foot wide coral lined channel. Then at least you were out of the breakers, but there was a reef in the middle of the channel. Then you must turn sharp right at the final channel marker. The first time, we ALMOST hit a reef at the end! I was front row to it and wondered if I should/could say something. Finally the guy next to me, a local, started hollaring. We turned at the last second. I thought it was too late to miss it and I cringed for the impact, but somehow, we missed it!!

We were tied up on a mooring ball, which was nice since it was all coral bottom, not good to anchor on/in. Anchor won't hold, if it does, it gets stuck, and it whacks up a bunch of coral. Courage dove on it, and one of the shackles was wearing very thin. It was big and we didn't have another one to replace it. He tied a rope to span it so at least it was a back up plan if the shackle failed. There was a shipwreck from 2011 here, RiRi from Philadelphia. Apparently they tied onto the mooring with a single line and as they rocked back and forth, it sawed through the line. It was 3 am that they washed up. They called on the radio, locals went out and got them, they got the boat off in the morning, but it was torn up on the side. It's shell is still there onshore. Reminder to trust nothing and be careful!!

All in all, it was a very interesting visit. We attended their church, they hosted us for an excellent lunch of terryaki chicken and rice and squash, etc. We paid money for our government fees, but we paid them in gasoline for the mooring ball, which they were very happy for. I also made them a new umbrella cover. Sewing is not my forte, but they had a weathered and torn up cover for their umbrella stand that a young guy from Ireland was going to replace. He billed himself as a sailmaker and didn't want to pay for his mooring ball since he thought money was the root of all evil (a long and fascinating conversation). He then gave it back to them, said he didn't have time to do it, and left. They were looking very forward to it since it was for the school or something. So, I found some cloth I had and sewed a copy of it as best I could. It was a touch small, so I had to add a patch to make it fit, but once it was done and on the stand, it looked great! Patch and all. I told them it wouldn't be professional looking, but it would keep the sun out. Always new challenges out here. Different people need different things. It was fun to see if I could do it. And after all of their hospitality, it's the least I could do!


From Palmerston to Beveridge Reef

We had a nice crossing from Palmerston to Beveridge Reef. The first day we had one of our better days of travel. We were at a broad reach (winds at 90 degrees to the boat) with our mainsail double reefed and our genoa out, which is the "fullest" sail we can do at this point due to issues with our track, etc. The wind was 20-25 knots and it was new, so the swell hadn't built up huge yet. We moved nicely despite our anchor being down (see Courage's explaination for this). The wind was slowly dying and coming around behind us yesterday and today, so our travel wasn't as fast, but we made it nicely in.

We caught a fish just outside the reef. As soon as we heard the reel go, we ran back, slowed down, and pulled it in. Apparently we only caught a head! Who knew!! It looks like we caught a jack and it was eaten by a shark before we got it. We tried again, and this time we pulled in a large red snapper (we think). This time, we got the whole thing!! It was great, we had it for dinner. Inside the reef, we also caught a tiny little jack that we threw back. 

We are now in Beveridge Reef. It's interesting and very nice. Just a reef, only has land at high tide. At low tide, just surrounded by waves. We are anchored in sand about 10 feet deep just off of a shipwreck on the reef. It's a fishing boat named Liberty I think. The boys went and checked it out and LOVED it!! Integrity climbed on the roof, etc. But it's filled with sea urchins, so exploring inside it is less desirable. Cassidy and Courage went out snorkeling in 3 different places, said it was great, saw a HUGE puffer fish, and found a very old sunken wreck that I'll try to snorkel on tomorrow. I'm a little under the weather with a cold, so I stayed home and made dinner and cookies while they explored. There are 3 boats here, one came yesterday, we arrived from Palmerston today along with another boat. There was a third French boat traveling Palmerston to Beveridge, but they should have been here by now. We had a nice visit with them on their boat the night before we all left, we are assuming they chose to go to Tonga while there are still winds.

The boys (and Cassidy) also fed the fish remains to the local sharks. They tie meat and bones onto a rope and "catch" the shark, play with it until it eats the meat. They even were able to pull a couple of them completely out of the water. Got some good shark pictures I think. 

It's been interesting at the reef so far, and we have a few more days here. The other boat here got a weather information that there's a trough passing over the area Sunday - Wednesday, which makes the wind blow onshore to Nuie, which is not ideal. So, we weren't going to stay that long, but we may if the weather isn't perfect for Nuie. We also heard on the net this morning that Nuie is going to pull up all but 3 of their mooring balls for hurricane season. Not good, it's deep to anchor and coral with not good holding. The other boat here emailed them, told them 3 of us are coming this week. They wrote back that they have 5 boats there now and a supply ship coming Sunday. But their SCUBA divers who pull up the moorings which are 100+ feet deep are going on vacation so have to do it now. They said they'd try to leave more of their shallow moorings in. We shall see . . . Courage is thinking that those 5 boats will leave if this is really a trough coming and lasting through Wednesday, they'll be miserable. We will wait and see how it works out. Sounds like an interesting island with caves, staligmites, staligtites, etc. rather than sandy beaches. Different than we've been seeing. 

That's it for now. Palmerston was interesting too. Will have to sum that up for you sometime also!

All is well for now,


Beverage Reef -

What a wonderful hideout! Beautiful diving with fantastic visibility! Plenty of sharks which are indicative of a healthy reef eco-system. Now I always thought that I would be very uncomfortable diving with sharks circling around. But I find that I have become quite comfortable with diving with sharks. The only time that I don't want to see a shark is when I am hunting for fish. Otherwise it is quite pleasant to see them cruising about.

The weather seems to be telling us to stay here for a little while, so expect more details soon!!!


Special Reef of Beverage

We are on our way to the special reef of Beverage. It is just a circular reef with a beautiful lagoon of white sand to anchor in. There is only land at low tide! But I hear the lobsters are incredible, and the diving is perfect!!

So when we were leaving Palmerston there were a couple of interesting things that happened. When you tie up to one of their moorings they request/require you to lower your anchor to just off the bottom so that if the mooring fails your anchor might hook something before you wash up on the reef. The concept is good, but in actuality an anchor with no scope has a limited possibility of hooking anything. Anyway early on our departure morning I slipped the mooring lines off and let the offshore breeze slowly push us out to sea. Shannon saw a Dorado jump clean out of the water so we put out or lures, hoisted the sails and enjoyed a fresh breeze! The wind picked up to 25 knots and we had a great time surfing the swells. That evening though as I was laying in bed trying to fall asleep I remembered that the anchor was still down!!! Now all I have to do is find a way to blame it on Cassidy or Wolf!

Until next time.