Another passage, another round of happiness on Sophie upon making the next landfall.
We left Rarotonga last Sunday at noon with the plan of heading 450 miles to Beveridge Reef, hang out there for a day or two, then sail another 130 miles to Niue. It would be a nice easy passage for a Sophie crewed by just me and Jenna, with Leo and Hazel as our usual backup crew. We started out with an absolutely lovely 24 hours of gentle tradewind sailing, making 164 miles in pleasant sunshine and 2 meter seas coming from the stern. But the Monday afternoon weather forecast indicated we were heading into 25 knot winds and 4+ meter seas, and we had read in the Soggy Paws Compendium that Beveridge can be an unpleasant anchorage at high tide when there is a big swell (meaning the waves don’t completely break on the reef … some break on your boat). So Jenna and I decided to skip Beveridge, step on the gas and try to make Niue by Wednesday evening. It would require going about 400 miles in 53 hours, which is pushing the boat pretty hard with just 2 of us on watch.
We still had light air on Monday afternoon when we made the decision, but knew that the front would pass by us that night and bring with it a strong southeasterly wind. In the meantime we decided to motorsail to cover more ground. About 2 hours after we turned on an engine, Leo and I were in the salon when we heard a loud CRASH Thump thump. We couldn’t figure out what made the noise. Leo thought it may have been a cardboard tube falling over, but when I looked out the window I realized that it was caused by the radar reflector (above) falling off the mast and landing on the deck. The radar reflector is a sculpture of metal, glass and plastic that is bolted to the boat and strengthens the signal we present to other boat’s radar. In other words, it helps other boats see us at night or in the fog. Apparently the bounciness of the anchorage in Rarotonga (which is a great island but incredibly bouncy harbor) had caused the nut holding the reflector to its mount on the mast to work loose, enabling the whole thing to come off while underway. It must have landed on a cushion or the trampoline when it made the crashing noise, because there is no visible dent on the deck.
That night, the front came through, the wind shifted around counterclockwise from the northeast to the southwest, and we turned off the motor and settled in for a 36 hour romp with 2 reefs in the mainsail and the jib. Dealing with the windshift was interesting but it was relatively quick and nothing broke. While we were in Rarotonga, Margaret had done an excellent job repairing the tear in our mainsail, and we were thankful that Jenna and I had rerigged it with care, making sure everything was greased, secure and tight. Sophie sailed really well with this rig up until we came up to our mooring on Wednesday afternoon.
And she needed to. It turned out that we had 30+ knots of wind and 4-5 meter seas all day Tuesday and Wednesday. The waves were coming a little more from the stern than on our trip from Bora Bora to the Cooks, but it was still pretty bouncy and we had one fewer adult crew. At one point on Tuesday, we were in a trough between waves, when two different swells combined and crashed over Sophie’s port quarter at the same time. The salon door was closed but the sliding window was open. About 6 inches of water made it into the aft cockpit, water came through the open window, and the whole boat jerked sideways from the force. It was our first “rogue wave” on Sophie, but fortunately nothing broke except my Nespresso machine, which fell to the galley floor. Even though we did a good job securing the cabin before departure, we plan to stow away a bit more going forward. We had a couple of other bounces along the trip, and we broke one wine glass. But all in all Sophie proved once again that she is a solid offshore boat. We were sailing 8-10 knots in rough weather and 20-25 knots of apparent wind on a broad reach, but with our reefs in the boat didn’t feel strained at all.
I also want to point out at this point that our usual backup crew, Leo and Hazel, have turned into pretty solid offshore sailing kids. They think it’s totally normal to fall asleep at night in their beds to the sound of waves crashing against the hull as Sophie surfs along at high speed. They never get scared, they never complain, and they love to watch movies. Jenna and I are extremely lucky to have them. From noon Tuesday to noon Wednesday we sailed 208 miles, which is Sophie’s first ever 200+ mile day. We made Niue by 4:00 PM (Rarotonga time) and were relieved to safely pick up a mooring at Niue’s anchorage off the town of Alofi.
Just to give you a sense of the weather we sailed through, take another look at the photo at the top of the blog. That’s the swell we went through crashing against the southern cliffs of Niue, sending surf up to 100 feet into the air.
Here is a map of Niue taken from our chartplotter. As you can see, it doesn’t really have a harbor, simply an anchorage on its west coast that provides excellent shelter from wind and waves coming from the north, east and south.
Here is a photo of the surf crashing on Niue’s southwest coast, with swells coming around the southern tip of the island. It’s another indication of the power of the system we sailed through.
Here is a shot of Sophie on a mooring in the anchorage. That’s Mahina Tiare III right next to her, in addition to the 5 other boats in the mooring field. Another front is predicted to come through this weekend, and we have elected to stay here even through 20+ knot winds are expected from the west for one day. Hopefully it won’t get too rough.
So we are going to hang out here for a week. We are looking forward to exploring the island. Since it gets too bouncy here to tie dinghies to the wharf when you go into town, they have a system where you use an electric crane to lift your dinghy out of the water and park it on the wharf. I’ve heard about this for years, and it it was pretty cool to put it into action. This picture was taken Thursday morning. We were too tired after arriving on Wednesday to clear customs, so we missed a potluck barbecue at the Niue Yacht Club, “The Smallest Big yacht Club in the World”. They maintain the mooring field here and provide a social gathering spot for the yachties that come through. As a consolation for missing the barbecue, Jenna prepared steak au poivre and garlic shrimp as our arrival dinner, and we promptly passed out and slept 12 hours that night.
It was nice to finally get on land and explore the town of Alofi. We completed our paperwork, visited (and joined) the NYC, and ate lunch at a local cafe. Hazel enjoyed her milkshake, with all memories of the passage long gone.
Only 1,000 people live on this Island, and they all speak Kiwi. We plan to rent a car for a couple of days, explore the local caves, go swimming, and keep an eye out for the humpback whales that are apparently sleeping in the anchorage at night. We haven’t seen any yet, but there are a ton of fish here and I caught two last night that looked like small tunas (chunks of mahi mahi as bait on a 1 inch hook).
Some final thoughts on Rarotonga. As I implied earlier, we absolutely loved the island and the people but hated the anchorage. The local economy seems to be based on tourism from New Zealand, and after spending a week with the Kiwis here we CAN’T WAIT until we arrive in Opua in November and begin our 6 months in New Zealand. Unlike Bora Bora, where the tourism is centered around a model where people fly in to and remain within their resort for a week, the tourism in Rarotonga assumes people get out and see everything on the island. It reminded me of middle class tourism spots in the US like Cape Cod or the Oregon Coast. We had fried seafood from roadside shacks, saw the film “Monsters University” at a local fundraiser for a school trip, enjoyed the local dancing girls in their coconut bras (above) at the Saturday market, and even played 18 holes of minigolf. It was a great experience, and I would love to come back here again some day, preferably by plane.
And as I’ve said before, we are so lucky to be doing this trip. It’s an experience of a lifetime.