Adrift in blue hue


Back in NZ waters, where the seas are as unpredictable as a street drunk who, depending on their mood, might slur that they love you as you pass by or follow you to your car hurling hard-to-hear obscenities, Elliot promised me easier sailing once we got to the Pacific.  The Trade Winds, I was told, would hum dreamy, gentle love songs in my ears. He told me I wouldn't know myself in these unexciteable, pacified waters. I imagined floaty linen dresses, sundowners made with handplucked exotic fruit and nights sleeping soundly to the gentle wash of lapping waves against endless coconut-littered beaches.

Our aborted Niue landing, then, was something of a surprise.

It turns out that things are not normal up here right now. The Trades, from the east, normally push back on the low weather systems as they angrily elbow their way from the west further south past NZ. But at the moment that isn't happening and without the push-back, the effect of the lows is being felt unseasonably all the way up to Samoa. The swell is giant. Huge rolling walls of water. A tell-tail of winds as far away as Antarctica.

After abandoning the Alofi mooring balls in 32 knot winds and with nowhere else to go (Niue doesn't allow anchoring and there is literally nowhere else to go) we circumnavigated the island in the dark, protected round on the east coast from the westerlies, and by morning we were becalmed. Knowing more bad weather was coming, making a return to Alofi pointless, we decided to drop the sails and just let the breeze and the currents choose our future while we grieved the excitement we had had for standing on solid ground and completing our first ocean passage together.

For three days and nights we drifted, in rhythmic, slow, insane making swell. Rolling 20 - 30 degrees one way, then the other, over and over and over and over and over. Rigging gently clanking, through-holes gurgling. Otherwise silence. Not bothering to do night watches, there was nothing to watch for. Playing scrabble (two triple word scores kept the title with me but we probably shouldn't talk about it). Swimming (more accurately, foetal ladder-clinging to avoid being eaten by megladon or an opportunistic giant squid). Sleeping (trying to at least, with our bones moving inside our skin with each sideways sway). Whale charming (Elliot has decided my whale songs may not be the invitations I think they are, so, as a steel boat, essentially a massive underwater sound amplifier, we have moved on to playing very loud Elgar and Chopin in the hopes of enchanting a visit - to date no takers). Paddle boarding. And dreaming about all the delicious fruit we would eat when we got wherever we were going.

Weirdly we found a teeny shoal of reef fish, inluding one lonely little Zebra fish, hanging out under our keel. We cannot imagine where they came from. 60nm from land in 5km deep water, not a coral twig in sight. They were right to sit close to us though because something big, and presumably hungry, swam by. Maybe 2m long or more. Elliot said he saw green flashes and a spear for a nose - a marlin perhaps. All I saw was the real possibility of never swimming again. My thoughts go to the fact that we saw this one but how many do we miss? How many enormous beasties cruise by, seeing us but unseen by us? 

On Day 4 of drifting, and maybe Day 17 or so since leaving NZ, the wind picked up and began pushing us west and we made the decision to try for Niue again. Sailing finally giving Fortaleza purpose and us relief from the eternal, mad-making rocking. 

Biding our time for 24 hours to let the low fully pass by beneath us, we sailed in a zig zag west then east then west again before turning south. Magically, as the sun set, we were joined by a scruffy looking, blue-beaked gull who, it transpired, was a Red Footed Booby. He landed on our bow rails and held on tight with his little red toes, facing forwards like a deranged, fluffy figurehead until darkness obscured him. I am uncertain how long he stayed with us, or how restful his hitched ride can have been, as the night brought squalls, 30 knot gusts and waves over the bow. He was long gone by daybreak as we arrived, for the second time, at Niue.


Popular Posts