The Crane. Niue


Niue, you teeny, enchanted land. I'll get to your charms in another post. This one is dedicated solely to The Crane.

We made landfall, finally, after 21 days, having left NZ thinking we would be sailing for 12 at the most. It's lucky I had shopped like a lunatic before we left. And I must just quickly sing the praises of cabbage. What a fabulous vegetable. Cabbage, and pumpkin actually.

We made it back to the Niue mooring balls and hooked up at lunchtime just as a couple of other boats also arrived from French Polynesia. Customs radioed to tell us to come ashore to go through the checking in procedure, which in theory sounded easy, if we could only get our 25kg outboard on to Lady Futtlington. Although the wind had turned to the east, the westerly swell was echoing into the bay still, bouncing Futter 2m up and down Fortaleza's side. Impossible. Dangerous. 

After three hours of trying and several moments of the engine almost killing Elliot in the swell, we gave up, wondering whether we would ever set foot on land ever again.

In the morning, bracing ourselves, we tried again, this time pulling Futter up out of the water in a harness onto Fortaleza's side, so that both boats at least rose and fell on the same swell, and manouevered the engine over the rails and in. Success. 

Going ashore in Niue is a unique experience. The island is a cauliflower head of land, a massive coral bloom on top of a sea volcano - wider above sea level than at it, a mushroom of sorts. This means there is no beach or river inlet or natural harbour, there are just cliffs. To go ashore means either flying in on the one flight a week from NZ, or dinghying over to a large, imposing, calloused, industrial concrete wharf and using a crane to lift the dinghy up out of the (rolling, huge, unpredictable, surging) water onto the dock. 

A local dive boat uses The Crane in calm conditions

The first time we used the crane the swell was easily 2m and there was no one around to help us. This meant that Elliot had to get us close enough to the wharf, timing swell and momentum, so that I could unceremoniously hurl myself out of Futter, run to the crane (ignoring my 21 day sealeg urge to either fall over or throw up), read the instructions, push the massive crane arm out over the water and find the DOWN button to lower the enormous crane hook to where Elliot could grab it. While I muttered my way through that, Elliot had to work his way under the hook, without knocking himself unconcious on it, whilst negotiating the incoming waves and simultaneously attaching Futter's harness to the hook so that I could hit the UP button to (painfully) slowly lift Futter and Elliot out of the swell. It is impossible to accurately decribe the heart palpitating madness of it all. So much noise and shouting. Once Elliot and Futter were suspended up and out of the way of waves I had to heave on a rope to swing the crane arm carrying my precious cargo back over to dry land, lower them down and collapse into a swearing heap of relief.

WE WERE ON LAND. And It Was Weird.

Inexplicably I became instantly deaf in one ear and completely out of breath (Doctor Google tells me it was a stress response) and I was sure the land was swaying way more madly than the sea had ever been, standing up was weirdly tricky, and it was hot, so hot, but we made our way past the Niue Yacht Club - a tin roofed, single-roomed building proudly claiming to be “Biggest Little Yacht Club in the World - where no one owns a yacht or knows how to sail”, and made our way to Customs. 

Niue Customs is a weirdly relaxed affair. A jolly Father Christmas-like man with a huge belly (wrapped in a weaved ceremonical grass skirt), twinkly eyes and a beaming white-toothed smile sits behind a trestle table in an airy but sweltering, white washed, checker-floored meeting house. He has a stamp. We sat with him and talked, about whales and wind and cranes, fanning ourselves with our paperwork, while he chuckled knowingly. Then, getting down to business, we discovered that we had managed to leave our NZ Customs departure form on board Fortaleza, and without it we couldn't check in. 

This news very nearly broke me. To have made it to land and be sent straight back to Fortaleza, with the gauntlet that was the crane experience between us and her, was just too much. Father Christmas, thankfully, must have noticed my chin begin to crease into an ugly cry because he chortled, "It's ok, it's ok, bring it to me another time" and I am unsure I have ever loved a stranger more.

Out of the four boats that arrived into Niue that day only one crew (ahem...yes...that'll be us) made it back to their boat in the evening, all the others took hotel rooms for the night rather than face The Crane again - one didn't dare try again for 5 days. 

Our return trip, an exact reverse of our arrival, saw Elliot yelling "commit, Miranda, commit" over the noise of crashing waves as I hesitated to throw myself off the wharf into the surging dinghy below. My subsequent bafflingly unselfconscious head first dive into Lady Futtlington was later awarded 11 points from 10, for style, from Keith, the delightful Commodore of Niue Yacht Club.


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