Niue, nearly


We should be in Tonga, we could be in Tonga, on a beach, maybe learning how to open coconuts with our as yet unused machete, or indulging in some juicy fresh tropical fruit we don't know the name of whilst looking back at Fortaleza floating in the bay with a sense of satisfaction and pride for having crossed an ocean to get there.

But we aren't.

Somewhere north of Minerva and south of Tonga we were distracted by a flash of inspiration to sail straight through Tonga's southern islands and keep heading east, to Niue. On the map it doesn't look like a massive detour. In reality it's a three day sail. But Elliot had "read something" about it a few years ago and had dreamt of going there ever since and the wind was right, and we had enough food and really, why not? 

Niue is a sort of cauliflower head of coral that sticks up out of the ocean with steep coral cliffs that drop quickly to hundreds and then thousands of metres deep. It has a 40km circumference and a population of just 1200. It's remoteness has saved it from the havoc that tourism can wreak (it has only one flight a week) and as a result only very determined travellers bother going. The reward, apparently, is some of the clearest water in the world, with visibility up to 100m, and completely unspoilt reef to explore, in solitude. It also happens to be the maternity ward for humpback whale mummas, who trek to these waters every year all the way from Antarctica, to bring their whalelets into the world in warm waters surrounded by an array of flashy tropical fish. A sort of false advertising for the baby whales, who subsequently have to trail their hungry mummas all the way back to freezing, dark Antarctica for a post-natal feed. I wonder about evolution sometimes. Anyway, Niue is a paradise, obviously.

The winds were behind us for the entire trip across the Tongan Trench, gentle to the point of needing to motor at times. We had a couple of exciting moments. One was noticing late at night that Lady Futtlington (our dinghy) who we were towing, having not been able to hoist her on deck in the strong winds at Minerva, had deflated, punctured. Not our best work. An hour of swearing later and she was lashed down on deck, a problem to think about in daylight.The other exciting moment was Elliot bending down to pick something up off the deck while we were having coffee in the sun one day, saying "what's this?", only to discover it was the bolt responsible for holding the boom to the mast.  The bolt, not a bolt. THE bolt. The only bolt. A very lucky find.

We aren't seeing very many signs of life on the open ocean.  So far the cetacean count is 0. Not a single dolphin since we left NZ. No whales. Barely any birds even, although we were circled by a very lovely, tired looking white thing that looked like a cross between a parrot and a gull. She had the most extraordinary long plumey white tail, made up of just a few very very long feathers. She was not the most efficient flyer, not like some of the seabirds we see who barely flap, just soaring a whisker above the surface of the water, wingtips dangerously close to the peaks of unpredictable waves. I always hope to see one mess up, it must happen surely. Misjudging a wave, dipping the wing, cartwheeling, embarrassed, into the sea. I imagine they would look around to see if anyone had watched before shaking themselves off and carrying on with their day. Anyway the parrot gull wasn't one of those. She was a messy unaerodynamic flapper. Which is probably why she looked so tired. In fact I wondered whether she was in the right place at all, she seemed so uneasy with flying that I thought perhaps she had been blown out to sea and didn't belong at all. We googled her. The White Tailed Tropic Bird. Now call me odd, but it strikes me that this is a missed opportunity. I mean the name isn't wrong, at all, it's just incredibly dull and I think they could have done better. So I have renamed her the The Far-flung Flooftail Quill Maker Bird.

We arrived at Niue in a tropical rainstorm. Warm, vertical, torrential rain. I love rain, particularly this kind. Elliot, not so much, so I watched with some amusement as he went forward to raise the Quarantine flag and grab the mooring ball. Niue doesn't allow anchoring, to protect the coral, so they provide a small mooring field, just 20 balls, on the west coast. This is the only place for a yacht to stop. Once you are on a mooring ball you need to dinghy to shore, where a crane lifts your dinghy up a cliff to be stored, so that you can visit customs and immigration to check in. We were so excited. We had made it. I had completed my first ocean crossing. It was time to celebrate.

It seemed a little bit rude then, as we were preparing to go ashore, that the wind started to howl. Not a little howl, a full blown 25 knot howl, from the west, the bay's open side. From nothing to full gale in moments. Within minutes we were facing into steep, fast, big waves, with Fortaleza hobby horsing, her nose sometimes under the water, yanking and straining on the mooring ball line, with our backside being pushed hard towards a coral reef about 75m behind us. It was full bedlam and we had no choice but to let the ball go and head back out to sea.


We were both so tired. So looking forward to a break from night shifts. So excited to not have to adjust every body movement to the movement of the boat. So happy to be finally making land and exploring. 

Instead, we begrudgingly put a handkerchief of sail up and rode the storm downwind and around to the back of Niue to hide from whatever was coming. Night shift again. Nowhere to stop. 

Over night the wind peaked at around 32 knots and then relaxed and turned to a southerly. At about 6am it was windless again so we took the sails down and decided to let the breeze take us wherever it wanted to while we slept.

There are more previously unforecasted strong westerlies coming to Niue in the next couple of days, so there is little point trying to get back there at the moment. For now we are drifting very very very slowly towards Samoa and have decided we may be the only people to ever sail around the entire Pacific region without ever once touching land.


  1. Replies
    1. It's a verb. We are Fortalazying.

    2. BTW your Floof tail is almost certainly the White-tailed tropic bird (qv). Will normally answer to 'Fred'

  2. Oh I see you had spotted that already. Must read more carefully.


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