Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Friday, 20 September 2013

empty rooms in empty houses

Niue is a shrinking country. No, not the island herself, but many of her inhabitants have chosen a life elsewhere. I became fascinated with the abandoned houses we passed by in our explorations around the island. I started photographing them. I love a good story. Storytelling, be it through visuals or words, is my passion. And these houses’ stories are pure mystery.

A house that is in ruins contains the tears and laughter of her past occupants but we cannot hear them. As nature takes her course and the house begins to break down, roots make their way through her floors and branches poke through her roof. The house takes a life of her own. Her inhabitants become a long lost memory, and she begins to write her own story.

In the following photos, I try and capture each house in her state of disarray, leaving many questions unanswered, while finding beauty in the decay.

My favourite house is below...

Thursday, 19 September 2013

sometimes it's hard to go ashore

Denny, standing on the (in)famous wharf
(You can see the crane on the left, just beyond the dinghies)
Soon after we arrived in Niue, we were met by our friends Denny and Barb from SV Landfall. After a short visit in the evening, Denny offered to take us to shore the next day to check in with customs. He suggested that in light of the westerly swells, it would be helpful to gauge what we were up against to go ashore with Pip Squeak (that’s our dinghy). Now, the following description is for the particular conditions we found ourselves in the first 2 days we were in Niue. A few days of strong westerly winds and a resulting westerly swell are well, not good: the anchorage is open to the west. We had read other sailors’ accounts that described the going ashore process as user friendly, even kind of cool. And we agree, when it is calm, this process is a piece of cake. It might even be categorized as “fun”.

Let me set the scene: Denny and Barb picked us up in their inflatable dinghy. They have an 8 hp outboard. Already, Nyon was doing some “extreme rolling”, but we timed leaping into their dinghy when the swell carried it nearly up to the shear line. No problem we’d done this before. We headed toward the wharf. The concrete dock is anywhere from 6 to 9 or so feet high, the tide here has about a 4 foot range.

When we neared the wharf there were waves slamming into the nearby reef and against the wharf. The incoming swell was forced to squeeze in between. There are two sets of stairs and ladder combination. The one closer to shore was particularly, uh, interesting. And that’s where the crane is. You see, to go ashore here, you have to set up a lifting bridle on your dinghy, connect it to the hook of the crane and raise the dinghy out of the water and onto the wharf.

We mere passengers eyed that second set of stairs, and watched the waves climbing more than half way to the top in a frenzied dance. My eyes opened wide. The ladder nearby wasn’t much better. The dinghy itself seemed to be on an elevator gone mad. The force of the swell was that strong. We decided to aim for the narrow ladder closer to the corner and away from shore. The swell looked slightly better there. Denny gunned the engine to bring the bow of the dinghy close to the ladder. In a leap of faith, we had to jump off the dinghy, grab the lanyard attached to the ladder and scramble up the ladder as fast as we could, (it was hard to keep the dinghy in position). I went first, Rick and Barb followed. The crane was pre-set over the edge of the dock. Dennis took his dinghy underneath it and in a feat of dexterity, hooked the bridle to the crane, turned off the engine, and somehow climbed out of the dinghy and onto the dock without falling in the water (this time). I was no less than impressed. Barb pushed the up button, and slowly the dinghy rose out of the watery maelstrom. The dinghy was positioned on a cart, moved to a “parking spot” and removed from the cart for the next user. And that was that. The dinghy sat there, unmoving. You would never have known what it just went through. The next dinghy that came to shore wasn’t so lucky, poor Joe was drenched from head to toe by the time his dinghy made it onto the wharf, but he was still smiling!

Of course, after that initial feeling of relief, you remember that you have to go through this all over again, in reverse, to go home. You just have to. Or you can stay on the wharf and sleep on a concrete block until the wind changes direction and the swell abates. It was tempting let me tell you, especially after I nearly fell in the water. (To top it off, it was dark when we came back.)

The entire time I thought, there is no way we can do this with our dinghy and OARS. Needless to say, we waited for the swell to calm down before we went ashore in our own dinghy. And then it really was a piece of cake.

We love Niue.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

an ode to french polynesia

Here is a little video I made of our stay in French Polynesia. Enjoy!

on the loss of a dream

He that will not sail till all dangers are over must never put to sea.

- Thomas Fuller

SV Landfall in the foreground, as SV Blue Marble is hauled out of the water

When you are a sailor, some of the darker realities of cruising are never far away. I’m not writing this post to be an alarmist, or to scare our mothers or would-be voyagers, but when you choose to become a sea-gypsy, there are risks. Just like when you drive down the highway or cross the street.  As much as I like to use those examples, it’s a little more dramatic and attention-grabbing for landlubbers when you mention a boat crashing into a reef, or someone’s mast breaking. You know, the kind of catastrophes that occur when you put sailors, boats, and a combination of unfortunate incidents together.

Every year, there are a few boats lost to the clutches of the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes we know the sailors, sometimes we’ve only heard of them, and hopefully, it will never be us… Then again, the top two feet of our mast did break once. It didn’t stop us. We just pressed the pause button, fixed it and kept going. We were lucky we could.

The crew on the far left, watching as their home
away from home is lifted out of the water
Soon after we arrived in Niue, we watched from our boat as a crane was attempting to raise a large catamaran out of the water and onto the wharf. This isn’t something they do often in little Niue and we could tell. It was nerve-wracking to watch the process from afar.

We met some of the crew of SV Blue Marble soon after. The crew consists of a group of 9 Norwegians and a Brazilian who are all part owners of the catamaran: a genial crew of young world travelers doing it their way. When they arrived in Niue, they were offered a commercial mooring as a precaution.* Theirs is a large catamaran. The wind was blowing from the west making Niue a lee shore, but everything appeared secure and the crew decided to go ashore.

And that’s when it happened. The hardware at the bottom of the mooring failed. No one was aboard. The catamaran crashed into the reef. It’s true, the crew was not hurt, but a dream was shattered as the boat grinded its way onto that reef. Our friends on Landfall and many islanders rallied and eventually got the boat off the reef and hauled out. More than one crew member told us that the Niueans overwhelmed them with their support and kindness. Among other things, they were lent a house and car to use for free. We were not surprised: the local vibe is particularly warm and friendly.

During our stay in Niue, they were working through the debacle of insurance while liquidating their belongings. They hosted a “Wreck Sale” and invited everyone on the island to come. When I arrived at the wharf, seeing all their dive gear, tools, clothes, canned goods spread out for would-be buyers… I had to put my sunglasses on. It was very difficult not to burst into tears then and there. I kind of felt like an idiot, they all had brave faces on, and here I was trying not to be a blubbering fool. I wasn’t the one who lost the dream and the boat, but as a fellow sailor, this did hit close to home.

Do incidents like these make us want to stop sailing? No. Just like when SV Echo went down earlier this year, we are simply reminded to be as prepared as possible, and to hope for the best. It may seem crazy to some that we choose this life, but I’d rather be exploring this great, big world for as long as I can, than cower ashore because it’s too scary out on the big blue. I’m a sailor. The sea is a gift I can’t refuse. But today, we feel their loss.

Feel free to join SV Blue Marble’s Facebook Page or go to their website, and give them your support, I’m sure they could use it.

*I just want to point out that the mooring in question did not belong to the Niue Yacht Club. Theirs are maintained anually and we are confident they are in good condition. (This is not a good anchorage; the only option is to tie up to a mooring ball.) But should strong westerlies come through again, we would leave.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

niue: the little rock that could

Niue: the mooring field from shore

Togo Sea Track: Pretty cool if you ask us
Niue is all that, and more. This 269 km2 raised coral atoll (affectionately called “the Rock”), whose coastline is riddled with limestone caves, is likely the friendliest island we have ever been to. This place is just plain cool. While some literature would have you believe there are 1600 inhabitants here, one Niuean scoffed at the figure. “Yeah, it’s more like 1200, they counted the yachties and tourists to pad the numbers, sorry but you don’t count!” This tiny country’s population has depleted because of the many Niueans that have left for New Zealand. (A Niuean automatically qualifies for a Kiwi passport.) The evidence is in the many abandoned homes along the roads of Niue. We hitchhiked all over the western/northwestern side of the island, and got to ask a lot of questions of the locals. One man told us about the government structure. They have a “parliament”, and each of the 13 villages has a 5 member council. According to this man, one of the villages we passed by, had only five inhabitants. I wonder if they were all in that village’s council. Another village had a sign that claimed to be smoke free. I’m not sure how many people lived there, but cigarettes were not cool in that village.

Exploring with SV Landfall's Barb (above) and
Hanging out with some new faces too
Photo courtesy of SV Landfall

Climbing out of the Togo Chasm
(One of our favourite Sea Tracks)
Photo courtesy of SV Landfall
Many tourists and yachties choose to rent a car to explore the island, which is great. We love hitchhiking. We hear stories straight out of the locals’ mouths. We laugh at our differences, and sometimes we share our story. And then we wave goodbye. Hitchhiking creates an opportunity for us to connect with perfect strangers, even if it is for a fleeting moment. There is something precious about that.

Happy to reunite with a lovely friend

Checking out the Limu Pools (Great snorkelling!)

The second Limu pool where we saw our first sea snakes
As long as you don't bug 'em, they won't bug you
(or bite you: which is good, 'cause they're venomous)
A couple varieties of butterflyfish

If you like caves, chasms, sandy coves, snorkeling in crystal clear waters, lush greenery and friendly folks, this is the place for you. Sure groceries are expensive here, and the anchorage is less than ideal. (You have to grab a mooring ball, it’s too deep to anchor.) It is completely exposed to the west, but as long as the southeasterly winds prevail, it’s fine.

Blissed out in Niue

Matapa Chasm (A refreshing swim! We have to
dive down below the freshwater to warm up)

Talava Arches

A cave near the Talava Arches and a Rick
Practicing my grumpy face... just in case I forgot it.
Really. All the smiling faces on this island are contagious.

Hio Sea Track: A little private beach

Cool caves are everywhere on this island

Our favourite swimming hole
I’m not the only one to gush about this place: for a great (and detailed) report on Niue, read SV Bella Star’s post.

Position: 19* 03.238’S   169* 55.391’W

Monday, 16 September 2013

camp suwarrow

Suwarrow, on a very still day
A laid-back check-in
We checked into the country barefoot.* With an introduction like that, we knew we had come to the right place. Suwarrow was to be our only stop in the Cook Islands. Time was the only reason we did not explore more of the country Lonely Planet describes as “fifteen droplets of land cast across 2 million sq km of wild Pacific blue”. (Rarotonga, Samoa & Tonga, p.44) We chose Suwarrow over Rarotonga, because we wanted less city and more nature. You can definitely call this place a nature lover’s paradise, what with its seabird colonies, rich marine life, and turquoise waters. (Yes Dana, more turquoise waters!) Suwarrow is the Cook Islands’ only national park. This atoll gained attention because of a man named Tom Neale who lived here on and off between 1952 and 1977. He wrote about his adventures in the book entitled An Island to Oneself.

Nice, huh!

Charlie and his coconut crabs
Now, the atoll is overseen by two park rangers for 6 months of the year. They’re kind of like camp leaders. This year’s two rangers are Charlie and Harry. Charlie is the effusive I’m-your-best-friend, this-is-your-home, come-talk- to-me-if-you-need-anything-guy. (He takes people on trips to the bird colonies and snorkelling in exchange for some gasoline, he organizes shark feeding viewings on the other side of the island, and he takes people fishing.) Charlie has a big personality. Charlie also makes his own tasty coconut beer. It makes for an interesting combination at times. The important thing is: he loves everyone and he wants you to have fun.

Harry singing some of his original songs
At first, Harry seems very serious. He’s composed, quiet, and calm. He takes care of all things official. If you take the time to get to know him, you will find out that he is a very friendly, laid-back fellow. I enjoyed talking with him about the years he spent in New Zealand and why he chose to return to his Maori roots in Manihiki, where he owned a pearl farm until 2005. Now he’s a ranger here, while his family lives in Rarotonga. He composes and records songs about his culture, and the losses his people are experiencing as many flock to a different kind of life in NZ. We had the pleasure of hearing him play some of his songs during one of the jam sessions on the beach. If you come here, make sure to take the time to get to know him, he’s a great guy. (Oh, and he loves scones.)

Our friendly neighbours drop by for a visit... 

The classic dive shot
There are many reasons to wax poetic about Suwarrow. The manta rays, the snorkelling. The clear waters, the little island with hammocks scattered among coconut trees, the yoga sessions on the beach. The barbecues that included freshly caught fish; the music: various musicians that traveled through dusted off their instruments here. 

We met some wonderful people and enjoyed the communal aspect of cruising in a laid back surrounding. You could say it was like summer camp, without the angst.

Cleaning fish, (the discards were thrown out on the other
side of the island, don't want to excite the sharks in the
 anchorage now!

Making time to play with pens and pencils

One of many jam sessions!

Terns, terns, and more terns... (Seabird colony) 
Clear, clear waters...

Pretty coral

Manta Rays!

Making friends with the manta ray...

Kim is eyeing the freshly caught and barbecued fish for the potluck

Another lovely day ends in Camp Suwarrow
*This is not our normal practice, we always try to look presentable out of respect when we check into a country. But Suwarrow has a different vibe: it felt just as respectful to walk barefoot. After all, our host was shirtless… It balanced out.

tonga day 3: the place where time begins

Greetings from tomorrow!

Tonga refers to itself as "the place where time begins". My today is your
tomorrow (if you are east of us!) We lost an entire 24 hours... It
disappeared in a wink, just like that. They say one should savour every
minute of life, but what happens when 1440 minutes just disappear? Rick and
I feel like time travellers... Geeks much?

In case you're wondering, we have arrived in the Vava'u Group of Tonga! Of
course, as we entered the channel, we found out it was the prince's birthday
today.(Tonga is a monarchy.) That is a civic holiday here, so we aren't
officially checked in yet. Through radio calls with SV Sea Whisper and SV
Osprey, we figured out what to do. We are tied to a mooring. We can't get
off the boat, but that's okay. We'll take this as a lounging kind of day
for us. We're not exhausted, just a little tired. We had a nice, easy
passage here from Niue. Tomorrow, we'll officially check in, and step on
land once again.

Position: 18* 39.526'S 173* 58.986'W

Sunday, 15 September 2013

tonga day 2: moving along

Some of the highlights on this passage so far:

Stove top popcorn
While the days are hot, night time is refreshingly cooler
The wind is light, but it's sticking around (fingers crossed)
The comfort of one warm meal a day
Great music, and lovely silences (wind and waves don't count)
A waxing moon

Less than 80 nautical miles to go! We arrive tomorrow... or is it the day
after? Mmm... Depends on your perspective!

Position: 18* 41.463'S 172* 57.625'W
Distance in 24 hrs: 105 nm
Speed: 3.9 knots
Heading: 278*T

Saturday, 14 September 2013

tonga day 1: on the sea again

We're on our way once again. This time, we're headed for the Vava'u Group in
Tonga. This blog has become one passage report after another... We
are swallowing up a lot of distance in a short time. It has been decided,
our goal is to be in New Zealand for the cyclone season, but first, we'll
be exploring some of Tonga for the next month!

The sun is shining, we have more wave action and less wind than we'd like,
the forecast lied... At least it's not pouring, and the wind warnings are
over. It's one or the other it seems. We're cool with the chill version for
once. Although it's looking more and more like we'll have to do some

Position: 18* 48.118'S 171* 12.649'W
Distance since our departure (19 hours): 84 nm
Speed: 3.2 knots
Heading: 243*T

Saturday, 7 September 2013

niue is swell

Hello world!

We arrived in Niue just before sunset on September 5, (that's 2 days ago).
The anchorage is still recovering from strong westerlies (the worst
possible wind direction for this anchorage, as it's completely exposed to
the west). The swell keeps things interesting aboard. (That song from Blues
Brothers comes to mind... "Rolling, rolling, rolling...")Luckily, the winds
are projected to shift to S, SE, and E in the next few days.

Yet, we are already charmed by this tiny island that is 1600 inhabitants
strong. This is the smallest country we have ever visited. The people are
friendly, the landscape is lovely, but the dock is... Well, in certain
conditions it's a rite of passage that includes heart palpitations.

We'll write more about this place as we discover it. The Internet is
particularly slow here, so I'm sorry to say you'll have to wait before we
can post a full report on Suwarrow or Niue, and it's impossible to upload

Life is good, and we're getting adept at catching objects that fly off the
galley counter. That would be practically everything at this point.

Position: 19* 03.238'S 169* 55.391'W

Thursday, 5 September 2013

niue day 6: the last bit is the longest

Niue is a mere 20 nm away, but we have to go around to the west side, so
technically, we have 30 nm to go before we arrive. And we can't wait! We will
likely arrive well after dark, as the wind is blowing dead on the
nose. Luckily, this is one harbour that is safe to arrive at after dark.
Still, it always makes us a little anxious to arrive without the protection
of daylight.

We decided to motor the last 40 miles as tacking back and forth to get
there would take another two days, and we just don't have it in us. We have
things to fix, friends to meet up with and sleep to catch up on.

Position: 19* 17.460'S 169* 40.443'W
Distance in 24hrs: 103 nm
Speed: 3.8 knots
Heading: 293*T

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

onto Niue day 5: butting heads with the spcz

Beveridge Reef wasn't meant to be. The weather got increasingly worse
overnight, with downpour after downpour and 30 knot winds. By the time we
decided to shift course for Niue, we were only 10 nm away from Beveridge
Reef. Hello SPCZ. You win.

With no land to break the swell, we figure that Beveridge Reef would not
have been comfortable at all. It's too bad. It sounded like it would have
been such a unique experience.

I can't deny I was disappointed, but both Rick and I agreed it was for
the best. Mother Nature is the boss. A few hours later, the wind has abated
some, and it's raining less. (Hurray for that, it's hard to manage
leaks on Nyon when it rains that much.)

Oh, and the solenoid stopped working again.) Peanuts and fake cheese. Yum.
(The good news is I found 4 granola bars!)

We should make landfall in Niue by tomorrow.

Position: 19* 43.112'S 168* 11.121'W
Distance in 24hrs: 122 nm
Speed: 5.4 knots
Heading: 255*T

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

beveridge reef day 4: musically speaking

There's this song by Rod Stewart. Yep, Rod Stewart. I'm almost embarrassed to
admit I like this song, but hey, what can you do. Sometimes it takes a cheesy

And it's perfect for a passage. Of course, it's called "Sailing". When it
plays on the stereo, I always have to belt out the refrain... I'm a little
quieter with the verses, I usually muddle them up.

I look over the horizon, and feel the pull of the wind on Nyon as she
slides down waves, and I feel happy. It doesn't take much. A bit of wind, a
touch of sun, a song and a mate.

Life at sea is pretty damn nice today.

P.S. One more day and we should be making landfall. Okay, that's a bit of a
stretch. We'll arrive at the coral reef and take a deep breath. Maybe we'll
play Rod's song again. But it's just not the same at anchor. It's a sailing
song after all.

Position: 18* 37.543'S 166* 49.991'W
Distance in 24hrs: 117 nm
Speed: 4.3 knots
Heading: 209*T

Monday, 2 September 2013

beveridge reef day 3: some days are better

And this is why patience pays off. Oh who am I kidding! I wasn't patient at
all yesterday. Right. Far from it, but had I been patient, I would have
been rewarded with the same conditions today. That is, without the fretting
and frustration, the wind would still be blowing steady right now. We're
beating into 15 knot winds, sailing at around 5 knots, and it's great.
I'll take it. For however long it lasts.

I love sailing when there is wind. I really do.

P.S. The solenoid is hanging on, so not only there is wind, but we can eat
rice again!

Position: 17* 09.886'S 165* 33.909'W
Distance in 24hrs: 96 nm
Speed: 5.1 knots
Heading: 209*T

Sunday, 1 September 2013

beveridge reef day 2: two steps forward, one step back

I never thought I'd be so happy to see the anemometer say 9.3 knots. After
a night of intensely fickle winds, to no wind at all, it's a relief.
Intense and fickle seem to be an oxymoron. Perhaps the intense part is the
frustration the crew felt with the situation. And perhaps enduring the
multiple downpours overnight, while watching our boat moving backwards on
the chart plotter did not help either. What can I say, we didn't sleep
much, bickered some, and then got over it.

After a couple gybes, I have managed to get us pretty much on course again
this morning. We're actually sailing at 4.3 knots as I write this. Phew. (At
noon, the wind was back down to 3.9 knots. Oh well.)

Now, if only our propane solenoid would want to stay on. We haven't been
able to cook anything since last night. Rick is pondering a plan of attack.
We don't have much to eat aboard that doesn't require at least some amount
of cooking. I am trying to not let that bother me. I hope I don't have to
live on peanuts for the rest of the passage. Lately, it seems that with
every passage, something breaks. It's always a little more discouraging in
the middle of the night. (A couple hours later: it seems to work for now.
Fingers crossed!)

Livin' the dream baby! I have to laugh, reality is so full of... unexpected
twists. But once again, the sun is shining. There is that.

Position: 16* 05.523'S 164* 31.969'W
Distance in 24hrs: 83 nm
Speed: 2.9 knots
Heading: 201*T


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