|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.