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Day 851 - Niue (S 19° 03 W 169° 55)
11:38hrs - September 29th 2009
Tsunami Warning!

We're OK.

Along with half a dozen other sailboats, Dream Time hurriedly put to sea this morning in an effort to reach deep water after hearing the grave news that a 7.9 earthquake shook American Samoa, which lies less than 300 miles to our north, resulting in a tsunami that reportedly swept across to the neighboring islands of Western Samoa and was expected to reach Niue
by 0730.

The tsunami warning was broadcast on the emergency VHF channel 16 by Niue Radio about 0730 this morning, unfortunately right about the same time the wave would have reached our island. Fortunately, however, for all the islanders and the cruisers moored close to the reef in the exposed harbor, Niue was spared and never felt the affect of the tsunami.

Many cruisers claim they felt tremors on their boats about 0700, so it's just
a little worrying that Catherine and I slept right through the experience. You see, we rarely leave our VHF radio on at night, finding the radio traffic and occasional bursts of static too disruptive. So it wasn't until 0745, when I first poked my head out of the cabin, that I realized something was wrong.

While a number of cruising yachts were scheduled to leave Niue today anyway, they were motoring out of the mooring field at full throttle towing their dinghies, an unusual practice for the 250 mile passage to Tonga. A neighboring boat sped past and the captain shouted over, "I think I see a whale on the horizon!", which I thought a little odd seeing that there were whales already swimming right inside the mooring field. But it wasn't until a few minutes later, after I turned on our VHF radio and heard the news, that I realized he must of shouted, "I think I see a wave on the horizon."

Thankfully he was mistaken.

 

From the patchy news we've been able to gather we understand that a 20
foot tsunami swept across Samoa, but we have limited access to information regarding the severity of the earthquake, the resulting tsunami and the level of devastation, so we'll have to wait until we reach Tonga to get the facts, for now, we can only hope for the best.

Along with the five other sailboats that put to sea, we're now sailing west and have a moment to reflect on just how fortunate we all are. The cruiser's life is an unpredictable one, often landfalls and routes change on a whim depending on something as variable as the weather or as random as a casual conversation over sundowners with a fellow yachtie about a new harbor, an island or a country that you should visit, such is the joy of cruising - nothing is really set in stone. So it's not too difficult to imagine that we could have been anchored in Samoa. At one point Catherine and I were even discussing the option.

So it feels a little surreal that today, on our passage to Tonga, the sea is calm, the skies clear of cloud and a cool steady breeze is filling the sails that dot the ocean. It's the kind of day cruisers hope for and dream about, which makes it even more difficult to imagine that north of us, just over the horizon, Samoa is grappling with the unimaginable. Our prayers go out to the islanders and cruisers in that area.

In two days we'll be arriving in Tonga, which just happens to rest on the edge of a major tectonic plate, so from now on our VHF radio will remain ON at all times.

 

11:23 - Niue Radio just broadcast the end to the tsunami warning in Niue.

Also, we would like to thank everyone who sent us emails of concern for our safety - thanks!

 
 
 

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Day 849 - Niue (S 19° 03 W 169° 55)
18:58hrs - September 27th 2009
Niue

I had never even heard of Niue before we planned this trip so it was a great surprise to find this little independent coral limestone island not too changed from when Capt. Cook first came across it in 1774.  There is no surrounding coral lagoon, so not much protection from the seas for visiting boats, and as I write this we are pitching around like a cork in a swimming pool full of children, except that we are actually attached to a Niue Yacht Club (NYC) mooring!

There aren’t many people on the island anymore (approx. 1,300) but all of them without exception, wave and smile as they go by. Whales and their babies swim round the island playing and feeding in water with a staggering 200 ft. visibility, and most of the island is a swiss cheese of incredible caves and chasms for your own personal Indiana Jones adventures, so all in all a very cool place.

There is only one flight a week, which comes in from New Zealand bringing tourists and some supplies, but the main provisions come in on a supply ship which normally arrives every 5 weeks.  But there has been some sort of mechanical problem requiring an obscure part from far away, and the ship and its much needed supplies is now an uncomfortable 3 weeks late, and horror of horrors, the beer has run out! But the ship is rumored to be arriving in the next day or so, and even I’m getting a bit excited to see what treasures it shows up with.  Despite the lack of beer, folks here seem pretty relaxed about the situation, but I guess you get used to life’s predictable unpredictability when you live on a little rock in the middle of the Pacific.



     
 

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Day 844 - Aitutaki, Cook Is. (S 19° 13 W 165° 52)
14:39hrs - September 22nd 2009
A Bonus Country

Before we set off on this grand adventure my geographical knowledge of these parts was pretty limited. The thousands of little dots on our world globe spread across the vast stretch of ocean between the Americas and Australia seemed too numerous to count, let alone memorize. But the South Pacific has been our home now for six months, and while many of the tiny islands are still as foreign to me as, say a map of the New Jersey Turnpike to a Cook Islander, I am now at least a little more familiar with the eastern side of the Pacific and look forward to exploring her western islands.

Like Niue for example, an island that, up until just a few months ago I didn't even know existed. Which isn't terribly surprising I guess as it is, after-all, the world's smallest nation, sitting all alone in the world's largest ocean. Affectionately referred to as "The Rock" by Niueans , Niue is, well just a giant rock, a slab of limestone coral to be exact, which rises up from the ocean depths to an altitude of barely 200 feet above sea level. With no lagoon, outer islands, protective barrier reef or sandy beaches, Niue wouldn't even be on our radar if it wasn't for the fact that it just happens to sit directly in our path from Aitutaki to Tonga, and rumor has it the locals are among some of the friendliest in the Pacific, so it would be rude not to pop in and say hi.

Niue promises to be a unique port-of-call for Dream Time. With no sand or dirt run-off from the rocky island you can expect to have water visibility to over 150 feet. The island is surrounded by a network of limestone caves, both in the water and out, diving is suppose to be spectacular, especially now the humpback whales are in season, and if that's not enough the entire island has free WiFi - I guess they figured that as they're the smallest nation in the world, isolated and hundreds of miles from their nearest neighbor, the very least they could do is offer their loyal residents free access to Google and Facebook.

So with only another 220 nautical miles to go, we're looking forward to raising our Niue courtesy flag, getting another stamp in our passport, exploring the world's smallest nation, meeting a few of the locals and, of course, downloading some more Podcasts to iTunes.



 

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Day 841 - Aitutaki, Cook Is. (S 18° 51 W 159° 48)
13:41hrs - September 19th 2009
Happy Aitutaki Thoughts

After an all too brief six days on Aitutaki we are back at sea again bobbing along on our merry way to
Niue, and I am sitting here quietly thinking happy Aitutaki thoughts.  So many lovely memories,
everything from the whales happy welcoming committee to the dazzling 360 degree postcard images
in the expansive lagoon, to the wildly impressive warrior fire dancers, this little Cook Island has
more than its share of lovely.

We spent a day exploring up, down and around the island on mopeds and other than a small but embarrassing slow motion wipe out, (corners are not my friend) it was a great day, but we discovered the real treasure is out in the lagoon.  After a blissful day pottering about on a tour from endless sand bar to endless sand bar and from island to island, it has to be said that without exception this is the prettiest place we have had the fortune of coming across in the Pacific.  After a kiss on Honeymoon Island and a passport stamp on One Foot Island (at apparently “the smallest post office in the world”) I will never
forget, and I will miss this tiny perfect little Cook Island. 




   
 

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Day 836 - Aitutaki, Cook Is. (S 18° 51 W 159° 48)
18:49hrs - September 14th 2009
Aitutaki - Chickens Welcome, Dogs Beware

Getting in through Aitutaki's very shallow and narrow passage was no problem, leaving I suspect, may be a little harder.

We arrived at the entrance to Aitutaki's pass around 1300 on Sunday afternoon just three hours before high tide, and were immediately welcomed to the island by a family of friendly and inquisitive humpback whales who lazily swam over to say hello. Rolling through the calm water in the island's lee, the whales, parents and a new born from what we could make out, swam just a boat length away from us, blowing white spray into the blue sky in great whoooooshing breaths. While waiting for the tide to rise we motored Dream Time slowly around in circles, following the whales - mesmerized by their size, grace and gentleness. A sea turtle joined us too, poking its head out of the water straining to see what was going on - this was our introduction to the Cook Islands.

We motored in through the pass half an hour before high tide with a full 7 " to spare under our keel and parallel parked Dream Time inside the tiny boat basin next to a bright yellow fishing boat, dropping both our bow and stern anchors to hold us in position. No sooner had we congratulated ourselves on our safe arrival with a celebratory hug, a tradition on Dream Time, and relishing in the fact that we are the only cruising boat here, Catherine and I were serenaded by enchanting Polynesian singing carried over in the breeze. We spent an hour sitting quietly on a calm deck, soaking up the warm afternoon sun and all the harmonic sounds of our new South Pacific country.

We've only spent one day on Aitutaki, but we're already huge fans. Our first impression, especially when compared to the relatively orderly French Polynesian islands that we've visited, is that Aitutaki is just a little different - in a quirky, unexpected, happy carefree sort of way. The locals, who are Polynesian, all speak with a heavy New Zealand drawl and are definitely on 'island time', moving at a pace that makes their French Polynesia neighbors seem positively hyper. We discovered that unlike the other islands we've visited in the Pacific where dogs rule and run around in unfettered abandon, there is not a single canine on Aitutaki, not one, as they were blamed for a leprosy outbreak years ago (another story is that a dog once bit the King's son resulting in the mass extermination of man's best friend). Chickens, however, apparently have nothing to fear here and are absolutely everywhere. The volume and concentration of "cockadooduldoos" in the morning has to be heard to be believed. At 0430 AM this morning, long before sunrise, I was forced to cram spongy plugs into my ears just to silence the racket and get a full nights sleep.

Aitutaki may not be as polished or predictable as some of the other Polynesian islands we've visited, but it's just oozing with gentle charm and character. Like the little boy in a diaper we stumbled across earlier today happily practicing his golf swing with a number 9 iron. Yes, we love it here and may stay just a little longer than expected.

 

Dream Time: Changed engine oil filter, primary and secondary fuel filters. Changed engine oil.
Engine hours 1,771. Replaced watermaker pre-filters. Repaired windlass deck 'down' switch.



     
 

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Day 834 - Sailing to the Cook Is. (S 17° 48 W 157° 51)
13:10hrs - September 12th 2009
Twas a Dark and Stormy Night

We hove-to last night. The conditions weren't really dangerous, and this is no Perfect Storm story, but after spending 24 hours of rolling around in 15 foot seas with winds regularly gusting well over 30 knots (a force 7 or "near gale" according to Mr. Beaufort) we had had enough. So rather than crashing on through the night in an effort to make landfall Saturday we did the equivalent of pulling the car over to the side of the road to rest.

Perhaps it's because we've spent the last 129 lounging around in French Polynesia, eating too many baguettes, drinking too many Hinanos, sleeping in late and having afternoon naps, we've (I've) gotten just a little soft around the edges. So at 4:00 in the afternoon, after a full day of pitching, rolling, slamming, being sprayed on, dumped on and rained on, we heaved-to, a tactic employed by mariners for centuries in adverse sailing conditions.

Consisting of backing the headsail, reefing the main sail amidships and lashing the helm to windward, with one sail straining against the other, the boat stalls, unsure which way to go and so sits about 50 degrees into the wind, in contrast to the erratic movement and pounding of Dream Time underway in a "near gale", heaving-to was magical.

For 14 hours we weathered gusts up to 35 knots and seas so large that we could hear them coming in the night long before we were able to see them. Lines of white, foaming phosphorescent's charged towards us in complete darkness, the larger waves collapsing randomly around Dream Time. Occasionally we rolled heavily to port, dipping our leeward rail under seas, scooping hundreds of gallons of foaming, bubbling water onto our teak decks. But down below, Catherine and I had dinner, read, watched a little iPod TV and managed to get some sleep all in relative comfort and peace.
In the remote chance that we'd see another boat, we continued our watches through the night but stayed down below, only sticking our heads out of the companionway every 15 minutes or so. But in this part of the ocean, well out of the commercial shipping lanes and off the major rhumb lines for most sailors heading west, we hadn't seen anyone since we left Bora Bora four days ago.

We weathered the rest of the near gale without incident and at 0600 in the morning, during my 0300 - 0800 watch, the wind had dropped to 25 knots so I unlashed the helm, steered Dream Time off the wind and after drifting only 20 nautical miles in 14 hours, we shot off again towards Aitutaki, our next destination in the Cook Islands.

We've timed our arrival for Sunday afternoon at high tide. The only passage into the island was blasted through the reef by the Americans in World War II, it's half a mile long and regrettably holds "only 6 feet of water at exactly high tide and is a mere 40 feet wide" - according to the cruising guide books. So as Dream Time draws a little over 5.5', and with no room to turn around inside the narrow passage, and with an outgoing current of a few knots due to the heavy breaking seas on the lagoon's south side, when we arrive tomorrow our adventure will be far from over.

 

Day 833 - Sailing to the Cook Is. (S 17° 34 W 155° 25)
09:46hrs - September 10th 2009
Where Did All The Color Go?

In contrast to the vivid colors of Bora Bora our world now, back at sea, seems dull and muted. A canopy of heavy clouds hang low over the ocean which, unlike the spectrum of vibrant incandescent blues, aquas, turquoises, greens and sapphires of Bora Bora, seems flat and void of life. Rain squalls roll past low over our mast with regularity, blurring the horizon and smudging the narrow gap between sky and sea with streaks of gray. It feels as though a heavy blanket has been pulled over the earth. Compared to our last 129 days in French Polynesia - enjoying the richness of her islands, the warmth and openness of her people and the vibrancy of her culture, being at sea again, even though Bora Bora is a mere 200 miles off our stern, feels like a universe away.

But ironically, even with gray closing in all around us, I am happy and completely at peace here. You see, after 4 months of sensory overload - events, dancing, surfing, diving, singing - this lack of color, contrast and definition that we now find ourselves floating in provides a peaceful setting, an environment where we are left completely alone with our thoughts. With no distractions and the pressure of provisioning behind us, along with the temptation to climb another hill, hike through another valley, wander another beach or dive another reef, we're able to just sit back quietly, rest, watch the world gently slide by and think about just how lucky we are.



 

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Day 826 - Bora Bora (S 16° 31 W 151° 42)
10:42hrs - September 3rd 2009
Bye Bye Bora Bora

September in New York usually marks the beginning of a gradual descent into autumn, winter and all things chilly, but down here, south of the equator things are quite different. Despite the appearance of all our sunny summer loveliness it’s actually winter down here, and just a little south of us right now winter storms are rolling around ominously at the bottom of the world with alarming ferocity.  The edges of some of these storms have reached all the way up into our latitudes and have resulted in a delay to our passage west.  We were really scheduled to leave Bora Bora, our last stop in French Polynesia, some days ago but too much wind and the resulting unpleasantly large seas right were we want to go in the Cook Islands, have kept us floating in the pretty blue lagoon of Bora Bora for a little while longer.  Not entirely a bad thing from any perspective, as I will really miss the enchanting islands of French Polynesia with their beautiful people, absurdly pretty islands, and idyllic fish filled lagoons not to mention the altogether, entirely, much too delicious French food.

But by the end of this week it will be time for us to go, we hope to have our weather window and be able to start making our way west to the Cook Islands.  So until we return, oh lovely French Polynesia, my little Marquesian turtle tattoo and I say thank you and farewell, till we meet again.

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