Tag Archives: blue planet odyssey

200 Plus

We have flirted a couple of times with the 200 miles/day goal, but finally today we have definitively and unequivocally broken through that barrier! Our noon to noon 24 hour run was 225 nautical miles. Yeah! Our average speed for the past day and a half has been an awesome 9.5 knots. Rides down the waves are routinely 12 knots, sometimes 14, occasionally 16, and twice 18. We left a couple hours behind the other boats because we had to complete a repair aloft, but we have passed them all. Blue Wind is the boat to beat. They were 20 miles ahead of us when we got out to open water, and they are now 15 miles behind. It was gratifying of course to sail past Tahawus last night — they’ve shown that they can sail pass us upwind, now we’ve shown what we can do downwind. But of course this is not a race…

We are sailing with a reefed mainsail and working jib. Winds are in the low 20’s, though it was blowing 30 just before dawn. That was a wild time, with the roar of the water rushing past the hulls, and the anticipation of the next wave lifting the sterns in the utter darkness. Then the push of the wave accelerating the boat, and guessing from that initial push what the speed would be in the seconds that follow. Can everything withstand the immense forces at play…? Mostly the sailing has been “smooth” in the sense of not crashing into waves, though occasionally one smacks under the bridge deck and shakes the boat with a lurch that would have seemed terrifying months ago, but which I would merely call nerve-wracking after what we have sailed through to get here.

I do not expect to be the first boat to Australia, because the wind is predicted to go light before we get there, and both Blue Wind and Tahawus go much faster than we do under power. (And they will switch to power much earlier than we will.) But we are very happy to have shown what we can do under sail! Six hundred miles to go to the passage through the Great Barrier Reef.

Wallis Island

This place has found its way into our hearts. We were very lucky to connect with the Australian couple when we arrived. They told us about the Cultural Bureau tour, which we probably would not have come upon on our own. The tour was wonderful. Our guide was born here, but has lived in other parts of the world, so she had an interesting perspective. The fact that she also spoke good English was a big plus. We bombarded her with an endless stream of questions, while we were taking in the sights.

Ancient peoples apparently lived on this island as far back as 2,000 BC, maybe earlier. Around 1700 the island was ‘colonized’ by Tongans, who brought nobles and set up a hierarchical society. They built forts, one of which we visited. Around 1830 Christian missionaries arrived. The first batch tried to impose their own ways of doing things; they were killed. But the next batch was more open to the existing culture, and they were accepted. After several years the local king converted, and then of course everyone did. The Catholic Church provided schools, which added to their acceptance. The number of churches here is incredible. Every community has one, and there are lots of communities (not clear to an outsider where one stops and the next begins). Plus there is a large cathedral. The structures are elaborate and beautiful. (Photos to follow when Internet allows.)

The United States stationed forces here during World War II. They built a fuel depot that is still used today. Many of those troops perished at Guadalcanal. After the war, Jeeps and other equipment were pushed over a cliff into the deep volcanic lake, which we visited. The crater is remarkable because of its shape — nearly a perfect circle, with sheer cliffs all the way around.

Wallis and Futuna became a protectorate of France in 1961, with a referendum vote 94% in favor. Our guide remembers life before then, with essentially no infrastructure. There was a boarding school at the south end of the island; people got there mostly on horseback. She was sent there at age five, because her mother was sick and needed care in New Caledonia. Our guide said she felt like she had been sent to the end of the earth.

The population now is about 9,000. France has provided roads and electricity and schools and a hospital. Students can complete high school here. If they go on to university, they usually go to New Caledonia or to France. Parents are scared to have their children leave the island, as they have heard about the many bad things that happen “out there.” Sometimes parents go with the child. Others get Internet (at relatively hefty expense) so they can stay in touch via Skype. The Internet is very slow here, so it’s hard to imagine using Skype! The post office offers 10 minutes of free wifi per day, which we found was just enough to check email; forget doing anything else. Residents are hoping they will get an undersea cable laid to the island to greatly boost bandwidth, but it doesn’t sound like this is coming anytime soon.

The French connection seems to be welcomed here. My sense back in the Marquesas was that there was disdain for the French “colonists,” and we felt that it was important to fly the Polynesian courtesy flag, and say hello in Marquesan. Here the French courtesy flag seems appropriate (which is a good thing because each of the three districts has its own flag, which of course we don’t have, and flying the wrong one would probably get us into trouble). People seem happy here to have the French support, and French citizenship, and they appreciate our feeble attempts to speak a little French.

Everywhere there are small “plantations.” Land is owned by families — plots are all small; no big agribusiness. Taro and cassava are major crops. Unfortunately we haven’t made it to the produce market, which is open every day in town, but only from 5am to 6am! The time works for everyone going to/from the morning church service. We’re told that the singing in the church is something wonderful to behold, but we haven’t made it to a service. Sunday morning the service isn’t until 7am, which is still too much of a stretch for me, though Bob might try to do it tomorrow morning before we leave. Going to church is further complicated by the need to wear long pants, while there is no dinghy dock to allow getting ashore dry.

The caretaker at the Tongan fort brought us green coconuts. The tops were sliced off so we could drink the juice, which was the sweetest I had ever tasted. And hold on to that sliced-off top piece, because when he cuts the coconut open for you it can be used like a spoon to scoop out the soft meat. I’ve never been a coconut lover, but these were really good! Our guide mentioned about the troubles of the world, “When Wallisians hear about people going hungry in other parts of the world, we think, ‘If only we had a way to share our coconuts with them…'”

I asked if the Cultural Bureau had specific projects in the works, and she explained that the big projects are trying to train her staff, and to get the politicians to understand that the 15 year Development Plan needs to include a cultural component. Development needs to be sustainable, not only in terms of natural resources, but also of the culture and the quality of life that they enjoy here. She says sometimes new staff come from France and they think they know what is needed here, instead of listening and learning about the culture. These people are focused on climbing their own career ladder. I said she must have “seen it all” and know how to deal with such people. She laughed and said, “You never know — your own neighbor may surprise you!”

Talking with Bill and Bob later that evening, we realized we have a nagging question that we neglected to ask: Do Wallisians want more yachts to come here? Or is the average of about one per week all they care to see!? I think more would come if they knew what was here. But we’re not sure if we should tell them!

One last reason that Wallis has become special to us is that our coming here was completely outside the purview of the BPO. Not a big deal, but it was the first time that we were entirely on our own to choose the anchorage, negotiate the formalities, and learn about the place, without information provided to us by Jimmy or a local BPO support rep. A little taste of world cruising outside of the rally structure.

We cleared out with the gendarme today, in preparation for leaving tomorrow. He asked our next destination, and we told him Tuvalu. He chuckled and said something to the effect of, “Tuvalu – soon to be underwater!” This is the first time I can recall anyone referring to sea level rise without our bringing up the topic.


The country of Niue is a single island about 13 miles long and 8 wide. It is a “raised coral atoll,” meaning that it used to be an atoll like the Tuamotus, but the sea bed later pushed up so that it is now a plateau about 50 meters high. The ‘rock’ of the entire island is limestone — old coral.

Niue is independent, but in most respects it is a remote outpost of New Zealand. Aside from visiting yachts (there were 4 others during our stay), you can only get there by air from New Zealand — two flights per week in the tourist season, one per week the rest of the year. A cargo boat stops by once a month. There are about 1300 residents. There used to be more, but many moved to New Zealand.

The last day of our passage from Maupiti was rough — gusts to 30 knots and uncomfortable waves from two directions. Niue doesn’t have a “harbor” — just an indentation/bay on the west side, providing shelter from the prevailing easterlies, but wide open if the wind doesn’t follow the script. The bay is deep (and all coral bottom) almost to shore, so it is nearly impossible to anchor. But there are moorings, courtesy of the Niue Yacht Club. The yacht club is not a group of resident sailors. It is a few volunteers helping visiting “yachties” like us. Many yachties in turn support the club by becoming members. The club has more members than there are residents in the country!

It was a relief on arrival to find clearly marked moorings, and discover that the bay provided surprisingly good shelter from the big seas. Customs, immigration, quarantine and health officials met me on the pier, and I filled out the forms in the back of their van. The pier is the only place to get ashore, and it is not well protected. You take your dinghy (or fishing boat) alongside and lift it out of the water with an electric hoist, and park it on the concrete.

There’s a bank, but they don’t exchange currencies; they will provide NZ currency by charging your credit card, and adding a 5% fee. There is a pretty good grocery store, and fresh bread (including a sweet coconut bread). There are several restaurants, though some are only open a few days a week. There’s a very helpful tourist information center that provides an island map, and booklet about the businesses. And the yacht club maintains showers next to the pier.

And…everyone speaks English. That was a welcome change for me, whether dealing with the officials or chatting with someone in a restaurant. I would have enjoyed French Polynesia (even) more if I spoke French. Interesting, though, that in French Polynesia I learned basic words (hello, thank you, cheers!) in the local Polynesian language, and used them regularly as a courtesy to the Polynesian people. In Niue everyone just speaks English to white people — I didn’t learn a single word in the local Polynesian language.

It is a quiet place. But a fun place to explore. There are dozens of “sea tracks” from the road (up on the plateau) down to the ocean. These are paths, often with stairs to help in the steep parts, to get to the views, the caves, the chasms, the coral formations that shape the island. We rented bicycles and rode to some of the choice places, per the tourist info.

We went to the Limu Pools, and snorkeled there. These pools of water are connected to the ocean, but inside a very protective reef. And fresh water flows in through the island’s coral base. The fresh water is much colder than the seawater. Swimming in the pools you go from warm to cold to warm to cold…every few feet. Or, when it is cold you can dive down just a foot or so to the warm salt water below the cold fresh water. Looking through the water you see “shimmering” similar to air above hot pavement. The coral shapes were interesting, and we saw fish with new/different/surprising color patterns.

We rode on to the Matapa Chasm and walked to the Talava Arches. For these you need to see photos…when I can get them uploaded. Wifi, by the way, is provided “free” on Niue, with a $25 connection fee. We signed up to get it on the boat. But it wasn’t very fast (the whole country is connected to the Internet via a satellite link), and it wasn’t always reliable. I couldn’t get my photos to the blog before we left.

Riding back to town late in the afternoon, I said, “Let’s stop at the first burger joint we pass.” We saw one bar, and we stopped, but they had no food. What they did have was, according to a little sign, “the world’s most challenging golf course; one hole, par one.” To understand this we had to walk a short distance out to the cliff down to the ocean, where there was a “tee.” From there you could see the flag/pin, across a chasm and in a little clearing on the opposite cliff. So in effect there is no way to get to the “green,” and hence the challenge and the par one.

The guys at the bar told us we could get burgers at the town market. That seemed odd, but we pedaled there. The market at that hour was empty, except for one couple selling burgers. And they made an awesome burger! They didn’t ask what you wanted on it; it came with fresh tomato and lettuce and pickled beets and a homemade chutney, and was topped with a fried egg. It hit the spot, after a long day of cycling and hiking and swimming. And it came with interesting tales of bringing all sorts of fruit trees and nuts and veggies to the island and trying to grow them on their land.

Another night Bill and I ate at a sushi restaurant that served some of the best sushi I’ve had. I little pricey, but not unreasonable, and a nice treat. The passion fruit ice cream served on a bed of fresh papaya with chocolate sauce wasn’t so bad either!

There was a fishing competition going on while we were there. We had to wait an hour to relaunch our dinghy when we wanted to leave, because they were using the hoist to lift and weigh the day’s catch. All yellow fin tuna. Someone said that no mahi-mahi had been caught. I thought it was just us failing to bring in my favorite fish, but I guess they have become scarce. The largest yellow fin brought in so far weighed in at 76 kilos — about the same weight as me! That one was caught from a powerboat. But most of the fishermen were paddling small outrigger canoes, and I found it amazing to see them bring in 30+ pound fish. I’d love to see one of them get the fish from the ocean into the little canoe.

It rained all day one day. I think that’s the first “rainy day” (as opposed to passing squalls) we’ve had since leaving Key West! It was pleasant to spend the day doing little. And then it was Sunday, when no work is done on Niue, and no fishing or diving. We bent the rules a little and did laundry on the pier, and snorkeled right off the boat (surprisingly interesting coral and fish between us and the shore), but it was a quiet day. We talked at length with our Canadian crew (Bob) about the differences in government and healthcare between Canada and the USA.

I enjoyed the slow pace on Niue, and I would have been happy to stay longer. What?? Is this Zeke of No Regrets saying he wants to slow down?? Yup. I’m not in such a rush to move on anymore. And whales come to Niue to calve, starting in a couple weeks. They say you can watch them from your boat, right on the mooring. I would love to stay for that. But there is a BPO schedule to meet. And there is heavy wind expected to blow from the south, which could make for a very uncomfortable ride on the mooring. So…we’re off to Vava’u (Tonga).

Oh BTW, my Niue courtesy flag still looks great after six days. 😉