May Madness!

06th June 2012
Bet you’ll never guess what we were doing as the sun rose on May 1st. To put you out of your misery we were watching Morris men and woman dancing up the sun on May Day, not in a village in England but on the top of Mount Eden in Auckland. Yes I know it’s improbable, we were there! The ‘why’ behind it is even more unlikely; we’d met up with sailing friends Bruce and Alene, the ones who got married at Minerva Reef (if your memory stretches that far back) and in the course of the conversation it transpired that Bruce, a Californian, has been an avid Morris dancer for the past 20 years or so. What’s more, whilst touring in New Zealand he had danced with several “sides” – hardly surprisingly, people with bells on their legs have their own lexicon - and was planning to join the May Day dance atop Mount Eden. How could we resist?



Have to say we were very impressed by the costumes and the energy of the dances and the dancers. One lady in particular, Margaret was there in full costume dancing and playing a large tambourine type drum looking considerably younger than her 90 something years. Is Morris dancing the secret of eternal youth!
Despite the May Day celebrations being a traditional start to spring in the UK here they merely heralded the cold autumn winds. The trees are turning to their autumn hues and shedding their leaves. It’s decidedly chilly and Mike’s been so cold he resorted to buying a pair of track suit bottoms to wear…in bed. Definitely time to head north to the tropics and this year it’s to be Tonga and Niue.
As ever, returning from a brief visit home there were all the things we’d bought to stow and of course the inevitable list of boat chores, or projects as they get called here, to do before setting off for several months of being completely self-sufficient. Everything from replacing the mast head light (a new, super bright LED) to cleaning to shopping and of course fitting in some socialising. A couple of evenings before we left we had a call from friends Jamie and Lucy, British cruisers we met last year during the rugby, they’d heard on the grapevine, we were also heading in the same direction,which is brilliant as we thought we wouldn’t catch up this year.
Remarkably by the time we were ready to leave we had been in NZ for a few days short of a year, the maximum Sea Rover could stay before we became liable for import duty here. As we watched the weather looking for a window for the sail north, the first two or three hundred miles of which can be quite testing, Mike phoned Customs informing them of our intention to leave then asking the delicate question about what should happen if there wasn’t a weather window before our year expired. Friendly and blunt, as ever, “Don’t worry sir, we won’t send you to your doom”! Talking of blunt, even some of the signs outside churches avoid that saccharine sentimentality you often see at home. One we drove past, simply told the secular: “There is one true God and you are not him”!
So under sail again and settling into the rhythms of a passage and the watch system, all going very smoothly, too smoothly is seems. We changed the flash card in our chart plotter for the charts (maps) for the Pacific Islands as we left New Zealand waters only to find it wasn’t working and what’s more when we put the New Zealand card back in that didn’t work either. So no charts as we headed into a whole new cruising area. Sub optimal to put it mildly, still at least we had some paper charts aboard, mainly for planning the overall routes and several cruising guide books and that most wonderful of publications the Admiralty Sailing Directions with its invaluable waypoints and advice and dead pan writing style: “Albert Meyer Reef was reported in 1911 by the American Schooner Albert Meyer … marked by discoloured water. Its position is doubtful.” So we reverted to what we learnt all those years ago – writing pilotage plans to get into a safe harbour, putting plots on paper to make sure we missed the odd reefs and reported reefs spread thinly across our track. And of course we have been trying to work out how we are going to fix our chart plotter.



Having been in NZ for such a long period we have quite a network of friends and those in the trades. A couple of emails later and we had a guy from the improbably named company Lusty Blundell (yes I know it sounds more like a porn star!) emailing us questions to answer which produced the diagnosis of a dead card reader – pins broken. Yes they could provide a replacement and a new card for the Pacific Islands. So a quick call on the satellite phone with credit card in hand and we owned the required parts…in New Zealand. Now the cruising network kicks in and Jamie and Lucy about to leave for Nuie have the bits aboard for us. So a happy day’s work awaits us on their arrival. Oh for an instruction manual!
You know I mentioned using knowledge learnt long ago? We had a reminder of what happens when you forget it; like not leaving ropes under tension crossing each other so they chaff. We shouldn''''''''t have been surprised by the damage just a few hours chafing did to the line on the furling mechanism that deploys and puts away our big genoa (sail) at the front of the boat.
We bought a replacement line a year ago (was a bit of planned maintenance) but had yet to fit it! So with the boat rolling in following seas we decided now was the time to do it…and watch those ropes a bit more carefully in the future.
So here we are not now north of 30 degrees and officially back in the tropics, the sun is shining, we’re looking out shorts and sun block for the first time in heavens knows how long and any thought of track suit bottoms in or out of bed are being firmly banished and we’ve been swimming in the anchorage off Niue, where the water temperature is above 32 degrees.
You can be forgiven for not having heard of Niue, a small island 1300 miles north east of NZ and the world’s raised coral atoll in the world, sitting atop an extinct volcano. With a population of only 1500 residents it is, remarkably, an independent nation state, albeit reliant on help from New Zealand where many more of its nationals live. It has its own parliament of 20 odd politicians and approximately half the employed workers have public sector jobs, one big reason why this little state struggles. But whilst independence may be an illusion, this tiny member of the Commonwealth does have a place on the world stage. So if Niue can go it alone, why not Little Ealing! There’s a thought for what we might do when we come home!



The result of being a large lump of coral (the island is affectionately called ‘The Rock’ by locals) is that as you are walking down any of the many tracks through the forest there are great outcrops of dead coral all around you. As you get to the coastline there are wonderful caverns where, at low tide you can swim in many of the remaining pools of water.
The most spectacular of these coral formations has to be Togo (pronounced Tongo) Chasm where you end up climbing down a vertical ladder into what was a cleft in the coral reef but is now a sandy chasm complete with palm trees.



And Niue isn’t all about the scenery we’ve been made very welcome as we watched some of the local games and customs. We spent part of one morning at a ladies cricket tournament on a village green. Now banish instantly the ‘stands the clock at ten to three’ thoughts of languid games and gentle strokes through the covers, this is cricket, but not as we know it. Firstly there are up to 25 on each team, then there are two batsmen…at each end of the wicket and what’s more they don’t run they each have runners i.e. eight people in at any one time. The game is fast and furious with three sided bats and great fun. Oh yes and it’s called kilikiki.



After this taste of sports Niuean style we went to one family’s traditional ceremony for their three children, where the young girls (6 and 3) get their ears pierced and the boy (7) his hair cut. The hair in question has been grown long and been looked after by the boy’s mother. Now he is deemed old enough to no longer need this care and symbolically his hair is cut. For the occasion the hair is divided into numerous pony tails and honoured members of the family and friends all get to cut one off and keep it as a souvenir.



As people arrive they all give an envelope with money, which is duly noted down and then, at the end they are given a portion of food to take home commensurate with how much they have given. Again, this isn’t a party goodie bag with a slice of cake, we saw one parcel of food consisting of two pigs, two tuna, endless taro, a box of frozen chickens, corned beef and I’m sure several other bits and pieces. Seems they use the money given to pay for all of this and any that is left over (and looking at the number and size of the food portions it can’t have been much) is used for the benefit of the children. Seems the etiquette is that however much someone gives to you for your celebrations you will give the same amount back to them when they host one.



So, although we were only there for a few days our time was packed with great experiences. Of course catching up with Lucy and Jamie was great and Mike’s now fitted the new card reader in our main chart plotter, although this hasn’t solved the problem, we’re still getting the same irritating error message with both chart plotters. So more emails being exchanged and we might yet have to manage on good old paper until we get back to NZ in December. We may just make it back to Niue later in the season when the Humpback whales swim and play around the mooring buoys, but for now its north 300 odd miles to Samoa, the first South Pacific island to become an independent state, about to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary. Should be quite a party!
See more of our photos of Nuie

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Comments

Photo comment By Del Whitmore: We loved our stay at Niue too....great moorings and we were there to have the whales come visit.
Photo comment By Janie and James: Wow, your diary has really made us want to get on with sorting our trip to NZ next year. So glad it's all going well. We hope to bareboat in Tonga in 2014!
Photo comment By Al: Great stories and pics as per usual! Very envious of the tropical heat, please send some our way! xxx

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