Lucky Number Thirteen
13 September - 31 December 2009
Written December 2009 - Long Beach, CA, & January 2010 - Whangarei, New Zealand
We don't subscribe to many superstitions aboard Migration. It's true we won't leave on a voyage on Friday but we never worry about having bananas aboard, whistling, or wearing hats. Unlike many French cruisers, we have no problem mentioning the name of those small, cute, furry, long-eared animals (the ones that deliver Easter eggs).
However, I do have a bit of an issue with the number 13. I'm not obsessive but I'll try to avoid it if I can. Thus, when I finished Migrations 12, I thought of skipping to 14 like they do with the floors in some buildings; especially when I noticed the dates covered by this update: the 13th to the 31st. But with so many wonderful events in the last few months and not a single collision with a reef why argue with destiny?
Fate, kismet, luck, chance, godsend, karma, destiny... call it what you will. We all, of course, manage our own destiny. No matter how self-made you might think you are, there is no discounting the fact that you can never be sure what this unruly, revolving world will place under the most well-planned footstep. Alene and I realize Poseidon allows us to sail his seas; that, so far, fortune has given us the nod for the this adventure; that dodging a tsunami has nothing to do with anything we did or deserve. We can only remember to say thank you and be happy that, after all the ocean our steps have splashed across, four years ago those steps happened to lead us to each other. But more of that later.
SUBTRACT ONE LANGUAGE
It was a letdown.
We liked Aitutaki but it didn't seem as exotic as French Polynesia. Which was the exact opposite reaction of our friends from France who loved that they were suddenly in a country that spoke a foreign language!
Aitutaki is on its way to becoming an atoll. It still has an island within the coral ring but it's quite low and small compared to the reef-ringed peaks of the islands like Tahiti.
Aitutaki's lagoon is its finest feature. A beautiful sprawling complex of islands, coral heads, beaches and turquoise water. Big boats aren't allowed in the lagoon so we took a tour and had a great time.
The snorkeling was excellent among the lagoon's giant clams and famous blue starfish.
We biked and hiked and had a good time (except for a couple of visits to the hospital to repair an injured foot knew I should have worn shoes when walking on sharp reef rocks...)
REEF 1, LAND 0
A week after arriving we threaded our way out the pass and continued our journey westward.
waves. Waves in the middle of the ocean.
Beveridge Reef has an easily-navigated pass so we anchored inside. At high tide the reef provides very little protection and the the swell rolling over the coral creates a lot of chop. Others have stopped here in better conditions, but we had three pretty bouncy and uncomfortable nights. The snorkeling was a bit disappointing though the water is exceptionally beautiful.
On the morning of 29 September, as we were leaving Beveridge Reef, a boat arriving called on the VHF to say that he had just received a text message on his satellite phone; there had been a large earthquake in the Pacific and a tsunami had hit Samoa. We wouldn't know the extent of the devastation for a few days, but we did know that many friends and cruisers were in the area. We were worried about them.
We later learned that we were only 400 miles from the earthquake and the tsunami had actually passed by Beveridge Reef that morning while we were still at anchor. We felt nothing the shape of the reef didn't allow a huge wave to build. We were very lucky; since Beveridge is completely isolated, it would have been a terrible place to be wrecked. Many boats we know were not so lucky several were lost or damaged in Pago Pago (American Samoa) and a cruiser we'd recently met was swept off the dock and drowned.
So many factors at play: our schedule, the shape of the reef, the speed of the wave. You never know what is around the next island. It does no good to worry. One would have to be crazy to not feel grateful... and lucky.
1300 PEOPLE ON A ROCK
We'd been dreaming of visiting Niue since we first heard about it a few years ago. Friends who continued west last year (while we stayed in French Polynesia) raved about this remote island.
Niue is the world's smallest island nation: only thirteen hundred people (there's that number again) on a raised atoll 14 miles across. Take a big coral reef, thrust it up above the surface 68 meters, and you have Niue.
On October 2nd, a few days after we arrived, I celebrated my 50th birthday. In what has become a tradition aboard Migration whenever we have party, we invited everyone in the anchorage all 11 boats. Of the 34 people on those boats, 32 showed up. A new record! It's great having a trimaran.
Once everyone had arrived, Alene and I were asked to sit in chairs in the middle of the deck. Five boats, including friends from months before as well as friends we had just made at Beveridge Reef, had prepared a surprise for me.
That brings us to my party. The crews of Anima III, Avel Mad, Canela, Qovop, and Sedna 1 wrote me a song for my birthday. It had five verses one from each boat and used the melody of American Pie (well, sort of). It was called American Tri and is one of the coolest birthday gifts I've ever received.
And off they go...
VIDEO: The one and only exclusive performance of American Tri (with subtitles - 8:38)
What an awesome gift. Thanks, everyone!
13 FOR AN ISLAND TOUR
Staggering a little the next morning, Alene and I joined the five singing crews (thirteen of us!), rented a van, and toured the island.
We loved Niue and had no desire to leave. I arranged to speak at the elementary school. It had been years since I could give a presentation in English. It was nice to have that freedom. The kids were great.
EIGHT DIVES IN CAVES WITH SNAKES
There is hardly any standing water on Niue as it all soaks right through the very porous coral that the island is made of. That means there is little silty runoff when it rains. And that means very very clear water. 100-200 foot visibility is the norm. For those of you who aren't divers, 40 foot vis is considered very good in the Channel Islands off the coast California. Seeing 200 feet underwater is extraordinary.
Most of the coral around Niue was wiped out by Cyclone Heta in 2004. A few areas were spared but the real reasons to dive Niue are caves and snakes.
We did most of our dives with Aussies Ian and Annie who run Niue Dive. After they showed us where some of the coolest caves were, we visited them on our own.
DIVES WITH WHALES: ZERO
Though the exploring above and below sea level was exceptional, the real reason we came to Niue was to see the whales. Humpback whales come here in the Southern Hemisphere winter to calve. They hang around for months before heading south to the Antarctic. This year, the day they left was two days before we arrived. Though friends who visited in August and September had told us that whales abounded in the anchorage, we had none. We knew we were arriving late in the season... it had been so hard to pull ourselves out of French Polynesia! C'est la vie. We'll have to return next year!
We rented a car with our friends Ben and Carine of s/v Avel Mad to visit the caves we had missed the first time around. Every cavern is different. Every swimming hole, unique. Amazing. The place is simply amazing.
At my birthday party, we learned that many of our non-American friends had not seen the film Casablanca. We had to make that right so we pulled out the screen and projector and had a showing of it at a local cafe which serves as the Niue Yacht Club. It was fun to be able to share one of our favorite films with so many for the first time. Everyone enjoyed it... especially our French friends.
HUNDREDS OF ISLANDS: THE KINGDOM OF TONGA
Tonga lies 250 nautical miles west of Niue. We arrived in the middle of this long chain of four island groups. The Vava'u group is a true crossroads for cruising boats; some heading west to Fiji or New Caledonia, others south to New Zealand. We met up with many friends we hadn't seen for months - some we hadn't seen for years.
TWO PARTIES AND ONE DAY IN CHURCH
We stayed only a short time in Vava'u as we had an appointment to keep in Nuku'alofa, the capitol of Tonga, on the island of Tongatapu 160 miles to the southwest. Our good friend Betsy's (s/v Qayaq) birthday was the same day as the Big Mama Birthday Bash. Big Mama is a Tongan woman who runs a day-tripper resort on Pangaimotu, a small island a few miles from Nuku'alofa. She also provides lots of services for cruisers including a party each year with a traditional Tongan feast.
The party was a blast and we danced for hours. That night, Betsy met Melaia, a friend of Big Mama. Melaia invited Betsy and Richard to go to church to hear the singing the next day. Betsy and Richard invited us. We pick good friends.
We attended church and were invited to sit in the section for ministers and dignitaries, across from the mother of the King. They obviously didn't know us very well. The music was excellent but since this was the special communion service, it was very long. At times like this, when listening to a long sermon in a language you don't understand, it's nice to have a boat; one can spend hours thinking of all the projects that need to be done.
After church Melaia took us to her boyfriend's house. Sio has a big family and they make a traditional Tongan umu (earth oven) every Sunday. Sio invited us to stay.
Malaia and Sio were incredible hosts. The next day they gave us a tour of Tongatapu.
ONE AMAZING REEF
It was November which means the South Pacific cyclone season was approaching. We needed to start our 1,000 mile passage to New Zealand. We left Tongatapu on 3 November and had an excellent 250 nautical mile two-day sail to North Minerva Reef.
Like Beveridge Reef, the Minerva Reefs (North and South) are submerged atolls with no land visible at high tide. North Minerva Reef is a fairly popular stop for cruisers on the way to New Zealand. It's about one quarter of the way there and it breaks up the thousand mile passage and gives you the opportunity to wait for a good weather window in what can often be a rough area because of the storms passing through from the Tasman Sea to the west.
MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE #10
When I think about meeting Alene, I know how lucky I am. Of the six and a half billion people on the planet, we actually found each other. I won't get all mushy, but I do think that's pretty incredible. And, after nearly four years, I was sure we'd be staying together.
We've been tossing messages in bottles into the sea for about a year now. The message has a picture of Migration, our email address, and the location where it was thrown overboard. We haven't heard from anyone yet, but we will someday.
On our way to Minerva Reef we tossed our 9th message overboard, but while Alene was asleep off-watch, I secretly created #10.
We went scuba diving the day after we arrived at Minerva, and then on the 7th, I secretly tossed bottle #10 out in front of the boat so the current would bring it back. It didn't go as smoothly as I'd hoped, but I did finally get Alene to notice it. Here's what she found inside:
NINE BOATS AND A WEDDING
Betsy and Richard were ecstatic about our engagement. Not only did they write us an engagement poem, and give us several gifts, but they suggested we get married right there at Minerva Reef. Guy and Karen on s/v Szel are both licensed captains and they had just married a couple at Suwarrow Atoll a few months before. Why not? we thought. So...
After snorkeling, we motored back to the east side of the lagoon in blustery weather. The party continued on into the night.
What incredible people we meet cruising. We were surrounded by friends, new and old all genuinely excited about the event. They were generous and thoughtful and, most important, fun.
Thank you to the cruisers who made our wedding so wonderful:
ONE WEEK HONEYMOON
Two days later we set off on our honeymoon. A week at sea and, since one of us is always on or off watch, we didn't actually sleep together. But, as my mom said, "You've been on a honeymoon for 4 years!"
Our passage was not speedy and required a good bit of motoring but that was better than encountering a gale. It felt great to tie the docklines to the Q dock at Marsden Cove, New Zealand and just 3 hours before a pretty good storm blew through. That was lucky!
Alene flew to Ohio for her parents 50th wedding anniversary (Happy Anniversary, Alene & Ed!). I stayed aboard and did projects until I flew to California in early December.
FIVE WEEKS IN THE USA
New Year's Eve found us both in California celebrating with my Mom, brothers, and sisters-in-law. Nice to be with family. We fly back to Migration in mid-January and immediately put her on the hard. Then the work begins. It's been three years since she's been out of the water and she deserves some attention. I still have to repair the result of my encounter with the reef in Migrations #12. New Zealand is a great place to do boat work good facilities, nice people, skilled craftsmen. There's a lot to be done and we'll be at it for 9 or 10 weeks. Or maybe 13.
Yep, we are.
This site was last updated 03/26/16