Huahine to Niue- Passage into the “Dangerous Middle”

Between Polynesia and Tonga is often referred to as the "Dangerous Middle"  because of the unsettled weather that plagues this part of the world. There are lots of low lying islands and reefs and not a whole of accurate charts. Even the electronic charts can be off as much as half a mile in some places.  Niue is an island, and a country unto itself, 400NM east of Tonga. It appears out of 5000 meters ocean as a steep rock formation. It is wild and beautiful and only measures about 20km by 12km.

Day 1, May 24th:

Finally left Huahine. At 1000 we crawled through the reef break at Fare under sail and found light winds and a confused sea waiting for us outside.  Steve took the first watch and I went below to rest, only to smell diesel.  Perhaps the main tank fitting is leaking again. I pumped the bilge and sprayed some degreaser around to sop up any diesel that may be left down there.  

We have been unable to steer our course all day as it is directly down wind and winds are rather light at the moment. So, we are tacking to keep close to the rhumb line.  It was a little rolly until we cleared Raiatea and got into the open water. We ran the engine this afternoon to make power but also ended up turning the fridges off half way through the night. I hope this is not a trend.

Day 2, May 25th:

Had to run the engine for an hour this morning; not enough wind for Twirlly (the wind generator) to keep up with both of the fridges and all the instruments overnight.

I had to clean the bilges again today, still a lingering diesel smell down below. We finally discovered that it was not the main tank that was leaking but one of the older style jerry cans in the lazarette. It has a faulty air vent and was seeping fuel. The lazzarette drains into the bilge.  So, at 1730, just as the light was fading, and in true Kate fashion, the entire contents of the lazarette were strewn about the cockpit. I held everything from rolling around, jerry jugs full of diesel, propane tanks, snorkel gear, dingy anchor, box full of miscellaneous solvents, as Steve scrubbed the laz free of diesel.  After packing everything away we pumped the bilge again.  The smell has almost disappeared.  

Dinner was vegetable curry for the third day in a row; I apparently thought we had a crew of 6 hungry men with us for this trip when I was cooking a few days ago.

Day 3, May 26th:

We tried to run the engine again but we are still rolling around too much and the fuel pick up is sucking up air. Late this afternoon Steve decided to put 22 litres in the tank but thought it would be too difficult to lift the jerry can and pour it into the deck fill in this sea, so he used the hose from the dinghy fuel tank, pumping the bulb to move diesel from the jerry can into the tank. What a great problem solver!!! I sent Steve for a shower and made dinner, we both needed a good hot meal to boost morale.

We are both sleeping fitfully with the boat wallowing and rolling in this sea.  When the wind drops and the boat speed dips below 4kts we roll even worse. Thankfully our SOG=VMG so every inch forward is directly to Niue.  The 48 hour forecast remains the same: 10-15kts East, 2M seas.

SOG- Speed Over Ground: the speed the vessel is traveling over the surface of the earth, taking into account currents, waves, tides etc…Boat speed is measured in knots (kts) and is understood to read knots per hour.
1 Knot=1 Nautical Mile=1 Degree of Longitude
1 Nautical Mile=1.852 Kilometre=1.15 Standard Mile

VMG-Velocity Made Good: the speed the vessel is traveling towards a certain target, which is not necessarily the same direction that the vessel is actually heading. Calculated by vectors. It is a magic number that shows up on the chart plotter.

Day 4, May 27th:

We had to turn the fridges off again last night. Checked the freezer today, everything is still frozen.  I finally got some sleep between 0200-0600, the first two consecutive hours so far this trip. It was a VERY rolly morning, the head sail poled out adds to the pendulum effect.

The new Crew T-shirts will read:
(front) Gunnel to Gunnel
(back) That’s how WE roll!!

We averaged 4kts today, it feels really slow. Forecast is unchanged for the next 72 hours.

Day 5, May 28th:

I managed a few hours sleep in the vee berth last night, haven’t slept there underway in over a year, it is usually Steve’s hide out.  The wind is clocking ESE-SE so we’ve got a little more heel, which makes sleeping a little easier, I don’t feel like I’ll be rolled out of bed so easily.  Fairly quiet and consistent day.  SOG in the 5-5.5kt range. We’re in the groove now; not feeling so worn down and finally adjusted to our sleep/watch schedules.

Besides a freighter off Raiatea we have had no other traffic.

The sky is incredibly clear tonight, brilliant stars and the most vivid meteorites I’ve seen yet, so bright that they make you turn your head when you catch them out of the corner of your eye. One flashed so bright and lasted so long I thought it was lightening at first.

Day 6, May 29th:

Tried trolling a BIG lure today, a real chugger and jumper, but still no bites. But we haven’t seen much marine life this trip, the odd flying fish and one spectacular show of spinner dolphins a few days ago! The wind has filled in and we are doing 20NM in a four hour watch again. We officially passed the half way mark today; 550NM in 5.5 days, not great.

Day 7, May 30th:

Population Rolly Town: 2

We are both tired today; tempers short and the day long.

We are just barely covering 100NM a day.  If the GPS wasn’t telling me that we were moving I’d swear we weren’t. Everything looks the same; the sky, the sea, everything is still.

Day 8, May 31st:

Quiet day; not much wind and by afternoon not much swell.  Heard this on a Sinead O’Conner album while on watch tonight:

“Grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can, and
The wisdom to know the difference”

I MUST remember that.

Day 9, June 1st:

We had a very low day yesterday, sleepless and annoyed. Our windless situation boiled down to almost no pleasant conversation on board.  The wind dropped even more today pushing our speed under 3kts, but at least the seas have flattened out as well. It is a comfortable, slow ride.   

We’ve been chasing our tails trying to keep the batteries charged since we left Huahine so Steve decided, now that is it dead flat, to do a mega charge using both the engine and the generator to try and equalize the batteries. Seemed liked it worked but then the voltage dropped when he turned off the generator. We might have a bad battery.

While we sat and enjoyed the melodious hum of the generator this afternoon we shared a cold beer and a bowl of spicy popcorn together-what a difference a day makes!

Cooked the last of the eggplant today-that leaves us with a few carrots, a cabbage, 4 onions and 5lbs of potatoes (white and sweet) for fresh veggies.  

It is looking like we might spend the weekend out here, we will consider it a romantic get away!

Day 10, June 2nd:

Such and incredible sunrise this morning- as it slowly hoisted itself over the horizon it brought the most spectacular rainbow of colours. For a few brief moments the ocean to starboard was a magnificent shade of pink.  I didn’t bother to take a photograph, it would never look as beautiful on film-you could never see the colours in the air. All that light!!

There wasn’t a cloud overhead yesterday save for a few cotton ball puffs at the horizon but today the sky has been full of whisps and mackerel clouds, so it looks like we might find that fickle wind yet again.  

The second super charge looks like it did the trick, the batteries are happy once again.  

Day 11, June 3rd:

The wind and seas went from good to too good overnight. By my 0600 watch we were running with a 3m swell, a steady 25kts of wind, gusting 30kt and a third of the head sail furled away.  We surfed down a big wave and got hit with a strong gust all at the same time, burying the starboard rail by a foot.  She popped up right a way but all that water had to go somewhere and so it got dumped into the cockpit. Unfortunately I was in the path and got soaked to the bone.  Pulled some of the head sail in and she was much happier. Steve got up and made me a hot bowl of oatmeal with maple syrup and a mug of Earl Grey tea, just what I needed!

By evening it was a steady 30kts, gusting to 35-40kts with 4M seas. It is a wet, sloppy ride.  Back to eat, sleep, sail.  

Day 12, June 4th:

Longest. Day. Ever.

By 0600 it was 70NM to Niue.  Steve’s took a rogue wave on the port quarter, what a horrible bang those big waves made when you are down below!  The cockpit flooded, Steve was standing mid-calf in warm ocean water. We had all the boards in but some water streamed down the companion way into the cabin. Everything seemed ok…at first.

We saw the island at dusk, rounding the southern tip at 1900. Suddenly the GPS stopped working, along with the wind instruments. Steve navigated by radar and I went down below to boot up the computer with the backup GPS navigation software. Raining and black out, our handheld GPS starting acting up too. We don’t have any small scale charts for the harbor entrance and the lead lights for the harbor were destroyed by a hurricane in 2004 and haven’t been replaced. At 2200 we decided that we would hove-to for the night and make our approach at first light.  

We hoisted the main with the second reef tucked into it and hove-to but were still doing 1kt towards land.  After few hours we headed back out to sea. When we gybed the main ripped leech to luff, just below the third reef points.  We are both disappointed, tired and frustrated.

At 0500 the rain started again so I sent Steve to get a few hours rest, he’s been up since morning. I stood watch, hopping around trying to stay warm and alert. My wet weather gear is aptly named and my tea is cold but the wind seems to be dropping off.  

At 0815 we started up the engine and unsuccessfully motored into 30kts on the nose.  We pulled out half the head sail to sail but without the mainsail we cannot point to windward very well. It took over an hour in the pouring rain to sail a few miles so we were in the lee of island and protected from the wind. Then we motored the remaining 2NM to the mooring field. I slipped a nip of rum into our tea to try and take off the chill and raise the spirits.

I have never been so happy to tie a line around the bow cleats.