Sirus shines brightly and defiantly off our stern, despite the competing silvery light from an almost full moon and the red glow from the rising sun. We are sailing rather north of our rhumb line in a light northeasterly breeze waiting for the move south as the forecasted wind veers and picks up. The calm sea looks dark and viscous in the low light and the ever present Pacific swell rolls us back and forth. It is the end of our second night at sea, headed for Tonga, possibly if the weather is calm, via a stop in Nuie.
Anyone who has taken a look at a map of the Pacific Ocean will notice that it is very blue with just a few black specks which are the islands. It was with some surprise then, when I drew the line from Bora Bora to Niue, that in all that space I discover that it goes straight through an island and an atoll. Our charts, that we are finding accurate to a few feet, make navigation easy for us. The sailing community here are in total awe of how the Polynesians ever managed to cross this vast ocean in small canoes or how Captain Cook managed to map so many of the Islands all just using the stars.
We had not planned to go to Nuie but having talked with people and read up a little and it looks to make an interesting stop. The book says it is a raised coral atoll, basically a very large lump of limestone, it is said to be full of caves, chasms and arches. We are not really prepared for a visit, we have no curtesy flag (the flag of the country whose waters you are in, flown from the spreaders) and no New Zealand dollars, the currency they use. The country is rumoured to have no ATM’s and just one bank. Our arrival could be interesting, that is if the weather is good enough for us to arrive. There are no protected bays or coves and it is surrounded by very deep water so the main town has laid a mooring field which is only good in the prevailing winds from the east, winds from the west would make the anchorage untenable.
After nearly four months in Fench Polynesia, it was with a heavy heart that we watched the Gendarme’s stamp decend onto our exit papers. We have had the best time here. The contrasting landscapes, from dramatic peaks and ridges to picture perfect atolls, untamed jungle to coconut groves and pretty tended gardens. The stunning warm, clear, turquoise seas full of coral and fish of all sizes and the welcoming happy people we have met on all of the islands.
In fact we had a good example of the latter on our last day. We needed a final stock up at the supermarket . We could get the dingy quite near by tying up to a wire fence next to a concrete wall tucked between a small beach and industrial buildings just across the road from the Super U Store. As we returned with our trolley full of bags, hanging out at the corner were a couple of young men, caps low over their eyes, head phones on, rolling cigarettes. The lines from thier boat stretched across the path blocking the route of our trolley, not really a problem the dingy was only ten meters away but we couldn’t quite carry all the bags in one go. In London you probably would have nodded a hello, while subconsciously keeping one hand on your purse. In the Carribean where no one will even look you the eye, we would have probably been worried to walk away from the remaining bags in the trolley or been hassled to pay them for the use of the dock. In stark contrast in Bora Bora we get the ubiquitous bright “bonjour” and the boys jump up apologising and with a smile help carry the bags for us to the dingy.
As we sail away, we reflect that this feeling of welcome and the warm politeness you find everywhere, really has enhanced the natural delights of French Polynesia. Tonga is known as the Friendly Islands so there is hope that this situation will continue.