Friday, June 16, 2006
Sea life takes center
stage just in time
Just when I'm complaining that I'm hardly seeing any marine animals on my
South Pacific voyage, the little darlings show up.
The three of us were feeling down because we'd just made the difficult
decision to skip our long-planned stop at Nuie, a one-island nation of
only 100 square miles. We had to do this because I'd committed two
cardinal sins of cruising: 1) arriving at an unknown port at night, and
2) possessing no good chart of the place. (Previously unknown to me, my
GPS map excluded Nuie.)
It was too dangerous to go in, I decided. We would have to either stand
off in big wind and rolling swells for an excruciating 10 hours or keep
We kept going. Our next stop would be Tonga's Vava'u Islands, 280 miles
Glum was the mood on the boat the next day. We missed something we'd
wanted to do and added three wearying days to our passage from Rarotonga.
Then a flock of angels appeared.
I'd never seen more than two white-tailed tropicbirds together at one
time, and the sight of dozens of these long-tailed beauties fishing
behind the boat made me shout, "Hello! Thank you!"
We watched rapt as the graceful white birds rose high, tucked their
wings close to their bodies and dived head first into the water. Fish
splashed at the water's surface, and a few boobies and noddies showed up
to partake in the feast. But the party belonged to those long-tailed,
plunge-diving tropicbirds, and it made our day.
The next day, Scott called out that some fish were swimming next to the
boat, and soon we were staring at dozens of tunas, flashing their
iridescent pinks and blues in the bright sunlight. The 2-foot-long fish
were surfing the big south swells rolling toward the boat.
The tunas must have had some advantage to swimming near us because they
stayed for hours. Frequently, those glowing torpedoes rose to the
surface, and we snapped pictures. All we got were shots of water.
That evening, what we thought was a passing squall turned out to be a
full-out gale. In the traditional measure of wind strength, 32-38 mph
wind, which is what we experienced, is considered a moderate gale. We
just considered it way, way too much wind.
You can imagine our relief 36 hours later when we entered the calm
waters of Vava'u, an island group so enclosed boaters call it a
hurricane hole. As we motored among these achingly beautiful islands,
Steve saw a manta ray leap from the water. Scott and I saw only the
As if sensing our disappointment, the ray once again cleared the water,
giving us a warm welcome to Vava'u's renowned marine life.
Now we rest at anchor among millions of pulsing, plate-size moon
jellies, the same harmless jellyfish that swim in the Ala Wai Boat
This long-distance cruising can be grueling, but in the snap of a jib
sheet, the finned and feathered creatures of the offshore ocean can
lighten moods and give a hard passage some bright moments. They are also
why I'm here.