Friday, June 14, 2013

New Zealand to Tonga - in 2 parts!

We made it. 14 Days, 1172nm, (although I feel that the log is not correct as we covered A LOT more than that) 4 days break in Minerva Reef and we are finally here, back in Tonga. The day after clearing in at Pangai in the Ha’apai Group it all still seems a bit surreal with none of us really believing it, but the warm breeze, the hot sun and the coconut trees are helping to let it all sink in. We cleared NZ at Marsden Cove on the 29th May along with about 12 other yachts.

We had woken that morning with frost on the deck, which is a sure sign that it is time to head North! We were still anchored well up the Whangarei Harbour by Kissing Point, and sailed down river with fog on the water to reach Marsden Cove and join the queue for checkout. We had been told to find a space and the only one we could see happened to be on A pier, and just as we had finished tying up the customs officials came off of a boat next to us and Dan went to let them know we were there and they said that they would do our paper work then and there, so we were all good to go by 0930. We didn’t leave straight away though as we had planned on having to wait so had a few last minute jobs to do such as covering the dinghy for passage and rolling away the cockpit cover and getting the last of the rubbish off of the boat. By the time we had done all our bits and pieces we decided to have lunch and then head on our way. Unfortunately this meant by the time we got out to the harbour entrance we a wind against tide scenario which gave us lots of nasty steep waves and we were having to tack out past the Heads. During this time we had the only wave that managed to dump itself all over me and I didn’t have my jacket on so my warm clothes all got saturated. We did get out past the heads into calmer water and steadier wind and set our sails and new autopilot and took stock of the damage. Unfortunately we had blown out the starboard tramp (area of canvas that goes between the hull and centre at the front of catamarans) and Dan had to go forward to untie the remains of it so we could at least attempt a repair when we could. The tramp isn’t a structural part of the boat and Dan didn’t want to turn around and go back just because we had lost it but it does leave a very big hole up forward, which doesn’t make if very safe for going forward without the chance of falling down it if you lose your footing. Once we had picked up the tins of food that had shaken loose and the kids had put away whatever had fallen in the first bit of bumpiness (the fruit bowl still didn’t move and the oven dish of lasagne was still on the bench!) we settled in to enjoy having the autopilot, who we named Wally, helm the boat for us as we sent off last minute texts to people. We had about three sets of sails around us that we could see and we kept an eye on them and the outer Islands off of NZ as the evening set in. I think I need to put in here about what a difference Wally made to us on this trip. We knew that it would be amazing not to have to hand steer and be outside in the elements all of the time, but the reality was even that much better, even to the point that at times Dan would get restless looking for things to do. As a family we read together, played cards and other games and watched movies all while Wally kept us heading in the direction we wanted to go. On the second day Dan used the Satellite phone and got a Grib File which is a weather map for three days of the area you request which is downloaded onto the computer and relayed over your electronic charts to show the weather. The Grib file showed a Low Pressure system coming our way which hadn’t been on any of the weather programmes we checked before leaving. Dan made a decision from this information to not go in a straight line for Tonga which would have put us in the path of the low and strong northerly winds but to head North more toward Fiji and then use the westerly winds on the back of the system to head East again to Tonga. The barometer did start dropping and the winds and sea conditions picked up on day 3 and 4 to such an extent that at times we had no main sail and only ½ the genoa out to be comfortable and not put too much stress on the boat. We were all a bit under the weather and feeling quite uncomfortable so on the Sunday we spent the whole day watching movies! During this time we found that we had sea water in hidden places in the boat, under the galley steps and into some of the shelving and also on the port side, into the generator space. Initially Dan thought it was something to do with the exhaust or intake for the generator but traced it back and found that it was actually coming up from under the mast and through the inspection port that he had covered with Perspex, but that he had forgotten to reseal after haul out. We also lost the last two covers for the reefing lines under the boat, which meant that they are exposed to the sea and not kept as tidy and prone to tangling if we weren’t careful. On day 5 (Monday) the wind eased and then dropped right away, but instead of coming from the W as forecast it came in from the NNE, which was the direction that we needed to go. Due to this we were hard on the wind, but still heading east, so on Wednesday morning we reassessed the situation (AGAIN) and tacked over and headed to North Minerva Reef as by this time, despite having Wally’s help both boat and crew were getting tired and fed up! Not long after we tacked over we started to hear some VHF activity and realised the Orion was in the area and doing its boat checks. It swooped over us at what seemed mast height and we had our friendly chat with them to confirm our details. We knew when we tacked that we would not get to Minerva that day and this meant that we ended up at the reef in the dark and spent most of the night lying a hull downwind of the reef and keeping a 20 minute check on the reef light and a lookout for any other vessels as well as an ear out for breaking waves. By 0600 there was enough visibility to get back on track and head to the pass into the reef. There was again an outgoing tide and the turbulence and small upright waves were very impressive but Division II sailed and motored through just fine with all crew on deck for reef watch. Once in the pass we headed down to the southern end to find our spot for the next few days.