June 10, 2013
Pangaimotu, Tongatapu, Tonga
We have arrived in Tonga – finally got in last Friday – but didn’t end up stopping at Minerva Reef – the weather wasn’t in our favour and after the crap we’d been through, we were keen just to get to Tongatapu.
Our inaugural passage turned out to be a baptism by fire (or rather, salt). We had thought it would take about six or seven days, but it took nine as we ended up doing the capital ‘S’ for scenic route of the South Pacific, thanks to the several nasty weather systems that came through. We headed east out of Whangarei for the first 24 hours, turned north, then had to turn back west to get around a big tropical low, then back east again – literally a big ‘S’. At one point, we were closer to Norfolk Island than Tonga and at another, we were equidistant between Noumea, Vanuatu and Tonga, and west of Fiji. Nuts.
It was a trip of extremes: at one point, we had no wind (motored for 24 hours) at others we were trying desperately to slow the boat down! And most of the time the sea state was large, lumpy and mean – not nice easy rollers, but nasty stuff coming at us from all directions (technical term, I decided, is ‘shitful’). For about 48 hours, we were hurtling along with two reefs in the main, no headsail at all, and still we were hitting 19 knots on occasion – the acceleration is phenomenal – we can be doing 5.5 knots and then literally three or four seconds later, we’re tipping 19 as we slide down a wave. Quite scary at times…
But the boat was great – really impressed with how it handled the conditions (even in the shitful seas and up to 40 knot gusts, we never actually took a wave over us, which was quite extraordinary).
The boat felt really solid when it needed to be – going over the shitty stuff it felt like we were in a big 4WD Hummer or an army tank (and the noise, at times, was similar) – but she’ll also pick up and fly with very little encouragement.
We had a weather guru, Bruce Buckley doing the weather for us (daily reports via satellite phone), for which we were very grateful. He had us slow the boat down and then head west when the tropical low intensified, so we caught the edge of it rather than the full blast. We heard from other boats that left the same day as us, who fared a lot worse, some sustaining damage.
I turned 50 surrounded, 360 degrees, by endless ocean. My birthday ‘fun’ started at midnight when Damian woke me for my watch. The wind was getting up and, in the course of changing sails, the headsail furler jammed and we ended up having to cut it and re-lead it (luckily it was still long enough… just). Two hours later, we were still on the foredeck trying to sort it out. D went to bed at 4.00am and I stayed at the helm for the rest of the night as numerous squalls swept over us, with gusts up to 30 knots.
Damian had said he’d cook me breakfast, lunch and dinner (which was to be the mahi mahi he’d caught the day before), but he got as far as breakfast… I did lunch and dinner but it ended up being re-heated spag bol as it was too rough to worry about fancy stuff. So a REALLY exciting birthday. First alcohol-free birthday I can remember!
The only plus was that we crossed 180 degrees longitude: ‘technically’ we crossed into yesterday so I got to celebrate twice – how very Gemini! Sadly, I didn’t realise the possibilities until too late… and it probably wouldn’t have made much difference anyway!
So, one way or another, a LOT of making up to do!!!
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