Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Arrival in Tonga

Sometimes plans change, and my arrival in Neiafu Tonga is a case of that.  When I left Minerva Reef I had every intention of arriving in Tongatapu, Tonga, which is the southern most group of islands and the group which holds the capital, Nuku'alofa, of Tonga.  While I was underway I kept reevaluating my reasons for arriving there and comparing them to the reports I have been hearing from boats currently in Fiji, and made a Captains decision to change my destination.  I now plan to stay in Tonga for less than a month and then head over to Fiji where I'll finish this cruising season, followed by a return to New Zealand.

The passage went well.  This is something most people say as a way of getting the "how's it going?" question out of the way.  Ask most cruisers "How did your passage go?" just after they finished, and most will say "it went really well!"  More detailed answers can take a long time to finish.  Nothing major broke, this makes it a good passage.  I was able to sail to my destination without too much trouble, which also makes it a good passage.  I sailed the entire time, aside from entry/exit into Minerva reef and Tonga and leaving New Zealand, which I like, and makes this a good passage in my mind.  It wasn't exactly 'smooth sailing with winds at my back' - but I was able to cope, mostly ate well, slept enough to stay functional, which all makes it a good passage.  I have to say that some of the magic of doing passages that I experienced earlier on on this cruise is starting to fade.  There were days of absolutely beautiful sailing which anybody who sails should envy, just glorious.  There were other days which weren't like this - but nothing extreme, no storms, no big waves, I was able to head to my destination, no heaving to, no drogue, no storm sails - I really have absolutely nothing to complain about.  But being on passage can be hard work, people who read this blog shouldn't be fooled into the life always being easy.

Now that I'm in Tonga, life is going to be absolutely easy and glorious.  The ARC fleet is in the area. This is a fresh version of the fleet I met while in the Marquesas last year.  They were there in early April and now they are already in Tonga.  They sail around the world in 18 months.  Crazy people.  The IAC rally is also here, which is a much more leisurely rally which is from New Zealand, to Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Calendonia and then back to New Zealand.  Compared to the ARC rally, these people are slow pokes, sailing leisurely around the islands.  In contrast, my plans are totally lazy - Tonga, Fiji and back to New Zealand.  I plan to be in Fiji for around 5 months.  I'm looking forward to it.

I'm sitting in a cafe, yards from the edge of the water, cool beer next to me dripping moisture off the glass due to the warmth and humidity, looking out at Luckness on a mooring blowing back and forth in the light wind like she wants to get going again.  The sun is starting to appear after two days of light rain.  The wind looks like its going to die off for the next week or so and after a little more sleep here I'll reprovision and then head out to revisit some of the beautiful local anchorages.  Life is good.





Saturday, May 23, 2015

Passage to Tonga

Date: May 24, 2015
23° 26' S 177° 32' W
Water Temp: 77.0

I was planning on leaving Minerva Reef this morning, which would have been ahead of a front. The plan was to leave ahead of a front in NW winds, make my way east, take the front at sea and then in the SW/S/SE winds turn toward the north and Tonga. It was a good plan I think. However yesterday afternoon I was sitting in Luckness having done all I could to prepare her for her next passage and suddenly decided to leave rather than spend another night at anchor in Minerva. So here I am, on my way to Tonga a little early. I'll need to sail slowly in order to arrive in the morning on Tuesday.

Minerva was nice. Its a beautiful spot to hang out for a while.

While I was there I managed to make my way through the list I had accumulated of things I wanted to fix and alter. The big item was that the UV cover on my headsail had started to come apart toward the last day heading into Minerva. I had reinforced a lot of the stitching on the UV cover in New Zealand before leaving and from the deck where I was watching it come apart I wasn't sure if my reinforcement had failed or what was going on. The forecast when I arrived in Minerva last Monday showed light winds on the following Thursday and Friday. So on Thursday I lowered my genoa to the deck and examined it. There was some stitching on the sail which looked strong in NZ which I hadn't bothered to reinforce, and it was this area which had come apart. The other areas I had already attended to were doing fine. Phew! So four hours later I managed to reinforce the stitching on all the remaining important areas (I think), the sail was raised again and it was ready to go.

The other project I was hoping to fix was my knot meter. Its stopped working. In the past this usually indicates that something is stuck in the paddlewheel. I left NZ with the knot meter perfectly clean and I was surprised when it stopped four or five days into the passage. After diving the boat in Minerva, I discovered the knot meter was spinning freely - so there is something else wrong with it this time. There may have been an area of chafe on some wiring - I noticed my water maker, which is still in its manual mode, had moved from where it was stowed and a board was in contact with the knot meter wiring. I'll look at this in Tonga, it would be nice if I could get it working again, but not critical.

I'll post again sometime after arriving as its only a few days to my destination, Nuku'alofa.

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Day 9: arrived in North Minerva

Date: May 18, 2015
23° 39.695' S 178° 55.027' W
Water Temp: 73.4

I'm anchored on the south side of North Minerva Reef. Yay.

Minerva Reef is a small circular reef. There is a passage into the reef on the NW corner, 150m wide. The pass is deep, I believe the shallowest I saw was 75feet. One you are inside, the depths in the middle are roughly 80 feet which shallows slightly as you approach the edges. I'm anchored in 50 feet of water, on a sand bottom with coral bommies scattered around.

There is a fringing sand shelf, however unlike Beveridge, it doesn't look like you can anchor on the shelf. The guide I has talks about the shelf being a thin layer of sand on coral and from what I see, I agree with that.

When I was starting my cruising in New Zealand after my time in the tropics last year one of the memories I have is how easy anchoring became again. You would pick an anchorage, move up to it, look for a space away from other boats, drop your anchor, back up to set it and you were done. There was no coral on the bottom. This is much like the PNW, or much of higher latitude cruising. I'm back in coral again and my first anchoring attempt was a bit of a gong show. I motored around for 1/2 an hour until I thought I had found a good spot. I dropped my anchor, backed up, letting out more chain and after letting out 160 feet realized that the chain was now draping across a bommie that used to be behind me but was now ahead of me due to the length of chain I let out. Oops. So I started to bring the chain back in to try over and realized the chain had snagged something down below - 50 feet down below, much deeper than I can free dive. After a number of tries motoring in various directions trying to unhook the chain, it got free. Yipee! As I brought the rest of the chain in it again got stuck - the anchor had become set against another short coral outcropping. This one was trickier and getting it unstuck took 20 minutes. I was about to call to the other boats to see if anybody had dive equipment when I tried one last time and the anchor came free. There are large sand patches here, and now I'm anchored in one, comfortably.

Two days ago I sailed through the front that I had expected. The front had 30 knots of wind with rain and there was a very sudden shift from NW/WNW to SW. I felt so lucky to have access to all the weather information that I do, I was able to see this front days ahead of time, plan for the shift and be in a good place for the steady winds which followed it. Thanks Sailmail, GFS and all the other people who make this possible!

The last two days at sea were in pretty steady 20-25 knots of wind, on my beam - a bit ahead or behind depending on the wind shifts with waves increasing to 3 to 4 meters. It was a pretty wet ride with lots of spray all over. I ended up with needing to slow down in order to arrive in daylight and for much of the last night I was sailing under staysail alone, making 3-5 knots. With my double reefed main up, I would be making 4-6 knots - too fast, it had me arriving at the reef at 5am. Both of these setups were bomb proof in the conditions. Both evenings and mornings were quite squally. A squall would approach and the wind would back or veer and increase in speed by 5 or 10 knots. Flying a staysail and double reefed main meant there was no worry about reefing for squalls - I would just speed up for a while and the boat felt fine - not stressed, no pounding, quiet.

I'll probably spend at least 4 or 5 days here, and then look for a good weather window to move along.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Day 7: NZ to Minerva/Tonga

Date: May 16, 2015
26° 20' S 178° 49' E
Water Temp: 73.4
Distance to go: 200nm

I've been becalmed twice, had beautiful sailing conditions for a while, been bashing upwind in 25-30 for a few days and am currently on a broad reach in 25+ knots, 3-4m seas making good time to Minerva Reef. The last few night I've been reducing my sails to only a double reefed main and staysail - which keeps me moving in the 16-22 knot normal wind and is able to cope with a squall coming through with winds in the low 30s. I'm currently sailing with double reefed main (which is fully reefed), staysail and a little genoa making 6.5 knots north. I'm expecting the winds to back some more tomorrow, so I should be able to jibe in the morning and then start trying to finesse my speed to arrive on monday during daylight.

I'm my last blog post I said that nothing had broken - that's changed. I found the toilet roll holder that is mounted on a door beneath the head sink has fallen off. If that's the extent of the breakage I'll be feeling pretty lucky.

All remains well onboard.

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