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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Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Day 4: NZ to Minerva/Tonga

Date: May 13, 2015
28° 50' S 176° 57' E
Water Temp: 70.7
Log: 17114
Distance to go: 370nm

As I expected, this has been a very changeable passage. My second night out was in wind so light all I could do was ghost along at around 2 knots - fast enough for my wind vane to steer which was nice. The following day was mainly light wind all day, sailing upwind in 6 and 8 knots at 3 and 4 knots of boat speed - very nice gentle sailing. During the third night, I expected some more wind to arrive and from there to build, which is more or less what happened. At around 11:30pm on the 11th I went for a sleep cycle with the boat moving slowly and then woke 20 minutes later with Luckness hove-to, pointed south in 8 knots of wind. The wind must have faded, become variable, swirled around and then filled in again during those 20 minutes. Once I steered out of being hove to and got pointed back in the right direction, the wind stayed steady and got stronger. Call this the first phase of the passage, fair wind followed by light dwindling to nothing.

The next phase was for NW wind to fill in, increasing to 25-30. The seas went from gentle rolling to a seas appropriate for the conditions - short, steep occasionally rolling wind waves. Sailing upwind, close hauled, was a wet, bumpy, fast ride. This type of sailing is physical - I wasn't reading anymore, but would instead sit in the cockpit dressed in waterproof clothing, tucked in behind the dodger but still getting splashed when the waves would hit the hull on the windward side and send a cascade of spray across the boat. Sleeping in these conditions is challenging, as is doing anything else aboard.

Phase 3, which is where I am now, has the wind slowly fading away again. The wind is forecast to fade away completely tonight - the center of a high and I are going to meet. The calm spell is likely to last for a while, followed by phase 4, a weak north wind which gradually gets stronger and backs around to the NW, W and finally SW. These final winds should be the ones on which I sail into the reef. There is also likely to be a front in there, between the NW and SW winds, so add a little more chaos to the 20+ knots and that's what is in my short term future.

But for tonight, I will probably bob around, in gentle seas. When there is no wind at all, I'll reduce more of my sail and increase my sleep timer to an hour - luxury! A whole hour of sleep at a time. This should help set me up for the bouncier conditions that will follow the following night and until I arrive.

Once I'm in the reef, if I don't abort and head elsewhere, I'm expecting fairly calm seas, clear warm water and beautiful conditions. I'd like to stay for a few days before heading onward.

Nothing much else to report. Nothing has broken yet! I did wake up last night with the distinct sound of something falling off and hitting the floor - I woke up out of a sleep and wasn't sure where it came from. I searched the entire boat interior for something that had fallen, followed by the cabin top forward, the side decks, checking all the blocks and fittings - and couldn't find anything that looked wrong. This morning, I went to check the chart plotter and happened to look down at the cockpit floor and spotted the nut which attaches my wheel to its axel sitting down by the scupper. I gave a little tug on the wheel and it slid back and forth pretty easily. There is a keyway connecting the two, so the wheel was still steering and with the monitor drum on the wheel tugging sideways I don't know if it would have actually fallen off - but its better when the nut is attached! Either by design, or luck, the nut is just a little bit larger than the scupper is, so it didn't fall and vanish into the great blue beneath me (I have a spare anyway, just in case.) I reattached the nut and have added it to my checklist of things to check regularly - I used to do this, but since I haven't sailed a passage for a while I've managed to get a little rusty in some areas. Its all coming back now :-)

Its warm, sunny, peaceful and I'm enjoying being out sailing again.

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