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.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

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.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

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.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

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.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Day 1: NZ to Minerva/Tonga

Date: May 10, 2015
33° 50' S 175° 12' E
Water Temp: 66.2
Log: 16889
Distance to go: 670nm

I left New Zealand yesterday, bound for Minerva Reef. Depending upon the conditions, I may skip the reef and head directly to Tonga, but hopefully I'll be able to get into the reef on this trip.

Its currently sunny with patchy cloud. There is a light wind of 12 knots from the south and I'm making around 5 knots heading north - single reef in the main to keep it quiet, full genoa and the wind on my port at 130° apparent. The seas are a little confused but small. These are really nice sailing conditions at the moment. A large pod of dolphins found me on my way out of the Bay of Islands and played with me for a little while.

I'm expecting the trip to the reef to take something like a week. The weather window I left on wasn't ideal, but it looked like it would be manageable. I'm starting in generally light wind and am expecting it to get lighter and more variable by tomorrow. Then some strong NW wind will fill in - the further north that I am the less strong it will be, and that's my plan - head north. After two days of what I hope will be a fast beam reach I'll run into another light patch, followed by a front which will be followed by SW winds which should blow me the rest of the way to the reef. Or at least that's the way it looked when I left. I'll be downloading weather along the way and will adjust. I expect this trip to be a little 'scrappy' - I'll need to be flexible and sail as the conditions allow.

I really enjoyed my stay in New Zealand and found that a 6 month stay was just about right. It was cold when I first arrived, and it was cold when I left. The weather in the southern summer where I stayed was beautiful but I'm looking forward to the warmer weather and clear waters of the tropics which await me. A little more sun would be nice as well - as the days have gotten shorter here, energy onboard has started to become more of an issue. For tech-sailor-geeks, my batteries haven't been in float (completely full) for 55 days. In January they were regularly in float by early afternoon - time to move along!

I'll try to update this blog from time to time. As always, if my updates stop arriving, please, nobody panic. Electronics onboard a boat at sea can be finicky.

All is well onboard, I hope the same is true with all of you.

radio email processed by SailMail
for information see:

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Diesel Bug

This is a project post.

When I first left Seattle, in 2011, I had a new diesel tank, with two inspection ports and everything was shiny clean.  After my first year of traveling through California to Mexico, Hawaii and back to Seattle I ended up without any diesel problems, everything was still clean.

After leaving again in 2013 and heading down the California coast, again, to Mexico and then to the South Pacific, somewhere along the way I picked up a bad load of fuel, or a series of bad loads of fuel and my diesel tank ended up contaminated with the dreaded diesel bug.

I had no idea what 'diesel bug' was, or what to expect when I had it.  I've learned a little since then.

While in New Zealand, one of my chores I had on my boat project list was to inspect my diesel tank.  I had been noticing that the diesel I could see in my Racor filter was more opaque than usual, but it just seemed like it might be a different type of dye being used.  I couldn't see through the glass bowl of my Racor the diesel was so opaque.  (oh, for non-sailors, a Racor filter is a fuel-water separator along with a filter that is the first line of defense getting clean diesel into the engine.  There is a secondary filter closer to the engine which removes smaller particles than my Racor filter does.)

When I opened my diesel tank and shone a flashlight into the tank, my strongest flashlight couldn't penetrate the diesel to see any of the aluminum walls - it was clearly more opaque than I had thought.  There is a chandlery close by in Opua, Cater Marine which has a little display of some fuel additives. One of the displays has two glass jars, one with the fuel contaminated and one with the additive.  The interesting thing is that the contaminated sample looked a lot like my diesel - opaque, and in my case, reddish diesel.  There was also a brochure showing the same before/after comparison of a different additive - again, diesel being so opaque you can't see through it being bad.

Now I knew what contaminated fuel looked like, and knew that I had it, and I was standing in front of a display which advertised a product that you add to the bad fuel and over time it becomes good again!  Yay I thought to myself, how easy is that!

So I bought some, added it to my tank and waited a day.  After a day I started feeling like an idiot and doing more web 'research.'  After speaking with a few experts, it turns out that the best thing to do is to remove the bad diesel, clean the tank and lines and start again with fresh fuel.  This seems entirely obvious in hindsight, but its a somewhat ugly job and I was hoping for an easy shortcut.  Alas, it was not to be.

It turns out that the additive might kill the bug, but it remains in the tank.  The diesel bug is mostly water - its a bacteria and the bacteria is mostly water - and that it would end up possibly clogging my filters or going through my injectors as bacteria is tiny.  Sending stray amounts of water through a diesel injector is not good.  One of the things that a diesel engine likes is clean diesel fuel, burning through 1/2 a tank of bad, dead, diesel bug seemed a little reckless and possibly expensive if the high pressure pump or an injector was damaged.  Although, having said that, my engine seemed to be running just fine for all the time leading up to my cleaning the bad fuel out.  The Racor filter was obviously in need of replacing when I saw it.

Anyway, I ended up removing the diesel fuel, cleaning the tank until it was spotless, adding some clean diesel, running the pump on my engine to circulate it through the filters and lines, replaced both filters, removed the tainted fuel and called it good.  Its good to know there is clean diesel in my tank again - if I'm good to my diesel engine I'm hoping that it will be good to me in return.

During the latter part of this cruise when I started meeting people who had been cruising in different parts of the world I stated hearing their opinions on how to add fuel to the tank.  In America and Mexico the fuel seemed clean, it didn't seem to be an issue.  Cruisers I had met who were finishing up a circumnavigation had been through this process and had learned their lesson.  The general consensus is that if you don't filter the fuel going into your tank, you will get diesel bug eventually.  Its just a matter of time.  The people I met who were filtering their fuel didn't have the diesel bug problem, and most of them have pretty strong opinions on needing to filter the fuel.

The first time I left Seattle, I actually had the West Marine fuel filter on board, which seems to be very common and entirely adequate.  I bought it at the last minute and threw it in without ever trying it.  Along the way I had brain freeze when I tried to think of how to use it.  A Pacific Seacraft has high bulwarks, so the caprail is three or four inches off of the desk.  The fuel inlet is close to the caprail, which interfers with the filter.  I couldn't figure out how to use the filter and ended up giving it away in Mexico.
It doesn't fit!  Impossible!
After realizing I had diesel bug and that I needed to clean my tank and replace my fuel I started thinking again about the filter issue - and almost immediately came up with the obvious solution.  I feel like an idiot offering this to others as a solution, as its entirely obvious.  Anyway, I bought a short length of hose, a hose clamp and fashioned a way to fasten the filter to a stanchion and now it works perfectly:

Yeah, I know.  Its an amazing solution, right?

To add the fastening loop, I created a loop of 'small stuff', twine, in my case a thin dyneema.  I punched a pair of holes in opposite sides of the filter just below the top lip and whipped the dyneema loop to the filter using seine twine.  I then added a bungee and hook which I attached with a couple of hog rings.  It seems to work.

To use it, rig it up as shown, and then add fuel.  Its pretty easy.  If the fuel contains water, which the diesel bug needs to live, the water is caught by this filter and doesn't go into the tank.  It also stops bits of debris, which seems like a good idea.  

Its the water that is important for diesel bug to live, this filter stops water going into the tank.  There is a caveat though.  I used to add an additive to the diesel after buying it, so treated diesel sat in my diesel jugs.  It turns out that some additives will cause water to break up into small particles, rather than pooling together.  If you add one of these additives to the fuel before pouring it though the fuel//water filter, then the water will pass through - so I've stopped treating the diesel before it goes into the main tank.

After using the filter, you end up with some diesel at its bottom that is just stuck, it pools at the bottom.  I'm finding that one large fuel diaper, cut into 1/4's cleans it all up.  I use two of the quarters cleaning the diesel out, then one to clean the filter up, and one more to clean whatever else.  It all fits into an extra-large ziploc and stows forward in my chain locker.

I'm posting this in the hope that there is a sailor, somewhere, who might be able to avoid contaminated fuel and having to clean their tank out as a result.


I'm hoping to leave NZ bound for Tonga in a few more days.  This will be my last post until I'm underway.  As usual, if my blog posts stop while I'm on passage, nobody should panic, electronics are sensitive and a saltwater passage is a harsh environment.