Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Minerva Reef, Tonga to Opua, New Zealand

Minerva Reef, Tonga to Opua, New Zealand

Noon Position: 23* 37' S. 178* 54' W at Minerva Reef
     Cloud Cover 80% except over Confidence
     Course 285*
     Speed 5.5 knots
     Anchor up at 1300 hour and motor sailing until we clear the reefs
     Sails: single reefed main and stay sail at 100%

Confidence is a little slower than most of the other boats and we knew that we would have to sail a bit NW before the winds would come around to our charted course so we decided to leave a day early. Seas were a bit choppy but manageable.

It took me til Monday to start writing in the journal. We had over 900 nm to go and we were crossing a part of the South Pacific that has a wicked history. It took me a few days to settle into the routine - no sea sickness - just a lot of apprehension. Relatively speaking I guess the conditions are pretty good for the South Ocean. I hope I never see them when they are bad!

We are constantly monitoring the weather. Due to the positions of the various highs and lows we are unable to maintain a rum line (direct line from MR to NZ). Wind direction is also changing. Dave from Gulf Harbor Radio has been very helpful - looking at all of the weather models and weather information and relaying it on the morning radio net.

So our plan to date is to head west with as much of a southerly slant as we can manage, keeping the sails full and the motor off, until we can line ourselves up with the North Cape of New Zealand. Another low is supposed to pass over the North Cape by Saturday so we need to get in there, or at least on the lee side of the land by then.

The winds were initially pushing us west with no southerly component at all. Fact is we were actually going a bit north - wrong direction! Then the winds started to slowly fill in and we were able to alter course, without tacking and gradually come around to our intended course. The sky is very grey and the seas are a bit confused with swells of 1.5 to 3 meters. No rain! Winds remained constant at around 18 knots and we were able to maintain a speed of 6 knots. Things were looking good!

It was quite evident that we were moving out of the tropics, however. I had to pull out our full sailing gear for the cool evenings along with leggings and fleece during the day. We can tell that the water temperature has also dropped as the compressor refrigerator/freezer only turns on a couple of times a day instead of every 6 hours and only for a very short time. This is good as this is the largest draw on the batteries. 

22-Nov-2016 Noon Position 29* 31' S 175* 13' E
     Speed Over Ground: 7.0 knots!
     Course: 200* True
     40% Cloud Cover
     Winds: 15-18 ESE
     Miles to Go to Opua: 346

The distance travelled and the distance to go is not that accurate as the crow does not fly in a straight line. The rum line puts it at a distance of approximately 750 mm but we will probably cover over 900 nm. 

The sun is out and the dark, grey Southern Ocean has finally turned a gorgeous azure blue. Confidence broke a record today covering a distance of 156 nm in 24 hours! We estimate our progress using an average of 5 knots and 120 nm. So 156 is out of the park!!! Way to Go Confidence!

23-Nov-2016 Wednesday 
     Noon Position: 30* 43' S. 175* 01* E
     Speed: 5.5 to 6 knots
     Course: 189 T

We are still managing good speed. The seas are starting to settle down a bit and I am finally starting to settle down. We could not ask any more out of Confidence. All systems are working beautifully especially the wind vane. And the predicted winds also performed as expected so we were sailing on our rum line. Winds were coming around nicely from the SE and we were on a beam reach. We have been managing more than 150 nm per day for the last three days! Awesome!

I took the evening to midnight watch as usual and was entertained with another wonderful sunset 

and a light show of phosphorescence - more evident now that we are in cooler waters. It was a very pleasant evening. The wind vane system was steering the boat so I was able to sit back and enjoy my book. I was feeling pretty comfortable so I let the Captain sleep until 0100.

23-Nov-2016 I woke up to a beautiful morning. The seas have calmed down but that also means that the winds have calmed down. We were able to continue sailing at 5.5 to 6 knots til about 0930. And it did warm up to 25C.

Then the winds swung around to the east. The sails were not doing us any good so we furled the Genoa and the stay sail in and turned on the motor. We engaged the autopilot and gave the wind vane a rest. Over time we have found that the wind vane works better at the higher wind speeds and the auto pilot works better in lighter winds with the motor running.

Noon Position: 31* 47' S.    174* 51' E
     Speed Over Ground: 6.0 knots
     Course Over Ground: 203*
     Miles to Go: 205 nm
     Distance in 24 Hours: still a respectable 141.2 nm 

This is the last day of the Gulf Harbor Radio Net. Patricia and David are on vacation. It is amazing to develop such a relationship with two people who we will probably never meet. They quite liked David as he was able to relay between them and other boats during the morning check in. He always gets complements on the clarity of our broadcast and his professionalism. No one is aware that his very first career was as a radio officer! When I met people at anchor or in town and introduced myself as the silent (yes - silent) voice on Confidence they all wanted to meet the  man behind the "Voice"!

1500: I am enjoying this day of calm seas. I have been reading and knitting - two things I find difficult to do in rough seas. It is a good thing that we will be in port soon as we are getting down to the dregs when it comes to provisions. We just site the last eggs, bread and canned Sockeye salmon. But I still managed to come up with a few treats like the last two portions of Lasagna! One particular find made me think of my brother-in-law, Stuart. He is a Yorkshireman and has a soft spot for Cadbury Chocolate. I was cleaning. The fridge and found one of the large chocolate bars that I had forgotten about. This one was Cadbury chocolate with coconut so it was like eating a macaroon! Mm good! It is amazing what simple pleasures you get when you find a taste from home!

24-Nov-2016 Starry Starry Night and as much phosphorescence in the sea as stars in the sky. But it does play havoc with the psychy when you are having trouble making out the horizon and the stars are so close to the horizon as there is no land for them to hand behind. Is that a star or a boat?

We are getting to a point where we are expecting to see more boats as we are all converging on the same harbor. And you would think that with 25 of us out here that one would see the odd boat. NOT. 

Midnight Position: 32* 48' S. 174* 42' E
     Speed: 5.0 knots motor sailing and bucking a 0.5 current
     Course Over Ground: 203* T
     Distance to Go: 152.9 nm 
     Winds: SE at 5 knots
     Seas: 1 meter swell with a slight chop

Good thing we have slowed down so that we can time our approach to Opua for sunrise. I am supposed to wake up the Captain but I felt a bit guilty as I had to wake him up after just two hours due to a small steering issue. So I will let him sleep til he wakes u on his own.

0130: Captain is up, coffee is made and goody bag has been filled. He had a good night and I had a good sleep. David saw one bulk carrier and had a pod of dolphins come and play in the bow.

0730: I take over the helm as David is the Net Controller for today. Some of the boats from Minerva have made it to Opua. Four them have completed their circumnavigation so a party is being planned at the Yacht club to celebrate their accomplishments along with ours!

0938: I see a sailboat! First boat since leaving Minerva Reef. We called on the VHF and confirmed that it was Privateer. We were wondering why they were trying to sail in these lite winds. Their motor is giving them some grief so they decided to give it a rest, sail as close to the quarantine dock as possible and hope that there was 
enough power to get them secured. It took them 12 hours move than us but they made it safely!

Noon Position: 33* 46' S. 174* 26' E
     SOG: 5.6 knots
     COG: 195 T
     Winds: E at 7 knots
     20% cloud cover
Distance in 24 Hours: 135 nm

1430: I had a great visit from a family of dolphins. They played with us for abut a half he - welcoming us t New Zealand.

2000: I am sitting here in the cockpit watching the next front move in from the west. It is supposed to reach the North Cape by 10 am tomorrow. We should be there in about 5 hours. It is a race to the finish!!

New Zealand

0700: secured on the quarantine dock in Opua, New Zealand!!! Along with 10 other boats. We are a happy group. Everyone arrived safely.

Confidence exceeded our expectations. We travelled approximately 924 nm in 162 hours (6 3/4 days) averaging 5.7 knots with three days averaging over 150 nm. Our best day was 156 nm . We had t slow down on purpose for our last 12 hours in order to time our arrival for day light. Winds ranged from 7 knots to 25 knots. No rain! No squalls!
All systems working. 

I never thought that I would make it to New Zealand let alone sail here! Today is a Happy Day!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

North Minerva Reef, Tonga

North Minerva Reef

23* 37' S 178* 55' W

0810: Anchor down

This is a bizarre place. You can either go onto Google Earth or mmsn.org and click on the Satelite box after putting in our call sign to view it. I have also included the screen shot.
 There are actually two reefs however the north one has the better entrance and is most often used as a resting place for cruisers.

It is located 399.4 nm south west from Port Maurelle. It appears to lie on a submarine plateau and has a small opening (300 feet) on the north western side. The lagoon is clear of coral except at the edges by the reef, the bottom is sand and showing a light blue when viewed by the satellite. But basically it is a 3 foot diameter circle in the middle of the ocean. To put it into prospective - think of finding a life ring in Lake Superior. Thank goodness for GPS. The reef will not give very much protection from any winds but it does give protection from the seas.

At present there is a one foot chop, the sun is shining and we are about to lay down and get caught up with some sleep.

We got up a couple of hours later, enjoyed a BA scramble and reorganized the boat. Wet gear was put away though really for this passage it was mostly wind gear. We did notice a slight tear in the main so David and I spent a couple of hours repairing that.

TEAM WORK - I sew but David has to pull the needle through the sail material with the pliers.

11-Nov-2016 Remembrance Day - makes me think of Dad. I wonder what he would think about all of this - probably not relaying any of it to me as that was not his way - but probably bragging to the world!

We are comfortably enjoying our morning coffee and watching the flotilla of boats coming in from Tongatapu. We have gone from two boats to twelve!

Some thoughts on this crossing. 

The Radio Nets

We are following three nets as we do this crossing. Gulf Harbor out of New Zealand, Pacific Seafarers out of Hawaii and the Poly-Mag net started by one of our fellow cruisers 12 years ago when they started their circumnavigation. Gulf Harbor (YIT.NZ.co) and Pacific Seafarers (mmsn.org) plot our location on the Internet.

I cannot stress the importance of the Nets to all of the cruisers out there. They provide valuable information with regards to weather and course options - actual as well as predicted. David uses all of this information as well as our own data from GRIB files that we get from our winlink network. GRIB files contain data to predict wind flow, sea-state, wave and other information.

This is important information for us to have access to at this time as two lows are approaching the north end of New Zealand in the next week. If we were to leave now we would have been caught in the middle of them with 12 foot seas and 35-40 knot winds. Knowing this, Confidence, as well as the other boats here have decided to wait it out in relative comfort until next week when the predicted high starts moving in. 

Back to the net - the other benefit of the net is the comraderie that has developed among the cruisers. We are a mini UN with boats from Canada, US, NZ, Australia, GB, France, Germany and Sweden. Some cruisers we never get to meet. Others for a few days here and there. And still others we have become good friends with. Just having someone to talk to can be enough to give support or help someone troubleshooting a problem. Just lets all of us know that we are not alone.

12-Nov-2016. Update from the net this morning has some of the boats that carried on finding themselves heading right into those lows. A few will heave to and slow themselves down. Our numbers are now up to 25 and we will all stay here til Friday or Saturday of next week.

So we are all on diets. Most of us have limited stores, knowing that New Zealand is a stickler about what you can bring into the country. I took inventory and am sure that we have enough food to last us but we will have to ration. No eating a bag of chips in one sitting! No worries - we will still eat well.

We are happy to report that Velic has finally arrived. When you look at the 12 hour delay that we experienced having been forced to sail on a course that put us west of the reef you might appreciate the frustration that they have felt retracing their steps. It has taken them Three days to work their way back! We all gave them a warm welcome, blasting our fog horns to welcome them in! And kudos to them for realizing the potential situation they could be in if they continued. One cannot be too proud to realize that you did not make the best decision and have to regroup!

More examples of the camaraderie that develops. Remember that we are in a very small lagoon in the middle of the Pacific. Jade is a catamaran from GB with two kids on board. Their son Noah has decided to organize a pizza run to collect money for the Kiwi's for Kiwi's organization - a small bird that is becoming extinct. So today 8 kids from 2-10 got together on Jade to make pizza dough. Noah got on the VHF radio and took orders. Then Noah and his mom went around to the boats to collect donations for toppings. The two boys on Enough another Noah and Horatio) came over and they made pizzas - complete with cardboard and tinfoil boxes. They could cook three at a time. Then the boys as well as Noah's sister Ferne got in their dinghy with Dad (Alex) and delivered them! 

 They were asking $10 NZ per pizza. We gave him a twenty. After delivering the last pizza I heard a knock on the hull. They were bringing us back the change! We said to keep it - it was for a good cause - and complemented them on the pizza. It really was excellent! We had salami, lobster, mushrooms, olives, sun dried tomatoes, green peppers, onions and cheese on ours. Who ever thought we would be ordering pizza to be delivered in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!!!

Noah is also the young man who goes to shore and collects and organizes our beach parties. Incredible young man but then we are finding all of these kids are incredible and very mature for their age.

More stories: Sandy was an IT systems analyzer in her past life. She came over in the dinghy and helped David with some of the computer data issues that he has been having. She also gave us a bunch of movies to down load and two 2 micron filters for our secndary fuel filter. It was quite choppy while she was here and the dinghy was hitting against our swim ladder, which we did not notice, was already loose. So we lost the ladder or so we thought. Sandy and her husband Rankin are divers so they came over the next morning and retrieved it for us! Big deal for us as that is how I get back on the boat after swimming!

And today several boats got together figuring out how to refigure the gas tanks on one of the boats as they had the European system and had run out of propane! Just as they were cooking their lobster! More success! 

Everyday their are examples of people helping people out. We met another wonderful couple, Werner and Christina on Wind Dance III. Our dinghy is all packed up so they were kind enough to come and take us for a couple of walks on the reef at low tide. We were also able to do a snorkel at the entrance to the reef with Belvanie and Sandy and Rankin. One shark, lots of convict fish ( yellow striped fish) and some interesting coral formations. The water was a bit cooler than Tonga but still acceptable. For me anyway - everyone else wore wet suits!

Now it is Friday morning and it is time to leave. Our boat is usually a little slower than others so we are heading out a day early. 

Time to leave this beautiful oasis of Minerva Reef.

Pictures of the reef.

Super Moon

Will have to add more photos later.



Friday, November 25, 2016

Port Maurelle to Minerva Reef

Port Maurelle, Tonga to North Minerva Reef, Tonga

03-Nov-2016: Hrs on Engine: 3935.3
                         Oil and filters changed

Customs and Immigration check out was completed. We topped up with Duty Free fuel at $1.25 per liter Paanga or .65 US. Regular price was $2.50 so quite a savings. We also topped up our wine and liquor and beer to the allowable limit.

Last game of the World Series was on at the Bounty Bar so we spent our last day watching the game with some local ex-pats - from Canada and the US. A game seven with extra innings and the Cubs winning by a narrow 8-7 score. Who could ask for a better way to end the season. We were not really vested in either team as we have only watched the last four games in the entire season. Almost hated to see either team lose as neither one of them had won the WS in many many years!

Next day we headed over to Port Maurelle to wait for our weather window and complete a few last minute chores. The rain forecasted for Friday did not materialize. As a result we were able to bring the dinghy on board, clean it, dry it and pack it up for storage in the v-berth. I also got a couple of good swims in and even managed to talk David into one.

Saturday's forecast was for rain and thunder and lightening which did not happen until the early morning on Sunday. There was major lightening - good thing we were not out in it! The anchor held with the change in the winds which was a good thing. Not so good was the fact that we swung around twisting our chain around some coral and bringing us closer to shore. We started the motor at 0500 just in case we needed to pull up and reset but we held and the depth stayed at 10 feet under the keel.

I spent Saturday making a crab pasta salad and Chicken Mirabella for the crossing. Then I fried up some fresh Mahi Mahi that we received from a fellow boater ( from Quebec) with a spinach stir fry (first time I saw fresh spinach at the market so I did not hesitate). Also had a wonderful spinach salad the night before. We spent a pleasant evening with Lynne on Amarula sharing more stories. We were also able to get some good Skype calls with my sister Susan, our friend Roz, David's mother ( it was her 91 St birthday), his daughter Michele and granddaughter Amelia in Australia. 

Our last sunset at Port Maurelle

06-Nov-2016 Sunday morning we unraveled the anchor chain - that was a bit of a challenge. We reset in the center of the bay. Final preparations were completed, sail cover off, jack lines secured ( safety lines),life jackets out etc. etc. We finished off the morning with a relaxed pleasant breakfast of French toast, Papaya, Pineapple and coffee. Dishes done. Anchor up.

1200: We got underway under gray skies. Winds are less than 5 knots from the East with a 1 foot chop. Main is up with one reef in place. Motor sailing to start Day One of the next leg of our adventure.

1425: Motor is off and Genoa is out at 60%
           One reef in the main.
           Course 220* T Speed 5.5 to 6.0 knots
           Seas with a one foot chop and 3 foot swells
           Occasional patch of blue in the sky.
           Abeam of Hunga Lagoon.
           Wind Monitor is engaged: Look Ma! No hands!

1600: David furled in the Genoa to 50% and out a second reef in the main. We turned on the engine to get ahead of a nasty looking squall that was coming up on us.

 Success. It looked like another squall was coming behind us but we were able to outrun that one as well.

1800: Everything collapsing around us. Up to 50% cloud cover. The motor is off and we are back to sailing. We are right on course at 220* T There are a couple of new Volcanic islands which have developed in the last 15 years so Captain just informed me to keep on this course - between 210 - 240*. Aye aye Captain. 

Winds are 12 knots from the SE. Speed 5.8 a 6.0 knots on a beam reach.

Daylight savings Time has gone into effect for Tonga which makes for a nice twilight. Remember that we are in the Southern Hemisphere and it is the end of spring here so clocks go ahead! People from the north are used to October and time falls back!

1930: Dinner is done - Chicken Mirabella and the Captain is down for the count. It has turned into a perfect summer evening. Moon is out at 38% and will not set until 01:10 . The clouds have moved off and I have settled down with my book as the wind vane monitor
is doing all of the work!

07-Nov-2016 0430 to 0630

We are passing along the west side of Koa and Tofua Islands. It was a good night with the winds picking up, allowing us to maintain 5.5 knots. The Genoa was at 80% and we still had a double reef in the main.

Some people may be questioning as to why we keep that double reef in - first reason it the fact that it is night time and we like to reduce sail in case any squalls creep up on us. Second reason - we do have a fairly large main and Confidence will maintain good speed with this combination of sails.

0630 and the winds have started to back around from the NE. 
Course is 190* and are speed is 4 knots. There is a very pink sky in the east - sure hope the sailors prediction of "Pink sky in the morn, sailors be warned" does not hold up!

0719: Valec (from Portland) are ten miles ahead of us. They left Port Maurelle a couple of hours before we did.

Noon Position: 20*09' S 175*29' W
    Course 230*T Speed 5.5 knots
     100% cloud cover
     285 nm to go to Minerva Reef
     Total distance covered in 24 hours: 124 nm

1500: A very black cloud is approaching from the east. Looks like there is a lot of rain falling from it. Will we be able to outrun this one? 

We decided to move things down below and put. On our wet gear.

Go Confidence Go!

And we did it again. We did get a very slight sprinkling from the edge of it but nit enough to even clean the boat. Those angels are working overtime!

1700: David managed to make radio contact with the Pacific Seafarers Net out of Hawaii. That means that family and friends should have been able to see our location on mmsn.org.

2200: I noticed some lights off the starboard side of Confidence, sitting on the horizon. The movement and brightness of them made me think that it was a fishing vessel. I had the running lights on but decided to turn on the tri-light just so we were lit up a bit more. We do not often turn this light on as it does not have an LED bulb and really drains our battery. But after a few hours it looked like the fishing boat was running parallel to us, either stationary or heading on a reciprocal course so I turned it off.

08-Nov-2016 David takes over the helm and I climb into bed. David started the motor shortly after midnight to give the batteries a boost.

0200: Winds had picked up and motor was turned off. 

0430: winds began dying off and moving into the NE so we were back to motor sailing.

Lots of chatter on the radio with regards to weather. We had contemplated sailing right on through to Opua, NZ but the development of two lows from Australia and heading for the northern tip of New Zealand influenced a change of heart. We are heading to Minerva Reef.

1050: The sun has decided to show its face but the skies are still about 90% cloud cover. David has finally laid down and I hope not to see him again until later this afternoon. In the meantime I read, wrote more in the journal for entry into the blog at a later date and daydreamed while looking out at the grey skies and grey seas!

Noon Position: 21* 43' S 176* 53'W
          161 nm to go to Minerva Reef
           100% cloud cover with the occasional drop of rain
           Speed 6.6 knots
           Winds are 5 knots from the SW on our nose
1430: Winds have shifted again from the NE and pulled out one of the reefs in the main. We just got settled with the changes and then we noticed a dark squall line approaching. So the Genoa was rolled back in and the second reef was also put back in. The winds then shifted to the east!

But we missed another one!

We decided to put the stay sail out to increase the draft on the main, which in turn created a low pressure at the front of the main sail and to increase its efficiency.

1535: The skies are brightening up a little with a few blue patches. The winds are now from the SW. Where did the trade winds disappear to? We are still running with the motor on. 

Wishy washy winds all afternoon - either on the nose or 10* on either side.

1700: The winds finally settled in from the SE but less than 10 knots so we were still motor sailing.

We received more weather predictions from the radio nets and made a definite decision to head to Minerva Reef otherwise we would be right in the middle of the lows. We are continung to motor sail at 5 knots for a late arrival into M.R. or we might give the motor a rest and drift along this evening.

Good news - the skies have cleared somewhat and the moon is at 53%. I get another moonlit watch. 🌛

🎼 What a difference a day makes. 24 little hours  " . Though at sea you do not usually have to wait the 24 hours. By 1700 hours, the sky is clear, the sun is glistening on the water and the moon is shining above Confidence. The.  Sea is rippled and the swells are pleasant at 1-2 feet.

09-Nov-2016 Our speed is 5 knots and the wind is starting to pick up a bit so we have out the stay sail back out. The winds are from the SE at 7-10 knots and we are managing to steer our course. 

105 nm to our destination. We tried putting out the Genoa to see if we could pick up a bit of speed but no such luck. But at least we could turn off the motor and give it a rest. In the meantime David checked the levels. The overflow cup for the secondary fuel filter was getting a bit full so that was emptied. It took a couple of extra hits on the starter coil before the motor would turn over - a few tense moments. But she started and I went to bed.

It is interesting - the sound of a glass clicking in the cupboard can drive me crazy and prevent me from getting to sleep. However the hum of the motor does just the opposite and I sleep like a baby!

0200: during the night the winds started coming around from the south so it was getting a little difficult to maintain our course without bashing and going nowhere. The seas had also risen to 6 feet. We only had 63 miles to go to Minerva and if we could have sailed in a straight line we would be there in daylight hours. But we could not sail in a straight line. We were having to zigzag across our case line, virtually doubling the distance we had to travel.

0830: David sent our position report. We were on a course. 130* but we wanted to be on a course of 220*. We are talking a BIG zigzag. The sky has cleared and we are looking at 30% cloud cover. The sea conditions and weather are not bad - we just are not going anywhere fast. Looks like we will be spending another night on the open seas!

Velic, who was ahead of us, is now 100 nm behind us but they had decided to continue right on to Opua. We are both experiencing the same conditions with the winds not expected to come around to the SE til tomorrow. Time to tack and make a course alteration. 

Noon Position: 23* 01' S 178*18' W
     Speed is 5 knots
     Winds 20 knots from. SW
     Seas 6-7 feet from the SW
     50% cloud cover
     Distance to Go is 50.25 nm

Unfortunately the winds were not cooperating. If you couod look at the screen shot you will see a black line. That is our preferred course line. The red line is our actual curse line. Hopefully this will help you understand why it is difficult to predict ETA's! The wind has put us 25 nm west of the entrance to the lagoon. 

Once we tacked we were able to put us in line with the entrance to the lagoon but the wind was on our nose. So the motor is on and we are on target.

0747 and we are finally entering the pass with no difficulty. We had to dog leg it for the better part of the last 24 hours. That slowed us down but it also kept us out of any uncomfortable seas and rain. But we made it, relatively rested but still looking forward to a break.

Two boats leaving.

And here is the reef!


Sunday, October 30, 2016

Last Days in Tonga

Last Few Weeks in Tonga

We spent a week at our favorite anchorage at Port Maurelle. A lot of boats use this bay as their stepping off point after clearing with Customs and Immigration in Neiafu and waiting for the weather window.

Al and Patricia on Nauti Nauti were doing just that so we decided to head over for a proper send off celebration. That included a bonfire on the beach with some other boaters and a belated Thanksgiving turkey dinner the following night. They are off to Fiji to wait out this year's cyclone season.

Note: Hurricanes are called Cyclones in the South Pacific and the wind direction is clockwise around the low.

Weather was cooperating so we decided to touch up some of the varnish. I got in the dinghy in order to clean the top sides. Stock supply of cleaning products are starting to dwindle, some of which are difficult to come by in this part of the world. But I found a brand new bottle of On & Off, from the previous owner, which is specifically formulated for cleaning the hill and top sides as it will not harm the fiberglass. Now there are a lot of boat products that cost twice as much as some regular household cleaners and do not even do what they are advertised to do. Well this one was an exception. I put a small amount on an absorbent cloth, wiped one of the rusty spots around the exhaust and voila! Instant removal. No elbow grease required. You just have to rinse well with water as the active ingredient is oxalic acid. But it works well and I was able to complete the topsides in less than an hour!

The disappointing part was the condition of the hull. We had cleaned the hull a couple of weeks ago and there was already signs of heavy growth and barnacles .I guess the protective qualities of the ablative paint has finally given up the ghost. We got more than two years out of it so we really can't complain. So the decision was made to have the boat hauled out here - little cheaper, good feedback from other boaters and a way to give back to the community. If we as boaters expect to have these facilities available to us in these remote areas then we must be willing to support them!!! So we are booked for Tuesday at 1430 to coincide with high tide.

The truck and trailer were right on time. 

We hooked up a bow line to the trailer and Joe secured a stern line from an anchor mooring in the water to help align Confidence onto the trailer. The boys were in the water for the next half hour with mask and snorkel to ensure that all straps were in place, pads were in place and that Confidence was secure. 

The tractor in the yard needed some assistance to haul us out so a second front end loader showed up. It gave the extra power to haul our boats' 14.99 tons up the ramp. The second loader was un-hooked and power washing began.

By 5 o'clock we were secure in our cradle 

and the decision made to have the crew from the yard do the prep work on the hull. They have the coveralls, masks and vacuum attached sander. We opted to do the painting ourselves. 

We had 2 gallons of Sea Hawk ablative bottom paint but would require two more. Thank goodness the yard carried this same brand! A little more expensive but not bad all things considered. While the boys were sanding David replaced the diaphragm on the manual bilge pump. YES I did work also it is just that I am the photographer!

Then we went for a real shower with hot water! First real shower since June! I love my shower on deck and had forgotten what a real shower was like.

The yard is quite nice - not dirty like some. It is located on an old quarry and kind of reminds me of a KOA campsite except there are boats instead of tents on the lawn. The location makes it an ideal location for hiding out during cyclone season. If you do leave your boat here they add extra supports in case the winds do pick up but the hills around give you pretty good protection. 

Any yachties looking for a relatively inexpensive, cyclone protected storage facility should give serious consideration to the Boatyard.

boatyardvavau.com email and website address

Al and Joe run the place and are busy expanding to provide cruisers with a one stop service. The major trades are on site. All journey men are certified. Ken is a welder and does work in stainless. Cyril is a finishing carpenter and cabinet maker and will look after your woodworking issues. Kevin specializes in Diesel engines and outboards and is a service and sails agent for Yamaha.
Other staff work with fiberglass, painting and just about anything else you may need.

They have a few chandlery items in the office and plans are underway to open up a proper chandlery. But if they do not have what you need, they will assist you in getting it in. Plans are also in the works to improve on the shower facilities and maybe even a small beach bar. The yard is about a 20 minute walk from town but there is usually someone going to or from to give you a lift. 

But the best part as far as I was concerned, next to the showers was the ability to go for a nice swim off the ramp after a sweaty day of work. Al and Joe are constantly monitoring water quality and their environmental impact to keep the area as pristine as possible. So good snorkeling right there and on a good day you can spear your dinner, catch some squid or see an octopus!

We were back in the water Friday afternoon. One last check to make sure there were no leaks after David repacked the stuffing box. Hugs, kisses and handshakes all around and then we were off to our favorite anchorage for a couple of nights.

Confidence with a nice clean bottom! And prop!

Most of the boats have left for New Zealand or Fiji so Confidence and Swiftsure had the bay at Port Maurelle  to ourselves. Our two days were spent cleaning the deck and house, cleaning the dinghy, wrapping and stowing the Suzuki outboard, changing the oil, completing the paper work, making chili and lasagna and getting in as many swims as I could!!

We were going to check out on Monday but the weather forecast is not in our favor. But we returned to Neiafu anyway. Monday was spent filling up the water tanks, getting rid of garbage, picking up the laundry, sending our advance notice of arrival form to New Zealand, getting rid of the old oil, catching a World Series game at The Bounty Bar (all work and no play makes for a not so good day) after all we are retired. 

And last but not least the ability to send off this last blog. Tuesday's plans are to do one last trip to the market for fresh fruit and vegetables, Taco Tuesday at Aquarium and goodbyes to all the people we have met here. Then back to the boat to reorganize the v-berth for storage and the port settee for sleeping. We are getting into cooler country so we may empty out the shower and return it to its original purpose.

The plan for Wednesday is to check out with Customs and Immigration, get our duty free booze and fuel and head out. There is a weather system moving in later today, so our reason for delaying our departure to Wednesday. If it does not settle down or the other system coming from Australia moves north then we may just sit it out at Port Maurelle until Mother Nature decides that we can go.

So this will be the last blog entry til the latter part of November. You can follow our passage on www.mmsn.org as before . The crossing is 1200 nautical miles with an option of stopping at Minerva Reef at the 450 nm mark due to weather or just a need to rest. We bank on averaging 100 nm per day but so far we have been exceeding this. When we actually get there will be in the hands of the Angels.

So do not fret if you do not hear from us. There are times when radio communication is sketchy or we may just be sleeping and have missed the radio call in times.There are also a lot of boats leaving around the same time - more then twenty - and we will be in constant contact with them.

Yes I am a little apprehensive as this is a big crossing for just the two of us. But I have total confidence in David and Confidence and I also have all those angels looking out for us.

It is hard to leave this place. You can probably tell from the blogs that we really enjoyed our time in Tonga. The people, the services, the restaurants, the anchorages and especially the swimming.

Malo aupito Tonga!

So let the next leg of the adventure begin! See you in November!!


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hunga Lagoon

Hunga Vicinity

A few days back in Neafu to re-provision and get some things done. We had been told that Philip at Vava'U Canvas Repair did good work so we brought in the sail cover and the dodger for fixing. He did an excellent job and we had our covers back on the boat within a day. Ian at Trouble in Paradise also had a good reputation when it came to fixing outboards. The Suzuki that we bought in Bora Bora has been running well but the repairs on the Yamaha did not fix our problem. Ian was able to get it running for a very small fee so we had to go and pick that up. 

I had some hanging baskets made by one of the local artisans and they were also ready for pick up. So no more rusty copper hanging baskets! Bearta did a wonderful job!  A souvenir from Tonga.

Then it was over to the market for more fruit and vegetables. Tropicana for whole wheat bread. And the the Chinese grocery store for beer, wine and the rest of the groceries.

David made several trips over to the dock at Aquarium to get water to fill up our holding tanks. 

Patricia, from Nauti Nauti had returned from Wisconsin so a couple of days were spent welcoming her back. I made dinner on Confidence one night - Thai Green Chicken Curry and Phad Thai. The next night we went over to their boat, along with a Canadian couple from Toronto for happy hour and the sharing of many more stories!

But after four days in town I was starting to get antsy. Time to get back out to the quiet anchorages where I could go swimming!

We only made it as far as Port Maurelle which is only  an hour away but one of our favorite anchorages. We spent a couple of days doing boat chores - you will never hear me complain about doing chores in a setting like this. I cleaned the decks while David cleaned the cockpit. David stripped two of the dorade boxes and refinished them. They look beautiful. 

And then there is my endless job of keeping the salt off the stainless and making it all shiny. With lots of breaks in between to go swimming and snorkeling. Boat maintenance in exotic places! The definition of cruising - and I love it! We finished the last evening with a big bonfire on the beach with fellow boaters - some we knew - some we just met. Lovely evening with the sun setting in the bay!

On Wednesday we pulled up anchor with some careful maneuvering around the coral heads. We are headed to Hunga Haven and the location of a very protected lagoon formed by a volcanic crater. 

We had to time our entrance for higher tide but decided to leave early and do some whale watching. I sat at the bow with my GoPro all powered and ready to go. Nothing seen after 1 hour so I decided to go down below and make preparations for lunch - Gazpacho with crackers and cheese and Danish salami. I was in the idle of the preparations when David yells out - whales breaching just north of us. Of course by the time I get the camera and am back at the bow the whales are no where to be seen. Maybe I will get lucky on the return trip.

Hunga lagoon lies on the western border of Vava'U. 

There are three small outlets from the lagoon out to the open ocean. One can be traversed by dinghy, one is impassable and one has been dynamited to provide access to the lagoon.

This outlet is very narrow with a pinnacle rock just off center. 

The channel is only 35 meters wide and 2 meters or 6 feet at low tide.  Remember that our boat requires 2 meters plus so we had to wait for a medium to high tide. We traversed with 4 feet under the keel - not a lot of room to spare. 

There is a reef just inside but one can maneuver around that by steering 115*M.  There are three mooring balls at Hunga Haven on the opposite side of the lagoon. We had reserved one for the next couple of nights at $15 US.

Barry and Cindy (the proprietors) were quite excited when they saw our boat name and Canadian flag from their deck as they are also from Victoria. She actually grew up in New Liskard - we figured I was probably one of the few people that she had met who actually knew where that was - having lived in Timmins and Cochrane in Northern Ontario!

The snorkeling right around the boat was like a bunch of mini aquariums. We took the dinghy through the other pass the following day into Blue lagoon. This is a beautiful anchorage. I will let the pictures tell the story. We might just hang out here after checking out of Neafu to wait for our weather window on our way to the southern islands in Tonga which are on our way to New Zealand.

This was a very lovely couple of days with perfect weather, white sandy beaches, warm crystal clear water and good company - as Nauti Nauti were beside us.

Tomorrow it is back to Neafu to fill up the freezer and cupboards again!


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Tapana and Vicinity

Tapana Vicinity

The Exploration of Tonga Continues!

Our next exploration took us to Tapana, anchored between Hinakawa Beach and Motuha Island. We found a mooring ball close to the Ark Gallery and spent the better part of the day and night here.

  Jim and Kim, from New Zealand, have recently taken over the business which includes the moorings and the floating gallery. Kim makes silver jewelry and once she accumulates enough inventory she will be selling it in the gallery along with work from other local artists.

The moorings are hurricane rigged, meaning four separate anchor lines joined together on a 2 inch diameter line which in turn is attached to a mooring ball. Fee is $10 paanga or $5 per night. This anchorage is actually on the south end of the island of Vava'U. For $20 US you can get a return taxi ride into Neafu to reprovision. So no need to take the boat all the way back if you do not want to.

More on this anchorage later when we return on our way back to Neafu.

We left the next day under a cloudless sky to traverse through Fanua Pass. There are numerous shoals and coral patches so it is wise to do this when the sun is high and you have good visibility. That was our intention. We were just entering the pass when a squall presented itself - it seemed out of nowhere. The previous markers were long gone so were dependent upon our GPS, way points mentioned in the Tonga Guide (longitude & latitude donating a change in direction) and me on the bow as a lookout. I have the handheld VHF on and David is reading out depths as I verify. It is an art to read the depths in this water - it always seems to be deeper than I think- which is a good thing!

The rain stayed to the west of us but the cloud cover was significant enough to erase the color depth differentiation in the water. This always makes things a little tense as we traversed our way around and between the coral patches.

There were two large coral patches to maneuver around, passing to port. Once we got abeam of these patches we altered our course to the North for a quarter of a mile to the next shoal, also keeping it to port. I could just make out the path of darker water running East/ West. We then turned East heading into another passage and facing Lolo Island. We were instructed to keep our course by keeping our stern in line with the southern district of the beach on Ofu. There were shoals on both sides of us and our passage getting as low as 11 feet under the keel. Remember our boat needs a minimum of 7 feet so this did not leave us with a lot of room to spare!

We passed the shoal on the port side and turned towards the beach on Kenutu. It was a straight shot into the anchorage at this point where we dropped the hook in 38 feet of water. Now I can breathe!

Kinabalu and Balvenie were already in the anchorage. We joined them and a couple from Amerula on the beach for a potluck dinner and bonfire. Nice evening. There was a small moment of apprehension for me as we spotted a black banded snake - apparently venomous but with a very small mouth so it only tends to bite you between the toes! There was a bit of grass near the shoreline so I guess this is the type of environment that they like. I would never have gotten out of the dinghy and walked through the grass to shore if I knew they were there. But I guess they are not that aggressive. The tide came up by the time we were leaving and David was kind enough to walk out and pull the dinghy into shore so I did not have to walk in the grass again!
I got David to get in close enough to get this picture!

Snorkeling was okay. The water was crystal clear and the water was warm so I enjoyed some good swims around the boat.

A simple dinghy ride along the beach to find a cave on Kenutu Island resulted in a very pleasant experience. Anne and Mark, from Australia, have leased 12 acres and are in the final stages of building a house (Dreaming Gecko) and a small bar close to the cave. Views to the southwest from their home are spectacular to say the least. The reflection in the full glass front of the house is a painting in itself. 

Anne and Mark took a break from their To Do List and gave us a tour of their property. Our first stop was the cave with a brackish ( mixture of salt water and rain water) pool at the bottom. It was a bit of a challenge to climb down. Amanda was the only one to take it on. Future plans will include cement steps down to water level.

Further exploration brought us to another spectacular vista on the northeast side of the island showcasing dramatic cliffs, the open ocean, the main reef and apparently whales if you are lucky. We looped back through a section of the island that had experienced a fire but had already started to regenerate. We were rewarded with another lovely view through the trees of Confidence at anchor. It was kind of neat as I was sitting beside a gap in the lava rock and all of a sudden a blast of air came up through the hole - the blow hole was too deep for the water to reach us but the gust of air was substantial.

Anne and Mark have done a lot of work landscaping the property always trying to keep in mind the natural setting. Their water comes from the skies. Their power comes from the sun. Papaya, coconut and mango trees grow naturally and they try to grow their own vegetables. It is a lovely place. I offered to be the cook in their bar when they open next year.

On Saturday we left our beautiful anchorage #30. We were fortunate enough to have our course line on the GPS from our entrance. The sun was also high in the sky with little cloud cover making it a lot easier to pick up the shoals and the channels. The tide was also a little bit higher.

Confidence led the way with Balvenie and Kinabalu following behind. But I still kept watch and I still had butterflies in my stomach until we were safely through. I got most of it on the GoPro - should make for a great movie when ever I get all this footage organized!

We took a round about route back to Tapana and the Ark Gallery and put the hook down in 30 feet of sand between Tapana and Pangaimotu. We had reservations at La Paella restaurant for dinner.

We must thank our friends, Tim and Constance, for our wonderful dinner out. While in Mexico they had brought down some supplies and boat parts from Canada. They would not allow us to pay for them but asked us to promise them that once we made it across to the South Pacific that we would go out for a nice dinner on them. Did we ever find something special!

La Paella is a small restaurant on Tapana Island. Maria and Edwardo came to Tonga on their boat in 1988 from Spain. They spent 5 years in Tonga, sailed to Thailand, sold their boat, and flew back to Tonga and never left. They have had the restaurant for over 18 years. They are Basque and prepare a four course dinner, featuring wonderful tapas (Small appetizers - 8 in total) and their signature dish - Paella cooked on the wood coals! The food was exceptional. After dinner we were entertained with the beautiful voice of Edwardo with Maria and their sous chef ( sorry I did not get his name) on percussion. He is Tongan and Maria has taught him to cook. He has worked with them for 18 years! We shared this wonderful evening with Bob and Judy on Kinabalu.  What a magical night!

Sunday was a lazy day. David borrowed the hookah ( small air compressor hooked to a mouth piece) so he could replace the zincs on the prop and finish the small area of the hull that I could not clean from the surface. Excitement for the day - I was enjoying my morning cup of coffee in the cockpit when I felt a tremor through the keel and rudder. Channel 26 was on and we were immediately notified that there had been an earthquake 124 km away at a depth of 179 km and a measure of 6.3 . Too deep to produce a tsunami. Remember the Tonga trench has depths greater than Mt. Everest! And is the second last in the world. Apparently there are two new volcanic islands being produced west of here!

Monday we head back to Neafu to provision, get rid of garbage, pick up my made to order baskets and fill up the water tanks! Then we have to decide where to go next. That is the great thing about Tonga. Most of these anchorages are only one to two hours or less away from town! 

Monday, September 12, 2016


We have read that the lagoon at Vaka'eitu Island is one of the best all-round anchorages in the Vava'U Group. This was our destination for the next five or so days.

We completed provisioning in Neafu and headed out Tuesday morning, the 7 th of September. We had a good sail but with the late start we decided to spend the night in Port Maurelle again as winds were picking up and the anchorage was almost empty. That changed throughout the night and by sundown there were twelve of us. 

Next morning we headed out to Vaka'eitu Island. It was early so we decided to take the long way around in hope of seeing whales. 

We were not disappointed. They were close enough for us to see their blow, one tail wave, a couple of breeches with one coming right out of the water. I was not quick enough on the camera but to be honest we were still too far away to get any real good photos anyway.

As we turned into the entrance to our anchorage we managed one last sighting. What a treat!

The anchor was set in 40 feet of water with five other boats. Aros Mear (David and Gitte) were here and had made arrangements with the family who lives on this island to prepare a Tongan Feast for that evening.

The water was warmer than we have been experiencing so I was in the water before the ladder was in place! The winds were also reduced. The sun was out. It was a perfect swimming day! I shared my swim with two local turtles - heads up to check me out but quickly dove under when I made a splash!

Kinabalu ( Bob & Judy) arrived in the early afternoon and Judy joined us for a snorkel on the east side of the reef. There were a few interesting things, large schools of small light blue fish and good Go-Pro footage. But we knew the better snorkeling was on the other side of the reef. You need a high tide to traverse the reef so our plan is to try it tomorrow. I swam the half a mile or so back to the boat while David and Judy followed me just in time to get ready for the Tongan Feast!

Tongan feasts are organized for a variety of reasons - birthdays, holidays, tourist attractions. Six boats at the anchorage and 12 people was reason enough for David, the proprietor and his wife Hika to arrange a feast for us. A fire is built in an open pit or open oven (umu). The fire is used initially to heat stones for cooking the side dishes, while the pig is pit on a spit and roasted over the coals.

But there was a bit of confusion, due to poor radio reception, as to when the feast was to be held. Next week? No - today! David's ( the proprietor)  outboard was broken and the pig was still running around alive and happy on another island. So he needed a ride to go and get it. David (Amos Mear) volunteered to take him over to get the pig. Little did they know what this would involve. They got over there, russelled up the pig, put it in a sack and threw it in the dinghy - squealing away! During the 20 minute dinghy ride the pig managed to eat away at the sack and get his snout out. Gitte had to keep her foot on him to keep him still. Not as bad as another incident - people on a catamaran had the pig on board and it did escape and was running all over their boat!

Our pig made it to shore where it was quickly stabbed, gutted and prepared for the spit. At 1730 we took our dinghies to shore and were amazed at the feast that was laid out for us. Not all of the dishes were prepared in the traditional way, in coconut shells in the hot coals covered with banana leaves, but the types of dishes prepare were authentic. And a few not so authentic dishes - grouper prepared three ways - sweet and sour, curry and fried, poison cru, local clams, Teryiaki chicken, beef in sobi noodles, potato salad, crab salad, Cole slaw, sweet potato, and of coarse - the pig complete with lots of crackling. Hika is a professional chef and worked for 14 years in a restaurant in Nuku'alofa. The meal had a real home cooking feel to it and everything was wonderful. The next day we were able to look into her kitchen - very very primitive - making the success of all the dishes even more amazing!

David stealing some crackling!

They also entertained us with traditional Tongan music and dance and a little history of the island. The island was originally inhabited by the King. 150 years ago David's family took ownership. With the beginning of a change to democracy, the monarch held control of all the land and handed out 99 year leases to the people. Due to the history of his family they were awarded a lease for the 8 acres of the island where most families received only  4 acres - 2 to live on and 2 to farm.

I found out the next day that the evening did not end when we returned to our boats. David on Aros Mear was asked to transport two of the family members back out to the other island with the remainder of the food - dinner for the pastor, the school mistress and one old man. Such generosity of spirit. So David did one last trip in the dark!

The next morning the girls decided to go on an adventure by themselves. None of the men wanted to snorkel the other side of the reef. This was to be an adventure as none of us have lots of experience operating the dinghy. We headed out at 1130 just shortly before high tide.

It was Judy's dinghy so she was on the outboard. I sat forward to read the waves ( like I knew what I was doing) and watch out for any shallow coral patches. Gitte was the moral support for Judy with one hand on an oar.

We had another dinghy just ahead of us to find the path but Judy got a bit apprehensive and decided to kill the motor, thinking there wasn't enough water under the keel. "No Judy - we need the power to get over the reef!" Gitte had to restart the outboard as Judy was not strong enough. I am watching the water knowing that we are going to have a few waves break on our bow! Thank goodness they were small  though still big enough to get us all wet and dump 6 inches of water in the dinghy. This resulted in one of the oars getting washed out of the dinghy so we had to do a quick 180, pick it up and then another 180 to get back on track. No panic. Just three very wet girls, laughing and very proud as we passed over the reef into calmer waters! High five to all!

We caught up to Michelle and Beth, put down an anchor and snorkeled up and down the drop off. There was some interesting  coral  though not very colorful. But it was still beautiful.

Now we get to cross over the reef again! But at least this time we get to ride the waves over it. I had to convince Judy to keep more throttle on the motor and to keep us perpendicular to the waves. We went a bit sideways at one point, me urging Judy to keep us perpendicular and we made it across.

I must say - we were very proud of ourselves. Crossing the reef back and forth was actually more exciting then the snorkeling! I swam back to the boat while the girls stayed close by. Pretty tired after so the rest of the day was spent writing this story, fresh water shower and reading.

The next day Judy, David and I went ashore and took a small hike across the island to the other side. The pictures speak for themselves. A couple of shorter swims throughout the day then a quiet evening with chicken sate and peanut sauce, Thai cucumber salad and Thai fried rice for dinner under a half moon! Just another day in paradise.

The beach on the other side!

One last story to show the generosity of these people. A couple of days ago we had lost one of the oars for the dinghy. Not an easy thing to replace. During our walk on the island we noticed that David - the proprietor had one leaning up against a tree. We knew that they did not have very much money so My David offered to buy it from him. It was exactly like the one we had lost. No way he said - y can just have it as I found it in the first place!

David returns with the oar and a smile!

Anchor up on Saturdat, sails set and we head back to Port Maurelle for the night and then into Neafu to reprovision and extend our visa.