We made a happy little video as we were sailing out of Opua bound for Tonga. Tika was stocked full of food, fuel and gas, we had checked out at NZ customs and we were exciting to be headed for the warmer, tropical waters of the South Pacific.
2 hours later and the shiny, facebook-land image was forgotten. The kids were green and I was vomiting into a rubbish bin. I don’t often get seasick (it has to be really rough) and in 2 years of sailing full time this was the FIRST time I have vomited. Maybe I went soft in NZ. Maybe the anticipation of leaving and the late nights pouring over charts and chatting about weather had taken it’s toll. It probably did have something to do with the confused, 3m swells and the 30-35 knot winds. A combination of all of the above? Either way, it wasn’t a great start to the passage…
Seasickness effects different people in different ways. As a family, usually we all get sleepy and slow on passage. I feel stoned. Russ says he feels as though he is thinking and walking “through treacle.” He says he has conversations with himself, his willpower urging and encouraging him to move, put one foot in front of the other….change sails, clean up a bit, check the satellite emails, or whatever task is on the current ‘to do’ list. I asked Jaiya and she said that her mind fills up with clouds and mist. And Kai mumbled something using the word ‘lethargic.’ We go into a passage stupor and it gets more blurry as the days wear on! Night watches coupled with constant movement and (on this passage) seasickness medication, puts us all in the zombie-sailor state! We are functioning but on a different level to landlubbers. Our priorities are sailing and looking after the boat and everything else is a dreamy afterthought
On the first night out from NZ, we had 3 reefs in the mainsail all night long. The base wind speed was regularly jumping up 5-8 knots as a flurry of westerly squalls pushed through…..
Day 2 and 3 were quite pleasant, cruisey, sailing days with consistent, 20 knot west-south-west breezes and smoother seas. We flew our large, code zero foresail and Tika was humming along beautifully. The trouble was, a deepening depression that had formed over Tonga stopped us truly relaxing and enjoying the ride… The depression looked likely to head south and east- right into our path. It was forecast just before we left but Russ had guessed it would fizzle out and none of the weather gurus highlighted it as an issue…until the day after we had left! In hindsight, we departed NZ too early and were fretting about the potential of 45 knot winds and 6m swells. Manageable but exhausting, unpleasant and preferably avoidable…
We hatched a plan to try to beat the depression to Minerva Reef (a protected submerged atoll/reef that sits mid-ocean between Fiji and Tonga) but abandoned the idea when it occurred to us that it is smarter and more logical to stay south out of the tropics while there is a tropical depression around! We tracked east, hoping that it would peter out or disappear before we turned north. Our starboard engine was making a squealing noise and we were pretty sure that a fan belt was lose. It had been replaced in Opua so another niggling concern about a bigger issue causing our belts to fray and snap was ever present. We don’t often use our engines but we wanted to know they were both running well for the potential weather ahead….
On the night of day 3 it started to get uncomfortable again. We were seeing more and more squalls and, after bringing the code zero in and out several times, Russ and Kai gave up and packed it away. The gusting winds increased, as did the swells. And the jerking up-slams quickly got tedious. Even making (and drinking) a cup of tea was a major effort that often ended badly with hot liquid up my nostrils…aggh!!
Cooking is also that much harder when it’s bouncy. One night the kids asked for nachos and I (creatively) managed a kind of ‘deconstructed’ version….a pot of tomato sauce straight from a jar with cheese melted on top- we dipped the corn chips in Usually we eat really well on passage but I’m afraid this was a ‘peanut butter and crackers’ kind of a journey…..
I am sure all the hardcore, monohull sailors are laughing right now- but I cut my teeth on a catamaran and it is rarely this lurchy! After this passage we discovered our long stemmed wine glasses (that we used to gleefully boast we have had ever since Florida) were smashed into nasty, little, jagged pieces….
We went to put a second reef in our main due to more squalls and found that our main would not lower past the first reefing point. Yikes! Russ yanked on it and jiggled the halyard but it would not budge. It was a worry because in a squall or constant high winds, we needed to be able to put 2, 3, or even 4 reefs in. In more extreme conditions we need to drop the main altogether. We were concerned about being overpowered and our awareness of the depression edging our way turned this worry into a nagging apprehension. We were heading towards the (New Zealand owned) Kermandec Islands and put out an email inquiry about the options of pulling in there. We were told that it is a conservation area and anchoring within 1000m of any islands in the group is forbidden. Another complicating factor was that our passports had been stamped out of NZ and, (obviously, given it’s closed status) The Kermandec Islands are not an official ‘port of entry. We were, however, more than a little desperate to sort out the sail (and the fan belt) and so we pulled in to Raoul Island and radioed the DOC manager there to request a necessary ‘port of refuge’ maintenance pit stop.
We rounded Hutchison Bluff and pushed along Raoul’s north coast getting buffeting by wind bullets shooting down at us off the hills. We anchored with our mainsail still up in a less than ideal roadstead anchorage at Fisherman’s Point.
The initial radio response to our request for port of refuge was “of course…we can’t deny that request” (they can’t- a genuine port of refuge request is obligatory under maritime law of which NZ is a signatory) however, to our dismay, he came back to us 15 minutes later to let us know that DOC officials on the mainland had denied our request. As a courtesy, we had already sent a (satellite phone) email to NZ Customs and Immigration making the same request. We received an email saying yes, we may stop and carry out repairs. We later received a subsequent email telling us that the island was under the jurisdiction of DOC and they could not over-ride them. We didn’t really need another worry about a fine from DOC or being caught in the cross fire between two NZ government departments! A little confused, we decided to focus on our repairs and leave as soon a possible.
With Tika anchored nosed into the wind, we finally managed to drop the sail and Russ went up the mast to check out the issue. He pointed out a shark that he could see cruising past the starboard hull but without his height advantage, we couldn’t see it. Later, we moved to look for a more tenable anchorage but the anchor chain was caught on a bommie so Russ dived down to unhook it; and came face to face with the very curious grey nurse shark that he had spotted from up the mast.
The baton car (that holds the baton of the sail onto the mast track) was worn and bent and creating friction that meant it was jamming in the track. Luckily, we had a spare car although it was the wrong size so Russ had to cannibalise the old car and the new one to create one working unit. He also swapped the cannibalised baton car with the lowest car on the track so if it did cause us more problems at least it is not going to jam the sail right at the top of the mast and we will be able to drop it most of the way.
Above left; the new baton car compared to above right; the worn one that jammed.
We did motor back towards the point to check out Denham Bay on the west coast in a fruitless attempt to find a more protected, less bouncy anchorage to carry out our repairs. It soon became apparent that this was not a viable option- before we even got to the point we could see 2.5-3m breaking, south westerly swells rolling straight into the bay. We turned around, had a quick look at the rocky anchorage off the Meyer islands but ended up back at Fisherman’s Point. It was a slightly nerve-racking spot with the weather we had but it was better than attempting repairs on passage with big seas! And we were able to clean Tika up and have a good meal. It was a mid passage intermission of sorts.
Once the sail baton car was fixed Russ took a look at the fan belt. It was lose as suspected and he tightened it. Ideally we would have spent the time diagnosing the issue and determining why the belts were loosening, however, we felt under pressure to leave due to the mixed messages about having permission to stay. After 1 day and 2 nights in Raoul, we took off in 30-35 knot winds and 3-4m swells.
The next 3 days consisted of a lot of crashing, banging, up-slamming and general discomfort. I wish I’d set up the gopro inside the saloon to give you an idea. We did partake in the ancient ritual of sacrificing sweet treats to ‘the man of the sea’ in return for a safe passage…precious supplies of licorice and chocolate were snatched up by the ocean. We hope Mr. K. Neptune enjoyed them!
A moment from this passage that we all remember well; Russ (who is always the one most capable of cooking a proper meal when it is rough) had whipped up a basic pasta dish. We had the fiddles out (metal clamps that hold the pots onto the surrounding stove guide rail) to stop the pasta pot flying across the saloon. It was a little smokey above the stove and he cracked the hatch an inch to let the smoke out and some fresh air in. We had just finished eating when a violent deluge of salt water came pouring through the hatch. It was such a swamping rush that I initially thought that the hatch had somehow imploded. Life went into slow motion for a second or two. We all watched on, a little stunned, waiting for the inevitable end to the torrent. It just kept coming. In the next split second we jolted out of our trance and leapt into action- grabbing old towels, tea towels and cloths to mop up the stream before it made it’s way down to the hulls. The wave must have been a big one- it was as if someone had deliberately tipped 3-4 buckets exactly through the inch wide opening in our hatch.
The next crazy scene happened while I was off watch and attempting to sleep in my cabin. Another wave swamped Tika’s rear and Russ lunged for the saloon door just as the cockpit became awash. But a jacket caught in the door and prevented him from slamming it shut all the way- more towels and cloths mopping up the saloon! The next morning, after a wide eyed Jaiya told me the story, I found two, stiff, flying fish deposited in our cockpit!
8 days since leaving NZ and we were all feeling (and smelling) a little grotty. I sailed passed Tongatapu (the southern most Tongan islands) on my night watch and, in the wee hours of the morning, Russ took us close to the island of Kelefesiai (in the Ha’apai group.) He heaved to for a number of hours waiting for daylight to take us in.
Arriving at Kalefesiai was pretty special. It had been a challenging passage and Kai and Jaiya were in the water as soon as the anchor touched the sand. The anchorage was simply stunning. I felt the tension and tiredness from the passage start to melt within hours…
Below right; after jumping off the bows, the kids were off on paddleboards exploring the surrounding reefs and lagoon- and no doubt thankful to be off the boat after 8 days of being cramped inside a floating, bucking bull!
Above left; Jaiya stirring up a chocolate brownie mix to celebrate our landfall.
Below right; A couple lived on the island and the day after our arrival Esse appeared on our stern with a welcome basket of coconuts and passion fruit. The following day he returned with smoked octopus and coconut bread! What a Tongan welcome! We gave him chocolate brownies and some fuel for his chainsaw. Over the following days we watched Esse fish for octopus every morning in his kayak. At low tide he would be walking the reef in search of crabs. As the sun sank low in the sky Esse was out fishing again…This delightful and happy man lived a simple, island life in a simply beautiful place. We didn’t meet Esse’s wife because she was unwell while we there but it is the kind of place we would have liked to have stayed a while and shared some more meals with these lovely locals. We did, however, eventually need to move on to a major village where we could officially check into The Kingdom of Tonga.
The anchorage at Kalefesiai was surrounded by reef and lagoons of the purest blue….
Next post; The Ha’apai group, Tonga