Astra Blog: Tonga to Bay of Islands, New Zealand (Pa rt 2) 29.10.08 - 02.11.08

Jeremy & Sally Paul
Mon 3 Nov 2008 15:12

Astra Blog: Tonga to Bay of Islands, New Zealand (Part 2) 29.10.08 – 02.11.08



Wednesday 29/10/08


With a good wind all night, up to 20 knots TWS, sailing under chocolate-box starry skies, one felt a bit of a fraud really – in what is meant to be one of the more demanding ocean passages, it shouldn’t be this easy.


Conditions in the morning can only be described as Mediterranean - a good sailing wind under blue skies with just a bit of wispy cloud and a flat sea. Sun tan lotion was liberally squeezed in what was felt to be probably one of the last health and beauty sessions for a while. Ash took the opportunity of the sun to do some sextant practice, watchfully reviewed by Jeremy.


All good things must come to an end, and thus it was that the decision was made to take the sails down just as Ash put his lovingly prepared beef salad on the table. Deprived of the stability of the sails, most of the lunch ended up either in the laps of the crew or face down on the deck.


Miraculously after lunch another sailing wind appeared and stayed with us till evening. This was a rather challenging SSE, which we were able to deal with by pulling everything in tight, and Astra responded by sailing 36º to port at a cracking 7-8 knots for most of the afternoon. This wind let us know its polar origins, and despite the clear skies, jumpers and jackets came out.  Happy hour was an indoor affair and was followed by a dinner of mahi-mahi with some rather warming chilli sauce, followed by chocolate ice-cream with added rum rations to cool us down again.



Thursday 30/10/08


The day started unpromisingly with only a weak westerly causing us to motor most of the night and morning. An experiment with sailing in the afternoon proved to be short-lived. However, catering standards took a step up with Stef’s French toast for breakfast followed by Fantastic Soup for lunch, resulting in a prolonged siesta by most of the ship’s company. When asked what were the ingredients of the Fantastic Soup, Stef simply answered “everything.” We crossed the 30th parallel at about 1800 leaving us only 350 miles from Opua.


We now started to get a bit concerned as the latest grib (weather forecast) files seemed to show that most of the wind between here and Opua was going to be southerly and that we might not have enough fuel to make it (we had already motored for most of day 1). Quick crash course for the crew on VMG (velocity made good) navigation techniques and a little lecture by the skipper on the theme that going “for a little sail” in the wrong direction would not be a good idea.



Friday 31/10/08


Actually we had quite a lively night with a south-easterly persisting more strongly and in a better direction than expected. Sally made the first call, waking up Paul to hoist the sails in 20 knots of SE wind. This then increased to around 25 knots, making us reef the genoa. This completely unexpected wind stayed with us all night giving us sailing speeds of 7-9 knots, and it wasn’t until mid-morning that the engine had to go on again.

Now with only 250 miles to go we could probably motor the whole thing if we had to, and that knowledge made everything better. At least we would not be drifting round the Pacific till the end of time.


Ash continued his very complicated sextant reading which has been going on since Wednesday. He has almost worked out where we are, though by the time he does we may be in the bar in Opua! Dinner cooked by Jeremy was sausages – in fact a sort of sausagey tour of the South Pacific as we race to empty the freezer before landfall. Niue sausages – though rather large – were voted the best, leaving those of Raratonga narrowly in second place.


Paul took advantage of the motoring conditions to get out the fishing gear, and was rewarded for his pains by a rather small though lively skipjack tuna, more ready to be caught than its big brother, which jumped off the hook at the last minute. 



Saturday 1/11/08


In millpond conditions, the night watches were a combination of celestial wonderment and bus driving. The temperature was still dropping as we headed south – compared to a sea temperature of 26ºC in Tonga, we were already down to 19ºC with the wind coming straight off the icebergs (“Can we sail north – quickly” – Ash).


But what was left of that wind was replaced early on by the beginning of the low pressure area we were racing against. The sails went up at 0600 and soon Astra was rollicking along at 8-10 knots to a stiff westerly that increased to 30 knots with roughish seas. Mystere passed us around lunchtime in a hurry to get to Auckland, so much so that we later heard them politely asking an approaching ship to keep out of their way.


At last land was sighted about 1700 and we hit the waypoint at the entrance to the Bay of Islands on schedule at 2000, mooring on Q (quarantine) dock, Opua at 2149. Champers all round, delicious tuna supper and all collapsed into bed much too late.



Sunday 2/11/08


After being assured by knowing yachties that Opua customs was just a one man band, sure not to be seen on a Sunday morning before ten, we were rudely awakened at 0830 by the first of three inspection teams. Unfortunately we had left telling quantities of spirits on the table from our celebrations the night before, but they seemed to take this in their stride. The first inspector was the man from Immigration, who insisted on visiting all crew in their berths to match their passport pictures. He was followed by the Biosecurity man from the Ministry of Ag and Fish, who confiscated the peppercorns but was quite relaxed about the bacon which we hadn’t got round to having for breakfast. Last came the sniffer dogs, two beautiful black Labradors which padded round the boat in their socks accompanied by their Scary Handlers. Jeremy got a severe telling off for giving one of the dogs a friendly stroke while it was on duty. We were spared the hull inspection as apparently the underwater camera was not working, but told that the waterline looked all right, which left us feeling underappreciated after all the work in Tonga.


So finally cleared for entry, we were able to transfer to the marina, just in time to welcome John and Angie who brought further supplies of champagne to mark our arrival, deeply appreciated by all. John then whisked us to the local seaside village of Pahia where we enjoyed the novelty of a sit-down lunch at the 35º Restaurant. After looking at the Treaty House where it all began, we said goodbye to John and Angie and headed back to the marina via the only available taxi, a three-wheeled contraption called the Tuk Tuk. Arriving back, we repaired to the Opua Cruising Club, which ably took care of the rest of the afternoon including roast Sunday dinner, and reunions with several fellow-cruising types.