We have just lost
Bowling along on
Wednesday, 6th October, midnight comes, we cross the international
date line and suddenly it is Friday, 8th October.
In Niue we
shared the anchorage with 5 other boats from UK, USA, Netherlands and New
Zealand. One of the American yachts, out from the Virgin Islands, was also
called Gryphon, we met them briefly in Rarotonga but we were departing the
morning after they arrived. Months ago Gryphon had arrived in Shelter Bay
Marina, Panama after we had left but there had been a mix up whilst we were
there with the office giving us their post which had arrived in advance. This
sorted, we didn't think any more of it except that it was interesting to know of
much the same routes as Gryphon II through from Panama to Galapagos and French
Polynesia, they often heard that we had just left ahead of them but we were
unaware. It was because we were delayed by hauling out in Raiatea and they had
spoken to our friends James and Lucy from Snow Leopard that they eventually
caught up with us in Rarotonga. We discovered then that not only is their boat
called Gryphon but it is owned by Jeff and Lorraine. Lorraine is also called
Raine as I am by Chris and we have now discovered that she is also a non-meat
eater. So many coincidences are beginning to feel rather spooky.
Raine and Jeff
are heading off to New Zealand to stay and work for a few years so we shall
probably see more of them. We have had time to chat now and get to know them a
little but I wonder what other coincidences might turn up as time goes on, we
Lorraines are somewhat astonished.
We started out
from Niue under engine at 06.45 a.m. and continued without wind for eleven
hours, the engine thrumming relentlessly. We knew from the forecast that there
would be no wind for the day but we need to get on and wind was forecast for
very high swell but long, slow waves rolling across from the port side gave a
very tolerable motion. Looking across the sea was like looking across the sand
dunes of a desert with its big sweeping undulations, it's just that this desert
was on the move. As the sea was big and slow we were able to open hatches and
windows without risk of inundation and this dissipated the heat of the engine
keeping the cabins cool.
Caught a Mahi
Mahi, couldn't land it, it swam off, no doubt fish-chuckling to itself, we need
to leave them longer to tire out.
Wind ruffled in
at 17.45 p.m. and the iron sail was turned off, speed dropped from 5 to 3.5
knots but the relief of hearing the sea instead of the engine was good
compensation for a while. Various sail plans were tried and tweaked to wring the
last bit of speed out of the wind but it fluked around and gradually faded away.
Ocean Pearl, a
New Zealand yacht with Danny and Yvonne making their way home, left Niue about
an hour after us and are having identical conditions. They are 4 feet longer
than us so will be faster.
Engine on at
01.00 a.m. 5 knots again for 1½ hours.
Rain, hatches and windows closed, hot.
Engine off at
02.30 a.m. back to peace and slow speeds in fluke wind – 1½ hours. Rain, keep hatches and windows closed,
Engine still off
at 09,00 a.m. Spinnaker went up, wind changed, spinnaker ripped, taken down.
Genoa poled out on whisker pole, wind suddenly whipped up in squall, pole bent,
taken down. Caught another Mahi Mahi, lost it. Agggggggghhh!
Engine on at
13.30 p.m. 5 knots, we need to make up time otherwise we shall be arriving in
Tonga in the dark. Rain, hatches and windows closed, fan on, not too bad. The
long slow swell has speeded up and motion is more pronounced. Lunch outside,
damp, cold even after galley heat.
Engine off at
15.00 p.m, a lovely 7.2 knots was reached but only for about ¾ hour then it was a pathetic
3-4 knots again.
Engine on at
17.30 p.m. just in time to cause maximum heat for preparing the evening meal.
Fan on, not too bad.
Spoke to Ocean
Pearl on short wave radio at 19.00 p.m., they are well ahead now but similar
conditions and they have ripped their headsail whilst flapping about in these
international date line 00.00 midnight. No Thursday!
Engine off at
01.13 a.m. Full genoa, a bit bouncy for the skipper trying to sleep but a very
nice 5.4 knots is being achieved. 02.45 a.m. wind still good only 35.8 miles to
go so fingers crossed that this will continue and we should arrive at our
waypoint at 10.00 a.m. Then it is another 20 miles to the harbour at Neiafu in
Tonga's Vava'u group of islands.
We hope to see
whales as humpbacks breed off Vava'u and should still be there before migrating
south for the summer.
As it became
light at 06.00 a.m. the skipper saw land from a distance of 15 miles and it
looks like a long low wedge of black rock in the sea.
Engine on at
08.00 a.m. as wind tailed away. As we near the land the sea has picked up and is
choppy despite the wind falling away.
More engine on
and off, we're glad we haven't got another day of this. By 09.15 a.m. we are
doing 5-6 knots across the head of the wedge and now the carpet of trees and
vegetation can be seen but it is a grey day with lots of rain in the air and no
blue in the sky. Like Niue the low cliffs are full of caves but look small and
shallow; unlike Niue this island is of volcanic and not coral limestone origin.
Also unlike Niue there are lots of white beaches straddling the shoreline some
in tiny coves, if the sun were out it would look idyllic but the heavy cloud
Crossing the top
end of the wedge the waves calm down aaaah! Rounding the headland it flattens
out even more and we are sailing in perfect wind on a perfect sea.
Whoa ............... very
As we round up
into the harbour Vava'u is revealed. There are islands, lots of small and even
smaller islands, these and the mainland are undercut by the sea so when the tide
is low, as it is now, there is a substantial overhang which would make it
impossible to land if it where not for the coves, beaches and inlets. The route
into the harbour winds through the islands and as we look back the sea has
disappeared, this reminds us of the Swedish Archipelago or being in the Scottish
lochs or Norwegian fiords, even the rain feels familiar though it is 80º and humid.
Tying up on the
customs dock we are greeted by a local who has seen that we don't have a
courtesy flag yet. His daughter makes them and after helping us to tie up next
to Ocean Pearl who arrived earlier, he goes off to get us one. The customs dock
is high and the tide low, it is a leap to get ashore, the wall is encrusted with
rough old barnacles so we play fendering off as the tide creeps slowly up. The
skipper of a Swedish boat in front of us asks if we are going to take part in
the race this afternoon, we're tired out. They are on a world trip and have 8 on
board. 6 are part of a constantly changing crew, mostly from Stockholm, who fly
out and back home to and from various destinations in order to take part in at
least one leg of the voyage. Their white blonde hair flashes as they prep the
boat for the race, we wish them luck.
Danny and Yvonne
from Ocean Pearl tell us where the market is, James and Lucy from Snow Leopard
dinghy over to give us local info and book us up for humpback whale watching and
swimming on Wednesday, Sarah 2 call us up on VHF to say hello and see you later.
The local man comes back with our flag which is hoisted.
after lunch and the boat is filled with 4 large Tongans one of whom is a Bishop
of the Mormon Church but also Neiafu's Immigration Officer. Then there are the
Customs Officer, Quarantine Officer and the Agriculture, Food, Forest and
Fisheries Officer. All forms completed, no inspections are made! Our rubbish is
not inspected but tied and taken for burning complete with tins and jars,
perhaps is will be sorted later. Tongan dollars are acquired from a nearby ATM
machine to pay all the fees and we are free to wander. A quick trip to the
market to restock before seeking a place in the harbour, pineapples, English
style cucumbers, apples, lots of local fare all looking great. Bag
for the officials to arrive we heard a MAYDAY relay on VHF for a French boat in
the Haapai group of islands immediately below this group. They
are four people stranded on an atoll with enough food for 2
days, their ketch has sunk after striking a reef. The MAYDAY has gone out
over the radio nets as well now asking for help from any yachts in the area and
giving information as to where it happened for the safety of others. This is
very sobering at this stage of the voyage and keeps us
aware that anything can happen out here. We hope they are rescued quicly,
for the moment the lives of these four French people have been wrecked as
they have lost everything, our wishes are with them.
lots of boats here enjoying a few weeks in Tonga that will sail down the chain
to Nuku Alofa where, like us, they will wait for the weather window to make the
journey to New Zealand of just over 1,000 miles. The passage to NZ is out
of the trade winds and over this sea area the winds are likely to be very
changeable, influenced by the low pressure systems that track across the
country. The trick is to get far enough west early enough so that if one of
these systems appears we do not have to fight it to get to Opua. It is very
likely that we will experience some rough weather as there are frequent gales,
so it could be our most difficult passage .......and of course we will
soon move out of the tropics into cool temperate weather that we have not
experienced for a long time. Long trousers and fleeces at the ready!
In the mean time
the water in the harbour here is as flat as a pancake and we know that this is
going to be a perfect anchorage.