Leaving Bora Bora - another ocean passage

Steve and Lynda Cooke
Fri 29 Jul 2016 06:35
18:41S 173:02W

Leaving Bora Bora - another ocean passage

After nearly four months in French Polynesia we have decided the time has come to move on to our next destination. For the first time since we left the ARC it's our choice of when and which country to go to. The candidates are The Cook Islands which are immediately west, Samoa and American Samoa to the North West or Tonga to the west beyond The Cook Islands. We need to consult the weather before reaching a conclusion. We have been seeing weather systems coming across from Australia and running south of us each time creating a few days of unsettled weather. In addition we now find the equatorial weather has drifted south of its normal position producing squalls to the north of us. Our goal is to find a route which avoids both of these problems. First we conclude that Samoa (and American Samoa) is too far north and would give us an unpleasant passage between squalls. So our decision is to aim for Tonga via The Cook Islands. Do Over went to Palmerston and gave us a recommendation that we should call by. The island was uninhabited until late in the 19th century when an Englishman called Marsters settled there with three Polynesian wives from another Cook Island. Today there are about 70 of their descendants who live on this remote atoll receiving about 50 yachts a year.

We also decide to get some expert advice from a Kiwi weather guru called Bob McDavitt who specialises in this area of the Pacific providing weather routing guidance for many cruising yachts. We give him our intended destination and back comes a heads up on potential timing. We plan our provisioning and last minute chores.

D Day arrives so we busy ourselves with preparing Nina for a long passage and leave the lagoon just after lunch bound for Palmerston. Bob has provided detailed way-points and a route plan which we follow as best we can. All goes well and we enjoy a good passage for the first couple of days heading north of the rhumb line before turning south. Palmerston has limited facilities so our plan is to anchor for a couple of days before heading off to Tonga. The inhabitants are strict observers of Sunday so we have to arrive on Saturday or Monday. We can't make Saturday so we put the breaks on and bring our speed down for a Monday arrival. We are promised a couple of settled weather days which sounds just the job.

The best laid plans... We get an update from Bob which says the weather in Tonga would be bad at our planned arrival date - he sums it up in one word "avoid". So we need a new plan. If we go straight to Tonga we can just about get there before the weather breaks. So sadly we have to take the breaks off and pass by Palmerston during the night. There are no lights on the island at all so we see no sign of it at all.

Lyn spots a dolphin following in our wake which on closer examination is not very dolphin shaped. It has bright blue tail fins which stick up out of the water, a pair of lateral fins and a bump on the top. It also seems to have a long tapering nose. We decide it's probably a blue marlin. It stays with us for five minutes or so enjoying playing in our wake. We thought only dolphins did that. Perhaps it has heard about our fishing/catching skills and is taunting us!

The following day we are joined by a dozen real dolphins but they take one pass and disappear presumably too busy to play. On board we are having a smashing time losing a cuple of cups to the agitated seas. More seriously we discover that if you place tablet on top of the autopilot compass it throws a fit and starts weaving across the ocean at 90 degrees. Steve makes the dash from cockpit to the helm in seconds and starts hand steering so we can work out what's happened. The auto pilot seems fine but the compass is erratic giving random headings. Peter goes to the inbuilt handbook searching for ideas. After trying some we do a "reset compass" which doesn't appear to help at first. Alarmingly it says our deviation between true north and magnetic north is 13 degrees. This is twice what we are used to but is in fact correct when we check the printed charts. After half an hour of hand steering Steve reports that the compass appears to be behaving itself. We give it another half an hour before trying the auto-helm on its own. To great relief its OK. We create an immediate rule that tablets cannot be put on top of the compass - not even ipads!

We have been joining a local SSB net called Polynesian Magellen Net "polymagnet" for short. This means we listen to a bunch of Australians and Kiwis reporting their positions on passage or just chatting about their day at anchor in the sunshine. We join for safety reasons not expecting to hear much of interest but on the first occasion we hear that Do Over has left American Samoa after a difficult stay and is en route to northern Tonga. On the next we hear Paw Paw is bound for Samoa also having left American Samoa. Great to hear them and emails are despatched to catch up on the latest gossip.

We are now pressing on to Tonga remembering that they are the other side of the International Date Line. On our charts it is still show some 400 miles to 180 degrees, but Tonga has officially moved itself the other side of the international date line to be with New Zealand and Australia, thereby moving itself 'back to the future' so we "lose" a day and will arrive a day later than we initially thought, having to put our clocks ahead a day. We will arrive on Saturday, not Friday, as it says on our calendars. We will be on UTC (GMT) -13, so we will be entering into tomorrow. Tonga is the first country to enter the new day and we will be a day ahead!
So on that complicated thought, happy tomorrow!
We are on the other side of the World.