The Alba Chronicles
Neville Howarth
Thu 6 Nov 2014 19:10



31:29S  175:49E


As the wise Mr Arkwright said, "It's been a funny old day, Granville". Yesterday was very weird, but we're now motoring on a course of 205 degrees - directly to Opua waiting for the wind to come back. In the past 24 hours, we've sailed 115 miles, but only made 85 miles towards our destination - we've still got 245 miles to go.  The weather’s good at the moment with blues skies, but we can see clouds lurking up ahead. Here's what we did yesterday and overnight.


6 November 2014   Tongatapu to New Zealand (Day 6)

Dawn revealed a pleasant looking sky with 90% cloud cover, but the wind veered more south-west, coming directly from where we want to go and putting us on a course of 255 degrees - 50 degrees off our rhumb line of 205 degrees.  


The forecast is for this wind to continue until tomorrow morning, when it will start to back and by tomorrow afternoon, we will hopefully be back on course to Opua.  It looks like we've got another three nights at sea, arriving in Opua in the early hours of the 9th.


I went onto starboard tack to see if it was any better, but we ended up on a course of 150 degrees, which was five degrees more off course, but at least it was a change from heeling over to starboard.  It's a little frustrating, but nobody said that it would be easy.


It could be worse.  There's a massive low forecast to hit Minerva Reef on the 8th  and 9th, bringing gales force winds, lashing rain and five metre waves.  I'm so glad that we didn't stop there.  The atoll is in the middle of nowhere with tno land, just a fringing reef, so big waves will break over into the lagoon.  In addition, the wind will clock around during the 24 hour storm and the only protection is from the reef, which is good for only one direction.


I'm hoping that all the boats that left Tonga after us have not stopped or at least left Minerva Reef a few days ago.  The effects of the low will be felt down here with very strong south-east winds on the 10th, so the boats behind us might get a bit of a hammering anyway unless they're a lot faster than us.


The afternoon was incredibly irritating.  The wind stayed on the nose and we tacked a couple of times thinking that the wind had headed us only to find that we were worse off on the new tack.  Glenys had a low moment in the afternoon, overcome with the frustration of it all.


We eventually settled on our original course of 255 degrees because we find life aboard better on port tack.  Glenys finds it easier to work in the galley and it's more much comfortable in the starboard berth that we sleep in. By sunset, we'd managed to sail 60 miles in 12 hours, but had only made 35 miles towards our destination.


During the afternoon, we picked up an AIS signal which turned out to be the Hokule'a, the Polynesian voyaging canoe that we first saw in Papeete in French Polynesia after they arrived there at the end of a long passage from Hawaii.  They're on a parallel course to us about 12 miles further upwind and obviously heading for New Zealand.  We'll keep an eye out for them and try to intercept them if we can.


On my 7-10 watch, the wind backed by 15 degrees, so we were able to steer a course of 240 degrees - finally heading a little bit more towards Opua.  However,  it was a very fickle wind.  Most of the time I'd have 12-15 knots and, just as I was about to shake out a reef, the wind would gust up to 20-25 knots. So our boat speed was varying between 2 and 6 knots. On Glenys's 10-1 watch, it was even stranger, with the wind dying completely, forcing her to motor a couple of times - once for 30 minutes.


Then on my 1-4 watch, we’d be beating into a 15 knot wind and suddenly the wind would drop to 5 knots and be coming 90 degrees from the port side. With no power in the sails, the waves would stop us almost dead in the water and the auto pilot kept freaking out.  At one of these episodes, I tried hand steering immediately, but we still stalled in the water – I started to worry that there was something wrong with our rudder; or the autopilot; or our instruments; or was the wind somehow coming straight down out of the sky; or were we sailing through some kind of magnetic anomaly affecting the compass; or were there aliens messing about with us?  Eventually, I gave up trying to sail and motor-sailed – everything was fine after that.


Apart from the vagaries of the wind, it was a lovely night with a full moon peeking through a few scattered clouds in an otherwise clear sky.  However, it was damn cold and I've started to wear a fleece hat on watches.