Leg 2, Rarotonga to Tonga
was 136, shortest 119. The SE Trade Winds were more hesitant than they have
been, I'm not sure whether this was because of the time of year or because
the wind is more variable as one gets further West. So the wind was on the
bow for a while, nowhere much at all for a while, sometimes dead astern
which is uncomfortable (as a single-hander I don't have the guts to mess
around with whisker poles on the foredeck), and yes, sometimes on the beam
or quarter and useable. For my last 36 hours it was on the quarter and I was making 5-6 kts, which was
a tonic for morale. The engine was on for 34 hours, occasionally for main
propulsion but generally for motor-sailing.
At the weekend Metbob commented "the South Pacific Convergence Zone will go
through a venting process and will send a bundle of wet tropical air across
Tonga on Monday". On Monday evening, still 200 miles out, the wind dropped
and black clouds gathered. Switching on the radar I saw that they were
heavy, and got most of the sail off the boat. By midnight the wind was 30
kts on the nose with stronger gusts, sheet rain and an unfriendly sea. The
cockpit was no place to be. Being in the middle of nowhere, I had the boat
on autopilot motoring gently into wind, battened the boat down including the
main-hatch washboard, and went to my bunk. By dawn the wind was dropping, by
mid-morning we were bowling along with a good breeze on the quarter and
100 miles out we crossed the Tonga Trench, maximum depth 10,587 metres. No
reading on my B&G echosounder!
Tonga is low-lying coral, unlike the previous few islands. The loom of
Nuku'alofa's lights could be seen at midnight on Tuesday, and at 04.00 we
rounded the Hyana Shoal and into the long passage between the reefs. I
couldn't have done it at night without electronic charts. Dawn was at 06.00,
and at 07.00, too early for Customs, I anchored off Pangimotu Island.
Breakfast, then into Nuku'alofa, alongside the customs wharf at 09.00, and
radioed Port Control to tell Customs that I was at their service. Customs
and Immigration were there within the hour, gentlemen in skirts, good for us
Scotsmen, a pleasant chat, a lift to a nearby ATM so that I could get the
necessary Tongan dollars. "Do you play rugby, sir?" "Not with you" could
have been my answer, "you're 3 times my size"."You're almost done", they
said, "you just need health clearance, and he'll be here within 20 minutes".
Well, Health turned up four hours later, with his young daughter, having
picked her up from school first. He wrote out a form, charged a bundle of
T$, and I was indeed done.
Nuku'alofa looked hot, busy, and industrial. So I motored the 1.5 miles
back to the tranquil Pangimotu anchorage and joined the dozen or so other
yachts just off "Big Mama's Yacht Club". This, as I was to learn, is the
holding point for yachts awaiting the weather window for NZ.
Best wishes to all, Donald.