11 May 2017

Arriving Tonga

Tongan ensign
Made it!

Having been thwarted by TC Ita then a gearbox failure in 2014 (the delays from which resulted in us being forced to sail direct NZ-Fiji), finally we made it to Tonga!

Arriving in the lee of Eua Island at 2 AM, we stumbled around a bit in the dark to find anchoring depth not too close to shore, before dropping the hook and breaking out the rum. Nobody wanted it, but hey: it's Tradition!

It was rather nice to be out of the gale and, after days of roaring along at 8-9 kts, the silence was a little spooky!

OK, we're here. Now what...?
Up with the sun, we raised the ensign and Q-flag then set off for Tonga's capital on Nuku'alofa's, Tongatapu and the CIQ arrival process. Along the way we prep'ed the boat, expecting an NZ- (or even Fiji-) style examination for dangerous & toxic foodstuffs.

No reply to our calls to the Port Authority on ch16 or 14, but we did hear two other yachts chatting about berthing in the harbour as if they'd just arrived (they had, also from NZ) and they gave us some pointers. We ended up rafting alongside a third new arrival: X-412, Nelly Rose to wait for a stream dribble of officials to show up in their own good time: Bio-security, Health, Immigration (each with their own raft of forms) but no Customs! We eventually visited them in their office at the main port the next day.

Big Mama's
However, job done, and without losing any of our rations, solid or liquid!

We were now 'encouraged' to leave the harbour (read: thrown out), so we happily motored a couple of miles over to Big Mama's resort on Pangaimotu Island, in company with four other yachts that were waiting for the breeze to drop. Still blowing a bit of a hooley, Arthur was beside himself with excitement. He could now kite surf!

Given the (gusting) 40 kts whistling through the anchorage, the rest of us tended to agree with the sentiments of the neighbouring yarpie skipper:

"What da faark?!" he shouted (a phrase that we must have mimicked a hundred times over the following weeks) as the kite whistled past, but Arthur was in seventh heaven...

Arthur... in 7th... Heaven.

10 May 2017

Fast Reach to Tonga

Checking in with The Boss
We check in with Base Ops (SWMBO) every morning & evening by Satphone when we're offshore, and Sue passes on our texts to the 'fan club', family and friends who like to follow our progress.

In the absence of a GPS tracker, it's the simplest way to keep in touch with position updates. Far easier than twiddling knobs on the HF!

Here are some of the texts from our Raoul-Tonga leg...

Sat, 6 May, 2100   S27 51 W176 52  Making good speed with 1 reef and full jib under a bright moon. Tuna curry 4 dinner!
Sun, 7 May, 0830   S 26 30 W176 08  Going well. 174 nautical miles in last 24 hours. Just popped in reef 2 main and jib at 25 kts and still making 8 kts so ETA dawn Tuesday. 
Sun, 7 May, 2020   S25 11 W175 29  Another lovely moonlit evening. Tramping along at 9 kts. Still with 2 reefs.
Mon, 8 May, 0800   S23 47 W175 10  Another good 24 hr run. 173 nautical miles still with 2 reefs. Wind up to 30 kts but aft of the beam. Seas lumpy so plenty of surfing. Sausage stew last night - compliments to the chef!
Mon, 8 May, 1400  Reply ref conditions: Comfy enough here at 8 kts which will see us in the lee of 'Eua' Island about 2am where we will wait and then approach Nuku in daylight. 95 nm to go. Final stretch. What are the French election results?
Mon, 8 May, 2015  S22 13 W174 58  <50nm to lee of Eua island so ETA there still 2am. Rest there then into Nuku in daylight. Will call on arrival. Your chicken dinner today. Tick, VG!
Tue, 9 May, 0400  Safely at anchor NW side of Eua Is. Arrival tot (tradition), hot porridge, then some bunk time before moving up to Nuku in the morning for official arrival. Chat in the AM. xxx


The 30 kts mentioned above was the wind strength we were experiencing 'apparent'. The reinforced Trades were actually giving us up to 40 kts 'true', but no need to worry anyone.

With 2 deep reefs, a bright moon, and both wind & seas behind us, the extra breeze simply gave us a fast & fun, if sometimes wet, crossing!

Funnily enough, it always seemed to be Arthur on the receiving end...

9 May 2017

Leg 2: Raoul Island - Tonga

Weather situation 9 May 17
(click to enlarge)
Our shore-based weather team had been watching TC Donna with interest.

It was still building over Vanuatu, but the forecasts had it eventually moving south to New Caledonia, then rapidly SE. If it stuck to that route, it would pass safely to the west of us.

However, another slow-moving depression had now been identified over northern Tonga: TC Ella. Although less powerful than Donna, this one was a lot closer and it's path uncertain. And we would be sailing right towards it! Best get going before it made up its mind...

NZ ensign drop #2
So at first light, on Saturday 6 May, after a 24-hour break, we dropped the New Zealand ensign for the second time, and departed Raoul for Tongatapu, a distance of about 530 nm.

High-speed dash
With two cyclones to our north, and a High to the south, we could expect heavily reinforced trade winds as we sailed north of 25 S - and that's exactly what we got!

With 30, rising to up to 40 kts on the beam in reasonably flat waters (at least to start with) it was easy to crack on at 175 nm per day.

Hammering along at 9 kts under 2 reefs can be quite noisy though...!

5 May 2017

Drone view of the Kermadecs

OK, everyone's doing it now!

Here's an excellent birds-eye view of the Kermadec Islands, courtesy of Magique. See if you can spot us!

4 May 2017

Raoul Island

After being passed by Anzac Class frigate HMNZS Te Mana (also en-route to Raoul Island), we slowed overnight to time our arrival for first light and anchored in 12 m on the north side, off Oneraki Beach

Just in time to see the NZ flag hoisted on 'flagstaff hill' under a spectacular double rainbow and be hailed on VHF to ask what the hell we thought we were doing! (Actually, they were quite polite.)

We were already aware that a plant fungus called myrtle rust had been discovered in the pohutukawa forest on the island and that DOC were forbidding landing by passing vessels to prevent the fungus spreading to New Zealand. No matter that we were headed from NZ and not to NZ - rules is rules.

Raoul rainbow
It must be a concern though, that such a remote island could become infected (the fungus is thought to originate from Australia) and doesn't bode well for even wider spread...

Anyway, we soothed any ruffled feathers by assuring the shore party that we would not be coming ashore, and broke out the traditional arrival rum to sterilise our drinking glasses from myrtle infection - you can never be too careful. Rinse and repeat.

Raoul Island
Then, late-afternoon, in the middle of nowhere in the wide South Pacific, who should pitch up but another CX captain, Dave Saggs on his Lagoon 450, Magique!

They had left Auckland the same day we had departed Whangarei but had stopped for a brief overnight at Macauley Island in the southern Kermadecs - about the same time and only about 15 nm from where we had caught our tuna the evening before! Small world.

They anchored nearby and, of course, were invited aboard to dis-infect (gotta watch that myrtle rust) and sample our fresh sashimi...

Arriving Raoul Flagstaff rainbow Magique

2 May 2017

Leg 1: Whangarei - Raoul Island

Wind picture on 1/2 May
(courtesy of  earth.nullschool.net)
NZ - Tonga is about 1,000 nm as the crow flies, but since it's a good idea to make some easting before entering the Trades at about latitude 25 S, we planned on routing via the Kermadec Islands at about the half way mark.

Administered by New Zealand, the islands are uninhabited, apart from a small research group at Raoul Island. One also needs special permission to land there, so we just planned on anchoring overnight off the research station near Oneraki Beach for beer and showers, weather permitting.

Thus our course of about 045T, which gave us a deep broad reach and some interesting following seas on our first night - all manual steering. A sleigh-ride at 9-10 kts, even more interesting when the moon set before midnight.

Our departure was timed on the heels of a passing trough and ahead of the next high (see earlier explanation of the west-to east cycle of highs & troughs here) so we expected the wind to back and the sea state to moderate, which they did steadily overnight. By the end of Day 2 the High had caught us and we were motoring!

Quick fix
Unfortunately that first dawn revealed a cut in the mainsail. The slick new halyard had slipped a few inches, allowed the well-eased main to rub the top spreader above the spreader patch. Easy enough to fix with sticky-back Dacron patches underway, but hey. Boats. Maybe we should have popped that first reef in after all...

However comma, 180 nm in the first 24 hrs was not a bad start!

We can eat!
By Day 3 we were ready for some action and, as always, it all came at once. Steve was in the galley, serving supper (a manly quiche) when one of the reels started screaming, but he was still first to the rod for a bit of a battle with a yellow-fin tuna. Steve won, but it took over 10 minutes to land our first catch, all of 15 kg he reckoned.

No sooner was the tuna cleaned & stowed and dinner served, but the engine began to stutter. Stutter then die.

Bleedin' engine...
We new this scenario, been here before. Despite having cleaned the fuel tank earlier and fitted new fuel filters (two of those 101 jobs), we now had a fuel filter blockage.

Hmmm... how clean was that fuel from Marsden Cove marina?

So chef (and occasional fisherman) Steve again doffed his toque blanche and donned his chief engineer's hat for a spot of tinkering, ably assisted by Arthur. Changing both fuel filters was easy enough, but bleeding the system afterwards took an age. Maybe next time we'll part fill the filters before fitting, like the book suggests...

Oh, by the way, Steve - your watch!

A Watch

1 May 2017

Departure Day

Returning to the water...
No matter how much flex you allow for all those jobs, time accelerates the closer you get to departure. 

And here we were, all of a sudden: Departure Day!

Having splashed at 1000, we motored over to the Whangarei Cruising Club for a good clean up, washing all the hardstand grime from the boat. We also had a few jobs to complete, including post-service checks for the gennie & watermaker - jobs that couldn't be completed until we were back in the water. Neither worked.

Ready for the off!
We set off down the river anyway, as we had our Immigration out-clearance booked at Marsden Cove for 1400. Gusting 1600, by the time our Border Protection officer arrived. Never mind, it took that long to get the gennie running, top-off the fuel tanks (400 litres) and ship the last of the fresh & frozen rations - thanks to Sue!

We never did get the watermaker running - with full water tanks and reserve cans (500 litres), that was a job for later.

After a teary farewell, we scraped over the marina bar at 1700 and motored out into Bream Bay and a freshening S'ly. All sails up, and we cleared Bream Head at 1800 as the sun set behind New Zealand - our last glimpse of 'The Land of the Long White Cloud'.

Next stop Raoul Island in the Kermadecs!

30 Apr 2017

Docklands 5

Docklands 5
Home for the next 2 weeks!

Or so we thought. Turned out a tad longer...

On dropping the rudder for our usual inspection of its alloy shaft, we found the bottom rudder bearing cracked - again!

We investigated dispensing with the Delrin roller bearing and having a new bushing made from solid Vesconite* by a local engineering firm.

It took a bit of getting out...
[*Interesting fact: self-lubricating Vesconite expands less than 0.1% in water, while nylon expands by up to 3%!]

However, Jeffa, the manufacturer of both rudder & bearing, responded to our complaint by immediately despatching two replacements, gratis, with profuse apologies. It took only 2 days to rush them from Denmark to AKL airport, but another 4 days for DHL to then process and deliver the package to Whangarei. Kiwi pony express... ;)

Saildrive seals shot
Then, on draining the Saildrive, we were delighted to find gear oil like juiced avocado. And on closer inspection, with the prop hub off, the remains of an orange shopping bag wrapped around the shaft and up under the seals. Must have been recent, you could still read the 'Mitre 10'!

So new seals, fair enough, but the damage was deep enough to also require the shaft to be sleeved otherwise the new seals, well, wouldn't. Thankfully only an overnight job with the local Volvo-Penta agent. Again, Whangarei is a great place to get boat stuff done.

Hull prep...
Those jobs, plus a hundred-and-one others, kept us busy for the allotted fortnight. And some...

So instead of splashing on the Friday and having the weekend for final prep before departing Monday, it all happened on the hardstand.

Thankfully, we had a great team of helpers and the weather was kind to us!