REST, RECUPERATION AND TIDY UP IN OPUA

Today was dedicated to clean up and chores on board Truce and taking it easy.  In beautiful calm sunny weather, I set about tidying the boat.  Stowing all the bits and bobs that I had been using on passage and stashed in the quarter berth for convenience and ease of access from the cockpit.

On the passage from Tonga we used the engine far more than usual to get through the extensive calm patches.  All the running meant that the scheduled one-hundred-and-fifty-hour oil change became due sooner than expected.  Changing the oil isn’t a job I like, it’s always messy sucking the old oil out of the dipstick hole.  With a bag full of rags, the job was accomplished and Mr Yanmar now has clean oil and a new oil filter to keep him happy for a while.

Another session at the laundry means that we have fresh bed linen and towels on board.  The last laundry session was in Honolulu and the supply of clean sheets and towels had been exhausted – laundry was definitely due.

I don’t know where the day went, time flies when your having fun, but soon it was happy hour and time for some refreshment.  I got myself cleaned up and headed down to the Opua Yacht Club – just a short walk away.  Nice to sit out on the deck overlooking the harbour as the sun goes down.  The sand-flies also enjoyed dining out on my body.

I was back on-board Truce in the early evening as I plan to sail south tomorrow.  I checked the weather, tides and put a course on the chart, with a list of available stops and shelters on the way.  Not sure yet where I will go tomorrow.  I am heading south down the coast towards Auckland, first I need to get around Cape Brett and then have an idea I may stop in Whangarei.  We shall see tomorrow how it plays out.

DAY 13 ONWARD FROM TONGA

This morning the wind finally died at ten, just ripples on the water.  We now have a huge spreading calm patch to get through before picking up the strong north westerly winds that will take us the final step to Opua.

The Yanmar engine has been running since the wind left us. Maybe it will be running for the next day as well – if the diesel lasts out.  So, we are making slow progress and now expect to arrive on Wednesday morning instead of Tuesday night.

I haven’t seen much bird life today.  I think the birds like some wind to play with, just like us sailors.  In the distance I saw another boat this morning, don’t know what it was, not a big ship or yacht so maybe a fishing boat.  The first boat I have seen since departing Minerva Reef on the 15th.

When making pasta last night one of my gas bottle ran out.  One that I had refilled in San Francisco back in June.  Amazing how long these gas bottles last, must be the best value fuel out there.

My food stock is getting low now, at least the stuff I want to eat.  My diet for the next days until port will be boring pasta, noodles, cereal and the occasional tin of something.

Last night we changed clocks to Summer time in New Zealand.  To celebrate this occasion, I am having an extra tot of Mount Gay Rum for sundowners this evening – I still have two fresh limes from Nuku’alofa.

ENOUGH WEST – TURNING SOUTH TO NEW ZEALAND

I haven’t posted a log for a couple of days.  I didn’t have much to say, Truce and I have been beating to the west to get around a am nasty patch of weather above New Zealand.  Same slog day after day.  After three days, we have gained enough distance to start turning to the south and hopefully benefiting from favourable winds on the last part of the voyage.

Of course, now that we have gained our westing the wind has disappeared completely and we are in an area of high pressure.  It looks like we will be motoring for twenty-four hours until we are clear and into a breeze.  I have my fingers crossed that the autopilot, engine and everything holds together until we reach the wind.

The yachts that I met along the way at Tonga and Minerva Reef are still waiting for a weather window to depart to NZ.  That is a good safe tactic if you have the time and provides an enjoyable quick trip in good weather.

I intend to clear through customs in Opua, Bay of Islands.  It’s the closest customs port if arriving from the north and once cleared in I can take a sail down the coast to Auckland.  It will be so good to be back on the spectacular NZ coats again with its snug safe anchorages.

At late afternoon we were six hundred miles from Opua.  If the last part of the voyage goes to plan we will be arriving there on the 26th September.

It seems I budgeted my beer stock just right.  I have sufficient to last until Auckland and an emergency reserve in case of delays or bad weather on the way.  One advantage of the cooler weather is also cooler sea water, beer laid in the bilge is nice and cool to drink now.

The last of my fresh Tonga vegetables has been consumed – only some onions and limes remain.  These will also be gone before we land in Opua, not allowed to bring such stuff into New Zealand.

A NIP IN THE AIR

Last night was cool, for the first time since Hawaii I had track pants on with a long-sleeved fleece shirt.  We are certainly out of the tropics now and I can expect more cold weather when we hit the south westerly winds later this evening.  I will dig out my thermals tomorrow – just in case.

Its only seven hundred miles to Opua in New Zealand but I can’t sail there direct due to weather.  So, we continue our foray to the west.  The sailing weather had been light but pleasant after a bit of rolling last night and we have kept moving nicely in the light airs.

For the past couple of days I have been cutting bits off my stock of carrots.  There is some rot that is turning them black and wet.  Unfortunately, the carrots are now so far gone as to be unusable.  I ate what I could (should be seeing well in the dark tonight) and disposed of the remainder.  The bread I bought in Tonga has also gone mouldy.  In fact, all the fresh food I purchased in Tonga is deteriorating quickly.  I suppose that’s the price you pay for nice fresh food without preservatives or radiation sickness.  No doubt if I had bought the food from an American supermarket it would still be looking fresh a month from now.

This evening I am expecting to pass through a front and the current northerly wind will swing to the south and increase.  Already I can feel a difference in the sea so I suppose the action is only a couple of hours away.

THE LONG ROAD BACK TO NEW ZEALAND

The anchorage at Minerva Reef turned out to be very peaceful, despite my initial misgivings.  I had a great rest and felt very refreshed this morning.  And what a morning, a glorious sunrise, warm sunshine and crystal-clear waters.

Sunrise, Minerva reef.

No sound except the distant thunder of surf on the reef.  I breakfasted in the cockpit on my last Tongan Papaya, such a pity that papaya doesn’t keep for more than a few days.

Later in the morning another yacht sailed into the lagoon and came over to say hello.  On board was Lance, also solo sailing from Tonga, heading to New Zealand.   He had also been waiting up in Tonga for a couple of weeks and also decided to stop in Minerva and wait.  It felt very good to have company in such a remote place.

I slept on the idea of sailing to the west before heading down to New Zealand.  Yes, I have decided to give it a go.  At least I will be moving and doing something – not just sitting waiting.  The plan is to sail to the south west before heading west, hopefully to sail above the strong southerly winds heading up from the south.  If that manoeuvre goes to plan I should then be able to turn and zig zag my way to New Zealand.  It going to take 12 to 13 days possibly – there are some light and variable patches along the way as well.

Before sailing out of Minerva Reef I went across and had a chat to Lance.  Like me he is frustrated and said he planned to stay at Minerva until the next low has passed New Zealand.  We wished each other well and I motored out of the lagoon.

As I was departing Minerva Lance called me on the radio, asking how far west I planned to go.  He said he may follow me to the west tomorrow.  I suspect he also felt the loneliness and isolation of Minerva when I had departed.

So, we are on the way again.  Sailing to the south west with light following winds.  Not going very fast, the following sea is rolling us around and spilling wind from the sails.  It feels good to be on the last leg of the voyage.

NUKU’ALOFA TO NEW ZEALAND

This morning it rained cats and dogs.  My walk to the internet café to check the weather was a soggy affair.  Good news, the weather seems to be easing off on the route to New Zealand.

I went shopping for fresh fruit and veg and topped up on additional beer, the stocks were running low after such a long time in port.  I stopped for lunch and had fish and chips – a final Tonga treat.
After lunch I visited the Customs to get the boats clearance outward.  After some repetitive form filling I finally had the required piece of paper and a stamp in my passport.  All ready to go.

Just after three in the afternoon I let go the lines and we were on the way home.

We are now clear of the island of Tongatapu and sailing in a westerly direction – hoping the wind will back around and we can sail more to the south in the morning.  I am heading in the general direction of Minerva Reef.  A stop at the reef may be necessary if the weather blows as forecast on the eighteenth at the top of New Zealand.  We shall see in the next few days.

Its good to be back at sea again after waiting for so long in port.  Beautiful fresh air and a clear horizon.  At the moment the wind is a perfect ten to fifteen knots.  I have reduced sail for the night and we are doing a comfortable five and a half knots.  I hope it holds until morning.

READY TO GO

I am ready to depart Tonga and head down to New Zealand.  The charms of Nuku’alofa are wearing thin and I have a strong desire to get moving again.  The only thing delaying me is the weather at the New Zealand end of the route.  There has been a constant stream of lows charging across the Tasman bringing poor sailing weather.

Royal Tombs Nuku'alofa. Photo Ray PensonMy plan is to clear out on Monday and start making my way slowly to the south west awaiting a time when the weather improves and I can head down towards New Zealand.  If favourable I may stop at North Minerva Reef on the way to wait for an improvement.  I just want to get moving again.

This morning there was a Tsunami warning following an earth quake in Mexico.  Thankfully, nothing happened but I was ready to put to sea – just in case.

After the Tsunami all clear I had a stroll around the Saturday market.  What a great market, you can buy just about anything cars, clothes, tools, lawnmowers, shoes, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, electronics and of course food.  I was impressed by the chicken rotisserie mounted on a trailer, very ingenious.

After the market in headed into town and checked the weather and emails at the internet café.  I also bought a new small bucket to replace my previous favourite one that got washed overboard in one of the squalls on the way to Christmas Island.

Tonight, I will head up to the Billfish Bar to watch the All black’s vs Argentina.

RAIN ON SUNDAY, SUN ON MONDAY

Yesterday was a damp squid.  Rain all Saturday night and Sunday morning.  Sunday was overcast, wet and showery, cool all day.  Onshore it was very quiet, hardly anyone about, shops all shut.  I suppose everyone has gone to church and retreated home, the sort of day you want to have a nice fire and stay put.

Today is sunny with a nice cool breeze.  I walked over to the customs office and enquired about clearing out – particularly if I could clear out and anchor out for a day or two.  The first customs guy said no problem, I could have 24 hours after clearing out.  Then his boss with four stripes came and said no.  I would only have an hour to leave after clearing out and I could not go to anchor.  He said he had problems with other yachts clearing out and then anchoring for days and it must stop.

I would like to go out and anchor for a couple of days.  But if I need to come back into port for clearance its not worth the trouble.  I will hang around in Nuku’alofa until it’s time to depart.

The passing of the rain has unleashed a plague of Mosquitoes.  These are serious insects, cunning and tenacious.  I have the mosquito screens in place buy still they find a way in.  On board I have some mosquito and fly spray from Alaska, it worked fine in Alaska – stopping deer fly without any problems.  But – it doesn’t seem to worry the Tongan Mosquitos, they just keep coming.  One of the disadvantages of being tied up in port.

Later I wandered into town.  Everybody is very friendly and after being here for a few days people are recognising me (and me them) and the greeting are turning into conversations.  So many of the people I speak with have been to, lived in or have relatives in New Zealand.  It seems the remittances from family members in New Zealand plays a big part bin the economy here.

Previously I have extolled the qualities of Tonga bacon.  When walking about outside the main town you can see pigs and piglets running around, foraging all over the place.  They look happy, contented and plump.  Good bacon must be the result of such a life.

WAITING FOR A WEATHER WINDOW IN NUKU’ALOFA

Today has been a flat day.  I have not done anything meaningful.  I am feeling a bit down now that Jessica has gone and I am alone again. I stayed on board most of the day reading a book and doing small odd jobs, just pottering about really.

I want to get going to New Zealand but the weather is not right yet.  It looks like next Monday will be the earliest opportunity to depart.  Very frustrating as I want to be on my way, but you can’t hurry the weather.  So, I will be waiting on weather and going slightly crazy if I can’t find some distraction.

This morning I was reflecting on our trip from Honolulu to Tonga.  The route planned was Honolulu, Christmas Island, Penrhyn, Suwarrow, Niue and Tonga.  In the end, we went direct from Honolulu to Tonga with only a stop at Christmas Island.  The weather on route and at the destinations of Both Penrhyn and Suwarrow being nasty.

In the Vava’u group we met up with a lady who had planned the identical trip, leaving Honolulu a month before us.  She made Christmas Island, after having similar weather on the bow as we did.  She then could not make Penrhyn or Suwarrow and missed them, she left out Niue as we did and headed direct to Tonga, all due to the weather.  What a coincidence that we both had identical itineraries and both made the same route decisions – and then both met up in the same small bay.

Tonight, I will stay on board again and cook some supper.  I have plantain and some fresh veg – it will be a healthy meal.  Then maybe watch a movie.  After a good rest tonight I will be ready for some exploration tomorrow.

SINGLE HANDLING TRUCE AGAIN

Last night I was eaten alive by a mosquito before I woke up and dealt with the problem.  This is the first time we have encountered mosquitoes this trip.  I now have the mosquito screens in the hatches and repellent on hand.  Early in the morning I awoke to the unmistakable smell of fish.  A quick scan around the wharf confirmed that we are berthed next to the local fish market.  I am not complaining, where we are moored is really handy to get ashore.

Truce Resting in Nuku'Alofa
Truce Resting in Nuku’Alofa

Today I lose my crew and will be back to single handed sailing again for the last leg of the voyage back to New Zealand.  As it was Jessica’s last day in Nuku’alofa we decided to take it easy and just stay local.

We had a late breakfast at a café just beside the boat.  Eggs and bacon in Tonga must be the best in the world – never disappointed.  Then it was back to the boat for Jessica to pack her bag and me to fuss around doing cleaning and small chores before we headed into town for the final time.

Lunch was taken at the Friends café, where they have wifi.  The coffee and food was excellent.  The wifi so slow it was almost useless.  However, I managed to send out emails that have been sitting in my outbox since we arrived in Tonga.

Fresh Ota Ika
Fresh Ota Ika

Next to friend’s café is a local craft shop, nice stuff, not the usual tourist junk.  We browsed around and Jessica finally found some unusual local jewellery for her friends.  Then onto the ice crème parlour for a mix of coffee and coconut ice crème in a waffle cone – more indulgence.

Finally, we hit the supermarket for some groceries to take me down to New Zealand.  Even in the big supermarket the choice and range of products is very limited – and costly compared with New Zealand.  A lot of the products on the shelves are well known supermarket or store brands from New Zealand.

At six thirty in the evening Jessica got a taxi to the airport.  I went back to the boat and suddenly felt very alone.  I will spend tonight on board and prepare to depart tomorrow.  I have some odd jobs to complete on the boat and some equipment checks to carry out – otherwise Truce is ready to go.  I will get some fresh vegetables and fruit on board plus another case of beer as the stocks seem to be running low.

Not sure when I will be sailing from here, the crossing to New Zealand is very weather dependent.  I will start paying close attention to the weather reports and forecasts.  Hopefully I will find a good weather window to get me across the final eleven hundred or so miles without too much drama.