Passage from Tonga to New Zealand November 2012

Day 1

Light winds during the day and night. The beast was out of the bag during the day to help us along a bit but got put away before dark. Lovely flat seas with just a long rolling 1meter swell (is this the famous pacific swell!!) Cloudy day and night. Been on port tack all night – wind up and down between 4 and 8 knots but picked up to around 12 knots and went ahead about 5am. Sailing a close reach on port tack. About to have some porridge and download a weather grib file. 2 more boats in vicinity – Barbara and Michael on Astate, Monique and JanBart on Victory – good to have a bit of company! The big issue is a developing tropical depression around Wednesday. Lots of radio chat about when and where. One boat already turned back. Our back up position is to hunker down at Minerva reef, which we should be passing tomorrow. Email from our friends Jo and Trevor on Malarkey – they got to Australia safely - great stuff.

24 hour distance: 142 miles

Day 2

What a great day's sailing – we had lightish winds in the morning which picked up to 10 – 12 knots by lunchtime. Close reaching on port tack with perfectly smooth seas – fabulous. Fishing today consisted of trying to get a piece of pumice – there's quite a lot of it about from a volcanic eruption on one of the Keramadec islands to the south of us. A reminder of the area we're in (we had a couple of mild earth quakes whilst we were in Tonga.) Spotted a couple of whales but by the time we got closer and cameras at the ready they had dived down.

Still much talk on the VHF and SSB radios about the impending low. We have just passed the Minerva Reef (23.36.265S; 178.56.665W) – typical we arrived there before daylight but as the sun came up there was not really much to see anyway! Just a reef (I guess mainly below the sea) in the middle of nowhere. There's also another one 20 miles to the south of this one. We're now officially out of the tropics as we passed below the tropic of Capricorn last night. Definitely feels chillier! Anyway back to the weather – the latest girbs seem to show the low appearing over Fiji on Wednesday then moving south east so we don't want to be in the Minerva Reef as it looks as though it's going to centre over there. We're continuing on and hopefully will be able to make a good speed to get to the west of it. The wind is now up at around 18 knots and it's just got a bit bouncier.

24 hour distance: 180 miles

Day 3

So we're now officially half way round the world! Crossed the date line yesterday even though we have been GMT +13 since Samoa. So we're still GMT+13. Bit of a rough sea all day and with winds of around 15 – 20 knots – a couple of rolls in the genoa and a reef in the main. Wind died off around 4am so motor sailed for a couple of hours but it's back up again now. Sailing close hauled on port tack still. Sea around 2meters. After studying the gribs yesterday, we changed our plan a bit so we now are heading more or less for Opua rather than going more west before heading south – if it works we should cut around 100 miles off the trip. We didn't have any flying fish on deck this morning but the decks had been ‘pumiced'!

24 hour distance: 192 miles

Day 5

Couldn't get the computer to sit still yesterday to write this blog (besides not being able to sit still myself!) We had 36 hours in a bit of a breeze you might say – 35 knots consistently gusting to 44 and seas of 5 meters plus the big ones – could have got some wonderful photos if we'd have thought about it. ‘Twas bad to say the least – we had breaking waves crashing on the beam and got knocked over a couple of times with some really bad ones. We had green water gushing over the spray hood every few minutes and flushing down the side decks (we lost all the pumice we had collected on the decks the previous day!). Fortunately we only lost the Danbuoy and had a bit of damage to the bimini. We heard of other boats who lost gas bottles over the side, had sails blown out and one of our friends had his window on the spray hood blown out. Another friend who was about 150 miles behind us hove to for the whole time and is now only going at around 4 knots so will take another week to get there. We had expected some winds but nothing like it was. Scrap of a main sail up and tiny bit of genoa rolled out and we were still doing around 7.5 to 8 knots. Not much sleep and strict diet! All those meals I prepared. Matt did use up a chicken noodle one pot for breakfast so not all wasted. Let's hope that everyone survives it with the minimum of damage.

24 hour distance: 183.2 miles

Day 6

After about 36hrs the wind and seas eventually began to abate to around 20 to 25 knots (a mere whisper) just after lunch. The seas also calmed to around 4 meters. We discovered that our SSB radio wasn't working – looks like its got damp!. Managed to relay our position and conditions to the Pacific Drifters Net and Russell Radio in NZ via friends on another boat about 20 miles away. We didn't get a reef out of the main until around 7pm but by then the sea had come right down to around 1.5 meters and the wind 15 – 20 knots – what a difference. Anyway we've been close reaching on port tack all through the last few days and are now actually in New Zealand waters with 35 miles to our final destination of Opua. I can smell the fish and chips!. It is freezing. This wind must come directly from the Antarctic. (Actually its 14c this morning)..You can tell its cold by the state of the dinghy. Its deflated and hanging in the davits like a used condom! But it's nice to have more daylight than dark – didn't get dark until after 8pm last night and light again at 5.30am. Started to hear a bit more of the carnage behind us. A NZ boat was rolled and flooded SW of Minerva reef. A NZ Orion has coordinated the rescue, dropped a life raft, asked another yacht to turn back and diverted a cargo ship to the area. Looks like they are slightly injured but OK and still fighting to keep the boat afloat. An EPIRB also went off in Tongan waters, and we think it may be a Canadian couple that we have met several times. They have a very small boat for this stuff at around 32 ft. Lets keep fingers crossed. All being well we will be alongside the customs quay at 1300 today. Oh! That tropical depression that we talked about at the beginning that was on then off, then on … finally turned on and tracked right across our route behind us. That was always our planning assumption and we had the speed to be well ahead of it. Problem was that a very strong high formed over NZ creating an isobar squash zone, so the nice SE winds we expected were much more vigorous. This has got to be the toughest trip either of us have ever made. Jean says never again, but Matt actually enjoyed it bar the low point two nights ago. Blowing 35 knots, boat constantly awash, wet, very cold, very tired, but fortunately no mal de mer for him. The boat has been great. It handled the worst of the conditions easily and kept us bashing on at 8 knots and more all through the worst of it. Whilst in-mast reefing is not the racers' dream, it came through for us. We could precisely dial up any size sail at the “push of a button” and with another button, achieve a perfectly complementary foresail. I think we have finally earned the right to call ourselves ocean voyagers, though this is definitely not our thing of choice – and there are a lot of choices! So many thoughts, and so many lessons learned that they will need to keep for a flotsam.

24 hour distance: 175 miles

Arrival in New Zealand

So here we are then – can't really express how it feels to finally be here – very emotional! If you've been following our daily blog you'll know that we had quite a trip so are very relieved to be here. We have just spent the last 6 hours motor sailing into Opua in the Bay of Islands (beautiful scenery) in completely flat water, blue sky and sunshine! Customs and bio security have just been on board so we are cleared in and about to move into the marina to get a good clean up and drying out. Our total mileage for this passage has been 1106.6 miles in 6 days, 6 hours – averaging 7.377 miles per hour.


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