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Nuku’alofa, Tonga’s Capital

Since we arrived in Nuku’alofa on Sunday we couldn’t even try to check in until the following day. We spent most of the day on the boat and in the afternoon we headed over to see what the BMYC had to offer. It’s really a very cool little restaurant and bar. The floors are sand and outside they have ping pong and volleyball. All along the shore there are small huts that you can rent. The food was good and the beer was ice cold!

On Monday we headed to shore to check in. There were several other yachties doing the same. When we arrived we headed toward the Customs & Immigration Office. That turned out to be another challenge as it was not where we thought it was and everyone told us to go somewhere else. When we finally found where we were supposed to be we were told all the officials were at an event and they didn’t know when they would return. Yes, it’s always an adventure.

We decided we’d go to town and do some provisioning. After all, it wasn’t our fault the office was closed. We did our provisioning and went back to the boat. Later we came back and finally were able to check in.

The village was nice and the people were very friendly but we did notice the criminal element lurking about just as we had been warned. Of course that didn’t stop the two of us from making friends everywhere we went. Whether it was the waitress at the local watering hole or the guys who ran the ferry we did our best to get to know them all.

Because most of the cruisers here were “staging” their jump to New Zealand, the talk amongst everyone was nothing but who is leaving when, why and what the potential weather and dangers would be. Honestly it all was a bit much for me. Everyone was telling stories of disastrous things that happened to cruisers in the past and everyone seemed a bit on edge. There’s no doubt this 8-10 day passage to New Zealand is going to be a challenging one but did everyone have to discuss it to the nth degree? Honestly, it was getting a bid morbid and I just didn’t want to hear anymore. I realize what we do is dangerous but come on people!

We, like many others, hired a weather router. MetBob is the router we hired to assist us with planning our trip. Weather routers are very knowledgeable about the weather patterns and can tell you the best route to take to experience the least problems. It didn’t cost much. We paid him about $130 USD to assist us. Dan had been emailing back and forth with him since we arrived in Nuku’alofa. We were essentially waiting for him to give us the “GO” sign.

I was hoping we’d get a full ten days in at Nuku’alofa before we had to jump as I was just not quite mentally prepared for the jump especially after listening to everyone tell all the horror stories. But, after just a couple of days it became apparent that our weather window was coming up quick.

The day before we left in swift current and winds Dan got in the water and cleaned the bottom of Dazzler. We’d heard that New Zealand is especially particular about making certain you aren’t bringing in biohazards. They have lots of restrictions regarding this sort of thing and they can inspect the bottom of the boat so we wanted her to be clean as a whistle. With the boat cleaned and everything stowed away we prepared to haul anchor the following morning. Two other boats were planning to leave at the same time so at least for a short time we’d have a little company.

The morning came quick and at first light we were hauling anchor and saying, “Goodbye” to Tonga and the islands for this season. I was a bit on edge but there was no time to worry about anything now. The journey ahead would take 8-10 days and cover 1100 NM.

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

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Ha’apai to Nuku’alofa … The Fun Continues

We left Uoleva early in the morning and arrived in Nomuka Iki around 1500 hours. As we approached the pass between the main island, Nomuka, and Nomuka Iki there is a mother humpback and her baby playing near the shore. It never gets old watching these amazing and beautiful creatures perform their water ballet.

We only stop here for a short rest on our way to Nuku’Alofa but seeing it now I wish we could stay longer. The beach is absolutely beautiful and the water….crystal clear. Nomuka Iki used to house a prison but now is uninhabited. SV Begonia, a catamaran, is in the anchorage and SV Nala Danica arrived just behind us. They too only plan to stay just a short time as well. We are both trying to get out before the big blow that’s going to bring 20+ knot winds on the nose.

The sail from here to Nuku’Alofa is just an overnight sail of around 60 NM so we plan to leave after dinner. The winds are already beginning to pick up but unfortunately they will be right on our tail tonight. Dazzler doesn’t do well dead down wind (DDW) so we will likely be motoring the whole way. Just in case, we take off the sail cover and prepare to throw up the main.

After dinner and while it’s still light enough to see the bommies we haul anchor and head out of the pass. Once we’ve cleared the islands I go below to get some shut-eye before my midnight watch begins. I wake up after just an hour because I feel Dan throttling back our speed. That’s unusual so I get up and out of the port light I see lightening. That is NOT something we sailboaters like to see out here. I go topside to check on Dan. He’s intently watching the weather. He says we are slowing down as he wants to wait this out. It’s not just cloud to cloud lightening right now. It’s bolts and we want no part of it. I ask if there’s anything I can do and he says, “Get some sleep. I’m going to need some when my watch is over.”

Captain’s order are Captain’s orders so I head below and hit the bunk. It seems like only minutes before the “gallows man” shows up to roust me from my slumber. I make my normal grumbling noises but climb out of the bunk and start getting dressed for deck duty. Dan says it’s not all that warm out so I throw on some pants and a long sleeve shirt. He gives me the lowdown on what’s happening then kisses me goodnight as he heads forward for some much deserved rest.

I do my normal routine. Get dressed, don my life vest, make my Coca Cola and grab a snack. Usually it’s homemade granola bars but we’re out and I’ve been too lazy to make them. Tonight Grape Ape and I are having chocolate chip cookies! Dan calls them biscotti. I grab my iPad, snack and soda and head to the cockpit with Grape Ape.

It’s a little roly out here tonight but not too bad. The lightening has pretty much stopped but Dan told me if it starts up again and appears to be getting closer to wake him up. For now, I check the instruments, do a visual check of the boat and then I open my iPad to do a bit of reading.

Around 0100 the lightening starts to kick up again. Initially it’s coming out of the southeast but soon starts moving to the southwest and now there are bolts from time to time. I start counting the seconds between the strikes and it appears they are getting closer. Damn! I hate waking him up but it’s what has to be done so down I go.

“Honey, we’ve got lightening and it appears to be getting closer. You want to come up?” I query as I gently pat his leg. He grumbles a bit but up he comes. You know what it’s like when you have a funny noise in your car for weeks and the moment you take it to the mechanic it disappears? Well, that’s exactly what happened to me. Almost the moment Dan steps on deck the lightening seems to start to dissipate and he’s looking at me like I’m out of my mind. But, he’s so kind and sweet. He says it looks like it’s okay now and kisses me before heading back to bed. I love how patient he is with me out here.

Now that he’s decided all is good I’m feeling a bit more relaxed. Of course there is a large container ship headed almost directly at us but I’m confident they will alter course to avoid collision and while it is always a bit unsettling at night, they do as expected. They pass on our starboard side about 2.25 NM away. All is well now and I’m enjoying my watch, the brightly lit stars and the cooler temperatures.

We have a watch commander alarm that goes off every 20 minutes. It’s a safeguard we use when we are on passage. At first it is this rather annoying beeping sound but if you don’t reset it after about 30 seconds it becomes a very loud, high decibel alarm. This is to notify the rest of the crew that whoever is on watch isn’t responding to the alarm. It’s not something you want to hear if you are down below as it instantly brings with it a bit of panic wondering where the person on deck is when the alarm sounds. It’s happened to each of us more than once. Usually it happens when you’ve gone below to use the head. It always seems to go off the minute you have your drawers below your knees. HA HA. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone racing from the head to the nav station with my britches at my ankles just trying to keep the loud alarm from sounding and waking Dan. Yes, it can be annoying but we use it and I’m glad we do.

Just before 0300 the watch commander goes off. When it does I do my normal check around deck and I take a look at the instruments. When I look at the radar I see a large storm cell headed our way. There’s no lighting so I assume it’s just a typical South Pacific squall. You know? The Captain Ron…they come on ya fast and leave ya fast type of thing. This one looks pretty large so I figure I’m going to get wet. I head below to grab my foulies.

I arrive back on deck dressed in my bib pants and jacket. I’m ready. Just about the time I clip into the jack line it starts pouring and I mean pouring. And this rain isn’t coming straight down either. It’s coming sideways from the starboard side and pelting me like shots from a BB gun. The wind that was on our stern has now clocked around and is coming from the southwest at about 18 knots. The rolling seas are becoming a bit choppy and I start doing some figuring on the plotter. I measure the size of the cell and it looks like it’s at least 10 NM wide and at least 5 NM deep. Our speed has dropped from 4.8 knots down to 1.8. We’ve got a little over 2.5 knots of head current going too. So, what do you do? Well, I pushed up the throttle to 2500 RPM and said, “Let’s get the heck out of this crap.”

I don’t want to take shelter under the dodger because I want to know what is happening. The blowing rain lasts for about 40 minutes and I stay and the helm the entire time because the wind keeps going from one side to the other. Finally I see some clearing skies and stars ahead. The rain starts to subside and the winds drop back from their high of 22 knots back down to 9 or 10 knots.  I spend the next 20 minutes drying the cockpit so Dan doesn’t have to come up to a soaking wet mess when he comes on watch at 0400.

I’m just settling back in when Dan starts stirring below. Once I hear him I head down to make coffee. It’s another one of those mornings when I’ll stay up because we are so near our port. I give him my account of my watch and he looks like he’s just happy it was me. Honestly I’d have given him the same look had he been the one on watch at the time.

We arrive in Nuku’Alofa around 0900. As we come near the main island we can see King Topou VI’s palace on the waterfront. The anchorage we will set down in is at the Pangaimotu. Big Mama’s Yacht Club is there and we’ve heard a lot about it. This is a bit over a mile from the main island of Nuku’Alofa but it’s where all the cruisers tend to go.

It’s cloudy and pretty yucky out as we near the anchorage but just as we drop anchor the sun comes out and it’s a beautiful day. As we sit to have our anchor down beer we are looking across to Big Mama’s place and the sunken ferry that sits out front. After some rest we’ll probably head in for a bite to eat but for now we’re just going to enjoy the scenery and be thankful for yet another safe passage.

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan