We have crossed longitude 180 degrees west are now at 175 degrees east in New Zealand. Heading home, albeit some way to go!
I am starting to write this blog on my final night watch while heading into New Zealand. We are about 60 miles from the coast and have about 70 miles to run until we reach Whangarei our clearing in point, and destination in New Zealand. Part of me is sad that this will be the last night watch for sometime. While I cannot say we look forward to night watches, I think we have now become so used to it, that after a few days our bodies become acclimatised to the disrupted sleep. Night watches can be a magical time with fantastic skies, in your own little world. The sensation of whizzing through the water under sail into darkness or under a big moon is wonderful. We all have our own strategies to help stay awake and my favourite is singing (with all the hand movements) to “Mama Mia here we go again.” A little job when we have some good, cheap broadband is to down load some new musicals to improve my repertoire! It has to be said that the empty Pacific Ocean does make night sailing relatively relaxing. Sadly tonight we are under motor as the wind has died, and this just is not so good, but we have had a fantastic day’s sail steaming along at 7 to 8 knots which will ensure we arrive tomorrow for lunch.
As ever final preparations for a trip of this type take a little time and we spent a week in the anchorage by Big Mama’s Yacht Club a mile or so’s boat ride from Nukalofa, Tongatapu. Big Mama’s is not a yacht club in the conventional sense (or any sense actually) but they have been very helpful in a typical relaxed Tongan kind of way. The menu was the same two choices for both lunch and dinner and this did not change all week, and I am not sure it ever does, but the food was quite good.
The boat hull was scrubbed again, and all outdoor equipment, dinghy and anchor locker were cleaned for entry into New Zealand. On scrubbing the dinghy I could not help to notice that the lovely “chaps” we had made in Bequia were beginning to suffer from the abuse of the numerous dodgy dinghy docks which have used. I spent a good day patching the little holes and rubs and it all looked really quite smart, but frustratingly the dinghy then managed to spear itself on Krabat’s self steering while we were in Minerva reef. Despite a temporary”get you home” patch the dinghy is looking a little sorry for itself on the davits. Another job for New Zealand.
Julian, splicer extraordinaire, did yet more splicing in order to protect the reefing lines against the constant enemy, chafe. Chafe happens when our ropes, which can often be in the same spot for days, move ever so slightly on each other or another part of the equipment and cause damage to the rope. This will untimely weaken the rope if action is not taken.
We (Julian) always climbs the mast before such a trip, and particularly when in a place like Tongatapu where there are no yacht facilities, it is always a relief to find all is well. Unfortunately for our friends on Krabat they found that one of their shroud ends was badly cracked. Shrouds are part of the system which holds up the mast. While this was very bad news, how much better to find out while safe, then when at sea where it might fail completely. Julian and Bill, with help from Big Mamas and welding advice from our son Angus back in England, set off to Nukalofa in search of some welders. This, as ever took some time but to be fair to the Tongans, although the facilities were very basic, a good stainless steal welder was found and a great job done. The mended shroud was replaced and given additional support with a jury rig made of dynema rope and it was deemed good enough to complete the journey. Bill was developing monkey like tendencies climbing the mast, as he went up, so many times. Phew!
Finally a weather window came that was suitable for the 1,000 mile trip from Tonga to New Zealand. The weather conditions can be tricky for this trip. We are leaving the relatively reliable easterly trade winds and entering the westerly depression zone which sweeps over New Zealand similar to UK weather. At this time of year these depressions can be vicious and result in serious storms with 30 knot plus winds. There also tend to be doldrums where the two zones meet and in between the depressions. Oh, and we really prefer the wind on our side or behind us. All this is made a little more difficult as the trip is nine days and long term weather forecasts become less reliable over this long a period. Given the parameters, a perfect window is unlikely.
Our trip south necessitated a stop at the Minerva reef. This is a very convenient, and amazing reef in the middle of the ocean about 250 miles south of Tonga. We were really quite pleased as to pass by would be a pity. There is no land and the only visitors are small boats heading north or south to Tonga. It is quite strange as you approach you can see nothing but some anchored boats just sitting in the middle of the ocean. By breaking the journey here, it is possible to ensure a safer trip as the weather window required to get to New Zealand is that much shorter. There were 10 boats in the anchorage, in the middle of the huge ocean. We stayed at Minerva for three days, did a few jobs, debated the weather, socialised and went snorkelling on the reef. Quite bizarrely we had a visit from the New Zealand airforce. What a photo – thank you Bill and Moira.
As was always likely this trip has not been the most comfortable. Too much time spent motoring, or to windward but at least no storms, nasty weather or breakages. We managed to watch a whole series of Mad ad men – a suitably non taxing drama. It has got cold and the thermals have had to come out of hiding and that is definitely a change. We arrived after 7 days on a Sunday, and were cleared in within an hour. Super efficient.
We were delighted to see Bruno’s Girl just ahead of us in the Marsden Cove marina. The marina manager organised and took Julian to pick up a curry, some beer, and fizz and he even found an affordable bottle Laphroaig! How good is that.
Yes, hello New Zealand, it feels like we have landed.