Day 350, Year 1: Passage to Tonga, Day 3—Sailing Wing and Wing

Day 350, Year 1: Passage to Tonga, Day 3—Sailing Wing and Wing
Date: Monday, October 2, 2006
Weather: Sunny, Rainy, Sunny
Latitude: 17 degrees 18 minutes S
Longitude 173 degrees 32 minutes W
Miles to Go: 87

What a glorious afternoon! We had no rain last night, but we also had no wind so we motored. Then around 8:30 this morning, there was enough wind to sail wing and wing. The wind was from the north and we are headed south, so it was right behind us. Then we sailed into a squall and had torrential rain for a couple of hours. When there is rain, there is sometimes no wind, and that was the case this morning. (Sometimes rain comes in squalls which can have wind gusts of 30 knots or more.) So it was back to motoring. By noon, the rain subsided and the winds switched and are now coming from the west. We have been sailing on a beam reach under cloudy, but sunny skies. The seas are calm and it has been a truly beautiful sailing afternoon. The weather report tells us that we should be in a trough and that it should be raining. Maybe that is still in front of us, but I prefer to think that the low moved on sooner than expected and that the weather is going to be beautiful in Tonga. At our current speed, we will arrive at the entrance to a very long waterway into Neiafu, Vava’u around noon. Neiafu is the town and Vava’u is the island. There are many islands in the Vava’u group of northern Tonga, but we have to go to the main island first to check-in. We have heard some negative things about the officials that come aboard to do the check-in there. Evidently they like to receive gifts. Other people said they simply grab things they want, so I guess I’ll have to put things away before we get into the harbor. We hope the stories are not true as we have not had this situation anywhere else.

Day 349, Year 1: Passage to Tonga, Day 2—Looking Back

Day 349, Year 1: Passage to Tonga, Day 2—Looking Back
Date: Sunday, October 1, 2006
Weather: Overcast, Rainy Morning with Clearing in the Afternoon
Latitude: 15 degrees 28 minutes S
Longitude: 172 degrees 49 minutes W
Location: Passage from Apia, Samoa to Tonga, Day 2
Miles to Go: 209

Just about midnight, the official beginning of this day, the winds increased enough to allow us to sail. Since squalls and heavy wind gusts have plagued us all season, it is standard for us to have the mainsail double-reefed, with a full headsail. During the night the wind was from the northeast which is right behind us. It seems like it has been like this on every passage we have made, no matter what direction we are going. I’m beginning to think the wind gods check to see where we are going and decide to push us along. As night gave way to dawn, the sun tried very hard to shine through a totally overcast sky, but all it could do was produce a few streaks of hot pink for about five minutes just as the sun was rising above the horizon. After that, the sun has stayed hidden all day. We had rain all morning and in the early part of the afternoon. But as the afternoon progresses, the rain has subsided and we are starting to see some blue on the horizon in front of us. It appears that we have gone through the Convergence Zone south of Samoa and possibly the low that is hanging over Tonga is starting to move eastward. That would be nice, but we will just have to see. We heard the first radio weather report this morning admitting that we are in the beginning stages of a weak El Nino. All those of us out here cruising really know is that it has been a challenging weather year.

During night passage, I started reading James Michener’s Return to Paradise. It was written in 1950, only a few years after Michener had served in the military in the Pacific during World War II. It immediately became fascinating to me just how much some things have changed in the intervening 50 plus years. Papeete is no longer the romantic port he describes, and yet some things have not changed at all. Sitting in Tahiti and watching a golden sunrise over Moorea is as beautiful today as it was then. He speaks of American Samoa as a “jovial little island three or four generations behind the rest of Polynesia in cultural advancement.” This is certainly not the case today due to United States intervention in the 1960’s. Whether or not that was a good thing will be debated for years to come, but the point here is that the South Pacific is a very different place in 2006. It is still beautiful, still fascinating, but ever changing. We have seen so much that it is hard to digest it all. When people ask which island is the most beautiful or how the people are different from island to island, it is hard to answer. The Samoas certainly get the award for being the hottest, and in the end, I think they will also end up to be the most beautiful. They also still live Fa’a Samoa, the Samoan way, even while listening to hip-hop music and eating at McDonald’s. We loved Moorea and thought it’s beauty would be impossible to top. And before that, Fatu Hiva and Ua Pou in the Marquesas had won our hearts. Once we reach New Zealand and look back on the whole of the South Pacific, I think we will have a clearer view. But now we are studying a whole new culture, that of Tonga. And if we decide to go on to Fiji, we will add that to our repertoire of stops along the way of the voyage of Windbird.

So far this passage has been a calm one with moderate to no wind and calm seas. And still I find it challenging to maneuver in the cabin on two legs. How I ever made the rough passages from Raiatea to Rarotonga and then Rarotonga to American Samoa on one leg I will never know. Although I can now walk on both legs, my right leg near the break area tends to swell terribly. In fact, my whole foot swells, but when I put it up and ice it, the swelling does go down. I walk with a bit of a limp as I still do not have the full range of motion in the ankle area of the broken leg, but I think I just need to keep exercising and be patient. In Tonga, we should be anchoring in areas where I can just jump off the boat and swim and snorkel. We have not had that luxury since Bora Bora, so we look forward to that. I know that kind of exercise will be great for the leg.

We are keeping in regular radio contact with John and Janice on Splashes who are heading south with us and tonight at 5:30 we hope to check in with Doug and Sylvie on Windcastle. On this morning’s net, they reported that they would be leaving Apia today for Tonga. We should arrive in Neiafu in the Vava’u group on Tuesday morning and Windcastle should arrive on Wednesday morning. We also heard Sherri and Randy on Procyon on the net this morning. Evidently they are back from their trip home to the US and are sailing to Rarotonga. They should arrive there tomorrow morning. I’m not sure we’ll see them until we get to New Zealand, but it was great to hear their voices.

Day 348, Year 1: Passage to Tonga, Day 1—Happy Birthday to Heather!

Day 348, Year 1: Passage to Tonga, Day 1—Happy Birthday to Heather
Date: Saturday, September 30, 2006
Weather: The Calm Before the Storm
Location: Passage from Apia, Samoa to Tonga, Day 1

Today is our daughter Heather’s birthday. She emailed that she would like to go sailing tomorrow, so we sure hope she gets her wish. She and Jed are completing a move to a new house, and I’m sure they are both exhausted. Heather, we hope the move is completed and we hope you had a wonderful birthday.

We left Apia at about 2 o’clock this afternoon and as the sun is getting ready to set, we are approaching the Apolima Strait between the islands of Upolu and Savai’i. We left with another boat, Splashes, also headed for Tonga. We had hoped that Windcastle would be leaving with us, but they are resting today and will follow tomorrow. We just had a radio conversation with John and Janice on Splashes and they are sailing. The wind is coming from the northeast and is right behind us. After struggling with a downwind sail with not much wind, we decided to motor-sail until we get through the strait. We will then head more to the south and hope that we can get on a tack where we can sail without the motor support. After seven weeks in the Samoas with only an overnight sail from American Samoa to Independent Samoa, it feels good to be underway again.

We are headed Vava’u in northern Tonga and how long we stay there will depend on just how much we like it. It is definitely a country in mourning and we have not heard how that is affecting visitors. First the Crown Prince and Princess were killed in an automobile accident in the United States and then just before Justin and Lynn arrived in Samoa, the King of Tonga died. Right now the entire country is in the middle of a month of mourning for the King. Our tourist information tells us that actually the country mourns for a full year. We have been asked to wear black when we go ashore. So this stop could be most interesting.

Last night when we went to Cruiser’s Night at the dock we found out from Doug on Windcastle that there was an earthquake between Tonga and Savai’i on Wednesday night. He knew because he and Sylvie were at Aggie Grey’s Fia Fia Night. During a particularly rambunctious Samoan slap dance, the floor started vibrating and the shell chandeliers were swaying. Since volcanoes are Doug’s expertise, he realized sooner than others that the vibrating and swaying were not caused by the dancing, but by an earthquake. As it turns out, the quake location was185 miles southwest of Pago Pago. It was a 6.7 on the scale, but was 27 miles below the surface of the sea. A tsunami was generated but the quake was too far away from land for the tsunami to cause a problem. There was a volcanic eruption in northern Tonga a couple of months ago and cruisers are still having to avoid the huge pumice field that is floating about between Tonga and Fiji. Add this to the strange weather we have been encountering, and it makes for an interesting cruising year in the South Pacific.

Mark and I went into town to do our final shopping this morning and spend the last of our Samoan talas. When we finished, we got into a cab and the song playing was Kokomo from the Cocktail CD. When I heard this, I knew it was time to move on!

The sun has set and darkness is moving in, along with a little rain. We learned this morning that there is a low sitting on top of Tonga that is causing cloudy and rainy weather. We expect a fair bit of rain on our trip south, but hope that the low will have moved on by the time we arrive. I understand that the water is crystal clear and that the snorkeling is fantastic in Tonga. We’ll just have to put up with a little rain between here and there. Let’s just hope it doesn’t get too stormy.