Day 370, Year 1: A Little Change in Plans—But Still On Our Way to New Zealand
Date: Monday, October 23, 2006
Weather: Clear Blue Skies and Sunny with Lots of Wind
Latitude: 18 degrees 45.04 minutes S
Longitude: 174 degrees 04.92 minutes W
Location: Ovalau Island, Vava’u Group, Tonga

Today started as planned. By 7:35 am Quantum Leap was tied to the main dock in Neiafu and we were rafted up to them. Shortly after we got settled, Wind Pony came into the dock and Procyon rafted up to them. We were ready for taking on fuel and for checking out, but we knew Customs wouldn’t be open until 8:30 and the fuel wouldn’t arrive until 10:00. But we wanted to be ready and we were.

Sheri on Procyon and myself stayed on our boats and listened to the weather while everyone else went into the market for last minute shopping. Weather had changed overnight and some things we heard made us think that leaving today was not the right decision. The tropical depression far north and west of us has developed into the first tropical cyclone of the season. It has been named Xavier but it will not be affecting us. It is moving very, very slowly to the southwest. But it is probably going to spawn some low pressure systems that will head our way. Overnight we got another report from Bob McDavitt out of New Zealand which basically said that October 29 is the only day between now and November 2 that might be good for approaching the northern islands of New Zealand. There is absolutely no chance that we could get there by then, so I emailed him again this morning and asked for an update considering all of the weather changes. After attending yet another captains’ meeting, receiving the updated McDavitt weather routing information, and listening to all of the local weather nets, we made a change in plans. We decided to come out to a beautiful anchorage for tonight and leave, not for New Zealand, but for Minerva Reef, in the morning. It is about 400 miles and will take us about three days. We should arrive there before any low pressure systems spawned by the cyclone reach Tonga or Minerva. We will sit inside the reef for about four days waiting for better weather, and then on October 31 we will head to New Zealand, arriving there around November 5. If we do this, we will be leaving on Halloween and arriving with a full moon. At least that is today’s plan.

We are not leaving this anchorage until we listen to the weather in the morning. And that could change everything again. I have said over and over that flexibility is the name of the sailing game. For a passage like the one to New Zealand, you have to be ready to go, but you can never just go because that is what you planned. The weather RULES!

If you are reading this log, you probably know how to find New Zealand on a map, and you might know where Tonga is, but I doubt that you know how to find Minerva Reef. There are actually two reefs, North Minerva and South Minerva. These reefs are about 400 miles southwest of here, basically on the way to New Zealand. Anchoring there looks like you are anchored in the middle of ocean, but at low tide, the reef is about three feet above water level. At high tide, you can’t see the reef and it can be a little rolly inside, but that only lasts a couple of hours and then you are in calm waters once again as the tide recedes. Many sailors use this as a place to stop on the way to New Zealand. Since it is only about six days from the north coast of NZ, it is much easier to predict the weather from there. Weather models are good out five days or so. Anything beyond that is just a guess.

So, our passage should begin tomorrow. We should be in Minerva Reef by Friday, October 27. We will stay there about four days and then, weather permitting; we will head to New Zealand. This could change again in the morning, but I doubt it. I think we have a good window for getting to Minerva, so away we will go.

And for tonight, we are enjoying a delightfully beautiful anchorage behind a reef between two small islands. We are reasonably protected from the swell, but most of the wind still reaches us with a howl. The white sand beaches, the aquamarine water and swaying coconut palms make this the setting for everyone’s Pacific island dreams.

061023 Day 370 Tonga, Vava'u–Neiafu to Ovalau Island