10/15/2009, Minerva Reef
The weather gods (and Bob McDavitt) have spoken. Over the last two days we have been working with Bob to create a passage plan from Minerva to NZ, but kept running into a moderately nasty low coming out of the Tasman Sea. Our first pass would have had us with 35 knots on the beam for 18 hours. Didn't like that. Second pass the next day had us motoring *into* 30 knot winds for 30 hours, making 3 knots of headway.. I can hear Follow You shuddering at the prospect. We knew the nice window of SE winds to get us down to that area would be closing soon, and today it did. If we left tomorrow, we would hit the remnants of that front 2-3 days out and it would make life tough, motoring into 25 knot winds while trying to get west. So instead we will hang out here at Minerva for 3-5 days while the front passes to the east and wait for the next window. We've got plenty of food, plenty of water, plenty of wine LOL, plenty of fuel, so we're good to go.
Tomorrow we're on the hunt for lobster, which are rumored to be making a comeback after the population was ravaged by commercial interests several years ago. We'll re-inflate the dinghy and explore the entire reef - all two miles of it, and enjoy the fact that there is only us and Kaumoana here. Clark Gable and Geminus must have kept going. It will be interesting to hear on the SSB net what kind of weather they hit in the next day or two as they encounter the front that we didn't like.
10/14/2009, 407 Miles Southwest of Vavau
After 3 days at sea, we entered the churning pass at Minerva yesterday. Since our weather window does not look great, we are going to stay at least one more day before continuing our passage. This place is too cool. a circular reef two miles across out in the middle of nowhere.. The clearest water we have seen, warm and great weather. The crew of Kaumoana came for dinner tonight and we obsessed over the float plan provided by Bob McDavitt, coming to the conclusion that we can do better. whether tomorrow or in 5 days.If we left tomorrow we would be in 40 knot winds 200 miles off NZ. not fun.
In the pic above, we traversed the narrow pass into Minerva in 3-4 knots of current, where if you don't keep the boat pointed right into the current, you can easily find yourself on a reef. Nice butt huh? I'm talking about the boat.
10/13/2009, 23 39.7'S:178 54.6'W, 407 Miles Southwest of Vavau
Well, decisions made. based on a weather report that said there would be plenty of overnight wind, we made a dash for Minerva Reef. Winds built all night, along with a bunch of rain, as the South Pacific Convergence Zone threw its best at us. Wind waves continued to build behind the boat, pooping us several times, with 4 inches of water spilling into the cockpit from behind. The crew and boat handled it well, however, given our experiences coming out of Bora Bora a couple months ago. Things got interesting around 2am, however, when the winds, while still strong, shifted direction by more than 20 degrees back and forth several times. In a flash, we went from a well controlled boat to total chaos. The 22 knot winds gusted to 27 knots and backwinded the main. The preventer held, but a fairlead blew, allowing the main to shift enough to spin the boat around in about 10 seconds. The seas were big enough to toss the boat around, throwing Rina and I around the cockpit as w e tried to tame the mainsail. I was at the helm and Rina was centering the main and preparing to reef. For the life of me, I could not get the helm to answer, and the boat stalled. I quickly started the engine and tried to point into the wind as Rina fought the furling line. Unfortunately it jumped off its winch at the base of the mast and I had to quickly attach a tether to the jackline and climb on my hands and knees to the mast and thread the furling line on the mast winch in the driving rain and wind. The furling line went on easy enough and I crawled back to the cockpit as Rina furled the main. I pointed the boat downwind once again and under reefed main we began sailing again. In a matter of 10 minutes we went from calm to chaos and back. The only difference was the adrenaline pulsing through our systems.
We traversed 65 miles of rain and strong winds overnight and into the morning as we neared Minerva. Amazingly, during the afternoon, the skies cleared and as we neared the reef, the sun broke through the clouds and finally blue skies prevailed just as we needed it to help traverse the pass inside the reef. A 3 knot current made it interesting, but once inside, the calm blue waters were a vibrant contrast to the conditions outside the reef.
We settled at anchor to a gorgeous sunset and prepared the boat for the continuation of our passage to Opua, transferring fuel to the main tank, fixing a frayed mainsail and cleaning the detritus of 3 days at sea. BBQ'd burgers and home-made fries for dinner and a movie, followed by a good nights sleep. Yum!
Total miles covered: 407 Miles to go: 842 Winds: 18-32 from all directions Avg Speed: 5 knots Sea Temperature: 71
10/12/2009, 22 18.6'S:177 40.9'W, 300 Miles Southwest of Vavau
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions. Passages are all about trade-offs... rhumbline course vs boat speed, when to motor, at what rpm to preserve fuel, crew comfort over night, predicting how weather, wind direction and speed play into all the above. All of which makes for quite the equation, which changes daily. Our current conundrum is whether to motor to make Minerva Reef by dusk tomorrow. Currently it looks like we'll be laying over for a couple of days waiting for a better weather window to approach Opua. But the current weather is not cooperating. We're in squally weather with fluky winds which have backed from the SE around to the N and died, when they were predicted by Buoyweather to stay strong all night. We'll need to maintain a 5.5 knot avg speed to make it before 17:00, but at what cost in fuel? So far we've used about 25 gallons, or 14% of our fuel, and we have covered 300 or 24% of our total miles. Not bad, but with winds dying tomorrow, that difference will be burned up. So the question is whether to take any available wind and get to Minerva when we get there or power on in before dusk. If we're going to stay for a couple of days anyway, preserve the fuel. the thought of a quiet night at anchor is alluring however.After discussing with Rich on Kaumoana, we deferred that call until the morning, when we will know how much sailing we got in over night.
Otherwise, it's raining, seas are pretty flat, with long period 2M swells and the ride has been comfortable. One piece of decadence on board is the plastic side panels that completely enclose the cockpit. We put them up tonight just in time, as it's coming down in buckets and Rina, on watch, is nice and comfy at the helm. Dinner of garlic spaghetti and coleslaw, a family favorite tonight.yum!
Total miles covered: 300 Miles to go: 929 Winds: SE 12-18 turning to NW 18-22, then N at 11 Avg Speed: 5 knots Sea Temperature: 70, down from 75 at Vavau
10/11/2009, 20 40.4'S:176 21.7'W, 183 Miles Southwest of Vavau
Sun, smooth seas, and light winds yesterday gave way to a decent Northwest breeze today, turning to squalls later in the day, slowing progress. We are tracking well towards Minerva Reef, some 200 miles ahead of us. We're now 4 boats, joined by Ian on Geminus, within 20 miles of Follow You, Kaumoana and Clark Gable. Rina has prepared a bunch of meals that only require a quick reheat in the microwave. Making meals in a heaving galley is no fun..Last night was vegetable chow mein and tonight was chili, made by Tess at the Crows Next in Vavau. she make great provisioning meals for cruisers along with her great Indian food and bakery items.
Total miles covered: 183 Miles to go: 1051 Winds: NE 12-18 turning to SW 15-18 Avg Speed: 4.5 knots
10/10/2009, 19 29.2'S:174 44.1'W, 72 Miles Southwest of Vavau
With some sadness we said goodbye to many friends this morning as we headed out of Neaifu Bay for the last time. Under clear skies, flat seas, and a welcome Northeast wind, we motorsailed South in the company of Rich and Suzanne on Kaumoana, friends from way back in Mexico, and Terry and Amanda on Clark Gable, new friends who are jumping to New Zealand at the same time. It's funny how new (to us) cruisers quickly become friends when there is a common passage planned. The 3 of us are taking advantage of the benign conditions to get to Minerva Reef, some 400 miles Southwest where we will make the call to either continue the 800 miles to Opua, or wait for a better weather window, aided by Bob McDermitt, a weather router from NZ.
It's all about timing.. Several boats are getting whacked 100 miles North of New Zealand right now with 40 knot winds and 6 meter seas. drogues and sea anchors have been deployed, apparently.. Several others decided to wait out the offending low in Minerva until it passes to the East.
We should get more wind tomorrow as the Southeast Trades kick back in, then we'll traverse a mild low, where winds are less consistent but squalls will keep us on our toes. If all goes well we'll be in New Zealand on the 20th.
Preparing for this passage has clearly turned us into weather junkies (if you couldn't already tell) given the stakes of getting it wrong.. Time will tell!
Miles covered: 72 Miles to go: 1171 Winds: NE 7-12 Avg Speed: 6 knots
Rina and I are wrapping up more than seven weeks in Tonga and heading to New Zealand tomorrow. Our time in Vava'u has been very special. The comfort of company from the states, many good cruising friends, and the ability of music to bridge cultures has created opportunities to hang with the locals in what is otherwise a pretty closed society. I don't pretend that we've gotten inside the culture, but just hanging with Tongans and playing music for seven weeks with them has opened doors that I don't think get opened much.
For most of the time here, I have been lucky to play Djembe with the Ano Beach Band. Ano Beach puts on a Tongan Feast every Saturday night and I brought my drum one night and got invited back to play every week. The music is mostly Tongan folk style, requiring a steady bass beat and not much else. Luckily, the band also backs up a father/son fire dance, so we get to rock the house with fast Polynesian rhythms and it has been a challenge for both my chops and learning the beat. Straight 4/4 it is not. Eventually I learned the chants that preceded breaks in the beat and how to anticipate what was next... It's something I always wanted to learn...and it was very cool when I eventually got tight with the rest of the rhythm section.
This last week I got a call on the VHF from Maka, the patriarch of the Ano Beach village, asking me if I wanted to join the village at a festival, where they would compete with all the other villages in Vava'u. We ran across the same thing in Bora Bora. (See Drum Corps in Paradise, in the blog archives) I told him I was honored to be invited and he said he would pick me up Friday night. Luckily I was able to play a gig with Hipnautical at the Vava'u Yacht club earlier in the night, before Rina and I headed over for the festival.
In Tonga, a Palongi is a foreigner or white person. In some cultures it is a racial slur, but here it is simply how the Tongans identify the many foreigners that live amongst them. When we arrived at the festival, Rina and I were the only palongis among the 2000 or so gathered to watch. It was very much a family affair. While each village put its best dancers on the basketball court stage, it was clear that the closed Tongan culture revolves very much around family. A quick read of "Making Sense of Tonga" helps visitors gain some insight into the Tongan ways and gives an appreciation of how strong family ties bind the culture. As I first entered the stage area, it was clear that it was way out of the ordinary to have a palongi participate... Rina, sitting along the periphery of the crowd, noted that the chatter going on around her included the word palongi many times.
In all, the Ano Beach band played 3 different times, supporting their own plus another village's dancers. Throughout the festivities, people from the crowd would come up and slip 1 Panga (Tongan dollar) notes in the collar of the various performers. It seems that family and friends do so to recognize the efforts of the performers. In our last performance, I was surprised by a tug on my collar, and as I looked up, an elderly gentleman in a tie, who was one of the master of ceremonies, slipped a 1 Panga note in my collar and smiled, thanking me for performing. Afterwards, Maka explained that it was quite special to be recognized by somebody high up in the hierarchy, recognizing that not very many palongis make the effort, or if they do, don't always feel comfortable within the culture. I very much did.... Music kinda does that for me.
The night was certainly special, and a great way to make our exit from the tropics... Now it's on to New Zealand, where we will be hanging out in Opua and the Bay of Islands for several weeks before heading home for the holidays in December for 6 weeks. We've been in the warm South Pacific for seven months now, and we will be in for a shock as we head south of 30 degrees Latitude, where water and air temperatures are both in the 50's as Spring has just barely sprung down under. Cold weather clothes and foulies will be the order of the day...
We will blog often during our passage to New Zealand, which has historically been one of the more challenging ones given the extreme weather that spins out of the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand... We are in good hands, however, having hired a weather router to help watch our backs as we move South, giving us advice on how to best avoid the nasty stuff. Stay tuned....
Gallery has been updated and commented with pics from a very special night with the Ano Beach Band at a local festival.
09/30/2009, Vava'u, Tonga
We were woken up Wednesday morning to the sounds of excited voices on the VHF radio, which we leave on at night for emergencies. As the morning "net" started at 830am, it was clear that something big had happened. An 8.0 earthquake between Samoa and American Samoa had set off tsunami alerts across the region and the first reports were beginning to filter in. The Vava'u Island Group is a disorganized smattering of islands, with the northern area more protected than the south. Those boats in the coral anchorages to the South reported tidal changes of 2 meters or more, often exposing reef areas that, according to the locals, have *never* been exposed. Water would rush in and out of these areas in 10-15 minute cycles, creating 3-5 knot currents. Most boats avoided damage, but a few got scratched up against reefs in the swirling water.
Follow You was tied to a mooring ball in Neiafu Bay, which is 6 miles up a long fjord-like passage. Thus, we did not see near the tidal swings that the South anchorages experienced. I noted several ups and downs, but all were less than half a meter, which is less that of the normal tidal range.
Later that morning, Tonga police loudspeakers announced the Tsunami warning and most if not all Tongan-run businesses closed down to allow people to be home with families. There were reports from some of the North facing villages sustained damage, with flooding to some of the schools. Interestingly, Rina had just visited some of these low-lying schools as part of a group of "Palongi" women who helped the local dentist teach the kids how to brush their teeth while the dentist lined the kids up and checked their teeth. In some cases, he did extractions right on the spot.
As the day progressed, reports from Samoa and Niuatoputapu filtered in via the SSB nets. While most boats survived, several were pushed ashore in Pago Pago, Samoa and at least one cruiser perished after being swept off the docks trying to get to his boat and out to sea. Niuatoputapu is a very low-lying island north of Vavau and there were reports of 8-10 fatalities among the very small community that is popular with cruisers.
Updates continue today, and are now making their way into print... Some resources
First hand Report from sv Gallivanter via Latitude
Lots of pictures and updates via the New Zealand Herald
Follow You remains safely moored where we are preparing for our passage to New Zealand in mid October....
We've also been working on our sailing plans for 2010 and will have some news to share shortly....
...Also known under its working title "Clusterf*** in Paradise". Where do I start. Well, loyal blog readers may remember a particularly ugly passage we made from Tongatapu to Vavau in late August... 26 hours of big wind driven beam seas that broke over the starboard bow for most of the journey. Little did we know that the seeds of our misery had been planted, without our knowledge, at that time.
After that passage, we just wanted to get into vacation mode with Phil and Josie, and that we did. Maintenance was deferred and we took off our critical thinking caps for awhile. It worked, and we had a great time until we decided it was time to shove off from our mooring ball in Neiafu Harbor to head for the one of the many anchorages in the Vava'u island group with Seth and Elizabeth from Honeymoon. We cast off our bow line and headed out of the mooring field until Rina yelled that the trusty Yanmar had stalled. She tried to re-start the engine but no joy... I hailed Seth who towed us back to the safety of our mooring ball in his dink while we figured out what was going on.
Earlier that day, Seth and I had transferred a bunch of diesel jerry jugs from the dock to our respective boats and we topped off our forward 67 gallon tank. Strangely, it did not take as much fuel as expected before venting a few drops, signaling full. Before doing so, I transferred what I thought was the remaining diesel to our aft tank, which feeds the Yanmar. As the fuel transferred, I noticed the fuel pump changing tone now and then, but assumed I was near the end of the tank and was getting some air. How wrong I was.
After mooring, I checked the engine, but saw nothing unusual. Then I noticed the cloudy liquid in the clear glass bowl of the Racor 500 fuel filter. I switched over to a parallel filter and it immediately filled with cloudy liquid....uh-oh. I then tried to drain some of the liquid into a baggy to investigate further and found that the liquid was 100% water. But where did it come from? The new fuel? Probably not...a little condensation? not likely... Then I thought back to my fuel transfer...double uh-oh. After draining almost a gallon from the racor filter, I realized I had a big problem on my hands.
I purged all the water from the aft tank, changed the primary and secondary filters, but the engine would still not start. Just then, Peter from Bagheera, an imminently friendly and helpful Brit stopped by, and after hearing my tales of woe, helped me pull the injector lines, cranked the engine and got nothing but water. After an hour of cranking the engine, (with the seacock closed) we got enough water out of the injector pump and injector lines to finally turn over the engine, which purred nicely. Bullet dodged...
One of our first investments on the boat was a Filter Boss, with dual Racor 500's, an auxiliary fuel pump and the ability to cycle fuel from the fuel tank through the filters and back into the tank via the return line. We cycled fuel for a couple of hours until the fuel was clear again.
It was at this point that we started to put together the puzzle pieces... 1) waves bashing the starboard bow, where the vent for the forward tank exits, 2) forward tank full before expected, LOTS of water expelled...3) strange noises emanating from the fuel pump... We deferred investigating the forward tank until Phil and Josie left... no use screwing up our time together any further. Denial could only carry us so far, however.
Yesterday Rina and I had our ugly day of reckoning with the forward tank. We spent 6 hours de-watering and filtering 67 gallons of diesel fuel. We manually separated 15 gallons of fuel from the forward tank, yielding 3 gallons of water. (gory details upon request) Once the fuel coming from the forward tank turned clear, we attached the forward tank hose directly into the Filter Boss and filtered it before passing 40 gallons into the main tank. Then we noticed the fuel pump tone change and again manually filtered the water out. This netted another 1-2 gallons of water. At the end of this process, both Rina and I and much of the salon sole (floor) had a smelly sheen of diesel. The boat was completely torn up, reeked of diesel and we were fed up.
After a lovely night of diesel fumes we cleaned up the boat and investigated how the water entered the tank. Sure enough, the aftermarket tank we had installed did NOT have a riser loop, instead, the vent hose came out of the fitting and went down to the tank... a recipe for disaster. We fixed that by pulling the slack up into a 10" riser and adjusted the angle of the vent to keep water from moving up the hull vertically into the vent.
It could have been a lot worse.... Salt water corrosion could have killed a very expensive fuel injector pump, or filled the cylinders with water and bent a rod....If there is a silver lining, it was that we quickly diagnosed and fixed the immediate problem, found the root cause and fixed that, and the diesel smell has gone away, except in our nightmares.
Lessons learned: Trust your instincts when you hear something unexpected... check the work of 3rd party installers closely... and trust in your Filter Boss!