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s/v Sand Dollar
Wednesday, October 3, 2007 - Roller Coaster Ride
10/03/2007, En route from Neiafu, Tonga to Levuka, Fiji

The wind has been between 25 and 30 knots all day and the rain has returned. The sailing has been "boisterous" as we say. At least we are making good time. The noon-to-noon distance was 147 miles for an average speed of 6.1 knots. I would give up some speed for nicer weather. The solar panels are putting out almost nothing so I run the engine a bit each day to charge the batteries.

All else is well onboard except for being hungry, wet, tired and cold. Are we having fun yet?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007 - Goodbye Tonga and Rain
10/02/2007, En route from Neiafu, Tonga to Levuka, Fiji

Sand Dollar departed Tonga at 6:50 AM today along with at least seven other boats bound for various ports in Fiji. The rain has stopped and we finally saw some sunshine. The sailing has be brisk with 20 knots of wind almost dead astern. We have two reefs in the mainsail and a poled-out genoa to give about 6.2 kts. of boat speed. There is some rolling but the motion is comfortable.

The new crew, Laure, is working out well so far. She is eager to learn, enjoys working the boat and does not get seasick. We are doing three hours on and three hours off which is quite a luxury for me. I won't know what to do with all the spare time.

All else is well onboard although it is taking me awhile to get used to the cool evenings.

Monday, October 1, 2007 - Back in Neiafu
10/01/2007, Neiafu, Tonga

The weather has been cold and wet the past five days. I have not seen the sun for more than an hour or two and the rain just keeps coming, sometime heavy and sometimes a drizzle. This could be Seattle!

Sand Dollar has checked out of Tonga and is departing early tomorrow morning for Fiji. The passage is 408 miles and crosses the Lau Group of islands which are poorly charted and littered with reefs. This is a difficult passage for a single-hander and, for this reason, Sand Dollar has taken on crew. The new hand is a very experienced and highly recommended young French woman who is crewing her way from Europe to Australia. She will help me take the boat to Fiji and then probably look for another boat going to Oz. There are five other boats leaving about the same time tomorrow and we have set up a radio net to keep in touch and track positions. The passage will take four days unless the wind is very light, which is unlikely.

All else is well onboard. We are all anxious for a return tropical weather.

Saturday, September 29, 2007 - Tongan Feast
09/29/2007, Vava'u Island, Tonga

The wind blew so hard last night and early this morning that I got little sleep. The anchor held just fine but I never sleep well when the wind is over 25 knots. At about 8 AM the other two boats in the anchorage called to report that they were leaving soon to find better protection in another anchorage. The tide was almost high so it was a good time to leave and negotiate the shallow water exit. We all left together in single file to minimize the chance of running aground. The weather has continued to be disagreeable the entire day. It is so cold I find it necessary to put on a jacket.

The new anchorage, Tafana Island, offers much better protection from the wind and was the site of tonight's weekly Tongan feast on the beach. There were about 40 cruisers in attendance and we all ate traditional foods with our hands and watched the local dancers, mostly grade school kids. It was a most enjoyable affair despite the cold and rain.

All else is well onboard. Tomorrow is Sunday so the island will be very quiet.

Friday, September 28, 2007 - Quiet Anchorage
09/28/2007, Vava'u Island, Tonga

There seems to be very little fish life in Tongan waters, probably because of over-harvesting by local subsistence fishermen. I approached and talked to such a fisherman this afternoon who had spent the entire day gathering a couple dozen reef fish the size of my hand. He seemed to be somewhat embarrassed by the size of his catch. I have had no luck whatsoever fishing these islands and have begun to lose interest.

The anchorage, nonetheless, is quiet and beautiful. I'll stay here until tomorrow, then head to Tapana Island for a Tongan feast on Saturday evening.

All else is well onboard.

Thursday, September 27, 2007 - Wild Night
09/27/2007, Neiafu, Tonga

Last night in the anchorage at Neiafu with heavy, dark clouds overhead, the wind went from an absolute dead calm to 30 knots in a matter of 10 seconds. A particularly strong squall passed through dumping enormous quantities of rain and blowing so hard that travel to and from shore was impossible for several hours. Those cruisers leisurely dining at waterfront restaurants were suddenly in a panic to know whether their anchors or moorings were holding and were crowding the VHF radio channels to ask neighboring boats for reports. Most of the 80 odd boats were on secure moorings and no one broke loose or dragged their anchor. Out in one of the distant anchorages a frantic crew on a Seattle Boat, "Sisutyl" was calling for assistance as their boat had been blown aground and they were unable to free her as the tide was dropping. No one was able to reach them because of zero visibility and extremely difficult navigation around reefs. Fortunately, they settled on smooth sand and waited for the tide to rise in the morning after which they reported to be "floating like a cork" with only very minor damage. It was a lively night on the water and on the radio.

This afternoon Sand Dollar finally escaped the clutches of civilization and headed out for a few days to a remote anchorage 16 miles to the east. There were three other boats there, two of which belonged to American friends. The navigation around numerous coral patches and sand bars was challenging and could only be attempted in good sunlight. The anchorage is well-protected and offers good holding but the little snorkeling I did was not too exciting. There are three small uninhabited islands nearby calling out for exploration.

All else is well onboard. Radio transmission is now much better after leaving the proximity of high hills and many tall masts.

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Sand Dollar
Who: Don Pratten
Port: Beaux Arts, WA
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