Passage from Tonga to NZ
09 December 2008 | Opua, New Zealand
We have safely arrived in Opua, on the northern tip of the North Island, last night at 10 p.m.
There was quite a bit of buildup and hype for this passage. We've been sailing for several months in the trades, and it has been mostly steady winds from the ESE, with an occasional curve ball thrown in. But to get to NZ, you have to leave the friendly trades and pass through the more tempestuous variables. Sort of like stepping off a conveyor belt and into a series of revolving doors. There is a bit of a neurosis that builds up every year among the dozens of boats getting ready to depart Tonga to escape the cyclone season. Talk about the weather is non-stop. It has the potential to be an unpleasant trip, and there is much ado about a terrible storm that cut through the south-going fleet a number of years ago and the problems it caused.
We studied the weather, got a sense of its rhythm, and had the good fortune to pick an excellent window. We got one two-hour period of 40 knots, but the boat handled it well (despite our best efforts!), and we made the trip with favorable brisk winds blowing us along.
(Forty knots, by the way, is a strong gust. I think we wrote in the past about how relatively slowly we travel, at 5-6 knots, and that one can get a sense of it by trying to drive that slowly down the street. Well, to get a sense of what it is like to try to sail with 40 knots of wind, accelerate the car to 46 m.p.h. Now open the window, hold out a plastic sack, and let the wind fill it with air. See what I mean?!
We caught our first fish during the passage! My pop always asks if I've caught any fish yet. "Why do you have a boat if you aren't fishing?!" So we put out the hand-line for only the second time, late at night, two days out of New Zealand. It sat out for a few hours, and I forgot about it after a while. We ate dinner, and at 8 p.m., just before I went to bed, I remembered that I needed to take the line in for the night. I tugged, and it tugged back. "Sima, Sima!" I yelled. "Come quick!" We pulled in the line, excited that we had something, terrified that it might outweigh us both and have a sharp pointy sword attached somewhere. We pulled it close, and it didn't fight much, no doubt because I'd had him out there fighting the boat for a while. We pulled him up over the stern, and it was a good sized fish, maybe two and a half feet and 25 pounds. He flapped around on the deck, and I put him out of his misery with a cut to the back of the neck. Sima began to protest, again, that she wasn't going to eat it, and that she was now going to give up fish, as well as meat. "I'm serious," she moaned, as I began to fillet him in a pool of blood. (I know need to learn how to do that more cleanly!) We checked our reference book, and found that he was an albacore tuna. We cut out four good sized steaks. I gave them to Sima, and she took them down below to complete the cleaning. Separated from the rest of the fish, Sima's interest began to grow, and she started talking about sushi for lunch and tuna steaks for dinner the next day.
Her excitement grew through the night, and when she came off of watch the next morning, and climbed into bed, she couldn't sleep. "I'm thinking about the sushi!" Go to sleep, I urged. It's like Christmas, and the fun will be there when you wake up. "No, not Christmas. Fishmas!" she said. She made sushi the next day, and tuna steaks that night, and they were truly spectacular.
We were accompanied most of the way by a type of sea bird that we hadn't seen before. We need to get a reference book to identify these fellows. These were moderately sized (about the size of, say, a blue jay, but much sleeker), with white wings with black trim. They were graceful fliers. They would dip and soar along the waves, with their wings tucked back like jet fighters. They seemed to fly for minutes at a time without once flapping their wings, cutting, dipping, and weaving. Sometimes, as if to show off, they'd soar by the boat, their bodies vertical to the waves, and then, catching the wind at a different angle, would rotate their bodies 180 degrees in a blink, so that you were now seeing their backs rather than their fronts. They'd then curve away on a new tack. They were beautiful to watch.
It was a real adrenaline rush seeing the coast of New Zealand, as it was good to get this passage done. We entered the Bay of Islands at about 8 p.m., just as the light was starting to fade (it's summer here!), and were greeted by a school of dolphins. They swam and played just in front of our bow as we rushed into the bay, with the boat and the dolphins surfing on good sized swells that had been kicked up by a strong north wind. Sima and I ran up to the bow to watch and take pictures. It was a good five minutes before we looked up, and noticed the land a lot closer than it had been before. Oops! Sneaky dolphins and autopilot were trying to lead us on to the rocks. We corrected course, and entered the Veronica Channel, leading to the quarantine dock near the Opua Marina.
It was again a night time entry. Fortunately for us, some newly-made friends of ours had reached the quarantine dock earlier that day, and were able to guide us in by VHF and with a mast-head light. We probably could have berthed without their help, but with 20 knots of wind and some tight turns, it made it a little bit easier to have them there.
We cleared customs, quarantine, and immigration this morning after a deep sleep, and stepped foot onto New Zealand this morning. We look back at the map, and think about the long way we've come from Boston. It is a good feeling.
We look forward to exploring the island over the next couple of months, with no big passages for a while.