Back to the World of Sky, Wind & Water
03 November 2012 | Underway to Opua, New Zealand
After days of nail biting, on again, off again potential weather window talk, we've set off again, committed to this final leg to Opua. Definitely not in the trade winds anymore and not in the tropics for that matter. We've been so excited to see New Zealand but now it does hit us that there's a price to pay and that is much cooler, drier air, weather systems galore and we can put away the dive stuff for a spell since we said goodbye to the coral reefs at Minerva this morning.
We had a few more days in the Ha'apai group of Tonga and then had to rush down to the last island- the capitol of Tonga to sit out a frontal passage. On the way down, were were in an interesting underwater topography area. One minute we'd be on soundings in 65 feet or so and then the next, 2000. Then back up to 100, then plunging down again. Yikes! We caught 8 skipjack tuna, set free all but one, then hooked 2 big fish and lost them both along with a lure on one pole and the hook on another. Bummer. This front was the first weather we've had to sort of really think about for so long we can't remember. Everything went OK, the front passed uneventfully, we filled our water tanks and the boat got a good rinse. We anchored behind the popular yachtie island Pangaimotu that has Big Mama's Resort on it. She is a wonderful Tongan lady who really caters to sailors, has a nice sandy beachfront restaurant, a book swap, all the services boaters need like laundry & propane filling and a nice happy hour to get everyone together. On our last night there, she celebrated her birthday by inviting all the boaters to a free Tongan feast. There was live music, the usual Tongan feast food and birthday cake! It was a great evening and the last time we would all be together until we meet up again in NZ.
We spent a couple days doing last minute errands and exploring the capitol city of Nukua'ofa. It had a neat, expansive produce market that was inside but there was a skylight and when we entered the market, a shaft of light was casting down on the tables laden with brightly colored produce and the image really struck me. These markets, this gritty but functional way of living is something we continue to experience just as we did in Central America & parts of the Caribbean. Must be most of the world is like this. We haven't traveled far enough to know. After all, the Caribbean and Central America are just a small part of the world. But we're getting the picture now.
We took some nice walks along a new waterfront path in Nukua'ofa and checked out the palace since it is the Kingdom of Tonga but there weren't many attractions or reasons to rent a car or anything that we could see. We got the go ahead to depart for Minerva Reef 250 miles toward New Zealand with a light forecast so several boats took it and headed out. In the end, the weather wasn't light & after the first day the wind was on the nose with large, short period seas and there was nothing to do but tack back & forth motorsailing to try and punch through the seas until we were close and then head directly into them to get to the reef opening. Going through the reef break into that calm lagoon was heavenly and the fact that Minerva Reef atoll exists is something out of a dream to begin with. There is nothing there- nothing to meet the eye until you're nearly upon it. A near perfect circular reef that's about 1/8 mile wide serving as a great wavebreak for the inner lagoon which is less than 100 feet deep. It isn't coral bound inside so you can sail within the lagoon to a lovely lee anchorage behind the reef. There is no one there, no islands, just the reef which you can walk on at low tide because the top is pretty bare but in the water, there are loads of fish and life along the inner reef edge. We got a super look at an octopus yesterday who was very cooperative and stayed out and active while the 4 of us (Bob & Sue) just hung in the water looking & snapping pictures. Whenever you wanted you could stand up in the shallow water at the reef's edge and look out across the 1/8 mile flat reef since it was low tide and the lagoon was being filled by the sea outside like a waterfall. Right before we called it quits for the day, Jon speared 3 snapper so we had fresh, tender reef fish last night and we appreciated all over again how they are not so "meaty" as pelagic fish. Both have their appeal.
Unfortunately, our brief 2 day stay at Minerva wasn't all fun & games since we had things we needed to do as well. As I took the mainsail down upon arrival, I realized there was a lot of wear on the webbing of the mast track cars from all the downwind sailing. It was only on the starboard side since that's the side the sail was on for all that lovely coconut milk run sailing we did! So we had to replace those fittings. We tightened the rig yesterday which took hours since you have to keep the mast in line while tinkering with 8 stays but we hope it was worthwhile. And we stowed some more things like the second anchor to to be ready for whatever is thrown at us on this next leg of the journey. We were all set to "have" to stay for 4 days for the next weather opening but we came back from a great gathering of the all the boats in the anchorage on a friend's catamaran to an email from our weather router advising that we should leave.
So, we reluctantly departed today over glassy, crystal clear, turquoise water where you could see the fish swimming around at 55 feet. We promise ourselves we'll come back next season when conditions are supposedly more stable in this part of the ocean. We could make an arc this way on the way to Fiji. It really is a special place. As we stood together ankle deep on top of the reef taking in the moonscape, Sue remarked that this is the meaning of life- what you feel when you look at that scenery and wonder how it could possibly be.
On this first night we are motoring under calm conditions with the promise of wind tomorrow and then more wind and then ???. There is stuff developing but the trip is too long to predict at this point. Nothing really matters except the weather, the integrity & function of our moving home and of course our health & safely. We have 850 miles, should take us about 6 days but then that's if we don't get hung up zig zagging again (God forbid we have to TACK!)or trying to run from something. Or told to turn around which happened to a boat recently. Mawari is nearby. There are so many boats out here that it took Jon an hour to check into the net tonight. We cooked in a frenzy today to have plenty of good things to eat for when it gets bumpy and also to use up what NZ won't let past the gates. No fish on the line and nothing much for sea life, just fields of pumice. There is a lot of volcanic activity in this large area of ocean which I guess causes this pumice to float to the surface and then it just moves around with the currents. It's grayish and light, looks like rock but floats and when it rubbed up against the hull when we were at anchor, it reminded us of those winters living aboard in Boston when the ice would rub against the hull. Uhhh! Don't miss that! Weird stuff; never seen it before but there's plenty of it out here. We'll cross the meridian (I'm not sure if that's what it's called at this moment) soon. We're at 25 degrees south & 179 degrees west. Soon our longitude will be east. For Mawari, who started out in England, they are halfway around. How cool!
Well, the night watch movie is James Bond: "The World Is Not Enough". Hmmm, Jon picked this one out. Is he trying to tell me something?