Tanga's in Tonga!!
17 September 2012 | Neiafu, Vavau Group, Tonga
After spending 12 days at sea, experiencing lots of weather and some terrible seas, we arrived in Vavau, Tonga on Saturday morning, which back in the USA is actually Friday. Yep, that's right, we crossed the International Date Line, and are now one day ahead of everyone state side. From what I have read, Tonga, being in close relationship with Fiji and New Zealand, wanted to be in the same day, same time zone as their friends, even though Tonga is east of 180 degrees (the true international date line). So, with that being said, Tonga is the first county to say "Good Morning" to the world!
Our cruise started back in Bora Bora, on September 2nd. We left the city dock in Bora Bora, after doing a quick provisioning trip and a few jerry jug runs of diesel. While motoring out of calm lagoon water of Bora Bora, we raised the mainsail and put in a single reef. We were immediately greeted with a quick rain squall which was of no surprise because the skies were grey and ugly looking. We continued to motor for a few hours because there just wasn't any wind and we wanted to get some miles between us and Bora Bora before we turned the engine off. Then came the 2nd squall, which looked really dark and large. After a good downpour, we were through the squall, looking at the back end of it. Then came the beginning of 5 days of white knuckle death grip sailing! The winds were the first thing we experienced. At first, we were excited about the winds, Hooray, we get to turn off Ethel and go sailing. After a few hours of great winds, the seas built, and built, and then really built! Tom stayed at the helm for about 7 hours before we decided to turn on Honey Bunny (our self-steering Hydrovane). Tom crawled to the stern of the boat, made the necessary adjustments to Honey Bunny, and then we could sit back and let her steer Tanga for us. Honey Bunny ran great for the next 1 Â˝ days before she had had enough.
On the morning of the 3rd day, while I was on watch, Tom poked his head out of the companion way and looked back at the stern of the boat, and stared at Honey Bunny. Giving a quizzical look, I ask Tom what is wrong. He says, Honey Bunny is moving. The only two parts on Honey Bunny that should be moving is the wind sock and the rudder. The rest of the Hydrovane is securely mounted to the stern of the boat, by two brackets and two huge stainless steel backing plates. The Hydrovane, itself, should NEVER move. Anyway, after seeing Honey Bunny shifting left and right, Tom disappears to our stateroom at the back of the boat, where the backing plate are, everything looks good, but he hears a cracking noise, fiberglass cracking noise! He runs upstairs, into the cockpit and crawls to the stern of the boat. He looks overboard and sees that the stainless steel pipe has come out of the lower bracket. Now the rudder, is half way sticking out of the water, and putting heavy force on the top bracket. From what he could see, and hear the rudder was going to cause Honey Bunny to literally, rip right out of our stern, leaving behind a hole in the boat. Not good! He managed to tie a few dock lines around Honey Bunny to keep her secure to the boat but the rudder was a different story. The rudder was the problem, it needed to come off. The rudder was causing the fiber glass cracking. Usually, Tom would get in the dinghy and fix the Honey Bunny that way, but in the seas conditions we were in, that was just a death sentence. With no other options in mind, Tom removed the pin that keeps in the rudder attached to the steel shaft of Honey Bunny, and we let the rudder slip away. Here's a gift to ya Neptune! Now we have to white knuckle death grip hand steer the rest of the way to Tonga and all the way to New Zealand. Once in NZ, we will order a new rudder and do a major fix on the stern of the boat and Honey Bunny. It's on our "to do" list.
What is white knuckle death grip sailing like? Roaring seas, literally roaring loudly, wind that howls, making the sailing a very loud experience. Swells coming from multiple directions and each of these swells are large, almost always pushing the boat to the left or right, sometimes at the same time, feeling the boat swerve around, surfing down the front of a swell, getting sprayed by the ocean swells that crash on the side of the boat, at one time we had 4 inches of sea water in the cockpit from a boarding breaking wave, every day hitting a new maximum speed, setting records on the amount of miles covered in a 24 hour period, not being able to drink your beloved hot coffee because you can't or don't want to let one hand off the steering wheel, doing 2 hour watches because of how intense the watches are we are exhausted in those 2 hours and need rest. And on top of that, rain squalls on and off for days. Now, we have experiences sailing conditions like this before that usually last about 5-6 hours, but this was a different experience because it lasted for 5 days before it started to let up. Our top max speed we hit was 13.3 knots (this is extremely fast for our monohull that has a max hull speed of 8kt) and most miles sailed in 24 hours: 164. One highlight during these 5 days was seeing a sleeping sperm whale about 100ft off the port side of Tanga. He just floated on by us without moving.
Once the conditions lightened, we enjoyed several days of perfect sailing. Small seas, nice 15 knot winds, blue skys, and just beautiful easy sailing. It seemed that the closer we got to Tonga, the lighter the winds became. We had to jibe (change/turn directions) several times, for several days because we could not sail the rhumb line. Our track on the chart plotter looked like a bunch of zigzags across the pacific. When we were within 36 hours outside of Tonga, with no winds, we decided to turn on Ethel. We motored the remainder of the way to Tonga, arriving outside of Vavau Island around 4:00am. We circled around for two hours, waiting for the sun to rise, before we headed into the harbor.
It took about 2 hours to motor up a channel, past tiny little islands and into the Neiafu harbor. We raised our yellow quarantine flag and side tied to the city dock. Within just a few minutes, a guy from customs arrived and asked if we wanted to clear into the country today and pay the overtime charge. We asked the amount and it wasn't that much different than a normal day. The customs guy is also a taxi driver on Saturdays, so he drove me to the bank to get some cash. By the time I arrived back to Tanga, the immigrations officer was aboard with Tom. Shortly afterwards, another customs agent showed up, also a pastor, and he officially cleared us into the country. On Tuesday, we still need to go see the Health and Agriculture officials.
With all that done, we walked into town for our usual pizza and beer "welcome to new country " feast. We ran into a few other cruisers we haven't seen since Huahine, single hander Robin, and a Swedish couple Hendrick and Kristine. A quick stop at the grocery store and we were back aboard Tanga. We moved Tanga from the city dock to a mooring ball right outside of the Aquarium CafĂ©, the place we just had pizza.
Later that afternoon, when we had Tanga all cleaned up and turned back into our home, we went back up to the Aquarium cafĂ©, and met up with the Swed's and 2 other guys we just met, Oliver and Lazlo. We had all just arrived in Tonga and felt like celebrating. We hung around, chatting, drinking, eating, making lots of noise (we were told several times to quiet down) and later that evening, watching Rugby; The All Blacks (New Zealand) versus South Africa. Good times on our first day in Tonga!
This morning, we purchased 2 loaves of homemade bread from a local guy that came by our boat. The cost: $6 TOP (local money) which is about $3 USD. The bread was still warm and so delicious that we just about finished one loaf. Today, Monday, is a public holiday, The Crown Prince's Birthday. A few restaurants are open so we plan on finding food, internet, and just taking it easy.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!!! WE LOVE YOU!!