Farewell Vava'u...New Zealand we are headed your way..
21 October 2019
18- 21 October 2019 Pacific Ocean somewhere south of Tonga
Farewell Vava’u …New Zealand – we are headed your way at last!
Lat 20 36’800S Lon 175 19’000W
After more than 2 ½ months of cruising in Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga, Ian and I ( aboard our trusty catamaran WheytoGo) have finally departed for the 1350 nautical mile trip south to New Zealand, birth home of Ian AND the World Champion rugby team, the All Blacks, who are currently in Japan where the World Rugby championship quarter finals are now underway. We have been waiting (rather impatiently) for the past two weeks to identify a safe “weather window” on this prolonged journey over what could arguably be one of the more difficult passage routes in the world due to the weather patterns and big storms so common along the way. Thus, the careful research and timing of the weather patterns is essential, in order to avoid being caught in one of these dangerous storms at sea while you are hundreds of miles away from any land mass.
We left Neiafu Harbor after clearing customs at midday Friday and headed out to sea in cloudy and windy conditions which our computer weather models had predicted would improve in several hours, but that was not to be. We would head south along the western edge of the Tongan islands, eventually passing the Haapai group, then passing 50 miles east of the volcanic island which had been spouting steam and threatening eruption 2 days prior, and then finally passing Tongatapu, the southernmost group of the long island chain, en route to Minerva Reef, an atoll in the middle of the Pacific some 400 miles south of Vava’u.
Two hours out to sea the weather worsened considerably and the winds kicked up to 35+ knots with 7-8-foot seas pounding us on our port beam. This pattern continued over the next 18 hours, as I clung to my barf bucket, sleeping on the back deck while Ian manned the helm. Radio communication with other boats also heading to Minerva Reef, the only anchor option on the 1300-mile route to NZ, indicated similarly uncomfortable conditions. The following day dawned brighter, bringing forth hope of a better sailing day. This proved to be true with more manageable winds, steadily improving seas and clear radar…UNTIL … at 2130 that very calm, dark evening when a single squall suddenly popped up on radar, as winds trickled down to 4-6 knots, with only the Genoa out. The squall line moved closer, but the winds remained very low, then, very suddenly, the winds jumped to 16k, 24, 28, 32 knots in less than a minute, and the seas went crazy! The winds became sustained at 36+ knots and the boat seemed to strain in every direction as we struggled to get the Genoa in, as periodic gusts in the 45knot range appeared (please God, don’t get to 50K) and torrential rains pummeled the boat, saturating the back deck and even the helm. This storm seemed to hover over us on radar without movement for over 45 minutes (felt like 2 hours!) as the boat tried to spin around like a top. Ian did an amazing job of manually helming as he strained to keep control of the boat in the insane winds. Without question, the most unexpected and frightening sailing weather experience I have ever had, and pray that I never see again.
Tomorrow WILL BE a better day!
The following day dawned bright and clear and we had the best sailing conditions imaginable, as we skimmed over the calmer waters with 18-20K winds on our aft quarter, 2 reefs in the main and a full Genoa, maintaining 7-8 knots in perfect conditions-what a difference a day makes!
On Monday, 21 October, 74 hours after leaving Vava’u, we finally arrived at North Minerva Reef, a large atoll appearing out of nowhere in the middle of miles and miles of uninterrupted ocean. The tall masts of the sailboats anchored inside the lagoon became visible first, then the Pacific waves crashing over the barely visible reefs of the 3.5-mile-wide lagoon became apparent.
This atoll and its sister atoll South Minerva reef have wreaked havoc with sailing vessels in this region of the pacific for hundreds of years, resulting in numerous ships who sank after an encounter with the hidden coral reefs. [Originally named after the whale-ship Minerva was wrecked on the reef in 1829]. Now well-charted in this modern navigation era, these reefs have become a popular anchoring spot for cruising vessels seeking safe harbor or anchorage on passages from Tonga to NZ & vice versa.
We arrived around 3pm to a beautiful sunny day, entered the reef through the narrow entrance to be greeted with calm flat waters inside the lagoon and anchored in 50 ft of clear turquoise water. While anxious to jump in for a dip, we were wary of the reports of many large sharks in the lagoon…just glad to be anchored and looking forward to a good night of sleep uninterrupted by the night watch. Plenty of time to explore the lagoon tomorrow.