Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Walking to town

Since arriving in New Zealand we've been staying in the little harbor town of Opua. There's a slightly bigger town called Paihia just north of here and there's a nice little walking trail that goes up there. We were in need of exercise so we decided to check it out. It's not very far but by the end of it we were painfully aware of just how in need of exercise we really were. At any rate, the photos will give you some idea of what it looks like around here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Passage to New Zealand

Now that it's over with we can admit it. This is the passage that we were most afraid of. Lots of people sail from Tonga to New Zealand every year and, while they may encounter some unpleasant weather, it usually turns out fine. However there are some notorious exceptions. There was storm off of New Zealand in November of 1998 that hit the people who were making this same passage and it was nasty. Boats sank and people died. In preparation for this trip we read a great book called "Surviving the Storm" about how to read the weather condition and hopefully avoid that sort of thing and how to give yourself the best chance of survival if you do find yourself in really deep sauce. A large portion of the beginning of the book is a detailed description of how that storm developed and what happened aboard the boats that got into trouble. It was quite informative and useful to read but, despite the foreword by the authors that tries to reassure you that this sort of thing is exceedingly rare, it does tend to scare the crap out of you when you're planning to do that same passage yourself during the same month. There, I said it. Aren't all of you friends and family glad I didn't tell you about that before the passage?

So there we were in Tongatapu with Shalimar waiting for a weather window. Shalimar had decided to shell out the money for professional weather routing on this passage so, rather than just pouring over the weather faxes ourselves and hoping we were interpreting them correctly, we just had to wait for Shalimar to get an email from a professional and hope that he was interpreting the data correctly. Okay, actually we looked at the weather faxes and grib files too but it definitely was nice to share Shalimar's weather routing info. Since Shalimar was sailing with a few jury rigged repairs and a broken finger, we were looking for a good weather window rather than just a possible weather window.

We ended up waiting quite a while. November 7th rolled around and by then our standards had slid a little bit. There was a window on offer and we took it. The forecast called for a few days of light wind halfway through and a little more upwind sailing than we wanted but it still looked pretty good. We left on the 7th and started heading SW in winds that were just a little E of S. Those of you that sail will know that going upwind isn't too comfortable. For those of you that don't, I'll tell you. It's not too comfortable. The boat heels way over so that you just about have to walk on the walls when you're below, it seems colder and windier than it really is, the rig is under a lot of stress (which stresses me out as I worry about things breaking), and the boat lurches and jerks as it rams into oncoming waves.

That description of sailing upwind is also a fairly accurate description of the whole 11 day passage except for the 40 or 50 hours we spent motoring because there was either no wind or there was wind blowing directly from where we wanted to go. We also got to experience the joy of only covering about 60 miles over a 24 hour period. All in all it was a mildly annoying and uncomfortable passage but, given the spectrum of things that can happen out there, I will gladly accept it. We made it in a reasonable amount of time, didn't get rained on very much, and nothing broke. I had a bit of a scare when we got to Opua, New Zealand and I found a bunch of oil in the bilge. For a short while I thought we'd blown the main seal on the engine or something but it turned out to be nothing. The engine just doesn't seem to like to run while we're heeled way over. We ended up motoring with the sails up quite a bit to keep our speed up and I guess the crank case breather is low enough that it'll blow oil out when it's leaned way over. So anyway, nothing broke and Architeuthis did good. We got into Opua on the 18th and Shalimar made it in one day later.

We didn't really realize how good we had it until we'd been in Opua for a few days. We saw some old friends in the boat yard here that we hadn't seen since California. They'd also just sailed across be we missed them all the way across because we were on different schedules. Anyway, it turns out they'd made the passage a couple of weeks before us and broke their boom and one of their spreaders and almost lost their mast. They had to turn back to Tonga, tie everything down, buy a ton of diesel cans and motor the whole way to New Zealand. Then some good friends of ours came in about 4 days after us and it turns out they had all sorts of problems you can read about here.

At any rate, we're damned glad to be here and glad that Architeuthis has been such a sturdy (and lucky) little boat.

Friday, November 04, 2011


We hadn't originally planned to go to Tongatapu. We were hoping to just leave for New Zealand from somewhere in Ha'api but we weren't seeing the weather window we wanted and Shalimar had some problems so we decided to go into Nuku'alofa (the largest town in all of Tonga) to repair, resupply, and wait for a good weather window. While typing this, I realized that people might not know where this stuff is so here's a map that I borrowed from the lonelyplanet website (hopefully they don't mind):


We had heard some not so favorable things about Nuku'alofa. It was kind of crowded and a bit on the dirty side and some of the locals looked a bit scary (in a gangsta kind of way) but we had a good time and found that people were really friendly - even the scary looking ones. Apparently California has the largest population of Tongans outside of Tonga and we met a lot of people who'd lived in California and spoke english very well. (English and Tongan are both official languages in Tonga but, English seems to be running a distant second in many areas). We met one guy who told us he'd lived in Oakland, California for several decades but had been thrown out of the US for drug dealing. He definitely had that Oakland drug dealer look about him but was super friendly and we had a long talk about Oakland (I lived there for a couple of years) while we were waiting for the bus. On a different day, two rather large, somewhat drunk, and heavily (and not very skillfully) tattooed guys were blocking the sidewalk with a bicycle as we approached. Once they noticed that the bike was in our way, they immediately moved it and apologized profusely. My favorite example of the disconnect between the tough-guy look and the friendly demeanor were the guys that I photographed in their car (see the picture in the slide show). I was in the harbor parking lot trying to get a photo of Architeuthis tied up on the other side when those guys saw me with the camera. The driver got out of his car, ran over to me, and in broken english asked me to take his picture. He then ran back to his car, got in, and assumed the most 'gangsta' pose he could manage. I showed him the picture and he seemed a bit dissatisfied and asked me to take another. When I showed him the second picture, I told him he looked totally gangster and he broke out in a huge smile. Right after that, I had two other groups of locals come over and ask me to take their pictures (the guys on the sinking boat and the three little kids - also in the slide show).

We spent a lot of time tied up in the harbor fixing things on our boats and going into town to buy supplies for the crossing. We took one bus trip out to the western side of the island to see the blow holes but for the most part we stayed near the harbor. I'm sure I could think of more stuff to write if I tried but I'm trying to get caught up so the pictures will pretty much have to do. Once we had done the necessary repairs and shopping and were reasonably confident that a weather window was on the way, we went out to anchor at Atata island near the pass that we'd take to get on our way to New Zealand.