To Tonga - Yet Another Passage

To Tonga - Yet Another Passage

While the wind blew us steady out of Bora Bora, we saw on the weather forecast files, the GRIB files, that we would have two zones to cross with little wind. Going all downwind with Jade Akka we poled out the genoa and started going. Two days with good progress were followed with weak winds. At 6kts to 8kts we got stuck. We made 60nm a day. Before that it was 100nm. And usually we make over 120nm. But that’s it. We were informed. The forecast was right. So we took the opportunity to drag ourselves behind the slow moving ship. No way to swim along, still. 2-3kts are not a speed to catch up with. Unless you sit in a kayak. So time passes, the boat swinging from left to right and back again for hours. For days. Until more wind hits. And then it’s just a short 2 day window. And back are the weak winds. Maybe we should have stayed in Bora Bora and wait for stronger winds. But it’s the experience that counts.

And who can say he was swimming in the middle of the big blue? It is frighteningly blue. Especially dragging behind the boat makes you feel like an oversize bait. So I looked behind quite often, but saw no fin approaching. And down below it was blue, with rays of the sun. No dark shade moving through the water visible. We go back to routine watch and keep us busy. The heat and strong sun takes it’s toll. The pilothouse is again our favored spot. Outside it’s too intense and inside it’s cool and comfortable. However, the desire to be quicker, grows stronger every day. Some impatience needs to be managed. Good things to do and enjoy need to be found. Reading, writing and napping serve best. And maybe some very little boat beautification hours - not too much, just a bit. It’s too warm and too humid to over-do things without need.

Passage, passage, passage. Passage. Day in, day out. Back and forth. Starboard, port-side. Burning sun. No rain. Sleepiness. Watch without any events. Clock ticking. Miles trickling. Not as quick as desired. But still, we get closer. Bright moonshine at night. Stars appearing over the horizon. Glowing orange, competing with the sunset. The breeze cooling gently. Lures trawling without reason, but slight hope. Changing the guards. Brief look around. Sails OK. Radar screen empty. Wind as light as it was for the rest of the week. Angle slightly changed. Back to hibernation mode. Palmerston now showing on the chart plotter. Let’s see if the weather permits a stop - or if the strong winds pick up exactly when we slowly move along Palmerston (read on Palmerston, a queer atoll in the middle of the big-nowhere-blue).

In the bright moonshine we lost it. Our buoy-overboard-training-buoy. We have been traveling without injury or serious damage or loss. My sunglasses and hat are probably the only things we lost overboard. So why did we loose that buoy? Most people practice person-overboard situation at a time. But after close to 10’000nm under the keel we wanted to know better. How difficult is it really to find somebody at night? As the wind was 3kts and we ran under engine, we decided to practice. We threw our training buoy with a big splash into the big, big and dark blue. We did not see it again. Shocking. It was supposed to be so easy in this best-of-all-possible circumstances.

Our learning is simple: it is close to impossible, if just anything little is going wrong, to find a person gone overboard. Even in bright moonlight, slightly clouded skies and pretty calm seas it is super difficult to spot any object. And then there is the stress of the situation that certainly will lead to few and maybe minor shortcomings that may make the difference - found or lost. Discussing the maneuver we were all agreeing: We got a strong reminder to follow the rules at night: wear the life jacket, have the radio as personal locator beacon in your pocket. There are so many things that may go wrong in the alarm & rescue process - being able to sustain self-dependently for some hours(!) and broadcasting your position is an absolute must.

However, after quarter of a day and half of a night of motoring we are in good winds again and progressing to Palmerston. Spirits are high and we look forward to meeting the people that live so remotely on the palm-lined-sandy-beach-turqoise-lagoon-supposed-to-be-paradise. However, the decision to go on land is difficult: we have a one-day weather window, the anchorage is exposed and customs and immigration procedures to be expected. Getting close the atoll fits perfectly the stereotype and we remember the Tuamotus immediately. Just this one is far, far away from any other atoll. We think YOLO and decide to spend the bucks and endure procedure to get on land.

If you think customs, immigration and health inspection needs to be pain, you are wrong. The islanders do it in their friendly relaxed fashion. They immediately remember our names, talk us through the forms and help us getting things done. Our host, Edward, brought them over from shore and takes all of us back to the island. It’s a dangerous narrow channel and we understand immediately why we should not use our dinghy. The added benefit is that they have some privacy in the evening and do not have to rescue lighthearted cruisers that might get stuck or worse.

The ride takes us over the 8m shelf to the fringe reef, into the turquoise lagoon and to the white sand beach. Colorful parrotfish are everywhere and we learn that this is one of the islands best exports. Under the palm trees we learn more about the history of this one-family-island. Marry in or you are out. Big mahogany trees tower over the palms. The roads are well shaded and freshly cleaned, some areas sanded with the pure white sand. This helps to keep weed away - and it looks great for the yachties. Besides getting fed we also walk the old main road with the ancient founding families home. The catch of the day is just being fileted and frozen. The two kids join us to talk and play while the savage chicken protect their young from us - in a coconut shell. The villagers enjoy more amenities like solar power all day long and satellite TV and internet. However, their treasures are their outboards so the highly appreciate any gift that helps keeping them running. Anyway, anything is welcome, as variety is a luxury out here. There are plenty coconuts, fish and some few fruits and vegetables. Birds and chicken enhance the diet. So a fresh Camembert we find in our fridge remains on the island, too. However, for not too long probably.

Before we depart we dive the shelf drop off: from 7m the underwater cliff goes down to a few thousand meters. As in Anse Amyot, an incredible dive. But here the sharks keep away (as long as there is no spearfishing). Parrotfish come by to check out the strangers. And other fish is faintly visible above the crest and farther in the deep blue. So we enjoy snorkeling the corals and drifting over the drop off into the big blue. And we hear whales in the very far singing their songs. No wonder we get really curious to get to Tonga, where the young whales are raised.

Unfortunately getting away is not so easy, as we got the recommendation to lower the hook besides picking up the mooring. A two fold advice: it secures the vessel in case the mooring breaks, but anchor chain and mooring line may wrap or the vessel may get stuck between anchor and mooring line. As we had weak winds at night, the currents turned us around a few times and we had to sort things out. Jade Akka was halfway anchored and moored, the mooring line following the full keel and both, chain and line, holding from port side. Using the engine to get out of the situation was risky, as the prop might have touched the mooring line, but worked. First steaming into the mooring line, turning the bow so the anchor could be raised as soon as the pressure was off the chain by going backwards with a short burst, then diving to get the mooring line out of the rudder/hull gap we managed to free ourselves.

Once again the robust and safe design of Bruce Roberts, the designer of this boat, was beneficial: the stable rudder was never in danger, the full keel prevented the line to wrap completely around the rudder, the well covered prop allowed to take the risk of using the engine in this situation. Well, we could have called the locals to push us around by dinghy, but solving problems yourself is the cruisers delight. So we headed off, sailing right away from the mooring, at 7kts speed straight towards Tonga.

Unfortunately the wind was not as predicted. We hit it hard. 3kts windspeed. Nothing. Only small waves. They still rock the boat. No wind in the sails. No stabilization. So we decide to jump in the water, check out the deep blue. Still looks good, the hull. No growth. Still no shark chasing us. But also nothing else. Well, I forget the plankton. Plenty small creatures, transparent to a big degree, all around us on the surface. Spectacular light patterns down below.

Again, some motoring brings us into good winds. This time upwind, 7-8kts boatspeed. We like it. And as we pass the Antiope Reef, we also manage to catch two Big Eye tunas. Excellent food for the rest of the week - it lasts until Tonga, for sure. Sushi, Poke, roasted pumpkin and tuna in sesame oil with a cover of sesame seeds, the options are plentiful and we try to figure out as many wonderful recipes as possible. The weak winds are forgotten, we head on. But just as we see land, the wind dies down again and we have to motor the rest of the leg. Good luck we at least see the fluke of a whale. A sight we missed for many months now. Other cruisers tell us they saw whales in Palmerston already. French Polynesia also is visited by whales. Unlucky, we did not see them there - but we remember the sights up north, where we saw plenty of these giants. And we are now in the best spot to pick up on it. Fingers crossed!

Wonderful Palmerston and passage pictures