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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Western Samoa to Tonga

10-09-06
Passage from Upolu, Western Samoa (S13 50’ W171 46’) to Niuatoputapu, Tonga (S15 56’ W173 46’).

Departing Apia harbor at 5pm we sailed north along Upolu Island 25nm to the pass between the north island of Savai’i and Upolu to the south. Just before the pass we ran out of wind and motored along for an hour before the wind filled back in as it funneled between the islands. Sailing close-hauled we kept a sharp eye on the radar as the moon was not yet up and it was pitch dark as we passed within a half mile of a small island between the two bigger islands. We both stayed on watch until we were safely away from land. The increased wind we believed to be a result of the “Venturi effect” as it funneled between high volcanic islands. The building wind had us beating and crashing though some big seas requiring us to “fall off the wind” or turn away from the wind as the boat was literally flying off the crests of the rather large seas causing a very wet, uncomfortable jolt and crash as we plunged down into the trough. All the while, lots of flying spray made the cockpit pretty uninhabitable, especially with the addition of huge buckets of water coming out of the night to soak you unexpectedly. I did some quick route planning below despite the major discomfort of feeling seasick while trying to stare at a computer screen and chart. Unfortunately, it was imperative to be below, as we needed to know our new course would be free of hazards and evaluate alternate destinations if the wind should persist. Julie meanwhile did an excellent job of battling the seas by keeping the monitor windvane and sails trimmed. She was wide-eyed and a little scared once, as she called me up to the cockpit and away from my planning to confer about our current course. Thus far on our trip we hadn’t spent much time beating into the wind, let alone 25 plus knots of wind in the middle of the night. Back at the nav station I continued to evaluate our options: 1) Go back. 2) Go to Suva, Fiji (four days) on a more comfortable course. 3) A compromise between our intended course and a more comfortable course and wait to see what the weather would do. We discussed our options and agreed to go with option three as the current wind didn’t agree with the forecasted direction and strength, and we were hopeful it would resume its more normal direction. Julie was really not feeling so well, and when I went on my watch she tried to lie down quickly but was forced out of bed to the kitchen sink to relieve a churning stomach. Fortunately, the wind did back (move counter clockwise) allowing us to head a bit more toward our desired destination of Neiafu, Tonga, but not until we were well off the ideal rhumb line. The ride was the most uncomfortable of my entire trip, although I’m getting much better at sleeping, whereas before I would be too wound up to sleep at all. The next day with the wind lessening overnight, we settled into a nice sail and resumed course to our desired destination. Utilizing “grib files” that I download daily to analyze the weather, combined with information garnered from the daily radio net, it looked as if a new low pressure system was going to run into a stationary high creating a “squash zone,” where the wind is much stronger and in this case predicted to be gale force (34+ knots). The computer-modeled grib file predicted the edge of the squash zone to be right on our destination, some 200nm or 36 odd hours distant, and prudence dictated we again adjust our course. Fortunately, the island of Niuatoputapu in Tonga was close by when we made our decision to stop and wait for better weather. However, the narrow and technical entrance through the reef would require good daylight, and at our current speed we would arrive at 2 AM. The solution was to sail until we were about 35nm off island and then “hove to” or basically stop the boat by backing the jib and lashing the rudder, which keeps the boat facing about 45 degrees to the wind and into the waves, but more or less stationary, moving only about 1.2 knots. We were about 35nm off Niuatoputapu at 9:30 PM, and I hove us to. I then turned on the masthead strobe light and foredeck light to make us super visible and for the first time ever went to bed with no one on watch. I wish I could sleep deeply in this situation, but I’m still too worried, so I end up getting up every 15 to 30 minutes to scan the horizon for ships. At 4 AM Julie woke up and was ready to stand her watch, after eight hours off watch and some ok sleep, so we got back underway, and I slept well until 7:30AM, when I got up to listen to the net and again study the charts to prepare for the entrance through the reef. We glided in and got the anchor down, and soon after I had my trademark breakfast potatoes well underway. The remainder of the day was spent lazing around reading and writing with the plan to check into customs tomorrow and explore the island. We’ll stay a few days waiting for improved sailing conditions and then proceed to Neiafu, Tonga, which is in the Vava’u Island Group for a few weeks, then off to New Zealand.

The Kingdom of Tonga resides in the next day, so we lost an entire day during our passage. The actual dateline is 180 degrees, but Tonga changed the line for the Y2K so visitors could be at the first place on planet to welcome in the new millennium.

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