Friday, January 6, 2012

Nuku'alofa and on to New Zealand.

David even managed to catch two Tuna en route!

Once we arrived in Nuku'alofa, we tied Puddytat up in the small boat harbour, med moored to the breakwater, David climbed into the dinghy and went ashore to clear us in, and to tell them that we were here to apply for the NZ visa and that we'd be leaving soon.
One of the fish we caught.
Brilliant sunset and great sailing weather! for a change.
We found the NZ immigration office and filled in forms, got photo's taken and finally they said all was in order but they had to send it to NZ for processing. We should wait for an email. This was a Friday. On Tuesday I walked into town to an internet cafe and checked my emails...oh oh I saw that the immigration dept. had sent me an email on Friday afternoon requesting that I please come in, they needed some more paperwork to be filled in. We went around straight away and filled them in. Two working days wasted! :-( They were really nice people and they promised that they'd push it through as fast as they could. I checked my emails every day... On the following Friday we were still waiting so we planned on some sightseeing and decided to check my emails first, nothing.. sigh... I dropped them a line enquiring on the progress of it all and lo and behold a few minutes later I had a reply... Come in later today and collect your passport, the visa was approved! YAY! I went in straight away and asked what time I could collect it as we still had to clear out of Tonga, they said between 12 and 1 p.m.. Needless to say I was not late, I sat and waited patiently. After a few last minute questions I was called in to collect my Passport. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
Main street with the huge rain tree on the left, near the post office.
Under  the Rain Tree.
This mat skirt is worn by men and women. This one is elaborate though.
Young Ladies.
School uniforms.

A local sight seeing boat..
The Kings Palace.. garden needs work.
We caught a bus and went to see the flying foxes... they're about 12 inches long. 
Tau'olunga Komipiuta. Fast Internet $1 for 15 mins.
On Salote Rd before Tupoulahi  Rd. Almost at the T of Fasi-moe-afi Rd.
Inside the place.
Ros and David paying for their internet usage.
The Owner. Always with a smile.
During the week my Parents on Kudana had passed by Nuku'alofa, we'd chatted on the VHF when they'd been in range and since then they'd been waiting for us at Minerva reef North. On the Wednesday they decided not to wait for us and to head on out to NZ.

Ros, getting some air and a lot of water.. ha ha the rogue
waves keep breaking over her, she's soaked!
Later on Wednesday when we got back from town, Evi, our friend on the boat next door, told us that they'd heard from my Dad and the news wasn't good. She said they'd hit Minerva reef south. Landed right on top of it at the top of the tide and were stuck there. This was a disaster! How were they, how badly was the boat damaged, were they taking on water? These thoughts tumbled from my mouth at top speed. Evi said they were okay, just shook up, one rudder was badly bent and as yet they were still dry. The plan, she said was to wait for high tide and try and motor off the reef. Now I haven't seen Minerva reef south, but if it's like the North reef it would be wide and flat. I wondered how far in they had landed, if they'd make it off without damaging the boat further. Next morning the news wasn't good. The keels were both destroyed so there wouldn't be much in the way of steerage from them. They'd slide sideways and lose direction whilst sailing. During the night the waves had constantly smashed them and this had caused the keels to deteriorate even more. BUT they'd managed to get off. It had further cost them both the props and half the remaining rudder. Heck, so now they had hardly any steering, no keels, no props, so the engines could only be used to charge the batteries and nothing else, AND they were taking on water! Apparently one of the engines had dislodged it's seal and the water was coming in there. David and I had made sure to fit the yacht out with extra powerful pumps and thank goodness we had because now the boat remained dry and the pump on that side worked like a charm.
They'd decided to carry on towards New Zealand 800 nautical miles away. They asked us to follow them as soon as possible.
As you know I had to wait for my passport. Nothing we could do about it, so we filled in the time as best we could.

Once I got my passport back and cleared out with customs and immigration, we spent a quick Saturday morning shopping for fresh fruit and veg, also filling up with fuel and water. At 11am we left the fuel dock did a motor-by Evi and some other yachts and headed on out towards NZ and Minerva Reef.
When we were getting near to Minerva North reef, our initial plan was to stop there, as there was really bad weather forecast and we didn't want to chance it, and clean our hull, but we had 30 knot winds and 15 ft seas. David was hesitant to attempt the entrance into a reef we'd never visited before and it was directly downwind, so he decided we'd pass it by and continue on, maybe look at Minerva reef South and stop there. But the wind had other ideas and it headed us, forcing Puddytat to head directly for the reef. Then it suddenly dropped to 13 knots. We could clearly see the entrance to the lagoon shaped reef. It was nice and wide. David changed his mind and said ''we're going in.... under sail''. We swooped through the entrance into lovely calmer water, and just then, the wind turned from beam on to head on.. what timing! We dropped the sails, turned on the engines and motored to a spot at the north end to drop the anchor. It was Monday afternoon. I was worried sick about my parents. We didn't have a SSB transmitter on board. We had a receiver and Evi had promised to relay their position at 4.30 every afternoon. We'd heard two positions and plotted them on the chart, then when we got a third we discovered it was exactly the same as the second, which was very weird, two plots 24 hours apart cannot be the same we thought... Later we found out what had happened. At the time though, we were not sure whether my Dad had made a mistake and plotted East instead of West so now we weren't sure where he was. Very very worrying. There were a group of Ham radio bods in New Zealand where were trying to keep in contact with Dad and sometimes we'd hear them wondering why they hadn't heard from him. One chap said that it was obvious, that they had gone down and were dead. It shocked me to the core, my blood ran cold. David looked at me and told me not to worry, they were fine, just out of radio contact for some reason.

In the reef it was the weirdest feeling, to be anchored out in the middle of the ocean, no land or trees in sight, just some waves breaking all around us showing us that there was something there. Ros and I jumped into the water and cleaned the hulls. David was working on something inside the boat, I can't remember what now, but it was a far hotter messier job than we had. The next day, after he'd completed some other work on Puddytat, David had his turn, he wanted to give the props a good clean so in he went. It was late afternoon when he finally finished and the wind was still too southerly and still very strong. Soooo frustrating, it was hard for me to relax.  We stayed another night and early on Wednesday morning we left Minerva reef North. We were almost a full week behind them.

We had a totally uneventful sail to New Zealand, the winds were alternatively stronger and then lighter as the sailing goes on long trips. So some days we had all the sail up and others we reefed down sometimes to two reefs. I must say that I do prefer to sail on the Atlantic ocean as against the Pacific. The Atlantic is a much smoother sail, much more comfortable and has many more dolphin that come and play around the bows of our boat. Puddytat flew over that water, we made the best use of the wind and clocked an average of 9 knots. We sailed, listened to the radio and after two days got another position, I plotted it and couldn't find the x. So I plotted it again, still no x. I'm standing there looking at the chart plotter thinking, what am I doing wrong? Then something made me zoom in, or out, I can't remember now and there it was a beautiful red x right under us.. YAY!!!! We were exactly where Kudana had been 14 hours before. Now to try and find them, a tiny yacht on a HUGE ocean. David said that logically my Dad would be trying to make as straight a line to Opua as possible, so we'd do the same. It's what we'd been doing the whole time and it had paid off so far. He instructed Ros and I to call Kudana on the radio every hour. So we did this through the night on our watches. Morning came and we hadn't heard anything. A tad worrying as we knew they were only doing about 3 knots at most, we should have caught up with them by now. After breakfast David got up and went to the radio, he'd decided to call again. Oh Joy of joys my Mom answered the radio and we started to cry. I hadn't realised how tense with worry I'd been. It wasn't much later when we spotted her and we sailed up to say hi. We were 400 nautical miles from Opua. Still a way to go, but we'd found them and that was all I cared about.

We asked about the two positions, how'd they been the same. Dad said that during that storm, we'd been sitting out in Minerva reef, they couldn't steer and had sailed in a huge circle and ended up where they'd been before. A very strange thing to happen, but it did. We also asked why we hadn't heard regular position reports. He told us that his SSB had gone on the fritz and he worked on it trying to repair it and managed to get it working long enough to hit send on an email to my brother, Kevin who lives in NZ, and then Kev sent it on to the radio ham guys to transmit to us. At the time he didn't know if it had gone through. He just had to hope that it had.
Kudana, 1.5 miles away.. even though she's on top of a wave she's hard to see.
Down in the trough and she's almost impossible to see.
Ros and I were ultra busy, what with keeping the skipper fed with hot meals, (and us too,) we were also involved in making a courtesy flag for New Zealand. This proved to be an entertaining and interesting pastime. It was also fun to be in constant contact with Kudana. We spent Christmas day playing Christmassy music to each other and chatting, it would have been fun if the seas were nice and calm that we could raft up together and have a huge lunch.... as it was I'd cooked up the last of our fresh meat, a roast chicken, for our main meal that day. Boy did we ever pig out.. YUM.. ;-)
We don't ever buddy boat with anyone so this was a new experience for us. It was now only 105 NM to go till Opua, we thought we'd get there on the 27th Dec.
Making our New Zealand courtesy flag...
Dad insisted that he wanted to sail Kudana all the way to Opua. We wanted to take them under tow. So we sailed as slowly as we could with a tiny bit of sail up so that we didn't leave them behind. But now Dad said that the wind wasn't playing nice and he just couldn't control the boat anymore. We sailed up and started the long process of passing tow ropes etc. It took 2 hours to get the boats tied properly. My Dad was exhausted. We set our genoa and started to sail, pulling them behind us and our speed was already up to 5 knots. Dad radioed and asked what they should do, we told them to get some sleep, leave the radio on and if there was a problem we'd wake them up. They were so exhausted they slept for 12 hours solid. Shame.
Under Tow for the next 100 nautical miles.
A few days later we were almost there. I started to cook up a huge meal, kind of like a Lasagne, with the layered lasagne pasta, white sauce and corned beef out of cans.. I've never done it that way before, but I didn't have any fresh meat left and I needed to be able to feed all of us. I used dried crumbed Parmesan Cheese, the stuff in a shake out bottle, and the last of our cheese and it turned out rather well.

When we  came into the sheltered waters of the Bay of Islands, we dropped the tow and came alongside Kudana and rafted up with her. From then on we had to motor. Customs and Immigration were well aware that we were on our way in. All the sailors in the area were aware as well. When we arrived at the Q dock, where all newcomers to NZ have to go to clear customs and immigration, there were loads of people at the yacht club watching our progress.

The space between the fuel dock and the Q dock isn't large and David had to maneuver both yachts in and dock us. I was in charge of tying us up he said... He first turned us around so that it would be easier to get out and then docked. As simple as that. He made it look so easy. Many of the sailors came to us afterward and said that they hadn't seen seamanship like that in years. Made me so proud of him.

The Customs guys were great. We couldn't have asked for nicer treatment, even though they had to relieve us of some fresh veg and such, it was all done with a smile and a joke. They came down and attended to us even though we'd have been happy to spend the night on the customs dock. They told us there was bad weather coming and they thought that we'd need to get out into the anchorage and get our anchors in well and good and this was the time to do it. How nice is that! Thank you guys.

Once we were done with them, I slipped the lines and we went off to find a spot to drop the anchors. First we dropped Dads anchor and pulled back on it hard with both engines at 1800 rpm, to dig it in nice and deep, then we went and dropped ours, did the same, switched off the engines and looked at each other... Time for a drink we all said at once.. LOL what a relief to be safe and sound, to have my folks safe and sound. I slept really well that night.

Sailing from Palmerston to Tonga and our visit there.

We set off towards Tonga, mid day I think it was. In no time at all disaster struck. The hydraulic pump for the Auto pilot decided to quit on us. We would have to hand steer the next 600 odd miles. This is a tiring job especially if there are heavy winds and sail changes have to be made, because it means that the person who is trying to get some shuteye will be woken up to do the work. We also didn't know if our new crew member could steer. She'd told us that she'd done a sailing course, but as we all know this does not mean much till you can actually test the person out. To top it all Ros was feeling the effects of seasickness and had been feeling really awful. Shame I felt so sorry for her, but we assured her that day three would have her feeling normal again. Even though she was so ill, Ros took the wheel for her 4 hour stint and David quickly saw that she was well capable of steering puddytat.
So for the next 5 days we did 6, 10, 2 watches, taking turns at the wheel and with one of us sleeping in the salon to be able to assist whoever was steering if needed.
We saw something in the water. It looked like little tiny critters, millions of them.
We had winds that made Puddytat sail at 11 to 13 knots, but then there were more times when we were moseying along at 3 to 4 knots. We wanted to come into Neiafu in daylight and so had to sit off the island, hove-to for almost two hours till the sun came up. We also lost an entire day on this trip because the international dateline goes right over Tonga. Our log book goes from Friday the 25th to Sunday the 27th in an instant. :-) We sailed into the bay at Neiafu looking for a certain yacht called Kudana. On board this yacht are my parents who're doing the sailing thing as well. Even more exciting was that I hadn't seen them since August 2008 AND today was my Mom's birthday.
Coming around the corner and heading for the bay.
David spotted their yacht and we turned towards them. Soon we were alongside and I yelled "Mangwanani Kudana", which means Good morning Kudana. Then I sang Happy Birthday toooooo yoouuuuuu! to my Mom while she stood on deck and cried with happiness... at least I hope it was happiness. :-) It was soooo great to see them again. My Mom sure got a huge surprise for her birthday.
As soon as we had our anchor set, they came across in their dinghy. Huge hugs and tears all around and lots and lots of catching up. I'd made a pearl bracelet and a small pin cushion for her. I'd also made a 4 link chain mail copper bracelet for her to wear all the time. It would help her arthritis. We spent the morning and some of the afternoon with them, but then tiredness caught up with us and we just had to have a nap.
My Mom on Kudana when we arrived.. she was really surprised to see us.
The week in Neiafu passed in a blur. We were cleared in with Immigration, Customs, Health and Quarantine, then we were allowed ashore to explore the town. It's a sweet town with the Fruit and veg. market dominating the center alongside a craft market filled with some really well and beautifully made things. The post office is situated in an old colonial type building that doesn't need air-conditioning as it is so well ventilated. We ate out at a super little restaurant called the Coconet, where the food is excellent and the service top notch. My folks showed us around and soon we were at home.
The entrance of  Swallows Cave.
David dragging the dinghy and swimming out.

Friday came and we realised that we'd better make a move to get out of there if we wanted to be in New Zealand for Christmas. David went a cleared out of the Vava'U group of islands then we made a quick visit to the Swallow cave. We dinghied in and fell into the water.. WOW the place is teaming with fish, and the stalactites are quite spectacular. We then snorkeled back to the boat dragging Limo behind us.

Huge 5 ft coral.
These are from the snorkel back to Puddytat from the cave.

A Beautiful Bun Starfish.
A sea urchin trying to hide.
Puddytat from on high, David took a photo of us...
We also did a quick a visit to Bay 27 to see some friends of ours who we'd last seen in Mexico. What a great reunion we had that night. They told us of a spectacular snorkeling spot in bay 16, so Sunday morning we motor-sailed over to this bay and enjoyed a quiet snorkel. We were the only ones there. So restful and peaceful.

The snorkel was not a simple one. we had to swim over the top of a reef to get to the outside. There was only about 3 feet of water clearing the reef and the waves were breaking over it, so it was quite a swim to get out there. We were a tad worried that when we went back we might get tumbled and then be badly scratched on the corals. But as it was we had a delightful swim and saw a veritable garden of corals and fish, all shapes sizes and colours, then pretty much body surfed our way back over the top, into calm waters and had an energetic swim back to Puddytat. Whew my legs were a tad tired after that, but I felt so great from the exercise.

The next morning, Monday we lifted our anchor and set sail towards Nuku'alofa on the island of Tongatapu. We had a good 10 knot wind to start off with and as the day drew on the wind got stronger to about 15 knots. Poor Ros was not feeling good when the weather picked up, she went to sleep in the saloon, she'd already done her watch so all was good. We decided to anchor every night at a different island, and this we did. The first was called Moungaone. The next night was stopped at Nomuka iki and now we are approaching Nuku'alofa on the Tonagtapu Island.

Here we will be clearing out of Tonga and also applying for my visitors visa for New Zealand at their consulate. We will also stock up with fresh fruit and veg for the 10 day trip to NZ. We plan to stop at a reef called Minerva Reef for a day or two to have our last snorkel in warm water and maybe meet up with Kudana who are also on their way to NZ.

I have to go and supervise Ros at the wheel now, we are nearing the harbour and there are many reefs to negotiate before we can drop the anchor. By the way, Ros soon found her sea legs again and is feeling great.... :-)

cheers for now.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Sailing to and experiencing Palmerston Island... in the Cook Island chain.

Sailing to Palmerston. David decided that we should do more than one Cook Island so Palmerston became our next choice.
The wind...hmmm what's that? we haven't seen any lately... sigh... so we're creeping along at about 2 knots and at times when the wind dies completely we put the engine on, get the batteries charged and get a little further down the way at the same time. At least the weather is warm, nice a balmy actually. Our distance covered from dusk to dawn was a whopping 28 miles and 18 of those was done under engine :-( Thank heavens this isn't a long trip.
Dawn at 06:44
A little later at 07:05
Sunrise at 07:11
Half a Paw paw for breakfast.

So finally in the late hours of the second night the wind came to visit. I could switch the engine off and set the genoa. At last we were sailing at a decent speed. 6.5 knots.
By the time I handed over my watch to David at 02:00 the wind seemed here to stay. About time! We arrived at Palmerston at 11:30 after experiencing a Squall of note.

David writes in the log book "As we closed on Palmerston we were met by a 6 mile long rain cloud. I got nervous as the wind squall rose to the mid twenties and I dropped the main - but this was as strong as the wind got - we could have sailed it, especially if we had payed off onto a broad reach - or we could have put in 2 reefs when we first sighted it - but then I thought we were going to miss it. As it was we were basically lying abeam with the genoa out ( flapping) going nowhere."

I was chuffed though because I'd made this rain catcher and when I heard the rain thundering down I leapt out of bed and started to catch it in jerry jugs. We caught at least 10 gallons .. yay!

Once at Palmerston we were hailed by radio by a chap called Simon who directed us to a great mooring. It had two pick up lines that we could attach, one to each hull. The lines were attached to chain which was wrapped around coral on the sea bed. The water is crystal clear and it's easy to see way down. David went for a swim to check out the mooring and make sure it was in good nick. It was in very good nick, they also kept the chains from damaging the corals by tying a buoy to them and so lifted them off the bed. The sea bed is coral as far as the eye can see. We swam, snorkeled for an hour, experienced no end to the corals and a lot of amazingly huge parrot fish, amongst others. I saw a Moorish idol that was at least as big as a dinner plate. Definitely the largest I've ever seen. So beautiful.
Arriving at Palmerston island.
Anyway I digress :-) Edward, who is Simon's brother, came out in a motor boat to make sure everything was okay. He then told us that he'd be bringing the officials out to the boat to check our paperwork. I made a Key Lime Pie and put it in the freezer to chill.
Eventually they arrived and proceeded to sort out the paperwork. When all was done we offered them a cool drink and a slice of pie. They invited us ashore right there and then, so we went.
Gorgeous Beach.
Facing the other way...
On palmerston you cannot go ashore yourselves, Edward will come and get you and deliver you back to your boat. There are other people who act as hosts on the island but with us it was Edward. The reef around the island is rather convoluted and seems rather difficult to negotiate as it's not marked, so I reckon that it's safer to leave it to the locals. The island is inhabited by 65 people who are members of three families. 29 of them are children in school. Their school is great, cool and airy and seems well equipped. They have a computer and internet so that the children can search for information online and recently each home has now got a telephone. They make their living with fishing. Catching and freezing the fish in large freezers, storing them till the boat that does the rounds around the Cook Islands, drops by to collect it all.

The people are friendly and hospitable. We were invited to lunch that first day. It was a very tasty meal of fish with onions and rice.
A boat that was recently 'lost' on the reef when it's mooring broke.
The mooring is free, but it's sort of expected of you to 'donate' various 'unwanted' items off your boat to the island. We were assured that if our hosts had no need of any of the items given to them that they would filter it down the line to the rest of the islanders. Later we learned that this is not the case if you give the stuff to Edward. Sadly he seems to be a bit of a pack rat and he hordes everything for himself, so in the end you leave the island rather disillusioned. Otherwise it's a beautiful place with lots of trees that shelter the homes from the worst of the cyclone winds that sometimes tear through there.
Beautiful tall trees.
A lovely walk.
Shady and cool.. David looks really tiny next to these trees!
A classroom at the School.
Some more classrooms and they have a good internet connection here too.
When we arrived and were chatting to the officials, we were told that there was another English girl on the island. Wow, cool, we were dying to meet her. Somehow though we didn't get to see her till we were leaving to go back to Puddytat and she came walking down the beach on her regular evening walk. We didn't have much time to say anything, I think I called out to her that we'd like to get together and chat. Next day was Sunday. We'd had a rough night as the wind had decided to pick up and the rain fell, making me get up and swap jerry jugs as they filled. One of the mooring balls was continuously knocking on the hull, so David was up and down trying different methods to quiet it, so by the time the sun rose we were still sleeping and for the first time in ages we slept till 09:15. After 11 am we called Edward and asked him to ferry Rose out to us so that we could meet her. We knew that she wanted to leave the island and were considering taking her along with us. This they duly did later that afternoon. Rose who is really Ros, (pronounced Roz ) seemed such a nice person so we told her that if she wanted she could sail with us the next day. She did want and so next morning after some tearful farewells from people who'd grown to love Ros very much, we dropped the mooring lines and sailed off toward Tonga. West. Sailing off into the sunset. :-)