Tuesday, July 14, 2015

On the Third Day, She Arose and Ascended into the Cockpit

After five months of marina living and land cruising, we are on our way back to the tropical islands of the South Pacific. Can't wait! It is getting chilly in New Zealand as their winter is setting in. 

We have said goodbye to our friends and helpers from the Whangaporoa Rotary Club and the Wentworth College class, both groups collecting items for Vanuatu Cyclone Pam victims. It was a wonderful experience working will them. Now our boat is overloaded and we will live with it all until we get to Vanuatu!

Rob, our neighbor in Gulf Harbour, is sailing with us, which makes me very happy in case I get seasick. It is helpful to have another crew. His wife, Jenny, will be joining us in Tonga. We had to rearrange the goods for Vanuatu to make room for Rob to sleep during the passage. Jenny was kind enough to endure the settee when she joined us.

Dennis and Rob in their Tropical Woolies gear
We had a week of Rally activities in Opua with the Island Cruising Association's Pacific Circuit Rally. They take a group of boats north each May to cruising the South Pacific Islands until time to return to New Zealand in late October. This is a fun group with lots of joking and singing, plus different activities at each stop.

We decided to head to the fuel dock early one morning before it became crowded. When I turned the key to start the engine, nothing happened! It wouldn't start again. After the episode in Port Fitzroy, we had the mechanic check the starter. He said it should work fine and showed Dennis a work-around should it happen again. Well, no more messing with this. It was time to install a new starter!

Meals were prepared. Routes were determined. We were just waiting for the word as to when we would start the rally. After route and weather briefings, we were given the signal that we did the final check of the boat. All systems GO!

The sea was absolutely flat! First sunrise on passage.
Or so we thought! I was sending a last minute email test to the Rally Control boat when I could not get a Satellite phone connection. Panic! We are to communicate our position each day via email through the SAT phone as well as receive fleet position reports and weather updates. There is always a last minute issue and this was it for this passage!

After some trouble shooting (thank goodness for all those years of teaching Root Cause Analysis), it worked. I discovered that the program kept tripping to DEFAULT. Now I have a work-around. I guess one of the blessings of having owned my own business was that I had to solve a lot of technical issues - usually in the wee hours of the night when facing a deadline!

Rob & Dennis enjoying yellow fin tuna - raw! Yuck!
So we missed the official Start! Who cares! We are on our way. We are in the Pacific Circuit Rally this time. Yes, we could make this trip on our own now, but why when we can travel with others and have some fun! This rally isn't timed and there are no prizes for the first ones over the non-existent line.

Another beautiful evening sky.
The weather pattern is favorable for a smooth trip. There have been days of high winds with gust 35-50 knots for the past month. It was somewhat like our Michigan late fall weather - without snow flurries. Unfortunately, our first day has been motor sailing since the wind is well under ten knots most of the time. We need at least 12-15 to move well under sail. As a result, we are going the long way: starting out east to catch a beam reach later in the course. For you landlubbers, that means having the wind coming perpendicular to the side if the boat and sail.

The first night was beautiful with a full moon and flat seas. Good for watch-keeping and sleeping. And the first sunrise on the ocean was spectacular! The ocean was flat calm for a full day. Since we were motor sailing, our goal was to get as far east as we could because as we sail further north the wind will clock from northeast to east. The goal is to get below the Minerva reefs and come up on them instead of beating into the wind at the end.

North Minerva Reef in the Pacific Ocean
It wasn't long before we found the wind -  and the swells. This is where my trouble began! Mal de mare raised its ugly head - and lowered mine into the porcelain throne! I have decided I don't like sailing the north-south routes as the are often very lumpy. This time I was down for three days, but I came up to do my watches.

Tonga Ahoy! That is one of the active volcanoes.
In order to enter North Minerva Reef in good light, we hove to for a few hours just southeast of  South Minerva so we could approach North Minerva in the morning. The entrance is quite tricky. It is very narrow and has reefs on both sides of the entrance,  plus the current flowing out of the lagoon is quite strong - 4-5 knots against you at times. And it is not a straight shot in! But to say you have been to Minerva Reef in the middle of the Pacific Ocean puts you in less than 1% of those who sail the oceans! That makes it real special!

Arriving at Ha'apai Beach Resort for check in
It was a good thing that Rob had joined as crew. He and Jenny own the yacht next to use in Gulf Harbour Marina. Since Kiwi boat owners much pass a Category 1 inspection and proficiency evaluation before they can take their boats offshore, Rob had to complete an offshore passage as part of the qualifying. Jenny will fly Upton Tonga and join us for the fun stuff! Land Ho will not be heard soon enough for me!

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