ship's log

Saturday 3 June - Thursday 15 June - Bora Bora to Tonga


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Saturday 3 June

It's a bright and clear morning as we wake up in the lagoon at Bora Bora. We had a memorable meal at the famous (at least in Bora) ‘Bloody Mary's’ restaurant. After this and a good nights sleep we are well fortified for the departure. The weather synopsis suggested that a high pressure system would fill in across our area. This should give us favourable, if rather light winds for at least the first few days. We are fully loaded with diesel, water and gas.

We are glad to be leaving Bora at last. We had a great time here, especially in the first week when the weather was wonderful. But we have now really seen as much as we can of the island, and the bad weather of the last week has made it less fun to spend time in the water. This is where all the really exciting life is in the lagoon.

We have a steady South Easterly blowing for most of the day, so we are soon pushing along at a steady 7 knots on a beam reach. A great feeling.

Sunday 4 June

A good day's sailing, but rather slow at times. By the evening the wind has completely died down to less than three knots. Reluctantly we switch on the engine, furl the headsail and start to motor, hoping that the wind will fill in soon.

Monday 5 June

Not much wind in the morning. Mark decided to greet the day by putting out the fishing line. To his astonishment, as he was feeding it out, it suddenly took off and started fizzing out at high speed. I had just got up luckily, so came up to help. He took the wheel, and I started fighting the fish. Within half an hour we had landed a handsome baby marlin, our first of the trip. It's about 5 foot long and 12 KG. A real prize, and its tail soon joins that of the Wahoo on the backstay. The rest of it is prepared for lunch.

We have been motoring all day. The sea is absolutely glassy, and there seems to be no sign of wind anywhere. I do some calculations. We carry 200 litres of fuel in the main tanks, plus the same amount again in 9 Jerry cans. This gives us a range of 700 miles of motoring. We have used 200 miles up already in the first two days. We still have 1000 miles to go to Tonga. The forecast indicates that the High pressure will persist in the area. If we are lucky we will possibly get between 5 –10 knots of wind. If we are unlucky, we will not, and will just wallow, as we need to conserve enough fuel run the engine for two hours daily to charge the batteries which power the instruments and lights.

In most circumstances, I would be prepared to wait for wind. It will fill in eventually. In this passage however, we are keen to push on. We have already been delayed a week due to the bad weather. Nick and Sarah need to fly back, and Andy (my brother) and his family are flying out to Tonga to meet us next week.

I decide that we will make a detour down to Rarotonga, one of the Cook islands, to pick up some more diesel. Fortunately, this is only about 100 miles out of the way, and hopefully we can pick some fuel up quickly and carry on. Initially I had thought of another island, Aututaki, but after studying the pilot, I do not like the look of the exposed anchorage there.

Having made this decision, we set off South - Westwards towards Rarotonga.

Tuesday 6 June

Still motoring towards Rarotonga.

We speak on the radio to Carl Hoffman and his wife, some Swiss fellow travellers, on ‘Escara’. They left with us, and we had planned to stay in touch daily on a form of safety net. He is in a real quandary about the lack of wind, as he has friends waiting for him on Tonga. Having spoken to a weather forecaster in Germany, he decides to push on, although he also has only got fuel left for 350 miles of motoring.

Late in the morning, I discover a problem with our charging system. The engine is running, but I can see from the battery monitor that there is no charge going in to the batteries. Oh dear. Of all the maintenance areas on the boat, the electrical system is the one I fear most. It is the most complex, and yet we rely so much on it for our instrumentation and lights at night. I check the alternator and batteries. Batteries seem fine. I start the generator, and try to charge the batteries up that way, using a completely different circuit to the alternator. It starts charging. This is good news in that it suggests that it is unlikely that all the batteries have suddenly deteriorated and no longer accept charge. It also means that, in an emergency we can power our systems this way, although it is painfully slow. So suspicion points towards the alternator. I call Charlie Vella, who knows this alternator system well. He talks me through some further tests I can do. After about an hour or so, I conclude that the alternator has failed. I have done an output test, which reveals that there is no voltage across the alternator at all. Fortunately we had loaded up a complete spare alternator unit in Malta. I decide not to tackle the job of swapping them over until we get in to Rarotonga. Its quite a delicate operation involving lots of intricate wiring. We are bouncing around at sea, so not an ideal platform for fiddly jobs. It can wait until tomorrow.

We enjoy the Marlin again for lunch. It is better cold for lunch than it was baked last night. We decide that Wahoo is still the tastiest fish we have caught so far.

In the afternoon, I start reading everything I can lay my hands on about the electrical charging system on the boat. We have Nigel Calder's excellent ‘Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual’ which is our bible. Also we have the instruction manuals for the engine, the battery monitor, and the regulator. The latter is an ‘intelligent system’ which controls precisely the amount of charge the alternator sends to the batteries, according to measured need.

After this crash course, I start the laborious process of tracing all the wires through the system, so that I am oriented tomorrow to do a fast job on the changeover. During this process I discover that a wire from the regulator is both the wrong colour and also not connected where it should be. On closer inspection and testing, we discover that the wire is part of the instruction system to the alternator from the regulator. Its all a bit confusing initially, as the fact that its the wrong colour throws me off track. But soon we are sure that there is a fault in this area. I have learned from the reading that the regulator instructs the alternator through this wire to send charge (or not). So a faulty wire would indeed cause the alternator to stop sending charge to the battery bank. We build a new connection using the electrical toolkit and connect it up. It starts charging again immediately. Hurrah! What a relief.

We celebrate with a round of chocolate brownies baked by Caroline. She is putting on a very brave face, and managing to stay remarkably cheerful despite the steady stream of gloomy reports coming out of Zimbabwe. Events there seem to go from bad to worse. We learn of intimidating visits to both the Von der Heydes and the Fircks’ farms by the so called ‘Re-education’ bands of ZANU PF war veterans. Our thoughts are very much with all our family and friends out there as they go through this period of turmoil. Hopefully it will all calm down after the election at the end of this month. Caroline's parents, Nick and Sally Gambier have had many threats due to their brave decision to support the opposition MDC party.

Today is also the memorial service in Wadhurst for my Grandfather, Denis Gibson, who died last week aged 85. I am very sad not to be there with the rest of my family. He was a wonderful man. I shall never forget him bursting with pride when he attended my Commissioning parade at Sandhurst. He was a career soldier and had the prestige of being an instructor at Sandhurst. He was very happy that I was joining the Gunners, his old regiment. His death was a blessed release from the twilight torment and frustration of Alzheimer's disease. A wonderful spirit who will not be forgotten.

Wednesday 7 June

I am on the dawn watch, and soon spot the high ground of Rarotonga looming over the horizon. We are heading for the small service harbour, Avatiu, on the north side. I call up the harbour master on Channel 16, and he very kindly offers us an alongside berth to pick up fuel. We are soon tied up in what is a pretty little harbour. The harbourmaster is a New Zealander who has settled here, called Don Silk. When I explain our mission to fuel up and turn around as soon as possible, he soon has everything organised. He processes a fast check in and check out through customs in one movement One phone call later he has organised for the diesel to be delivered to the dock. He tells us where to go to get some New Zealand Dollars to pay for it, and also the best place for lunch. He even drops us off there in his pick up truck. A lovely character. I asked him how long he had been here. “Forty years” he replied “.....and I’m thinking of settling here...”

The people on this island are among the friendliest we have come across. Nick and Sarah manage to rearrange their travel schedule to accommodate the delay, and the agent does everything, even providing their new tickets. A bit of a contrast to the somewhat unhelpful experiences we had in parts of French Polynesia.

By early evening we are ready to go. We have had a great lunch at Trader Jacks, filled with water diesel, and ice, and slooshed the decks. I even managed to fit in a short run around the town.

We motor out by 5 o’clock. The whole process has taken 8 hours, and gone like clockwork, mainly thanks to Don's kindness.

Thursday 8 June

We speak to Carl Hoffman on ‘Escara’. He has accepted that he will also have to turn around and head down to Rarotonga, as he has had another day of no wind.

As forecast, there is limited wind to start with, so we motor for the first 12 hours. Then in the morning the wind fills in from the West. Bang on the nose! Still, I had been expecting this. We turn North, where the sea state should calm down. Also we are expecting the wind to fill in from the South East. Tonga lies to the West of us, on a course of about 270 degrees.

We have quite a bouncy, uncomfortable day, as the sea state is somewhat confused. At night the wind gets up to over 28 knots apparent at times, so we reef right down to the second point in the main for the night.

Friday 9 June

By dawn however it has calmed down considerably, and started to flick round to the South as forecast. This allows us to ease the sheets a little and point straight at Tonga for the first time since we stopped motoring. Great for morale.

We have a good fast day of sailing and cover over 160 miles, noon to noon.

Saturday 10 June

Another lovely day of sailing fast on a beam reach. At last we are making some good progress. We are now about 500 miles from Tonga. We should get there by about Tuesday French Polynesia time. The weather looks stable for at least the next two days, but could turn again for the last day if we are unlucky.

Sunday 11 June

Slightly quieter day, but still making progress Westwards. Its Nicks birthday, so we make a big fuss of him at teatime. The girls have made lots of cards and presents. The best one is a crocheted sunglasses case made by Hannah, with a little help from mum. A big chocolate cake appears from the galley. Birthdays are big with this crew. We also hold the sweepstake on arrival time. This one is made tricky because if we arrive in the area of the harbour after dark, we will have to stand off until dawn before we can enter safely. So its really a question of whether we will make it by Tuesday last light or not.

Monday 12 June South Pacific ocean, 200 miles east of Tonga. Lat: 18 deg 37 S, Lon: 170 deg 29 W

Wind even lighter today. Make slow but steady progress. The swell is reduced to the point where it is mostly fairly comfortable.

Then in the afternoon we are treated to one of the most memorable sights of the trip so far. Nick was on watch and called out ‘Whale! ’ at about 4.30. We all rushed up on deck to see. After a few minutes, there was no further sign so people drifted back down. Then there was another blow off the starboard beam. Every one was back on deck and just waited in the last of the sunlight. Suddenly, about 300 metres away off our starboard beam, a bow wave appeared, and a huge humpback whale shot straight into the air, hung there for a second, then crashed back into the water with an almighty splash. It must have been at least 50 feet long, bigger than Lazy Duck. What an awesome sight. We could not believe our luck. It breached pointing Westwards in the direction of Tonga. There are a few islands in the Haapai group in Tonga where the Humpback come to mate and breed every year. So we reckoned that this whale must be headed the same way we are going.

A great day to remember.

We celebrate by taking the evening off and playing cards in the cockpit, as the wind has gone so light.

At this rate, those bidding for Wednesday morning arrival in Tonga are looking good for the sweepstake prize.....

Tuesday 13 June

After the excitement of seeing the humpbacks and our leisurely game of cards in the cockpit, everyone is in a festive mood as we look forward to our arrival in Tonga. But the weather has one more trick to play on us. We had been watching the cold front on the weatherfax, heading East as we headed west. We were wondering if we would be lucky enough to get in before we met up. No such luck. In the morning we were enveloped for a couple of hours in cloud and rain. It soon passes and gives way to blue sky for a while. But we are alert for more to come. In the evening the sky looks ominous ahead, so we take in a second reef in the main and furl in most of the jib. Soon we are hit hard by the new wind and rain. It gusts to 30 knots, so we are barrelling along at over 8 knots, occasionally touching 9, even strapped right down. Fortunately it is blowing from the South East, so we are on a broad reach, which is a comfortable point of sail for the Duck.

This is too fast for us, as we want to arrive in Vav’au, Tonga at first light. At this rate we will be there at three in the morning.

Wednesday 14 June (which is in fact Thursday 15 June in Tonga): In Vav’au group of islands, Tonga Lat: 18 degrees 39 S, 174 degrees 00, W

It is my watch as we are starting to approach the islands. Normally we would be able to pick out the lights from far away. But tonight the visibility in the driving rain is less than two miles at times. I keep a constant check on the chart position, using the electronic chart and position indicator. This is a brilliant bit of kit for these conditions. I still need to be careful, and keep a wide margin for error however. The chart we are using was produced by a survey conducted on HMS ‘Penguin’ by Captain A. Mostyn Field , RN in 1898. The chart could be over half a mile different from my GPS reading, and there are some treacherous reefs around the island group to avoid.

I am still unable to see anything when we are five miles off. I alter course to skirt around the headland to the North of the island group. The approach in to the fjord in Vavau is from the West. At last a clue that we are near to land is provided by the fact that the big sea starts to calm down, as we come in to the lee. This is further reinforced when I switch the radar on and get a return signal from the cliffs. There is land out there in the gloom all right.

Once we are round the headland, I furl in the headsail completely, pull in the main, and sit hove to, waiting for the light to come. Dawn arrives, and soon we can clearly make out the cliffs at the entrance to the aptly named Port of Refuge. Everyone is now awake, in anticipation of our arrival in Tonga. We motor in slowly, the engine straining against the howling wind, which is blowing straight down the fjord.

We are soon in the relative shelter of the fjord, and turn North to our destination, Neiafu harbour. This is reputedly one of the best protected harbours in the South Pacific. We are looking forward to some respite from the wind and rain. After a quick call on Channel 16 we are directed to the main wharf where we clear customs, immigration and Port authority bureaucracy. Whilst we are on the wharf, Andy (my brother) and his family walk down to see us. They had been in the Paradise hotel, watching for our arrival. It is brilliant to see them, and to discover that they have been having a good time here in Tonga whilst they were waiting for us to arrive.

We moored up at 0830 on Wednesday 14th (Thursday 16th) so Caroline wins the sweepstake. Although we are only nominally two days late to meet up, in fact it now becomes three days, as we have crossed the dateline in arriving in Tonga. Wednesday 14h June becomes Thursday 15th June. We won’t get this lost day on our trip back until we fly back to UK in September.

We moor up at the Paradise hotel wharf, give the boat a good scrub and tidy up. After a good lunch at Anas cafe, I head back to the boat for a sleep. Nick and Sarah check in to the Paradise hotel. Mark is also going to leave us for a couple of weeks and explore Tonga. He will rejoin for the trip to New Caledonia in a couple of weeks.

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