Passage Notes- Opua, NZ to Nuku’alofa, Tonga

A boat followed us out of Auckland harbour, full of farewell faces waving their arms. More arms and coats blowing in the breeze waved from the top of an old volcano at the harbours entrance. We felt elated and sad and nervous and excited, in equal measures, to be leaving. The comforts of home are behind us now and the elements present themselves immediately with 40knots of wind carrying us to Kawau Island. An island full of rumoured copper treasure guarded by peacocks. In a couple of days, with a couple of stops we would be ready and waiting in The Bay of Islands for a weather window to take us to Tonga.

The Bay of Islands, with one village named the ‘Hell Hole of the Pacific’, is actually a rather pleasant place and provides us with safe harbour, customs and supplies. We stock up with a few last provisions, the boat already heaving at it’s sides: 2 pairs of sea boots, 3 rolls of tape, 1 English dictionary (from a lovely old mouse), 3 tins of peaches and 1 bearded rabbit crew, who thankfully we remembered to collect. The weather window presented us with good passage, sooner then expected, on our Predict Wind weather forecast app. (which shows different weather models on a chart downloaded through satellite connection) and it looked to be a spanking ride all the way to Tonga. Here are passage notes below, written at the the time of happening from different parties.

Day 1: The Cat “We seem to have roller coaster bellies and everyone is up early. The bearded rabbit has never crossed an ocean before so I imagine he is feeling doubly nervous. He is obsessed with dirt and digging holes so why he is coming to sea I am not sure, but he seems useful so far on the boat and with preparations. A lot of jokes are told and a lot of (nervous) laughter is heard across the bay possibly. The three of us trudge to customs for final paperwork and clearance then say our last goodbye to land, for a while, before we motor down the harbour and gradually out to sea.”

The Owl “The ship is stowed well now and we can hoist the sails in the Lee of these rocks. The waypoint has been plotted, the log book has been ruled and we are ready to cross this expansive sodden desert. Off and sailing well now in quite a big, slightly confused sea but the sun is shining and we are filled with the feeling of the start of a proper adventure. The land grows smaller, an Albatross soars past and three ships present themselves in the dimming light. A rather roly poly night of sailing with the wind aft of the beam. No one seems to sleep and I am trying to hide the fact that I might be suffering the worst with Mal de Mer but I hope to the feathered gods that this queasiness will pass in a couple of days”

Day 2: The Cat “Today the sea eased to a gentle rhythm and now as night falls we motor on a reflective, oily surface. I am on watch and the skipper, Darth and the bearded rabbit sleep soundly- Purred to sleep by the hum of the motor named Yanick. I am finding it very hard to keep my eyes awake but it is the dog watch..no place for cats I say. The moon, a snarling Cheshire Cat tonight, has been lost in the black clouds and has disappeared out of site. We left on a waxing moon but it is still quite small. The autopilot is on now, we hadn’t set it up to self steer under sail, so I can give my arms a rest-they had heave hoed too much yesterday. The stars are bright and hang on threads seemingly so close. Their appearance is mirrored and the star threads hang up through the ocean to greet the hull. Horizon is blurred and you cannot tell where the sea and sky begin and end. We are floating in space which does suit a boat named Darth Vader and I feel as if we swim across the center of a sphere, an elaborate jewelled Faberge egg of some sort. The air, although still, is cold and I keep the possum flaps of my hat close to my cheeks. A sea mist is starting to role in and an eerie feeling creeps up on me with the mist. The sea mist is so thick now I can only see four meters of water beyond the boat. My mind starts to play tricks full of Kraken and ghost ships and I imagine we have entered some portal and have gone back to an era of sailors superstitions and sea myths. Right that is it, I am too nervous now, I am going to wake The Owl.”

The Owl “I have been rudely awakened by a shivering cat who is scared of the sea mist. After some comforting I am back in my bunk and beginning to nod off and dream of the Whale which must have been under that spout of water I saw today. It is frustrating to be motoring and the forecast does seem to be lighter then thought but we are in a convergence zone of weather systems which can lead to some unpredictability. I am happy though to be tucked up in my bunk for a couple of hours and on a flat and steady surface, which is a luxury. Hopefully the wind comes soon, the cat stops shivering and the bearded rabbit manages to wake for his watch. I can hear the cat speaking to some dolphins now so hopefully she is ok”

Day 3: The Cat “ The wind has filled in now and today has presented itself with a grey sky, very different to the crystal night. There are no land marks, or sea marks for that matter, to tell that we have moved in space but you do feel as if you are in a different place. The sea is getting choppier and choppier and to lift spirits we eat the beautiful homemade biscuits gifted to us and the Owl’s aunties fruit cake. Quite greedy we are. As our watches cross over with one another, and mostly everyone seems to be awake in the daylight hours at the moment, we spend a lot of time chatting about all sorts of things, particularly physical and philosophical conundrums. Away from internet connections and dreaded phones we discuss problems and find we cannot solve them or we have to think in different ways. Our soft heads are not used to this but it is a lot of fun and our conversations are joyous like children at a sleepover. A large and dense cloud that sits on the sea’s horizon makes my stomach sink and I let the Owl know- he must think I am a scaredy cat. Storm Petrals fly close to us and I hope they are some how keeping an eye out for us and not leading us astray. The sea is rough and night time approaches and we approach the ominous cloud. The jib has been exchanged for the storm jib and two reefs placed in the main as the wind increases over the 25 knot mark. We are all alert. There is no choice but to enter the giant cloud and as the Barrometer’s reading is not too low, or dropping too fast we feel ok. Inside the cloud we do not feel ok. It is a nasty bad monster cloud tempest and for 6 hours we are bombarded by a very confused sea state, no visibility, just blackness and stinging rain. We do our best to get through it but without a windex it is hard and the bearded rabbit and myself have to awaken the Owl to help us as the boat becomes out of control and we crash jibe. Eyes are wide with fear”

The Owl “ The windex fell from the top of the mast and landed on the deck this morning. The bearded rabbit and I were on deck and could not help but laugh. Now however, as I climb on deck with the surrounding little tempest, fear it was a bad omen. I help the rabbit and cat, who seem petrified, to get the boat back on course and we do not loose the mast, thank goodness. Just two minutes later and we pop out of the monstrous cloud and the wind dies completely. The boiled up waves remain however and we bob and roll like a cork. No one has slept tonight but hopefully the wind will die today.”

Day 4: The Cat “I am very nervous now and do not trust any clouds at all but am glad that it is day. Never more have I wanted daylight or moonlight or a good star to steer by. It is hard when there is nothing and you are steering to numbers or dials on a compass. Feels sometimes like you are playing a computer game with very realistic atmospherics. The wind seems to be building a little and my heart sinks again but all you can do is keep the boat sailing, fill out the logbook, bail the bilges and keep everyone fed. However, no one wants to eat it seems. There has been a lot of water streaming down the forward hatch which adds to discomfort and our sink on port tack manages to flood the pot and pan cupboard. The sound of sloshing water inside the boat is not fun. With a lot of effort and acrobatic movement, as the boat leaps and bounds, the Owl takes on the bailing. White veins and jumping spray marbles the deep blue waves. Another unlikable cloud in a polluted yellow ochre is approaching”

The Owl “The wind is building again and the sea state is still a bit miserable. The bearded rabbit, who is on the helm suddenly calls out that the steering has gone soft and it is now blowing 35 knots. My heart plummets and I slide myself into the boot (stern) of the boat to look at the steering gear. To my horror the wretched autopilot has shaken off it’s bolts and fallen into the quadrant (steering system of ropes which control wheel and rudder) jamming the steering and pulling the quadrant base off the hull. I leap in and call the Cat to come to my help. The bearded rabbit will have to do his best to stop us crash jibing again. As I use my legs and arms to stop the base coming off completely I ask the cat to grab me ropes and tools so I can make a temporary fix. My heart is pounding and sweat is pouring down my face. I now ask the cat to get the emergency tiller out and tell her to set that up as we may need it in a hurry. The cat and rabbit in clear thinking panic set up the emergency tiller so I can make a better temporary fix. I don’t think I have ever worked so hard before but am glad that the base screws do not exit the hull otherwise we would have much bigger problems at hand. The rabbit and cat do well at steering the boat and after an hour or two we manage to get the steering gear stabilised again. What a day-luckily some humour, albeit nervous, remains with the crew”

Day 5:

The Cat “A rather eventful 24 hours have left us very weary (possibly we have only had 6 hours sleep since we left NZ). I am still nervous but the sea state is better today and the sailing is good. We plan to stop at Minerva reef to get some rest if the weather permits. All me and the bearded rabbit can talk about is Minerva reef and the secret kissing of land but we keep these thoughts away from the Owl. Our ‘phycological curtain’, a piece of fabric at the back of the boat which has little purpose but makes us feel like there is a barrier between us and the sea, seems to have shrunk a bit. It looks like an elephants bottom but now is a skinnier bottom. The owl gives us some lessons about the weather and the more we understand the physics the better we feel. We, the crew, are still suffering from cloud paranoia. Driving seems to help and we are sailing fast now towards our destination.”

The Owl “ I am still worried about the steering gear and am checking it often but the fix seems to be holding well. I drilled 8 big screws into it to hold it down which should suffice. Will need to visit the hardware shop in Tonga though. I hurt my leg badly during the emergency fix and it hurts to stand and drive at the wheel on it. I have to suck in my pride and stand like a idiotic seagull or a flamingo fancier not strong and wise on two feet like the elegant Owl that I am. The weather seems to be easing a little and with the new forecast I don’t think we will stop at Minerva as the wind is due to die then come from the north in a few days. A pod of dolphins come charging towards us chasing Tuna which jump into the air. The weather is warmer now and hopefully in a day or so we will not be wearing too much and our long johns can be discarded- mine may need to be burnt.”

Day 6:

The Cat “ Spirits have lifted as stars filled the sky again last night. The moon is bigger and as it goes behind clouds it feels as if someone behind you is slowly dimming the lights. We sail along in a black and white movie. We are dog tired but keep going. Sad not to be visiting Minerva reef, which is a flat lake in the middle of the ocean that sailors sometimes hide in in storms- the reef land disappearing under the water at high tide- but makes sense with the current forecast. I give a coin gift to Neptune for letting us pass and lifting the ‘curse of the windex’. My whiskers are salt encrusted and claws filled with dirt but I do feel alive. It is good not to have to worry about washing yourself for a while. I wore a t-shirt today and the sunrises and sunsets have a tropical glow of pinks, burnt oranges and turquoise greens- cheap pastel poster paints, watered down, blur together in the sky. I cook another meal of mince tonight and we are glad again for a hot bowl of food. The kind Owl’s mother made us many meals for our freezer which means cooking entails just heating up a pot which is much easier at sea as the boat lollops along “

The Owl “ I think the crew have made a thousand wishes on a thousand shooting stars, and it must be said I have made a few but everyone is happier now. Conversations run on to infinity and much laughter can be heard when you are trying to sleep in your bunk. I must say it is hard sharing a bunk with the cat because when she comes off watch she climbs in over me and falls on to me. I am too tired to come up with a solution to this at the moment. On the horizon Iran’s belt and the seven sisters are rising in unison. Red and yellow Mars is in front of us and leads the way, Venus is behind, bright as a small moon. Phospherescence is a multitude of gold and silver coin shaped sequins in our wake and is one of the many reasons I like being out at sea.”

Day 7:

The Cat “It is balmy warm now and good to dry out our soaking gear a little in the sun. The breeze has dropped and we now enter a realm of wind sucking rain clouds. I can hear the Owl and the bearded rabbit on deck preparing for a wash. They are taking off their clothes and calling out for some soap as the rain curtain comes closer. I lie in my bunk and laugh out loud as the rain from this cloud is a false illusion and only delivers a little water. The Owl and rabbit are left cold and covered in soap. Soap flakes stick out from the rabbits beard.”

The Owl “ Sailing is getting increasingly hard with a shifty light breeze and I think it will not be until Tuesday that we arrive in Tonga, whatever the day is now. We must arrive in Tonga on a day of the week which begins with T or else. It would be wonderful to see a Whale and the bearded rabbit seems almost desperate to see one. A few dolphins pass and some new sea birds of undefined tropical species soar fleetingly with us. We have also spotted plastic rubbish floating and it hurts our hearts and we try not to become apathetic. The bearded rabbit has spotted a sort of sea going vulture bird which has pointy almost bat like wings and sharp beak. It circles high up in the sky but doesn’t once seem to approach the sea.”

Day 8: The Cat “ Tonga is close now and we are all itching with white line fever. Land Land Ahoy ! I yell, which doesn’t work with an increasingly horse voice. A small island called Ata comes into site. I hear that Ata is the only place where Fata grapes grow. Juicy lovely grapes the size of a fist. Birds circle the island at ripening season and gorge themselves silly on them and spend weeks in drunken stupors dancing and carrying on with the most foolish behaviour. We will not be stopping there though as there is no safe anchorage and we must make our way to Tonga. Annoying however, the wind is very tricky and light and we jump between motoring and sailing with the wind direction swinging around the compass. I take back what I said about cleaning oneself as would really like a wash now and dream of the first swim. Mostly however, I would like a long deep sleep but fear my body clock has now been transformed into the timings of the watch routine. My paws throb when I lie in my bunk as with no autopilot we have had to do around 9 hours on the helm a day each. My paws must have been soft when we started this voyage”

The Owl “ Blasted breeze ! There is either too much or too little always when you want the opposite. I can smell Tonga, a sweet earthly one, but fear we will not arrive until the wee hours. I will not sleep tonight to keep my eyes peeled on sites of land and charts and I do have the best night sight out of the rest of the crew, I am sure the cat would beg to differ.The motor has been running hard now and I worry that it is over heating. A small dear little fish has made it’s way into the strum box but now I fear is dead. Too small for our dinner anyway, poor thing. The visibility is terribly bad today, with grey low clouds and rain, which is ironic when you plan to make landfall. Blast, blast, blast.”

Day 9: The Cat “ It is the early hours and we are now sailing fast towards the lights of Nuku’alofa, the main island of Tonga. The visibility is a little better and the Owl and Rabbit have not been to bed but I managed to have a little nap. Time to navigate and we can not see the lighthouse light so are very cautious. We approach the Island from the eastern side and make our way through a Whale highway, a passage which the Whales take on their way to their breeding grounds. No Whales for us though the rabbit believes he has seen a pink one chasing a school of flying fish. We will let him keep believing that. No the light house cannot be working and we struggle to find navigation lights except for the glow of street lights and houses which form in small groups on the waters edge of the low lying land. We enter the Piha passage with eyes wide open and hearts alert as now our concentration is crucial to help us navigate carefully through the reefs. Fortunately we have a good digital chart which shows the boat and surrounding land on a dimly glowing screen. I am so excited to be here and look forward to day light, It is about 4.30am now.”

The Owl “ Rather hard navigation with the light house being out and other navigation markers having been moved inappropriately to places not suggested on the charts. We enter the narrows between reefs and once through the other side I relax- a giant steering gear sized weight lifts from my feathered shoulders. I have actually been here before three years ago, on a similar voyage, and know that now we are in safe waters. A few other boats are anchored off a small island in the bay and we join them. The anchor is laid, the engine turned off and we are gifted with a tropical island in silhouette and a pale purple sky at dawn. It is odd to suddenly see land again and perhaps it is a mirage but we are very very happy to have arrived, even if it is one… goodnight”

3 Comments

  1. So good reading your events an travel so far with your trials across a variety of different experiences. Can’t wait for the next stint. Take care travel safely. Have a blessed day/ evening/ morning….

  2. Well done on completing leg one Auck to Tonga
    A real adventure with wind ,waves and bits falling off and the Cat alternating between enjoyment and terror and the Owl keeping the show on the road or better still the ocean
    Now enjoy Tonga

    Don & Maureen

  3. What a wonderful way to share your adventures! Some hairy moments so far, it sounds like, but glad you are all safe. We look forward to more *tails* of the seas. Much love to all of you x

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