Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Rattle Your Dags

Today has been very special. Firstly the sailing is near perfect. We have about 10-15 knots from the East and we are on a comfortable close reach. The sea is smooth, the sky is blue but it's not too hot. Conditions have been so good, in fact, that we have been able to hoist our cruising chute once again. This always feels pretty special as though Kika's in her Sunday best. The weather prognosis also looks very benign which can only enhance our mood.

During the night on my watch, I noticed a mast-head light near on starboard aft quarter. When I checked 20 minutes later, it was on our beam and 15 minutes after that it was ahead of us. We thought there was a possibility it may be Zeferin but when we called on the VHF there was no reply so I concluded it was some kind of large super yacht judging by its pace. During our morning chat on the radio, however, it transpired that it had been Zeferin sneaking up on us in stealth mode (Joanie had 'forgotten' to turn on the VHF).I was amazed as the boat I saw had taken the lead so quickly. Anyway, they hove-to to wait for us so we could rendez-vous which we managed at about 0900.Meeting mid-ocean sounds quite pointless and dull (after all, we only said 'goodbye' to these people 4 days ago) but nothing could be further from the truth. We rarely see other boats actually under sail, and in such calm conditions we could get really close and talk to Sandy and Joan. We played around in each others' wakes for about half an hour and then they 'rattled their dags' (Kiwi term meaning 'get a move on') and were gone. It's quite sad as their landfall is not Opua but Auckland where they live, so we shall not see them when we make landfall, BUT we shall be visiting them as we've been invited to stay and sample genuine New Zealand life (I may be wrong but I think it might involve salty sea-dog talk and lots of rum.)

As Zeferin disappeared over the horizon, we just had to wait for Noa to catch us up which they eventually did at about 1600.Not content to just wave and shout at each other, Rita was determined to make physical contact and threw me a book to read on passage, and I chucked one back in return. Who says girls can't throw? Both books landed squarely in the appropriate cockpit.So now we are trailing at the rear, but it's good to know there are plenty of other boats behind us including Islay - the other Kika boat. Surely they can't overtake us can they?

It's now 9pm, the cruising chute is safely stowed and we are back to bog standard genoa and main. The wind has picked up and is jostling us about a little, so we may have to reef down soon. It's pretty cold in the evenings these days and we have broken out the sleeping bags for warmth. Seems not long ago we were struggling 24/7 to keep cool. We're hoping for another lovely day tomorrow. Meanwhile, Happy Hallowe'en!

Kika from Zeferin

Zeferin from Kika

Noa from Kika

Position @ 21:00 (GMT +13): S26° 24' E179° 21'
Daily run: 117 nmiles
Distance to go to Opua: 579 nmiles

Monday, October 30, 2006

Reef reaching

We past north Minerva reef at dawn yesterday morning and excitedly set a new waypoint for Opua, New Zealand. Fortunately we checked the chart and realised our new course took us straight over south Minerva reef. Somewhat chastened we set a new course and past all reef dangers by 11am. It's understandable why, prior to GPS, the majority of boats gave these reefs a wide berth. Most of the reef is submerged with the occasional rock breaking the water barely allowing identification. Even our radar, which clearly picked out the Tuamotu atolls, struggled to pick up much of a target on the 6 mile range. However we both would have loved to have stopped there. The thought of being anchored in relatively calm waters, while appearing to be in the middle of the ocean would have been a unique experience ... and there's allegedly an abundance of lobsters.
The wind decreased throughout the morning until we were making less than 5 knots under full sail. As the sea was relatively calm we thought we'd try the cruising chute. We haven't made much use of it to date, as if there's much swell it tends to crash around alternatively emptying and filling. It looked like perfect light-sail weather and proved to be, easily adding another knot to our speed and helping us keep the combined challenge from Zeferin and Noa, who left Minerva that morning, at bay. It's not the most restful of sails to use, as in gusts it tends to take over from the self-steering and pull the boat off course. After a morning of manual steering and experimentation we'd tamed the sail and George (the self-steering) and the cruising chute, while not best of friends, were peacefully coexisting.

Position at 01:25 31st October (GMT +13): S25° 01' W179° 51'
Daily run: 124.0 nmiles
Distance to go to Opua: 672 nmiles

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Closing on Minerva

The drugs have kicked in and I'm now feeling vaguely human again and able to do normal things like sitting up, eating, reading and even writing a blog instead of lying foetal on the starboard bunk for hours at a time. It's scary how effective Scopoderm is, but in such a wonderful way! Anyway, we have 60 miles to go to Minerva Reefs where we probably shan't stop as the weather window continues to look good for us, and by spending time there, we would be courting an encounter with some kind of adverse weather later in our passage. Noa and Zeferin are at anchor in the reef (they both left a day before us) and when we pass there tomorrow morning, we shall slip ahead of them in stealth mode - well sort of. We'll probably end up radioing them to say hello and they'll emerge pretty soon after and overtake us. We don't mind really, as Kika has been sailing very well and we know that what she lacks in speed she makes up for in strength (and looks!).

Today we have had more good winds from the east with lots of sunshine to help us along. It is much colder down here though, and where once a sheet was too warm at night, we are now using sleeping bags. We have spent the day chatting, cooking, reading and sleeping - the usual 'on passage' activities, with a little sailing thrown in here and there. The 'Lonely Planet' guide to New Zealand is fast becoming our most favoured piece of literature and we are getting excited about making landfall. Our destination is Opua, in the beautiful Bay of Islands, where many boats we know will have already arrived and where more will be constantly trickling in over the next few weeks. The party will be big and long!

Position @ 19:40 (30/10 UTC+13): S22° 58' W178° 09'
Distance to Minerva reef: 60 nmiles
Daily run: 136 nmiles

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Wind on the beam

We had an uneventful sail through the volcanic Ha'apai group last night. I'd been shown an old Admiralty chart which describes an island off the Ha'apai as varying in height from 50m underwater to 20m above water. Fortunately no sub-terrain volcanic action last night.

The sailing has been great so far, with 20 knots of wind on the beam making the motion much less rolly than our long downwind passages. In a confused moment after waking up today, I thought we must be at anchor such was the gentle rocking motion (Ellen disputes this). We've been making good progress as well, with a respectable 154 nautical mile daily run. However it's a while since we've been on passage and we're taking our time to adapt again. Ellen decided to try to make this passage Scopoderm patch-free, which has turned out to be a mistake. A patch is now in place and she's feeling better, hopefully she'll feel able to write an entry tomorrow.

We're 163 miles from Minerva reef and the weather is looking fairly benign so there doesn't seem much to gain in stopping. However we're still sailing in the straight-forward trade-wind belt. The winds will become less consistent in direction and force once we make it south of 25S, where the weather becomes increasingly influenced by the high and low pressure systems tracking their way from Australia to New Zealand. The trick seems to be to time our arrival in New Zealand to avoid head-winds from the leading edge of a high or trailing edge of a low, however we're still too far out to fine-tune our course.

The radar detector is beeping at us tonight, but no sign of the ship responsible. Last night it was volcanic island, tonight it's ships, it's getting colder, but no need for an iceberg watch yet.

Position @ 01:00 (29/10 UTC+13): S21° 37' W176° 58'
Distance to Minerva reef: 163 nmiles
Daily run: 154 nmiles

Friday, October 27, 2006

NZ here we come

It's strange how the smallest of achievements can cause a disproportionate sense of satisfaction. So it was yesterday when the (H.M) customs officer finally presented us with our clearance for New Zealand and wished us a safe trip. I left the office elated and excited at the prospect of the trip ahead. My sunny mood could been related to satisfaction at finally having made the decision to leave and acting on it. The passage to New Zealand has a reputation for nasty weather, hence synoptic charts and text forecasts receive undue attention and interpretation, strategies are expounded and "decision paralysis" starts to creep in. Then there's preparing the boat to leave; taking on water, fuel, food, servicing the engine and general essential repairs all of which can easily mean you miss the "weather window" you've divined from the charts. After our frustrations obtaining clearance in Niuatoputapu the paper chase around immigration, port-captain and customs went surprisingly smoothly.

It feels about the right time to be leaving the tropics as 1st November marks the start of the South Pacific hurricane season. The weather as usual doesn't seem aware of the official dates and produced tropical storm Xavier which, although 800 miles to our NE, has been threatening to disrupt our passage south. In practice it's impossible to predict the weather for the whole passage as it's 1200 miles to Opua, around 10 days at sea, and our synoptic charts give reasonable detail for 3 days. The weather for the remaining 7 days is really nothing more than an informed guess, based on the pattern of lows and highs passing from Australia across the Tasman sea to New Zealand. If the situation changes, we can stop in Minerva reef, 1/3 of the way there and wait for another "weather window".

Yesterday evening improved further when Matt and Togs on Helene arrived, they crossed from Galapagos to Marquesas with us, but we last saw them in the Wreck Bay in the Galapagos, it was great to catch-up and share stories.We've also met "Islay of Lorn" another Rival 38. It feels a little like Buzzlightyear in "Toy Story" coming face to face with shelves of packaged Buzzlightyears and suddenly realising he was one of many. Our friends have been loyally saying there's another "Kika" boat, and its been fascinating to compare stories and make a note of good ideas.

The official mourning period appears to be over, radio stations have switched from sombre choral music to a bizzare but entertaining mixture of 80s "classics" and rap, dancing is allowed again and "Bob's Mexican cantina" held a "Miss Vava'u" drag queen competition - shame we're off.

Up until recently it's felt like a healthy life, but in quick succession I've been struck down by a nasty cold and a swollen hand. The swelling was caused by a coral cut sustained while collecting oysters, requiring peroxide and a course of antibiotics.
Both Kika and ourselves are looking forward to a rest in New Zealand.

It made a pleasant change to have a gradual transition to ocean sailing. We set sail amongst the protected waters around Vava'u and were more prepared than usual when we pointed Kika away from the islands into the ocean. We'll miss the easy sailing between tranquil anchorages broken only by the twice daily drone of the local airline's aging DC9.

It's been good sailing so far, with 15-20knots of wind on the beam - we're making 6-7 knots. All's well apart from breaking one of the self-steering lines which finally chafed through. Replacing it has been on the to-do list since the Caribbean. A quick repair only took a few minutes and Kika was actually sailing along steering herself quite happily for a while before I noticed that we weren't quite on course.

As I write this we're passing the Ha'apai group of islands, it's somewhat eerie as it's a black night and there appear to be no lights on the islands. We're keeping a good lookout as it's an area renowned for volcanic activity.

Position at 00:45(UTC+13): S19° 34' W175° 12'
Distance to Minerv reef: 320 nm

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Tip Top Tonga

The final part of our passage to Vava'u seemed interminable; tacking into the wind is hard work and the rewards are meagre, but the sight of land, and a new, apparently beautiful land at that, helped to restore our spirits for the last few miles. Vava'u is a collection of fertile limestone islands surrounded by a partial reef. Those to windward have quite dramatic cliffs, while those inside the island group have gentle rounded peaks. The bases of the smaller islands have been slowly but insistently eroded by the tide, so at this juncture in their history, they resemble stout green mushrooms. The islands appear uninhabited at first but if you look carefully you can just make out the odd white church tower, red roof or puff of smoke in the hills, but the general impression is one of lush wilderness. We sailed directly west amongst the islands and made landfall in a small, perfect bay called Port Maurelle where our friends Jamie and Lucy on Savoir Vivre had promised us a right royal welcome. We had last seen them in February while moored in Bonaire and since then we'd been playing cat and mouse across the Pacific, with Savoir Vivre as the very sprightly rodent and Kika as the rather easily distracted feline. Jamie and Lucy answered our silent prayers and asked us over for beer and supper when we were ready - bliss!

Port Maurelle is a delightful anchorage with crystal clear water, fringed to the east by a small, pristine sandy beach and flanked to the north and south by banks of lush vegetation. A clear view of the Pacific lies west amongst the islands, and if you're patient, it won't take you long to spot a humpback or two out near the reef. After a snorkel the following day, we left the anchorage to make our way north to the main town, Neiafu, to check in.
The cruising here is a dream; good winds, calm waters, and countless, protected anchorages to explore amongst beautiful and varied islands. The charter company, Moorings, has a fairly large business here and as a result, they have thoroughly charted the area. Normally, this would ring negative bells of over crowded anchorages crawling with cruisers and other tourists (ugh, don't you just hate them!) but in fact Vava'u is remarkably unspoiled and we have the benefit of safe cruising in a place where we can find friends or solitude, depending on how we feel. So, on our short sail up to town, we passed 2 familiar boats with good friends aboard, and glimpsed 3 humpbacks, all in the space of 20 minutes!

Tonga is known as the 'Friendly Islands' because Captain Cook paid a visit to the island group south of here (Ha'apai) where he found the people were extremely friendly and generous, especially with their homebrew. You would have thought this may have aroused suspicion, but apparently Cook was unaware that it was all a vile plot to capture his ship and its goods, while he and his crew were in a deep drunken slumber.
The Tongan leaders, however, could not agree on strategy and the plot was abandoned due to their squabbles. Thus captain and crew escaped disaster and left with hangovers in blissful ignorance of their lucky reprieve. Perhaps because of the spurious 'friendly' reputation, the expectation is unfair, but we have met friendlier people than the Tongans. It's important to remember that their King has recently passed away, and perhaps this goes some way to explain their sobriety and seeming indifference towards us. In some ways I like it, as any bond you do make is genuine, it just may take more time and effort to make it.

We like Neiafu whose buildings scatter the hillside down to the harbour. There are many tourists here and a few ex-pats, but we have all come a long way to enjoy Vava'u for what it is and therefore there are no fancy, luxury hotels to dominate the landscape or economy. Life remains fairly simple and the small, efficient laundry cum internet cafe is civilisation enough for us and most others.

Whale-watching is big business here and it's fairly easy to find some. Many cruisers we know have swam with humpbacks which, by all accounts, are gentle and curious. This is a treat we would like to experience but we're not going chasing whales, and if the opportunity arises, we shall see how we feel. They are enormous and I'm not sure I'd feel like sharing their space with them. One wrong flick of the fluke and I'm history! The coastline here is craggy with erosion and some islands are pitted with small caves. On the north west corner of the island of Kapa is Swallows' Cave which is a tall cathedral of space full of strange and lovely rock formations.
The water below is as clear as the air above, and a beautiful light filters in from outside making it a magical place to swim in. Just a little further west on the island of Nuapapu is the unique and testing Mariners' Cave. It is roughly a sphere shaped space, half full of water but the novelty is the entrance which is about 2 metres below water level and 5 metres long. It is extremely unnerving as there is no guiding light to speak of within the cave so you must steel yourself to dive down into what appears to be solid rock. We visited it with Savoir Vivre as Jamie had been before and knew what was involved. While Nick stayed at Savoir Vivre's helm close by, Jamie, Lucy and I swam towards the cave. Jamie dived down and headed to the submerged entrance and a nervous Lucy followed (it was her first time too). I surface dived and followed in the wake of her fins, finning madly myself. Ahead I could just make out the shape of more fluorescent fins treading water in the dim light of the cave. The entrance wasn't too long but I had been very nervous and pumped like crazy to get there, so I burst through the surface into an extraordinary space to find several familiar faces all slightly distorted by their masks and their gobsmacked expressions. The cave was not as beautiful as Swallows but as the water rose and fell within, the change in pressure made the clear atmosphere turn to thick mist and back again in the space of seconds. My ears popped uncomfortably but I was elated to have made it and delighted to share the moment with some other, equally joyous friends. The exit was a beautiful, blue welcoming window of ocean and it was easy to dive down and along into the open water. When it came to Nick's turn, I led the way and though I knew where the entrance was (someone had just emerged) there were no tell-tale bright fins to guide me in. I was pretty apprehensive but determined and so I dived down. I came up into the now empty cave and Nick soon popped up beside me. This time it was lovely to have it to ourselves.

We have spent our time here enjoying wonderful sails amongst the islands, sharing 'pot lucks' on beaches with other cruisers including Joan and Walters birthdays and preparing Kika for her final leg to New Zealand.

Joan's Birthday video

Walter's Birthday video

The concept of pot luck is simple and brilliant. Get a few cruisers together, find a beach, bring along a drink and a dish, make a fire and enjoy. It gives you the opportunity to vary your palate and it's a good excuse to meet.
New Zealand immigration are notoriously stringent and will not allow many foodstuffs into the country, so we are all eking out our rations to avoid buying more only to have it confiscated when we get there. Consequently, at this stage in the trip, stocks are getting low and bilges have long been raided, so pooling our resources is wise. It's uncanny how, without any planning at all, the different dishes can complement each other. You may have stumbled across (ie stolen) a juicy papaya and a coconut on a walk earlier in the day, and the guys anchored next to you may have been fishing and caught an octopus, hence octopus curry with papaya in coconut milk on the side. I get so excited about all the possible different flavours that I still haven't learned not to put too much on my plate and Nick has announced, rather rudely I think, that he will no longer accept my leftovers. Hmmm!

In preparation for the trip south, Nick and Walter (Noa) spent part of Saturday cleaning the underside of the boats with the help of Zeferin's 'Super Snorkel'; a kind of bizarre breathing apparatus comprised of a lawnmower engine, driving a compressor which feeds 2 air tubes. It sits on the deck doing its stuff, while you take one of the tubes and do your stuff without having to surface gasping for breath every 30 seconds.
It makes hull cleaning so much easier and it's also quite good fun. Zeferin and Noa had bottoms which were thick with tenacious weed, but Kika's was pretty spotless - a testament to the outrageously expensive anti-fouling we bought back in Curacao. This may sound like a good thing, but it does in fact mean that Zeferin's and Noa's speed will now increase considerably (like they need it!) while Kika will not be going any faster because she's already been going top speed. Poor Kikes! I have been repairing the headsail which seems to get more tatty and frayed with every passage. It's frightening how much wear and tear the boat takes on these trips. If you did nothing, the boat would surely start to fall apart before your eyes. The cruising fraternity here are almost without exception hoping to head to New Zealand within the next couple of weeks. It's a tricky passage and a good weather window is essential. Consequently, here in this paradise we are becoming increasingly worked up about highs, lows, fronts, troughs, convergence zones and now, tropical storm Xavier who has reared his ugly head.weather fax: tropical storm Xavier - NNW of New Zealand

weather fax: tropical storm Xavier - NNW of New Zealand
We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Apia to Vava'u

Apia gave us the chance to restock after eating and trading most of the edible items on-board in Penrhyn and during the 1400+ mile passage from Bora Bora. For the first time we took on bonded stores - the best deal was “Potter's premium rum” at just over £2 per litre - even if we end up using it to light fires we feel we've got a good deal.Samoa felt like a return to civilisation again and fortunately an affordable civilisation after the ruinous cost of French Polynesia. It's surprising how quickly initially startling sights become assimilated and so it was for the Samoan male outfit - the lava lava or ... skirt. Surprise quickly gave way to admiration for the elegance and practicality of the outfit. Why have women kept this secret from men for so long? Isn't David Beckham a closet skirt wearer? Perhaps its worth while following Beckham's clothing innovations - where does Ellen keep those "Hello" magazines....?
As well as taking a trip round the island, hiking to Robert Louis Stevenson's grave, sampling the bars and restaurants, and finding our way round the veg market, our time in Apia was enjoyably sociable. We were reunited with Zeferin, and Revision II our Pacific crossing partners as well as Noa and Quantum Leap our companions in Penrhyn. Zeferin had been stuck in Apia for two weeks already, waiting for engine spares. They were ready to leave when Sandy was immobilised by a coral infection which quickly spread throughout his leg and it took the island's strongest antibiotics to return him to his usual sprightly self. Ellen spent time with Zeferin's grand-children, snorkelling amongst huge clams in a nearly marine park while I made progress with some more pressing boat jobs.

The "award winning" "Samoa Observer" is an English language paper which we bought in the hope it would give some insight into island life. Lead stories included:
  • Death of the Tongan King Taufa'ahau
  • Crack down on buses playing music too loudly
  • Much debate over whether the recent anointed Miss Samoa should be stripped of her title when she turned out to be a day under-age.
  • 341 days to go to the South Pacific Games to be held in Samoa - see www.samoa2007.ws
  • An intriguing report titled, "PM ask UN defer LDC graduation" which transpired that the prime-minister had asked the UN to allow Samoa to keep it in the group of "Least Developed Countries" the report infered it was so Somoa could still access cheap loans.
Not sure we gleaned a completely rounded view of life in Samoa, but at least we knew we could use public transport without being deafened. For a few days the headlines were taken over with "Shock Over Dinghy Theft". A couple of dinghies went missing one night and some skilled media manipulation by the owners meant that there can't have been many Samoans who hadn't heard of the loss of the "pelangis'" (Westerners') dinghies. All ended well when the police found them ten miles down the coast, but left us with mixed feelings, pleased for the owners, but somewhat guilty at the way in which a large operation had been mobilised for tourists, presumably to the detriment of the locals.

One evening we headed out to a Aggie Grey's, a famous local hotel, to see some "traditional" Samoan dance. Normally this isn't the kind of thing we search-out, but a reasonably priced eat-as-much-as-you-like buffet proved too much to resist. I went with added trepidation as I spent a disproportionate period of my student days in a pub named Aggie Grey's. Fortunately the Samoan Aggie Grey's as well as being physically half way round the world was also as far removed from its Southampton namesake. Beautiful dancing in a stunning hall provided the backdrop for the food. We tried the local delicacies; taro leaves with chicken, sea urchin roe (tasted a little of oyster), local clams – all pretty good and they provided us with more ideas for our 'hunting-gathering' trips. A good evening that, like in my student days, took us a day to fully recover from.
In Apia we started a second front on our resident cockroaches. Our first campaign in Polynesia appeared to have been a success, but it transpired that a new generation had been laid and were waiting for us to drop our vigilance before emerging. We searched the town for WMCDs (weapons of mass cockroach destruction) and returned armed with a new can of Mortein, "now with egg kill" and 24 "Lure'n Kill" cockroach baits. All have been deployed and we're spotting an increasing number of dead cockroaches, but are planning a cockroach bomb in New Zealand which will leave the boat uninhabitable for 24 hours; hopefully for the roaches as well as us.

We finally dragged ourselves away from Apia at 9.30 on 24th September for the 190 mile trip to Nuitoputapu, the most northern Tongan island. We planned to arrive before dark the following day which would mean we'd need to average around 6 knots. We set off well with 20-25 knots easterly wind and Kika comfortably making 6.5 knots with 2 reefs in the main - perfect conditions for making landfall before dusk. However the plan quickly started to unravel when we reached the west point of the Upolu and found ourselves with a counter-current creating a disturbed sea and head-winds, reducing our speed to less than 4 knots made good. Rather than continue to beat into the wind we decided to burn some of our duty-free diesel and motored for a couple of hours until we were out of the lee of the island. Slowly the wind backed to the SE and picked up, and now under full sail we made 4.5-5 knots towards our destination. At our 6pm radio schedule, we had 149 miles to go and little sign of more wind so it looked as though we'd have to spend another night at sea. Fortunately the wind continued to increase until the early hours when it settled to a steady 25 knots, although the ferocity of the squalls continued to increase and we ended the night with 3 reefs in the main and a much reduced genoa beating into a large sea but making a good 7 knots towards Tonga. By our 7am radio schedule we had 65 miles to go, and were looking good for a day-light landfall. The wind continued to play tricks; veering to the south, so we couldn't lay our course to the island, but eventually backed again so we could ease the sails slightly to a fine reach. It all felt a little like a hard beat across the Thames estuary although at least the regular drenching was pleasantly warm. We arrived at 6pm wet through, wind-beaten and deafened but elated to be in before dusk.

Our trip had taken us across the dateline, Samoa uses UT-11, Tonga UT+13. We'd set off on Sunday morning the trip took 32 hours but arrived Tuesday evening, we lost a day and a not a bad day to lose if it was anything like the preceding day.

Noa and Zeferin arrived the next day, after a harder trip than ours; they had winds gusting up to 45 knots and looked thoroughly shattered. We were welcomed into the lagoon by turtles and the crew of Quantum Leap.

Our first sample of Tonga was mixed; a beautiful island, with three villages and much cultivation, but it appeared to be the least developed of all the islands we've visited. The island supply ship was a month overdue and supplies were starting to run low, although with the profusion of fruit and fish I doubt anyone was going to starve.Many of the huts in the village are built from local materials, there were pigs running around the village and whales blowing outside the reef.It should have been idyllic, but somehow the continued wet weather, our weariness and the friendly reserve by the Tongans meant we didn't fully engage with the people in the way we had in Penrhyn. That said we were invited to a barbeque and a Sunday "pot-luck" on a motu. The barbeque consisted of two piglets on a spit, roasted over a fire and some largely inedible (at least to our palates) taro.The resulting pork looked great, and some of the meat was deliciously tender, but the vast majority was a little too fatty – perhaps we've just been spoilt by too much fresh sea-food.For the motu "pot-luck" we thought we should take sufficient of our own offerings to ensure we weren't forced by hunger into trying taro again. We took a mango tart (mangoes from a 'hunting-gathering' trip), falafel and coleslaw.In addition to the taro offering we were treated to stewed papaya and fish soaked in coconut juice with taro leaves, wrapped in banana leaves and baked in an omu (a pit filled with embers, in which the parcels of food are buried), both delicious.
On our second evening we felt a strange vibration through Kika, as though she'd suddenly turned to jelly and was being shaken from the bow. The following day we learned there'd been a large (6.5) undersea volcanic eruption a couple of hundred miles away. A tsunami warning had been issued but thankfully withdrawn. We'd heard stories of islands appearing and disappearing in this area, and the chart has caution areas marked “warning volcanic activity reported 2001”. Something to avoid.

During our stay in Nuitoputapu, the 180 mile trip due south to next island group was never far from our minds. A southerly wind continued to howl through the anchorage and many of the boats had been stuck waiting for an easterly shift for over a week. We didn't fancy another battering like the one we'd received from Samoa so much time was spent discussing the outlook and examining the forecasts. Eventually the winds shifted to the east and then to the north which was too good an opportunity to miss. So Sunday night was spent preparing for an early Monday departure. I spent the night listening to torrential rain and fretting over the passage south. The rain cleared in the morning but left the dinghy half filled and barely floating. An overflowing bucket indicated over 10 inches of rain. Before leaving we need clearance for Vava'u. Tonga is one of the countries that requires yachts to obtain clearance between island groups. We thought we arranged for Bessie, the local customs official, to arrive at 9.30 to give us the paper we needed. By 10.30 we called and were assured that she'd be there by 11. At 11.30 we called again, all knowledge was denied of previous arrangements, but she kept her third promise and arrived just after 12. This delayed our departure until 1pm and meant we had little hope of making Vava'u before nightfall the following day. My mood was blackened further when the exhaust sprang another leak as we left and I was reminded of my previous frustrations attempting repairs. However the clouds had cleared, the water around in the reef looked magnificent and a whale and calf put on a spouting and tail slapping display as we cleared the northern end of the island.

The northern wind was light, meaning we were making around 5 knots for most of the day, but with little chance to arrive before dark. Fortunately Sandy has sailed in Tonga a couple of times before and knew an anchorage which was relatively coral-free and should be possible to enter with a good moon and judicious use of radar. Given our speed our ETA was around 2am. Then at 4pm the wind shifted rapidly to the south. The unusual northerly wind was being caused by a low pressure system south of Tonga, this system was moving east-wards and would eventually bring the wind through the south before the standard SE flow re-established itself. However we didn't expect it to happen so quickly. At our 6pm radio schedule, Noa were just arriving, they'd set off four hours before us having extracted their clearance on Friday, but Zeferin and us were left with head-winds and a frustratingly close 45 miles to go. We cursed Bessie as we tacked back and forth all night making barely 15 miles towards Vava'u for all our efforts – we appeared to be affected by an adverse tide and we've yet to perfect tuning the self-steering to steer as close to the wind as we'd like.

This morning with 30 miles still to go, and a dying wind we decided to test my latest exhaust fix and motor the rest of the way.

At the time of writing (11.00am) we have 12 miles to go and no signs of asphyxiation.