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.
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.
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