Monday, 28 November 2016

Tonga to NZ via Nth Minerva reef 3/11/16 to 25/11/16

On Thursday the 3rd of November we took on duty free diesel and grog, cleared customs and immigration in Va Va'u, Tonga and said goodbye to our friends Elke and Werner from the blue lagoon.
A day sail south took us to Maninita  island (bird island) the southern most of the islands of Va Va'u hoping to have a break in the weather to go into the lagoon but it was too risky so we just observed the friendly boobies and noddies from the cockpit.
An overnight sail with "Leto" took us to Uoleva island in the Ha apai group where we rested for a couple of days waiting for a weather window to North Minerva reef.
We had a good 3 day passage with variable winds and Eric was happy catching this very large Mahimahi
We had to slow down and wait for the daylight to enter North Minerva reef. There were 3 other yachts other than Leto and ourselves arriving and 3 yachts in the lagoon and after a few days we had 25 of us there.
A week spent in the lagoon waiting for suitable weather to do the jump to NZ was a real highlight. The reef is a perfect circle, 2.5 kms across giving protection from the seas and swell.
It covers at full tide and is uncovered at low exposing beautiful coral and rock pools with fish and shellfish
 We spent many hours ashore exploring and walking.
The water was so clear and the colours surreal
At night under the "super moon" we picked crayfish off the reef as they foraged for food. Many were females which we put back, but there were enough males for everyone to have a taste.
There was a newly erected lighthouse which we walked down to see. The workers had engraved their names in the concrete pad so Eric added ours
These pretty white terns were a great photo opportunity
A NZ airforce Orion flew over one day which was awesome doing a boat check. As kiwis we felt very proud and safe knowing they were looking out for us.We all called out our boat names and asked for Hokey pokey Icecream!
We listened to Gulf harbour radio each morning for weather predictions. This husband and wife team give their time voluntarily over the yachting season. David is a meteorologist and they have their own yacht and are blue water cruisers so their knowledge is invaluable. They also run a roll call and enter info and positions of yachts onto a website called "yacht in transit"
With deep lows in the southern ocean near NZ and tropical lows threatening to form into cyclones in the north there was a lot of anxiety among the fleet. Everyone was keen to get underway but the weather windows were short, particularly for the slower boats.
We listened on the radio as boats who had left Tonga and Fiji  turned back or ran for shelter as fronts and low pressure systems were close on their heels. 9m swells and high winds were predicted so one yacht headed north for New Caledonia, another west for Norfolk Island and another back to north Minerva reef.
This was an ominous looking morning sky
While we were here the conditions were just right to see the Green flash phenonemon at sunset three times in a row
But after 7 days of bliss in the shelter of the reef we left for NZ. Two  of the slower boats left in the morning. We were going to leave the next day as the wind angle became more suitable but decided to set off in the afternoon.
Most of the yachts headed West with the wind but with lumpy seas and wind on the nose a NW course was taken. We decided to get south as quickly as possible by motor sailing and putting in a couple of tacks which paid off. Leto did the same. We are not a fast boat but with this tactic it put us in front for a couple of days. The faster boats who left the next day started overtaking us on the 3rd day. It was a good passage riding a high pressure system but there was pressure to get into the shelter of land as another ridge from a low passed over NZ.

Before getting into the shelter of Cape Brett and the Bay of Islands we caught 3 albacore which refilled the freezer.
At 0200hrs on the 25th of November we tied up to the floating Quarantine dock at Opua. There were several other boats there and the officials had 27 to process that day. A record number in one day!
Waking to sunshine and a vista of green rolling hills, pohutakawa coming out in Crimson flower made us feel we were truely home, but we had to keep pinching ourselves to make sure it was real. Our circumnavigation complete with 3 others celebrating theirs as well.

We spent a day in the company of Mike and Maureen Trotter. Mike had spent hours on the computer with Eric's design many years ago CADing our yachts lines.

There were lots of festivities over the weekend with the Island cruising rally events and a celebratory dinner at the yacht club. A wonderful end to our round the world adventure sharing with newly made friends and old cruising friends.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Cook Islands to Tonga, including our time in Vava'u (3rd Oct to 3rd November)

On Monday the 3rd of October we set sail from Aitutaki in the Cook Islands to Nuie island. (588nm to the west) With the wind behind us and light breezes we put the little downwind twin sail up and relaxed watching movies.
On the evening of the second day our friends on SV Leto had arrived in Nuie island from BoraBora and on our radio schedule they informed us of a tropical low over Fiji which was predicted to arrive in Tonga in a few days. Nuie island has little protection from the west, there is no lagoon or reef to shelter from wind and waves so they and other cruisers decided to head to Tonga and seek shelter while there was time. We felt sorry for them as they had just arrived and had to leave again so quickly.
We considered going to Palmeston island but decided to continue on towards Tonga (240nm from Nuie island) and watch the weather forecast. On the 4th day we managed to download the grib
weather on our pactor modem through the SSB radio and assessing things ourselves we decided to continue heading north away from the path of this developing tropical storm.

With the mainsail fully reefed and 3/4 of the jib out to keep our speed down we continued on a nor-west course but we calculated that we would still arrive too early so we "hove to" for several hours.
We kept radio contact with  "SV Invictus" and "Vida" who were leaving Palmeston island for Nuie island.
The next 3 days the wind was mostly 20 knots with the occasional rain squall. We were able to top up our water tanks. We block up the scuppers with plugs and take the stopper out of the deck filler. With a torrential downpour we can collect as much water as we want.
  It was ideal fishing weather for our set up and Eric caught 3 wahoo but only landed 2,  3 skipjack tuna but we let 2 go and lost a Mahimahi. One of the wahoo we caught propelled itself skyward, the highest we've ever seen with lure and line still intact! The new lure had well and truely paid for itself and after several repairs to bitten parts he made another.
Enjoying yellow fin tuna in a wrap
On the 8th day the wind died out and turned to the west so we motored. Peter and Cathy were safely tucked up in Vava'u and apart from some rain and moderate wind the low pressure system had weakened and headed south.
On the morning of the 9th day we sighted Tonga, then she was enveloped in cloud and rain cells
Arriving here was very special for us as we crossed our path made 10 years ago which has completed our world circumnavigation.
Arriving in Neiafu harbour in the VaVa'u islands

We celebrated with bubbly and cocktails as the sun went down with Peter and Cathy from SV Leto
They took us out to dinner the next night as an official circumnavigation celebration
For the next 3 weeks we revisited all the places we had been to 10yrs previously and met lots of lovely people.
It was wonderful to visit our German friends Elke and Werner in the blue lagoon on Fofoa island and we spent several happy hours on several occasions catching up. They had built an innovative and interesting home.
We enjoyed sundowners looking out to the Blue lagoon from their beach
Meeting Alan again after last seeing him in Malaysia in 2011 on SV Zebedee, a motor less junk rigged yacht was great. He had circumnavigated back to NZ and left again to winter over in Tonga. We met his sailing companion, Caroline, who had flown in to Tonga from the UK
Anchored near Nuku island with SV Leto and SV Zebedee
We shared meals, stories and hiking with them and Cathy and Peter.
Pigs and their piglets were a common site
Getting in to some places without a motor was difficult so we both gave Zebedee a tow into and out of Hunga lagoon where we spent a few days
 The island of Kenutu was one of our favourite places so we navigated the reef stricken pass. Visibility was poor so being a deeper draft, Cathy and Peter decided to wait a couple of days until the weather was better. We took it slowly and got anchored just before a rain squall came through. We were delighted as our water tanks were getting low and we managed to fill them. There were 2 other yachts there but they left the next day and we had the island to ourselves.
We had a BBQ ashore and enjoyed the facilities that were there.

On the island of Umuna, next to Kenutu we remembered a cave with a fresh water pool in the bottom that we had swum in so we went off in the dinghy to find it. A house had been built on the land near it and we met the lovely owners of the property  and were invited to walk to the cave.
We were disappointed to find that trees had fallen into it and some of the boulders had collapsed so it was too dangerous to get down to it. We went back to visit the next day with some fish we had caught and enjoyed coffee and conversation on the deck overlooking the beautiful bay
 Eric caught this fish with very sharp teeth. After being captured it took vengeance on his fingers
 When we went back to Neiafu harbour to get some fresh produce there was a cargo ship and passenger ferry docked
 and the next day a cruise ship came in
 Neiafu harbour and town
 Lotuma island and old naval base lookout
 A great view from the top
 Swallows cave is beautiful on Kapa island. We took the dinghy inside and watched the swallows flying and nesting
 This lovely anchorage off Mala island was a great spot to snorkel, clean off the hull and kayak
 Lion fish
We hired motor scooters with Cathy and Peter for the day which was fun
 Buying pineapples and papaya at a roadside stall
 Lookout at the top of Mt Talau

November 2nd 2016......        We are now preparing to leave these beautiful islands.. Tonga is still high on our list of favourite cruising grounds in our travels around the world..
Our fresh supplies are loaded, latest weather downloaded and course plotted
Tomorrow we will clear with Customs and Immigration, top up our diesel tanks and stock up with duty free liquor and we will be off...... New Zealand here we come...
We may stop at north or south Minerva reef if the weather is not conducive to continue to the lower lattitudes.. .... We will update our positions with shiptrak during our passage

SV Erica

SV Erica

About Me

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We met in 1971 and it was Eric's dream to build his own yacht and sail the world. This became a joint dream but it was not until 1994 that we were able to start building. "Erica" was launched in 2001 after 7yrs building her. It then took us 5 yrs to prepare her and ourselves before leaving NZ to see the world