Friday, 13 July 2018

Tongatapu to Ha'apai - Big Mamas, Market reunion, the hunt for a Machine Shop, and escape to the Ha'apai

Hello,

After a few days in Tongatapu, we 'escaped the gravitational pull of the big city' and made it 60 nm north to the Ha'apai group. We felt pretty happy as we weighed anchor at 0330 last Thursday morning to head for Nomuka Iki, especially since our outboard engine tried to stall us in the city on Tuesday.

We cleared into Tonga first thing on Monday. We were spared a return to the concrete dock in the inner harbour where we had cleared previously (not only is the dock made of rough and unforgiving-to-fibreglass concrete, but the obstacles nearby leave little room to maneuver) because the customs officials were clearing a cargo ship; we were relieved when we called Nuku'alofa Port Authority and were directed to the container ship pier on the outer wall. It was an easier approach, but we still needed to keep our wits about us to keep from rubbing against the concrete face, or puncturing our fenders on the metal fasteners that protruded a good 2" from it. It wasn't too hard to leap to the top of the wall as we approached, but by the time the officials arrived, the tide had fallen to the point that they were happy to clear us without actually coming aboard. I was able to keep all my remaining fresh provisions from NZ :)

With time on his hands while we waited to clear, Johnathan assigned himself the task of rigging a parent recovery/delivery system: he eased the boom out so it was just over the wharf, then he controlled its position with a line to a big bollard on shore. Once we were finished our clearances, Victoria and I rode the boom ashore and Max stepped aboard Fluenta without anyone having to make the big leap.

Victoria and I spent the afternoon at the Market while the boys anchored back over at 'Big Mama's' off Pangaimotu. We had been anticipating a return to this market for a couple of seasons, as it was the last time Victoria and I had seen black pearls in any quantity as we travelled west across the Pacific. My understanding is that they farm them here in Tonga in fresh water, in both white and dark grey, and there is quite a nice variety of jewelry available that the ladies in the handicraft stalls have made. Most of the vendors were preparing their goods to move to the wharf on Friday morning in advance of the cruise ship that would be visiting, so we didn't feel too much pressure from them. It was hard to choose, but I eventually selected an intricate bracelet of alternating white and dark pearls tied together in an delicate knot pattern. Towards the end of the afternoon, I stopped to thank a lady who had helped us earlier in the day, and her friend beside her exclaimed, "You were here before!" She recognized Victoria and described my baby and carrier (Benjamin was almost one when we passed through the last time) as well as the bracelets that she had sold us. I agreed that I had most certainly been there before. It was quite fun to realize that she recognized us after 3 1/2 years! Needless to say, we bought something from her table as well :)

Our other task for Monday afternoon was to track down a SIM card for our phone. There are two competing suppliers: Digicel and TCC, and both offices were within walking distance of the market, so it was easy to compare plans. As I was trying to get my head around very different pricing models, Max got an email from a tourist operator in Vava'u with whom he had been corresponding about various logistics matters, recommending Digicel, so that made the decision-making easier and we headed straight to Digicel (fast forward to the next morning when we were chatting with a couple recently arrived from the Ha'apai Group who had found that their Digicel chip generally didn't work, but they had TCC coverage, and I ended up going back to town to outfit us with one of each!) It turned out that making sure that my SIM was activated did not actually mean that my phone was configured properly as well, so when we got home and tried to use our "$2 for 2h" plan (a surprisingly civilized way to activate the internet - it is either 'on' and we have unlimited access, or it is 'off' and we are paying attention to each other!) it wouldn't connect at all. Since Johnathan had an interview with his new teacher late on Tuesday morning, this became a bit of a priority, but I wasn't too worried, as I would have plenty of time to go to Digicel and back to Fluenta before the appointed hour...

The heavens opened while Victoria and I were at the market, so we took a taxi back to the dock, stopping along the way to pick up some watermelons for sale on tables on the side of the road. Our driver, Thomas, recommended a spot across from the ferry dock, and gave us his number in case we wanted to do any tours of the island. We were let off at the ferry waiting area, where we were mostly able to stay dry, but a few minutes later we were invited aboard a passenger boat that was tied up to the dock. We never know where we will find ourselves sitting out a downpour, and in this case it was in much more comfortable surroundings than being on wooden benches under a leaky roof. The young man who invited us aboard was the son-in-law of the owner, recently returned from the US to assist with the family business, and we had comfortable armchairs to sit on and rugs under our feet. He seemed as interested in our travels as we were in his family, so it was an enjoyable conversation. With the King's birthday coming up the following week, he was getting ready to take the King's staff on an outing.

Three years ago, at the end of our initial Pacific crossing, Big Mama's at Pangaimotu was the gathering point for dozens of cruisers waiting for a weather window to head south to NZ, so we were excited to return. Monday evening saw us at Big Mama's sharing stories and a meal with other cruisers who had also just arrived from NZ (one of whom had a 7 year old boy, so the kids were happy). Cyclone Gita caused a good bit of damage back in February of this year, so we were pleased to hear that they were back in business within a few weeks. The outside deck is gone and the dock is washed away, but we were greeted with the good food and friendly atmosphere that we remembered.

Bright and early Tuesday morning, Max and I hopped into the dingy and started the engine. All was well until Max put it into gear, and nothing happened! All of a sudden my quick trip across the harbour to town was not looking so quick and easy. With gratitude that our instinct had been to book a late-morning (1130) rather than early morning (0830) video call with Johnathan's teacher, we considered our options: we could mount the little 2-hp engine on the dinghy to go to Big Mama's, and then either Johnathan and I could take the ferry to town and go to Digicel (somewhat pricey, unknown return time and unknown location for his interview) while Max did troubleshooting on the engine, or Johnathan and I could just stay at Big Mama's and use her wifi (no expense for the ferry, and minimal expense for the wifi). Plan B seemed like a good idea until we got ashore and found out that Big Mama's wifi was not working! After almost an hour watching the ladies (including Big Mama herself) on the phone with their tech support trying to get us connected, and with the minutes counting down to 1130, one of the other ex-pat ladies (who seemed to be part of the daily life of Big Mama's, but I never found out exactly her relationship) heard me say that all I needed was someone who could set me up with a hotspot, and she offered to take my $2 and let me use her phone. At 1129 we were connected! On top of this perfect internet timing, the cruisers who had spent the morning drilling and hammering to secure Big Mama's roof panels to the trusses (making a great din of construction noise throughout the bar area) wrapped up at just that same time :) Johnathan and I set ourselves up at a shady picnic table, and made the call (to confirm our relationship with his new teacher for September) in tranquil peace and quiet.

We finished the interview in time to find out that Max had figured out the problem with the engine: the internal threads of a connecting nut between two control rods had corroded away leaving the upper rod disconnected from the lower rod. The reason that our engine hadn't gone into gear was that there was no physical connection between the transmission and the propeller. All we needed was a machinist to make us a new nut, and since we were in an industrial port with lots of fishing and commercial boats, that seemed to be an easy fix. With some advice from Big Mama's as to a likely shop, we headed across the bay to anchor outside the inner harbour, where we could reach the dock with only our little 2hp engine on the dinghy. Max and I headed to town together, he on his way to find a machine shop, and I on the hunt for a properly configured mobile phone.

My search went a little more efficiently than his: within less than one minute of handing my phone to the agent at Digicel, I was connected to the internet! Why they hadn't been able to tell me how to set it up on one of my three calls to their customer service line, I wasn't sure, but I was just glad to find out that the issue hadn't been with my handset, which I had only just unlocked from Vodafone NZ. Off I went to TCC, where, "once burned twice shy" I actually paid $2 for 100MB just to see that my phone would connect and that I could switch between my SIM cards and still have service... the ladies were very patient as they helped me with my request because, of course, I could. I put $33 credit on the phone to use later (for 4GB), and headed to the market where I made arrangements to return first thing in the morning to buy large quantities of NZ carrots and apples (there isn't a lot of fresh fruit here other than watermelons, which don't seem to be at the market, but are found instead at the roadside stalls).

With nothing very heavy to carry, and a hope of walking by a bakery, I set of on foot towards the dinghy dock. Just as I was giving up on seeing it from the main road, I caught a faint, but unmistakable, whiff of freshly baked bread, and asked two young men sitting by a pick-up truck full of dalo (starchy root veg that I don't tend to cook) if I was close. They smiled and indicated that I should turn right at the next corner, and sure enough, after a couple of blocks, I came not just to a little bread shop, but to an entire bread factory with the slogan "Bread for the Kingdom" written on the side of the building! I had come to the right place. They were out of Rye bread, so I chose a selection of white loaves and buns, with a 'donut for Mom' since I had skipped lunch :)

Max's afternoon was not quite as productive, but was rather the beginning of the hunt for a machine shop. With so many large boats operating out of, and transitting through, Tongatapu, we believed that there *had* to be a machine shop somewhere, but no one seemed to know where it was. The place that had been recommended was actually an air conditioning shop, so it was a dead end, but some people working on a boat on the hard stand gave him a name to call in the morning. On Wednesday morning, his contact was too busy to take our call, so Max went to town to see where else he could track down a shop. Eventually, after numerous stops all over town, his taxi driver drove him to one of the biggest machine shops that Max had seen. With the help of his driver as translator, and a carefully labeled drawing, he left the part and hoped for the best when he returned in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, Benjamin was my marketing assistant on Wednesday morning, so we took a taxi to save his legs (or, more likely, my back) the long walk. I thought our driver, and his van, were a little familiar, but it was only when he introduced himself and offered to wait at the market that I realized it actually was Thomas from Monday afternoon! Since I wasn't sure how long we would be, I told him not to wait, but that I would look for him when it was time to go back. Benjamin and I walked to the banking machine (I decided to trust the ANZ at the post office ... we tend to avoid little stand-alone ATMs) and then through the market to the donut stall (we had strict instructions from the others to come back with lots of home made donuts). The first time we went by, they were going to be ready in '20 minutes' so we went to get our fruit & veg from the vendors I had picked (I find when I go back to the same people each time, they are more likely to throw extra produce into my bag, which is always appreciated). The fruit seller (Tony) divides his time between Tonga and NZ, and his little mandarin oranges were from Kerikeri, which was just up the road from where we had been in Opua. It felt like a small world (and ironic to come to Tonga to buy NZ fruit, but at least I had something to take to the Ha'apai group with me). I wanted half a big bag of carrots, and was relieved that I didn't have to negotiate a fair price: my taxi driver had asked someone the price of a bag for me, and was told $60, so since Tony wanted $30 for half, this seemed fair :) He simply gave me his big bag and told me to put half of the carrots into my shopping bag - when they seemed about equal, we were both happy. All his produce was straight from his big fridge at his house, so it was nice to buy it in the cool of the day. I chose apples, mandarins, carrots, bananas (not local), and some rather old-looking potatoes, and headed back to the donut counter.

This time, the donuts were '3-5 minutes' away, so Benjamin and I decided to wait. This turned out to be a delightful choice, as the shop owners had a two year old son, and we were soon chatting away and taking pictures the boys sitting side-by-side. She and her husband had waited eight years for their one son, which I suspect was an especially long wait in such a large-family, child-centric society (most people I have met have 5-12 children), where I would imagine that there would be some stigma attached to being childless for so long. In addition to donuts and sandwiches, my new friend turned out to to be a prize-winning handicrafter. She gave us a little bag that she had woven, and showed me a purse that had placed 2nd in a national competition (she would have received 1st, but she had used a tiny bit of cotton thread to secure some of the loose ends, and she should have used all traditional materials). Even in the city, one of my favourite parts of travelling is making these personal connections. If ever we stop in Tongatapu again, we have the phone number of our new friends and instructions to call them :)

I had checked the prices of watermelons as I walked home from the Market on Tuesday, so I knew that I wanted to go back to the table beside the ferry dock for my weeks-at-anchor stash, so Benjamin and I walked the length of the taxi stand to see if Thomas was still there. He was no where to be seen, but when I got back to the top of the line, a driver called Sam told me that Thomas had told him to watch out for us :) Sam patiently loaded our produce, waited while I remembered the last-minute flat of eggs, tracked me down some twine to tie the flats shut, helped me load 11 watermelons (10 + 1 free) into the taxi, and passed everything down to Max at the dinghy dock. I happily gave him extra on the fare ! It turned out that there was a reason the best price on watermelons was across from the ferry dock: Susie the proprietress actually raises all the watermelons sold on the road at her plantation, so we were getting them directly from the source when we bought them from her. On her advice, I chose all medium-sized melons (ie not the largest nor the smallest) as she said that these were the best tasting. Johnathan (especially) and Benjamin and Victoria can demolish a watermelon in one sitting, and generally eat one every two days, so I was glad to be able to stock up. (In case you are wondering what we did with 11 watermelons in an already laden boat, we nestled them in amongst all the bags of gear in the V-Berth, as if we were setting up for some kind of oversized Easter egg hunt, and then we left a check-box list stuck to the wall so we could account for them as they are eaten to avoid having any nasty surprises down the road!)

Max's taxi driver was very keen to pick up the part for us, and let Max pay him at the dock, since "he was already over on that side of town". His insistence that it was too much trouble for Max to go to the machine shop made Max a little wary, so Max was equally firm that he wanted to go there in case he needed to talk to the technician. Despite the worries about finding a machine shop and translating his requirement into Tongan through a non-technical intermediary, the part was beautiful when Max received it: after his wild goose chase all over Tongatapu, it turned out that Max had eventually been taken to the government machine shop. The reason the taxi driver was so keen for Max to pay him for the part was that the shop didn't charge us for it at all! It was a good reminder that although most people we meet are very helpful and are looking out for our best interests (like my driver who carried and loaded all our groceries) we still need to keep our wits about us.

With all the errands taken care of (clearing in, clearing out, gas (petrol) jerry cans filled, provisions not only purchased, but stowed, meals and snacks cooked, little component for the outboard machined), we were able to set out at 0330 Thursday morning for the Ha'apai group.

Both of us got up to leave the anchorage, but with no wind and a wide shipping channel, we went 'into watches' almost immediately (which is to say that I went back to sleep and Max stayed on watch). When I awoke in the daylight, I found myself wishing that I had taken the time to set up a lee cloth before sleeping on the saloon bench: we were rocking and rolling as we rocketed along on a broad reach in short, steep seas, and I was bracing against the mattress in my sleep to keep from rolling onto the floor!

I thought Max would want to go off watch right away, but he got his second wind when we caught a fish (a massive walu that ended up feeding us lunch and dinner every day for a week), but by 1030, Victoria and I were on watch while Max got some rest. Victoria had seen one group of whales at a distance on our trip from NZ to Tonga, but they were all around us on our day-trip to the Ha'apai. At one point, I gasped for Victoria to grab the camera as a whale had surfaced hardly a boat length off our port side: I looked down rather than out to see it from my seat in the cockpit! Going in the opposite direction from our course, it clearly knew where we were, as it gracefully undulated at the surface like a huge sea serpent, and then then lifted its tail and dove as it got past us. We probably don't want any closer encounters than that while we are underway!

Our first stop was Namoku Iki (Little Namoku), home of Don McIntyre's adventure company and the Royal Namoku Yacht Club. Since Don was in the midst of kicking off his new retro around the world race in France (The Golden Globe), he wasn't there (we heard that he would be back 'next year'), but we got a warm welcome from the caretaker (James) and his little dog (Iki) who spent some time chasing and playing with dog-lover Johnathan on the beach. For me, the main significance of Namoku Iki was as the location at which I returned to my yoga mat for the first time since Easter. Even a short practice felt good :)

Our anchorage at Namoku Iki was solid, but not especially sheltered from the wind or swell, and with 30+ kts in the forecast, we set off after a couple of days for Ha'afeva, about 20 nm away. We don't expect another overnight passage until we head to the next island group, so again, we had a fast down-wind passage and arrived to anchor near our new friends with their seven-year-old by mid-afternoon. We stayed a couple of nights there, but the real goal was to wait for the winds to subside a bit and make our way to Uoleva, where we were hoping to enjoy a sheltered, sandy bay for a few days, and maybe even get out kiting.

Days at anchor offered a good chance to get into our new routine for the season, with a greater emphasis on spending some time each morning on some of the school materials that we have collected along the way, paddleboarding (Max), yoga (me), playing on the beach, and climbing trees for coconuts.

We celebrated Canada Day in Ha'afeva with brunch (including maple syrup that my dad brought us in April) and Canada Day cake with the other two boats in the anchorage. It was too windy to fly our big flag, but when the wind comes down, we will take our annual photo flying our 10-foot Canada Flag.

We had read about a wreck being on a reef worth snorkelling about 1/2 nm downwind from us, but we were reluctant to go too far from the boat when it was really windy (it would have been a challenge to row back if we had an issue with the outboard...) but when the winds let up a bit, Victoria, Max and I took the opportunity to check it out. I really enjoyed the variety of coral that had grown on and around the wreck. I have no idea how long it has been there, but it seemed much more overgrown than the WWII wrecks we saw in the Marshall Islands. I don't know if this is an earlier wreck, or if the coral grows faster here. We saw a spotted moray eel guarding his turf within the ship, as well as a Napoleon Wrasse nearby. As usual, photos to follow ...

Eventually, the headwinds lightened to the point that we felt like moving on to our next anchorage, at Uoleva Island. Ironically, we had not set out our staysail for the previous passage, and wished we had it, so with winds forecast for 15+ kts, we rigged it for this trip, only to find that we were undercanvassed while close hauled in only 8-10 kts, so we actually sailed with both headsails flying, and made good speed (in fact, it was a beautiful, sunny day on pretty flat water). We didn't see any whales, but we kept a constant watch. It is still early in the season, but we are certainly looking forward to seeing them again.

Much love to everyone,

Elizabeth
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At 2018-07-09 9:55 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 19°57.96'S 174°29.61'W
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At 2018-07-09 7:54 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 19°57.95'S 174°29.61'W

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Sunday, 24 June 2018

NZ to TONGA - Day 11 - Land Ho!

Hello!

We have arrived at Tongatapu, where we are anchored with our "Q" flag flying before clearing in on Monday morning.

The end of our passage was in line with the rest of the passage - good conditions and favourable winds :) It is such a relief to arrive here with no major dramas during the last ten days.

After Max took over the watch last night, the wind continued to back, so he was able to hold our course down the rhumb line simply by continuing to sail closer to the wind. At one point, we were worried that we were sailing so fast that we would arrive at the pass before daylight, but the skies cleared to stars (marking the end of the trough?) and the winds conveniently eased in the wee hours, so we arrived just at the right time: shortly after sunrise at the pass.

Victoria woke for her last watch of the passage at 0430 and I was back in the cockpit by 0600 to give Max some much needed rest before we were all awake for the pass and the 10 nm transit across the lagoon. We sailed right up to the pass, then we furled the genoa and motored the rest of the way, giving our batteries a top-up. We have hardly seen the sun for the last few days, and with the wind behind us, the apparent wind has been minimal, so the wind generator hasn't been contributing very much. We could have deployed the water-towed generator, but up until the last day, we didn't want to give up any boat speed that it would cost us.

We arrived just before 10am, which gave us just the right amount of time to put the boat to rights and cook our first at-anchor brunch of the season (it was a bit of a fusion meal: pancakes, fried eggs, sashimi, maple syrup, wasabi, and juice!)

I thought you might like an update on our fridge: we are running it manually after we have had the engine going for a while by opening one of the engine compartment covers, lashing the cool blue USB fan that we got from Max's sister when we were all together in January (Thanks Sarah!) in front of the pressure sensor, concurrently running the water pump, and then when everything is cool enough, reseting the pressure button, and making it go. There seems to be an issue with one of the thermostats (separate from the hot engine compartment) that will need addressing now that we have arrived.

All is well on board, and we thank you for journeying the last ten days with Fluenta Cruiselines! We are grateful for the emails and messages we received while we were at sea. We will let you know when we are on the move again; we are hoping to do a quick check-in and re-provision in here in Nuku'alofa (Tongatapu) and then head to one of the other Tongan island groups.

Love to all,

Elizabeth

PS - In the day delay of sending this we found a bad wire between the control box and the thermostat for the fridge. We were concerned that we would have to replace the thermostat, so it was nice just to splice in a new connection where an old butt connector had corroded away :)
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At 2018-06-24 10:21 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 21°07.69'S 175°09.65'W

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Saturday, 23 June 2018

NZ to TONGA: Day 10 - Rollicking downwind

Hello!

It has been a vigourous day of sailing. The sky is covered in a dark grey blanket of clouds (related to the trough(s) passing over us) and blue sky and sunshine or twinkling stars seem like distant memories. The wind is blowing in the high teens, and we are making efficient progress towards our destination.

I am learning that there are many variations of sailing downwind! On a broad reach, the motion of the boat is reasonably steady, depending on the wind and the swell. Today, we are deeper on the wind than that (true wind angle is set at 150 degrees) and our main and genoa are out on opposite sides (wing on wing). It is hard to describe the motion of the boat, but it seems necessary to try. We have most of the swell behind us, which is good, so there is a constant and steady back and forth motion as the crests and troughs pass beneath us, then every so often, we either get a bigger set of waves or the wind shifts to put the swells onto the quarter (corner) of the boat and we find ourselves rolling from +20 to -20 degrees of heel and back again several times in a row. The good thing is that anything that was going to fall to the floor probably did so earlier this morning, and the forces on the rig are much less than they would be if we were sailing upwind in these conditions (as we were when sailing from New Caledonia to NZ last year); the boat is making a lot fewer scary noises (banging, slamming, creaking, groaning) today than on that passage. On the other hand, it is distracting to have to hang on for dear life every couple of minutes so as not to be tossed off the benches! I just keep reminding myself that, all things considered, things could be worse :)

Victoria and I were on the lower end of the wind scale early this morning; in fact, the wind dropped to the point that starting the engine might have been in order (about 7 kts). The sails were trying to stay filled, but the boat speed was down to about 3 kts, and with each roll, the sails were rippling loudly from side to side because there wasn't enough pressure to keep them steady. I decided to try putting both sails on the same side so I could come a little harder on the wind. Since Max was off-watch, I chose to gybe the main, as I figured that Victoria and I could do this with only two of us. The thing I forgot was the alarm-clock effect of winching in the main and unfastening the preventer - Max was upstairs as the third person before we were even finished the gybe! As it turned out, his presence seemed to magically bring the wind back, and the next thing I knew we were back up to 12+ kts of wind, so we gybed the main back where it had been originally, and started galloping down our rhumb line. We haven't seen anything resembling the calms of this morning all day. While I was off-watch the wind built into the mid-teens/20s and I came back up to a boat speed higher than our windspeed had been in the morning. So it goes.

Now that I have described the motion of the boat, you will imagine the fun I had preparing dinner. With two fresh fish in the fridge, the first task was to move some of our catch to the freezer. I pressed the ziplock bags into a big bowl of water in the sink to evacuate the air (I consider this the at-sea-manual-vacuum sealer), and then put four of the six bags of fish into the freezer. That put peas on the menu for dinner, as they no longer deserved the freezer space they were taking up (although I didn't apply the same logic to the coconut rum that I left on the top rack for safekeeping; I didn't think putting it on the menu would do much for our at-sea judgement!) I took a vote in the cockpit, and the selection was a starter of sashimi (raw sliced tuna) followed by pan-seared tuna with rice and peas. With those choices out of the way, all I had to do was trim the fish and cook it. Did I mention that the galley was swaying from side to side on a constant basis, with wild rolls every couple of minutes? I put rubber mats under anything that could potentially slide off the counter, lashed the pots on the stove, and got to work. I have to admit that I didn't have much appetite by the time dinner was ready, but everyone else seemed to enjoy the offering of fish, rice, peas, and fish, topped with a mix of soya sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine vinegar; in fact, Benjamin even had seconds :) (For the record, I wasn't ill, I just wasn't hungry ...)

One of the most interesting things to write about today actually happened yesterday. We saw a boat! This is the first vessel we have seen since we were a couple of days out of NZ (other than a handful of cruisers at Minerva Reef). The surprising thing about this boat was that we (Max) spotted it with our Mark 1 eyeballs, but did not see it on AIS, even though it was a large commercial fishing vessel. This was a good reminder that there are still vessels working the South Pacific which either don't have AIS or don't choose to transmit (we have been told that they don't want to share their position). Victoria looked at it on the radar for us, and we were about 2.2 miles away at our closest point. I could see the coloured markings on the vessel with the binoculars, but I couldn't see a name or a flag. Needless to say, we were glad we have a habit of scanning the horizon every 15 minutes while we are on watch!

That's about all the news of the day. I'm about to wake Max for our first sail change since this morning: time to harden up a little, gybe the genoa over to join the main on the port side, and broad/beam reach our way to Tongatapu.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2018-06-23 8:48 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 21°07.68'S 175°09.65'W
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At 2018-06-23 8:48 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 21°07.68'S 175°09.65'W

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Friday, 22 June 2018

NZ to TONGA - Day 9 - Souvenir of Minerva - in the fridge!

Hello,

We have been sailing all day under the grey skies left over from last night's trough. Winds were forecast to gust up to 30 kts, so we were glad to be at anchor. I don't think we saw that much wind, but we certainly saw rain that came on all at once, as if someone had opened a faucet over the boat. We had closed all the hatches before sleeping, but we leapt up to close the windows, which we had left open for a little ventilation. This was the big driver for our stopover at Minerva, as it is nice to be at anchor if there is going to be a big blow. As it turned out, the trough didn't affect us as much as it did some other areas, so we just had a nice rest.

We woke in time to listen to Gulf Harbour Radio, a volunteer-run weather service that is broadcast on YouTube and HF radio out of NZ for folks travelling in the South Pacific. As ever, we were grateful for David's detailed analysis, not only of the weather we could expect, but also the factors driving it (over and above the computer weather models). I was a little surprised to hear that there were currently 40 kts of wind and 5m seas off NZ, where we had had such a benign passage last week: this is exactly why we waited so patiently for a gap in the heavy weather to head north!

By 0830, we were weighing anchor and heading towards the pass. We weren't even through to the deep water when we had a fish on one of our lures (the same one which seems to have caught all our fish this passage). I took the helm, and Max landed what we believe to be a Bigeye Tuna. We were pretty excited because we haven't had a Bigeye since the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, and they have delicious meat (four big bags, which will probably do us for eight meals). It weighed in at just over 30 lbs. Just after lunch, we hooked our second fish of the day, a smaller Bonita (another type of Tuna). Our fridge is pretty full, but I can always make room for more fish!

I loved our downwind leg out of NZ, as we were in the lee of the shore. Leaving Minerva, we entered straight into a kind of mixed sea, with swell coming from more than one direction. One we got away from the reef, we headed downwind and poled out our genoa, but it seemed pretty rolly, especially after the relative calmness of Minerva (where we only needed our sea legs a few times per day: when the water poured in over the reef at high tide, it was a bit like being back at sea, but otherwise it was calm and flat). The seas steadied out as the day wore on.

We were back into our watch rotation before lunch time, and Max and Victoria capably sailed the boat all afternoon, gybing the main as necessary to maintain our course, and ably handling windspeeds into the low 20s. I was half-awake in the saloon (having given up my usual spot on the aft bunk to Johnathan and Benjamin, who were feeling rather flat but playing well together) and I really enjoyed listening to them work together, exclaiming as the speed over ground went over 9 kts at times :)

Everyone had their sea legs by dinner time, so we put the 'lazy lasagne' into the oven, and there wasn't much of it left to put back into the fridge at the end of the evening!

We are now officially into the tropics, and the air is noticeably milder: the breeze actually feels a little warm as it wafts through the boat, and this is the first evening since we left that I haven't been totally bundled up with layers of fleece, jackets, and blankets in the cockpit (although I am still wearing two layers of leggings and wool socks! Tigers don't change their stipes that fast...) What a nice change!

On that note, I will wish our Northern Hemisphere family and friends a happy summer solstice - here's hoping that you also have warmer temperatures in your future!

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2018-06-06 12:52 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 22°39.27'S 177°57.02'W

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Thursday, 21 June 2018

NZ to TONGA - Day 8 - Holiday at Minerva

Hello,

We have totally enjoyed our impromptu stopover at Minerva Reef :)

We had a little swim this morning, and (rare occurrence) the whole family was in the water. Benjamin had gone with Max for some swimming lessons at the highly recommended wave pool in Whangarei, so he was eager to jump into the water (or at least climb down the ladder) to join us. Benjamin's favourite trick was to do the count down for Max, Victoria, and Johnathan to jump in (Mom was on camera duty), which they would happily oblige from the side of the boat. The water temperature was 24 deg, so he was a little shivery before long, but he kept asking to go back into the water. I know a couple of big kids who used to be like that!

We moved a little in our anchorage this morning. We are already on the windward side of the lagoon, but since the forecast was for squalls overnight potentially to 30 kts, we moved over a little to be sure of having plenty of swing room, regardless of the wind direction. It was a little tedious to find a new spot, as the hazy blue shapes I could see under the water (coral bombies) were just close enough together to make it hard to find a good spot to lay out our chain. We replaced it in NZ, so I feel rather protective of its lovely, uniform grey (high-test galvanized) finish, and we want to avoid anchoring where the chain will get scraped on the coral (and of course, we want to avoid damaging the coral as well!). Our previous chain had had a hard life, and it was getting pretty rusty by the end of last season, despite being only 4 years old.

Having been to Minerva twice already, we purposefully kept our routine very simple this afternoon, and didn't even bother to launch our dinghy for only one day. This left time for a couple of quiet hours when the whole family was reading, writing, or playing peacefully; this is a surprisingly rare occurrence.

The one chore on my list for today was to soak and scrub my hemp Tilley hat. It went for a bit of a swim yesterday when we were anchoring. Thanks to Victoria's quick eye to spot it, and Max's careful Hat-overboard maneuvering (and to the little foam bit inside that kept it afloat), we were able to scoop it back aboard with a boat hook with minimal drama. I have learned that salt water and hemp fabric, for whatever reason, do not play nicely, so a thorough cleaning was necessary in order to keep it from becoming totally overcome by black spots. Thankfully, I had plenty of time for this task!

The forecast is for a trough to pass us tonight and then south-west winds to fill in which will take us to Tonga starting in the morning. We have food for the journey in the fridge, the rest of the boat is asleep, and it is time to wish you a good day.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2018-06-06 6:56 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 23°37.21'S 178°54.70'W

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Wednesday, 20 June 2018

NZ to TONGA - Days 6 & 7 - Wind! and Minerva Reef !

Hello,

As expected our wind filled in yesterday, and I had loads of moments in my mind that I wanted to share once I sat at the chart table during my evening watch; however, by the time I sat down, I didn't feel much like writing!

We are now anchored at Minerva Reef, and I have a little more enthusiasm for bringing you up to date.

I mentioned in my last letter that Max and the big kids showered the day before yesterday while I was off watch. This meant that it was my turn yesterday morning. The wise person, waking up to no wind, would have showered straight away. I, believing the forecast, which was for the winds to fill in during the afternoon, assumed that I had time for coffee and breakfast first. How wrong I was! The wind filled in ever so gently while we were having breakfast in the cockpit, so we unfurled the genoa and silenced the engine, and heeled gently in the few knots of wind that were pushing us along. I must say that a person hasn't really showered until they have done so bracing against the lower wall of the shower and filling a little squirt bottle with a kettle over the sink!

We sailed throughout the day as if we were in a sheltered harbour, rather than crossing the open Pacific: the seas were absolutely flat calm, and there was barely a splash on the deck.

Benjamin decided early in our passage that we were doing the Volvo Ocean Race. Ever the optimist, and since we couldn't see any other boats, he determined that we were in the lead. It became a bit of a fun game for all of us to ask him if he had seen any other boats and if we were still winning. I can safely say that we have seen no other competitors on the water all week!

One of the things that can be hard to coordinate is an afternoon off-watch for Mom with supper being on the table before the 5pm sunset: there just aren't enough hours in the afternoon for one of me to do both. This conundrum has become immeasurably easier on this trip, as I have been able to leave instructions and ingredients with Victoria and Johnathan, and luxuriously wake in time to eat. On this particular occasion, we ate very well: I had left cooked potatoes and a bowl of carrots and onions available, and mentioned that some of our apples might best be used in a baked dessert, and between them, Victoria and Johnathan turned all of this into Shepherd's Pie and Apple Crisp, ready for the table as the sun was going down. I love listening to their teamwork and cooperation as I surface from under our new NZ duvet (which we still need), and appreciate the independence with which they get on with the job.

By evening, we were beginning to see changes in the cloud patterns behind us (wispy strands of high cirrus and cirrostratus were forming, like brush strokes in a painting), and the wind began to pick up and back around so we were sailing on a close reach.

By late evening, we were hard on the wind (close hauled), in 10 kts and short choppy wind waves, but not making our course for Tonga. We knew we had a couple of hard days ahead of us as a trough of bad weather passed over, and planned to sail about 30 off-course before tacking towards Tonga for the last couple of days as the wind was forecast to back significantly. At the midnight watch change, we took another look at the forecasts, our advice from Met Bob, and our overall progress, and decided that we didn't always have to do things the hard way: we could bear off, head for Minerva Reef to sit out the trough, then ride the SW winds to Tonga a couple of days later. Originally, we hadn't wanted to lose the time from our season in Tonga to stopping at Minerva, but we gave our heads a shake - after all, we are cruising - and pointed towards Minerva, which was a much more comfortable (and faster) close reach.

Max shook me at 5am for some of the fastest sailing we have ever done in Fluenta. The wind had picked up from the 10 kts I had to 14-20 kts on Max's watch, and steadied out at 12-14 kts in the morning. We decided that it was a bit unfair to ask Victoria to take this watch by herself! She and I sailed together as the mother-daughter team, keeping a close eye on the boat speed, the wind angle, the wind strength, and our ETA for Minerva Reef (having decided to go there, we needed to arrive in daylight). At one point, we turned downwind to furl some of the genoa (our standard practice is to go down to 120 deg of apparent wind to take the pressure off the sail while we furl), only to find that the wind had dropped to 11 kts by the time we were back on course, so we had to ease it out again immediately. When the wind built to staysail territory (17+ kts), we banged on the aft cabin hatch in the universal wake-up call, and Max joined us in the cockpit to reef the main (this started out as one of his jobs back in 2012, and somehow now it is always his turn). As the wind was no longer climbing, we elected to stick with the reefed genoa, as we were doubtful we would get the boatspeed we needed with the staysail. It was exhilarating, to say the least, to see our normally sedately sailed (ie max speed of about 8.0 kts) home cruising along at 7.5-9.0 kts of boat speed. Our friends on Totem (fantastic mentors on a sister ship) had a crossing where they averaged 7.5 kts, and we got a taste of it today!

Max and Victoria sailed the boat for the rest of the morning, and I headed off-watch for some much needed deep sleep (this one day reminds me how grateful we are that Victoria can generally take these dawn watches by herself!). A few short hours later, we were rounding the perimeter of North Minerva Reef, at 1330, with plenty of daylight for our entrance. With two knots of current boiling against us, we entered the lagoon for our third visit (we had also stopped here with a big group of kid boats on our southbound trip in late 2014 as well as going north in 2016). While not as benign as our first entrance, nor as grey and lumpy as our second (5m seas off-shore after we arrived), we had good visibility to enter at the pass and transit to the NW anchorage. We are one of a small handful of boats here (about five in total).

By 1530, we were anchored, the cockpit and saloon were tidied, and the kids were ready to go swimming. Even Benjamin was keen to give it a go, although with dark approaching, he got as far as dipping his toes from the ladder, and decided to leave it for another day. The big kids, on the other hand did a few good leaps off the side for the benefit of the paparazzi (me) before heading to the (hot) shower (no squirt bottle this time - we had run our furnace, which started without incident after being shaken and stirred at sea, so we had hot water in our 'summer loop').

Supper was our first meal of fish for the season: we caught several small-ish tuna in the first couple of days, and kept the only meal-sized one that appeared on our hook. This little fellow was just the right size to feed us with no leftovers. Marinated in soya sauce and seared on a hot pan, it was quite tasty with our standard rice and carrot sticks. With a little bit of leftover apple crumble to chase it down, it seemed that our first meal together in the cockpit had gotten our cruising season off to a good start. .

It looks now like we will spend a full day at Minerva, then head to Tonga the next morning.

Much love to all,

Elizabeth
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At 2018-06-06 12:50 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 23°37.22'S 178°54.75'W
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At 2018-06-06 12:50 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 23°37.22'S 178°54.75'W

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Monday, 18 June 2018

NZ to TONGA - Day 5 - Father's Day Sail on the Pacific Millpond

Hello,

We broke up our many hours of motoring today with a three-hour sail this morning when our winds built to 6 to 10 kts. It was nice to be reminded how well Fluenta sails in light airs, especially with new bottom paint and minimal seastate. It still looks like we will be motoring until sometime tomorrow, but that we have made enough northward progress that we can start sailing as soon as the wind fills in (even if we are slow) rather than waiting until we can maintain our average of 5.5 kts. This probably equates to sailing in 6-7 kts of wind, rather than waiting for 8-10+ kts we have needed with the wind so far aft and to keep up the average speeds required to keep ahead of the forecast unpleasant winds. All the kids migrated downstairs, and it was lovely to spend some time in the cockpit, actually sailing Fluenta together, the light winds necessitating regular trimming and course changes to keep the sails drawing.

It was Father's Day in this timezone, so we celebrated Max with brunch in the morning and maintenance in the afternoon :) Fried eggs and French Toast were on the menu, along with some of the maple syrup my dad brought us from Canada.

After lunch Max found a minor diesel leak in the engine compartment while doing engine checks; I looked up from my off-watch snooze in the aft bunk to see him crouched on the galley floor with a roll of Rescue Tape in his hands, and knew that something was up. There was a minor leak at another injector on the engine side (similar to the problem we had in Noumea, but in a different location) and we will deal with it further in Tonga. For now it is taped. [Lessons learned in the past from compression fittings - it is tempting to tighten it "just a little more" but they are easy to overtighten resulting in a worse leak. I have the correct spare so I will fix it when safely at anchor. Max]

Our fridge continues to operate in a very manual mode: we open the engine compartment panel, lash a fan next to the high pressure cutoff, run the water pump using an auxiliary switch we installed (ie without the compressor) and once the whole thing seems cold enough, push the overpressure reset button, and the system whirs to life. We run it for a long while (90 minutes) and repeat the process on the next watch. On the bright side, we have cooling, and our fridge full of meat is at a record -11 degrees and even the top layer is frozen solid. [for the folks that are worried it the compressor itself overpressuring, the big compressor never actually runs in this scenario but rather the refrigerant gets warm sitting statically in the engine compartment which increases its pressure and the overpressure cut off switch opens the electrical power circuit to the compressor stopping it even starting. The system is water cooled so once it is running the engine compartment temperature is not an issue. Max]

Max and Johnathan further cemented their father-son relationship today by transferring the last of the diesel from our jerry cans into our main tanks. I was off-watch, but I understand that they got most of it in the tanks and only some of it on Johnathan :) Given the calm seastate, you can imagine that he was thrilled with the 'opportunity' to take a squirt-bottle shower when they were finished. [Aside: this is a trick we inspired by our friends on NAUTILUS a few years ago - we boil the kettle, but a little water in the bottom of a ketchup bottle, fill the rest with tap water, and shower. We get 'clean enough' with only a few bottles each, and it is easier than using the furnace or the generator to heat our domestic tank. The heat exchanger to restore our ability to heat our water tank when we run the engine is already on our "Phase 2" list for the heater installation; it just didn't make the cut when we ordered the rest of the system from the US earlier in the year.

Victoria has been documenting our position every day at noon, so today she took advantage of the calm conditions to transfer all the marks to the chart. It was a good learning opportunity (that few North American students get) to use a chart on which the date line (180 meridian) runs up the middle: she learned that East and West are important distinctions, as the first time she drew all the dots they didn't actually form a straight line. It wasn't long before she had all our daily positions accurately marked. Our sextant hasn't quite made it out of the cupboard in quite awhile, there is always tomorrow ... or the next passage ...

Once again, we are motoring under a clear starry night. The winds are gusting to 2 kts. In a few days, this location will see 20-30 kts, with commensurate seastate, so I am delighted that we have a reliable engine to take us through these calms, and on Father's Day especially, that my kids have a dad who keeps all the systems going (and that Max and I have dads who inspire us and support us as we take this journey with our children).

Big hugs to everyone at home on Father's Day,

Love,
Elizabeth
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At 2018-06-06 1:41 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 27°01.17'S 178°49.86'W

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