This morning I opened our last pack of Englsh tea bags, what surer sign could there be that it’s time to return to civilisation for a while. Our passports have been stamped, Raya is full of fuel, five passage meals sit in the freezer, it’s now just down to the weather. Tonight there is going to be a BBQ at Big Mama’s Yacht Club for all the waiting cruisers, as if collectively we can will the weather to suit our plans.
After a year of relatively stable trade wind sailing, we are venturing back out into less predictable weather. The weather systems that cross over Australia and New Zealand from the Southern Ocean to just below the tropics are on the face of it simple, a high pressure system follows a low pressure system, follows a high pressure, follows a low pressure etc. etc. all travelling west to east. The reality is of course much more complex, firstly we must remember that each system rotates in the opposite direction to those of the northern hemisphere, so for the best departure we wait for the top of a high pressure to bring us SE-E-NE winds to whisk us south west from Tonga. Then the timing becomes crucial because between the high we are using and the following low there is often a trough of high winds and if the systems squash up or travels too quickly you face south winds straight on the nose as you approach your destination. The general advice is to sail a dog leg, going well west of the rhumb line before turning south, the magic waypoint being around 30S 173E. The skill is to know when in the system to leave and then exactly how far west to sail. Add to all that the seemingly infinite other vagaries that affect the weather and the fact that our ‘at sea’ weather forecast app is having a crisis about spanning the dateline, we have decided for the first time, to use the help of a weather router. Bob McDavitt is a weather guru located in New Zealand, he looks at your particular passage requirements – destination, boat type, average passage speed, etc. and with his years of experience analysing the weather patterns he suggests a departure date, best route and updates as necessary along the way. At the moment it is firming up for us to leave on Monday, heading for Opua in Northern New Zealand.
Needless to say the weather is the main topic of conversation in the bar at Big Mama’s Yacht Club, everybody anchored at Pangaimotu, the main stopping off point to take off for New Zealand, is on more or less the same track. However it wasn’t just passage weather that has been the topic of interest, the forecasted low pressure screamed through Tonga last Monday night with gusts in the high thirties and lashings of rain. With plenty of warning everybody had time to prepare and we all sat tight as it past over.
By Wednesday all was calm and we could venture out to prepare for our exit. The small boat harbour unfortunately hadn’t weathered the storm as well, the dodgy dock had become completely detached from its link to shore and had lost large sections of its length, the attached small boats sinking and floating out to sea. Getting on to dry land was precarious to say the least. In the heat we then spent 3hrs traipsing between, Nuku’alofa Port Authority, the Customs shed and other official offices in a seemingly random order, filling in numerous forms and collecting countless stamps as we went. The system for checking out has another fundamental problem, to get duty free fuel you need to have custom clearance, to get custom clearance you need a departure time within the next 24hrs. Unfortunately it takes a day to organise the fuel, a day to get it onboard, there is no fuel or custom service at the weekend and the weather windows change almost hourly. We took the decision to check out early and sit hopefully inconspicuously at anchor.
We were quite pleased we did, it took us all day Thursday to fill the fuel tanks. Firstly it took Rick and Russ, from A Train and also filling up, three trips in the dingy over to the harbour to clear a space at the wharf big enough to fit us on. We then had to wait for the tide to come in a little to give us enough depth, while we waited the delivery truck arrived and finding us not there, left and had to be called back, finally we had to pump 600l of diesel from three large drums into our tank by hand, all in the scorching afternoon sun.
It was an exhausting and frustrating couple of days but now we are prepared and looking forward to casting off. New Zealand here we come, please warm up a bit for us, the current Spring temperature in Opua of 18 degrees is going to seem very cold!