12 Oct Passage to Nuku’alofa, Tonga – Sunday, 7 October to Friday, 12 October 2001
A rough passage like the one from Bora Bora to Rarotonga is like being pregnant; after the baby is born and the pain subsides, you forget how bad it was. This passage, on the otherhand, is just about as good as it gets with calm seas, blue sky, sun during the daytime and a sky so full of stars at night that it feels as if you can reach up and touch them. The wind and swells are at our back, from the SE, off the aft port quarter. I love, love, love our weather guru, Bob McDavitt in New Zealand. In his own words in his Sunday, 7 October report:
” Bob McDavitt’s ideas for South Pacific sailing weather (in UTC). (Standard disclaimer: these ideas are from the patterned world of weather maps. Our weather is a mix of pattern and chaos, so fine-tune to your own area). That Big Fat High last week sure has kept the yachts in port. A classic case of the squash zone in the trade-winds that is caused by a High. Several have reported gusts over 35 knots and one person even reported 65 knots (I suspect that was in km/hr). The BFH is today still about 1030 near 40S 160W but is now relaxing and moving off to the east. Trade winds between French Polynesia and Fiji are manageable this week so it is time to do some Island hopping. Between Fiji and Australia the trade winds have been weakened off by a weak trough which is now over NZ. An active SPCZ now stretches from Tokelau across Northern Cooks and through central and southern French Polynesia and then into the mid-latitudes. Wind flow is NE to the north of this zone and SE on t’other side, and wind gusts are to 30 knots in the squalls along this zone. By mid -week a small depression centre may develop in this zone over French Polynesia and then move off to the SE taking some of the rain and wind activity with it. One trough is currently crossing the NZ area. The Low now over Tasmania is expected to enlargen and deepen in the Tasman sea on Monday, cross NZ on Tuesday, and be followed by a vigorous SW flow on Wednesday. This cold showery SW and its swell is expected to stream into Tonga and maybe Niue on Friday (UTC). Brace yourselves lads.” Bob tells us to get into Tonga by Friday noon, Tonga time (on the West side of the International Date Line).
We left Aitutaki on Sunday, planning to head for Niue, a passage of 580 nm pretty much due West. After receiving Bob’s weather forecast we changed to a more SW coarse 200 nm out, and headed for Nuku’alofa, Tonga (900nm). It was the “Brace yourselves lads” that did it. The winds are supposed to change to SW and there is no sheltered harbor in Niue. If the winds shift to Westerly, all the boats at Niue can do is get out of town. In fact, they are told by the local authorities to leave, in no uncertain terms. As I was saying, I love Bob McDavitt. This passage is perfect and our ETA is 1300 Friday and that’s as good as it gets. It is so calm and comfortable that I am able to work on the computer all day and on my 2100-2400 night shift as well. I have made a slideshow for the MV Starr Page, added four new Gallery Pages, and have added additional pictures to the Journal Entries of our favorite places, Ua Pou, Kauehi and Atutaki. If all passages were like this one, Don and I would probably never return home. We would just keep moving West.
At 0600 Thursday morning (Friday, Tonga) when Don comes on watch, the winds have shifted to SSW and are on our forward starboard quarter. The swells are from the same direction but are not yet very big. It is still blue sky with some squalls circling around the boat in the distance. In an early morning email Bob tells us: “The decision to go to Nuku’alofa or Auckland is yours to make. The incoming trough should reach Tonga on Friday and Saturday with winds turning SW or S and then SE , and reaching 20 gust 30 knots, and southerly swell 2 ocnl 3m And between Tonga and NZ that SW/S wind change on Friday should reach 30 gust 40 in the squalls with 2.5 ocnl 4 m. On Sat/Sun a ridge of light winds is expected between Tonga and NZ, and early next week another trough should be approaching Northland.” It’s the “30 gust 40 in squalls (winds) with 2.5 occasional 4m (waves)” that reinforces the decision to hurry on to the safe harbor of Nuku’alofa until this new weather blows over. The shift to SW/S winds would be right on our nose heading from Tonga to NZ, and the sea North of NZ can be one of the most treacherous stretches of water in the whole of the South Pacific. We earnestly seek to avoid “the Perfect Storm” or even a small version of it.