Return to Vava'u
October 15, 2010
Clearing out of Tonga went smoothly and quickly. We left the customs dock at 1010 Friday morning the 8th of October motorsailing in light wind. Next stop, Savusavu, Fiji in four days.
Just after noon the wind increased enough to turn off the engine. During the next few hours the seas kicked up from moderate to rough and the wind speed increased to over 20 knots which is nice for downwind sailing with some swell. It keeps the sails full and stops them from flappering.
The forecast had been for unsettled weather and other yachties questioned our decision to leave on a Friday. An old superstition proclaims it bad to leave port on a Friday though I am not sure why. We think that it is silly and have always ignored it.
I was on watch at 7:00 pm and noticed lightning ahead in the distance. Turning on the radar, I saw rain ahead. I held our course as we were behind it.
At 8:00 pm the purple areas indicating rain on the chart plotter filled in off to port and starboard. The lightning increased. Hearing thunder, I second-guessed my decision and woke up Jim.
He decided to alter course to the north hoping it would get us out of the squall more quickly. By 9:00 pm the winds were 25-35 knots, it was raining hard, thunder roared and lighting bolts shot down to the horizon on all sides of us. The wind swirled from all directions. We had the mainsail and jib rolled in very small and were still doing over 6 knots.
I was petrified, sure we would be struck and loose all our electronics. Fiji is not the place to be at night without the help of electronic charts and a depth gauge. About 9:30 pm we heard a roar outside. What was that? Jim popped his head out of the companionway and said the mainsail had ripped. After rolling it in, he came back with the news that the webbing holding on the clew had ripped out.
Hmm.... what to do... We were 70 miles out of Vava'u with more than 400 to go to reach Savusavu. It was downwind so we could have continued with just the jib but I suggested turning back to fix it in the calm anchorage at Neiafu. Jim agreed almost too quickly. Anything to get away from that lightning overhead.
We fired up the motor, turned around and bashed back to Neiafu. At 2000 RPMs we were making 3 - 3.5 knots through the oncoming swell. By 2:00 am we could see stars above. Shortly after noon we were tied to a mooring ball in the Port of Refuge once again.
Clewless in Tonga
Sunday we rolled out the sail in the protected anchorage near shore. When the vertical battens were pulled out, which are very long, 3 of the 5 were broken. Small carbon fibers fell everywhere.
The area to be repaired drooped into the cockpit so Jim set up our new Sailrite sewing machine there. He was excited to use it and make the repair himself. In the beginning, that is.
I've just asked him to recount this effort but he declined, still pissed off that he couldn't fix the machine after having forced the needle through the heavy fabrics. Used a little too much force. Isn't that a line from a Bob Dylan song?
Trying to fix what he just broke
Monday morning we dropped the sail into the dinghy and went looking for a sailmaker. We were told Ross Harold at the Moorings was the man to see. He had a look and thought he could fix it although the thickness of the fabric and webbing would be close to the maximum his machine could handle.
Ross the sailmaker
When we picked up the sail the next day he had managed to sew two of the three pieces of webbing with his machine but had gone through so many needles that he stitched the center piece by hand.
Having a clew again
Besides the ripped clew, the fabric along the foot was stretched, scalloped and frayed. He didn't like the looks of it and replaced the entire strip along the bottom. It looks like new! He did a beautiful job at a very reasonable price in an extremely short amount of time. We highly recommend him!
Ross works winters here and has a loft in Opua, NZ during the summer. We will have him look over all our sails and make any repairs when we reach Opua next month.
Waiting for the Customs official
Checking back in with customs and immigration was very simple once someone showed up at the customs office. In a cavernous building, which is also a warehouse, the official sit at dilapidated old unmatching desks and uncomfortable wooded chairs. No wonder they were away.
The immigration officer asked us to write a letter explaining why we returned to Tonga and present it to customs first and then to him. With letter in hand, they cancelled our original outbound clearance. No fees. No more paperwork. We just check out properly again when we leave. Easy as pie.
Honestly, I was glad to be returning to Neiafu. There were two things I had wanted to do but didn't. One was to go swimming with whales. It is very expensive and sightings are not guaranteed. They might not want to be seen that day. I also wanted to buy a Riki Tiki t-shirt. I like the scary tiki on the back and it would remind me of how much fun I had on the incredible dives.
Fale and "Isa with my new t-shirt
So back we went to Tropical Tease so I could order another t-shirt. When I picked it up the next morning 'Isa offered to make a shopping bag for me. She said to pick a design and she would put it on one side and our Tenaya logo on the other. I chose a sea turtle. She printed it while Jim and Cindy chatted about business stuff. It's lovely! What a great present.
'Isa finishes my new shopping bag
Jim finally had his ear checked and found there is an infection. He was given drops and a antibiotics and told not to dive. He could swim with an earplug.
I arranged to dive with Riki Tiki again on Wednesday. When I showed up Riki said the other guy had cancelled, it was just the two of us. Nice! We planned to dive a wreck that sank in the harbor in 1927. First he had to pick up the tanks so I brought our gear down to the dock.
Upon returning he said our plans had changed. The whale watching operator had a boat dead in the water a few miles away and needed batteries. We would deliver them and dive afterwards.
By the time Riki and the skipper had fiddled with the motor, as the batteries were not the problem, and we had had a coffee at the restaurant at the Blue Lagoon, we only had time for one dive. Because we were already out of the harbor it made sense to dive out there instead of the wreck.
Riki suggested a place called the Gap, a narrow space between two islands where large pelagic fish are often seen. It is stunning! Lots of colorful coral of various types cover the reefs. A giant moray eel watched as we swam beside him and countless brilliantly colored fish went about their business. Further on, a small black-tipped reef shark cruised by.
In front of the opaque blue-green backdrop of murky water, long whip coral waves slowly in the current, angling away from the wall from which they grew. Feather stars were attached to many, adding to the surreal scene. Enormous, beautiful gorgonian fans lined up in rows looking like elaborate green and black lace fan-shaped screens.
I only got in one dive during the 6 hours out but had a great time tagging along and hearing stories about events in the area.
On Thursday we went out on a whale watching boat in search of the Humpback whales that visit these waters each year. This is one of the few places in the world where people are allowed to get in the water and swim with the giant creatures.
The boat covered a lot of water as we scanned for blows. Finally we saw a couple and the skipper brought us nearby. Our guide, Pete, slid off the back to locate the whale and then waved us in. By the time we reached him, the whale, which had been just below him, had disappeared. Back to the boat we went.
Three more times we spotted whales and Pete swam out to determine its location. Each time the whale had disappeared. As the boat bobbed in the water looking for blows one of the photographers on board looked over the side and asked Pete if he should be able to see the bottom. No. He was seeing a whale right below us! In the water we went.
The enormous creature hung motionless, suspended in blue. Its dark back and long dark fins with white spots were clearly visible a short distance away. Without any perceptible motion, the giant cetacean slowly rose to the surface. At that point we swam back to the boat and the other group slid into the water.
As we watched from the boat, the whale's fluke slowly appeared vertically above the surface. It kept rising steadily as more of the great white underside emerged from the sea until it reached a height of 4-5 meters. What an awesome sight!
All in all we were able to swim with the 14 meter, 30 ton leviathan three times. Once we found it resting vertically, head down, the fluke closest to the surface. It seemed he was sleeping as his song sounded much like snoring. Amazing!
Once we complete a few errands and chores this morning we will leave Neiafu, once again, bound for Savusavu, Fiji. It is Friday, that superstitious day again. Some yachties are shaking their heads at us. We will see what happens. We must leave today to reach Savusavu in time to meet our friend who is flying in to join us for a short time.
We are feeling the constraints of time as we need to work our way down and across the Fijian islands to Musket Cove by the end of the month. From there we will wait for a good weather window to cross to New Zealand.