Monday, September 29, 2008

Bad weather, and down to Manimita, a/k/a Anchorage #31

Friday the 2 divers finished cleaning the hull and we finally managed to get out of the Vava’U main harbor around 4:00 p.m. and did a quick sail down to Anchorage #16, a/k/a island of Vakaeitu.  Sailing gurus Larry and Lin Pardey arrived in the main harbor a couple of hours before we left.  Their followers got all excited and thought it was ever so cool that the Pardeys came to Tonga and they got to see the famous couple.  Bill and I agree wholeheartedly that the Pardeys are excellent sailors, but we do not believe in their motto of “go small and go now” and that boats should be the most simplistic as possible.  Bill and I subscribe more to the belief that comfort is all-important.  No way we are using a bucket for a head or showering with overhead bags and stuff like that.  We want pressurized water system, hot water heater, air-conditioning, auto-pilot, freezers, etc. – all the luxuries.  The Pardeys can keep their simple life. 

At Anchorage #16 we dropped anchor at latitude 18.43.23S longitude 174.06.096W, right next to our friends the Grego family on S/V FREE SPIRIT.  I delivered the provisions that we had bought for them in town and then grilled our last beef tenderloin from the gourmet store in Panama.  Enjoyed the evening visiting with our friends.  Between the 4 of us we managed to drink almost 3 bottles of various red wines and we were all feeling the effects the next morning.

Saturday morning we upped anchor and followed FREE SPIRIT down to Anchorage #40, a/k/a island of Avalau.  Paul dropped their anchor almost on the reef; they can do that since FREE SPIRIT is a catamaran and has such shallow draft.  We dropped our anchor extremely close to shore at latitude 18.44.93S longitude 174.05.01W.  The depth was too great for us to anchor well off the island and we had to get extremely close to shore before the depth shallowed enough for us to set an anchor.  Even then we had to let out almost all our anchor chain.  The plan was to get up at 0500 the next morning and make the passage down to the Ha’apai Group.  Weather prediction was favorable for this passage when we went to bed.  However, the wind began to shift direction to the north during the night.  None of us slept well because it was so exposed where we had anchored. 

Before daylight the next morning Paul was hailing us on the VHF radio.  He had downloaded the latest GRIB file and the weather was suddenly predicted to be quite different than the forecast 12 hours prior.  A strong front with winds of 30 knots was now predicted for the Ha’apai Group.  This island group is very flat and very exposed, with reefs literally everywhere.  None of us wanted to chance arriving in such an area during heavy weather; so the trip was called off.  Not doing it today.

We motored back up to Anchorage #11 and anchored at latitude 18.42.44S longitude 173.59.25W between islands of Pangaimotu and Tapana.  An hour or so later a boat vacated a mooring so we pulled anchor and grabbed the mooring.  Winds are predicted to shift from East to North to West tonight, and blow from the west all day tomorrow.  The waters here in Tonga are usually fairly deep until very close to shore, so you end up dropping anchor closer to shore than one would normally prefer.  That is fine as long as the wind stays from the same direction; but if there is a wind shift you might end up on the shore.  An anchorage suitable for easterly winds is not suitable for westerly winds.  That is why we prefer to be on a mooring if wind shifts are forecast.  Boats on moorings can swing 360 degrees and not hit anything.  The Ark Gallery has 10 or 12 moorings that are well set and well maintained and are perfect for this situation.  We were quite happy on the mooring and spent the day researching future routes and reading novels.

Late Sunday afternoon Bill retrieved updated GRIB files.  Tomorrow is out of the question for sailing down to Ha’apai but Tuesday appears to be okay.  Might be able to sail half-way and then motor directly into light winds for the final half of the trip.  We would prefer to be able to sail the entire trip but GRIB files for the next 10 days only get worse.  Tuesday appears to be the best choice.  FREE SPIRIT has already been waiting more than a week for good weather to sail south.  Bill and I don’t want to wait any longer.   If it means motoring half-way, so be it.

Monday September 29, 2008

Well we are now very glad that we canceled the trip south to Ha’apai yesterday morning.  All day Sunday the weather was so perfect that we half regretted not leaving early that morning as planned.  Rain started around 4 p.m. but that was no big deal and would not have stopped us from sailing.  Then around 8 p.m. last night all hell broke loose.  What is termed a “fresh gale” passed over us for about 3 hours.  We did not keep constant watch on the wind speed but I did see speeds of 42 knots several times.  The boat next to us later told me that he saw speeds of 50 knots.  Another couple of boats well behind us reported speeds of 60 knots.  That is only 5 mph less than minimum hurricane strength!   BTW, 10 knots of wind is equal to 11.5 miles per hour so the winds were between 48 mph  and 69 mph for you landlubbers.   Boats were dragging anchors in all the anchorages and radio traffic was going nuts.  We were very, very thankful to be on a strong mooring. We turned on GPS, radar, chart plotter, all spreader lights, pulled out the big 2 million candlelight flashlight and I sat at the helm with the engine running just in case the mooring snapped.  When the wind was at its highest points I would put the boat into idle-forward to help relieve the stress a couple of minutes at a time; not enough to actually move forward on the mooring.   It was pitch black and raining hard with the high winds blowing the sea into a mist.  Very difficult to see anything except those boats that had turned on their spreader lights.

A Dutch boat that was anchored well behind the mooring field dragged anchor and then moved up to our end of the bay and tried to reset their anchor.  The wind was blowing so hard that their boat turned sideways to the wind and was blown sideways completely back across this large bay.   Looked like a plastic garbage can lid blowing down a street during a heavy rainstorm.  Couldn’t believe how rapidly that boat was blown sideways down the bay.   The Dutch boat moved back up to our end of the bay 3 times and was unsuccessful in setting an anchor each time.  It is very difficult to set an anchor in high winds.  You cannot keep your boat stable in one position long enough for the anchor to even reach the sea bottom and anchors don’t grab when moving rapidly as the boat is blown about.   On the fourth attempt the Dutch boat was successful in setting their anchor behind us.  The winds had died down to around 22-25 knots at that point.

This morning we discovered that our small Texas flag was shredded so badly by the high winds that it is beyond repair.  We have another worn Texas flag that I will attempt to mend to fly until we can buy a few more when we visit home at Christmas.  Texans should always fly the Texas flag.  Boats from other states do not fly their state flags, but Texans usually do.  After all, we were once a sovereign country and should still take pride in that fact.  The really nice large US flag that Bill’s brother John bought at Walmart us last year is also shredded.  Luckily John bought 2 so we have another one to use for our ensign and I will attempt to repair the shredded one.  Looks like we also will be buying another couple of those when we are home for Christmas.  (HINT—HINT:  just in case any family members are thinking of buying us Christmas gifts; small Texas flags and 2x3 US flags are always needed.  They wear out quickly.)

Forecasts for Tuesday are completely opposite from one another.  The Tonga weather forecast center predicts wind at 10-15 knots from the E to NE.  The Fiji weather forecast center predicts wind at single digits from ESE.  Think we will try to make the passage on Tuesday and see which forecast proves true --- or if both of them are wrong.

Today the sea was very flat and barely a hint of a breeze so we took the opportunity to motor south 11 miles through the middle of the Vava’U Group to Manimita, a/k/a Anchorage #31.  FREE SPIRIT arrived there first and scoped it out.  Darn good thing they did.  This anchorage is surrounded by reef and has enough room for only 1 boat to anchor.  The plan was to get both of us anchored in there – a catamaran that is 43 feet long and 26 feet wide and our 53-foot ketch – using both bow and stern anchors on both boats.  Paul came out in his dinghy and guided us in through the sharp “S” shaped entrance through the reefs.  We would never have gotten through that entrance without his assistance.  Once inside we used the bow thruster to turn the boat around almost within its own space; then dropped the bow anchor; dropped back almost on top of FREE SPIRIT and dropped our stern anchor just off their starboard side.  Now we were anchored securely with our bow anchor right in the entrance channel.  It was very calm since we were protected by reef all around.  Waypoint for this anchorage is latitude 18.51.404S longitude 173.59.869W.  Waypoint of the entrance beginning is latitude 18.51.248S longitude 173.59.997W.  This anchorage should only be attempted during flat calm weather because you must sail between several reefs to find the entrance waypoint.  Once at the entrance waypoint someone must go through the reef channels in a dinghy with a handheld depth gauge and figure out how to wind your way in through the reef channels.  The Moorings guide does not give information on this and the new big sailing guide also does not give any detail about this anchorage. 

The island of Manimita is home to thousands of birds of various kinds.  The trees make a canopy over the island, so dense that you cannot see inside; and the trees are full of baby birds in nests.  Best to visit when mom and dad are out food shopping during the day and stay away at dawn and sunset.  The babies ignore visitors; mom and dad get a tad aggressive.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comment will be posted after we confirm that you are not a cyber stalker.