November 3rd we left Tongatapu and headed SW toward New zealand. Many boats had already left a few days earlier for this weather window, I think we were the last boat that left Tongatapu. We knew a big lowpressure was developing over Fiji and was coming our way but we were hoping to make some distance down south before that and get away from it. On the SSB radio (single side band) we could get some weather info and also talk to other cruisers thru the ”Drifters net”. What we heard, many of the cruisers that left earlier had to go by motor for several days because no wind at all. We had to motored as well but only for a few hours, then we got a nice breeze from SE.
On the third day we passed Minerva reef, a little spot in the middle of nowere were you can anchor in calm contitions. We did not stop, instead tried to get as far south as possible before the lowfront reached us. The wind continued to increase and the waves started to build. During the whole trip we saw fields of floting pumice rocks (pimp sten), probably from an underwater volcanic eruption somewhere south of us. All sizes, but the smallest made the worst problem for those who were running their engine, the rocks could get sucked up thru the water intake.
A couple of days after Minerva reef the wind and waves was rough, we were in the ”squash zone” between two low’s, one south and one north of us. Later we could hear on the VHF radio the NZ Air force responding to a mayday call from the boat ”Windigo” (we met them briefly in Bora bora), which had capsized and was taking in water. At that point, their position was only 170 nm north of us. The Air force contacting another boat ”Adventure bound” which was about 50 nm south of ”Windigo” and suggest them to turn around and sail back toward ”Windigo”. Poor people, I was thinking, not fun to turn around in this weather, nor sitting in a sinking boat and waiting for help…
Next day, similar weather. For a whole day and night I was feeling very sick. I can somtimes be seasick in rough weather but normally it’s over in a few hours. This was different and I couldn’t keep any food or liquid inside my stomach that day. Ginni otherhand, which normally use to be seasick during most passages, was feeling ok. Thanks to her I could keep my horizontal position and rest most of that day. A few times some bigger waves came breaking from behind and plashed in thru the closed companionway hatch. Saltwater poored in over the instrument panel and over the rest of the electronics. Trying to stop it with a little rag didn’t help much either. Luckely most of the marine instruments was water resistant and survived, but the navigation computer did not.
Finally I was starting to feel better and the worst sea condition starting to ease. Up on deck I found pumice rocks laying around, even up in the sails. A few small things was missing but in general things seemed to be ok.The wind turned to south which made us going far to the west. A couple days later it was flat calm and sunshine. We started to dry things up. The cockpit lockers was full of saltwater, paint cans, epoxy, lubrication bottles, paint equipment etc, was floating around in a mess. Started up the engine and did go by motor for a couple hours, but slowly the RPM went down, the engine seemed to loss power so I turned it off. Later I found it was the injector nozzles that was clogged.
Periodically new rapports about ”Windigo”. A NZ warship and the Hong Kong registrated cargo ship Chengtu had reached Windigo’s position (Adventure bound did as well) but was forced to stand by because to rough conditions. Finally after 24 hours, the NZ warship manage to rescue the couple with help of some long lines. Now Windigo was left to drift around at sea alone. This time I was thinking; Poor people of the next fleet of cruisers, that will sailing down to NZ, knowing it’s a boat floating around somewhere in the dark and risk for collosion… Adventure bound could finally turn back and sail toward NZ.
During the last days the wind changed more to SW. Our westerly position turned out to be favoriable and the last leg took us straight into Opua, New zealand. The sailing from Tonga took 12 days. At the Q dock (quarantin dock), I notice that the rudder was slightly bent and had some cracks in it. In Opua, a few days remained of the ”All points rally”, as we signed up to before leaving Tonga. Seminars, free dinners and games. It was fun to meet up with other cruisers again, some we knew since before and some we learn to know by the radio. We all had some stories to tell.
Read more about Windigo and Adventure bounds story;