Monday, September 06, 2004

Passage to Niuatoputapu Tonga

5 days - 700 Nautical Miles (with a gnarly pass entrance)

Route from Suwarrow to Niuatoputapu Tonga

The passage to Niuatoputapu was a rather uneventful wet and fast ride. We were concerned about a wind shift to the south, so we headed south of the rhumbline just in case. This caused the seas to slap the side of the hull and we occasionally took a couple of big splashes into the cockpit. It was a little too rough for fishing, ok maybe the fishing would have been fine but we were more concerned about the landing and cleaning of the fish. We traveled close to De la Mer and got some great shots of them under sail, the hull disappearing out of site while they were only a couple of waves away. We started to pull away and thought we had lost VHF contact when all of the sudden we got a call out of the blue. It was a New Zealand accent asking for the sailing vessel in our position to identify them selves. Both KT and I looked at each other, “where did this boat come from, how did we miss it?” I checked our position on the cockpit repeater and responded that we were indeed the vessel in question. He said that we were in restricted waters. I guess I sounded a little surprised (Michael said panicked) so he started laughing; it was him the whole time!! What we didn’t hear was that he was claiming to be from the NZ vessel Freedom. He was planning on telling us he was a submarine and that we must head five miles south (more into the wind and seas) before continuing our course to Niuatoputapu. He kept laughing for hours. Luckily he didn’t play the complete joke because we wouldn’t have made it before dark. We didn’t think we would make it (because we would have to average above 7 knots for 12 hours) so we tried to slow down. We saw land about 35 miles out, turns out it was the large volcano across the pass from our target. The wind kept building to 25+ so we put up more sail and flew. We were steadily above 7.5 knots, occasionally held it above 8 knots and peaked at 9.8 knots.

The pass entrance and Niuatoputapu anchorage

The pass entrance is rather small and pretty well marked, but the seas were breaking very close to both sides of the pass and the light was fading. We talked to Emerald who was inside and they organized a dinghy party to help us through. We dropped our sails, and started heading towards the entrance; we were beam to the 8 to 10 foot seas and rolling pretty good. The pass is narrow enough that you can’t really turn around once you start. We were lined up and going for it when two whales surfaced between the pass and us (little did we know that this would be the beginning of our adventures with whales). They got out of the way and thanks to the dinghies we made it in fine and got settled, only to have to help De La Mer who was an hour behind us, trying to enter in the dark.

We had six dinghies with lights trying to help but in the confusion, our VHF batteries went dead and there was really no one person in control.  We were supposed to be in the back of the range, so I had to guess what to do. Finally out of the dark Mary asked, “Are we going the right way?” I guess they didn’t have much confidence listening to everyone try to figure out what to do. Next time we’ll have one person in control and talking to the boat while the others coordinate on another channel.

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