On the evening of 31st October 2016, after one week at sea, with Talulah Ruby III (Andy and Paul) just ahead of us and whom we hadn’t seen until the start of this passage since first meeting them in Bonaire in 2014, we arrived safely in Opua, New Zealand after a very tiring and difficult passage. While we looked forward to a good night's sleep, the temperatures had, however, plummeted. It didn’t take us long to realise that the only way we were going to stay warm was to actually sleep together in the same cabin. It was snug alright, but at least we got the well deserved rest we both needed. What struck us though, as we snuggled, was the silence. After the roar of the ocean and wind in our ears for a week, the silence was remarkable.
The next day we woke to a bitterly cold morning, with a thick mist hanging over the water. It was definitely time to unpack all our winter woollies. Unfortunately poor Roy had no long pants to wear, so he had to improvise with “long johns” under his shorts. Definitely not very fashionable, but at least he was warm.
Once we were given the all clear from biosecurity, customs and immigration, we manoeuvred to the fuel dock to fill up with diesel and water as well as give Paw Paw a much needed and well deserved freshwater wash down. Then it was off to our prearranged mooring ball, where we spent the rest of the day returning Paw Paw to a home and packing away all of our safety gear for the season.
We did, however, realise that we definitely needed a new sleeping arrangement if we were to survive the summer in New Zealand. Yes, you read correctly, the summer! So, another first; we hauled out our spare blankets and ran the central heating. After fifteen years in Arizona and three years in the tropics, the very cold weather was definitely an unexpected shock!
Given that the weather remained miserable during our first few weeks in New Zealand and being told that it would probably remain that way until the new year, we decided it would be best for Elaine to spend her time in a cold climate with family and visit the UK en route to Arizona, instead of waiting until January to do so, when the better weather was expected in New Zealand. The icing on the cake with this new plan would be Christmas and New Year with Keenan, Brooke and the grandchildren. Definitely the makings of a wonderful holiday season!
The only outstanding matter then was to get Elaine’s injured ankle seen to. So, with the doctor’s examination and assessment of her ankle completed, a set of exercises received from the physiotherapist to tide her over during her travels and having completed all the jobs which required both of us to be onboard, the long journey to visit family and friends commenced; A four hour bus trip to Auckland, followed by another hour to the international airport. From there a seventeen hour flight to Dubai, followed by another eight hour flight to London. Although the initial intention was to complete a circumnavigation by crossing the world's oceans on a yacht, it seemed Elaine would, instead, complete her first circumnavigation by air.
Elaine arrived in the UK safe and sound after a very pleasant journey, largely due to the type of aircraft, the A380 and the airline, Air Emirates. Although she was definitely rather nervous to fly on this huge aircraft, having the additional space and comfort outweighed any reservations. Couple that with the service provided, which, without a doubt, put the panache back into flying and the fact that, on both flights, she was fortunate enough to have open seats next to her, made for a very pleasant experience all round.
As planned, Justine was at Heathrow to greet Elaine and before long Elaine had enjoyed a nice hot shower that didn't have to be "army style", had had a bite to eat and was snuggling with Judy (Justine and Paul’s dog) in front of a toasty log fire, catching up on all the news, since last seeing Justine and Paul some 16 months previous in Guadeloupe. She was later soothed to sleep by the sounds of the neighbourhood owl. Oh, the joys of the little things in life! There was, however, one point during the night when she woke up and had absolutely no idea where she was. Once the initial panic had passed after she was eventually able to think through the fog of sleep, she went straight back to dreamland. Unfortunately, while Elaine savoured this little slice of heaven, Roy was still freezing in New Zealand as another storm hit.
It seemed while “time waited for no man” and our visits to England, Ireland and America simple flew by, there was, however, one common theme with each visit. Over a delicious meal and great wine, enjoying the warmth and laughter in the company of loved ones, the years in between seemed to melt away as the chatter continued into the wee small hours, closing the miles that had separated us. It is these moments, regardless of the different directions our lives take us, that are priceless and it is these simply activities that are truly treasured!
As with most things in life we have choices and, therefore, decisions to make. Prior to leaving Samoa, on 19th August 2016, we had to make a decision on our departure date, based on the weather forecasts we had been studying. Do we take advantage of the forecasted flatter seas, but lighter winds, which meant we would be motoring or, at best, motor-sailing, or do we wait for the stronger winds that would allow us to sail, albeit a beat, accompanied by higher seas?
Based on the sailing season we’d had up to this point, we opted for the former. With two engines, the prospect of motoring or motor-sailing just meant we would adopt our normal strategy; motor at a low RPM to conserve fuel, alternate between engines and add some time to the passage to account for the slower speed we would be doing. We were also looking forward to a relatively peaceful passage based on the forecast of light and variable winds in flat seas, given that we'd spent nearly a month in Samoa, enjoying a well deserved rest in glorious sunshine, in a protected anchorage and wanted a slow transition back into the sailing realm.
Well, it seems Murphy had other ideas! We had no sooner left the anchorage when the port engine started to run a little hotter than normal. Rather than risk anything, we swapped engines and let the port engine cool down before starting the troubleshooting process. First, replace the impeller. Unfortunately that didn't resolve the issue. Second, check if the intake was blocked. So, we switched off the starboard engine as well and drifted. After adorning snorkel gear, securing a safety line for the 1.5 Kt current, Roy took the plunge. Nope, nothing seemed blocked!
Once Roy was safely back on board, the next decision had to be made. Do we return to Apia or continue on? Knowing that Samoa has no yachting repair facilities or spares, but Tonga, in particular, our next destination, the Vava'u Group, on the other hand, has a Moorings and Sunsail base where we expected we’d be able to get assistance. Also, the fact that monohulls motor on one engine all the time, we took the decision to continue and were rewarded with a beautiful sunset that evening, saw an amazingly bright "green flash" and motor-sailed under a beautiful full moon.
The next day Roy decided to tackle the port engine issue again. Unfortunately after cleaning the heat exchanger, the exhaust elbow, the pipes of the water pump and the filter, it was still running hot. The only two remaining possibilities were a blockage higher up in the intake or a faulty water pump. Since the former was a far less expensive option, we hoped for that, but neither could be investigated or repaired until we were at anchor again.
Of course, Murphy had definitely decided to have a giggle at this point. Once again our South Pacific passage weather had no resemblance to what was forecasted. The flat seas we thought we were getting for the duration of the passage only lasted a day and, by this time, we were crawling our way through very lumpy and confused seas on one engine, with the swell anything from south-westerly to southerly, the current out of the east, winds out of the southeast and we still had approximately thirty hours remaining on our passage.
When we decided on this passage plan from Samoa to Tonga we took the decision to skip the northern Tongan island of Niuatoputapu and head straight for the Vava'u Group, in order to take advantage of the forecasted benign weather, as well as not wanting to risk another weather system coming through if we delayed our passage by stopping.
Well, by late afternoon, not only was Murphy having a giggle, he was hysterical with laughter. When the weather started to deteriorate even further, we were already past Niuatoputapu and could not make it in daylight, so, we decided to soldier on. By 0100, however, with 125NM to go, in lashing rain, 25 Kts of wind, 3M swells and a very strong current, all on the nose, and with the starboard engine at full taps and the port engine on as high as we dared, we were doing a pitiful 1.8 to 3 Kts; Basically going nowhere, so we turned around!
We spent the rest of the night in 20-25 Kts, with seas of 3-4M, which were now fortunately all behind us. By sunrise on 21st August 2016, after snaking our way through the reefs, we arrived in Niuatoputapu. Although frustrated that we had to make the diversion, we were delighted to be safe and sound, albeit that the temperatures had plummeted and it was absolutely freezing. Nothing like being bundled up under duvets in the tropics!
Niuatoputapu, however, turned out to be one of the best experiences we had during our South Pacific sailing adventure and we considered ourselves extremely fortunate to have landed here so unexpectedly.
We had barely settled in when we were hailed on the VHF radio by a lovely lady called Cea, who welcomed us to the island and explained that, since it was a Sunday, we would have to remain on board until we could clear in the following morning. She apologised profusely for the inconvenience and for the fact that she was, therefore, unable to invite us to church and to the Sunday feast in the village, but instead, invited us to a potluck dinner the following night at her home. While we had a change of plan and another first on Paw Paw, by not actually reaching our intended destination, one cannot question the twists and turns of life when we stumble upon such friendliness and kindness.
The following morning we woke to glorious sunshine and another yacht limping into the anchorage; Bay Dreamer (Anna and Daniel), whom we'd met briefly in Samoa with their crew of five and a four month old baby on board, had also decided to take advantage of the forecasted benign weather and set sail for Vava'u, but was forced to divert as well.