Monday, 14 September 2015

Across the dateline

The tedium of those days without wind is already receding. All it takes is one night of uninterrupted sleep in a calm anchorage for the essential tones of a long passage to begin to gel. It is not so much the weak trade winds which are taking up most space in my memory of those nine days now but the emptiness of the Pacific ocean.

Between 151W and 175W,  and between the latitudes of 15S and 18S , there was nothing which blemished the ocean’s clean skin except for the wind. We saw no large mammals or schools of fish.  We saw very few sea birds. We saw no great patches of weed, or those notorious accumulations of plastics.  We saw no container ships or fishing boats.

It wasn’t until we were within about 30 nautical miles of Vava’u that a vessel showed up on our AIS screen.  It was the super-yacht M5, making 8.2 knots under power, in 22 knots of breeze. She took a long time to catch us. We were making 7.5 knots under sail.

M5 in Neiafu harbour, Vava'u island, Tonga

There was one unwelcome object which floated past us a couple of hours after sunrise one morning – fortunately at a distance of about 20 m off our lee side.  Alex spotted it in the  2.5 m swell.  It was 4 m square of lashed-together timbers, a traditional raft. We gave thanks that we had not collided with it at night. 

The nights were very dark, what moonlight there was at the beginning of the passage too quickly waning into irrelevance.  But on cloudless nights, the light from the milky universe was brighter than I have ever known.  And the wind was warm.  Those were the dreamy nights which our friends on Galactic, who are wintering over in Patagonia, asked us to enjoy for their sake as well as ours. We did both. 

That's Tonga

Sailing on a flat sea in the lee of Vava'u

The squat islands of Vava'u came as a surprise

 On our first full day in Tonga, we are cleaning ourselves, our laundry and the boat.  And we have been waiting for news of our friend Marce. She is very much on our mind.

When we slipped our mooring 10 days ago, Marce was standing on the lower steps of Escape Velocity’s starboard hull, waving goodbye and blowing kisses. “See you in Tonga,” we shouted, and we believed we would. They’d be starting a bit behind the crowd if they left in a couple of weeks, but they had time up their sleeves. They could still get to New Zealand before the (insurance-driven) beginning of cyclone season.

What was standing in their way was uncertainty about what was going on with Marce.  Two weeks earlier she’d been floored by intense sciatic pain which didn’t go away.  She’s rebound, and then she’d regress again.

Alex helped as he was able.  Then Jack organized for a local doctor to come to the boat.  

We agreed we wanted to see her on the mend before we departed for Tonga. 

On Friday, 4 September, we decided we could go. Marce had been moving about on the boat for a couple of days. That morning she sat in the EV cockpit with us, her back straight and her legs crossed, chatting, laughing, keeping Jack busy, as she does. Marce is a “hard-headed woman”, to quote Cat Stevens.  She’s doesn’t lie down easily, but this pain had her pinned to the bed for day after day. When we saw the light back in her eyes, we felt ok about leaving her.

Jack and Marce - on Tahiti, on a happier occasion

But we jumped the gun (thankfully, their good friends, Mark and Sue on Macushla, arrived in Bora Bora soon after our departure).  She regressed while we were at sea. The next step for her was to go to Tahiti and “get it sorted”, she wrote. Easier said than done when you’re bed-bound on a boat.

While I was writing this, word came that they’d just docked in Papeete. They’d motored for 33 hours, because their sail-handling needs two hands on deck. Jack kept watch the entire time. It was undoubtedly a tough overnight passage for both of them.

They would head for the hospital after they’d rested a couple of hours, she wrote. “All is well. Help is on the way.”

Now that’s heroic.

PS We've crossed the dateline - Ikale lager, made in the Kingdom of Tonga, claims to be "the first beer in the world everyday". We'll drink to that - and to finally bringing Enki onto the same day of the week as our family in Australia and New Zealand. 

1 comment:

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