Passage Report: Opua NZ to Tonga
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Last Updated on August 31, 2019 by Amy
We spent 2016-2017 cyclone season in New Zealand. When it came time to make the decision about where to go for 2017, we couldn’t resist spending another season in the South Pacific. So, in April (pretty early) we got a window to leave Bay of Islands, New Zealand and sail to Tonga.
This passage, while uncomfortable, was not as bad as we expected. We were better off than our friends who headed to Fiji which was surprising (when we left the forecast was better for us to go to Fiji than Tonga). Here are some stats on our second fastest passage ever:
Departed: Opua, New Zealand 10:30 am Local
Arrived: Neiafu, Tonga 3:30 am Local (+1 hour from NZ)
Total miles sailed: 1,347nm
Rhumbline distance: 1,181nm
Total elapsed time: 7 days, 16 hours
Average speed: 7.32 knots
Top Speed: 14.1 knots
Average miles sailed per day: 175.7 nm
Average rhumbline distance per day: 153 nm
Total engine run time: 40.9
Breakages: Rip in mainsail luff
Fish caught: 1 suicidal flying fish and 1 suicidal squid (the admiral decreed there was to be no fishing as we needed to reduce and not increase food stores)
There’s definitely a pleasant feeling that comes with sailing into a harbor you know. We don’t do this very often, but it’s so nice to come in and KNOW everything you need to know.
When the remnants of Cyclone Cook washed over New Zealand, it left in it’s wake a pretty decent weather window to head to Tonga – and we took it!
We’d been comparing weather notes with Blowin Bubbles (in person) and Quixotic (via email). It was really an odd thing – we’d say things like “we’re looking at leaving Friday, but won’t decide until Thursday”. It’s a lot of “up in the air” talk.
BB, Quixotic and us all left on Saturday morning. We cleared out of Opua and kept in VHF contact with Blowin Bubbles for the first day. Quixotic left from Whangarei. We swapped position reports with both boats, although BB and Quixotic are headed to Fiji, so their course was a bit different from ours. We passed BB the first day out, and although we have a head start on Quixotic, they passed us late the first day.
The weather actually ended up being pretty darn good for the first day. We expected that the seas would be moderate and confused for the first 24-48 hours or so, but really they were only confused for about 12 hours. The swell started to come from our stern sooner than expected, making for a much more pleasant ride. We were sailing 60 degrees to the wind for a little while, only spending a few hours with a reef in the sails. Then it was full canvas, and for a short time we even got our screecher out.
Then the wind left us. The seas were a broad, rolling swell that was very comfortable. The wind was less than 3 knots true, so it was pretty dang still – and beautiful out. The moon was bright, and the surface of the water was extremely calm, giving it a satin gloss and a bright reflection. The stars and bioluminesence were fantastic too.
The winds are expected to fill in more coming from due south – perfect conditions to get our sails set for Tonga. We expect to be in Tonga Sunday. As usual, I’m excited to come into a port we know well, having sent 30 days in Vava’u last year. We’ve got our track to follow and know that the channel into Neiafu is clear, so we don’t have to time our entrance with the sun. We won’t be able to clear in Sunday so we will have a quiet night in port before going ashore. We have people in Neiafu expecting us.
A great start to the 2017 cruising season so far.
We just hit another big milestone over the last 24 hours: a 200+ nautical mile day. 206nm to be precise which is our second best 24 hour run ever! Even though we’ve had several 190-199nm days, it’s still a special feeling to cross over that next threshold into what I’ve always felt is “fast boat” territory.
The conditions for this fast run have been a bit rough, as we’ve been sailing with the apparent wind just barely aft of the beam. This means that the seas are coming from our aft quarter, which is certainly better than pounding into them, but can still rock the boat from side to side. With a fairly high bridgedeck, we get more hull slapping than bridgedeck slamming, but there’ll still be a “bomb” (as Lewis from Quixotic so affectionately calls slamming) going off every once in a while.
If you were to take a look at our track from New Zealand, you’d see that we’re actually heading on a much more easterly course than the direct rhumb line to Tonga. So far we’ve had almost ideal winds out of the S and SSE but starting Friday (local time) there’s going to be a pretty big swing and we’ll start to see winds coming almost straight out of the East. If we were taking the direct rhumb line to Tonga, we’d have to be doing some crazy bashing so it’s my hope that if we make it east of Neiafu before the wind shift happens, we may actually be able to stay on more of a reach than a bash.
Besides, it feels weird sailing east. We need to get back to going west again!
We made it into Neiafu! We arrived at 3:30 am local time this morning and picked up a mooring ball in the main harbor.
The rest of our passage was not without event. Unfortunately, a screw from the mainsail track backed itself out enough that when we reefed the mainsail at night, it caught one of the track cars. At that point, it was a battle of mainsail canvas versus track car/screw, and the mainsail lost. One of the track cars was ripped out of the mainsail, so there’s a tear in the canvas.
Friday night (well..Saturday morning) we came into range of a boat named Bladerunner, who I hailed and had a nice chat with the crewmember on watch, Joey. It’s a Leopard 46 being delivered from the BVIs to Fiji. In the small world category, Joey is our age (32) and from San Fransisco. It was nice to have a half hour chat with someone out in the middle of nowhere….really perks up a night watch. Bladerunner was heading to Nuku’alofa (the capitol of Tonga).
We have still been in touch with Quixotic as we sailed, and they said it was a rough passage but doable. Quixotic arrived in Fiji and since they did challenge us to a race, the boys had to whip it out and compare stats. (Cue eye roll here). Quixotic is a Voyage 43, and she’s lighter and faster than us. They sailed the EXACT same number of miles as us but did it in 6 days and 22 hours. HOWEVER, we would like to point out that Quixotic burned 196 total engine hours (they use both engines at the same time) while we only used about 41 total hours. In fairness, one of our engines is about the size of both of theirs combined, but still… David’s talking about a victory on “corrected time.”
We’ve also still been in touch with Blowin Bubbles too but they’ve had an even harder time. As they are slower than us they haven’t managed to outrun a system that formed and have been making slow, uncomfortable progress.