Crossing to Vava’u

We itched to get back on the high seas and into some interesting cruising grounds and left “New Potatoes” after lunch, 3 days after arrival. We sailed off our anchor and headed back out the narrow channel in the reef with no problem. As with our approach and entry, Tom was giving directions, I was standing ready to drop a sail or tack, and Marchena bore all the stress and responsibility of steering. We cleared the reefs and headed downwind to the west, parallel to the island, and sailed close enough to watch ocean swells break across the reef. Never have I seen so many shades of blue!

We caught a rather large and fearsome barracuda but agreed to release it from the risk of ciguatera toxin, which is found in reef fish and bioaccumulates in predators. “You’re welcome,” to my medically-inclined brother and mother. Soon after that, we blew apart another seam on the genoa. Just a message from King Neptune to be using the working sails instead!

We got to “test” Piggy’s upwind abilities! The next Tongan island group, Vava’u, was 165 nm directly upwind of us and we actually sailed 270 nm. After a night close on the wind heading West, we tweaked a few things tacked back and forth and found we sailed around 50-60 degrees to the wind – pretty awful compared to monohulls, but that’s the price we pay for Piggy’s 4 feet of draft and no complicated daggerboard mechanisms.

In our tweaks we found that heading East was much slower and rougher – there’s an ocean current here! We caught a monster mahi-mahi but lost it while trying to land it (we must invest in a gaff or hook of some kind). Maybe as punishment for not landing the fish, that ocean current made a very bumpy and uncomfortable night. It seems my seasickness is mitigated if the boat is anchored/moored in swells, like the anchorage in Maui. I had no seasickness for the three weeks to Samoa, but after the protected harbours of Samoa and Nuiatoputapu I had a rough time in the crossings. And even the non-drowsy drugs are not really non-drowsy.

I can’t complain about any portion of our trip but that night was terrible. Lying awake until 4 in the morning, letting everyone else sleep while we bashed through lumpy seas, unable to sleep, eat, read, listen to music, etc. Just waiting alone with one’s thoughts and listening for any change in the wind or damage to the boat. But that’s all part of the experience.

We sailed through a flock of birds in the morning and hooked a small tuna, which unfortunately jumped off the hook near the boat. 7 tacks later, we entered the island group and headed for the island’s capital, Neiafu. The narrow protected channels seem more like a winding river through sparsely-inhabited jungle. We were forced to launch the dinghy and motor our way the last mile into the harbour and so burned our first fossil fuel after purely sailing 2800 nm (over 5000 km) since Hawai’i. Bummer!

Rounding the corner, we saw a cruise ship, something of a shock to see in a “river jungle,” and entering the harbour we saw boats. Many, many boats. Never have we seen so many cruising boats! Everyone is spending cyclone season here or preparing to cross to New Zealand like us. Neiafu feels odd with the cruiser-dominated services and so many businesses run by expats, and I’m sure it’s a very different vibe in the “off-season” during the summer.

Something of a summary:
We’re getting better at fishing but we’ve still only eaten 1. Catching and not eating a fish seems to bring bad luck that day.
Seasickness is terrible.
The genoa sail is old and will probably keep breaking.
We’re getting some second-nature skills of navigation, handling the boat and trimming the sails. We smoothly transition into the offshore groove.
We break fewer things on the boat now, but the more serious things can’t be fixed until we finish the shakedown in NZ.
We’re becoming connoisseurs of local fruit. Essential for provisioning from local markets. Fun and delicious.
The goal of making sourdough has ended with multiple messy failures. Maybe boats aren’t the best place for fermenting.