24 May 1994

First Ocean Passage

The Days of Our Lives.......

by Trude Mattingly
s/v "Vela Dare"

It's May 18th, 1994 and as I write this letter, Micheal is elbow deep in the bilge replacing the switch for the bilge pump and not happy about it, I must say. Ah, the romance of cruising. We're in Nuku'alofa on the island of Tongatapu in the Kingdom of Tonga. We arrived several days ago after a passage from New Zealand that took 12 days and covered 1,100 miles. After all these months, I believe we are cruising now.

Let me see, where shall I begin......Several months ago we joined up with the Island Cruising Association's New Zealand to Tonga Cruising Regatta. We thought this would be a good way to enter the cruising life and well you know, we just couldn't resist a regatta. The regatta organizers did a great job with seminars on blue water safety, navigation, provisioning and search and rescue procedures. They also arranged for the delivery of duty free alcohol and customs clearance at the marina. What more could you ask for? A good crew. Bill and Therese Davenport agreed to crew for us and arrived fresh as daisies, as planned on the 26th of April. Oh boy! We immediately took off for an overnight at Kawau Island to go over all of the systems on the boat and also to show Bill and Therese a bit of the Hauraki Gulf.

April 30th, departure day. The day brought clear skies and no wind. We decided to start early. So we motored......all day. At dusk we were just off of Great Barrier Island and decided to stay the night rather than continue to motor. Looking back, this was probably our biggest mistake. We dropped the hook just as we lost all light and spent a marvelous night at Smokehouse Bay. Bill conducted an in-the-cockpit seminar on southern hemisphere star and constellation identification. Bright and early the next day we set off...there was no turning back. And we motored........all day. This was not what we had in mind. Let's see, when did we start sailing.....I think we tried to sail a couple of times during the first three days but there just wasn't any wind. Our weather at the time was being influenced by a huge stationery high pressure system just east of New Zealand. Most of the fleet continued to motor for the first three days and gained hundreds of miles on us. There were a few boats that were stubborn, like us and tried to sail: Sea-D, FreeTime and Rarirangi II.

The third day out, while motoring, we caught two tuna; one at dawn and one at dusk. The magic Kiwi -squidly lure was finally working! Tuna #1 weighed in at about 7-10 lbs while tuna #2 was estimated at about 35+ lbs. I earned the Weblo medal for fish cleaning that day. Needless to say, we ate some mighty fine tuna. Did you know that the quickest way to immobilize a fish is to pour alcohol on it's gills? Works like a charm and you don't have to beat the poor fish senseless. This was the day we met up with the fellows from Rarirangi II. I remember the situation well; the sea was flat clam. It was late afternoon, near sunset and you could not tell where the sky ended and the sea began. It was a world of iridescent gold, blue and purple. Some thought it was beautiful while I thought it had an ominous quality. Anyway, we had more tuna than we could ever hope to eat so we hailed a boat sighted on the horizon. A few minutes later we were side by side with Rarirangi II and passed them half of the tuna. The boat was a simple boat, nothing fancy but she looked sturdy. Her crew consisted of three salty Kiwis who appeared to be in their 60's or 70's. We found out later they were surgeons on holiday. They thanked us, gave us some smoked fish and disappeared into the twilight.

The wind picked up and we began to sail. Yeah! Captain Micheal and his right hand man Bill attempted to change from Ralphalpha (our Alpha electronic auto pilot) to the Monitor wind vane. After much voodoo science, they got Mr. Monitor working. The wind vane works by steering a course relative to the wind which was what we needed since we had to work our way windward. So we began to get into the swing of passage making...hourly log entries, night watch, navigation, all that fun stuff. And then the squalls began and the wind picked up to 20-25. Not a problem, we just reefed the main and rolled in a bit of the genoa from time to time.

During the passage as a part of the regatta, each yacht was required to check into a scheduled radio transmission (a.k.a. SKED) twice a day. The purpose of the sked was to keep track of the positions of all the boats and to provide a venue for reporting any problems that might occur. Well, T. Micheal ham/sked/head did a fine job, actually he did more than a fine job. Although at the time it seemed like a convenient way to be otherwise engaged when things got real busy on deck. Another part of our daily routine was to print a weather fax for a look at the weather systems in our area. I could use the word 'analyze', but I won't. At one point, we teased Bill that he had his own low pressure system following him around. To our amazement, we eventually found that to be true!

Oh yeah, back to the crummy weather. From the evening of the 5th to early morning on the 8th we experienced heavy weather with winds averaging 30-40 knots and finally peaking at 55-57 knots. We hove to twice during this time to rest. Micheal and Bill worked very hard on foredeck sail changes, mostly at night during the roughest weather. They earned their Weblo badges in heavy weather sail management. During the passage, we used every sail in the inventory except the storm trysail. We didn't use that one because we couldn't figure out how to set the darn thing! During the rough weather Therese suffered from a bit of seasickness and was put out of commission with the help of Dramamine. I took another preparation which cause me to hear singing for days after I quit the medication! We weren't eating, we weren't sleeping. Morale was slipping on Vela Dare. For me, it turned around the night of the big blow when the fellow from Rarirangi II announced on the radio, "we're having a glorious sail tonight...." You just had to be there. So the sun finally shone on Vela Dare, the wind died and we began to motor, again. We had lost a lot of ground on the fleet during the three days and wanted to get going, fast. This was made difficult by lumpy and confused seas left over from the storm. The wind eventually picked back up to a manageable amount and off we went.

We made fairly good time over the next three days, trying to keep the boat moving at about 7 knots. The wind died again and we motored the last day and night and finally sighted land about 5 am on 12-May. We hung outside the reef until a longboat came by and led us in where we anchored off of Atata Island. We made it!!!

Oh I guess I've left out a few things; showers on deck in the bright sun while we were motoring, the superb grilled tuna that Bill whipped up one night, identifying most of the constellations in the southern hemisphere, visits from schools of dolphins, the sheer vastness of the pacific, being lucky enough to draw the dawn watch, hallucinating at night as a result of lack of sleep, Micheal on deck during the big blow; his eyes wide and glazed telling Bill "I'm having fun!", the Vela Dare theme song, eating ginger and chocolate chip cookies, meteor showers on night watch, going without showers, and LASER MAN.

The regatta arranged for all participants to spend several days at a resort on Atata Island, which was a regatta sponsor. What a great idea. A Sports Day was held for all the cruisers and included tennis, paddle ball, line heaving, golf and laser racing. Well, guess who showed all of the Kiwis, who start sailing in the womb, how to sail lasers; Bill (soon to be know as LASER MAN at the resort bar). Micheal, Therese and I vegetated on the beach while Bill did his thing. I must admit it made me proud to see Bill win all of the races. We partied, ate, rested and played music/sang for a couple of days and then Bill and Therese had to leave. You know, there were those who told us it wouldn't work. Four people on a 40 foot boat for 8-12 days. Yes, there was an extreme lack of privacy but in the end we were all still friends. Micheal and I were very sad and melancholy for a couple of days after Bill and Therese left. Good friends, people you can talk to and relate with on a level different from all others are very special. We wouldn't have changed a thing. Oh, I take that back. We should have kept going the first night. All the boats that motored straight the first three days were spared the big blow.

One last thing, we were protested by another yacht at the regatta protest meeting. They protested Vela dare and Sea-D for causing undue concern over their well being during the heavy weather. We tried to state our case, that we had guests on board from the states whom we had promised the all-inclusive full fun yacht-vacation package. We did not want to disappoint them, what were we to do? The judge ruled for the protesting yacht and we were fined 5 pa'anga.
 




Cruising May 1994


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