Neiafu, Vava’u, Tonga
Excitement on board Emma Louise this morning as we are expecting our first paying guests! In an effort to increase the New Zealand refit budget we have advertised on a website “GetMyBoat”. Admittedly not the snappiest title but I got excluded from AirBnB because their rules don’t allow mobile accommodation, their loss, I say.
So at around 0915 this lovely American couple joined us for four days….
They are Adam and Danyelle De Jong, about the same ages as our children and we all got on extremely well. In case you are wondering we charged $250 US per day, all in, including a “reasonable” amount of beer and wine. They thought it was a bargain and we got a contribution to the refit fund.
One of the attractions of the Vava’u archipelago, at this time of the year, is that it is used by Humpback whales for breeding. They travel from the Southern Ocean to give birth and mate during the southern winter. Birthing and mating are not performed in the same year as the mother spends at least a year with the calf. Amazingly they don’t feed after they have left southern waters until they get back there. We saw lots of whales including one male doing the whole broaching and slapping fins mating ritual. Unfortunately we didn’t get any really good photos…
Adam and Danyelle spent four days with us and had quite an adventure. In fact they had too much of an adventure! On Saturday night we went for a beach barbecue on one of the outlying islands in the group. The weather was calm and I decided we’d be ok for the night in a fairly tight little anchorage.
The BBQ went well and we watched a lovely sunset…
Danyelle and Adam decided to sleep on the beach so Sheryl and I took Adam back to Emma Louise to collect some things. Unfortunately when we got back to her she wasn’t in the same place we’d left her! The anchor had dragged and she was banging against the reef at the edge of the small lagoon we were in. It was dark.
With Adam’s help we managed to kedge off using the Fortress anchor we carry for such use. After much labour we eventually re-anchored, this time using the Bruce at the stern. (We have a Manson Supreme at the bow and a Bruce at the stern and both are on electric windlasses). Here’s what I think happened….
We’d anchored in about five metres of water and had about 20m of chain out, as per normal. The Manson had dug in extremely well and when we powered astern to check it held fast. So why did it drag? This has only happened to us once before and that was in Anegada in the BVI. Like here the sand was really fine, like talcum powder. My theory is that sand like this behaves like a Newtonian fluid. i.e. when you apply pressure to it you get an equal and opposite force resisting the pressure. The greater the pressure the more solid like the sand/water mix behaves. However, when you reduce the pressure the sand/water mix tends to flow. This allows the anchor to be dragged very slowly when there is little load on it.
Anyway, Sheryl and I had a rather unsettled night constantly checking we weren’t moving again. An underwater inspection on Sunday morning revealed damage to the rudder, starboard side of the keel and the propellor. Fortunately non of it was critical and we were able to motor out of the anchorage.
Our friends Jeff and Katie, S/V MEZZALUNA, arrived here last week. We were all set to leave for American Samoa and on the day we were due to check out got an email from them saying they’d be arriving in a few days. It would have been rude not to wait so we did. Not only did we have the pleasure of seeing them for the first time since the New Year but they also had beer and, more importantly, mail for us. The mail in question had been sent from the UK in July 2016, yes 2016! Door to door it took 13 months to reach us. Our mail forwarding service, Ship to Shore, had sent it to the Galapagos as soon as we’d arrived there. Three weeks later when we left the mail hadn’t got there. In November last year I had an email from our agent there saying it had arrived. I had him post it to Fakarava in the Tuomotu archipelago in French Polynesia. It didn’t get there before we left. In May I had an email from Fakarava Yacht Services saying the mail had arrived. I had them air freight it to Tahiti where Jeff collected it. Now Sheryl has a brand new Kindle!
From left: Jeff, Steve (DUENDE), Katie and me
We left Neiafu, Tonga last Friday heading for American Samoa. So why does the title say we are in Samoa? Read on and prepare to be horrified…
Our plan was to sail to Pago Pago, American Samoa to collect a pile of stuff from the US Post Office, mostly spares for the boat. The forecast was not ideal with the wind direction being easterly meaning we’d be close hauled all the way on a heading of 030. The strength was forecast at 15-20 Kts so we should have made a reasonable fast, if not very comfortable passage.
Well, never believe the forecast. From the moment we cleared the lee of Vava’u we didn’t see wind less than 20 Kts. Probably should have turned back then, hindsight being the wonderful thing it is. Noon Sunday and somewhat less than 48 hours and half way I was on watch. At about 1230 “BANG!” just like that, the forestay broke at the bottom. As subsequent inspection would show it had sheared at the point it emerged from the end fitting. My first reaction was “oh f**k, the mast will be next!”. I dashed forward to tighten the small inner forestay we usually have rigged and provide the mast with extra support. The mainsail had both reefs in and I’d unloaded it a few minutes earlier as a squall went through, wind gusting over 30 Kts. Next action was to lower the main, very quickly.
The main mast on the Aphrodite 42 is very well rigged but I think the main saving grace was our roller reefing system. On the majority of these systems the foresail is hauled up a track on the forestay by a halyard that runs inside the mast and out of the top to the sail. The Alado system we have uses a halyard that runs up the forestay to a block at the top of the sail foil. i.e. There is no halyard holding the top of the sail and everything it is wrapped around, the roller reefing foil, to the top of the mast. As a result the sail and roller foil simply slipped off the broken forestay and into the sea, still attached by the sheet and a line attached to the reefing drum. This meant there was no uncontrolled load flailing around from the top of the mast. Well, only a small one anyway, the broken forestay. It’s nearly 15 metres long and with EL rolling like a pig on wet grass it was doing a good impression of a life threatening steel whip. I managed to grab it and tie it off.
So, there we were, 150 Nm short of our destination with a large sail wrapped around a very long bit of extruded aluminium hanging under the bow. The obvious option was to cut it all free and let it sink and if it had been dark that is undoubtedly what we would have done. Well, in the words of Matt Damon in The Martian I decided “to science the shit out of it”. We managed to get a line around the sail and then used a halyard and mast winch to lift it out of the water and tie it to the guard rail stanchions. This was done section by section, about five feet at a time. Bear in mind the sea was running at three to four metres with rain squalls every half hour or so. Once the sail was secured to the outside of the guard rail we used a mizzen halyard to lift the top section inside the guardrail aft and the genoa halyard to get the rest of it in. The boat is 12.7 m long and the recovered rig over 14 so there was a bit of an overhang aft.
All this took us the best part of four hours and once it was all secure we rigged a small staysail on the inner stay. However, without a main forestay we didn’t dare use the mainsail and believed the boat wouldn’t have balanced with the mizzen. We spent the night doing about two knots under the staysail alone. After discussing our options we’d decided to make for Samoa as we now couldn’t make the wind angle for American Samoa. The option of the northern Tongan group, the closest point of land, was considered but it has no facilities and we couldn’t even see how we could get the broken gear off the deck there. We knew we could get alongside in Apia to sort things out.
Monday morning after breakfast we started the engine and were surprised to find we could comfortably make four knots or so without too much pounding. We then settled down for another 24 hours or so at sea.
We eventually made Apia mid afternoon on Tuesday 29th August having gone round the west end of ‘Upolu. Seldom have a couple of sailors been more glad to be in a marina!
And so to September.