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Friday, October 31, 2008

Standing by...

The yachts are gathering here for the jump to NZ. At least those who did not decide to leave from Fiji or Vava'u. Because Tongatapu is the southernmost island group of Tonga many yachts have chosen to depart from here. It is once again a mini reunion. We are being joined by many old and new friends. Big Mama's is the perfect gathering place. It is so cozy many of us wish we didn't have to leave. She has everything to keep us here. Great food, a grand deck covered with picnic tables, a homey
lounge area, a sand floor restaurant, pool table, dart boards, gift shop, nice large dinghy dock and a lovely beach area. Yet we are ready for a little more civilization after 8 months of learning to go without our favorite creature comforts, we feel no guilt whatsoever about wishing to indulge ourselves once again.

So,Tuesday (Oct 28th ) arrived - fill-up day! Here in Nuku'alofa, the fueling process is onerous if one needs less than 1,000 gallons because there is no fuel dock at the wharf. BP will either bring a fuel truck for large yachts or 200 litre barrels for those of us with smaller tanks. Destiny carries 300 US gallons of diesel and our tanks were nearly empty, therefore, we had paid for and ordered 5 barrels. Each of the other boats filling up with us ordered 2 barrels. We have learned from helping
others to fill up that the process for refueling runs something like this: a) Your yacht MUST be on time or you do not get your fuel (remember it is already paid for), b) you should have someone on shore to catch your lines because of the strong current at the wharf, c) you must bring your own fuel hose (which we do not have), d) the attendant may or may not stick around to assist you in the fueling process, and e) the attendant may or may not leave you the tools to open the barrels and a pump with
which to pump out the fuel from the barrel. If one needed less than an entire barrel, well good luck! Some of the boats in our little group did not need an entire barrel so they made arrangements to send the rest of us with their jerry cans to fill from our "leftovers". The arrangements we made: Dawn and Tom from Warm Rain gave us their jerry cans and then took the ferry over to the wharf to be in position to grab our lines. Jan and Dave from Baraka brought their jerry cans and rode over with
us to the wharf. We weighed anchor at 8:00 AM, heading toward the wharf. Dawn and Tom arrived to find that a large commercial fishing boat was in our designated spot and intended to begin offloading their catch at 9:00, finishing up around 11-ish. They kindly offered for us to raft up to them. No way, no how! First of all their craft looked like a rusting, hulking rat/roach infested creature from a horror movie and secondly even if we were desperate enough to accept their offer the fuel hose
we had borrowed only reached 25ft. which was far too short to accomplish a raft-up. We sat anchored outside the breakwater, praying that the flatbed carrying our barrels would not leave us in the lurch. While waiting there, other boats began arriving and circling for entry to the wharf. Malachi and O'Vive arrived telling us that BP had given them a fueling time of 10:00. OK, so now we had at least 5 boats assigned the same time slot for fueling and there is no way any of us will be able to do
a thing until the fishing boat moves. "God grant me the serenity…" We radioed Tom and asked him to Pleeease ask the fishing boat to move. We do not know what he and Dawn said to the guys, but they agreed to move to another spot on the wharf. It was now 9:15, and we saw our truck coming. We hurriedly raised anchor again and motored over to the wharf to find that the truck with our barrels went to the other side of the jetty! We secured Destiny's lines and began waving furiously at the fuel guy.
He eventually came over, unloaded our group's 9 barrels and then immediately left. He left us with no pump, no tools. We again waved furiously at him to bring these things back to us. He seemed to acknowledge us but never came back. Frank, Tom and Dave began tinkering with the barrels and digging out tools and scratching their heads. After about 20 minutes (it is now 10:00), a very kind man from a large vessel came over with his hand pump and offered to assist us. After watching and chuckling
for a while as the guys alternately manned the crank, he said "Here, Let me do that!" What a saint! We filled Destiny's tanks by 11:30 AM with plenty left for Baraka and Warm Rain to top off their jerry cans, then moved out of the way for the next group. It would be a long day indeed for some of them.

Thursday was girls day out. A group of us comprised of seven boats (Charisma, Morning Light, Baraka, Warm Rain, Bold Spirit, the Dorothy Marie and Destiny) have all linked up here in Tonga becoming quite a cohesive group and have thus given ourselves the name "Flying Foxes", commemorating the indigenous bats that are a bit of an icon here. We love to shop but the guys do not thus we decided to have some time away from the men so that we could lunch, browse and shop in peace. We did all of the above,
hitting Friends café, the open air market, the grocery store, and of course the ice cream parlor. We all picked up bits and pieces of Halloween costumes for big Mama's party on Friday night, returned to Pangaimotu to find many more yachts in the anchorage with several still arriving. Some limping back in after having already left for New Zealand only to get ravaged by a sudden gale that one cruiser told us came out of nowhere, not even showing up on the radar. He said that he had been motoring
and had just put up the sails when the winds gathered to 15 kts., then they raged up to 40 kts like the flip of a light switch. Several of them sustained damage ranging from moderate to severe.

Anxiety, therefore, leads the parade of emotions marching around in our hearts and minds. This is not the longest voyage we have made, yet it is known to be the most frightening and quite possibly the most dangerous to date. It is approximately 1100 nautical miles from Tongatapu to Opua in NZ, where they are just coming out of their winter and Tonga is just coming into Cyclone season (Nov 1). We have heard of many yachts getting caught in gales, ripping sails, breaking vangs, cracking booms and
sustaining knockdowns. The problem is that no matter how you plan ahead, the weather gurus in New Zealand warn us that we will most assuredly encounter inclement weather somewhere along the passage because of the high and low pressure zones converging in the area between here and there on an average of once per week. The passage will last us anywhere from 8-10 days. We have met several women who have decided to fly to NZ from here, leaving their husbands to take on crew to make this particular
journey without them. Not one person we have met is eager to make this leg by boat but many of us are remaining hopeful and positive that we will arrive safely.

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