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Saturday, November 15, 2008

We made it!

Tuesday, 11/11/08, after feeling as though we had been chewed up in a blender and spit right out of the mouth of Hell, we safely arrived in Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ.

The Passage:
After three days of motor sailing and having calm enough seas to even bake cookies, the winds began to freshen. We emailed some of our cruiser friends who were behind us telling them that we at last were getting some good winds and had a great day of sailing. On Saturday, by evening time the winds had built such that we were beginning to reef in the sails, and had in fact taken in the genoa and put out the stay sail (storm jib). Destiny doesn't usually get tossed around much especially when we (at 28 tons) are full of fuel and water, however, we felt the front squalls coming at around 10:00 Saturday night, and then by midnight I was sitting on the floor in the galley while things from shelves flew over my head. Our wind instruments were not functioning yet we knew for a fact that these were the worst winds we have ever encountered, and had to be well over the 40 knots forecasted in the weather routing update. We've been in 40 kts before and this felt far beyond that. Conditions worsened such that we were being literally thrown around as though in a blender. We dropped all the sails but could not hove-to because the seas would have put us under. We were getting waves all the way over the top of our bimini across the port beam and from behind flooding into the cockpit. We turned on the engine and ran with it praying for ourselves and for all of the others out there. We got the front, the middle and the back-end of the storm and felt like we were in a boiling cauldron for about 9 hours. We kept hoping the others were all either ahead of it or behind it. The dinghy took flight and started slamming all over the back of the boat. Next morning by the time the Net came on we were getting what we thought were the last of the squalls and felt as though we had been spit right out of the jaws of Hell! I am telling you there is power in prayer because miraculously all that we lost were the oars, our US Flag and some sleep. We had heard ungodly sounds in the night - like monsters banging the hull with battering rams, and Destiny groaned like nothing we have ever heard. She was telling us she did not like this one little bit but she took good care of us nonetheless.

Our SSB went out right after the morning Net when I checked in saying that we had just gone through a big squall. We continued to experience a lot of them, marching all around us, seas constantly washing over the top. We kept calling for radio checks on the VHF and SSB but no one could hear us. We knew that the others in the group and folks back home would be getting concerned yet we also knew there wasn't a thing to be done about that until we made landfall. We both felt a surreal sense of calm within, knowing that we and our beloved Destiny would survive this. But we were truly bordering on sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion. There was hardly a place to sit or lay without getting pitched about, and after several days it takes quite a toll on a body. Amazingly neither of us became nauseated or sea sick. We just stepped around all of the "stuff" that had spewed all over the place realizing that making an effort to tidy up would be an extreme exercise in futility.

On Monday the winds began to settle down to around 25 knots (we think). The seas continued to chop and slam us, however gave us enough reprieve that we began taking 3 hour shifts at sleeping on the settee in the saloon.

Tuesday arrived and we knew we would be in Opua, NZ by the afternoon. We began hailing the port on the VHF and were able to get enough static communication going to announce our imminent arrival. They actually responded with joy telling us that a lot of folks were worried about Destiny and had been inquiring about our whereabouts and safety. What a feeling of relief…for us all.
while at sea: (note:the sender must include the character sequence "//WL2K" in the subject line of the message.)
Skype ID: frank.barb.gladney

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Anchors Aweigh!

November 4th, Tuesday morning, we left Tonga with an armada of friends; Morning Light (ML), The Dorothy Marie (TDM), Orca III, Baraka, Warm Rain, Tokete and Elusive. Charimsa, Syren, Malachi, O'Vive, Mamacocha, Upps, Bebe, Don Pedro and Morning Star had left within 48 hours prior to our departure. Many of us had subscribed to a fee based personalized routing service which, depending on your boat size, hull configuration and average speed, spits out a recommended departure date and a customized
route with waypoints and arrival times for each. The report is very detailed and can also give projected sea states including wave heights and intervals, wind direction and speed and forecasted weather patterns. Many of us got together to share and compare reports, to set up SSB Nets (on air check-ins) and times for communications so that everyone is accountable and will be accounted for along the way. We are armed for battle at sea! And we pray that we are over prepared.

Tuesday's journey was very smooth with little wind but we had plenty of fuel for motor-sailing. Early in the day (our Tuesday, USA's Monday), we phoned Mary, Frank's sis to wish her Happy Birthday. We also called our parents to let them know we were headed out. I phoned my daughter and sis, but all we got were voicemail machines so we quit calling and got down to business. We threw out a hand line for some fishing and in the early afternoon, hooked a 53.5" Mahi Mahi. Frank actually strained under
its weight as he hefted it for me to snap a photo of our fine catch. These fish are truly magnificent, and as they die their skin transforms into a myriad of colors, which is sadly beautiful to watch. We thought of the pre-prepared meals in the freezer and happily opted to forego my prior efforts in favor of a fresh fish feast this night. We managed to freeze a large portion of the remainder which may be disposed of by NZ officials. We'll see what happens when we get there.

Wednesday was a perfect sailing day. We had giant, gentle rollers and fair winds with crystal clear blue skies, occasionally dusted with clouds. The temperature is cooling down as we head further south giving us a nice crisp Colorado Springtime kind of day. During mid-day we had a flyover from the NZ Air Force. We had heard them hailing one of the other boats over the VHF earlier. Now it was our turn. They have camera equipment on board that I wish I had because the jet approached us from behind
and after swiftly passing over head, called us by name on channel "16", asking us to go to channel "06". Frank answered various questions, such as last port of departure, intended destination, name of the Captain, # of persons on board, boat registration, do we have any weapons on board?, do we have any pets on board? When do we plan to arrive? Have we filed arrival notice paperwork with NZ authorities, etc…? Then they wished us safe passage and disappeared as in a flash (just as they had arrived).
Some 5 minutes later we heard them hailing Morning Light, and so on until they had contacted probably each boat out here. We felt comforted knowing that they were watching out for us. In the afternoon we got news via the Yachtie Grapevine that Obama had won the Presidential election.
Wednesday evening thunderheads began building as we reefed in sails and braced ourselves for a rocky, squally night. The discomfort of the rolling and pitching wasn't as bad as the fear of a lightning strike. During my watches I had difficulty enjoying the light show, thinking of the others we know who had gone before us, sustaining either direct hits or strikes into the ocean nearby, causing no small amount of damage to electronics on board. My mind raced to the laptop, the Sat Phone, the I-Pod
and all of our radio equipment as I prayed for safe passage. We made it through safely.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Last Tango in Tonga...

Boo! October 31, 2008 - Happy Halloween! Friday, Frank went into town to check us out of Tonga and I got busy scrubbing lockers and arranging the boat for the passage, which required inventorying goods and listing those which must be declared and setting aside those items that we know will be confiscated in NZ (which I gave to Big Mama). We spent the day getting a jump on the preparations for leaving Tonga the following Monday or Tuesday, whichever day would prove to be the best departure date for
us. Friday afternoon at Big Mama's the festivities began at around 3 PM with games, then Happy Hour from 6-7 PM, followed by dinner. During our girls' shopping day we ladies of the Flying Foxes group had opted to wear large gregarious hats, flowered lei's, glittery masks and colorful pareas. We picked up costumes for our guys as well; I had gotten Frank some toy guns that shoot suction darts, a glow-in-the-dark head band thing and a lei to match one of his flowery shirts ("Book'em, Danno!").
We had chores to do so we opted out of the games but got decked out, dressed up and ready to head in for the evening activities and dinner. Unfortunately a thunderstorm blew in kicking up high winds, driving rain, some lightening and churning waters. We did not feel comfortable leaving the boat, nor did we want to make the drenching dinghy ride into shore. We kept waiting thinking that the storm would blow over as quickly as it had appeared. We witnessed a few other boats dragging and re-anchoring.
Many families sent one parent in with the kids, leaving an adult on board to watch their boats. We never made it in, but we did open up our water tank inlets and managed to top off our fresh water tanks from the downpour that lasted for a few hours. Instead of games & dinner on shore, we settled for junk food and a game of Scrabble for our Halloween activity.

Saturday was a beautiful day. We resumed our cleaning and preparatory activities, which for Frank was cleaning the boat bottom and changing zincs and for me it meant baking and preparing passage meals and securing items inside for the trip. That night at Big Mama's was a birthday party for both her husband, Earl and for her son, Andrew. She was providing a Tongan feast and entertainment, and had invited every one of the yachts in the anchorage. What a party it was! Music was provided by a local
band, comprised of Tongan policemen and two of our very own cruisers, Steve from Orca III played harmonica and Glen form The Dorothy Marie brought his saxophone. The music was unbelievably good! Earl and his son were dressed in the most beautiful traditional and festive Tongan attire, and sat in a very special place of honor. Tables were set up throughout for dining, family-style. The buffet feast was simply incredible. There was a whole roasted pig, seafood, local dishes, which included seaweed
with coconut, taro root, tapioca, clams, and many dishes we could not identify but ate anyway. We all danced the night away and left very late and very happy. Sunday was our day of R & R.

On Monday, 8 of us from our little group of cruisers went into Nuku'alofa to meet Malaia and Sio for a tour of the island. Sio is Big Mama's Uncle and Malaia her best friend, who is engaged to Sio. Out of the goodness of their hearts they took an entire day off work to chauffer us around their island showing us everything they could in one day. We traveled the entire big island from the Palace to the Blow Holes, the "Arch" and the Caves. We got a history lesson not only of the Tongan people but
also of their culture, the wars and struggles that have made Tonga what she is today. Sio is a widower with 11 children and proudly told us that all of his daughters have been Miss Tonga. One of them is currently a model and is The Face of Tonga on Coca Cola and Digicel ads here and in Fiji, in fact we saw her on billboards throughout the island. Malaia actually just moved back to Tonga in 2002 from Portland, OR, where she went to college, married, had children and lived for many years. Tonga
and the friendships we have forged here have left indelible imprints on our hearts. We left Malaia and Sio with a promise to see them again, and with a personal invitation to their wedding next year in Nuku'alofa.

Monday night we spent a subdued final evening at Big Mama's, feasting on her outrageously delectable hamburgers, signed a coconut which is hanging on a post there and bid a very fond farewell to her and her precious family, staff and friends. "Graduation Night", as Frank calls it; time to move on to another place and chapter in our lives. And as he also says: "Tomorrow we ride, Muchachos!" Onward to New Zealand we go. We have our weather window and our personal routing from Bob McDavitt at Met
Service in NZ. If the journey of 1000 miles begins with one step, what does the journey of 1100 miles over the ocean begin with? A prayer. We'll take 'em, if you got 'em!