So far the passage has been a good one. Sunday, May 3, we awoke to crystal clear blue skies and although quite chilly the weather was grand and the day was exciting for us. We gathered at the Opua Cruising Club at 9:00 AM for the "group photo" which included all boats going to both Fiji and Tonga. We bid farewell to friends who were either leaving later on or heading in other directions. Bill and Judy (Bebe) and Glen and Sally (The Dorothy Marie) came by to help us cast off lines at 10:30 AM, then we pulled into the bay and began slowly circling the anchorage waiting for all of the other rally yachts to get into position. It felt like getting ready for a race, and our adrenaline was surging. We waited for the 10-minute signal, then the 5-minute horn, and then the countdown to start. A thrill ran through our bones as the fleet set off and for a short while stayed relatively close together until we hit open water, where the Tonga fleet sailed eastward as we set a course almost directly due north. For the first day we rolled along in the aftermath of the previous gale. Seas were pitchy and the wind was right on our back. It was too rough to raise the gennaker or the whisker pole for a comfortable wing & wing downwind run, so we turned on the engine and chugged along. For a while we remained in VHF radio contact with Baraka and Warm Rain, but after the first 24 hours we began to lose them. Each night at 19:30 (7:30 PM) the rally boats report in on a "Sked" (what we call a Net), checking in with Opua Offshore Radio's Des Renner. Des first gives a weather report for all cruising areas for both groups, and follows with a roll-call type check-in. Each yacht is called upon to give position (longitude and latitude), course/direction, sea and wind state, boat speed and general status of the crew. This is not so different from other Nets we have participated in, but this is the first professional one we have been part of, and is required of all rally participants. If anything were to happen to us, Des would know roughly where to begin the search - God forbid!
By day two I was getting sick on the diesel fumes that were pervading the entire cockpit and saloon. I developed a severe headache and nausea. Perhaps because he cannot smell this did not affect Frank in the least. In fact nothing much in the way of smells or stomach disorders affects Frank. He is made of cast iron. Nonetheless, he agreed to go off course a bit and chase the wind so that we could avoid running the engine downwind unless we were getting too far off track. Meanwhile, we snagged a beautiful small Blue Fin Tuna. So for dinner I rubbed the fillets in a little wasabi and then seared them in sesame oil, ginger and a touch of soy sauce. They were delicious.
Tuesday evening we picked up a great westerly wind right on the beam and sailed smoothly and perfectly for about 24 hours. We are playing tag with three other yachts: Charisma, Air-we-go and Mind the Gap. The moon is nearly full and lights up the skies like a spotlight at night. The atmosphere is so clean and clear out here that the stars shine with a brilliance we haven't seen since the Marquesas. I see several falling stars each night and constantly marvel at this beauty God has graced us with if we are silent and still enough to enjoy it.
It has been great beam reach sailing for the past 2 days and so nice staying in radio contact with our friends and being reminded why we are doing this. Thank goodness so far this passage has been most kind indeed. If all goes well we hope to arrive in Fiji on schedule.
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