"Arctracer" Letters

New Zealand to Tonga, June 1999

We've arrived in Capt. James Cook's "Friendly Isles." Tonga is an entirely functional monarchy. From the King down, members of Tonga's royal family play an active part in political life. Tonga boasts that it is the only nation that has always been independent and never colonized by foreign nations. We left Tauranga, New Zealand on the 29th of May and arrived here on the 11th of June. We got out of the boatyard at 6 p.m. on the 27th of June and planned to leave on Friday the 28th. However, as Jerry was eating his cereal very early in the morning a filling in one of his teeth fell out, so he spent the day making a dentist appointment, then going to get it taken care of. It was probably just as well, since most cruisers believe that you shouldn't leave a port on a Friday. We've never been superstitious and have left on some Fridays anyway, but it wasn't meant to be this time.

Notes on our passage to Tonga:

29 May Left the Tauranga dock at 7am at slack water and high tide. No wind at all as we motored down the harbor. Put up our gaff sails in mid-harbor, then continued motoring. A big cargo ship pulled away from the wharf and passed us before we got to the narrow entrance channel. Outside there were small waves, but no wind until we got out past Mayor Island at 11:30. Then the wind blew lightly from the northwest, so we couldn't aim directly for Tonga but had to sail more to the east. Since we had at least 1200 miles to go, a slight deviation was no problem. We did the best we could with the wind we had, figuring that it would blow from some other direction eventually and we could adjust our aim then. Also, the wind in the early part of the trip could be expected to be mostly from the west but later it would probably be from the east (the tradewinds), so making more easting early was not creating a problem. It turned out that the wind stayed northwesterly until 4 June, so we went far to the east of the Kermadec Islands before turning straight north to Tonga.

30 May We crossed the 180 deg meridian (the International Date Line) at about 35 deg S. When we crossed on our way south to New Zealand on our way from the Cook Islands we lost a day so skipped Friday the 13th of November. We did not gain the day back when we came back since Tonga is the only country east of the 180th meridian but west of the International Date Line. The Visitors' Bureau here refers to it as "the land where time begins." The islands of Tonga fit between 15 deg and 23 deg south latitude and between 173 deg and 177 deg west longitude. This means that they should be east of the International Date Line, but the Date Line takes a sudden swing to the east as it approaches the equator to accommodate Tonga and the Lau Islands of Fiji.

According to "Frommer's Guide" (1996):

One of diplomacy's great contributions to the geography of the Pacific Ocean is the international date line. Established by international agreement in 1884, this imaginary line marks the start of each calendar day. Theoretically, it should run for its entire length along the 180th Meridian, halfway around the world from the Zero Meridian, the starting point for measuring international time. If it followed the 180th Meridian precisely, however, most of the Aleutian Islands would be a day ahead of the rest of Alaska, and Fiji would be split into two days. To solve these problems, the date line swings west around the Aleutians, leaving them in the same day as Alaska. In the South Pacific, it swerves east between Fiji and Western Samoa, leaving all of Fiji a day ahead of the Samoas. Since Tonga and Western Samoa lie east of the 180th Meridian, both countries logically should be in the same day. But Tonga wanted to have the same date as Australia and New Zealand, so the line was drawn arbitrarily east of Tonga, putting it one day ahead of Western Samoa.

Since Tonga and Western Samoa are in the same time zone only the date changes and not the time when going from one to the other. The strange date line has challenged the Seventh-Day Adventists here. They "celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday but work on Sunday. They have taken advantage of this abnormality to avoid running afoul of Tonga's tough Sunday blue laws. In God's eyes, they say, Sunday in Tonga really is Saturday. Accordingly, Tonga is the only place in the world where Seventh-Day Adventists observe their Sabbath on Sunday." We wonder how many tourists will visit here for the millennium to see the year 2000 "first."

1 June We discovered that our "head" wasn't working properly. Apparently while we were "on the hard" in the boatyard things got dried out, so Jerry did some cleaning to get it to function properly. A messy job, but necessary.

2 June Our battery voltage was so low that the GPS stopped working and the binnacle (compass) light got very dim. We motored for about 1 and1/2 hours in a flat calm, and the battery got a good charge. I had to throw out 1/2 a cabbage as it had started to rot. There went the last of our fresh salad!

3 June Had to throw out some fresh orange juice that had spoiled because we have no refrigeration or ice in our icebox. "Arctracer" heeled enough to cause a small drawer in the galley to come out, spilling its contents. The ride was a little rocky, but quite tolerable as a front approached us. We had to put more clay around our round forepeak hatch to prevent water from entering the forepeak. The waves coming over the bow had worked the clay off in some places. (We still haven't found a rubber gasket that completely solves the problem there. We tried 3 different kinds in New Zealand. Clay works well if it is applied to a dry surface.) The books on top of books in the aft cabin weren't stored properly and fell all over the bed. I wedged them in tighter and it didn't happen again. We finally had our sea legs and felt like fishing for the 1st day since leaving New Zealand.

4 June I worked on making a new sail cover for our small topsail. The cloth of the old cover disintegrated because of the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Of course I had to do all the sewing by hand since we don't have a sewing machine (and don't want one aboard to get rusty). We saw several shooting stars and satellites again during this passage. On the night before we anchored we saw the Big Dipper low on the horizon. We hadn't seen it for months. Threw out 4 apples and the last tomato as they had gone bad.

5 June The wind started to get stronger so we took down our light air sails, gollywobbler and drifter. I had to wake Jerry up to do it. The drifter (light air jib) got in the water in the process, but was no big problem. Later we put a reef in our mainsail. Still later we had more wind so put a reef in our foresail. Then at 10 p.m. Jerry said that the wind was the strongest that he'd ever seen. We had heard on the weather forecast that we were in a convergence zone. The only experience we'd had with convergence zones was the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone) in the tropics. This time we were about 29 deg S and south of the tropics. Apparently this convergence zone had winds much stronger that the maximum of 25 knots we'd experienced in the ITCZ. Jerry put the bow of the boat into the wind to heave to. The boat was really shaking because the sails were flapping violently. We definitely had too much sail up, but "Arctracer" again showed how great she is. We also learned that our sails are still strong and in good shape. When Jerry pulled in the mainsail to lower it the boat heeled so far over that the inside rail of the cockpit was in the water. This hadn't happened since our trip from the Galapagos to the Gambier Islands a year ago. Things that weren't secured properly flew to the "down side" of the boat. As I was sleeping on the port side of the aft cabin I had sail covers fly on top of me. Luckily all our doors stayed latched and the heavy tools stayed in place! We stayed "hove to" until 3 am when the wind let up and we could start sailing again. The seas were rough, but since the strong wind only lasted about 5 hours they never did get nearly as large as when we were in the gale on our way from North Carolina to Bermuda. When we heeled way over, we discovered later that we lost one of our pails, a water bottle, a scrub brush and our old topsail cover that I was using for a pattern for the new one. A couple of days later I noticed that a box of tissues on a shelf above the bed had gotten wet through when we'd heeled so far over. It needs to be put in the sun to dry out now.

6 June We noticed pretty blue water for the first time at about 28 deg S. Previous to this the water was the color of a murky green (an indication of colder water I think). Jerry had his last banana.

7 June We had our second time with absolutely no wind so motored for an hour and a half. Our compass light didn't work when we went to turn it on at night. Jerry had to fix the wiring to get it to work. Our gollywobbler had a slight hole, so we put sticky sail tape on both sides of the material and it held for the rest of the sail to Tonga.

8 June We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn at 23 deg 27' S at 23:16. We're in the tropics again!

9 June At 4:30 am, just before the sky starts getting light at 5, I saw a large, bright, green, shooting light that ended with two "explosions." Something must have been burning up in the atmosphere or the rising sun must have caused the color. I read Bowditch to see if I could find an explanation but found nothing. Maybe it was a "UFO?"

10 June We saw Eua Island in Tonga - the first land we'd seen since leaving New Zealand 12 days ago. A fish took a lure I was using for our slow speed. It must have been quite large!? Later I lost another lure (a new one) when the wind picked up. I need to put some really strong line on one of our large fish poles to prevent this from happening all the time. A tuna fisherman in New Zealand gave me some of his VERY strong line so I can use that. Our line now is only 50-lb. test. We saw the first sail boat since leaving New Zealand a French ketch (recognized by its flag) coming from the East towards Nuku'alofa, capital of Tonga. It was almost warm enough to use our sun shower bag for showers. We used it anyway. We lost the halyard for the drifter (new light air jib we had made in New Zealand) up the mast while bringing the drifter down when the wind got stronger. We need to replace the hook that has a broken spring and no longer stays closed.

11 June Just as the horizon was getting light at 5:15 I saw land to port. I'd been using a large-scale chart and thought I had lots of sea room to port. I quickly hove to so that I could go below. When I looked at a smaller scale chart I found that Tofua (where Bligh and his 18 men landed in his open boat in April 1789 after the Mutiny on the Bounty to get water) was to port. Luckily it was 10 miles away and I had nothing to worry about, but it was a shock to see. Tofua takes up 1/2 the land area of the entire Ha'apai Group of islands in Tonga, so it is a decent size. I guess I need to pay more attention to charts. When we went to lower the mainsail to anchor we couldn't get it to come down. Jerry had placed tape on both halyards to prevent chafing while sailing. The tape was so thick that it wouldn't go through the blocks. Luckily we hadn't had to get the mainsail down quickly in strong winds! We anchored at Pangai and took our dinghy off the deck for the first time since we left Aitutaki in the Cook Islands on November 3rd last year. We never needed it in New Zealand since we didn't do any sailing there. We did all of our touring via the car we bought at auction. Only one other boat was anchored near Pangai. It has now moved on, was called "Breakaway" and had last seen us in Tahiti. They spent the Pacific cyclone season in New Zealand too, but much farther north.

14 June I still haven't been ashore. It has been nice to read and do nothing for a couple of days after our arrival. Today we will do a little exploring ashore and write more about our experiences in a few weeks.

We ate lots of soup during the passage. It never did get really warm while sailing. I tried to treat Jerry right by making lots of scones, bread, and filled cookies. I need a good recipe for date-filled cookies, as I don't have one. I made a date filling and put it in sugar cookies, but Jerry said that were sweeter that the ones his Mom used to make.

We enjoyed many wonderful sunsets during the voyage, but never did see a green flash. There were always too many clouds on the horizon.

Weather/Barometer/Temperature: Every day we listened to Taupo Radio in New Zealand for the weather report until we got to 25 deg South Latitude, then we had to listen to November Mike Charlie (NMC, the U.S. Coast Guard station with the computer voice out of Hawaii) who covers the Pacific above 25 degS. Taupo radio only covers up to 25 deg S. We left New Zealand just before a full moon, so our nights were quite bright during the trip north.

Since we didn't encounter many strong lows or highs crossing the Pacific we didn't need to pay attention to our barometer this trip. We found that the temperature got somewhat warmer at sea as we sailed north, but still found ourselves dressing warmly at night. The wool hats, sweaters and socks came in handy, as did the long underwear and boots. As we got further north we could have less and less on during the sunny days.

Problems for other boats: We learned by listening to the radio that most boats were "having to motor" a lot of the time. Most boats seem to be in more hurry than "Arctracer," but that doesn't always make them faster. We found that we could sail at 4 knots most of the time with our light air sails. Many sailors like to travel at 5 knots minimum and don't like to use their light air sails as they take time to set and take down, so they motor instead. We only motored twice during the entire trip. Both times we motored for about 1 and 1/2 hours while there was absolutely no wind and we needed to charge our batteries anyway. Also, many of the other boats wanted to stay on the "rhumb line" (shortest route), so when the wind was too much in their face to sail they turned on their engines. We kept sailing, even though it wasn't directly towards our destination. Later the wind direction changed, and we were able to turn back on course. This didn't cost us any more days at sea, and was much more enjoyable than motoring into the waves. Two boats we knew broke electric autopilots on the way to Tonga, and one nearly ran out of water. Boats which left three weeks before us had winds of 40+ knots for several days as they approached Tonga, but all were OK. One wooden boat we know spent a night on a reef in the harbor of Nuku'alofa, but wasn't badly damaged. We didn't hear of any serious problems.

Mileage: We sailed under 100 miles on 7 of the 13 days, because of the light winds. Our best days were 130 and 131 miles, just as we were leaving New Zealand. Total mileage was 1381 in 14 days.

Sea Life: On 29 May we saw a flying fish for the first time in months near New Zealand. Although the water is generally too cold for flying fish there the volcano on White Island keeps the water warmer in that area. We also saw porpoises for the first time since November. We hadn't seen any around the marina. We had porpoises join us for riding our bow wake again on May 2nd, June 8th, and spotted porpoises on June 9th (only Jerry saw them). On 30 May we watched albatrosses all day flying near the boat in search of food, and large dark-colored petrels are so common as to cause no comment. On 31 May we saw a Red-tailed Tropicbird and thought it was quite far south (34 deg 30'). Jellyfish (probably Velella Velella) were occasionally seen from 1 June to our arrival in Tonga. On 2 June it was neat to see our first ever Pintado Petrel with white patches on its wings, black head and tail and a white belly. It is a very pretty petrel. A land bird kept flying around the boat on 4 June looking for a place to land, but never did land. It was the only land bird we saw this entire trip while at sea. When we started sailing after reefing the mainsail on 5 June, there was an incredible amount of phosphorescence in our wake behind the boat and in the wake from our bow waves. On 7 June a fish got interested in our line for the first time on this trip. I also saw a tuna chasing a flying fish. I'd never seen this before. It happened very near the side of the boat. On 9 June we saw birds working over the water which usually means there is a school of tuna about, but they moved south before we could sail through them. We only saw this 2 more times after this. We must be getting nearer to land. Farther away from land we only see occasional shearwaters or petrels.

Our Tongan arrival was at 2:30 Friday, 11 June, Tonga time (1 hour ahead of New Zealand and still Thursday the 10th in the U.S.)