Published on August 14th, 2014 | by Moore 24 Class


Neaifu, Tonga: pounded – Report from Webb Chiles – Gannett

A distressing trend has emerged from my immediate post-passage entries. Instead of reporting how great the sail, I report how hard. I regret to do so again; but in some ways the sail from Apia was the hardest.

Much of this is due to my decision to sail first to Hawaii. Had I not done so I wouldn’t have met a couple of good guys named Dave, been called ‘a beast’ and ‘the hard core guy’, and enjoyed the hospitality of the Waikiki Yacht Club. But it did have an unfortunate subsequent effect on wind angles. Had I been sailing from Bora-Bora to Tonga in the same conditions I experienced from Apia to Tonga, the wind would have been well aft and GANNET sailing splendidly and stresslessly fast.

I have never believed much in weather windows. I don’t want to leave with a bad forecast, but I have observed that you never get any closer to your destination if you remain tied to the dock. (That reminded me of how I knew of Admiral Grace Hopper, after whom the U.S. Navy vessel which approached me out of Honolulu was named. I quoted her in the front of one of my books. “A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” An admirable Admiral.) I have deliberately left in a gale when the wind was likely to remain under forty knots and behind me. That on RESURGAM and THE HAWKE OF TUONELA was just good sailing. However this time I did leave in a ‘weather window’. Twenty to twenty-five knots between Samoa and Tonga were forecast to decrease to fifteen. Except it didn’t.

Once we rounded the west end of Upolu, the island on which Apia is located, GANNET was on the closest of close reaches, almost close-hauled, on port tack all the way. I said that twenty knots from ahead would turn GANNET into a submarine, and it did. Most of the passage, no matter how little sail I had up—and we did a lot of it under triple reefed main and a t-shirt size scrap of jib. We did part of it under double reefed main sail alone—waves washed the deck and the little sloop bashed into or leapt from countless others, often several a minute, hour after hour, landing with heart-wrenching crashes. I could not believe she could survive such punishment, that any boat could. With the main triple reefed and a tiny amount of jib set, I had done all I could to ease her way. She and I just had to take it.

I got little sleep for two of the three nights. Only scattered snatches, totaling less than two hours each night. Fortunately the wind did decrease the second night and I slept then.

Considering the waves flooding the deck, surprisingly little water came below. The forward end of the starboard pipe berth was wet, but most of that water came through the open slat of the companionway. A few waves did overfill the drainage channel and spilled from the forward corner of the closed companionway.

And all the pounding renewed leaks around the forward hatch. In New Zealand I will do what my professional boat building friend, Howard, told me long ago I should do and remove and rebed that hatch. I don’t have enough sealant to do so here.

Another casualty was the third Raymarine tiller pilot. I thought of bringing it in and should have, but hoped it could last the distance.

When it died, I was left with only the old Autohelm tiler pilot that came with the boat when I bought her. Instead of sacrificing it, I balanced the scraps of sail and tied down the tiller. GANNET sailed almost two hundred miles on her own. I set up the Autohelm again only a few miles from Vavau.

The two good aspects of the passage are that it was 346 miles, which is only two miles longer than the straight line distance between waypoints on my chartplotter route, and being in Neiafu.

I have sailed here three times before. First in CHIDIOCK TICHBORNE in 1979; mostly recently from New Zealand in THE HAWKE OF TUONELA nine or ten years ago. I have always liked the place, but like it even more now. It is still small and quiet, but there are a few new cafes and restaurants that offer free Internet and good food and cold libations that make GANNET life easier. In addition to all the good nearby anchorages and snorkeling.

Neiafu harbor is well protected and very deep. 90’ or more. Most boats, including GANNET, are on moorings. Mine offered free by Rik, who runs a waterfront business and likes small boats. I thank him.

Yesterday I most serendipitously met a tiller pilot whisperer, Rich, who is from California, but has been out cruising with his wife, Cyndi, for several years. They stopped by GANNET in their dinghy, and while we were talking, I mentioned that I had left San Diego with four tiller pilots and was now down to one and thinking of trying again to have some shipped from the U.S. Rich said that he used to design electronic toys and would be glad to take a look at the tiller pilots. This surely was an offer I wasn’t going to refuse, gave him an armful of dead tiller pilots, and told him not to waste much time on them.

An hour or so later he returned with unit 2, which had died after less than 24 hours, operational.

A couple of hours later I saw him ashore and he said he’d left unit 3 in the cockpit and thought it is working, too.

This is amazing and game changing. I am deeply grateful.

Today, Sunday, has been odd.

Rain, moderate to light, has been falling since last night. I haven’t yet gone ashore, but may later to use the Internet. The row is short.

However, yesterday when I went to deactivate the Yellowbrick, I found it bricked. Screen blank and unresponsive to all buttons. I checked the owner’s manual. Tried to reset it. Tried to charge it, though the battery should have been above 95%. Nothing.

When I was ashore I checked the tracking map and saw that the unit functioned properly until we were here and then inexplicably died overnight.

Today it started to charge; but has reverted to 0%.

I also noticed that we weren’t solar charging.

Without going into the depressing details—this took all morning, including slithering aft on the pipe berth, I determined that the starboard solar panel near the stern is not working. Looking closely I see corrosion on it.

I redid various connections and we now seem to have charging, though this cloud cover wouldn’t permit much and I’m not sure.

The photo is the only one I took during the passage.

Mostly I hung on and wore foul weather gear.

I steered more than usual. Sailing off the dock in Apia and out the harbor. Through chaos in the strait between Upolu and Savai’i. And into Vavau. Probably I should get used to it.

None of the three other boats that left when GANNET did have shown up here. They may have gone into a small Tongan island farther north or turned downwind for Fiji.

I did not do so because Fiji has followed the dismal trend of requiring advance notice of arrival and I wanted to get here.

I’m glad I have.

Sometimes being a legend is hard work.


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