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Saturday, May 27, 2000

Tonga-The Friendly Isles

On the east coast of Nuka a'lofa is a place called "The Blowholes" where the power of tradewind driven waves comes up thorugh holes in the overlying coral shelf.
wingssail-Fredrick Roswold


Friday, May 26, 2000

May 27, 2000, Tonga, The Friendly Isles

Nuka a'lofa Mooring

Tonight we drink our wine to a quiet island night. Evita plays on the stereo, and believe it or not, the Three Stooges are on TV, silent, but we aren't watching. We have been on deck watching the sun go down and the Nikon camera is hanging from my neck: we love the light in the Tongan sky tonight, it is good for photos, and we have snapped a few shots as the sun slowly faded in the gentle sky.

The air in Tonga is so soft. It washes over us and we are glad to be back in the tropics. We spent a week adjusting to island time and doing preliminary work prior to ordering new rigging components. Now the new parts have arrived from New Zealand, we have a lot of work to do, but just being in the tropics is so relaxing. The pace in the town of Nuku'alofa is slow...sleepy even. The people here have friendly smiles and are so willing to help, but things move a little more slowly. We are actually enjoying it immensely. The boat work is beside the point. Maybe we will work at their pace and enjoy the island time for a while.

Nuka a'lofa Waterfront
Main Street
King's Palace
King of Tonga

On Saturday night there are many distractions in Nuku'alofa, the capitol of the Kingdom of Tonga: We took a taxi ride to the Sea View restaurant but it was closed. On the way we passed a nice old house surrounded with barbed wire and soldiers. "The King's Palace," said the cab driver, from Palo Alto. He went to the States in '74, came back last year, liked it back in Tonga, decided to stay.

He took us to the Billfish Restaurant. A nice "middle of the road" place. A few Palangi (us), a Royal party (the princess's niece and her entourage), and quite a few Tongan party goers. We loved the place. Great seafood and then we went to the bar for after-dinner drinks and talked to locals while the Royals sang karaoke to old Righteous Brothers and Eagles tunes. Some could sing, not many. Some patrons of the bar that night were transvestites who have a special place in Polynesian culture, here just like in Tahiti. Nick, the Australian owner confided that while you could dress the transvestites in women's clothes, that didn't mean they could sing like women.


Going Visiting

Town Square

Nuka a'lofa Market

On the next Friday night, in the Nukau'alofa grandstand, we leapt to our feet as we watched the Tongan rugby team dash toward the end zone to lead Fiji by 22 to 15. Penalty kicks and a missed field goal gave the game to Fiji; no surprise to the pessimistic Tongans, but we were disappointed. We wanted to see our home team, Tonga, win the game. Yes, at this time, Tonga is our home team. Maybe we are capricious or fickle, but while we make our home in Tonga, Tonga is our home, and we love it.

Rugby in Tonga

On the boat parts front, the Tongan shipping agents have been extremely helpful. Our parts were coming, and if we had to get the customs officer out of bed Saturday morning to clear them, they would do it. No problem. During waits I talked to them about world politics and economics. Many Tongans travel overseas, they are educated, and they bring back to Tonga the attitudes and views of USA, Britain, or Australia, shaped by the traditions and religious views prevalent in Tonga. We are impressed by the sophisticated Tongans, even if they prefer their island time to the Wall Street pace of the USA, at least it seems to be an educated choice.

In the next few days we will finish our work and set sail again. Our next destination is Vava'u, also in Tonga, but in the North. We will stop in the Hap'ai Group first then we expect to make it to Vava'u before the end of June. Maybe email will work there, if so we will send a note to you, If not...well you'll hear from us from somewhere.

Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Tonga


Monday, May 15, 2000

Sailing to Tonga

Seven days powering to weather on the way to Tonga
wingssail-Fredrick Roswold


Sunday, May 14, 2000

Chaos Below

Wet clothing and chaos after seven days of a long wet passage. The shower curtain keeps drips off of our leeward sea bunk.
wingssail-Fredrick Roswold


Saturday, May 13, 2000

May 14, 2000-Passage to Tonga

Written on May 14, at Sea.

We've been at sea now for 7 days now, going to Tonga. It’s been 6.5 days hard on the wind and most of the boats out here are complaining about it on the radio. There are at least 10 of us doing various crossings from New Zealand to the Islands, some to Tonga, some to Fiji, some to other places such as Vanuatu or New Caledonia. There were some boats going to Australia but as far as I know they all turned back to wait for better weather. Weather was a factor for our departure too. We were supposed to leave a week earlier with a group of 38 boats going to Tonga. We decided to wait for less risky weather. As it turned out their weather was much the same as what we got by waiting: moderate to strong winds against us and choppy seas. And they all made it, but a couple of them took an easier heading and diverted to Fiji. For us it's been rough and we're wet wet wet from a week of being slammed by the ocean. The tops of ocean waves which get chopped off by WINGS' bow come flying back at 40 knots and crash onto our deck and dodger, then run all over everything and finally back to the sea. The cockpit was filled like a swimming pool from the biggest waves about three times an hour for four days. We made a special effort last year to eliminate all the leaks and were successful on some but still the water gets in, mainly around the anchor chain (into the forepeak) around the mast (into the cabin) and around the back of the cockpit, (into our aft cabin bed) plus some from the main hatch and various other leaks. So dampness has permeated everything. We keep putting on dry clothes and getting them wet. The wet pile is pretty big. Every item of paper or cloth on the boat has a damp feel. Mildew is growing virtually everywhere. This boat is like a giant petrie dish. It’s surprising that things like the computer, stereo, CD players and cameras keep working, and probably at some point in the near future they won't. That will be disappointing.

WINGS likes to go to weather, does it well, but in waves like these it gets pretty wet after a few days. We need to do even more work on sealing things.

And we've had other problems besides the weather. We have had some breakdowns, one very serious. After several days of pressing quite hard for speed, in disregard for the conditions perhaps, and making some marvelous time at it. At midnight one night we broke a shroud, one of the wires which hold up the mast. It happened just as we were preparing to heave to so we could take down the main to replace a batten and that might have been what saved the rig since we got the load off of it right as it failed. Anyhow, there was this big metallic "bang" and then there was a starboard intermediate shroud hanging useless. We got the sails down and the mast stayed up, otherwise apparently undamaged. Lucky us. Twelve hours later and two trips up the rig we had lashed the loose pieces and secured the mast with a kevlar line, and we felt we could sail on starboard tack if we took it very easy. We needed to be able to sail because at 600 miles from any of the Islands, and with less than 400 miles worth of fuel left for motoring, we couldn't motor. Going back to New Zealand, the closest destination at 440 miles and where the weather was forecast to be even worse, wasn't an option we wanted to take so we needed to carry on. We considered diverting to Fiji, but it is farther than Tonga. After another day and a half and three more trips up the mast we had rigged a new (temporary) shroud and we felt that we could sail on both tacks, but only conservatively, and since then we've been making slow but steady progress and all is fine.


The trips up the mast in the rough were difficult to say the least. It took two hands and two legs and all of one's strength, and then some, to hang on, and believe me, loosing your grip and flying around loose on the end of a 30 foot long wire hanging from the top of a 60 foot high mast which is waving wildly would be pretty serious. I made hanging on a priority. Working while up there was not easy either, but the job got done and with the boat whole again our spirits were raised tremendously. I can't tell you how bad we felt when WINGS, this wonderfully powerful and strong vessel that we love so much, was sitting wallowing in the seas unable to set sail. With it fixed, we still have a big and expensive permanent repair job ahead of us, but we feel a lot better anyhow.

There were other problems too. The bow light was carried away by the force of the water hitting it when we drove through the big seas. The battery power was getting dangerously low and we couldn't figure out where the drain was. The alternator didn't seem to be putting out much power to recharge the batteries and the Solar panels weren't producing power. The inverter would only display error messages and then shut down when ever we tried to turn it on so we had no AC to recharge the computer or grind coffee beans, as if those two things mattered at that point. We had a broken batten and a missing batten in the main and the storm jib needed a change to the luff tape and the autopilot was dis-engaging. There were a few other items too like a couple of interior lights out and some leaks we needed to plug, and some stuff I can't remember. Oh, the wind direction on the instruments went out again, a problem which has plagued us off and on for years and we've been unable to fix. This might sound like a lot, particularly since we've just spent over a year in New Zealand putting WINGS into its best shape ever, but that is what happens on a rough and wet passage. What you have to do is deal with the failures and work on them as best you can. We've fixed the autopilot and the battery problem and the charging system turned out to be fine. The solar panels are back on line, the spare inverter is online and working, the main and the storm jib are fixed, and we are using a white light for a running light. We'll keep after the list. Now if we could get some clothes cleaned and dried we'd be in excellent shape.

Safely Coiled

That's the passage so far. We've got three more days to Tonga at least, maybe more depending on the wind direction and strength but we expect to be there by the 18th or before, as we projected.

Tuesday May 16

Well, on the first part of this trip we got bashed, pounded, broken and wet. Now you can add sunburned to the list. When we reached 26 Degrees South the bad weather eased off a bit and the sun came out. The wind? just about stopped. Now we are in sunny conditions (except for on occasional cloud burst) with very little wind, and what of it there is is coming right from where we want to go. Sailing is slow and we making only a little progress toward Tonga. We motored for a couple of days, but now we have to just wait it out. We can't afford to use any more fuel because we will need it to motor around the reefs and islands getting to port. Actually, sailing slowly on a nice day is pretty pleasant, even if we aren't getting any where fast. We are both enjoying today's sail and relaxing, puttering around the boat and taking it easy. It got warm and we put on shorts and bathing suits and hung out some laundry, getting an instant tropical sunburn while doing it.

Predicting the weather for a crossing to or from New Zealand is tough. You can only get an accurate forecast for two or three days ahead, and sometimes that isn't even accurate. When we left the forecast was for two days of favorable winds, a day or two of head winds, then smooth sailing again. Instead we got six hours of good wind then four days of strong head winds. The boats that left the week before us had a much scarier forecast, with very definite strong headwinds and a possibility of a cyclone. Instead they got a passage just about like ours, from what we heard. But it looks like if we had waited even another week, and were leaving right now, the conditions would be excellent. That would have meant waiting 17 days for "the perfect weather window", which is hard to do and even harder when you are never sure that the conditions will stay that way once you leave. One thing, it is not good to be on a schedule. We wanted to go to Tonga with the group of boats, and have two months in Tonga, then go to Fiji on July 1st. So maybe we felt some pressure to leave when we shouldn't have. On the other hand, we could have wound up waiting in New Zealand all winter for the perfect window, and never got it, meanwhile missing several perfectly good passages. The Kiwi sailors tell us that "You just go. You should expect to get plastered once on each crossing and you just deal with it." Hard to say what is right.

We had a long talk last night about why we do this. There is no good answer. Its part of sailing, can't be avoided. Then why be sailors? Don't have a good answer for that either. We've had some really fun and easy passages, but these last two have been very little fun. But there are rewards, such as discovering and living in new places all the time. And you are less likely to take a place like Tonga for granted when you have to work so hard to get there. Then there is the point, (nonsense really), about "the challenge of the sea". I know it is true that we feel some inner satisfaction knowing that we faced a tough situation, when perhaps our lives and home were at risk, and that we measured up, as a team. But actually, who needs it? I think we'd both really rather not have to face these risks at all. However, being at sea, its part of the deal. Most of all, this is simply the life we have chosen. We get our real happiness from the small things, the things you can find anywhere, such as enjoying a nice dinner and a fine wine with the partner you love, or the luxury of falling asleep on the couch watching TV or reading a nice book, and from time spent with friends and loved ones. And for us, there are many of these important small things which we enjoy which are from the sailing part: a quiet anchorage, a daily chat with a friend on the dock, the feel of the boat when the water is flat and every thing is set just right, seeing the Southern Cross overhead on a clear night at sea.

But don't really ask us to explain why we do it.

Wednesday May 17

Ready for the next development? Days of calm weather. This morning when it was light we could see Ata Island to our north as we sailed slowly towards Tonga. We knew it was going to be there but still it was a surprise to see the rugged peak of rock ten miles off so clearly in the dawn. Now it is 5:00 PM and we can still see Ata Island. It reminds us of some Swiftsure races and other races in the old days when we got becalmed and had to stare at the same piece of land for what seemed like days. It’s been slow going with 4-7 knots of wind right out of our destination and the seas are big enough that we really can't point very high, so we tack through 110 degrees and make about 2.5 knots towards Tonga, still 65 miles too go. Our weather expert, Des, from Russell Radio, is calling for a ten knot Easterly. We'd take that.

On another front, after close inspection we found another piece of cracked rigging, a starboard lower shroud, which we reinforced. Turnbuckle But this makes it really clear that we are faced with a major re-rig. Expensive and tough to do in Tonga maybe. But we don't feel too bad about it. At least we are getting the chance to do it on our terms, not with pieces of broken mast all about the deck. People have told us that you should replace the standing rigging after 10-15 years, this has been up since '83, so I guess we are overdue. We've delayed because of the expense and because previous inspections have never revealed any signs of deterioration. But now, I guess we will bite the bullet.

The wind just came up a little, ten knots from the East, can you imagine that? Gotta go.

Fred & Judy, SV WINGS, On Passage

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