Saturday, June 13, 2009

Tonga to Fiji and Surviving a Water Spout

June 13, 2009--On Monday, June 8, we returned to Emelina's home to give some gifts to the family, and we had a chance to meet her husband George, who is a fisherman. We took some pictures of the family and said our goodbyes, but before we left, they gave us four coconuts all cleaned and ready to use. John then drove up on his motorcycle and took us to his "farm," which is a plot of land where he has pineapple, banana, and papaya growing. He took a long stick to knock down three papayas for us, as well as a bunch of bananas. We thanked him for the generous gift and then left to return to the boat.

On our way back to the northern anchorage, we stopped at Luangahu Island, where we entered the lagoon anchorage through the coral reef and dropped the hook in 15 feet of beautiful, clear water. The small island is beautiful, and we thoroughly enjoyed our walk around it. We also saw bats flying over the interior of the island. We pulled the anchor and motored back to Uoleva Island to anchor for the night.

On Tuesday we returned to Pangai in order to check out of Tonga. We got some diesel, picked up a few vegetables, and then went to Customs and Immigration. The process went very smoothly, and when we were done, we went to have lunch at the Mariner's Cafe. We returned to Uoleva Island to check the weather forecasts for a passage to Fiji.

Wednesday morning we got the latest weather reports, and everything looked good. The only problem was that a small, intense low was supposed to form in an area close to where we would be passing. After analyzing all the information, we decided to go ahead and leave, so we quickly prepped the boat for the passage and were able to get underway by 11 o'clock. We had brisk winds to take us out through the few islands to the west, and we passed close by the volcano that Steve had been admiring for the past week. By the time dusk came, we were clear of all the obstacles and back out in open ocean.

The trip was 420 miles, which would be a three-day passage. We had 20 knots of wind and triple-reefed sails but were moving along nicely at about 6.5 to 7 knots. The seas were big and lumpy and that created a rolly ride, but everything else was excellent for the passage. The first day and night were uneventful. The second day was great because we caught a 53-inch Dorado--the biggest one yet! He gave Steve a pretty good fight and gaffing him turned out to be a real challenge, but we finally got him on board. I can't wait to post the picture of Steve holding this fish--it was beautiful. We enjoyed a dinner of mahi mahi in garlic butter that evening. We will be eating Dorado for quite some time, so it is a good thing that our freezer was almost empty. The last day proved to be the hardest as the seas were building, and we were having trouble staying on our course. Normally this would not worry us; however, there are dangerous areas on this route so we had to be extremely cautious. Every sail configuration we tried didn't quite work for our course, but we finally got one that worked well enough. By late afternoon we were making a turn at Toyota Island--the first Fijian island we saw. Now we were again in waters that had shoals and reefs, so we had to pay close attention to where we were. To make it even more exciting, our radar decided to quit on us a few days ago, but luckily we did have a 3/4 moon that helped us to see the islands. Now the squalls began (perhaps part of the low that was forecast); however, most of them created rain but, thankfully, no high winds. Steve ended up staying up all night, and I got very little sleep myself. We arrived at Ovalau Island around noon, which meant that we completed the passage in 73 hours. We were very pleased with our passage.

As we were approaching the island, Steve spotted a water spout--not a good thing--in the distance. We watched it for a few minutes and then turned our attention back to the island. Suddenly, Steve yelled that the spout was heading right for us, so we quickly dropped the main sail, and he tied it down as best as he could. We watched as the spout came right at the boat and then passed our starboard side not more than 10 feet away. The water was swirling with water particles circling up about six feet off the water, and the center of the vortex looked like a flushing toilet bowl. Steve was able to get some of the action on video. It was the most amazing thing that we have ever seen and the scariest. We were so thankful it missed going directly over the boat. Once our pulses quieted down, we continued in to Levuka passing through the coral reef and anchoring off the breakwater in 40 feet of water. We picked up the boat, celebrated our arrival, and then we both fell asleep for several hours.

After showering and eating a simple dinner, we went to bed still tired but happy that we chose to check in at Levuka. We are the only sailboat here as most boats go to Lautoka or Savusavu. We did not realize that Monday is a holiday for the Queen's birthday, so we will be on board until Tuesday when we can check in. Since we have so many things to work on--our course to Vuda Point, laundry, cleaning, etc.--we really don't mind.

The country of Fiji is larger and comprised of more islands than we realized so it provides a very large cruising area. We are looking forward to seeing this lush and beautiful Pacific island group.

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