Saturday, May 19, 2012

At Ha'ano in the Ha'apai

We had a quiet night at Fonua One One, where we anchored the night before--a little rolly but decent protection. Certainly a LOT better than trying to get into Maninita under dicey conditions. We had one small Tongan fishing boat, with barely a cabin on it, anchored next to us for the night.

We got up at the crack of dawn and left the anchorage about 7:15am, with one reef in the main. The forecast indicated we'd have SE winds about 12-15 kts. Our course being about 195 degrees, this seemed like perfect sailing conditions.

We'd gotten a fish strike the day before, which had broken our 'sport' fishing line. So I made sure Dave had our strong hand-line rigged to put out as soon as we got going. I have been hungry for Mahi Mahi all summer, and you can't find them for sale at the market.

By about 7:30 we had all our sails up and were headed SSW for our northern tip waypoint at Ha'ano, about 53 miles away. We turned the engine off and, for the first time in 6 months, were actually sailing again. Ahhh!! We had sunny skies and perfect wind for our first passage in months. Even the autopilot, which we hadn't used in 6 months (and we hadn't got around to testing before departure) worked fine. We did have a little swell on our nose from a storm down off NZ, but it wasn't affecting us too much. While Dave napped in the cockpit, I watched the autopilot and read "Little Bee" on my Kindle.

Our perfect sailing conditions lasted only a couple of hours before the wind went to 10 knots on our beam--at those wind speeds, with any wave action, we just wallow along at 3 knots. And with an unknown anchorage, a long way to go, and sunset at 6:08pm, we couldn't afford to go 3 knots. I spent an hour playing with sails trying to get us going again. We pointed up a little, let out all the sail we had, and waited a little while, hoping for either a change in direction or a little more speed--a few more knots of wind and we would have been flying. Sadly, we ended up having to the engine back on to keep our speed up.

Around noon, we boated a very nice 3-foot Mahi Mahi--our first fish since somewhere in French Polynesia. Normally we wait til we are at anchor and clean the fish while standing on our swim platform on the stern. But as we would be getting in late, 6 hours hence, we had to figure out how to clean it while underway. Dave doesn't want to do it on the deck, where most people clean their fish, as we use our decks for our fresh water collection system. He did a nice job of cleaning it in our big sink, without getting too much fish blood over everything. Fresh Mahi for dinner last night!!

We ended up motorsailing the rest of the day. When the wind strengthened again late in the afternoon, it had gone back to SSE--too close for us to make our waypoint without a little assistance from the engine. By the time we were approaching the northern tip of Ha'ano, our conditions had changed considerably. The wind was now 20 knots and we had 100% overcast and rain threatening.

We arrived at our reefy 'open roadstead' anchorage just at sunsent, with 100% cloud cover, and barely enough light to see. Fortunately we had our Google Earth Charts, and 2 other boats' tracks, to help us in safely. The regular C-MAP charts are not very accurate here--they show us anchored on the land. But the GE charts are fantastically accurate (most of the time). Dave could see enough looking straight down that we were able to drop the anchor in a sand spot, and it held well. We are out of the wind and the wind-waves and safe for the night.

For information on making your own charts from Google Earth, google GE2KAP, a fabulous utility made by a fellow cruiser that will capture any Google Earth picture you have on your Google Earth screen, geo-reference it automatically, and save it as a KAP format file--which can be used in most computer-based charting programs. If you find it useful, make sure you drop the author a donation--he's put a lot of work into it and is offering it still as 'donationware'.

It was a good passage, and we are glad to be in the Ha'apai. Anyone following our blog who plans this leg from Neiafu should look carefully at Fonua One One (see previous post) as a jumping off point for the Ha'apai. This is a MUCH easier anchorage to get into and get out of than Maninita, and protected from ESE to SW, with an obvious shelf with good deep sand. It only costs you a couple of miles and a couple of degrees for the long leg, over starting from Maninita.

The anchorage we are in now, is well protected from the SE to N, but is open to the SW. The forecast is for a somewhat large swell rolling in from the SW, and we are starting to feel it now. The southern Ha'apai and Tongatapu do break the swell somewhat, but not completely. We're going to look at an anchorage today a few miles away at Foa (sun conditions permitting) that should give us protection from the swell too.
Still in Tonga for another few weeks, then Fiji
At 05/18/2012 6:08 PM (utc) our position was 19°40.23'S 174°17.36'W

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