This area's first tropical low of the season passed just to the south of us this afternoon, making us feel glad that we did move inside the harbor here in Tongatapu on Monday. While we didn't see much above 30kn in here, boats out the anchorage reported a peak of 76kn when the wind suddenly shifted from N to SW in thundery squall behind the low's center (probably doesn't sound like much to the people who've just been hit by Sandy on the US East Coast though...). Luckily, everyone out there seems to be OK and the barometer is now slowly on the rise.
A previous post ("At the starting line") made it sound as if our departure to NZ was imminent, but not so... The tropical low mentioned in that post did solidify in the forecasts (it first only showed up in the longer term computer models) and is now expected to pass to the south of us here in southern Tonga during Wednesday. Expected wind strength have gone down in recent forecasts but we have nevertheless moved into the harbour this morning (in a concerted effort with Victoria and Anni Nad) because the anchorage outside is open to N...NW...W.
Had a slow sail down from Nomuka to Tongatapu last night, tacking against light winds. Checked out of Tonga today and are now (Friday) eyeing a potential Sunday departure for Minerva Reef as a pit-stop on the way to NZ. It will all depend on where forecasts settle down regarding a low that models show to develop over Fiji next Wednesday. Stay tuned...
Weighed anchor at Oua Island this morning to go about 15nm to the SW to Nomuka Iki. When we left Oua the sea looked like a duck pond with absolutely no wind and we were afarid we would have to motor the whole way. Luckily some local thermal wind filled in a bit later and we had a nice time tacking on flat seas. We now again share an island with Victoria (who had already spend one night here) but no one else. The forecast has basically no wind until Thursday night when we plan to head south to Tongatapu to clear out of Tonga.
When we came to Oua last Thursday (25OCT) it was primarily because the reef and the island here promised good protection against wind and waves from a front that was (correctly) forecast to pass through on Friday. Now it's Sunday and we've had a few very nice and interesting days here. Sometime on Friday, when a tropical downpour reduced visibility to near-zero and we were busy collecting rain water to top off our fresh water supply, Freddy, a young local fisherman, swam up to Namani and paid a visit (we're anchored more than a 1/4 mile off the island, so that's a decent swim).
Two "firsts" for Namani: The first time Namani is below 20 degrees south lattitude and the first time we're anchored in a place where our chart only shows a solid reef. We're in a perfectly sheltered little nook inside the reef that surrounds Oua Island - the access to which is mentioned in an old sailing guide to Tonga's Ha'pai Group and which is clearly visible and easy to navigate once you're there.
After checking into Tonga's Ha'pai Group at Lifuka yesterday, we checked out again this morning and moved on (together with Victoria) to a little beach and reef fringed island called Luangahu (still in the Ha'pai Group). We tried the eastern side of the island first, hoping the reef would provide enough protection against a fresh E...NE wind but no luck there. So we moved around to the western side which has good holding in 10m and sand. Playtime on the beach for Hannes, Niklas and Nicky later in the afternoon.
After two very nice days in Hunga/Fafoa Island we set sail for Ha'ano Island in Tonga's Ha'pai group (the next set of islands to the south of Vava'u). We had a very relaxed sail over night, beam reaching in moderate wind and on on very moderate seas, and arived here just after sunrise. By the time we had tacked up to the anchorage we had enough light to pick a scenic anchor spot between the coral (with Victoria's help, who had sailed here a night earlier). Nice coral and snorkeling and some interesting big bats hanging in the trees on the island.
After two days of high-speed re-provisioning in Neiafu (incl. a nice dinner with lots of by now familiar crews) we sailed to Hunga today, where we are now on a mooring inside the lagoon. The mooring belongs to Elke and Werner, a German couple that had retired to this island after 22 years on their 40 ft steel sloop and an extensive track across the world's oceans. They now run the official "Transocean Stuetzpunkt" in Tonga. We had a very nice afternoon and evening at their house here.