Fiji to Tonga – 18 20 South, 175 15 West

7:30pm. En route to the Lau Group of Islands, part of Fiji. We’re back at sea
again and sailing in company with our good friends on Juno, Makena, A Plus
and Exody. The wind is around 14 knots and we’ve just put in 2 reefs in the
main and  a hanky of headsail to slow us down. We’re aiming to time our
arrival in around 36 hours (first light in the morning) and 6 knots is all
we need to do.

As always our days have been packed and busy. Life seems to fly by at record
pace and it’s hard to believe that we’re at 175 degrees West. 5 more degrees
(300 Miles) and we are the International Date Line where we cross from West
to East and what feels like the journey back towards the UK.

If I recall the last blog was our eventful journey arriving in Nieu. Nieu is
probably one of the most understated places I’ve visited. It has strong
links to New Zealand which are very evident from the 1200 people who live on
the Island. It’s incredibly friendly and is another firm favourite of ours.

There is no marina there and no protected harbour. Just a series of mooring
buoys set on the protected side of the island from the prevailing winds. The
sea bed shelves deeply and the water in the mooring field is a deep inky
blue. Despite it being some 30 metres deep, you can see the bottom peering
over the side. The island is renowned for whale watching and in season you
can stand on the coast and watch the hump backed whales come in close to the
shore. It’s meant to have the clearest waters of anywhere in the world and
has a plethora of sea snakes. We didn’t dive but our friends did and
reported seeing huge numbers of them.

Getting ashore from Aretha is an interesting experience. There is a jetty
there with a small crane. You come alongside in your dinghy, swing the crane
arm out and lower down the huge hook. You attach it it a bridle you’ve
already made up in the dinghy and secure the hook to the bridle. Back on the
jetty you press the button to operate the crane and raise the dinghy out of
the water, swing the crane (and dinghy) over the jetty and onto a small
trailer. Pull the trailer along 20-30 metres or so, lift the dinghy off and
leave the crane and trailer ready for the next boat. It’s impressive to see
15 dinghies all stacked up alongside on the quay. No health and safety, no
instructions or detailed guidance on using the crane – just simple common
sense and it all works just fine.

We spent a good 4 days there – partially putting Aretha back together and
partially exploring. With our guide (the Yacht Club Commodores wife) we
visited caves packed with stalactites and stalagmites, swam in deep coves,
passed the prison (currently with zero inmates) and met a temporary
resident, an elephant bound for Auckland Zoo. Nieu is the immigration/
quarantine place for New Zealand, hence the elephant en route from Sri Lanka
being here for 6 months or so. We spent a good hour with her and her
extremely knowledgeable keeper who shared his expertise with the children
and us – a fascinating insight into how elephants communicate (vibrations
from the front of their forehead travelling 8-10kms) and his craft in
working with these amazing animals.

One evening saw us receive a full local welcome and feast with table piled
high with local food – suckling pig, fish, vegetables and much more,
together with local dancing – a lot of time and energy had clearly gone into
the preparations and we were made to feel extremely welcome. Another
afternoon saw us while away the time at the Washaway Cafe – you serve
yourself behind the bar and they run an honesty system – you just note down
what you had and pay for it all when you leave. All set in the most
beautiful isolated cove with spectacular views out across the Pacific.

It’s a place where we would have loved to have spent longer, but the
pressing needs of fixing Aretha were always at the back of my mind and
getting to Tonga to find the right people who could help us.

We spent time diagnosing our engine and generator problems and confirmed it
was dirty diesel. We created a workaround of sorts – running the engine
directly from a jerry can of diesel. The idea being that we sail all the way
to Tonga and motor the last part into the anchorage using the jerry can
diesel. That was the idea anyway. The tests we ran in Nieu all worked and
together having borrowed a portable generator from Garlix, we now had full
power in our batteries and were ready to go.

We timed our departure with Juno, Makena and A Plus to leave at 6pm in the
evening, then to sail through the night, all the next day and to arrive the
following morning in Neiafu in Tonga, Minimising our engine time to preserve
diesel we sailed off the buoy in Nieu – this requires hoisting the main and
letting it catch the breeze whilst dropping the mooring lines. We unfurled
the genoa and in no time were heading West in convoy as the sun set. It was
a lovely sight to see all the boats around us (most of the rest of the fleet
left at the same time) and to see the friendly island of Niue disappearing
behind us.

The sail was mixed – the first evening with good consistent breeze which
made the hand steering easier. We kept the auto pilot switched off to
preserve batteries and were fortunate to have Victor from the World ARC team
join us as well. He needed a lift to Tonga and for us the extra pair of
hands was certainly a help with our systems still not in working order. The
following morning saw the breeze soften off and we were barely making 4
knots. We headed South to pick up more wind and by the time we’d gone 10
miles South, the breeze had freshened to 20 knots – we were cantering along
by mid afternoon and in need of reducing sail.

The wind and squalls decided to join in too – the next 12 hours turned very
bouncy and wet and it was with relief when we started to head around the top
of Vava’U in Tonga and to converge with the other boats who we’d seperated
from over the past day.

6am saw us starting to tack in through the islands and for the next 3 hours
we short tacked all the way to the Race Line in 25 knots of wind. It was
classic racing only we were forced to due to wanting to minimise engine
time. As the sea room lessened between the Tonga Islands we dropped headsail
and started the engine. She started first time and was sounding great.
Fingers crossed. We pressed on making sure we were on the windward side of
the channel should we have any problems. Our friends of Makena and Juno were
ahead and astern of us in case we needed help.

After 5 minutes of the engine running, we heard the sound we didn’t want to
hear. The engine struggling for fuel and cutting out. Nuts. We still had the
main up and could have hoisted the genoa and sailed in. We decided though it
would be easier to raft up with Makena and in minutes she was along us and
in exactly the same way as we’d gone through the Panama Canal together, she
was towing us in alongside her. It was another 20 minutes before we were in
the anchorage and picking up a buoy and securing Aretha.

Another testing voyage and good to be safely in Tonga. Plenty more to write
about Tonga, our fabulous adventures there and the twists and turns of our
power systems,

That will have too wait – the sails need trimming and with my watch buddy
tonight (Bluebell) we have sailing to do.

Team Aretha sailing in the South Pacific, Out.

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