After a busy winter preparing clients for the spring, I was able to take an early spring break before calving and lambing begins.
An opportunity came up to help a family friend return his charter/research yacht to New Zealand from the Kingdom of Tonga. This gave an opportunity to get a brief insite to some of the agricultural practices common to the pacific islands.
Most of the land on Tongatapu had been cultivated in some way for agricultural production, which contrasted to Vava’u, my final destination, which had very limited agricultural development. There was still some apparent damage to horticultural areas from the last cyclone (hurricane) season.
Surprisingly it appeared that most of the food on Vava’u was imported, with limited supplies of fresh foods, primarily fruits, available at the market each day. It took us four days to get enough eggs for the voyage to New Zealand, despite chickens being almost everywhere. Most of the local supermarkets appeared to be under ownership of foreigners, particularly Chinese, and most of the canned items came from China. A freighter/ferry came every two days loaded with goods for the local population of 8,000. Talking with staff and owners of local restaurants, most fresh ingredients were imported, much from New Zealand. Really good meals from those restaurants too!
The trip back was quite eventful, with a passage that normally took this vessel 8-9 days on average on the 13 previous trips back to New Zealand taking 20 days. Whether this is a sign of the changing climate or not, but the normally clockwork regular South East trade winds failed to manifest, despite the forecast. Being a purpose built vessel many of the faculties that you get used to in life were of a more basic form compared to a modern cruising yacht i.e. limited entertainment, unable to charge phone (eek!). With only four of us on board fatigue from a lack of sleep became an issue, with constant interruption from slumber to make sail changes or other alterations making 2-3 hours a day normal.
An unseasonable depression formed which led us to seek shelter at North Minerva Reef. There we were accompanied by Humpback whales migrating north to Tonga for calving. We could hear their singing through the hull of the boat at night (despite us all at first thinking it was one of the other crew snoring). It was magnificent to be able to be so close these beautiful animals, at one stage as we left the reef through the narrow channel a pair were just a few metres from us. In the crystal clear waters we watched these seemingly slow animals turn under the boat and swoop away like a pair of fighter jets. Just amazing!
Upon leaving again the forecast weather failed to give a good wind direction and we followed the Tropic of Capricorn to almost within site of New Caledonia before being able to progress slowly south towards the North Cape of New Zealand. Accompanying us was an awkward and increasing cross swell which was up to 4 metres at one stage. The approaching landfall was heralded by the arrival of dolphin, albatross and sandflies! (these are small mosquito like insects for those luckily unfamiliar with them) We just managed to make it into the lee of the New Zealand coast before the next typical south westerly front and strong wind arrived. This gave us 25 knots on the beam and a rapid ride home to Opua in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Had we caught this weather change further out to sea it would have driven us back away from New Zealand for another week.
This was a testing adventure for me, having only sailed coastal and never offshore before, and to also be out of contact from family for so long. It is amazing even to me as someone who grew up before the internet or readily available mobile technologies on how much we rely on them to keep in contact with those that are dear to us or just with the world in general. Thanks to Klaus for having me on board – voyage of a lifetime (so far!)
Expected distance to be covered was about 1200 Nm – final actual distance not know but over 2200 NM. Ships/yachts seen in transit – 5 (2 container, 1 Squid fishing, 1 trawler, 1 yacht – South African flagged, heading to Fiji)
Days required to catch up on sleep and feel normal again – 7.
Animals seen – Turtle, Stingray, Squid, Black Tip Reef shark, Humpback whale, Orca, other unidentified whale, Flying fish, Common Dolphin, Albatross, Gannet, Tern and Sandfly.
I look forward to catching up with clients and meeting new friends in the world of regenerative agriculture and organic farming this season. Nice to be back on Terra Firma!