The crew of Egret is at sea again, heading to refuel before preparing for the final leg to New Zealand

Position: S21 14.08 W175 30.20 (998.9nm to go) 

Scott (YT) and Mary Flanders (MS) left Gibraltar on 16 September 2006, and we’ll be following their journey every step of the way, thanks to this unique online “blog”. For a complete list of all the couple’s blog entries click here 

Monday 6 October
Well, mis amigos, we have been a bit lazy lately. Asides from the daily rounds of social get-togethers, such as lunches and dinners but all that is about to change.

With the season winding down we are all trying to fit as much in as we can in the last few days before moving on and preparing ourselves for the dash to New Zealand.

This year nearly 500 boats will be making the trek south. The annual drill is that everyone gets together in either southern Tonga or Fiji and becomes a weather guru. Boats psyche themselves up and leave in herds, making their way south. This is not an easy trip at times and every now and then boats get caught in a ‘bomb’ that shreds the fleet. We plan to leave with OMNI Bob’s blessing for North Minerva Reef, about 270nm south of Tonga which should give us a relatively easy entrance to the north where we can sit for a bit fishing and enjoying the area. Minerva is a coral atoll with no land mass in the middle of nowhere.

After our last post we went to visit the local school in the beautiful three-island setting whereNew PaigeandVisionwere anchored. We met the teacher and student. Yes, one student who was taking finals. If she passes she will go to school in the big town of Neiafu just up the creek a couple miles. We left fresh fish with the teacher and theNew Paigecrew donated school supplies. The island has 35 families with just 11 present during the week. When kids go away to school the families move with them to be close and return on the weekends. Family is everything here as we have found in much of the Pacific. What these people do, how they eat, where they stay is a mystery to me but somehow it seems to work out.

We returned to the main harbour for final provisioning and to pick up our cannibal forks, (one fork for eyeballs and one for brains), and to see people before they left. We checked out this morning for the Ha’apai Group (middle group) of Tongan islands. The check out fee was 37.50 Tongan or about $21. First we visited Immigration, then Customs, then the Port Captain who levied the charges. The whole deal was quite painless and efficient. With the upcoming good weather window and quite a few cruisers moving south at the same time we had to wait in a cruiser line. Along the way we said our goodbyes to the different shop owners and restaurant owners that we had befriended during our time here. It’s sad to leave but it’s also exciting to move on to another adventure.

The main island of the Ha’ apai Group, where we check in is Lifuka Island. From there we will explore a bit before heading south to Nuku’alofa, for some final provisions and to get some duty-free fuel for the dash south. After we leave Lifuka Island for Nuku’ alofa we don’t have a clue where we’ll go.

The other day I perused the Nordhavn website, looking at the Pennant Program list of participants. The Pennant Program is a deal where Nordhavn owners get pennants for different levels of mileage they’ve clocked up, coastal or ocean. There were 90 participants when I looked that had cumulatively travelled well over a million nautical miles. Can you imagine what these boats have seen?Egretis a very, very small part of what is going on in the cruising world. Checking other people’s destinations is looking into their dreams, whether it’s a low mileage or high mileage trip. Thinking about it has made me want to go cruising so at midnight tomorrow night we’ll leave for Ha’ apai (about 67nm).

We’ll leave the main harbour anchorage early tomorrow and anchor close to an easy exit to the ocean. Mary will prepare the boat for sea and I’ll use the air pump to thoroughly clean the bottom for the trip south. I’ll also change the zincs so we won’t have to haul for a while and stretch the bottom paint we put on in Puerto Montt, Chile.

Later in the day we left the harbour, yes it was raining, yes we got wet, no it wasn’t cold but we did return to our old faithful anchorage #8. This anchorage gives us easy exit to the ocean and crystal clear water for cleaning the bottom. After anchoring the sun came out and it was another beautiful day in paradise. It was also paradise for the 700 billion (sound familiar?) tiny seed barnacles on the bottom. I don’t know if these were planted in American Samoa’s polluted harbour or here in Neiafu’s polluted harbour. An hour and half in the chilly water using the air pump (and no wetsuit – I’m too lazy) I’d had enough but the bottom was much better, not perfect but better, although I did get the prop super clean. We’ll give it another go down the road. We also called Roger onNew Paigeand gave him the bad news.

Wednesday 8 October
At 11.15pm yesterday evening we pulled TK (anchor) and headed out through the islands to the open ocean and at 12.12am this morning we cleared the last headland leaving Vava’u. We headed offshore to an exaggerated turning mark, making sure we didn’t come close to anything harder than water. We have now turned to a 178-degree and are heading for our first waypoint off the island group to the south. Mary is down below getting a bit of rest before her watch at 3am. Because it will be daylight a little after 6.00am we’ll do three-hour shifts instead of our usual four. At daylight we all come to life and if it is as calm as it is now we might even put a couple of baits out and see if there are any snappers about.

A few hours later? Mary’s just caught a 20LB mahi mahi. She took her time and did a perfect head shot and I helped lift the fish over the cap rail. The only problem was the fish didn’t think it should be aboard and proceeded to smack everything in sight with her tail, including my legs. Finally we organised a towel, and Mary the chicken retreated behind a closed saloon door, while I filleted the ocean beauty. It will be a fish fry in Opua for sure.

Speaking of Opua, we totally rearranged our plans while at sea and have set a course for Nuka’ alofa, the capital and southernmost island group of Tonga to check in/out then take on duty-free fuel for the trek to New Zealand. We’ll land in Opua, Bay of Islands, North Island, although we have two problems. The first is that we’re finding it nearly impossible to keep up with our batteries if we want refrigeration and secondly, if we arrive on or before October 18 we’ll get a significant insurance reduction. OMNI Bob, Bob Jones ocmarnav@aol.com, 866 505-6664, the professional weather forecaster that has been withEgretsince Gibraltar said there seems to be a weather window opening fairly soon at 25 degrees south (we are at 21 degrees south). We’ll have a bit of an easterly fresh breeze for the first bit (240nm) but it should be better later on. Obviously Bob will watch this closely as departure time comes near. We’ll miss not going to the Ha’ apai Group of islands but never say never.

After changing course we were chugging along enjoying the diminishing seas when the right rigger went off. This time it was a 250lb blue marlin heading for Japan/Alaska or somewhere north. I grabbed the rod but it wasn’t to be. With large fish there are no individual efforts. It must be a team effort. Mary tried her best running the boat while I tried to keep the line on the spool but in the end the fish took so much line you could see gold beneath the last few yards of 80lb test line. Pop, and that was that. So away went the rod and now we are down to one rod until we can re-spool the second. This left just one bait out fishing. The left rigger went this time. Mary was on the rod and I headed for the flybridge.
Mary huffed and puffed and eventually brought the 165lb fish within reach – it was a striped marlin. While unhooking the fish I noticed a fishing tag stuck fairly recently into its back. I would have loved to have recovered the tag and sent it in but the fish needed to get back overboard so off it went.

It’s now getting dark so we have reduced speed to 1200rpm at around 5.3-4 knots so as not to arrive early for the course winding through coral patches to Nuka’ loafa. Mary is below trying to sleep after today’s excitement. She will come on watch at midnight. The seas are calm with a slight chop, it is cool, the radar is set at 6nm with no targets and all is well.

Thursday 9 October
The night was calm until dawn but we had to jog back and forth for a couple of hours before there was enough light to read the inshore water and leave the deeper offshore water. Today we checked into Nuka’ alofa and checked out at the same time. After running around getting duty-free fuel form from a second customs office, making our deal with the BP fuel depot down the street and getting a 3500 paanga advance on our debit card for fuel, taking a ride to immigration and a taxi back and then refuelling, we were ready for an ice cold beer.

There were no fees to check out and fuel was about $1.328 per litre. This is the most we have ever paid for fuel but it is still cheaper than New Zealand. You can only get duty-free prices in New Zealand when you leave. We are nearly full though so this fuel will last us for quite a bit of the coming year.

We are now under way with 1008nm to go to our entrance waypoint off the Bay of Islands, North Island. We may deviate 40nm from the rhumb line to North Minerva Reef, 270nm SW of Nuka’ alofa, if weather closes in between New Zealand and us. It took us a while to figure out our Bay of Islands waypoint location. We double-check everything when entering waypoints but the mileage didn’t add up. We re-checked everything but no change. To make a long story short, NZ is east longitude, not west like we have been using for the past few months, including Tonga. Currently we are running at 1625rpm making 7 to 7.4 knots, depending on current. The paravane arms are lowered and ready to go just in case. Since upgrading the Naiad stabilizers to the latest Multi Sea II electronic controls they haven’t missed a beat. In New Zealand we will replace the fin shaft seals.

It is hard to believe this is our last long run in a trip that started in Gibraltar in September 2006?or did it start in Marmaris, Turkey in April 2006…or did it start in May 2004 at the beginning of the NAR…or did it really start on August 6 2001 when we took delivery of our little white fibreglass ship? You get the picture. If all goes well this trip will take a week. After catching our breath we’ll write a mammoth post with details and our feeling about everything. Let us say this though; this is just one trip, albeit a long one. New Zealand isn’t our final destination by any means. We’re just getting started. Ciao.

Picture 1. Mary’s striped marlin.
Picture 2. Unhooking and releasing the marlin.