It was a pleasant surprise that Cui (Trey) Zhipeng, re-joined as crew on Galaxy III in Tahiti, so I delayed my departure for Fiji by a week for his arrival, thinking I would also be able to surf every day as well as finish some jobs on the boat; e.g. importing from NZ & installing a GPS receiver.
It’s about 20min in the dinghy from Marina Taina to a lefthander at Taapuna Pass – as one local described it, like a little Teahupoo. I enjoyed a few good waves on Monday & thought I’d be in good form by the weekend. Tuesday the dinghy motor overheated & I returned to the marina sans surf & with another job to fix the water pump. I was ready to give the 14-year-old motor away then & there, to someone needing spares or mechanically minded, though decided I would hang on to it, for now.
Then I stabbed myself in the foot – I was in the middle of changing the engine oil on Galaxy when a knife fell off the table and speared into my bare foot – there was blood & oil everywhere. I used a paper towel for the blood & finished the oil change before cleaning myself up to go to a clinic for some stitches and antibiotics – the doctor took a long look at the cut, asked me to wriggle my toes and decided the tendons were OK. A dodgy dinghy motor & a sore foot was enough to keep me out of the surf– soft I know, though I wasn’t about to tempt a foot infection in the middle of an ocean passage.
We cast off for Fiji (circa 2,000 nm) on the 4th June. The forecast average wind speed is 15kts and with a South Sub-Tropical Current to help us along, conditions are ideal and I expect we’ll be there in 2 weeks. Except, as we discovered, averages can be deceiving.
While Galaxy is well south of the equator (18°S) in the trade wind belt, we are also in the midst of the South Pacific Convergence Zone and encounter long periods with winds 0 – 5 kts. At one point we are going backwards at 1kt in a counter current and averaged 2.8kts for the day.
The annoying monotony of sails flogging in light air was broken when a French jet flew very low overhead, circled back for another low pass & a radio check. So much more panache than the propeller planes Australian Border Force uses! Trey found it difficult to believe that a job like that for a pilot exists.
Morale on a passage tends to rise and fall with the wind and as we motor sailed in a calm spell, I dared to wonder what could possibly go wrong on this passage. Not long after, I noticed water spinning off the propeller shaft – the engine needed to be realigned after the new gearbox was installed in Panama, which it wasn’t, so the seal inevitably wore & started leaking. Bugger! To avoid the risk of catastrophic failure of the shaft seal & possibly sinking Galaxy, I stopped motor sailing and limited the use of the engine as a generator to keep the batteries charged.
By now, I had a case of gethomeitis and spent the next few days vacillating between continuing to Fiji or making a beeline for Sydney, to wrap up the circumnavigation & have Galaxy hauled out for the repair. The fuel remaining was barely enough and turning for Sydney would mean most likely encountering SW winter gales – I recall the gale force winds and 8m waves between Lord Howe Island & Sydney two years ago (Careful what you wish for) – and on reflection, probably not a great way to finish the last leg.
The latest breakdown begs the question; Is Galaxy III a lemon & too old? Or is my experience similar to what every boat owner can expect? I could fill a blog with stories from people I have met along the way, and I might yet, of breakages, breakdowns and misadventures, a.k.a. “challenges.” What has surprised me is that new boats as well big expensive boats with professional crew, seem to have similar challenges as older boats. I must confess to enjoying the stories about the misadventures of other boats & I suspect other yachties do as well – all helps the camaraderie. There is no English word for enjoying someone else’s misfortune and in German it is; Schadenfreude.[i]
After 12 days & 1,475nm, Galaxy made an unplanned stop for victuals at Nuku alofa, the capital of the Kingdom of Tonga. Normally, when arriving at a port for the first time, you would choose to do it daylight, with the sun at our backs, so we can see our way between the reef passes and any coral bombies. Galaxy III arrived at night and so we made our way for several hours through the reef passes under sail, with a pilot map & electronic navigation – many of the navigation lights on the chart were missing, presumably after being damaged by the recent cyclones that have hit Tonga.
Fortunately, the electronic charts are accurate in Tonga. Once safely anchored about a mile from the harbour, near Pangaimotu Island & Big Mamas Yacht Club & Bar, Trey & I unwound with a few well-earned red wines.
Tonga a.k.a. The Friendly Islands, is spread over 700,000 square kilometres with 169 islands, 36 of which are inhabited. 70% of the of the population of circa 100,000 live on the main island of Tongatapu.[ii] Clearing in was also a friendly process with the officials coming to the boat at the small boat clearing wharf.
John, the taxi driver & a keen fisherman, who helped with fuel, gas, water and provisions became the beneficiary of the dinghy motor.
I also had some fishing & snorkelling gear to give away which the Tonga Youth Employment & Entrepreneurship group were happy to receive. [iii]
After more back & forth with emails and phone calls, I complete my vacillations and decide on Fiji. Before weighing anchor on 20th June, I install yet another set of navigation lights on the pulpit. (I’m getting good at the wiring by now; this time a wave cracked the lens to let the water in.) To avoid clearing in over the weekend, we reduced sail and boat speed to 4-5kts, so we arrived at sunset after 4 days sailing, on Sunday 24th June.
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