Friday, July 12, 2013

Tonga to Fiji: Day One

Another multi-day passage - lots of time to think. One thing I have been mulling over on my first night watch  is the paradox of cruising under sail in a relatively small boat like ours. In one sense we are enjoying more freedom and independence than almost anyone else on the planet. We can go where we want, when we want. The nightly roll call on the Pacific Seafarers' Net (a ham radio network of volunteers on shore who keep track of sailors' locations and let the authorities know if someone comes up missing) proves this point. At any given time (except during cyclone season) there are boats heading north, south, east, west, and all directions in between. There are far more destinations than there are boats.

While far out to sea we are for all practical purposes beyond the reach of all governments and laws. Our passports are stamped with an exit permit from our last port of call, and we are men and women without a country - at least for awhile.

The paradox is that while independent, we are in another sense quite powerless. Even with satellite sensors and sophisticated computer algorithms, we are still completely at the mercy of the weather. At home, we can shelter from the wind and rain in our buildings and cars. We can turn the thermostat up and down. In a small boat like ours, we have to take it pretty much as it comes.

We left Tonga with the latest forecast showing 10-15 knots of wind, perfect for a boat like ours (most cruisers prefer more wind). What we got was half that. We could still sail, but not very quickly. We are trying to time this passage so that we arrive at the eastern boundary of Fiji, an area liberally strewn with reefs and shoals and other dangers, during daylight hours. Also, the winds are predicted to strengthen to 30 knots later in the week, and we would prefer not to be out here when that happens. Consequently, we have been motorsailing for the past 18 hours. Too much wind, or too little wind, is what we usually get, or so it seems.

Another aspect of helplessness is the restriction on our movement. A couple of days into a long passage you realize that there is no way to change the channel on this program - you can't get off the boat. The happiest sailors are those who are good at sitting down for long periods, or who can make do with stretchy bands or sit-ups for exercise. Those of us like me and my wife really yearn for a nice long walk, to really stretch our legs. We feel confined aboard a boat during long passages. A 70-year-old woman just completed a nonstop solo circumnavigation, a journey which lasted several months. I can't imagine being confined to my boat for that long. Yet there are those who love it, whose favorite part is the long passages. Good on 'em!

We left Vava'u in company with Barb and Sieg on Sorceress. It's nice to have a "buddy boat" for a change.

(Here's a photo they took of us, that I edited into the post afterwards) This first day at sea, the winds were lighter than predicted, and we ended up motoring through the afternoon and overnight. We need to time our passage so that we arrive at the eastern boundary of Fijian waters in daylight.

Al through the night, we can see Sorceress's masthead running light behind us, about a mile back.

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