NEW ZEALAND TO TONGA 2014
This story by Amy Harrison is so good I just have to share it. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to contact Amy to get her permission. Amy if you read this, please let me know where you are and that you are OK….
Last month, another 2 glorious years of adventure in New Zealand came to a close...culminating into one of my greatest adventures yet! I arrived in New Zealand with the specific plan, as far as 'plans' go with me, to find work on a boat somewhere, learn to sail, and hitch my way out of there on a yacht. Don't you just love it when a plan comes together..?! Spent 5 increible months working on a dolphin watching charter which gave me just the experience I needed to quite literally, stick my thumb out and hitch a ride to the South Pacific on a Yacht...! Adventure ahoy!
My new Skipper, Wayne, and I left Opua, Bay of Islands, bound for Tonga on 26 May, 2014. Gently motored our way out of the harbor in the dark, escorted behind by a pod of dolphins, hauled the sails and out onto the open ocean we sailed for my 1st ever night at sea..! And there the calm ended..!
A large swell came up and despite our best stowage attempts, ended up chasing stray books and onions all over the place..! I held out 24 hours before stomach finally released its contents. And it continued to do so for well over a week. We tried every remedy in the book and when I finally found one that worked, it worked once and never again! Grrr..! The ongoing battle.. Seasickness is totally debilitating, zaps every last sniff of energy and is relentless while ever we were out there, beating, beating constantly rocking and a rolling into the waves...ah, the joy!
BUt! Never the less, despite the constant discomfort, I felt at home, like a reincarnate sailor wench, the delight of endless hours gazing out over such a vast expanse of ocean was like being strangely at home. And you know what, the ocean is purple out there, when theres 4000 meters of solid water below, its the most unique and exquisite shade of indigo! Being ill was my saviour, Wayne said had I not have so weak, he'd have thrown me over for a swim...freaky, deep sea business..!!
We soon gained a little entourage of guests under the boat. At night I watched the schools of fish glowing by the stern in the phospheresence! The huge, 2 meter Mahimahi fish have lights on them and look like a giant tv screen under the water, flashing and glowing away! The hours spent out there on night watch were some of my most peaceful ever, especially when the ocean clamed, the clouds cleared and I could sit there, slowly counting the shooting stars and they streaked across the oh! so gleaming Milky Way...wow...! One night, a pod of whales came to keep me company, I could hear their 'PFFFFFFFFF' as they came up to blow and their huge, dark masses glistening briefly in the moonlight..WOWWW!! Epic, glowing sunrises, contrasting beautifully with the dark and eerie squalls that criss crossed our passage.
By day, we'd be visited my the wandering sea birds, mother Karey's chickens, little fellows that gracefully pluck their food from the surface, petrels, using the 'interaction zone', the pressure created between their wings and the waves to glide..endlessley... And the Albertros! 3 identified species, they are HUGE! We saw the biggest of the ALL, a wandering albatross with up to a 3 meter wingspan, they are indeed an awesome sight to behold! And they'd all cruise by the yacht to totally check us out, we clearly being as much as a novelty for them as they were for us! The best little bird, though, was a tiny, migrating swallow. He circled us a few times, tried unsuccessfully to land in the rigging and so flew into the lazarette, sat straight on Wayne's shoulder and proceeded to to feast on whatever he could find in his ears..! Now, I know the little fellow was exhausted, being a week from and land, but to see an animal so utterly unafraid of humans bought a tear to my eyes! Thats how it should be. He ate his fill, flew below decks for a snooze then a few hours later, went off on his merry little way again..! Ahhhh..!
After a 24 hours of dead calm, just bobbing around with no wind, we decided, against our will, to fire up the engine. Oh, the delight of those diesel fumes to an upset stomach..! So, we were making way again at least, until about 3am when we suffered engine failure! Several hours on our knees in the in the bilges later, covered in diesel and yeah, we were screwed! Thank goodness for sails..! The discovery we were taking on water was not a particularly pleasant one, either. The wind steering monitor shredded itself, meaning a lot more time at the helm. In the high seas, I'd be using my entire body weight on the helm to keep us on course, some seriously big waves out there..! We'd do 2 hours on watch, 2 hours desperately trying to sleep and hold food down before we crawled back into out soaked wet weather gear for another delightful 2 hours..! Cold, hungry, exhausted..ill! Its an intense experience, such close confines and extreme conditions, all being shared with someone I'd just met. On the edge, on the edge of our seats....
The last 3 days iced our cakes. 35knot winds, gusting 40-45kts. 4 meter waves slamming us constantly. It was like being in a car crash every 30 seconds, then the eeriest snippet of silence as we fell down the side of the next wave in preparation for out next beating! Over the days, the creaking of the vessel became more and more, I honestly thought we were going to break apart..! The mast sounded like it was going to be ripped from its housing in the bottom the boat, indeed, one night the whisker pole fell down and we thought we'd been de-masted..EEAKKKK! Slowly, everything on-board took on the water that sloshed constantly in. Everything was drenched. Everything! Thank goodness we were now in the tropics and it was warm! We crossed the international date line, as we peeled the layers off as we headed north, we even peeled an entire day off, too..! We took a greeny! A huge wave that totally engulfs the boat. SMASHED awake by a waterfall flowing in, nearly upside down....crikey moses..!!!! The jerry cans washed off, the spray dodger got smashed to pieces..we got off very lightly..!
One great discovery came from falling off all these waves, though. Sit on the floor, lean backwards and for a brief second...weightlessness...! Yeah, the zero gravity game..! This is also just a second before my stomach leaped up to join my throat...so it had its downsides.. But hay, I could play it ALLLLLLL day...he hee ;)
Finally, after 14 days, at 1am and after an amazing final slog, we entered the harbor leading into the Vava'u group of islands, Tonga. The wind had other ideas and tried to force us out...NOOO! We crossed our fingers, our everything..and fired the engine..she worked..! I chanted a little mantra to that engine all the way in..'You are the best little engine in the WHOLE WORLD..!!' And she was! We made it into an anchorage where we hid out for a day from customs, repairing damage and ensuring the engine would get us into port without failing while all those multi-million dollar yachts were loitering about..
The anchor hitting the sand, the engine finally stopping and the calm silence of safety slipping into my psyche again...it was like every cell in my body could finally acknowledge every emotion I'd been unable to acknowledge for 14 long days...possibly every emotion I've ever experienced in my life, and then a whole bunch more..! The 1st scotch of the voyage, then onset of cellular meltdown...intensity, joy, relief. I've put myself through some crazy business these last years on the road, but NEVER one I couldn't get off of before..in for the long haul, like it or not, baby..! Whatever you want to feel or not feel, its locked away in a little box until the end. Its do or die out there and without a doubt, I feel I became extremely closing to it on a few occasions...wow. WOW!! This is an very dangerous piece of ocean, obviously the perfect choice for my 1st ever passage!
Despite it alI, I never missed land...until I saw it again..! Green has never looked SOOOO green, and thick, bushy, unspoiled tropical jungle is a sight to behold at the best of times...but...bahhhhhhh, little, tiny eye orgasms..! Then imagine! That joyous 1st leap from the boat in 2 weeks into warm, turquoise waters of the divine South Pacific! FREEDOM! After undoubtedly the 2 most intense weeks of my life, Tonga was the ONLY destination worthy of my release..! And to think, some people end up in Antarctica...!! And I thought I was crazy..!
So now, I'm deep in the realms of fresh papaya, abundant coconuts(filled with abundant duty free rum!), plantain, taro and those sweetest of sweet mini lady finger bananas!! More shades of turquoise water than is imaginable. Squawking fruit bats and piglets wandering the beaches, the pure white, immaculately clean white sand beaches..! Partying on-board luxury yachts…hard life, aint' it! YES! For 2 weeks, it was seriously hard. I can quite happily say..'I've earned this!!'
I sat in my 1st Kava circle a few nights ago. Kava is a widely drunk local jungle narcotic, like drinking dirty dish water. The coconut bowl is passed round and round as the local men play ukulele and guitar and sing in the most divine and exotic of island harmonies..! Totally transported to a floaty little high..! Felt like my stomach had been turned inside out and scraped though the next day so never again..!
The 1st humpback whales of the season were spotted a few days ago...yipee!! Calving season has begun!! So we're off on a 2 week holiday out into the islands, well deserved after our 'ordeal', me thinks! Some of the finest coral reefs in the world await me, manta rays, sharks, fish of a million different colors...bring it on!! The water is SOOOO clear, clean and calm out there, its like walking over a sheet of glass. But 1st, a trip to the Saturday markets, aka a weekly festival! Singing and dancing amidst a myriad of sights, sounds and divine smells..!!
Then, I'm going to jump ship, return to terra firma and slip well and truly into island time...yeahhhh....
I hope this email finds you all well, happy and choosing LIFE!!! Think of you all often over the miles.
And please, if I ever get any strange notion of crossing an ocean in a tin can again, please, the closest person have me instantly committed..!! BUT! Character building has never been so strong and let it never be said I'm going to do something...then keep dreaming about it as I sit down to watch the tv....