The last 20 miles of sailing into the anchorage off Pangai, Lifuka Island, were lovely. We'd expected to have to motor into wind for the last 3 hours but a helpful wind shift allowed us to make our intended track close-hauled as we sailed past tiny islands and the white water of submerged reefs. Our nervousness at the potential inaccuracies of our electronic chart were allayed when we did a radar check: we can overlay radar onto our chart screen so that radar images from solid objects show as pink splodges and these pink splodges were exactly aligned with the islands shown on the chart. Well done to Captain Fielding and his chaps aboard HMS Penguin back in 1898, and to those unsung heroes who've updated his cartography to align with GPS positions since.
At 13.30 local time, 8 days and one hour after we departed Opua, we anchored off Pangai. The 1,136 nm passage was completed at an average of just under 6 knots which was very pleasing, considering we'd had some slow sailing in the first couple of days and the decision to leave last Wednesday proved to be a good one. A goodly amount of credit for this goes to our weather router Bob McDavitt in Auckland – you can find out more about him and what he does on his website www.metbob.com He gave us (free) weather outlooks every 2-3 days in the week or so leading up to our departure and indicated that Wednesday might be good if we were happy to motor at the beginning. We then asked him for a detailed weather routing for the passage which came as a table of figures, confusing at first glance, which gave us our expected position (a 'waypoint') each day and the wind, waves and surface air pressure at that point; it gave us a best sailing course and our expected speed to navigate the fastest route through the weather systems.
Each day as we were sailing, we'd compare our arrival time at the daily waypoint with Bob's prediction (we were generally a few hours ahead, thanks to better than expected speed in the light-wind zone) and noted the actual weather conditions as we arrived and it was immensely reassuring to find they were very similar to the forecast. We sent a quick update email to Bob every couple of days and he would send a 'quickie' (free of charge) reply to 'carry on' or, towards the end, to alter course for a more direct route as a possibly troublesome weather system had safely passed to our south.
All in all a brilliant service which gave us the confidence to leave Opua when several people (who are probably now wishing they'd joined us as they are still there) were shaking their heads about the possibility of a nasty low pressure system; it cost us only about £40 which was money very well-spent. When we arrived, we sent a final email to Bob who replied, "Thanks for your report and well done on your long voyage , you have the privilege and bragging rights of being the first cruising boat of the new season that I've helped get to the tropics."
Our attempts to clear-in yesterday were thwarted by no answer from the Port Captain on vhf so we dinghed ashore to find his 'office' (a small room in a sort of public waiting room at the ferry quay) open and empty. The town is still a mess after the cyclone - though we suspect it looked almost as messy before. Industriousness and civic pride don't seem to feature strongly in the Tongan makeup so, as well as the buildings with no roofs, there's lots of general litter and untidiness. There is evidence of foreign aid – shiny yellow earth-movers in fenced compounds not doing anything. The locals seemed nonplussed at the arrival of, probably, the first foreign yacht of the season. Like the people we met in Vava'u last year, they are happy to chat if you make the effort to go and start the conversation but otherwise look as though they hadn't really noticed you! We'll look forward to trying to get to know them – probably easier on the smaller islands where the villages are just a few houses.
Hopefully we'll be able to complete the formalities ashore this morning so can legally explore ashore!