I read somewhere that luck on a boat is created by placing luck tokens in a black box. You cannot see how many tokens are in the box and you never know how many you use (the assumption is all of them). You place these tokens in there by doing preventative maintenance. Every time you fix something small that’s not quite ready to be done you add a token. It’s essential to add as many tokens as you can because you don’t know how many is in the box. When things go sideways out on the open ocean you make a withdrawal from that box, you never know how much you withdraw since you don’t know how much is in there. But that is where luck comes from. The little string I replaced caused the cotter pin to stick around, it was lucky since I could have lost it. We certainly made a few withdrawals! This is also the reason I went to fix the hatch, who knows what that might have prevented.
We continued on our way. The wind was such that we couldn’t sail East. We headed towards Minerva reef. This is fine as we know there’s a wind shift coming. It was around this point that we realized we’d reached the point of no return. A good friend of mine describes commitment with the following analogy. If you consider bacon and eggs. The chicken was involved in the breakfast, but the pig was committed. We realized that we were the pig in this scenario. We cannot turn back since we’d have to repeat everything we’d just come through, we have to carry on!
Bob sent us a message asking how things were going since he hadn’t heard from us. It was late at night and I replied immediately, he must not have gotten it till the next day. His reply the next morning was, “I was hoping you’d be further East, you’re close to Minerva, anchor there and leave in two days time. The wind is not in your favor!”
Bugger, Bob, we’re sixty three nautical miles North of Minerva already; that’s a long way to go back! That’s OK just heave to for the night and carry on in the morning then, he replied. Well heaving to is not an option right now, it would be more uncomfortable due to the confusion on the seas and the wind is not blowing enough to help out. We decided to push on but slow Taleisin down to a crawl. North is still progress towards our goal so we’ll wait for the shift.
We spent the next two days waiting for the shift. We didn’t realize that the sixteen knot current flowing East would actually prevent us from sailing east completely. The wind was blowing from the east and this caused two meter chop to form. We could sail North and South, but absolutely not East! We spent the next two days doing just that. It’s around this time that the reality of the mental challenge came home for me. Little things started getting to me. I was up on the bowsprit trying to take the jib down. I got dunked in the water when the bowsprit went under. I was wearing my foul weather gear and, of course, my boots filled with water. It’s not the first time this has happened. But I had been complaining about the fact that my foul weather gear is more akin to fair weather gear. I get completely soaked if the conditions get a bit rougher. They didn’t keep me dry and would stay wet for days. The issue was most likely related to the amount of salt that had soaked into them by now. If I sat in the cockpit when it was wet the water would quickly soak through.
It got to the point where I stripped down completely before donning my foul weather gear as I was going to get wet. This caused me to be wet and cold every time I had to go up in less than ideal conditions, which seemed constantly to me at this point. I had a minor meltdown. Annie growled at me to get my act together and get on with the task so I can get down below.
After three days of not making progress it seemed like we were going to be stuck in limbo for ever. Turning back was not an option and moving forward was impossible. Lets just say that our morale was a little bit low at this point. Annie started digging out some comfort food. While she was provisioning she would stash away little treats especially for me. I tend not to go for comfort food as much, but she must have known that there will come a point in time where I’d need it. She’d gone above and beyond and stashed quite a bit away. She brought it all out and laid out a Smörgåsbord of chocolate in front of me. She also pulled out a tin of BBQ Pringles. If there was no other reason to love her, this would be reason enough alone! It did wonders for my low morale! At the time we still had two hundred and sixty five nautical miles to go before we reached Vava’u.
Annie woke me up at midnight to change watch. We spent a bit of time discussing a change of plan to make landfall at Tongatapu instead. We both needed to ‘get somewhere’ desperately. I spent my shift planning a new route and it looked like we might be able to make landfall much sooner. Finally at 3:30 am the winds shifted. Annie changed course! We were elated that we managed to get a break. We were heading South East, but that didn’t matter we were heading East! Bob suggested that we keep that course and round Tongatapu on the Southern end and make landfall once the winds shift. We kept pushing through the night and thought that we might actually have a shot at making landfall in the near future.
The next day we lost the wind. We were drifting towards Tonga but we certainly weren’t sailing. As much as that might sound painful it was actually a nice change. We got to relax all day, the weather was nice and we managed to recover some much needed energy! Annie put a lot of wet stuff out to dry and we spent the day alternating sleeping and we’d consume junk food. We were about sixty nautical miles from our destination and there was nothing we could do but relax and wait for the wind. However, there was no way that we’d make it if we tried to round Tongatapu on the South end. We again changed our plan and changed course to go through the Northern shipping channel.
In the back of my mind I had the thought lingering that the easterlies would pick up again soon, so we’d have to make landfall relatively soon or risk being stuck just off the coast of Tonga for a few more days. Just before sunset we saw the first land since we left New Zealand. This was very exciting and it lifted our morale to a new high. All the bad memories we had quickly faded away. It felt like we’ve almost made it! By now the winds had picked up and we kept reefing in order to slow Taleisin down enough so that we will arrive at the channel entrance at day break. We had shifted our watch by an hour and started planning how we could each get a good rest before we made landfall. This went well for a little bit, then we lost the wind again completely. We continued to drift. From the forecasts we knew that we had till around mid day before the easterlies pick up again and we might get stuck again.
This was a problem! At 1 am when I woke Annie up I had already attached the Auto pilot and got everything ready to make an attempt at getting the outboard on. We had thirty four nautical miles left to go, the water was clam enough and we know from experience that this is do-able with our outboard. We managed to get the outboard attached without much drama. But the million dollar question was, will it start. We were fully prepared to make landfall under sail alone if we had to, but the thought of being stuck out on the water for another three days or possibly a week was a bit much to bear. I pulled the starter cord on the motor, puff puff puff. I pulled the choke out, the motor grunts and stops. I gave it another pull but with the throttle open a bit. It started! I let it run for a bit to get itself warmed up.
We put the motor in gear and opened the throttle just enough to push us just fast enough to allow us to reach the channel entrance at day break. We set the auto pilot on course and it seemed like we had a real chance at making landfall. I went down below to get two hours of sleep before I would swap with Annie. My next watch I spent sitting in the cockpit, my spirits high and I was watching Tonga slowly rise out of the ocean! I know we’re not there yet, but it sure felt like we had arrived! I decided that I’d let Annie sleep as long as I could and then we’d start the process of actively handling the boat to make our way in.
Annie awoke on her own and joined me up on deck. We both sat there in awe as more and more of Tonga appeared. We both kept saying that if feels like we’ve made it, but we didn’t want to celebrate prematurely! One and half hours later we decided to attempt to make contact with the port authority, customs etc. But it was Sunday. Tonga is closed on Sundays. We tried a few times and then decided to go anchor at nearby island Pangaimotu. We dropped our hook at midday. Ignoring the one hour timezone difference, that makes a midday to midday run. Twenty days at sea! We made it. Sure we haven’t checked in yet, but our anchor is down and we can now relax.
We now had cell phone reception and were able to active roaming on my phone. We proceeded to call our families. We had purposefully not told them what we were up to, as to spare them the worrying that they would have to do while we’re sailing. This in hindsight was a good choice as it took us much longer than expected. Sure we had a means of communication, but as it proved we lost our ability to charge our battery for a few days, which meant that we could have lost communication with them. This in turn would have just made them worry more. Taleisin is still the exact same unstoppable boat that Lin and Larry made. We might have added a few supplemental things here and there but we have only added to the available options. We’ve never reduced methods of achieving things. We could completely have made the journey without electricity. We could have completed the journey without the outboard.
We were quite relieved and surprised by the reactions we got from our families. Sure they had moments which nearly gave them heart attacks when we told them what we had just accomplished. But in the end they congratulated us and were proud of our achievement! We got a lot of questions about things that seem quite insignificant to us, we’ve been planning this for quite some time and had certainly done our homework before we set off. After answering a lot of questions they were finally satisfied and relieved that we had managed to do what we did. We explained to them that we endured three storms, so the trip back shouldn’t be more challenging as we’d be doing exactly the same things we had just done if things got worse. We are now capable of handling the boat in all conditions so they should be comfortable with the prospect of us returning to New Zealand.
It’s been a long and hard journey to get to this point. We have had many obstacles, but we’ve had many people encourage us along the way. Many people also thought us crazy, they might be right. Ultimately we told very few people when we actually left, just in case we had to turn back. We’re going to claim that we crossed the ocean engine free. Sure we used the outboard a little at the start and a bit more at the end. We didn’t have the luxury of using an engine when becalmed or to try and out run those storms! We couldn’t use the engine at all on the open ocean. Some of you might disagree with our claim, that’s fine. We’re extremely proud of our accomplishment regardless.
I’d like to finish by quoting Kaci Cronkhite in a comment on our post on Facebook: “You did it! In a boat built to do so… to take two dreamers, darers, lovers… to sea”. We had learned to sail on this little boat, it wasn’t easy and ultimately used her for what she was built. Taleisin has truly started her new life with a new crew, she sails the seas again!
We’d like to thank those we let in on our plans from the start for their support and encouragement, as well as keeping it quiet so that we wouldn’t cause our loved ones to worry for five years. Without your help and encouragement we might never have been able to make this journey!
Oh and for those wondering about the chicken soup… Well we intended to use it for burley around day 15 or so, but putting out a fishing line was a luxury that we couldn’t afford, so the fish got a free feed.
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