Passage to Tonga: Magnetic Rock

Well, that was fast. The storm trysail went up at noon on Sunday. By the next morning conditions had improved enough to set working sail: Trysail down. Yankee jib up. Mainsail up with a reef tucked in. Staysail still flying. And, it was still Sunday to boot. Having crossed 180° Longitude, the International Date Line, we gained a day and had Sunday twice. We’re still going to count it as the fourth day of the passage, however. By 10:30 that morning the wind had freshened, so the second, deep reef, was tucked into the main sail. There is often a dawn lull in the wind, even when it’s blowing Force 5 (17-21 knots).

Aside: We don’t have an anemometer, so I estimate the wind speed from experience and the appearance of the sea state according to the Beaufort Force scale. Our reports on the position/condition radio net are a bit less precise, but it’s not hard to know when to reef.

The passage strategy is to sail NE from New Zealand to a point south of Tonga and then turn north, a large arcing curve with a kink at the turn in the middle. The idea is to sail NE on the SW winds of the passing low, then catch the SE trade winds up to Tonga. The route takes us south of the Kermadec Islands, a chain of small isolated rocky islets in a line south of Tonga. Geologically, these are on the same undersea ridge as Tonga – like tips of benthic mountains in a long volcanic range. In fact, the chart shows dots of ‘volcanic activity reported year X’ in various watery spots flanking the chain. The last of the visible islands, most south east, is L’Esperance Rock. This has become our magnetic rock. Instead of a nice line NE from New Zealand towards our turn north to Tonga, our track shows a series of scallops. These start out sailing in a direction just north of east, then slowly arc to the north, aiming right at L’Esperance. Then we change sail configuration or sail trim, or get lucky and the wind shifts, and start again. Today after a series of scallops, however, we passed by Exasperation Rock. Whew. We were beginning to wonder whether Velic was being irresistibly drawn to this rock. We’re sailing close hauled (as close into the wind as possible) on a starboard tack in a Moderate Breeze, Force 4. from the east. But now with the magnetic rock to the west, behind us, we are aiming at the next goal: The turn north to Tonga and the tropics.

Footnote: Just as this entry was finished, the wind piped up. The staysail came down, leaving the Yankee and deep reefed main. A good, stable combination for upwind sailing overnight.

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