Passage to Tonga: Pyramids

After a warm and comfortable Saturday, early Sunday morning brought low grey skies and no wind. We had motored throughout the windless night with two reefs in the main to help minimize roll. Usually, my first task of the dawn watch is to download new weather forecasts and GRIB files. Often the SSB radio frequencies work much better after sunset or before dawn. On Sunday morning the low grey skies turned into thunder and lightening squalls all around, with heavy rains washing down. The lightening seemed to be all cloud-to-cloud. I saw no strikes to the water, just broad flashes in the clouds, so there was little threat to the boat. But with all that activity I was unable to get the morning weather report, even when drifting with the engine off. [Engine electrical systems can create a lot of ‘noise’ in the radio.]

By afternoon the wind had picked up from the SE. We sailed briskly along under reefed main and yankee jib. In the late afternoon a short and steep swell rolled in from the NE – the direction we were going – and joined the circus. So we had wind waves from the SE kicking up and crossing the NE swell. Pyramids of water were created at the crossing of the NE swell and building SE wind waves. Velic was sailing downwind into a chaotic head sea. Rolling and pitching, with sails and rigging banging about. Not Sweet. The boat would roll deeply one way on the approaching side of a pyramid, then roll deeply the other way on the back side as the pyramid passed under. It was mildly uncomfortable.

By morning conditions had moderated, then returned to calm. I got a weather report that gave some explanation to the chaos the day before, and the relative quiet today. A nice SW wind filled in this afternoon. After motoring again for some hours today we set sail on a broad reach, wind on the Port quarter, aimed directly at Tongatapu. Finally, a lovely evening and sunset. We could actually sit in the cockpit and enjoy the quiet, rhythmic “whoosh” of a fine sail for the first time on this passage. The yankee jib is back up, and poled out to leeward, with a reefed main. This is my favorite down wind sail configuration – fast, stable, quiet, and resilient to squalls – for quick to set, short term sailing. Short term being less than three days. Ironically, after 12 days on passage, we need to slow the boat down so as to approach Tongatapu in the morning light after dawn, not in the dark of night. It’s a different sort of travel planning.

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