Through the clouds

We set off in a light breeze, sailing and motorsailing as we wove our way through Tongatapu’s reefs and through a western pass. We paralleled the coast to the open ocean, watching the waves break gently on the outer reef, and then feeling the swell of the ocean once beyond the protection of the archipelago. After turning to the SSW, the rhumb line to Opua, New Zealand, the wind soon died, and we motored our way through blue skies and gathering clouds. Devoid of any breeze, the ocean became an undulating mirror, the blue and gray of the sky reflecting like oil on water. We motored steadily towards grey cumulous clouds on the horizon, standing tall, uniform, and unmoving. An eerie stillness, hot and humid, permeated the air as we approached this wall. Fleeting cat’s paws flitted across the surface of the sea, vanishing as the whisps of westerly breeze evaporated in the intense calm. The clouds loomed higher until we reached a line in the sea where the flat calm on our side gave way to a sea ruffled by a 10 knot SE breeze. Through the clouds we travelled and into sailing winds, hours earlier than forecasted. We hoisted the sails and bounded forward at 6 knots and then 7 as the breeze freshened. Reluctantly we put a reef in the main for the night, slowing our speed to 6.5 knots and then down to 5 when the winds dipped to a mere 7 knots.
During my 0330 to 0730 watch I played the sheets for four hours to eek out every bit of speed in the light and variable winds, also scanning the horizon for Ata Island, a volcanic rock jutting 300 feet out of the sea. At first light Mark rose and shook out the reef, and our speed climbed again. The wind has now freshened and we’re sailing closehauled, in a 1.5 meter sea and a 10-12 knot breeze, making 6 knots for Opua. Ata Island recedes majestically in our wake, the sheer cliffs reminiscent of the Marquesan Islands. Anthea is in her element and all is well aboard.
11/21 0900
Lat 22 degrees 39.5 minutes S; 176 degrees 28.5 minutes W

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