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Crewing aboard Raven to New Zealand

Written by Cathy Siegismund
November 2002

During the winter, our friends Jan and Signe aboard Raven had asked us to help them sail Raven from Tonga to New Zealand. Not being a big fan of passages, I normally would not have signed up for a superfluous passage, but it was going to be a fast one on Raven, a Sundeer 64, and with four people the watch schedule was not going to be difficult.

We flew to Tonga, and were met by Jan at the wharf in Nuku'alofa. Raven was anchored just off the town. We were welcomed by Jan and Signe and a cocktail party aboard Raven. A number of this years puddle jumpers who were in Nuku'alofa attended. It was pretty funny, as they all knew us from "our guide" the First-Timer's Guide to the Coconut Milk Run we wrote and posted on our Web site.

We arrived on a Saturday and the following Monday was a Tongan holiday; so we had at least two days before we could check out and head for New Zealand if the weather looked good. The following day Jan and Signe had arranged for an island tour. Jan and Signe, John and Ariana on By Chance, and Ken and I were met at the wharf in the morning by a Tongan fellow in his van for our half-day tour.

. The tour included some interesting historic sites on the island. Our first stop was at a plaque indicating where Captain Cook first made landfall on the island.

Ken and Jan at the site where Captain Cook made landfall in Nuku'alofa


Tongan burial site several hundred years old

Our next stop was at sort of Tongan Stonehenge. It was built in the 13th century, and each stone weighs approximately 40 tons. There are a number of theories about its purpose, from indicating the summer solstice to an entrance to the royal compound.

Ken and I at the Ha'amonga'a Maui Trilithon

After a few more stops, we were about halfway around the island, and ready for lunch. Our driver took us to a beautiful rocky stretch of coast were we enjoyed the blowholes and ate our picnic lunch.

Jan and Signe



Mapu'a 'a Vaca blowholes

As we continued our drive around the island we saw the fishing pigs of Talafo'ou. This is quite a site, the local pigs have learned to search out shellfish at low tide.

Fishing pigs

Another interesting local creature is the flying fox. We pulled off to the side of the road, and in the yards of two houses we saw hundreds of the nocturnal fruit bats hanging upside down from the trees. The bats are sacred (tapu) in Tonga, and one of the few places in the Pacific where they are not eaten, except by royals who can hunt them for sport.

Flying foxes hanging from the trees

Our last stop was at the Tongan royal palace in Nuku'alofa. The Royal Palace on the waterfront is arguably the most impressive building in town. The white Victorian timber building was prefabricated in New Zealand in 1867. The palace is closed to visitors, but we did peer through the gates.


Ken at the palace gates and the Tongan Royal Palace

We returned to Raven and motored over to a motu a short way from the main harbor. There the water was clean for running the water maker and little more peaceful for doing last minute boat projects. We where surprised to see Marc and Teri from Tauranga anchored at the motu. We went ashore to the small beach bar for a sundowner, met some new cruisers, and caught up with old friends.

Sundowner with friends at the beach bar

While we were at the bar, we watched a group of Tongans pile a tiny boat to head back to town.  The boat looked like it would be swamped at any moment. We were sure the US Coast guard would have had an issue with this behavior, but none of the Tongans gave it a second glance.


Group of Tongans heading back to town after a day of swimming and playing at the nearby motu

We had a quiet dinner aboard Raven with Jan and Signe, followed by a game of Mexican Train, which we hadn't played in a while. The next day we set out do some last minute boat projects aboard Raven, and passage prep.

Ken volunteered to go up the mast to inspect the rig and look for chafe

Cath mending some torn canvas

We had the blessing from the weather routers to make a dash for New Zealand. They had actually said we should leave Monday, but with it being a Tongan holiday, we couldn't check out of the country until Tuesday. We were advised, that as long we went fast we should be able to make New Zealand before being pasted by a low. This was allowing for a 5-day passage and no stop at Minerva Reef. This isn't something we would not have considered on Felicity, but with possibility of 200-mile days on Raven (versus our 120-mile days) we were going to go for it. The following morning, we had a game plan to run final errands, check out, and be underway by midday. We got up early, and motored back to the town anchorage. Jan stayed aboard for radio nets, weather info, and finished last minute projects. Ken went to check out, and Signe and I did last minute shopping.

Singe at the market

Everything went to plan, not a given when cruising, and we were underway by midday. We motored out through the reef, and once clear had a great afternoon sail on a beam reach.

Cath sheeting in Ravens enormous mainsail

Much like our passage the previous year, before long the wind died and we were motoring. To make our 200-mile days we had to stay above eight knots. This of course cracked Ken and I up, that anything below eight knots was too slow! Ken and were enjoying the extra 30+ feet of waterline and of course the extremely cushy watch schedule. Jan, Ken, and I were on three-on and six-off. Signe did all the cooking and cleaning and took the 1200 to 1500 watch. This meant that every three days, each of us had 15 hours off! We didn't know what to do with all the time. I ended up reading 4 books 5 days. I thought this was a terrific deal, since when it's just Ken and me we are three-on three-off and I do all the cooking and cleaning!

Cath on a night watch in the pilot house

Another feature of Raven we learned to love was the pilot house. We agreed that the "next boat" will definitely have of those.

We motored several days, and found ways to amuse ourselves. Ken had another unique birthday. Last year, he celebrated at Minerva Reef, and this year we were about halfway between Tonga and New Zealand. Singe and I had decorated the pilot house and Signe baked an outstanding carrot cake.


Ken with his birthday haul in the decorated pilot house

Preparing to cut the delicious carrot cake

One night there was hardly a breath of wind, so during an evening of motoring, Jan pulled the big LCD monitor into the pilot house and we watched  DVD movies and ate popcorn - that's passagemaking!  Before you think we're completely irresponsible, we were still checking the horizon and watching the radar.

Movie night on Raven

Passages often are filled with tedium, but compared to the alternative most cruisers are happy to accept this. We do however, usually find ways to amuse ourselves. One is the ongoing mystery of the flying squid. Since our passage on the Baja Ha Ha, we've been trying to figure out how 2-4 inch squid launch themselves high onto boats to dry in the sun in hidden crevices to become smelly squid-jerky.  We spotted another suicidal squid that somehow managed to propel itself at least six feet in the air to be stuck onto Raven's reefed mainsail.

The great flying squid

Another source of amusement is hiding little items around the boat for fellow crew members on the passage. We told Jan and Signe that you know you are nearing New Zealand when you start sighting kiwi's and you're getting really close when you start seeing sheep. We had brought about 20 little clip on kiwis and sheep which we would strategically place around Raven each night.

Nearing New Zealand, we had a flock of sheep show up one night

Mother nature also always seems to treat you to at least a few breathtaking scenes on each passage.

Beautiful sunset at sea

The last couple of days of the passage the wind filled in and the temperature began to drop. We continued our dash to New Zealand keeping Raven above eight knots and had some great sailing where we saw consistent ten knot speeds.

Jan bundled up at the navigation station

The passage on Raven ended up being a shortened version of the one Ken and I had done on Felicity almost exactly one year before. We left New Zealand in good wind, motored for a while in flat calm seas, had some more wind and fronts towards the end of the trip, and motored into Opua, New Zealand at 0200 in calm winds and starry skies. Of course our passage on Felicity included a stop at Minerva Reef, and took 11 days instead of five. We were also thankful, that we managed to avoid the last two days of beating on Raven that we'd had the previous year. However, it seems consistent that on the passage from the tropics to New Zealand you get a little bit of every sort of weather.


Raven tied safely to the quarantine pier in Opua and a very happy Jan and Signe

Signe, who was the reluctant first mate for this passage, was really happy to have made it to New Zealand.

Signe kissing the quarantine pier

You'd think after arriving you'd be so tired you'd collapse into your bunk. However, there's always an adrenaline rush when arriving after a longer passage. We were all a bit wired, so Signe made us omelets and fruit salad - this of course also used up items quarantine would take from us. We took hot showers, and then did have a great uninterrupted night's sleep.

First morning in Opua awaiting the customs and quarantine officials

New Zealand Customs official, checking us into the country in Raven's salon.

As soon as we were cleared into New Zealand and moved Raven from the quarantine pier out to the anchorage, we were all busting to get to shore. We put clean clothes on and headed for lunch, ice cream, and to see who else had recently arrived in Opua.

Cath preparing for a wet dinghy ride to shore with a stunning plastic trash bag pareo

We had a nice lunch, I got a latte fix, we feasted on wonderful New Zealand ice cream and hit some of Opua's tourist shops. We also were delighted to see Paul and Suzette from Altair, whom we had not seen since last fall in New Zealand, had arrived a few days earlier. We also saw Bob and Leslie from North Road, some Canadian cruisers we had met and not seen since Mexico.

Despite only a few hours of sleep the night before,  we ended up killing a fair number of beers and bottles of wine and catching up and telling stories into the night on North Road.

Bob from North Road

Ken and Paul from Altair

Jan and Signe had decided to spend a few days in Opua with friends and then day-hop down to Auckland. Having done that the year before, we decided to rent a car and drive back to Auckland the following day.

 Not being a lover of passages, the one on Raven was about as good as they get, especially crossing a stretch of water with an ominous reputation. The extra people aboard made the watch schedules easy, and it was interesting for us to make a passage on a large boat with different systems from our own. We don't have any plans to trade Felicity in yet, but sailing on other cruising boats does add to our experience and when we are ready for the "next boat" we'll probably add a few of Raven's features to the wish list.

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