2007 Sea Tales
These are Jim's adventures that he did not get to tell while he was on the boat. They are in random order as he remembered them. Enjoy!
Flying to New Zealand
While in some of the remote islands of Tonga we had some mechanical problems that I thought best to correct before the last 1000 mile passage to New Zealand. By Sat phone e-mail I ordered parts and not having a clue who to send them to in Tonga, I sent them to a known address in New Zealand.
When we arrived in Nuku’alofa, capital of Tonga I spent a couple of days trying to get parcels forwarded to Tonga through channels that gave me a chance of receiving them in time to install prior to upcoming weather window and start of our passage to New Zealand.
It became apparent that if I really wanted parts I would have to go get them, sounds easy.
By that evening I was sitting at Tonga International airport with 300 Tongans flying home to New Zealand after a big funeral. It was a big party atmosphere with a couple thousand relatives seeing them off. That was where Toba found me, he wanted me to carry a package as part of my luggage so he didn’t have to pay freight. I could see me in a Tongan jail for smuggling or worse, so I said no. That did no good. Toba became my best friend, soon I met the whole family, He had two sisters on the same flight. I finally agreed, only if we got John, the security guard I had met earlier to inspect package. They agreed and he did, and I checked package. I guess someone retrieved it on other end.
I arrived in New Zealand about midnight, rented a right hand drive car and drove to motel and slept for 6 hour. 200km by right hand drive car, driving on the wrong side of the road would make another story. Actually made it to airline check in 30 minutes before flight.
Lady ask to see my return ticket, I said she was looking at it, she said no, return ticket from Tonga, I said I had just come from Tonga and was going back. She informed me anyone going to Tonga must have return ticket. I told again I had just come from Tonga and was going back to my boat and wife that was in Tonga waiting for me. She said that was fine, but I needed return ticket, I said I had a boat as transport and could I talk to supervisor. Supervisor called Tonga authorities and they said not to let me board plane without return ticket. Now let me explain that I had forgotten my blood pressure pills that day. As I got louder I noticed these Military type guards with real guns starting to multiply in the area. I also heard last call for boarding, so I got tough, I told the supervisor lady that if she would hold plane I would buy a return ticket, She personally got me a ticket and sent me with my own escort to make sure I made the plane. I don’t know if she was trying to be nice or just wanted me anywhere except there. Good flight.
My faithful taxi driver was waiting at Tonga airport and dropped me off at dock at 8:30PM, scheduled pickup by dingy 9 PM, perfect. At 10:00 PM I walked over to a Philippine Commercial fishing boat that had a little party going with their girl friends and ask to use VHF radio. Called “Special Blend”, Martha answered and said she and Mike had decided it was too rough, windy and rainy to take dingy 3 miles to pick me up, I think the edge in my voice convinced them that maybe it wasn’t as bad as they first thought.
I did sleep well that night. Total trip time 28 hours,
Wall Of A Thousand Sharks
While we were in Fakarava, Christy and Brad decided to Dive South Pass. South Pass, usually done on a incoming tide, was a drift/swim of about a ½ mile. Depth was supposed to be 60 feet and dive promoter said they would see a “wall of a thousand sharks”.
Travis and I decided to tag along as snorkelers, we had never seen a “wall of a thousand sharks”. Before the dive Christy counted up her “Polynesian Franks”, and decided to snorkel also. I think her dive Franks had been scooped up by the Black Pearl salesman.
The 2 hour ride to South Pass was uneventful, but lunch on an island with 6 palm trees and pink sand was worth the trip.
The dive was as advertised, I don’t think we saw a thousand sharks, but maybe a thousand sharks saw us? There were many small Reef sharks 3 to 5 ft.. I only saw from above and didn’t try to count. As we drifted along with the sharks I did wonder about Mama and Papa shark, so looked around to check out dive boat. They had gone on in and were waiting about ¼ mile away, that was comforting. We were able to follow the divers from above, and occasionally dive down for a closer look. It was the first time I have ever regretted not having a diving license. The coral was like a garden as far as one could see, acres and acres, like a rolling sea of color and forms. The depth varied from 30 to 60 ft and was more like 5 to 20 ft in the keys.
If you are in Fakarava, and would like to see a thousand sharks, don’t miss South Pass.
The night started off as all the good days and nights started, Special Blend and Priscilla and 5 other boats were in a small cove that protected us from the prevailing tradewinds. Tom and Susie had come over for dinner and as we were finishing up we heard thunder and saw lighting, so it was decided to hang it up early.
As Tom and Susie were leaving Tom takes the Painter (for land lubbers that’s the dingy rope) from my hand and dives in the dingy. Instead of waiting for them to crank and leave, I went inside to close windows and stuff. The Rains, wind and lightning came. About 15 minutes later I just happened to look out as Tom and Susie raced by, I thought they had been visiting next door, but later I learned they had drifted under the neighbors raised dingy. There they had huddled trying to start their motor.
By now we are swinging within 6 feet of our port neighbor, I started engine and noticed a boat being driven down on us off our bow. I turned spot on boat and captain was staring at me, also at the helm with engine in gear. Meanwhile the boat on our port side was also at helm with engine running. Susie from Priscilla called to tell us they had broken loose and she thought anchor chain was wrapped with prop. We couldn’t help because boat 30 feet in front of us was over our anchor chain and waves were too high for dingy. We helplessly watched Priscilla drift toward reef. The VHF radio came alive, a woman was begging for help, their boat was on the reef, and her husband was struggling to keep it afloat. Shortly thereafter Susie called and said their anchor had caught and Priscilla was safe for the present.
For the next 4 hours we all were at the helm looking at each other look at each other as the radio continued to report various troubles around Vavau’ anchorages. The lady on the grounded boat finally settled down and told everyone where they were and that they were stable, she also asked if Special Blend could come pull them off, of course we told her we would AFTER daylight. They were 6 or 8 miles and many reefs away from us. The next morning she called and said tide had come up and floated them off.
The next day I made mention of the storm to another friend who had been anchored about ½ mile away, he didn’t realize there had been a storm. We decided to change anchorages.
Fishing at equator X 110*W
I guess over a 1000 miles from nearest land address is classified as middle of nowhere.
Schools of flying fish took flight, by the acre. Not many birds, no floaties of any kind, not even grass patches. Not a lot of fishy signs other than acres of bait. On calm days one could stand on the bow watching the flying fish as one would watch waves breaking off the bow.
At night several birds would show up and spend the night catching bait flying out from bow. 1st chore every morning was washing bird processed fish off the bow.
The frustration was trying to catch a eatable fish, every time a line was put in the water a huge something would grab it, Marlin over 500 #, Sailfish at 150 to 200#, Tuna(?) that couldn’t be turned. I set a limit of 3 Billy Baits a day, after that I put rod up. Made one really wonder what fishing could be like on a boat pulling rigged baits in a spread?
Good thing Brad and Travis were meeting us in the Marquesas with a new supply of Billy Baits and 80# spectra line.
After 20 days of open ocean travel the excitement of “dry land” had been building on Special Blend for a couple of days. I had the morning watch as usual, and had been watching a return on the radar out at 36 miles since shortly after midnight. As the distance became less I reduced the range and saw that the mass ahead aligned perfectly with the map on the ray e machine. Three miles was my limit of approach, so I allowed special blend to idle along on the slick ocean swells as I waited for daylight. As time for sunrise came and went, I realized we were in a dense fog and still I couldn’t see land. Then came the toughest 30 minutes ever, staring out the window at nothing in the middle of nowhere. Gradually I became aware that darkness was in front of the boat, the darkness kind’a hovered over Special Blend”. A few more minutes pass and the darkness is revealed as an 8000 ft mountain that completely blocked the world to the West. Those few moments I selfishly savored alone, then I went below and awakened Martha and Holly
Going to pick up relatives
On New Potatoes I hitched a ride with Nico to go to the Volcano Island to pick up some relatives. They were going to a funeral on another Island and needed to catch the freighter that might show up in a few days. I went because it sounded better than spending another day at anchor waiting for weather to improve. I know that as you are reading this you think; “if it was too rough to leave in a Nordhavn why would you leave in an island boat?” The same thought occurred to me as we cleared the outer reef.
Nico’s boat was a 20 ft wooden skiff built about 20 years ago out of 3/8” plywood, 2x2’s, and nails. It had 20 inch sides and came with a 40 hp fairly new Yamaha, and two 1 gal bailing cans. The waves were 12 ft pacific rollers w/ some 6 to 8 ft fairly steep ones from another direction. The idea was to troll over and back, but I really lost interest in fishing early on.
The Volcano Island has about 40 inhabitants, about 10 loaded on another boat similar to Nico’s. We were loaded with 5 villagers, 6 stalks bananas, 6 bags yams, 5 baskets of tara root, some rooted plants, and two small pigs.
Nico is an excellent pilot, but we didn’t catch any fish.
We entered the harbor at Vavau, Tonga and with the help of friends we tied to a mooring buoy. Our friends went on to check in with the local authorities while Martha and I organized ourselves to do the same. We got the dink in the water, Martha handed me all our documents.
Note, documents are a big thing, included are visas, vessel documentation, crew list, proof of insurance, proof of medical evacuation ins, ships stores, and on and on, some of which are needed at some ports and others at another ports. Always you need exit papers from last port, properly stamped and signed. And everyone understands Visas.
I put the ziplock bag on the seat beside me. Off we went across harbor to harbormaster’s dock. (of course, wide open) As we arrived, our friends were leaving and we compared notes; what we had, with what they had needed. We were short something, so off we go back across harbor to the boat. Martha jumps off, gets doc and jumps back on. ¾ way back she asked about ziplock with all our docs??? I stop dink, check all pockets, under seats and under everything else. It was gone.
I stood up in dink and surveyed around, saw a glint about 50 yards away, drove over and picked up our life.
Pirates of Samoa
Everyone asks about pirates and I always say No, None, Nada, but there was one strange incident. It was after midnight on the approaches to American Samoa, we were maybe 10 miles off some smaller islands that are part of the group, but lie to the East. I had a large blip on radar off our starboard bow and Martha was asleep down below. The Course of the blip was close to us so a turned a few degrees to port. It seemed that my turns to port didn’t help. As the blip got within 10 miles I could see no lights, as it got closer still no lights. At about 2 miles I turned our search light down on our bow. Still no lights, still approaching at angle. We passed at about ½ mile, then boat turned on our stern and hit us with spot at about ¼ mile, I turned 90* port and started calling for Martha to get upstairs.
The spot went off, blip turned back to its original heading, so did we.
Lucky lucky lucky
Martha and I had left New Potatoes (something like that), Tonga and were making passage south toward Vavau. Seas were moderate; Martha wanted to take a nap, so I put trolling rods up. About an hour later I unfortunately spotted good birds, meaning big fish for sure, dead ahead. Couldn’t help it, had to put line out, and started to circle and bam line screaming. Quickly put boat on auto, engine in idle, picked up rod and headed to stern on starboard outside walk. The fish was smoking the reel, I kept increasing drag, to no avail, the line continued to disappear off reel. At about 400 yds the leader crimps gave way, another lure gone. I quickly reeled in the line and for some reason stepped into saloon with rod instead of taking outside walk way as usual. At that instant a huge wave hit special blend broadside, I thought we were over. Martha was thrown off the bed; as she scrambled up the stairs she could still see blue water out the starboard portal. I had landed on settee along with everything else on port side of boat. Somehow special blend came upright. Very quickly we got speed and direction corrected, then became very scared as we relived what had happened. Lucky special blend didn’t roll, lucky I was not standing on deck or on walkway, and how really lucky I was to get away with such a stupid bone-headed thing.
Everyone dives this really famous cave in Vava’u. Its location is known by everyone and it was pointed out to us by the whale watching boat. In passing we had also seen other people at the site. Tom and Susie from Priscilla and Martha and I had tried 2 times to go to the site, but both times weather closed in as we approached.
The site is a 100 ft Island cliff, at a point about 10 feet underwater there is a cave that goes into the rock wall. About 15 feet back in it comes up vertically into an above the water cave. Everyone does it, its part of seeing Tonga.
Mike, Laurie, Martha and I decided to go take a look. We found what we thought was the site, we could see a “hole” in the wall under the water. I was elected to go check it out. So I put on mask and fins and while everyone sit in the dingy I swim into the hole. At first 3 or 4 feet, then back out, then down and in 6 or 8 feet, still couldn’t see anything. The 3rd time 10 or 12 feet in, the passage got narrower and I had to back up; I realized this wasn’t the cave that “everyone” dived. I also wondered what else might live it that cave??
I don’t think cave diving is for everyone.