Trip Reports

Saturday Night at the Races (30-Jun-2001-20-15):
8:15 PM local time Saturday June 30th. (0715 June 30th UTC) 18 39 S 173 59 W. On a mooring at Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga. Temp. 78, Humidity 67%, cloud cover 80%. We left wonderful little Niue about 0200 Monday morning. After studying the fax we expected light wind and had planned two and a half days (plus a very short one for the international date line) to make the 225 miles. Unfortunately, the wind soon built to 25 knots, so we went fast and ended up having to stand off for 12 hours, which was pretty ugly. When we got into the harbor there was quite a boating scene and we checked a weather warning posted at the local yachtie hangout. It said it was blowing 25 and seas were rough. Now we know. I may have occasion to expand on this at some other time, but for now let's just say if you can't find us on bitwrangler, dial up a weather fax of the South Pacific. If there's a low between 10 and 20 south, we'll be under it.

The check-in wasn't so delightful and involved some tight maneuvering around a container ship and tying up to a pretty nasty wharf not meant for little boats. Had the ship not been there it would have been easy, but customs had to inspect the boat and would not come out by dinghy.

The next day the Maverick boys were pretty much minding their own business at the fuel dock, having just topped off the tanks and filled the jerry cans, when a middle-aged woman who was bending sails on a nearby twenty-five-footer asked us if we were going to be racing that night. We had heard something about there being races here on Friday nights, but had just gotten in Thursday and hadn't gotten all the facts.

"When is it?"

"Well, the skipper's meeting was at 4:00 and the warning is at 4:25."

I looked at my watch. It was 4:18.

"We're gonna have to pass. We'll never make it."

Liaison Officer Terry Shrode began to explain that the deck is strewn with unsecured gear, including all of our jerry cans, fenders, and fender boards, while I went below. Mr. Shrode came into the cabin about a minute later, and briefed me on the rest of the conversation, as is SOP after contacts with hostiles.

"She said, 'Yeah, we always try to get the cruisers to race, but [here the Captain must unfortunately sacrifice his ordinary standards of decorum in the higher interest of veracity; women and children should avert their eyes] they're such pussies they never do.'"

A meaningful look was exchanged. I shook my head, and sighed a sigh of resignation. I disembarked and asked the attendant at the dock whether it would be possible to leave some gear there temporarily while we participated in the race. At his OK, the above mentioned items were summarily ejected from the boat, the engine was started, and I took a glance at the hand-drawn chart of the race course the enemy had in her possession, which she was sporting enough to offer. Noting which marks were to be taken to starboard, which to port, I returned the chart, jumped behind the wheel, and we were off. I shouted the boat name to the race committee on the dock, and they put us down. On the way out to the line, where the participants were already maneuvering for the start, we tore down the Bimini, doused the lazy jacks, hoisted the main, unfurled the Genoa, and manned our stations. The American flag was proudly flying, as Maverick prepared for baneful war.

The start itself was exciting, with a lot of boats on the line and much yelling. We could almost hear this from our position some distance back. Even though we had seen the chart, as we crossed the line we had absolutely no idea where the first mark was, but the good news was the rest of the boats knew, and they were all in front of us. Unfortunately, at the windward mark we had reason to worry, as there was only one boat left to pass.

Now most of these boats were chartered Beneteau 38s and 41s from Sunsail and The Moorings with some locals, actually Kiwi expatriates, driving but there were some other local boats and one or two other cruisers. You can be sure the Beneteaus were sailing on their marks and not six inches below their waterline, as a result of not needing hundreds of pounds of fuel, water, food, spares, and other junk aboard. They also owe us anywhere from three to thirty five seconds. But never mind, we're from San Francisco.

We gave chase to the leader and left the rest well behind. We gained on him the whole race but in the end were beaten by a boat length, much of which could have been made up if we had known on which side of the pin we were to finish. The winner, to whom, not to brag, we gave 15 boat lengths, was the local ringer who wins every week. We got breakfast at a local eatery, which turned out to be terrible, I'm afraid. However, we're lucky we didn't win, because the first prize was two bottles of wine, and we'd sure feel worse today after that. If we're here next Friday, we'll go to the skipper's meeting.

Next report from this location: So Long Tonga

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