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We never planned a leg to Tonga. It just happened. We departed the Bay of Islands on the edge of a weather system. Commanders predicted it would pass ahead of us and the wind shift would sweep us up to Fiji. 12-hours out of New Zealand Commanders said the system slowed. After an exchange of satellite emails I decided to spend the night on the storm anchor while the system moved across our route. Sometime overnight the email light started flashing on the receiver; a message arrived. The low stalled and was gaining strength from another low over the South Island.

Somehting no one predicted had occurred in the open ocean to the south of us. Two lows from the Tasman Sea had crossed over New Zealand then collided in the southern Pacific Ocean. The weather forecasters sady they "barbelled" and started rotating around each other. Their dance caused both to deepen and grow stronger. Commanders said to get north and east as fast as possible; turning around wasn't an option.

Esther, Jesus and I pulled the sea anchor in 30-knots of wind and started a 5 day run. We got blown so far east we passed through a poorly charted, underwater mountain chain called the Keremdecs. This chain sits on the edge of the Tonga Trench, one of the deepest places in the ocean. Once we passed through the Kermedecs and over the trench, the waves, which had been short and steep , became huge and spread out. Shimoda finally had seas she could sail! We shook out a reef and raced north.

Esther was emotionally drained from 5 days of constant squalls and 1/2 hour watches. We knew the edge of the system was just over 120 miles north of us from listening to the Russel Radio Net. All we had to do was get there before dark. Jesus and I took turns at the wheel. Shimoda would race down the front of a breaking wave at 15 knots and up the back of the next roller. Before we would cross the crest we would turn the wheel into the trough and dive back down the wave. We zigged up one wave face and zagged down the back of another; surfing Shimoda the entire time. There are very, very few boats than can be handled by a crew of two and safely sail at speeds of 20+ mph but Chris White got it right with Shimoda. She drove like a racecar on rails.
We made it out of the storm and Esther found a warm, dry bunk.

Many times I have said, there isn't a sailor alive who doesn't beleive in God. You only need to sail a couple days on the open ocean. Divine inspiration defies words but those who have felt it don't need them. Maybe that's what draws us back out there over and over again.

Esther at the reefs

Jesus on dry land

Our day touring the reefs

The next day was one of the best sailing days ever. The sky was blue, the sun warm and the wind was perfect. I told Esther I didn't care if we ever reached land. She disagreed.
When we finally reached Tonga, we didn't have a suitable chart. The only thing on hand were large scale passage charts. I did my best to estimate a few waypoints and we waited for a tuna boat. This method isn't very sophisitcated but it works; wait outside the reef until a local passes you and then chase him like your life depends on it! Since tuna boats are faster than we are, it took several to get all the way up to Nukualofa behind the reef.

Tongan Ruins

Jesus at Ruins

Esther after the 5-day storm

We weren't the only Fiji bound boat to land in Nukualofa but we were in the best shape. Every one else had damage. Several were knocked down, one was rolled completely over and our friends on Magnetic, lost their steering.

We didn't realize our damage until over a year later in Fiji. One day the heavy chain in our steering system fell apart. Investigation revealed hairline cracks that must have occured when we got broadsided by a wave while shaking out the reef during the 5-day storm.

Tongan Reefs
Tongan Reef

Mark & Esther at the reefs

One of the better beers in the world

Mark & Esther at the reefs

After 3 days in Tonga, Jesus was ready to go again. The only thing that slowing him down was Tongan beer; it's very good.

pig farmer


Pigs are a very important measure of wealth in Tonga


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