At least it is not the first cyclone of the season, but there is a deepening low passing through Tonga today that has had the cruising community worried for days. With our SSB long range radio, we have been able to download weather forecasts and listen to radio nets discussing what is coming. This is so different from the trip I made a few years ago to take our smaller boat back to Canada when we had a poorly functioning radio receiver and less knowledge about receiving weather information in this way. At that time, I could only look at the barometer and the sky and try to work things out from that and a few rudimentary rules of thumb.
This low will pass south of us with the winds rotating anti-clockwise from east to west as it passes. We sailed about 90 miles north yesterday, returning to Vava'u from the Ha'apai Group. Here the winds should be lighter and the protection is much better, especially in westerly winds. It was rough sailing once we were clear of the low islands of Ha'apai. With large and closely spaced swells just ahead of the beam, the decks were awash with water for many hours. We noticed two leaks on the starboard side - one we knew of already and another around a portlight frame. Winds were about 20 knots from the east and we averaged a respectable but bouncy 6 knots close reaching under 2-reefed main and partially furled jib.
Our arrival in Vava'u well after dark was made possible by the fact we had been here before, and had sailed through most of the channels we followed into this maze of islands. Also, we had newly surveyed charts, with land masses and reefs in roughly the right places. Still, we ran the charting program and radar and kept a close eye on the depth sounder as we made our way through more than 10 miles of passes and channels. We anchored around 11pm just off Nuku Island, the only boat in the area. Most other boats that returned to Vava'u are in Neiafu where they are tied securely to moorings, but there were none left by the time we neared the islands.
This morning we re-anchored Ladybug in a better position for the winds expected and in deeper water off the beach. I snorkeled around carrying a leadline with float attached to mark the spot. The anchor looks well set with a large fishing float holding the chain above some coral bommies nearby.
There is a great deal of camaraderie in the cruising community and we received helpful emails from our friends Don and Deb on 'Buena Vista' as well as assistance via VHF as we approached from Brad on 'Kindred Spirit' and Mike on 'Picara'. When you are beating your way through rough weather towards a safe haven, it is a great comfort to hear a friendly voice!