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About Face

About an hour after I wrote last night’s update we listened in to our nightly net and tuned in closely to the progress of our fellow sailors also heading to New Zealand. The radio was abuzz with talk about this tropical low currently forming over Fiji and heading towards Tonga. Most concerning was the uncertainty of it: is it going to intensify? Move farther south? Is Minerva a safe place to ride it out? Big boats with plenty of diesel were trucking along to get south as soon as possible in the light winds plaguing the whole area, getting out of the way of the coming storm’s influence.

After the net we checked our HAM email and found a message waiting from friends of ours also getting ready to head south. They forwarded us weather routing information sent to them that day which indicated that at our current speed we might be seeing 45 knots in the area between Minerva and Opua.

This gave us pause to say the least.

Michael and I talked for a while. Are we ready for this? Are we willing to keep motoring along, hoping the wind materializes south of Minerva on Monday as our GRIB weather files indicate? Can we then continue to keep our speed up to get south of the windy area further south in time? And what of the question of this low: if it intensifies we could be seeing wind in excess of 45 knots as air moves from the high pressure over New Zealand to the low pressure system….

And then one of us said it, the deciding factor: are we willing to put our children through this potential danger? That pretty much answered the question and we turned the boat around and motored the 100 miles back towards Tonga, to safe port.

If it was just the two of us we’d continue on, we said. We could handle it and our boat certainly could. But what if the weather intensifies and the worst happens? We don’t just have ourselves to save but these two little lives too. Is it worth it to go on?

This time, we can play it safe. We had our anchor down at Big Mama’s in Nuku’alofa by 3pm today. On the way in, we were greeted by several friends who’d also turned around and were set to wait for the weather to settle before we all set off again. But in the dark of night we can’t help but ache with love and desire to protect those two little girls who draw cozy pictures of houses and gardens and ask ourselves: is it worth it?


  1. Bob Hancy says:

    It was the right decision. You two have given your girls the experience few kids ever get – or ever dream of getting. Would it better to have them in the Washington public school system or out making the very best of every day…you’re inspiration parents, brave and your girls are so lucky to have parents smart enough to know that real education comes from life and living, not by reading about it. I hope you’ve sparked something in your kids – they know responsibility, respect and I’m sure have better people skills that many adults! 🙂 Wait for the weather…be safe, but enjoy as you have been…there are worse places to be “stuck” in. 🙂

  2. Dave C. says:

    Like one of my songs says “…another day we have another mast we don’t”. Good decision!

  3. dale roberts says:

    Good call, folks. Weather systems are not to be taken lightly as you well know. By the time the girls get to be teens, they’ll have enough experience sailing that they will possibly overrule your decision. In the meantime, it is your job to get them to that point safely. Again, good call. Enjoy a little more Tongan hospitality in the meantime.

  4. Diane says:

    Good call. We errored on the side of safe many times and never regretted it. And we know boats that took the risk but wish they hadn’t. I feel for you though–turning back is tough.

  5. Diane says:

    oy… I’m sure you’ve heard this and it reinforces the prudent call you made. Hoping for their swift and safe recovery:

    “The injured crew of a yacht that rolled in 10m seas between New Zealand and Tonga are awaiting rescue after activating their emergency beacon at around 6.30pm yesterday (7 November).

    The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) is also investigating a second distress beacon from an unknown vessel activated at around 5am this morning 230km southwest of Tonga.

    The crew of the 11.6m (38ft) Windigo – a 52-year-old British man, and a 43-year-old Auckland woman – are understood to have sustained mild to moderate head injuries after their yacht rolled. The man has also suffered a back injury. The yacht left Tonga two days ago.

    The yacht is afloat, but disabled and taking on water about 700km southwest of Tonga and 1260km northeast of New Zealand in 40 knot (75 km/h winds).”

    1. Sara says:

      Hi Diane — I literally cried when I heard this news on the SSB. We met these nice people the day we left Vava’u. They waved to us as we sailed out of Port Maurelle. They must have left a day or two after we did. Other friends of ours on Adventure Bound were nearby and diverted to provide assistance in 10 meter seas.

      We would have been farther south than these boats but another boat that was alongside us as we passed Tongatapu later encountered 40-50 knots. We are very glad to have used the extra diesel to high tail it back to Nuka’alofa! Although here we’ve encountered a microburst that hurled 75 knot winds at us and rode out 40 knots (from the wrong direction 🙁 ) in the anchorage here all day yesterday. But we survived and will sail on to NZ in a few days!

  6. Dani says:

    So glad you turned around and your family is safe! We are keeping others out there in our thoughts.