The decision to leave Tonga without visiting the Ha’pai group was not an easy one. However, after sitting around in Neiafu or Vaka’eitu, due to unpleasant weather, or motoring and sailing into strong winds under overcast skies we finally said enoughsenough.
We both felt a sense of relief once we had made the decision, and wasted no time in making the usual final preparations and clearing out with customs and immigration.
We left on a favourable forecast of fresh easterlies at around twenty knots. This wind held for the first forty-eight hours during which we made good over three hundred miles. The following day we were passing Minerva reef and could see the masts of a half-dozen yachts anchored in North Minerva. We had already decided to pass by both reefs and continue southward. The remainder of the passage was a mix of light tail winds, calms and one day of 25-35 knot northerlies.
It was just before a clear cold dawn of the eleventh day, that we nosed into the Bay of Islands and drove the final ten miles to Opua.
Opua is very well organised for incoming cruising yachts with a dedicated quarantine dock and cheery customs and health officers. The customs officer’s interest was piqued when he learned that I had visited Colombia, but after a few obvious questions, he moved on to other matters.
Once we had completed all of the formalities, we slipped the dock-lines and anchored a quarter mile to the east in thirty feet of flowing green water. We feasted our eyes on the rolling pasture close by and the dark peaks of a low mountain range in the distance. So much green after days of blue and grey.
Within the hour, the customs officer was back with reinforcements. That I had spent time in Colombia was clearly troubling the original officer and he had with him a senior officer and a searcher. We spent a pleasant enough hour discussing the reasons for my visit to Colombia, and had anybody offered to sell me drugs. And oh, did I have anything they might be interested in… nope.
I am glad that they check, glad that something is being done to stem the inflow of illicit drugs into any country, and was happy to answer their question and produce supporting documents. However, due to an incident earlier in the day, the whole thing had a slightly surreal quality.
Earlier that morning, as we were motoring into the breaking dawn, past the nine-pin and towards the main channel to Opua, we were hailed on VHF by a yacht, the name of which was familiar. It took me a few seconds to recall where I knew the name from and then remembered that it was the same name as the yacht in my current manuscript; a yacht that was running drugs from Colombia to Australia. Then with the customs officers searching and questioning with an edge of suspicion, I felt like a character out of my own book.
I had mixed emotions about this being my last ocean passage and last real sail on Next Chapter. In a way I am glad it is at an end, glad to be free of the constant responsibilities. There is much that I will miss about the life, but there is so much left to do shore-side, and we are keen to get started on that next chapter of life.