We spent one last lovely week anchored in Port Maurelle. Andrew and Leslie hung up the hammock, read, swam at leisure. Grin took them on excursions to explore caves, the beach and a nearby village. Andrew chased crabs, who took refuge in Leslie's skirt, hunted bats, and made friends with a little fish who was helping him clean my bottom. The weather was beautiful, they saw a giant red sea slug as big as your forearm, and Leslie yelped at least once a day when a gang of little cleaner fish insisted on trying to clean her. As often happens to me, they would swim up and take a nip or two. If you turn to look at them, they stop and wait for you to begin swimming again, then — nip nip!
As the week wore on, we became the farewell crew for a second wave of boats sailing off to New Zealand. Was I feeling left out? I can’t decide; I have mixed feelings.
I’ve been to New Zealand twice already, and both times it was an amazing place for a sailboat to visit. But the last time I was there, it ended kind of sadly. John and Sylvia were my best friends. They took such good care of me. They built up a whole swath of systems to keep me running smoothly and help me sail very far. They installed a water maker, re-powered my engine, installed roller furling on both of my headsails…the list is quite long. Everything they bought for me was of the best quality; Andrew and Leslie are still using most of this equipment today. We had all sorts of amazing adventures together. They took me to Mexico several times, where everyone always loves my name…Sonrrrrrrrisa! I love how the people of Mexico lengthen and trill my “r”. Eventually, we set off across the Pacific to sail to far off places, and I was ecstatic. It is my raison d’être!
We reached New Zealand just as the cyclone season started, but then we learned Sylvia was sick. I was heartbroken and so worried. Would she be okay? The next thing I know, my mast is being brought down and I am tucked into a shipping container to be shipped back all those miles we had just crossed. It was hot in there, dark and lonely. I stewed in my own worry and sorrow all the way back.
The story has a happy ending; Sylvia recovered. Leslie tells me she even reads the blog from time to time. (Hi Sylvia! I still love you!) That was such a relief. But not too long after that, they decided they needed to sell me. So, I waited for a few years in San Diego for Andrew and Leslie.
Now, every time I think about waiting out this 2016 cyclone season, I get worried about Andrew and Leslie. What if they get sick? Or hurt? What if they can’t come back, or what if they decide they don’t like me anymore? Their frustrated and worried words from the Galapagos passage still echo in my mind. I really would rather keep them here with me.
The reality is, though, that the Pacific Ocean is far too big to sail across in one season and still see all the beautiful places along the way. In order for us to safely keep sailing this season, we would have had to run north really quickly - at least above 8 degrees South - to escape the cyclone zone. This would mean we would have to skip Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caldonia, and Andrew and Leslie wouldn’t get to see New Zealand. So, I understand why we have to wait out a cyclone season somewhere along this stretch. I wouldn’t want to keep sailing in the cyclone zone, and I suppose I don’t want to make Andrew and Leslie live in the boat yard with me in Tonga. It’s too hot, too rainy and too many mosquitos. They should go enjoy themselves in New Zealand via (gulp) a bit of land travel.
So, Tonga it is and out I go. Andrew and Leslie say I will like the yard, at least as much as a sailboat can like being on land. But even at that, the nerves are creeping up on all of us. We have a long list of projects to make me ready and I can tell Leslie is nervous because she is unsure how long all those projects will take. Is a week enough? It’s been so long since I have waited out a season on the hard, I can’t remember how long it takes.
The mood was somber as Andrew and Leslie began stripping all my sails. Then, what do you know, our old friend Scoots arrived from Samoa! We haven’t seen them since Tahuata in the Marquesas. We were all excited to have some friendly distraction. A few hours later, Scoots radioed for help. She was pinned to the dock by contrary winds and they needed a few extra hands to help push off. Andrew and Leslie loaded up Grin and headed off.
Next thing I know, I see Leslie riding across the anchorage on Scoots, Andrew is in someone else’s dinghy, and Leslie’s flipflop has gone missing. No Grin. No Kitty.
“What happened?” I ask Andrew as he hustles around in my cabinets collecting carburetor cleaner, WD-40, and a pile of tools.
Andrew sighs. “Grin was trying to pull Scoots away from the dock, which worked, but then the tow rope got pulled beneath Scoots hull. Scoots almost ran Grin over, Grin started sinking and both Kitty and Grin were completely submerged.”
“What? Grin sunk!?! NO!!” Panic rising in my throat. He’s a dopey little guy, but I have really grown attached to him.
“He’s ok! He’s ok!” Andrew replied. “Just like the Porta-bote Advertisement said, Grin can’t be sunk!” Andrew then described how Grin was completely submerged and under water, but kept floating just below the surface anyway - even with Kitty on the back. They towed him to the shore, bailed him out, and put Kitty up on a stand to immediately rinse her of all salt water. Later that afternoon everyone returned to me safe and sound, Grin zipping along under Kitty-power. But, this mishap only added to our collective nervousness.
Then, President Trump was elected. I hear he has a thing against boats named Sonrrrrrrrrisa.
On Friday, Andrew and Leslie arrange with the yard to have me pulled out of the water. We motor out to sea to clean out my unmentionables and run a few tests on the engine motor mounts. As we head out, Andrew and Leslie list aloud some of the amazing times we have had this year. Maybe if we focus on what we are grateful for, it won’t seem so sad that it is on pause?
At this point, Andrew and Leslie are overwhelmingly positive. The hemming and hawing they experienced early in our trip has died back, and I feel warm as I listen to their chatter about getting an early jump on the sail to Fiji, Vanuatu, Indonesia and ultimately North to Thailand. You know, Tonga has one additional benefit as a cyclone hole: It makes it that much harder to quit. No one is going to buy a boat in Tonga, it is impossible to just ship me home, and I know Andrew and Leslie wouldn’t just abandon me here.
The Scoots follow behind us, escorting Grin over to the yard. We are early, so the Scoots come aboard and enjoy a beer while we wait for the yard to get everything ready. I’m not coming out in the giant travel lift swing like usual, they are putting me on a trailer like a regular ski boat. Is that thing rated for my hefty size? I am a hefty girl at 32,000 pounds!
They back the trailer into the water using a large forklift. It’s show time. The Scoots hop off, Leslie fires up the motor and we creep forward into the trailer. Two Tongans flank me in the water, handing Andrew a rope on one side of my stern and Leslie a rope on the other side of my stern. Each of them hold tight so the current doesn’t push my stern crooked. My bow nestles delicately into the trailer pads. The Tongans swim under me, around, under, around. They adjust things just so, over and over again. Binta the Day-Shift-Yard-Dog chases fish in the water next to me while she waits for everyone to get me all squared away. It takes about 40 minutes to get me situated just right.
Then, a second front loader links up to the forklift to help pull me out and up the ramp. Andrew and Leslie sit on my coach top roof. Leslie is nervous, which always makes me nervous. Diesel exhaust belches out of the fork lift and second front loader, and together they begin to hoist me. The trailer grunts and grinds with hydraulic lifts that keep me perfectly flat as we creep up the incline of the ramp. Alan, one of the yard owners adjusts me as we go. Joe drives the fork lift. Everything is going smoothly. The Tongans walk along side of me, and smile up at Leslie. Binta accompanies me, too, running ahead to check and make sure my parking slot is available. I like Binta. She takes her job seriously: barking to welcome you in, running along side, and checking to make sure you are heading into the right space.
I see a long line of boats that will be my neighbors for the season. Joe maneuvers the fork lift/trailer to back me into my slot next to Morild - a sturdy and adventurous steel boat all the way from Norway. The slot to starboard is empty for another neighbor arriving a couple days later.
Before I know it, the Tongans have inserted stands beneath my hull and the trailer slips out from under me. I’m out of the water, but safely on land. I sigh a rueful and relaxed sigh. I must resign myself to take the rest I knew was coming. So, I guess I will settle in.
Binta stands next to Leslie’s leg and looks up at me satisfied with her day’s work. Andrew and Leslie chat with Joe, his wife and their baby Edie as the evening cools off. They look up at me, tilting their heads to the right, then to the left, trying to decide if I am nice and level. As Joe heads home for the night he tells us “Fredie the night guard will be here shortly. You should see his hair; you will know him when you see him.” He laughs and heads home. Now I’m curious.