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Tonga to Samoa on a watermelon
By SEAN HOSKINS, wanganuichronicle. 25.11.2005.

A WANGANUI fisherman got the pip on a voyage across the Pacific, but not when the Tongan fisheries officers boarded his boat.

Skipper Brian Smith left Wanganui earlier this month to take his former fishing boat, the Catherine J to a new owner in Apia, Samoa, but had to stop for repairs in Tonga.

It was there he got the bargain of the voyage: a $10 giant watermelon.

The massive melon lasted the three-day trip to Apia and survived an encounter with a Tongan fisheries patrol boat.

“We keep it on ice, and it was nice and refreshing,” Mr Smith said.

He said the Tongans spotted the Catherine J in Tongan waters at midnight on the first day out of Tonga.

“They wanted to know what our intentions were, and they weren’t happy. Because we had the line reel on the back, they thought we were illegally fishing.”
After an inspection and permit check, the officers were happily satisfied and apologetic and let the Catherine J go.

The total voyage from Wanganui to Apia was 1800 nautical miles (a nautical mile is 1.852km) and the Catherine J’s crew were all Wanganui men including Mr Smith, Greg Desmitt and Billy Rippon.

The Catherine J left Wanganui and sailed to through Cook Strait and up the east coast of the North Island to East Cape, where she struck north for Raoul Island and then on to Tonga and finally Apia, Samoa.

Mr Smith said conditions were initially sloppy.

“It was lumpy, but nothing we couldn’t handle.”

However, the boat’s line reel tore a bolt out of the mechanism’s bearing, 400 nautical miles from East Cape.

“It happened about 3.30am, and we had to heave to until daylight to secure it as best we could.”

The massive reel would have caused major damage had it come loose from its cradle, but luckily it held firm until the boat reached Tonga, where it stayed for 24 hours for repairs.

“We had a few beers and a nice meal there, and then the mosquitos got us,” Mr Smith said.

The mossies made a better meal of the crew sleeping down in the boat’s quarters than the sailors did of the melon.

But, overall, Mr Smith said the 14-day trip was enjoyable, and it was his first to an international destination, although he has done plenty of open-sea sailing around New Zealand as a commercial fisherman.

And the 26-year-old Wanganui-built ship did well too.

“She never missed a beat the whole way,” Mr Smith said.