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Monday, December 1, 2008

Auckland, NZ, November 28, 2008 – (Thursday, 27th in the USA – Happy Thanksgiving, America!)

Kia Ora! (Hello), from Aotearoa (New Zealand), which is Maori for "the land of the long white cloud".
We arrived at Opua in the Bay of Islands 17 days ago and the time has absolutely evaporated. Our checking-in process was less sacrificial and traumatic than we had been anticipating. Arriving at the Quarantine Dock, our engine's "reverse" gear went out of service. We could only go forward but thanks to the bow thruster were able to get tied up. We hadn't been at the Q-dock long before the Customs official arrived along with, Immigration, Bio-security and the drug-sniffing pup. All in all the staff were very friendly and hospitable toward us. They checked a few of our lockers and asked lots of questions and then in the end we lost some black-eyed peas and my lovely red coral. We were even given a welcome gift and an adorable woven tote. We know other boats who reported to us that their experience was not as smooth as ours. Some had their boats nearly taken apart – entirely searched and one having seat cushions ripped apart and so on, but not
the case for us. After clearing in we managed to get into an end berth with the aid of our friends from Charisma and BeBe, and then quickly got ourselves cleaned up in time to attend dinner at the Opua Cruising Club. The Club was hosting a week-long rally to welcome the many cruisers arriving this season. We missed the first day of the rally (free pizza!), but this night was all-you-can-stuff-yourself seafood. Oh my! We feasted on New Zealand Green Lip Mussels, plump oysters on the Barbie and so on and on. Every day and night through to the following Saturday was packed with dinners, shows and cultural events. One of our favorite evenings was an historical event at Waitangi, the site where the Maori people signed the treaty with England. The show was presented entirely by Maori descendents and depicted their history and the history of New Zealand's beginning, performed in both English and Maori. Saturday evening was the rally's finale dinner,
awards program and door prize drawing. We won second place for the largest fish caught during the passage. First place went to Steve on Orca III for a 7ft 9 inch Black Marlin. Unbelievable! Who says sailors can't fish!?!?

We rented a car and did some touring of the northern part of the North Island. Throughout all of our drives around we have found New Zealand so far to be magnificently and stunningly beautiful. The landscapes and vistas are intensely green with rolling hills, large ranches of cattle and sheep, abundant flowering trees and plants. We never tired of driving and looking. On Sunday we drove south to Whangarei (pronounced Fawn-gah-ray), to visit Jaime and Christine from Morning Light. They will stay in the Town Basin Marina there for the NZ summer season. Although Whangarei is on a river inland quite a way from the ocean, it reminded us of Annapolis along the waterfront. Nice town with great shopping, restaurants and ambience. Another day we took a drive northward through the wine country up to the town of Keri Keri, and did some grocery shopping at the big stores there. Another day we took the ferry to Russell with our friends Ken and Wendy from Cop
Out. Russell is home to quite a variety of artists so we browsed shops and strolled and ate and ate, then on the way back to the ferry stopped at the local oyster farm to buy fresh oysters. We went back to Ken and Wendy's boat and snarfed up the oysters wishing we'd bought more than 2 dozen.

While in Opua we frequented a local restaurant called the Blue Water Bar and Bistro. Rather than a bar and bistro this place is a gastronomic delight. Its Owner-Chef Mathew Lee and his wife Shana have done an incredible job of bringing top-rated gourmet fare to a little seaside village. The first time we dined there, Matthew came out of the kitchen to visit with us. We discovered that he is a finely trained chef who is willing to prepare special tasting menus on request. We told him that our friends Andy and Melissa would soon be arriving on their yacht Spectacle, and we wanted to plan a special dinner with them because they are our "food snob friends". Matthew was delighted and so we made the plan. Andy and Melissa were only in town for 2 nights before they were scheduled to catch their flight back to L.A., thus we spent both of those evenings with them eating our hearts out at Blue Water, closing the place down both nights. Matthew and Shana
treated us like VIP's and we showed our appreciation by spending like VIP's! On Saturday, Blue Water hosted a Texas BBQ and Blues night with NZ Blues Artist, Bullfrog Rata and his band The Undergators. Lots of our yachtie friends were there with us including Steve (Orca III) and Glen (TDM), who were encouraged to jam with the band. Steve on harmonica – he owns 33 of them – and Glen on his Sax. What a great night! We knew that this would be the finale for many of us as we began to depart for various other ports along and throughout NZ in the upcoming days and weeks. Frank and I left Opua on Tuesday to begin our journey down to Tauranga. Our first stop will be Whangaruru (Fawn-gah-roo-roo), then over to Great Barrier Island.
while at sea: (note:the sender must include the character sequence "//WL2K" in the subject line of the message.)
Skype ID: frank.barb.gladney

Saturday, November 15, 2008

We made it!

Tuesday, 11/11/08, after feeling as though we had been chewed up in a blender and spit right out of the mouth of Hell, we safely arrived in Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ.

The Passage:
After three days of motor sailing and having calm enough seas to even bake cookies, the winds began to freshen. We emailed some of our cruiser friends who were behind us telling them that we at last were getting some good winds and had a great day of sailing. On Saturday, by evening time the winds had built such that we were beginning to reef in the sails, and had in fact taken in the genoa and put out the stay sail (storm jib). Destiny doesn't usually get tossed around much especially when we (at 28 tons) are full of fuel and water, however, we felt the front squalls coming at around 10:00 Saturday night, and then by midnight I was sitting on the floor in the galley while things from shelves flew over my head. Our wind instruments were not functioning yet we knew for a fact that these were the worst winds we have ever encountered, and had to be well over the 40 knots forecasted in the weather routing update. We've been in 40 kts before and this felt far beyond that. Conditions worsened such that we were being literally thrown around as though in a blender. We dropped all the sails but could not hove-to because the seas would have put us under. We were getting waves all the way over the top of our bimini across the port beam and from behind flooding into the cockpit. We turned on the engine and ran with it praying for ourselves and for all of the others out there. We got the front, the middle and the back-end of the storm and felt like we were in a boiling cauldron for about 9 hours. We kept hoping the others were all either ahead of it or behind it. The dinghy took flight and started slamming all over the back of the boat. Next morning by the time the Net came on we were getting what we thought were the last of the squalls and felt as though we had been spit right out of the jaws of Hell! I am telling you there is power in prayer because miraculously all that we lost were the oars, our US Flag and some sleep. We had heard ungodly sounds in the night - like monsters banging the hull with battering rams, and Destiny groaned like nothing we have ever heard. She was telling us she did not like this one little bit but she took good care of us nonetheless.

Our SSB went out right after the morning Net when I checked in saying that we had just gone through a big squall. We continued to experience a lot of them, marching all around us, seas constantly washing over the top. We kept calling for radio checks on the VHF and SSB but no one could hear us. We knew that the others in the group and folks back home would be getting concerned yet we also knew there wasn't a thing to be done about that until we made landfall. We both felt a surreal sense of calm within, knowing that we and our beloved Destiny would survive this. But we were truly bordering on sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion. There was hardly a place to sit or lay without getting pitched about, and after several days it takes quite a toll on a body. Amazingly neither of us became nauseated or sea sick. We just stepped around all of the "stuff" that had spewed all over the place realizing that making an effort to tidy up would be an extreme exercise in futility.

On Monday the winds began to settle down to around 25 knots (we think). The seas continued to chop and slam us, however gave us enough reprieve that we began taking 3 hour shifts at sleeping on the settee in the saloon.

Tuesday arrived and we knew we would be in Opua, NZ by the afternoon. We began hailing the port on the VHF and were able to get enough static communication going to announce our imminent arrival. They actually responded with joy telling us that a lot of folks were worried about Destiny and had been inquiring about our whereabouts and safety. What a feeling of relief…for us all.
while at sea: (note:the sender must include the character sequence "//WL2K" in the subject line of the message.)
Skype ID: frank.barb.gladney

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Anchors Aweigh!

November 4th, Tuesday morning, we left Tonga with an armada of friends; Morning Light (ML), The Dorothy Marie (TDM), Orca III, Baraka, Warm Rain, Tokete and Elusive. Charimsa, Syren, Malachi, O'Vive, Mamacocha, Upps, Bebe, Don Pedro and Morning Star had left within 48 hours prior to our departure. Many of us had subscribed to a fee based personalized routing service which, depending on your boat size, hull configuration and average speed, spits out a recommended departure date and a customized
route with waypoints and arrival times for each. The report is very detailed and can also give projected sea states including wave heights and intervals, wind direction and speed and forecasted weather patterns. Many of us got together to share and compare reports, to set up SSB Nets (on air check-ins) and times for communications so that everyone is accountable and will be accounted for along the way. We are armed for battle at sea! And we pray that we are over prepared.

Tuesday's journey was very smooth with little wind but we had plenty of fuel for motor-sailing. Early in the day (our Tuesday, USA's Monday), we phoned Mary, Frank's sis to wish her Happy Birthday. We also called our parents to let them know we were headed out. I phoned my daughter and sis, but all we got were voicemail machines so we quit calling and got down to business. We threw out a hand line for some fishing and in the early afternoon, hooked a 53.5" Mahi Mahi. Frank actually strained under
its weight as he hefted it for me to snap a photo of our fine catch. These fish are truly magnificent, and as they die their skin transforms into a myriad of colors, which is sadly beautiful to watch. We thought of the pre-prepared meals in the freezer and happily opted to forego my prior efforts in favor of a fresh fish feast this night. We managed to freeze a large portion of the remainder which may be disposed of by NZ officials. We'll see what happens when we get there.

Wednesday was a perfect sailing day. We had giant, gentle rollers and fair winds with crystal clear blue skies, occasionally dusted with clouds. The temperature is cooling down as we head further south giving us a nice crisp Colorado Springtime kind of day. During mid-day we had a flyover from the NZ Air Force. We had heard them hailing one of the other boats over the VHF earlier. Now it was our turn. They have camera equipment on board that I wish I had because the jet approached us from behind
and after swiftly passing over head, called us by name on channel "16", asking us to go to channel "06". Frank answered various questions, such as last port of departure, intended destination, name of the Captain, # of persons on board, boat registration, do we have any weapons on board?, do we have any pets on board? When do we plan to arrive? Have we filed arrival notice paperwork with NZ authorities, etc…? Then they wished us safe passage and disappeared as in a flash (just as they had arrived).
Some 5 minutes later we heard them hailing Morning Light, and so on until they had contacted probably each boat out here. We felt comforted knowing that they were watching out for us. In the afternoon we got news via the Yachtie Grapevine that Obama had won the Presidential election.
Wednesday evening thunderheads began building as we reefed in sails and braced ourselves for a rocky, squally night. The discomfort of the rolling and pitching wasn't as bad as the fear of a lightning strike. During my watches I had difficulty enjoying the light show, thinking of the others we know who had gone before us, sustaining either direct hits or strikes into the ocean nearby, causing no small amount of damage to electronics on board. My mind raced to the laptop, the Sat Phone, the I-Pod
and all of our radio equipment as I prayed for safe passage. We made it through safely.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Last Tango in Tonga...

Boo! October 31, 2008 - Happy Halloween! Friday, Frank went into town to check us out of Tonga and I got busy scrubbing lockers and arranging the boat for the passage, which required inventorying goods and listing those which must be declared and setting aside those items that we know will be confiscated in NZ (which I gave to Big Mama). We spent the day getting a jump on the preparations for leaving Tonga the following Monday or Tuesday, whichever day would prove to be the best departure date for
us. Friday afternoon at Big Mama's the festivities began at around 3 PM with games, then Happy Hour from 6-7 PM, followed by dinner. During our girls' shopping day we ladies of the Flying Foxes group had opted to wear large gregarious hats, flowered lei's, glittery masks and colorful pareas. We picked up costumes for our guys as well; I had gotten Frank some toy guns that shoot suction darts, a glow-in-the-dark head band thing and a lei to match one of his flowery shirts ("Book'em, Danno!").
We had chores to do so we opted out of the games but got decked out, dressed up and ready to head in for the evening activities and dinner. Unfortunately a thunderstorm blew in kicking up high winds, driving rain, some lightening and churning waters. We did not feel comfortable leaving the boat, nor did we want to make the drenching dinghy ride into shore. We kept waiting thinking that the storm would blow over as quickly as it had appeared. We witnessed a few other boats dragging and re-anchoring.
Many families sent one parent in with the kids, leaving an adult on board to watch their boats. We never made it in, but we did open up our water tank inlets and managed to top off our fresh water tanks from the downpour that lasted for a few hours. Instead of games & dinner on shore, we settled for junk food and a game of Scrabble for our Halloween activity.

Saturday was a beautiful day. We resumed our cleaning and preparatory activities, which for Frank was cleaning the boat bottom and changing zincs and for me it meant baking and preparing passage meals and securing items inside for the trip. That night at Big Mama's was a birthday party for both her husband, Earl and for her son, Andrew. She was providing a Tongan feast and entertainment, and had invited every one of the yachts in the anchorage. What a party it was! Music was provided by a local
band, comprised of Tongan policemen and two of our very own cruisers, Steve from Orca III played harmonica and Glen form The Dorothy Marie brought his saxophone. The music was unbelievably good! Earl and his son were dressed in the most beautiful traditional and festive Tongan attire, and sat in a very special place of honor. Tables were set up throughout for dining, family-style. The buffet feast was simply incredible. There was a whole roasted pig, seafood, local dishes, which included seaweed
with coconut, taro root, tapioca, clams, and many dishes we could not identify but ate anyway. We all danced the night away and left very late and very happy. Sunday was our day of R & R.

On Monday, 8 of us from our little group of cruisers went into Nuku'alofa to meet Malaia and Sio for a tour of the island. Sio is Big Mama's Uncle and Malaia her best friend, who is engaged to Sio. Out of the goodness of their hearts they took an entire day off work to chauffer us around their island showing us everything they could in one day. We traveled the entire big island from the Palace to the Blow Holes, the "Arch" and the Caves. We got a history lesson not only of the Tongan people but
also of their culture, the wars and struggles that have made Tonga what she is today. Sio is a widower with 11 children and proudly told us that all of his daughters have been Miss Tonga. One of them is currently a model and is The Face of Tonga on Coca Cola and Digicel ads here and in Fiji, in fact we saw her on billboards throughout the island. Malaia actually just moved back to Tonga in 2002 from Portland, OR, where she went to college, married, had children and lived for many years. Tonga
and the friendships we have forged here have left indelible imprints on our hearts. We left Malaia and Sio with a promise to see them again, and with a personal invitation to their wedding next year in Nuku'alofa.

Monday night we spent a subdued final evening at Big Mama's, feasting on her outrageously delectable hamburgers, signed a coconut which is hanging on a post there and bid a very fond farewell to her and her precious family, staff and friends. "Graduation Night", as Frank calls it; time to move on to another place and chapter in our lives. And as he also says: "Tomorrow we ride, Muchachos!" Onward to New Zealand we go. We have our weather window and our personal routing from Bob McDavitt at Met
Service in NZ. If the journey of 1000 miles begins with one step, what does the journey of 1100 miles over the ocean begin with? A prayer. We'll take 'em, if you got 'em!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Standing by...

The yachts are gathering here for the jump to NZ. At least those who did not decide to leave from Fiji or Vava'u. Because Tongatapu is the southernmost island group of Tonga many yachts have chosen to depart from here. It is once again a mini reunion. We are being joined by many old and new friends. Big Mama's is the perfect gathering place. It is so cozy many of us wish we didn't have to leave. She has everything to keep us here. Great food, a grand deck covered with picnic tables, a homey
lounge area, a sand floor restaurant, pool table, dart boards, gift shop, nice large dinghy dock and a lovely beach area. Yet we are ready for a little more civilization after 8 months of learning to go without our favorite creature comforts, we feel no guilt whatsoever about wishing to indulge ourselves once again.

So,Tuesday (Oct 28th ) arrived - fill-up day! Here in Nuku'alofa, the fueling process is onerous if one needs less than 1,000 gallons because there is no fuel dock at the wharf. BP will either bring a fuel truck for large yachts or 200 litre barrels for those of us with smaller tanks. Destiny carries 300 US gallons of diesel and our tanks were nearly empty, therefore, we had paid for and ordered 5 barrels. Each of the other boats filling up with us ordered 2 barrels. We have learned from helping
others to fill up that the process for refueling runs something like this: a) Your yacht MUST be on time or you do not get your fuel (remember it is already paid for), b) you should have someone on shore to catch your lines because of the strong current at the wharf, c) you must bring your own fuel hose (which we do not have), d) the attendant may or may not stick around to assist you in the fueling process, and e) the attendant may or may not leave you the tools to open the barrels and a pump with
which to pump out the fuel from the barrel. If one needed less than an entire barrel, well good luck! Some of the boats in our little group did not need an entire barrel so they made arrangements to send the rest of us with their jerry cans to fill from our "leftovers". The arrangements we made: Dawn and Tom from Warm Rain gave us their jerry cans and then took the ferry over to the wharf to be in position to grab our lines. Jan and Dave from Baraka brought their jerry cans and rode over with
us to the wharf. We weighed anchor at 8:00 AM, heading toward the wharf. Dawn and Tom arrived to find that a large commercial fishing boat was in our designated spot and intended to begin offloading their catch at 9:00, finishing up around 11-ish. They kindly offered for us to raft up to them. No way, no how! First of all their craft looked like a rusting, hulking rat/roach infested creature from a horror movie and secondly even if we were desperate enough to accept their offer the fuel hose
we had borrowed only reached 25ft. which was far too short to accomplish a raft-up. We sat anchored outside the breakwater, praying that the flatbed carrying our barrels would not leave us in the lurch. While waiting there, other boats began arriving and circling for entry to the wharf. Malachi and O'Vive arrived telling us that BP had given them a fueling time of 10:00. OK, so now we had at least 5 boats assigned the same time slot for fueling and there is no way any of us will be able to do
a thing until the fishing boat moves. "God grant me the serenity…" We radioed Tom and asked him to Pleeease ask the fishing boat to move. We do not know what he and Dawn said to the guys, but they agreed to move to another spot on the wharf. It was now 9:15, and we saw our truck coming. We hurriedly raised anchor again and motored over to the wharf to find that the truck with our barrels went to the other side of the jetty! We secured Destiny's lines and began waving furiously at the fuel guy.
He eventually came over, unloaded our group's 9 barrels and then immediately left. He left us with no pump, no tools. We again waved furiously at him to bring these things back to us. He seemed to acknowledge us but never came back. Frank, Tom and Dave began tinkering with the barrels and digging out tools and scratching their heads. After about 20 minutes (it is now 10:00), a very kind man from a large vessel came over with his hand pump and offered to assist us. After watching and chuckling
for a while as the guys alternately manned the crank, he said "Here, Let me do that!" What a saint! We filled Destiny's tanks by 11:30 AM with plenty left for Baraka and Warm Rain to top off their jerry cans, then moved out of the way for the next group. It would be a long day indeed for some of them.

Thursday was girls day out. A group of us comprised of seven boats (Charisma, Morning Light, Baraka, Warm Rain, Bold Spirit, the Dorothy Marie and Destiny) have all linked up here in Tonga becoming quite a cohesive group and have thus given ourselves the name "Flying Foxes", commemorating the indigenous bats that are a bit of an icon here. We love to shop but the guys do not thus we decided to have some time away from the men so that we could lunch, browse and shop in peace. We did all of the above,
hitting Friends café, the open air market, the grocery store, and of course the ice cream parlor. We all picked up bits and pieces of Halloween costumes for big Mama's party on Friday night, returned to Pangaimotu to find many more yachts in the anchorage with several still arriving. Some limping back in after having already left for New Zealand only to get ravaged by a sudden gale that one cruiser told us came out of nowhere, not even showing up on the radar. He said that he had been motoring
and had just put up the sails when the winds gathered to 15 kts., then they raged up to 40 kts like the flip of a light switch. Several of them sustained damage ranging from moderate to severe.

Anxiety, therefore, leads the parade of emotions marching around in our hearts and minds. This is not the longest voyage we have made, yet it is known to be the most frightening and quite possibly the most dangerous to date. It is approximately 1100 nautical miles from Tongatapu to Opua in NZ, where they are just coming out of their winter and Tonga is just coming into Cyclone season (Nov 1). We have heard of many yachts getting caught in gales, ripping sails, breaking vangs, cracking booms and
sustaining knockdowns. The problem is that no matter how you plan ahead, the weather gurus in New Zealand warn us that we will most assuredly encounter inclement weather somewhere along the passage because of the high and low pressure zones converging in the area between here and there on an average of once per week. The passage will last us anywhere from 8-10 days. We have met several women who have decided to fly to NZ from here, leaving their husbands to take on crew to make this particular
journey without them. Not one person we have met is eager to make this leg by boat but many of us are remaining hopeful and positive that we will arrive safely.

Nearing the end of our time in Tonga

October 23rd we arrived at Malinoa Island in the Tongatapu group. We had read in the cruising guide that this was an island not to miss because of its natural beauty. It was lovely and the water surrounding it was awash in alternating brilliant and pale shades of blue, dotted with coral. Frank, Christine, Sally, Glen and I dinghyed to shore for a little excursion. We walked the beach chatting and picking up shells, and before we knew it the guys had gone on ahead so we girls continued leisurely
strolling along, scanning the water's edge for precious gems. We eventually looked up to discover that we had walked the entire periphery of the island and had arrived back at the dingy. It was not a very large island after all. We spent just one night at Malinoa and in the early morning made our way over to Big Mama's at Pangaimotu Island. It is but a ferry ride from here to the Capital city of Nuku'alofa. There are a few places to "Med Moor" along the wharf in town but it is filthy, rat & bug
infested and not a good place to make water. Several boats opt for the wharf because it is certainly easier to get to town but it is not for us.

Big Mama's is a small resort with a very good restaurant and lots of amenities. There isn't internet; well, there kind of is for those who want to use Big Mama's only computer but it is very expensive and you are vying for time against some 30 other yachts. Big Mama's husband, Earl provides the shuttle service to town, arranges laundry services (prices still too outrageous to ponder), trash removal, and activities for us. We arrived on Friday, October 24th. Big Mama's was abuzz with activity.
She made an announcement that Friday was game day (competition), ending with Happy Hour at 6, followed by a buffet feast for the very affordable sum of 20 Pa'anga per person. The exchange rate is very good for us right now giving us about a 50% discount. We would have loved to participate in the games but we had to first take care of business. We took the shuttle to the town wharf along with several others, and then walked first to customs to get checked in. The line was long so we decided to
forego that process until Monday and instead headed off to DHL to pick up our long awaited deliveries. Thank goodness our bearings for the main sail had arrived as had the "loaner" Sat phone. (We had sent our NEW Iridium Satellite phone back with the Martins in July for repairs.) The Sat Phone Store, who is allegedly repairing ours, seems to have misplaced it. Now logic would dictate that they just send us a new one, right? No. They sent a rental to my brother, and in his name, which we may
borrow until ours is located and repaired. As my daughter would say: "Whatever!". We now have a working Sat Phone! Of course, we paid duty on our deliveries and had to sign lots of papers, present lots of documents, ID's and wait for Customs to clear the items so we killed time for a couple of hours in a local Pub while waiting for clearance. After a couple of hours we picked up our stuff from DHL,then returned to Big Mama's to join the festivities on shore. The buffet dinner was very good and
quite varied. Prizes were awarded to those who had participated in the afternoon games and a good time was had by all.

On Saturday there was another hoopla at Big Mama's...a bring your own meat for us to cook and we provide the accompaniments for only $10 (Tongan). We scrambled to shore to buy some chicken to take, visited the downtown area and browsed through the open air market. My daughter and her sisters would have loved that market! The bargains are to be had here in Nuku'alofa. Frank and I then went in search of internet. We didn't carry our laptop because that would have been quite a long haul. The walk
to town from the wharf is a couple of miles. We found there is internet here, ranging from $8/hr to $3/hr. The first stop we made was the pricey one and the slowest. I managed to log onto Yahoo!, read 5 emails and before I could reply to any my time was done. We desperately needed to do banking and bill paying so we traversed the town seeking decent internet, finally stumbling upon Friends Coffee Shop and Café that offered not only an excellent lunch but internet access for only $5.50/hr. We took
care of online business and then left emails alone. We can do that from the SSB on Destiny. In fact that is how we update the website, via an email sent over HAM radio frequencies to our blogs.

Sunday I spent the entire day baking bread and other goodies to freeze for our passage. I am learning to do things I never intended to make a habit of or into a hobby for that matter. I now bake bread, muffins, cookies, brownies, cinnamon rolls and buns from scratch. Half the time the yeast is good and half the time I must toss it. I have been fortunate so far in that none of my flour has been infested with weevils or worms. We did have some garlic pepper develop living things inside but that
is the extent of our creepy crawlies in the galley. We still get random visits from ants but nothing has hatched onboard as far as we know. Frank worked on "guy boat stuff" and we stayed on board to watch probably one of the worst movies we have ever seen - Cloverfield. It is a good thing we bought it in Tonga for only $3 pa'anga! By the way, this movie thing is a hoot! The Chinese stores sell them. We thought at first we had hit the jackpot! But soon discovered that these are bootlegged DVD's.
Some of them are still relatively new, such as Dark Knight. In fact we purchased that one and cracked up watching it while on the movie itself we could hear gasps and laughter and people eating, and then bodies would get up and walk in front of the "camera". The quality was so very poor that we eventually realized someone had gone to the movie with a video camera and videoed it from his seat! In fact he was rude enough to "pause" it when he got up to go for snacks and to use the men's room.
Hence we really have no idea what happened in the movie because it was stopped and started so many times. We ended up throwing away about half of the ones we bought. The ones that weren't videoed in the movie theater were obvious illegal copies having words written all across the top and bottom, such as "premier only not legal for sale or rental", or blurred spaces across the bottom of each frame that was someone's bad attempt at dubbing over the words of warning. Bad, bad, bad! Cheap entertainment,

Monday we did the check-in dance. The Tongans enjoy sending us back and forth to the same offices telling us that we are in the wrong place. If we drew a diagram of where we went to get our fuel permits and papers stamped it would look like a bowl of spaghetti! 3½ hours after we began we finally had gotten checked in and had ordered and paid for 200 gallons of diesel, which we were told would be delivered in 55 gallon drums to the fuel dock at 9:00 AM the following morning. In fact, Morning Light
and The Dorothy Marie were also slotted for the same time frame, from 9-noon. This would be interesting and another new adventure for Destiny.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

October 18th - Tonga Update

When I posted the last entry I had completely forgotten to include our visit to Ha'afeva Island in the Kotu Group, which gives some idea of the attraction factor of the island. It was just a one day stop for us, arriving with Morning Light, Charisma and Bold Spirit. The bay was pretty but not appealing to us for swimming or going to the beach. The head of the bay is dominated by a commercial concrete wharf that just didn't feel tremendously inviting, nonetheless, wanting to explore the island and
stretch our legs a bit we walked into the small village to discover that many of the inhabitants spoke fairly limited English, except for a very kind Tongan woman who ran the local health care facility. She had lived in the States for a while and still had family in CA. We bought some fruit from a local lady and then while getting caught in a rain storm sat under the cover of a rusty old building eating the candy that Christine had brought to give away to the local children. We watched more frolicking
baby pigs chase their mommas and entertained school children as they posed for us to take their pictures and yelled "Bye!" to us while waving enthusiastically. We have found that many of the locals only know "Hi" and "Bye", and do not necessarily know in which order to use these proclamations. So to them, "Bye" (at least we think) means "Hi". So we sauntered along waving and shouting "Bye" and handing out more candy and gum, hoping that their parents aren't cursing us as we leave tooth-decayed
children in our wake.
Kelefesia was our last stop in the Ha'apai group. The sail over was both unusual and strategic in that we had to watch for shallows and reefs that appear out of nowhere in the deepest of waters. Bold Spirit had actually grounded on a reef in the Lifuka group and Jaime (from ML) & Frank spent hours helping to pull them free. So we kept a watchful eye, giving broad clearance to the islands around and near to our waypoint. Kelefesia is inhabited by just one man. Sometime ago the King of Tonga gave
this island to his family. He has a wife and a son who for whatever reason do not live with him but visit now and again. It is the prettiest island we had visited in Tonga. The anchorage is riddled with large coral heads but also large patches of nice deep sand with great holding (secure anchoring). There isn't room for more than 3-5 boats depending on their size. We arrived with Charisma to find only one other yacht in there. The view was breathtakingly beautiful, and as always we lament the
insufficiency of our camera's ability to do it justice. Approaching the shore in our dinghy we were greeted by three tail-wagging, delightfully happy pups that were obvious pets of the island's one inhabitant. On shore we found lots of beautiful shells and an abundance of some unusual blood red coral, the likes of which we had not seen before. We walked the path to the local man's home offering him gifts for letting us use his island and anchorage. We then set out to explore the island with Allen
and Kristin, following trails that we eventually discovered were pig trails leading us deeply into the jungle where we spent a good bit of time wandering aimlessly, hacking through spider webs, vines and thorny bushes (with our hands and sticks), stumbling over fallen coconuts and trees getting more lost by the hour. None of us thought to bring along our hand held GPS's. Or bug spray! We had so much creepy crawly stuff stuck to our hair, clothing and bodies when we finally emerged onto the beach
area (nowhere near where we thought we were), that we all plunged into the water to stop the itching and to debug ourselves.
Back on the boats we were rewarded by a visit from a fisherman who had traveled from another island in his little boat to peddle his fresh catch of lobsters. We happily traded away some batteries, a cap and t-shirt and some Spam for 6 lobsters. I threw in some suckers and gum and a coloring book for the man's son just as a gesture of kindness and in return he shoved 4 more lobsters at Frank. Sally and Glen on The Dorothy Marie arrived late in the day, so that night the 6 of us pooled our lobsters
and had a veritable feast.

While sitting on Charisma that night, we experienced the strangest phenomenon. The entire boat rumbled - this is a 53 ft sailboat. It shook and rumbled spasmodically for several seconds and then went still. Alan jumped up thinking his generator or engine had developed some kind of problem although both were turned off at the time. He found nothing, and then it happened again. The entire boat rumbled for several seconds and then all was still. The cruisers on the French yacht next door yelled,
"Earthquake!" Sure enough we eventually received confirmation that we had encountered our first sub oceanic earthquake, which had ostensibly telegraphed up through the anchor chain to the boats. No one knows where it actually occurred, but many felt it for miles around. It was another strange but wonderful experience for most of us.

By the next afternoon, Bold Spirit and Morning Light had pulled in. And that night we got together on The Dorothy Marie for Karaoke. Yes, TDM has a Karaoke machine on board. What a hoot! We had a blast!

By our fifth day this anchorage was getting very uncomfortable. The winds had shifted around and waves were building, sending very large rollers into the anchorage. On Wednesday night we tossed about so roughly that neither of us got much sleep, and Destiny was actually groaning. We would have moved on sooner but the wind wasn't right and we did not have enough fuel to motor for several hours to our next destination. By Thursday we had decided wind or no wind, we were out of there at first light.
Thank goodness the winds had once again shifted to a favorable direction giving us enough to sail the entire journey to Malinoa Island in Tongatapu; the final island group of Tonga.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cruising Tonga's Beautiful Ha'apai Islands...

The Ha'apai group of Tonga (the middle islands) are comprised of 4 smaller groupings; Lifuka, Kotu, Nomuka & Kelefesia. Within those groupings are many motus, islands and villages. Friday, Oct 10th we traveled the short distance over to Lifuka Island and the town of Pangai. This is the main village of Tonga's Ha'apai group, housing the government offices where we checked in and out in the same visit. As far as we could tell there was only one restaurant, The Mariner Café which was also part of
a small hotel, a couple of stores and several closed down (dilapidated) buildings, many churches and a few fairly large schools. Mama pigs with babies trailing along behind them graced the streets, yards and sidewalks. We lunched with Bold Spirit, Morning Light & The Dorothy Marie and walked the town a little but didn't do much more than that. We stayed a couple of days here and then moved onward to Uoleva Island where we once again found paradise.

This beautiful bay was painted in so many hues of blue and turquoise that we feasted our eyes and senses for days. An American expatriate named Patty was in the process of building Patty's Place; a Balinese style resort situated on the most prime real estate of the island. It housed 4 intimately placed beachfront guest cabins and several open air pavilions (can't remember what they are called), one was her massage hut, and a few others were just quiet areas laden with cushions and pillows surrounding
big beautiful tables in the center decorated with candles. In the main pavilion was the kitchen, dining and lounge area. Her property extended across the island to capture both shores. The vistas and beaches near each cabin were so lovely that we thought it the perfect honeymoon spot, or just the spot for any type of getaway. Patty and her companion Sammy welcomed us giving us a tour and urging us to come and hang out while they busied themselves arranging the kitchen, getting water lines and
electrical systems installed. Of the 9 yachts gathered in the bay most were Americans: The Dorothy Marie, Morning Light, Charisma, Bold Spirit, Don Pedro, Intention and then of the European lot was Kind of Blue, Mama Cocha & Stomper. We had previously met all but Stomper, Intention & Don Pedro. We snorkeled, beach combed, and generally hung out in Patty's cozy lounge. The snorkeling was like nothing we have yet seen - we couldn't get enough. I even treated myself to one of Patty's outstanding
massages. One night we all gathered for a "bring your own meat and a dish to share" Pot Luck, cooking our food over an open pit grill. Another night Sammy announced that he was going fishing for our dinner and would provide the main course if we brought side dishes. Once again we all feasted, pronouncing each other to be great cooks, and then gathered around the fire afterward for music and fellowship as Glen from The Dorothy Marie brought out his Saxophone & Alicia from Intention played guitar.
It is during times like these that we love our life so much and wish we could share these moments with our friends and family. We never wanted to leave here and hope that we will have a chance to return next season.

Next Stop: Nomuka Iki. We had great winds for the sail from Uoleva. Great sailing winds but pretty rough for anchoring at this little island which was the natural "next stop" working our way down the Ha'apai group. The beach had the softest sand yet and of course the waters continued to exhibit their kaleidoscope color variations of blues and greens. There was a wrecked ship on the shore and somewhere hidden in the recesses of the over and undergrowth of foliage sat an abandoned prison. This
would be a great stop for a kid with an imagination for adventure. We ventured to shore for a leisurely walk and while I strolled along picking up shells Frank laid down in the softness of the sand to make Sand Angels, eventually falling asleep. These are great Spiritual moments. We only lingered in Nomuka Iki for one night and then set off for Kelefesia with the hope of finding shelter from the high winds.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Moving on from Vava'u to Ha'apai - Tonga

On October 8th we awoke at 2:30 AM for departure to the Ha'apai group of Islands. It is about 63 miles to projected landfall but we wanted to arrive early in the day in case the small anchorage is already full thus pushing us onward. We had a great sail, making excellent time arriving at Ha'ano Island by midday. The beach area there was inhabited by a former sheep skinner and New Zealander of Tongan ancestry named Greg, who had recently acquired this lovely parcel of land through his grandmother.
He is in the process of building a fishing lodge with some bungalows for guests and a larger building to house the restaurant/bar & hall. The property truly has a million dollar view and a prime location for snorkeling and whale watching and is in close proximity to a colony of fruit bats (referred to as flying foxes), housed in the trees at the point of the bay. We spent time there snorkeling, observing the bats, walking into the villages and just enjoying this impressive anchorage. Greg generously
provided us a large bunch of bananas and a woven basket full of mangos and papayas which we shared with Morning Light. A side note about this part of Tonga: What is termed "village" by locals was a stark reminder to us of the abundance we Americans enjoy. These people are literally dirt poor; however their joyful temperament implies that they are a very content people. The children laugh and play, skipping around in the street, calling "Hello!" to us. They are self sufficient to a degree, living
off the fruits and vegetables they are able to grow, and raising pigs. Pigs are as abundant here as roosters and chickens are in French Polynesia. A village consists of churches and small homes. Religion is very important here. The Mormon population is strong, and then follows Latter Day Saints and then Wesleyan, with a scattering of Catholics and other denominations. We saw no stores to speak of other than a miniscule building that very much resembles a portable fireworks stand that one would
see back home along the highway. The stores here are dark and closed off; you do not actually enter the store, rather you walk up to a wired window for a peek inside. If you see something of interest, you point and the clerk slides it through the opening as at a ticket window for the movie theater. Life is very different here. Crime seems to be nonexistent, generosity abounds. It is easy for us to visit these villages with a spirit of giving - in whatever way we can whether it is food items,
bits of clothing, candy & gum for the children. Greg wanted cold beer. Electricity is a luxury which is rationed to each village in bocks of 6 hours per day. Even with a generator, Greg must be careful not to run out of fuel because it is not readily available either. Solar power is still being developed and is not used that we could see.

We finally bade Greg and Ha'ano farewell to cruise over to the village of Pangai at Lifuka Island - the main island in Ha'apai.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Last Tango in Vava'u

We were going back to Neiafu (Vava'u, Tonga), when Christine on Morning Light hailed us on the VHF to tell us Nuku anchorage, which is one of the prettiest in the area, was wide open and the sun was shining over a beautiful white sand beach off crystal clear water with several visible coral heads. We joined them there and were happy we did. It was all that was promised. The only hitch was that we had difficulty setting our anchor. We'd drop, drag and reset and by the third try I was hauling up
the anchor telling Frank there was a lot of resistance on the chain as though we had hooked someone else's anchor line. The water was clear and we couldn't see any other lines down there, nonetheless the windlass was straining to bring up our anchor. By the time it surfaced I nearly fell overboard in shock at the site of a huge coral head hooked onto the tip of our anchor! I left most of it under the surface and was peering at it over the side of our bow when boats around us all began to laugh.
Jaime (from ML) and our other neighbor from Upps (which is Deutsch for "Oops!") both jumped into their dinghies to come rescue us from the offending coral. Of course we got out the camera for a photo of our catch. We lost the coral head and then settled in for some fun. The beach area is so lovely and is known as the picnic island of Vava'u where many official functions are held for visiting dignitaries, and where in 1983, a feast for England's Prince Edward was held during his visit to Tonga.
It is a great area for shell hunting, beachcombing and snorkeling. While snorkeling we finally saw one of the orange starfish which we'd been hearing about. We spent a peaceful day and night in Nuku before the weather did turn and we once again sought the safety of Neiafu's anchorage.

More friends had left and some were arriving still, among them were Cop Out, Tuppenny, Nomad and Mr. John, whom we had last seen in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. Two of them had gotten caught in the horrific storm last week and sadly Cop Out came limping in with quite a lot of damage. Ken told us that they had been sailing at night in mild winds when all of a sudden the wind indicator climbed to 30 kts and reached 50 kts before they could safely reef in the sails; they had been hit by an unpredicted
gale. This is the cruisers' nightmare which we all pray to avoid but eventually it finds victims to torment. Ken and Wendy took it in stride and set about getting repairs in this village with no chandlery, repair establishment or boat parts to speak of. We rely on the morning "net" - the cruisers' broadcast which is hosted by local businesses each day for services, supplies and parts offered by other cruisers in trade or just in the gesture of goodwill. Sometimes we are lucky and sometimes not.
For instance we had no success finding ball bearings for our mainsail track either in town or among the others so are having them shipped to us from San Diego. When our boat hook broke, Baraka, loaned us their spare until we get to NZ. If not for other cruisers we would all be in a bind out here. We joke about the fact that the marinas in NZ are all bidding for our commitment to berth with them because they see the dollar signs as we all limp into their harbors to begin the repairs and upgrades.

In Neiafu, we had eaten several times at a wonderful little place called The Crow's Nest Café & Bakery, owned by Steve the baker and Tess who cooks and runs the café. He is from New Zealand, and she from Southern India. Delightful couple. They also cater to the Yachties, making pre-cooked meals and goodies for passage. We stopped by there for lunch on Thursday and while Frank went off to shop for veggies in the market I placed an order to pick up the following Monday. Frank should never leave
me alone to do these things because I had way too much fun. I ordered 2 loaves of wheat bread, a meat pie, a quiche, 4 sausage rolls (these are unique to The Crow's Nest), and a dozen cinnamon rolls. I stopped before adding brownies and more, realizing I could actually make some of these things. We then set out looking for last minute "needs", which is no small task. You may hit 6 stores looking for any one item, particularly eggs. Eggs are the prize in Tonga. They are sold by the flat (30
eggs to a flat@ roughly .70 cents per egg), and when someone has scored eggs, they proudly stroll down the street holding them like a precious offering out in front while watching others ohh and ahh at their good fortune. When setting out with a grocery list we may be able to mark off half of the items. The rest we just learn to do without. We searched for 4 days for lettuce here and procured a small head with barely a dozen leaflets for $5.00. Fresh produce here is a precious commodity and is
available in limited quantities and selections at the market. For the most part you can obtain very small semi ripe tomatoes, carrots, green peppers and cabbage. There are lots of roots and bananas and coconuts. Dry goods on store shelves may have been sitting there for a very long time and in some cases, the store shelves have bugs running around on them. Most of the grocery stores (in fact all that we saw) are owned by Chinese, not locals. The restaurants do a good job of serving tasty food
for what they are able to obtain and some of the other service providers really try to service the sailing community, as we found that many of them are former cruisers themselves and attempt to fill a need that they have known. It behooves them to do this because they make most of their annual revenue during the four months of the year that is cruising season. By November 1 each year the waters of Tonga probably appear deserted - this is when cyclone season begins.

On Friday we attended a presentation on New Zealand by a representative of Opua Bay (the Bay of Islands), specific to arriving yachts. He gave us customs, import and arrival information in accordance with the strict regulations established by the NZ government. There are so many forms to complete and guidelines to follow that I was beginning to regret our decision to sail there. Because it is primarily an agricultural and farming country most foods and many goods are not permitted. We found that
what food supplies we do not consume prior to arrival will most likely be confiscated and either destroyed or checked for biohazards and may or may not be returned to us. This includes our spices and herbs as well as canned foods. The list of restricted items is longer than anything I've seen for any other country we have EVER visited. All of our shells, baskets, jewelry made of bone or shell, even outdoor camping and sports equipment - including shoes, golf clubs, etc., must be declared and are
subject to confiscation if they appear to have soil, seeds, insect eggs or other foreign matter on them that are deemed hazardous to the ecosystem of NZ. Some items will be fumigated and returned others destroyed. The redeeming factor for us is that New Zealand has no poisonous snakes, spiders, ivy, or weeds. They want to protect their environmental culture as much as possible. Arriving yachts can bring in a lot of nasty stuff if not monitored. Or hulls must be cleaned before entering NZ territorial
waters as well. Once I got over my initial anxiety over these strict Regs I began to feel excited about it. It will be an expensive endeavor to replace all of our food staples and provisions but we will get over it.

The weekend flew by so quickly that Monday arrived before we knew it. We spent Monday going to Customs and the Port Captain getting checked out of Vava'u. We then went over to the Crow's Nest to pick up our passage order, and saw that there were a dozen banana muffins in the box - Tess thought I had ordered those as well, so rather than debate the matter we just paid for the lot and then loaded up and headed out. We spent Monday night at one of the anchorages closer to the exit from the island
group of Vava'u so that we could head out EARLY Tuesday morn for the Ha'apai group some 60 miles southwest of here.

Friday, October 10, 2008

October 1 - Neiafu, Vava'u Tonga

The rain has been persistent and consistent here in Tonga, Vava'u. We stayed at the anchorage by Ano & Tapana Beaches for another couple of days to wait for pretty weather so that we could snorkel the Coral Gardens which boasted the most beautiful coral, and abundant sea life in the group but it became clear that we would be waiting for a while so we cruised over to another anchorage at a place called Mala Island where the local resort's restaurant has begun featuring Monday night football. Because
we are a day ahead of the USA out here, we sat and watched the Chargers vs the Jets at 1:30 PM on Tuesday, dining on Lobster Pizza and getting to know fellow cruisers. We stayed for just one night and then ventured back into the main harbor at Neiafu the next day, dismayed that we didn't have a chance to snorkel at Mala because we had heard that there were Lion Fish, cone snails (both deadly by the way) and lots of pretty coral and starfish varieties there.

We found that Ryan had indeed found himself aboard yet another boat departing for NZ and left on Tuesday. It is a little early to be heading to New Zealand just yet so we prayed for his safe passage and speedy arrival. We got together with some other boats, Baraka, Estrellita and a scattering of other folks to go snorkeling with the whales on Sunday (yes, we were surprised that they allowed this on Sunday!). Tonga is one of the last places in the world that allows humans to swim with the Humpback
Whales. Hands down, this was the most amazing adventure we have yet encountered while cruising. The guides literally took us out to swim with a mother and her calf. There were 11 people on the boat and each of us got to go into the water twice with the whales. We watched them surface and dive, playfully turn belly-up on the surface, and then lazily roll onto their sides "waving" at us. It was mesmerizing. At times we were so close to them I found my heart racing with sheer adrenaline. These
creatures are huge and yet so graceful and gentle. This is one of the few experiences I just cannot put into words, but do have some photos to post that even still cannot depict the moment. This is a once in a lifetime encounter which few will ever have the opportunity to experience. We feel privileged and blessed to have been able to do this.

In recent days we have been bidding many friends farewell that are headed to Fiji and then onward, causing Vava'u to leave us bittersweet memories. The Peasleys on Imagine left us while in Tapana, Andy and Melissa on Spectacle had just departed from Neiafu and now Bill and Amy (Estrellita) were leaving on Tuesday so we wanted to do something special with them. After a very stormy Sunday night, Monday dawned to reveal blue skies and perfect wind and sea conditions; hence we sailed out to Mariner's
Cave with Bill and Amy aboard while towing their dinghy. Mariner's Cave is accessed by snorkeling up to a wall on the face of an island called Nuapapu, and then free diving down 8 feet underneath the surface to a 14 foot wide arch passage, which you continue under before ascending up into a dark cave within the rock structure. Of course there is a story to the cave and a reason we all want to dive it: "A young Tongan chief had fallen in love with a maiden from a family that was marked for extinction…"
(a gal from the wrong side of the tracks so to speak). "…In order to save her, he spirited her away from danger and hid her for two weeks in this cave. There he brought her food, water and promises of love and a future of safety to sustain her until he was able to prepare an expedition to Fiji. He picked her up en route, married her in Fiji and then when it was safe to do so, returned to Vava'u with his bride and they lived happily ever after…". We wanted to visit this mystical fairy tale place.
Because the water is too deep to anchor outside the cave, only three of us could go in at a time while one person stayed on Destiny to make sure she didn't drift into the rocks - or out to sea. Bill and Amy both had underwater video cameras and the plan was for each of them to video each of the rest of us diving into and back out of the cave. I went with them the first time. The cave is not visible from outside, so we used GPS points to locate the entrance. The only way you can see that you
are approaching the correct spot is to look for a deeper blue area in the water. Amy and I swam to the entrance and were waiting for Bill to approach when all of a sudden, I watched Amy take a big breath and down she went. She popped back up to inform me that she had located the entrance point to the cave, then after taking another deep breath back down she went and this time didn't pop back up. Not sure what to do or where to really go, I quickly took a big breath of air and pursued Amy downward.
Whether I didn't take a large enough gulp of air, or my previous years of smoking had taken their toll on my lungs, or the underwater distance was much more than documented, I thought my lungs would burst before I got into the cave. It was eerie and surreal swimming into utter darkness, kicking for all my might hoping to clear the ceiling of the arch in time to break through to the surface before passing out, or involuntarily gulping water. Finally seeing Amy's fins fluttering below the surface,
indicating to me that she was floating above, I let out my last few puffs of air and popped up like a cork. Bill arrived some minutes later asking why we didn't wait for him so he could video us going in. Amy said; "we'll do it again so you can film us." I said' "No, I'm good - it was fun, I'm done". They just laughed at me as Amy repeated the maneuver for Bill to capture on video while I floated to catch my breath and look around the cave. It was bright and clear one moment and then as though
on cue and with a strange rhythm, my goggles would completely fog up my ears would pop, the cave would become filled with a thick greenish fog and feel pressurized, and become ensconced in total darkness. This phenomenon repeated over and over with the ebb and flow of the water within the cave. Although the story tells of a ledge where the maiden stayed while awaiting her lover's return, there was no place that I could see for a person to climb up out of the water. I could not imagine the courage
and stamina of that young girl's heart, staying in there for 2 weeks. Bill and Amy returned and we floated around for a short while looking at the formations and colors within and then I spent a few minutes calming my heart and mind, trying not to think too much about trying to get back out of there. As before, Amy suddenly took a deep breath and away she dove. I looked at Bill who must've seen the saucers I'd grown for eyes, and he just said; "Calm your mind and the rest will follow, Barbara
- take your time, oh and I will be filming you". I followed his instructions, added a prayer of my own and away I went, feeling very relieved to see that I was swimming into light this time and could see my surroundings as I made a much easier passage of the dive back out. I swam back to Destiny, and tagged Frank for his turn. He took off like an anxious pup. When he approached the entrance to the cave I noticed he went down, came back up and waited a few minutes and then headed back down when
Amy came out to direct him. When they got back to the boat I noticed Frank had a large gash and a smaller one on the top of his head. My stomach lurched at the site because I'd heard that coral cuts can be very dangerous as they contain living organisms that can get into your system and become severe infections. He said that his dive suit had made him far too buoyant and he had really struggled to stay down under enough to make it through the arch. We scrubbed and cleansed his wounds and although
it probably caused him more pain than the actual injury, he healed up fairly quickly.

Amy and Bill left in their dinghy to return to Estrellita and get ready to depart for Fiji and Frank and I sailed over to "Anchorage #16" to meet up with Morning Light and some others. Fortunately the fair weather stayed with us for another 2 days and we finally had a chance to do some snorkeling. We took a few pictures but our camera just cannot capture the colors we have seen. We managed to film some blue and purple starfish and a couple of curious squid. The coral here is amazingly well preserved
for being in such shallow depths. We really enjoyed the anchorage there and got a chance to meet Rennie and John from Scarlett O'Hara. Then the reports of severe weather threatened once again to end our fun so we returned to Neiafu for our last few days in the Vava'u group before heading south to the Ha'apai group.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Loving Tonga!

Saturday (Sept 13) night we joined Christine and Jaime for dinner at the Dancing Rooster, owned by a Swiss fellow named Gunter, the only trained Chef on the island. Frank and the others ordered a spicy Thai lobster dish and I ordered the grilled whole lobster. The price for my lobster was $67 Pa'Angas (roughly $33 USD), and we all thought it would be a small to medium size fellow. After waiting quite a while for our food, the waitress came out to apologize that the meal was taking so long saying
that the lobsters were larger than usual and were taking an inordinate amount of time to cook. We were fine with that, and didn't give it much thought until she returned from the kitchen with my meal. The platter was the size of the one I use for Thanksgiving turkey. My lobster was so large that his legs and antennae were hanging over onto everyone else's plates at the table! Nearly in unison we all exclaimed, "Holy cow!". It was magnificently presented, split down the middle and prepared such
that the entire head and body cavity was edible as well as the tail. This would have probably been a $300.00 dinner at The Palm back home. I could only manage to eat a portion of the tail, and had the restaurant wrap the remainder up to go. After dinner we bid farewell to C & J to meet up with others at Tonga Bob's to watch the live broadcast of the most important Rugby match of the year - the New Zealand All Blacks VS the Wallabies from Australia. We arrived to find the bar completely packed
full of locals, Australians and New Zealanders. May of our cruiser friends were there already, including Ryan and his buddies. Obviously this crowd had been there for a while getting revved up, and the atmosphere was fully charged. I gave Ryan my lobster and he and several others feasted on it like wild men. Because the game started at 11:10 PM we were just going to stay long enough to watch the Haka that the All Blacks perform before each game, but became so caught up in the game that we actually
stayed to the end. We are now official All Blacks fans and are planning to try to get attend some games while in NZ.

Sunday - According to our cruiser's guide; "Tongans are very religious people and conservative behavior and dress is a must. While the standards of dress differ somewhat from group to group, at no time is it acceptable for men or women to be topless with the exception that men may shed their shirts at the beach. Women should wear skirts, dresses or lavalavas of knee length or longer and tops should cover the shoulders. Cleavage is not appreciated"… "Public displays of affection are discouraged.
Even the innocent act of holding hands can encourage hoots of surprise"… "Sundays are reserved for God and with few exceptions all businesses are closed. If you are anchored anywhere near a village or church, avoid working, swimming or even fishing on Sunday." Well, being anchored in the town of Neiafu, we are close to town and many churches. We were counting on two things after reading this since the guide was written in 2002: perhaps the rules about women wearing only dresses or skirts has
been relaxed because I do not have an abundance of dresses or skirts, and although I have tremendous respect for the women cruisers who are brave enough and graceful enough to climb up onto the dinghy dock in their long skirts, I chose to sport Bermuda type shorts and crossed fingers, and for the Sunday part maybe the Tongans won't mind if we tidy up our boat a bit on Sunday to get caught up on some housekeeping.

This bay is the calmest anchorage we have been in for a while and when we have an opportunity like this to work on the boat in relative comfort we seize it; therefore, while Frank did Captain stuff I personally dedicated Sunday to knocking out long overdue maintenance projects such as polishing and scrubbing rust off the stainless equipment and areas on deck. It was an arduous task because Destiny has a lot of hardware so I got after it. We didn't see anyone else working around their boats but
no one chastised us either so although I had intended just to do half of the boat I started with the deck chairs and back porch and before I knew it, I was on a mission to get it all done, including stanchions, pulpits, wenches, railing, shrouds, chain plates, the bowsprit, bolts and screws, etc. I now appreciate why it is so costly to have a yacht detailed. We have yet so much to do to keep Destiny looking beautiful but can only tackle a little at a time. If you don't stay ahead of the game it
gets overwhelming and then becomes a monumental task.
Tuesday night we invited Amber and James over for dinner. Ryan was still with us so the 5 of us ate and then visited with each other. James told us that he and Amber intended to go over to Atmosphere, the charter boat that he has been commissioned to deliver to NZ, the next morning to check it out and invited Ryan to go along with them. He was hoping to get permission for the crew to go ahead and move onto it while they await departure. This is good news for Ryan because Frank and I are ready
to head out to explore the many other islets and anchorages and to catch up with friends, etc. And we are in dire need of water, so to be fair to Ryan we had told him that we will be heading out on Thursday morning, giving him enough notice so that he can make arrangements to stick around the area until his crew position materialized. He is fortunate to have several options which are either free or cost no more than $25.00 per night. Tonga is a great inexpensive destination for travelers on a
low budget.

So, Thursday morning after getting Ryan settled onto another boat, Frank and I visited immigration for our Visa extension, took care of last minute business on shore and then set out for adventure. First port of call: Port Maurelle. This is a beautiful anchorage! The water is crystal clear - as it is all over these islands, and you can see clear to the bottom in nearly any depth. There are starfish down there in various colors such as blue and orange and purple! The sandy beaches are like postcards
and the bays are quiet and calm like. There are just a few boats I here and we are enjoying the solitude of being away from the hustle and bustle of the main anchorage at Neiafu. We have had the radio off for 2 days and only turn it on to listen to the morning net. So peaceful. It has rained on and off nearly every day but we don't care. We have plenty of books to read and cooking and baking to do while we enjoy they calm. Everyone is trading food goods because we can't take many items into
New Zealand so we are all cooking up a storm and trying to either use up or trade away foodstuffs that are questionable for taking with us. We had a couple of dinner with Imagine; it was great to see them again and to spend some time with them before they head to Fiji in the next few days.

Saturday we moved over to the Tapana and Ano beach area, named Anchorage #11 by the Moorings. There is a floating artist studio here called "The Ark Studio", owned by Larry and Sherry, American cruisers who built it as a studio/home and now reside in Tonga full time in their little Ark. They sell art, do custom paintings, rent mooring buoys to us and help take reservations for the Sat. night Tongan Feast on Ano beach each week. We attended the feast last night. It was really something! Local
villagers cook all day, preparing everything Tonga style, baking the food in the ground wrapped in Taro leaves. At the beginning of the evening the local artisans and craftsmen (and women) displayed their goods which included everything from wood and bone carvings to tapa cloths, woven baskets and decorations, all kinds of jewelry and pearls. Then there was music, dancing and a Kava ceremony followed by a traditional Blessing and then the feast. We had a great time and came home absolutely stuffed!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Now in Tonga!

Following the most uncomfortable 2-day passage we have yet encountered, we arrived in Tonga's Vava'u group of Islands, at the town of Neiafu on Thursday afternoon.  We made the journey with two other boats, Baraka and Spectacle.  We were thankful to have Ryan on board to help with night watches because until we were within a couple of hours of the island none of us got much sleep.  Sadly, Spectacle lost their dinghy during the passage – it really was a rough one!  There are more yachts here than any other harbor since leaving Papeete, Tahiti.  We are guessing over 50 yachts are anchored just here, and many others are scattered about the numerous other anchorages throughout the little islands and motus of the Vava'u group.  Upon arrival at the wharf we were visited/boarded by Customs, Immigration and Dept. of Agriculture.  The health inspector was not available but we will need to locate him and show our health cards.  We passed all inspections and were cleared to anchor.

That $5.00 steak dinner is yet to be discovered by any of us, but the exchange rate here is very USD friendly.  We estimate that the Tongan dollar, the Pa'anga'e is the equivalent of .54 to the American $.  Prices vary depending on what you wish to purchase.  Lunches and dinners at local restaurants may run from $12 – 65 Pa'angas; however, we paid $65 Pa'angas for a 1 kg. bag of coffee beans.  Sure hope that is good coffee!   There are several local internet opportunities for us here, and we purchased 20 hours from the Aquarium café for $8/hr.  We could have probably gone more economically elsewhere but this one is available to connect to from our yacht.  All others require us to take the laptop to shore.  Sadly there is no Skype phone access here.  The Kingdom of Tonga blocks it, although we can use the chat feature and are told that the computer-to-computer calling feature can be used with poor audio quality.  This became very distressful for us when we got news that hurricane Ike was on a collision course with Galveston.  Because our Sat phone has been sent back to the factory for repairs we have been unable to call our family members in Kemah/Seabrook and the Houston area.  Thankfully, the next day my daughter was able to send us a message via her cell phone – thank God for modern technology! – letting us know that she, our grandson and my parents are safe and healthy.  My parents sustained property damage but nothing serious to their home. The status of Jennifer's apartment and salon are yet unknown.  She is keeping her spirits up and praying for the best.  The entire Space Center area where she lives is locked down, so until residents are allowed back home we will continue to ask for your prayer support for them and all who were affected by Ike.  I doubt if I will ever again think the phrase "I like Ike" is cute or catchy!

Back to Tonga…we completely lost Wednesday when we made the crossing.  We literally sailed from Tuesday to Thursday as we crossed the International Dateline.  Since arriving we have dined at the Aquarium, which is owned by some American cruisers who sailed here and basically never left.  Then there is Tonga Bob's, Mexican Restaurant which is owned by an Aussie.  The menu offers tacos, nachos and tostadas, which all interestingly are the same meal, just presented differently.  The food isn't too bad if you add a lot of Tabasco or other variety of hot sauce. We participated in a Trivia night at Tonga Bob's which was quite fun.  The entire group of international patrons, comprised of cruisers, med students and vacationers participated in teams.  Frank and I teamed up with Helen and Charlie who are crewing on another boat.  We had a great time getting caught up in the excitement and competitiveness of the game.  And the best part of it was that we won!

Friday the local yacht club hosted the weekly yacht race in the harbor.  Anyone could enter and many did either on their own boats or joined up with others.  Frank and I played lazy that day and sat at the yacht club to watch and visit with friends.  During the race, Amber Miller and her boyfriend James stopped in.  They set sail from Hawaii in May, also sailing the South Pacific.  We had been tracking each other hoping to meet up somewhere; Amber is the daughter of one of Frank's former business colleagues.  It was a thrill to finally meet up with them and to share sailing adventures and cruising plans with one another.  James is an accomplished sailor and delivery captain, planning some deliveries of boats from here and/or Fiji down to New Zealand.  They will be leaving here ahead of us so we made plans to meet for dinner soon.  After the race finished the racers descended on the club.  We introduced Ryan to Amber and James and then left for The Bounty restaurant to meet Spectacle and Morning Light for dinner and to watch a Kava Ceremony.

Saturday we joined up with Jaime and Christine from Morning Light for the adventure tour around the island.  We travel in two-person dune buggies following our guide in his buggy, on roads and off road and on trails and along beaches.  We saw some incredible vistas that took our breath away.  While touring we received a history lesson about the island and her wars between Tongans, Samoans and Fijians. We were told of mystic phenomenon that occurred at the new millennium and during the equinox periods and at full moons.  We traveled through beautiful townships and through impoverished villages.  We witnessed the soaring beauty of the largest bat any of us has laid eyes on, as we stood on top of a cliff overlooking the ocean and a shoreline which housed a large cave where these "flying foxes" dwell.  They literally have delicate little fox-like faces and glide like eagles.  We had heard about them but didn't expect to witness one in flight during broad daylight.  The tour ran close to 4 hours and was absolutely worth doing and recommending to our friends.

When we returned from our adventure we got the great news that Ryan had been offered a crew opportunity with James and Amber aboard a charter yacht being returned to its owner in New Zealand.  This is an incredible opportunity for Ryan and we are very excited for him to have been given this very experience, especially to get to sail with some young people closer to his age that he enjoys spending time with.  The timing is good for us as well because Frank and I have got to get somewhere to replenish the onboard water supply which is dangerously low are ready move along to see other anchorages.  This anchorage is not safe for making water.
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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Does anyone have news of Ike?

Hello friends and family.  We are in Tonga with no phone access to home.  The hurricane hit my former hometown where my daughter, grandson, Mom and Dad, brother and many friends live.  Jennifer's home and salon were just off a canal at Nasa Rd 1, and although she fled to Katy, TX to sit out the storm I don't know if she and Trace are OK.  We can only assume she has lost everything, but are hopeful that we are wrong.  I have no way to get news from or to any of my family.  We borrowed a Sat phone from friends to try to call Jen and my parents but apparently the phones are all out, including cell service because we were not successful reaching anyone.  I then tried to call my sister in Dallas and my brother in VA but can't reach anyone!  I have sent emails to everyone in my family asking for information but haven't heard from any of them.  I am sick with dread.  Please pray for our family, friends and for everyone back in Texas and Louisiana.
If anyone out there knows anything - please send us an email.  We are completely in the dark!
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Monday, September 8, 2008

Niue – Sept 4 – 8th, 2008

We have adopted a temporary crew member, Ryan our friend who was crewing with Syren.  Apparently Joe was ready for a change so he booted his crew today.  We felt somewhat responsible for Ryan's being out here so we told him he had a place with us until he can find another crew opportunity.  At the least he will sail with us to Tonga.  After that we will take it one day at a time. 

We have had so many incredible, interesting and new experiences here in Niue.  We went to Bingo one night at the Pacific Bar – wow!  There must've been over a hundred locals playing SERIOUS bingo!  You do not talk, whisper or move during a game, the guy calling the numbers spewed them rapid-fire and there was no going back if you missed one – definitely no whispering to your neighbor, "What was that #?"  The prizes were serious as well.  For $10.00 NZ, you get a 10 game card.  Several of us cruisers played and some won prizes.  Andy from Spectacle won a very large hand-woven basket full of food – whole chickens, lamb meat, corned beef, local vegetables, canned foods, and more.  Jenny from Malachi won a whole tuna!  We took pictures which will be posted to our site.  Afterward we had our choice of fish & chips (for either a $% or $10 plate), or chicken curry with rice ($7).  Not bad for dinner prices.

 On Friday three boats (Destiny, Timella, Spectacle), of us got together to rent a very large van for the tour around the island.  This island had some incredible geographical points of interest, including chasms, arches, caves and beautiful inland beaches that formed sometime during floods I guess.  The history of Niue is actually a charming tale: "NIUE the name is derived from "Niu" a Polynesian word for coconut, and "E!" which is Polynesian for behold!  The first inhabitants are thought to have arrived one thousand years ago and were delighted to find coconut trees growing here as they had been in their ancestral homes.  So, "Niue" literally translated could have been…"Hey, look guys, this place has coconut trees as well!"  That is the story we copied from the Niue guide.  Niue is 259 sq. kms; approximately 21 km long by 18 km wide, with a 64 km road that goes around the island.  We have been captivated by her land and her people.  And her food! We tried to take as many pictures as possible and hope to do the Niueans justice.

 Today is Monday – departure day.  We have heavy hearts as we prepare to leave for Tonga.  Frank and I are happy to have Ryan aboard to help us with not only handling and watches, but I have a personal dishwasher – yay!  Ryan agreed to wash all the dishes as long as he doesn't have to cook.  We look forward to our next adventure in Tonga.  Many of our friends are headed there or have arrived there already – Imagine, Syren, Morning Light, Bebe, Malachi, Estrellita and our friend, Mike Miller's daughter Amber, who is there with her boyfriend a delivery captain.  We hear the prices are extremely reasonable, for instance a $5.00 steak dinner is waiting for us!

 We will cross the international dateline thus losing a day just before we reach Tonga.  We will leave on Monday for a 2 day crossing, arriving on Thursday.  Hopefully we will have internet there.  We will
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Sunday, September 7, 2008

September 4th - Niue

Saturday we arrived in Niue at around 7 PM in the dark.  The island doesn't have a barrier reef which is a blessing; however it also did not have channel or navigation lights into the anchorage.  Steve from Orca III and Jay from Malachi got into a dinghy, located a mooring ball for us and then sat on it with a red laser light to guide us into the anchorage.  Earlier they had also assisted Syren and Ahu; we were the last boat to arrive that day.  The drill here is that you contact Radio Niue and the Niue Yacht Club to announce your arrival and get check-in instructions for immigration and customs, etc.; however we had been told that the weekends here are relatively quiet with most businesses closed until Monday hence we raised the quarantine flag and sat prepared to stay onboard until Monday when government offices opened and we were granted clearance by Customs.  Sunday morning though, we got a call from the yacht club welcoming us to "The Rock" and asking us to contact Niue Radio, get our dinghy into the water and come ashore.  Apparently they were willing to go ahead and begin the process on Sunday.  Frank got the papers together and off he went with Joe from Syren to take care of business.  They were gone for half the day!  He returned and showed me some papers to read about Niue which revealed to us that this island is the most conservative of any place we have visited thus far.  In the visitor's arrival packet we are asked to dress more modestly than one would in a typical resort destination.  Short shorts, tank tops, swimsuits and scant apparel are frowned upon in public places.  Frank and I have no problem with this since we are well past the prime of our lives when skimpy clothing was considered attractive on our once nubile bodies.


The wharf here is yet another experience to add to the adventure list.  As in Rarotonga there is no dinghy landing, but there is a great crane lift system here.  We took pictures because it is not easily describable.  We pull up in the dinghy, grab the large hook at the end of the crane line, attach it to a hoisting bridle in the dinghy and then start the crane which raises it up out of the water and then we swing it around to the dock, load it onto a wheeled launch and roll it into a parking spot.   There isn't much here with regard to amenities.  In January 2004, Heta, a 300 kilometer per hour cyclone hit this little island slamming 60 foot waves up and over the natural 40 ft. seawall that characterizes the island.  Sadly it took out many homes, the hospital and hotel.  The inhabitants had all gone inland to the rainforest for shelter as they heard their world being smashed and tossed about.  They are still rebuilding and recovering and yet the one thing that Heta did not destroy is the incredibly strong Faith and determined spirits which these amazing Niueans possess.  They have welcomed us with open arms and hearts and only want to share their history and culture with us.  The Niue Yacht Club is actually a room, a porch and a yard full of picnic tables attached to the home of Mamata who runs a café and ice cream shop.  It is "The biggest little Yacht Club in the World" with over 1300 members worldwide.  We joined of course!  Keith is the vice-commodore and is usually on hand to collect our mooring ball fees, sell beer, soft drinks, courtesy flags, memberships, t-shirts, club burgees, hats and the like.  He also provides free internet, a book exchange and transportation to those in need.  On Monday we were sitting around when I noticed that he was wearing a Niue Hash House Harriers shirt!  This is the running club to which I belong and is an international group.  Although I no longer run I am a member for life, so I asked him when the next run was scheduled, to which he responded, "Tonight at 5:00, and you should come".  We were in!  Frank and I along with several other yachties joined the Niue HHH for the weekly "run".  It turns out that because there were so many visitors this time the trail led us to a memorial park erected in memory of and on the site of the home of Niue's only two cyclone fatalities, a mother and her son. 


Tuesday we spent time at the yacht club with our fellow cruisers, walked around discovering the local sites & shops and then went to dinner with Bill and Amy (Estrellita) & Andy and Melissa (Spectacle) at a local restaurant called Jenna's, which for $20.00 gave us a Niuean buffet feast!  It was better than the local food in French Polynesia – at least by our tastes and so much more reasonably priced.  In fact prices here are finally something we can stand for a change.


The whales are here and we have seen several in the anchorage.  We wanted to scuba dive but the dive shop is booked solid for the next 2 weeks.  The dives are mostly cave and chimney dives and then there are whale-snorkeling trips which are also booked up.  We have NOT been encouraged to go on our own.  This island is also home to one of the deadliest species of sea snake.  They are all about in the water and unless you are very careless or unlucky they will not harm you, however if bitten you will not live long enough to get medical treatment.  We see them in the water around the boat but we don't go into the water, which by the way is the clearest we have yet seen.  We are moored in approximately 140 feet and yet we can see clear to the bottom.  It really is magical here.  We plan to see the entire island before leaving.
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