Search This Blog

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.
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, 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!
while at sea: (note:the sender must include the character sequence "//WL2K" in the subject line of the message.)
Skype ID: frank.barb.gladney

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
while at sea: (note:the sender must include the character sequence "//WL2K" in the subject line of the message.)
Skype ID: frank.barb.gladney

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.
while at sea: (note:the sender must include the character sequence "//WL2K" in the subject line of the message.)
Skype ID: frank.barb.gladney

Monday, September 1, 2008

37 Miles to Niue!

It is Saturday around 12:30 PM . The past few days have been pretty much the same; winds and seas up and down. Yesterday mid-morning I was in the cockpit alone reading a book while Frank was napping when all of a sudden I heard a loud "Pop!" and felt a jerk at the back of the boat. My heart went into my throat as I saw our dinghy half hanging on. A shackle (to me everything is a shackle) that is attached to the arms of the davit, holding the line that secures one end of the dinghy had snapped
right off. Thank goodness Frank had that thing secured with come-along lines as extra support, otherwise the pressure of the dinghy falling would likely have pulled it from the secured line at the other end and we would have lost our dinghy! I did the prudent thing by yelling, "Frank I think we are about to lose our dinghy!", and sat frozen in grief and fear in the cockpit. He came out and worked some kind of Frank-like miracle job of securing our dinghy, although it is still hanging at a precarious
angle and has partially deflated from the stress. I think I'll take a picture for the website.

Syren long ago blew past us - that is what J-160's are for! As of last night they were some 40+ miles ahead of us and have probably pulled into Niue by now. We are due to arrive between 6 & 7 PM tonight. Ahu just passed us about an hour ago. We are sailing downwind which is great for the catamaran but not so for us. The seas are much too rough to fool with the whisker pole for wing & wing sailing, and the winds are too heavy for the gennaker, so we are absolutely tossing every which way, watching
waves crash our beam and splash up over the freeboard (the sides of the boat), I hear crashing sounds and slamming in cabinets but can't do a thing about any of it just now. It is nothing new, although not our favorite way to fly. We heard that the approaching weather system that is to bring 35+ knot winds is somewhat behind schedule - Thank God - because if it were to hit as predicted we would be right in the thick of it. We are praying it holds off until we get to Niue and further praying there
is room in the Inn!