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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 cafĂ© 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

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