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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.