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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.

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