Eventually the weather became clement, the sky was blue and the anchor chain gave us a happy creaking sound as it came up on departure day. Blue Dawn was trembling like a happy puppy but after the eight days passage from New Zealand she was pleased to rest again in lovely Port Vila. A warm and friendly place where we were really lucky to arrived on Independence Week with fireworks and festivals all day long!
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We are still motor-sailing at 5 knots, we know we are getting a bit closer; it's overcast and colder. It's putting us in the mood for NZ! We should be getting a stronger West to North-West wind soon which we were waiting for to speed us towards our destination. WooHoo... Everything good on board except for the fact that the plate at the head of the sail broke!! It was quite something too see the full main coming down but we were lucky that we were sailing to weather in very light wind. We have hooked up a strong spectra rope to take us to Nz and if this gives there is always the drill to make new eyes to attach the halyard to. Geoff had to go to the top of the mast to retrieve the halyard and was tossed like a puppet, very scary, he is so courageous! His legs were bleeding when he reached deck again... Unbelievable the strength of these sails, I was holding the halyard while Geoff was fixing the plate and it lifted me off the deck?
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We arrived after the fleet going into the rally to Opua, New Zealand, so we had the island to ourselves, rather nice! We really enjoyed being anchored by Big Mama Yacht club, beautiful little piece of sand and a very friendly place. They could not do enough to help us all! Took a tour of the Nuku'Alofa with our friends on s/v Babalu, a lovely day out exploring the four corners of the island. We are waiting for Ricky to arrive for our last ocean sailing this year...
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It is early morning, I just woke up, and in my cloudy brain I do not seem to comprehend what I am hearing. The VHF is bursting with Tsunami Warnings!!!
A volcano had apparently exploded underwater at 17:48 Zulu time on the 29 of September 2009; coordinates 15.558 South - 17.073 West at a depth of 18km with a magnitude of 8.3.
As Geoff seems as little concerned as it is possible, I decide to log on to my computer and check what is really going on. All facts are quickly confirmed and all blood drained out of my body, my mouth is dry and my heart is accelerating. Geoff is amused and smirks at me, great!
All the horror from the Indonesian Tsunami came back to me, I know we are safe on a boat anchored in deep water but it really freaked me out...
More and more reports are coming in from the outer anchorages: "water is draining out" and then to everybody shock, a woman voice screamed in urgency and desperation: "Tsunami, tsunami, it is coming, it is coming". A total silence has taken over Neiafu's anchorage, everyone is standing on deck looking out towards the entrance of the bay. I do not know what we are expecting to see but the mind do go crazy. I've forgotten that I was holding my breath when I heard the woman voice and was now gasping for air! Geoff has lost his smirk and he is puffing harder on his cigarette but apart from that he is as stoic as ever! Quite amazing to be able to never panic...
Reports are coming in stating the fact that the water level is dropping, now I am squinting so hard towards the shore and the depth sounder that I still have deep worry lines between my browns!
The voices on the VHF keep on coming in: 1 meter, 2 meters, water is rising now, water dropping again...
Fortunately Vavau was not touched by the Tsunami but all the damages at the neighboring islands make us realized that we were indeed very lucky! Thank you all for the numerous messages.
The island north of us, Niuatoputopu or New Potatoe, was hit and it is reported that 10 people died and 90% of the village was destroyed. Our thoughts goes to all the people which have lost a family member...
In the last few days an incredible effort has been put out by the people of Neiafu and all of us yachties, bags of clothing and food were pilling up everywhere around town and donations were coming in. A total of 500kg of goods were loaded onto the plane going to Hihifo for help relief. Several boats had sailed North to Niuatoputopu island to bring some more supplies and to aid the locals with repairing the damages, generators, water systems; an amazing group of people! A French naval boat has also arrived with a huge amount of merchandises.
Reports from the NOAA Tsunami center:
Click Here to read to Tsunami warning!
Click Here to see the Cancellation report & Data
Tonga is the only sovereign monarchy among the island nations of the Pacific Ocean and has avoided formal colonization.
The name of Tonga derives from the word Tongahahake, which translates to "Southeast", originally meaning "the wind that blows from the Southeast".
Some of the customs are quite unique:
Many of the people in Tonga still where the heavy waist mats which are there traditional dress. The mat is called a ta'ovala and men wear them around their waist and tie it with a kafa, a Tongan traditional string made from coconut fiber. They wear a shirt with a collar. To a funeral they wear old mats and black clothes. The women wear a dress and tunpenu with a ta'ovala around their waist that goes down to their knees. We noticed the school children also had a uniform fashioned from these mats.
Women and men have equal access to education and health care, and are fairly equal in employment, but women are discriminated against in land holding, electoral politics, and government ministries. However, in Tongan tradition women enjoy a higher social status than men, a cultural trait that is unique among the insular societies of the Pacific. You may also see the "Fakaleitis" (To be like a lady) on the road, in the offices and in the bars in their full outfit and makeup. A fakaleiti (or leiti or fakafefine or lady) is a Tongan male who behaves in effeminate ways, in contrast to mainstream Tongan men, who tend to be very masculine. Although, Fakaleitis do not necessarily associate with transgender or gay identities as in the Western world.
Being a vigorously religious nation, Tongan stores and cafes promptly shut at midnight on Saturday night and (some) reopen at midnight on Sunday - most commercial outlets are not open on Sundays, as it is the holy day of rest. You are not allowed to work on Sunday even on your boat! We attended the church this past Sunday and the singing was absolutely beautiful.
We are enjoying the yacht orientated town of Neiafu, in the Vava'u group. Many expats restaurant dote the waterfront offering good cheap food: Aquarium, Giggling Whale, Vava'u Yacht Club. We really enjoyed the Red Rooster, Mahi Mahi Curry and the Giggling whale for Monique's Birthday with fire dancing! We also had some lovely local girls doing a Tonga Dance and the boys enjoyed sticking small bills on the arms (specially oiled with coconut oil) of the performers.
The Giggling Whale is now painting boat's names in their unusual toilet, so we are now officially Tongan residents!! The kids made a funny little drawing for Geoff which is always complaining about his age and the necessity very soon of a wheelchair...
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The sails are hoisted and full from a 30 knots South-East wind, Blue Dawn is happily riding the swell, playing like a little dolphin on the surf. The compass is showing a course of 265' and an empty ocean opens up in front of us. The options of a destination are plentiful; Palmerston, Niue or Tonga; but the breeze will decide for us... Bora Bora's peaks are disappearing fast; Maupiti like a mirage is standing to our Starboard and then it is only "Nothing".
It is good to be on deck with the wind blowing in my face and the salt spray washing over me. My sea's legs are back and with it the dreaded queasiness...A good excuse to crash on a comfortable couch with a good book in hand, that's sailing!
As the miles are increasing so is the storm and the direction of the wind is shifting every 24h in a clockwise manner. So we will only wave to Palmerston and then Niue passing by at 10 knots... So Tonga is our only other choice with good protected bays and just a few more "sail" away. We will reach the "friendly islands" in 6½ days. Rick is with us and has been summoned for the night watch! Thanks Rick...
Oa Oa! (Or a Tahitian term for expressing your happiness)
Above is a watercolor from a long time friend, Titi Becaud, a lovely French lady which arrives in French Polynesia on a sailboat years and years ago. They elected, with her husband and son, Bora Bora as their new home. I saw her the last time we came here, in the meantime she has become quite renown for her work and a really cute children book full of drawings relating the story of a Tupa Crab: "Un autre jour a Bora-Bora".
I always loved her watercolors since a little girl when Titi and my Mum used to sell the paintings on the port of Saint-Tropez!!!
On another subject, the history of Bora Bora is quite interesting:
The first signs of human life on the island (formerly called Vavau -which may indicate that it was colonized by inhabitants of a Tonga island carrying the same name) are dated 900 BC, just after the populating of Raiatea. According to the legend, Bora Bora means "first born" because it was the first island to emerge from the waters after the creation of Raiatea. In the ancient times, it was actually called "Mai Te Pora" which literally signifies "created by the Gods". Approximately 40 maraes can be found in Bora Bora - the most significant one being the marae Fare Opu which is decorated with petroglyphs.
Bora Bora was first "discovered" by the navigator Roogeveen in 1722 then by Cook in 1796. It was converted to Protestantism in 1818. Famous for its warriors, the island resisted a long time to colonization until it was finally conquered by France in 1888. However, it kept its traditional lifestyle until the end of the 19th century. All this changed brutally on January 27, 1942, when Americans used the island as a supply base for the allied ships crossing the Pacific in an operation baptized Bobcat (after the attack of Pearl Harbour in December 1941). 5,000 GI's disembarked with heavy military equipments and built a 2,000-meter runway on motu Mute. This runway was used for international flights until 1961 when Tahiti Faa'a international airport was finally built.
The worldwide reputation of Bora Bora is also due to many artists, writers as well as navigators like Alain Gerbault and Paul Emile Victor who decided to spend the rest of their lives on this legendary island.
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Tahaa was according to legend detached from Raiatea by a sacred eel possessed by the spirit of a princess. Raiatea itself is recognized throughout Tahiti as the "Sacred Island", the cultural heart of all Polynesia. It is believed by historians that Raiatea was the main stopover point for early Polynesians newly arrived from Hawaii, then known as Hav'aii.
Tahaa soft mountain shapes and filigree coastline has been nicknamed "the vanilla island" because of its many plantations. Vanilla here is known as the Black Gold!
The several motu with their stunning white sandy beaches and the turquoise-toned lagoon charm every visitor. It is also a unique place in Polynesia for the fact that it is possible to circumnavigate by boat the island from the protected waters of the lagoon!
In the bay of Faaaha, where the God Hiro was born around 1490, is today marked by but a few stones - and many legends. He is famous throughout Polynesia for navigating to the distant islands of Hawaii and New Zealand using only the stars as a guide.
We loved the Motu where the Pirogue Hotel can be found and Tautau with its lovely Coral Garden for the pleasure of snorkelers. Fish are not shy and plentiful, very curious about the swimmers!
Here is one legend that I like very much explaining the origin of the coconut and that one can find the eyes and the mouth of the eel on their shell:
"Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess daughter of the moon's son. Her name was Hina. She was so beautiful that lightening came out of her body.
She was destined in marriage to Lake Vahiria's King who was a disgusting eel. Hina ran away and went under the protection of the important Maui, who stops and adjusts the sun.
From the cliff of Vairo, they saw the eel that was coming to pick up Hina. Maui through his hook and screamed : "from my fief no king can escape. He will become food for my gods."
The eel swell the hook, was captured and the head was cut off. Maui wrapped the animal in a piece of Tapa and gave it to Hina advising her not to put the parcel on the ground before she reached her house. "The head of the eel contains great treasures for you".
But Hina forgot the parcel on the floor. The tapa went open and the head of the eel faced the floor. Young shoots came out and the first coconut trees were born."
I discovered something else very interesting on Tahaa, jewelry made from the giant black mussels. I will have to try and work this new medium but first I need to find some!
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