09/20/2009, Vava'u, Tonga
It's incredible the things that come up in your travels. One of the local Vava'u, Tonga restaurants called "Crows Nest" Owners Tess & Steve, offered South Indian Cooking Classes (where she was from is one of the smallest states in India, Kerala). The pictures above are Tess's helper teaching us the traditional way of cleaning coconut meat. A kitchen picture, there are two kitchens in this place, same size, but one is for Tess and the other is for Steve to bake in. I think it's a great idea having your own space in the kitchens if you book cook! Picture of me with friends (left to right) Suzanne on Carinthia, Lauren on Wayward Wind, and a very sweet young lady, I forgot her name, but she was with the Peace Corp teaching at a local elementary school. Last picture is my sister-in-law and best friend Josie with the owner Tess in the very cute restaurant front & garden. When cruising, you're constantly looking for new and interesting recipes especially when items that you're use d to cooking with are not available. The class was with several other cruisers and a lot of fun. We learned about some new spices and how to prepare them in order to keep them from burning and loose their tastes. The food that we prepared in such a small kitchen (with 7 of us cooking along with owner Tess and her 3 helpers) was so amazing and we invited our partners & spouses to join us for the meal that we prepared. The menu included, her Pa's Curry Chicken (Chicken dish with a rich think curry gravy), Beans Thoran (Stir Fried green beans with coconut), Kachemoru (Boiled Yoghurt), Dhall (Lentil Dish, soup like), and boiled rice. Overall, a special day off the boat cooking with friends & family.
As Follow You rounded the mark, the skipper barked at the admiral to snap out of it so he could go forward and raise the chute. 3 minutes later, our chute was hoisted and we were making decent speed down the middle of the bay. No matter, the cats came screaming by us as if we stood still. At the end of the bay, the chutes came down as we funneled through a narrow channel with little or no wind, then caught a beam reach for the next 5-6 miles. At this point we were being hotly pursued by Honeymoon and Carinthia, both with evil looks in their eyes. As we progressed down the channel, the wind moved forward, and the braggadocio of certain Lagoon Catamaran owners began to wane as we were able to point much higher. The cats with daggarboards did not have the same problem and continued to outrun us. At the midpoint of the race, similar boats had sorted themselves into various duels, and we found ourselves duking it out with Imagine, a Halberg Rassey 46, and LoveSong, a 50 footer of unknown origin. Downwind they were both faster than Follow You, and for the beam reach, we more or less stayed even. But as the last leg, all upwind with long tacks, we pointed slightly higher (surprise, surprise) and were able to outrun them both. (bigger surprise) We crossed the line around 15th, about 8 minutes ahead of Imagine and Lovesong and 28 minutes uncorrected/18 minutes corrected ahead of Honeymoon. Carinthia had called it a day by that point.
Given wind direction on the course, we have temporary bragging rights over Honeymoon, but we have no illusions how things would have turned out with a more balanced course. Of course, Seth challenged us to a race from Neiafu Bay to one of the outer anchorages the next day to reclaim his rightful crown. I gracefully declined as we regaled the fleet with the story of our fleeting glory.
More Regatta racing pics are in the gallery...
That's pretty much what a regatta race amounts to out here. The hardcore among us lighten up by keeping the fuel and water tanks low and put the heavy dink and motor on a mooring ball, but for the most part you sail what you brought. The Governor's Cup Race, associated with the Vava'u Regatta was a hoot given the course, the [lack of] handicapping and the relative racing skills of the fleet, ourselves included. Rina and I double-handed the race, given the mutiny of our catamaran-loving crew.
As in the Morea Rendezvous, Follow You got an excellent start, crossing the line with the leaders within 5 seconds of the cannon being fired by the Governor of Vava'u on the starting line. A one mile upwind leg in flukey 8-15 knot winds in Neiafu Bay was quite a spectacle. The smaller boats acted as floating pylons as the bigger boats threaded their way through, with many a "starboard!!!!!" shouts in the close confines of the bay. Especially funny was the very large and expensive Oyster owners freaking out as too many boats got VERY close during the tacking duels upwind. Then things got really interesting.
The catamaran class started 10 minutes after the monohulls and the faster ones caught the main pack of monohulls right at the windward mark. Follow You approach the mark on port, while two other monohulls approached from starboard. Right at the mark was Cyber, a very fast local cat, followed very closely by Zen, an Atlantic 48 sailed fast by our friends Tom and Monique. What to do. Do I have enough speed to thread Follow You between the stern of the two cats and the fast approaching monohulls with right of way? Being the tragic optimist that I am, I went for it, as Rina stressed, not wanting to witness the unfolding cataclysm. A gust brought us up on the cats just as Cyber stalled and was in danger of hitting the committee boat, ironically emblazoned with "marineinsurance.com" stickers. When Cyber stalled, Zen had no choice but to head directly upwind, stalling as well. Our timely gust carried us just passed the stalled cats and just before the two monohulls converged on the same spot. The look on Tom's face was priceless as they untangled their mess, watching the mono-slugs round the mark ahead of him. To be continued....
Phil and Seth on Honeymoon during the Vava'u Regatta
The last blog entry pretty much sums it up. The last three weeks have certainly been fast paced. You'd think it would be slowing on island time but not so. There's always something to do or prep for. You intertwine provisioning with exploring and excursions always trying to find the locals price on goods. As fate would have it our failed attempt to explore the Ha'apai Group rendered Pangaimotu. Months earlier I spied this island which I found on the internet and placed it on my hit list.
Yachties: Yacht, derivative(s) of ! Varietal - homosapien.
One who resides in, crews on, or dinks from a transient sailing vessel often in search of un-attended toilet paper for procurement purposes.
It was here we finally viewed our first spectacular sunset from the open air resort. This informal resort, as it turns out, is a popular Yachties rest stop and waypoint. Some choose to anchor here and dink to Nuku'alofa instead of staying in the harbor. We visited the resort water front bar where we spied our fist spectacular South Pacific sunset. I even had a foster dog for a day who explored the beach with us. At anchorage we were visited by two gray whales at a range of 5 yards that weaved slowly in and out of boats. That night we discussed our weather options.
As mentioned in the previous blog entry we earned another passage badge. In the middle of the night while on watch with my old Ha Ha watch partner, Rina, something caught our eye in the far off distance. It was a slow ever-changing pattern of red to orange glowing colors. It didn't get noticeably larger in the binoculars but it remained well over the horizons edge. We both agreed the only thing it could be was a volcano which was confirmed later on the internet. I find unusual things occur on night watches therefore I recommend them highly. We arrived at Neiafu just before the first annual Vava'u Regatta.
This was a constant barrage of welcome gatherings, parties, pud-crawl, and other various events that seem to make a week go by in a couple of days. We had our first gathering on Carinthia and a birthday party for Dietmar which also occurred on our anniversary. We didn't get much time with Dietmar as he had to depart on a plane to the states the next day. As if not to have enough to do during Regatta Week we went on a go-cart island trek with S/V Honeymoon's Seth & Elizabeth and there guests.
This was a rainy-day go-cart ride thru the forest and mud. The ride was also broken up with a few stops. One cliff stop the whales were on cue with multiple breaching and pectoral fin slapping. Even the caves were breaching. As the ride continued on it turned into "Mr. Toads Wild Ride." The mud was slinging as the horse play progressed. We still can't decide weather Seth or Elizabeth is the craziest driver of the two. Evidence falls to Elizabeth though as she finally rendered the cart useless. We all agreed with wild ear to ear grins on our faces the cart trek was "the bomb."
Back to the Vava'u Regatta week. All be it the first annual, the oranizers and staff volunteers did a great job. There was something for everyone. There was a coupon book called the "Passport" that had people competing to visit the local businesses. Each business would stamp the book at different levels thereby rendering points. Prizes were given to passport holders based on points acquired. There were kids sporting events and games. On Friday a "beer can" race was held in Neifu bay under light winds. I took lots of pictures via the dingy "ME2." The next day this was followed by the Governors Cup race.
Josie and I crewed on the catamaran S/V Honeymoon for the Governors Cup race to Vaka'eitu Island and the Full Moon Party. What a joy Honeymoon is to sail. During the first hour or so aboard I was confused as to where to set my beverage cup. Elizabeth thought me 'nuts for sure' as I kept asking where to put my glass. I finally figured out "it's a cat, just put your drink on the table!" I owe a debt of gratitude to Seth & Elizabeth for my first sail aboard a catamaran.
The Full Moon Party; what a rave! We danced like there was no tomorrow on a remote tropical island. Great sound system, cool colorful neon-lit dancers and a clear sky full of stars.
After the regatta there was the formal 'meet and greet' and awards ceremony with the Vava'u Governor and his wife. Dinner was at a restaurant called the Giggling Whale where a birthday party was held for a fellow Yachty, during which I broke out in a fever and I had to take a couple of down days to shake it. The fever eventually made its way through the fleet, taking 5-10 boats down with similar symptoms.
[editors note: Phillip writes very well but it takes him a looooong time to write, so he never finished the above blog. We just put them in a taxi to the airport... (sniff, sniff, sob, sob) Perhaps when he is back in California, he can find time to finish the entry. In the meantime, we return you to our regularly scheduled programming]
See the gallery for new pics of our last couple of days... full story as soon as the flakey crew writes their assigned blogs!
09/05/2009, Vava'u, Tonga
The last week or so has been a whirlwind of activities with some high highs and low lows. Follow You enjoyed the ambience of Nukualofa for a couple of days, then plotted our escape back north to Vava'u. Unfortunately the weather had other plans, as our proposed passage to the Hapa'i group of Tonga was cut short by 30 knots of wind on the nose and short sharp 10 foot wind waves that made Follow You shudder every 6-7 seconds as it fell off the face of each wave. After an hour of steadily increasing seas, we turned tail and headed back to the comforts of Big Mama's Yacht Club on the lee of Pangiamoto Island, just above Nukualofa. After checking with the weather gods and windguru.com, we decided that we were going to *have* to leave the next day as the conditions were deteriorating further. The only saving grace was that our path to Vava'u would keep the seas roughly on our beam, as opposed to directly on our nose. I steeled the crew with the warning that the voyage would be very uncomfortable to absolutely miserable. In short, the weather did not disappoint, as we had one of the most miserable sails to date, with 10-12 foot wind waves and underlying swells of 8-9 feet that kept the boat off balance for most of the 26 hour journey North. The entire crew except Rina took turns at the leeward rail, feeding the fish with the meager contents of our stomachs. The only comfort was the plastic side curtains that we put up on the windward side of the boat to keep the 30 knot winds and wind driven waves out of the cockpit. And even with the side curtains up, sheets of water would hit the top of the dodger and bimini and find a way into our little cocoon. The entrance to the fjords of Vava'u could not come soon enough. Next up.... Vava'u Regatta, a MAJOR friggen party.
The pic above is Big Mama's Yacht Club
ps. Mom: Rina, Phil and Josie *promise* to do a blog entry soon....
Phil and Josie, our newly appointed sherpas, brought an amazing collection of replacement parts, critical items that we were convinced we could not live without, and several bottles of sweet nectar to celebrate both our anniversaries in early September. In a reprise of sorts of our "cruising cockpit" game of several months ago, a week on Follow you to the person who guesses the most items in the above picture correctly....
Gallery has been updated with our pics from Niue...
Rina and I have enjoyed our week on the *very* relaxed island of Niue. We knew we were not in French Polynesia anymore when the customs office was in the same building as the duty free liquor, which they provide an allocation to cruisers upon arrival (one case of beer, 4 bottles of wine, or 2 liters of liquor per person, per week) and then allow unlimited purchase upon departure. The prices are refreshing after French Polynesia, at the grocery store, as well as duty free. There were exceptions of course... a quart jar of best food mayonnaise was $22.50 NZD.
We have been in good company, with Kalalau, Victory Cat, Brick House, Bagheera, Tender Spirit, Wayward Wind and Quiver from our travels in Bora Bora. We also met cruisers from Dosia, Crazy Diamond, Amikuk and others in this small community.
We day-tripped the island in a rental car with Dosia and Honeymoon, seeing the windward side of the island and climbed many a trail into limestone and coral caverns, got swamped with waves in caves, and had lunch 100 feet down a chasm near the shore.
Later in the week Rina and I decided to head to the only hotel on the island (24 rooms) for a rare night off the boat. It has been 8 months since we slept off the boat, and it's a good thing we did as the swell shifted to the South, keeping all the boats rocking back and forth all night. Nobody slept in the anchorage. Our remaining time on the island was filled with local sightseeing, reading, potlucks with Honeymoon and Dosia and just having fun.
Oh... the whales... did I mention the whales? Try sleeping with the whales talking to each other every night, or lazily making their way through the anchorage. We're talking huge humpback whales too. We'll be sitting in the cockpit or down below and hear a huge breath outside, look over the side and see whales not 10 feet from your bow. "They mostly come at night...mostly" (movie reference time) which is why we didn't get a ton of pictures of them, but by the end of the week we were all getting a chuckle about how blasÃ© we had become about the whales around us all the time. We need Donna to slap us back to our senses again!
Weather has been so-so lately, with overcast or significant cloud cover most days. Sunday was non-stop rain. While the air temp was still low 80's, the water temperature has plummeted from 80 to 72, so there's not much swimming or diving going with this fair weather crowd. Those that did dive took quite a while to get their temperatures back up, given the 3-mill suits they have been using.
We're off today to Vava'u, in the Tonga group to find some sun and a non-rolly anchorage. Short 250 mile, 40 hour passage in pretty benign conditions. We'll be hosting brother Phil and his wife Josie in late August. It'll be nice to have visitors again.
For the last 30 days Rina and I have been contemplating our next passage, networking with cruisers, hitting all the cruiser websites for the latest info from boats that have arrived this season, and one of the best ways to get a sense for what the place will physically be like.... Google Earth. Our earlier plan was to do short passages from Bora Bora to the Cook Islands, then to Samoa, then down to Vavau and Tonga. The closer we looked, the less appealing the Cooks and Samoa became... In many of the Cook Islands, there are only a small anchorages or shallow passages that we can't navigate given our 6.5' draft. In American Samoa, the harbor is dirty, and new reports suggest that the only places to come ashore have now been fenced off... It's a long way to go just to be able to shop for familiar foods, often cited as one of the benefits of heading that direction. Western Samoa is nice, but when we started looking at timing, we would not be able to spend much time there, as we are due in Tonga at the end of August to meet my brother Phil and his wife Josie. And that was because we stayed an extra couple of weeks here...
In the end we decided to sail 1071 miles over 8-10 days to the small Island Nation of Nuie, which is a protectorate of New Zealand. Niue is geologically very different and much older than most islands we have visited. No reef, just steep walls rising 100 feet out of the water over most of the island. Inside the island, the primordial remains of a lagoon support a lush forest with many caves for snorkeling and diving. The Nuie yacht club has 20 mooring balls, making it an easy stop as long as the trade winds are coming from the Southeast. If not, we'll continue on another day and a half to Vava'u.
The other challenging aspect of this passage is the weather. This part of the South Pacific has less consistent winds and you can get caught in lows coming up from New Zealand or "squash zones" that create lots of rain and winds from varying directions.
As we haven't done a long passage in awhile, we have had to work a bit to get the right mindset and stop being tourists...creating a punch list to prepare ourselves and the boat. A sample of the stuff we are working on:
- Plot waypoints to Niue into chartplotter
- Research and mark dangerous reefs near our expected passage on the paper charts and chartplotters.
- Notify family of float plan
- Create catalog of google earth screen shots of Niue and Tonga Islands
- Start Yotreps position reporting
- Climb mast to inspect all shackles, sails, halyards, shrouds, fittings
- Inspect new clank in steering system
- Work with CNI boatyard to extend the fuel pickup for the genset to the bottom of the tank - currently only goes 2/3rds of the way down, as a dumb precautionary measure
- Top off water, propane and fuel
- Fix 3 broken screw-snaps that allow water into the boat
- Change primary Yanmar fuel filter
- Change genset oil and adjust valves
- Secure cabin for extreme heeling
- Make Niue Courtesy Flag
- Move kayaks and all the other crap strapped midships to aft stateroom
- Start monitoring weather files daily
- Test satphone email
- Defrost fridge/freezer to reduce amp usage
- Rig jacklines
- Provision food for passage
- Prepare main dishes for easy preparation on passage
- Get lots of sleep
We motored 3 hours from Bora Bora to Raiatea on a wind-less Thursday, only to be pounded by 2 days and nights of 30 knot winds and constant rain. Sleep was difficult, even when on a mooring ball, as the howling wind made the boat shudder all night, and all Rina could think about was the mooring ball coming unhooked and us slammed against a reef in the middle of the night. Normally we sleep well when on a mooring ball as you don't worry about your anchor dragging...unfortunately; we have seen two boats drift off recently due to faulty lines securing the mooring ball to the bottom. Today we moved to the guest dock at the Moorings Yacht Harbor to work on the boat and hopefully get a good night sleep.
Right now it looks like a Wed-Thursday departure, when the trade winds return after a week of unsettled weather. Inspecting the steering today uncovered a rod end that has lost some of its plastic coating, making it clank when the autopilot moves the wheel back and forth. Very low risk of failure, just a sloppy ball joint right now, but we'll order a replacement and have Phil bring it to Tonga. If it gives out, we have an emergency tiller that we can rig to get us there.