Rina and I are wrapping up more than seven weeks in Tonga and heading to New Zealand tomorrow. Our time in Vava'u has been very special. The comfort of company from the states, many good cruising friends, and the ability of music to bridge cultures has created opportunities to hang with the locals in what is otherwise a pretty closed society. I don't pretend that we've gotten inside the culture, but just hanging with Tongans and playing music for seven weeks with them has opened doors that I don't think get opened much.
For most of the time here, I have been lucky to play Djembe with the Ano Beach Band. Ano Beach puts on a Tongan Feast every Saturday night and I brought my drum one night and got invited back to play every week. The music is mostly Tongan folk style, requiring a steady bass beat and not much else. Luckily, the band also backs up a father/son fire dance, so we get to rock the house with fast Polynesian rhythms and it has been a challenge for both my chops and learning the beat. Straight 4/4 it is not. Eventually I learned the chants that preceded breaks in the beat and how to anticipate what was next... It's something I always wanted to learn...and it was very cool when I eventually got tight with the rest of the rhythm section.
This last week I got a call on the VHF from Maka, the patriarch of the Ano Beach village, asking me if I wanted to join the village at a festival, where they would compete with all the other villages in Vava'u. We ran across the same thing in Bora Bora. (See Drum Corps in Paradise, in the blog archives) I told him I was honored to be invited and he said he would pick me up Friday night. Luckily I was able to play a gig with Hipnautical at the Vava'u Yacht club earlier in the night, before Rina and I headed over for the festival.
In Tonga, a Palongi is a foreigner or white person. In some cultures it is a racial slur, but here it is simply how the Tongans identify the many foreigners that live amongst them. When we arrived at the festival, Rina and I were the only palongis among the 2000 or so gathered to watch. It was very much a family affair. While each village put its best dancers on the basketball court stage, it was clear that the closed Tongan culture revolves very much around family. A quick read of "Making Sense of Tonga" helps visitors gain some insight into the Tongan ways and gives an appreciation of how strong family ties bind the culture. As I first entered the stage area, it was clear that it was way out of the ordinary to have a palongi participate... Rina, sitting along the periphery of the crowd, noted that the chatter going on around her included the word palongi many times.
In all, the Ano Beach band played 3 different times, supporting their own plus another village's dancers. Throughout the festivities, people from the crowd would come up and slip 1 Panga (Tongan dollar) notes in the collar of the various performers. It seems that family and friends do so to recognize the efforts of the performers. In our last performance, I was surprised by a tug on my collar, and as I looked up, an elderly gentleman in a tie, who was one of the master of ceremonies, slipped a 1 Panga note in my collar and smiled, thanking me for performing. Afterwards, Maka explained that it was quite special to be recognized by somebody high up in the hierarchy, recognizing that not very many palongis make the effort, or if they do, don't always feel comfortable within the culture. I very much did.... Music kinda does that for me.
The night was certainly special, and a great way to make our exit from the tropics... Now it's on to New Zealand, where we will be hanging out in Opua and the Bay of Islands for several weeks before heading home for the holidays in December for 6 weeks. We've been in the warm South Pacific for seven months now, and we will be in for a shock as we head south of 30 degrees Latitude, where water and air temperatures are both in the 50's as Spring has just barely sprung down under. Cold weather clothes and foulies will be the order of the day...
We will blog often during our passage to New Zealand, which has historically been one of the more challenging ones given the extreme weather that spins out of the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand... We are in good hands, however, having hired a weather router to help watch our backs as we move South, giving us advice on how to best avoid the nasty stuff. Stay tuned....
Gallery has been updated and commented with pics from a very special night with the Ano Beach Band at a local festival.
09/30/2009, Vava'u, Tonga
We were woken up Wednesday morning to the sounds of excited voices on the VHF radio, which we leave on at night for emergencies. As the morning "net" started at 830am, it was clear that something big had happened. An 8.0 earthquake between Samoa and American Samoa had set off tsunami alerts across the region and the first reports were beginning to filter in. The Vava'u Island Group is a disorganized smattering of islands, with the northern area more protected than the south. Those boats in the coral anchorages to the South reported tidal changes of 2 meters or more, often exposing reef areas that, according to the locals, have *never* been exposed. Water would rush in and out of these areas in 10-15 minute cycles, creating 3-5 knot currents. Most boats avoided damage, but a few got scratched up against reefs in the swirling water.
Follow You was tied to a mooring ball in Neiafu Bay, which is 6 miles up a long fjord-like passage. Thus, we did not see near the tidal swings that the South anchorages experienced. I noted several ups and downs, but all were less than half a meter, which is less that of the normal tidal range.
Later that morning, Tonga police loudspeakers announced the Tsunami warning and most if not all Tongan-run businesses closed down to allow people to be home with families. There were reports from some of the North facing villages sustained damage, with flooding to some of the schools. Interestingly, Rina had just visited some of these low-lying schools as part of a group of "Palongi" women who helped the local dentist teach the kids how to brush their teeth while the dentist lined the kids up and checked their teeth. In some cases, he did extractions right on the spot.
As the day progressed, reports from Samoa and Niuatoputapu filtered in via the SSB nets. While most boats survived, several were pushed ashore in Pago Pago, Samoa and at least one cruiser perished after being swept off the docks trying to get to his boat and out to sea. Niuatoputapu is a very low-lying island north of Vavau and there were reports of 8-10 fatalities among the very small community that is popular with cruisers.
Updates continue today, and are now making their way into print... Some resources
First hand Report from sv Gallivanter via Latitude
Lots of pictures and updates via the New Zealand Herald
Follow You remains safely moored where we are preparing for our passage to New Zealand in mid October....
We've also been working on our sailing plans for 2010 and will have some news to share shortly....
...Also known under its working title "Clusterf*** in Paradise". Where do I start. Well, loyal blog readers may remember a particularly ugly passage we made from Tongatapu to Vavau in late August... 26 hours of big wind driven beam seas that broke over the starboard bow for most of the journey. Little did we know that the seeds of our misery had been planted, without our knowledge, at that time.
After that passage, we just wanted to get into vacation mode with Phil and Josie, and that we did. Maintenance was deferred and we took off our critical thinking caps for awhile. It worked, and we had a great time until we decided it was time to shove off from our mooring ball in Neiafu Harbor to head for the one of the many anchorages in the Vava'u island group with Seth and Elizabeth from Honeymoon. We cast off our bow line and headed out of the mooring field until Rina yelled that the trusty Yanmar had stalled. She tried to re-start the engine but no joy... I hailed Seth who towed us back to the safety of our mooring ball in his dink while we figured out what was going on.
Earlier that day, Seth and I had transferred a bunch of diesel jerry jugs from the dock to our respective boats and we topped off our forward 67 gallon tank. Strangely, it did not take as much fuel as expected before venting a few drops, signaling full. Before doing so, I transferred what I thought was the remaining diesel to our aft tank, which feeds the Yanmar. As the fuel transferred, I noticed the fuel pump changing tone now and then, but assumed I was near the end of the tank and was getting some air. How wrong I was.
After mooring, I checked the engine, but saw nothing unusual. Then I noticed the cloudy liquid in the clear glass bowl of the Racor 500 fuel filter. I switched over to a parallel filter and it immediately filled with cloudy liquid....uh-oh. I then tried to drain some of the liquid into a baggy to investigate further and found that the liquid was 100% water. But where did it come from? The new fuel? Probably not...a little condensation? not likely... Then I thought back to my fuel transfer...double uh-oh. After draining almost a gallon from the racor filter, I realized I had a big problem on my hands.
I purged all the water from the aft tank, changed the primary and secondary filters, but the engine would still not start. Just then, Peter from Bagheera, an imminently friendly and helpful Brit stopped by, and after hearing my tales of woe, helped me pull the injector lines, cranked the engine and got nothing but water. After an hour of cranking the engine, (with the seacock closed) we got enough water out of the injector pump and injector lines to finally turn over the engine, which purred nicely. Bullet dodged...
One of our first investments on the boat was a Filter Boss, with dual Racor 500's, an auxiliary fuel pump and the ability to cycle fuel from the fuel tank through the filters and back into the tank via the return line. We cycled fuel for a couple of hours until the fuel was clear again.
It was at this point that we started to put together the puzzle pieces... 1) waves bashing the starboard bow, where the vent for the forward tank exits, 2) forward tank full before expected, LOTS of water expelled...3) strange noises emanating from the fuel pump... We deferred investigating the forward tank until Phil and Josie left... no use screwing up our time together any further. Denial could only carry us so far, however.
Yesterday Rina and I had our ugly day of reckoning with the forward tank. We spent 6 hours de-watering and filtering 67 gallons of diesel fuel. We manually separated 15 gallons of fuel from the forward tank, yielding 3 gallons of water. (gory details upon request) Once the fuel coming from the forward tank turned clear, we attached the forward tank hose directly into the Filter Boss and filtered it before passing 40 gallons into the main tank. Then we noticed the fuel pump tone change and again manually filtered the water out. This netted another 1-2 gallons of water. At the end of this process, both Rina and I and much of the salon sole (floor) had a smelly sheen of diesel. The boat was completely torn up, reeked of diesel and we were fed up.
After a lovely night of diesel fumes we cleaned up the boat and investigated how the water entered the tank. Sure enough, the aftermarket tank we had installed did NOT have a riser loop, instead, the vent hose came out of the fitting and went down to the tank... a recipe for disaster. We fixed that by pulling the slack up into a 10" riser and adjusted the angle of the vent to keep water from moving up the hull vertically into the vent.
It could have been a lot worse.... Salt water corrosion could have killed a very expensive fuel injector pump, or filled the cylinders with water and bent a rod....If there is a silver lining, it was that we quickly diagnosed and fixed the immediate problem, found the root cause and fixed that, and the diesel smell has gone away, except in our nightmares.
Lessons learned: Trust your instincts when you hear something unexpected... check the work of 3rd party installers closely... and trust in your Filter Boss!
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....