We are heading south today, about 75 miles, to the town of Whangarei. Once we are in the opening of the river, it's another 15 miles to the marina. The marina sits right in the heart of the town, with a big grocery store, shops, restaurants, and stores within walking distance.
One small overnighter, and we should arrive tomorrow morning.
Back in our previous life, the only exposer we had to vanilla flavor was the extract in a bottle variety that was used mainly for baked goods. In Polynesia, vanilla plantations are popular tourist attractions, which we didn't visit, but that is when we learned how expensive a single vanilla bean is. We have also come to learn why they cost so much. Also, any vanilla ice cream in Polynesia and Tonga is so superb, a deliciously rich vanilla flavor rather than the watered down milk vanilla flavor found in the states.
Vanilla beans look very much like a coffee bean and grow on a vine. Each vine has from 1 flower up to several flowers spaced about 3 feet apart from each other. Each flower, after pollination, produces only a single bean. Thus the production is limited to number of flowers that get pollinated. A typical flower plant requiring pollination is left to nature aka, let the bees pollinate for the farmer. In Tonga and Polynesia there is no bee that does this, so each flower must be pollinated by hand. After pollination, the bean grows and then 1 by 1 gets harvested and then put through an elaborate drying process where each bean is turned, again 1 at a time, to dry out.
One night, while at Big Mamas on Pangaimotu Island, we were discussing this with Big Mama and she told us that she has 5000 plants on the island that they maintain for an average annual yield of 3-5 kilos of beans. We expressed an interest in learning the pollinating process and she invited us to the next day's hike into the bush to find and pollinate some vanilla flowers. The flower only opens at dawn for about four hours, so an early hike was called for the next day.
The tools are simple:
• a "spider stick" to remove webs that always seem to be at face level in the jungle
• a toothpick for the sexing/pollinating
• lots of bug spray repellant
At 8am the next day, we head off with Big Mama into the jungle to locate the plants. She has them growing wild in about four locations so finding them is pretty easy. Then she showed us each how to do it. First you grab the "organ" between two fingers and slide the toothpick under the head. Then squeeze the organ onto the toothpick and poof, you have just pollinated one flower. A good worker can do this around 50-70 times an hour, with the biggest challenge being locating and reaching the flower.
We're hoping to add some new pictures in our Tonga gallery will help show some of the vanilla bean sex.
The day before we left for New Zealand, the islands internet went down and our satellite phone data provider decided to do a server upgrade so we were unable to update the website about our departure from Tonga. During the voyage, we had no mail capacity so again, no updating the website during the trip. Below is just a summary, of our voyage to New Zealand, with a longer and more detailed post to follow.
We have arrived in New Zealand!!! We tied up to the Quarantine dock at 0715am yesterday. We cleared Customs and Biosecurity, and then moved into the marina. We are happily tied up, nice and snug in a boat slip.
The passage started very easy featuring flat seas and lots of motoring; I believe we called the sailing experience very benign. Then it all turned to nasty weather forcing us to heave to for two days during 40-45kt sustained winds with gust at 55kt and 30-35 foot seas. Our mizzen sail is shredded, 1 boat is still lost while another boat was capsized and the crew was rescued by a freighter. We anticipate some hairy stories as the cruising group straggles in.
During 800 of the 1300 miles, we sailed through pumice rocks, magic volcanic rocks that are light as air and float on the water.
We had to put socks on for the first time in 7 months!! Our toes are screaming for freedom already.
More to follow...
This is the term used to describe the mentality of us cruisers here in Tonga awaiting the PERFECT weather window for the jump to Kiwi land. It comes from the need for us (and the 30 or so other yachties) to analyze and re-analyze and then discuss every night and then re-check and analyze all things weather, looking for that perfect timing to make the run to NZ.
This is the only jump Tom has ever been worried about during our whole trip (not knowing the Bora to Tonga run is typically nasty). Whenever internet is available, he checks and studies the weather coming off Australia and up from the Antarctic Ocean. Then he discusses it with other cruisers, some of which have hired professional weather advisers. The lows from the ice are full gales and very severe with extreme seas. The trend from Oz is alternating highs and lows. When they collide, it makes for an ugly situation, thus all precautions are taken to avoid this. This in turn creates a great level of over analyzing which paralyzes us and keeps us waiting for a perfect weather window that will almost never be there.
We have talked to numerous Kiwis that make the trip annually and they state that the jump is way over rated and not as tough as we have built it up to be. We hope this is the case but none the less we are watching closely.
Currently the window is closed with a trough off Oz and a nasty low below NZ. But then a high moves off Oz and looks like it may park in our path for a while, but this means almost no wind. In no wind we must run the engine to keep moving so we don't get stuck when the next low spins up. So it looks like it may be "feast or famine". For now we are here until at least next week.
In other news; we have filed our clearance paperwork for NZ (they require it at least 48 hrs ahead of arrival). We are preparing to check out of Tonga and fill up the tank with our duty free diesel and a boatload of water for the trip. The past few days have been filled with fishing, snorkeling around a couple shipwrecks, reading, and spending our evenings at Big Mamas Yacht Club.
Big Mamas is a great place. It's not a typical yacht club, it's more of a restaurant/bar, but since you need a yacht to go, she calls it a yacht club. The burgers are great and the beer cheap so it meets all our criteria for a great place. Big Mama herself is a very funny lady to talk with and trade some laughs with. She can also point you, or take care of any of your boat life type needs (water, laundry, water taxi, etc.). Just keep the conversation away from sea cucumber uses and needs (Just kidding Mama!). The place sits on the beach and faces the sunsets that are wonderful. The floor is all sand so we never wear shoes and food DOES taste better with your toes in the sand!
We LOVE Tonga. To future cruisers; the scenery is as good as Polynesia, but the people are way friendlier and everything is much cheaper. To gauge pricing I'll use bar beer prices as an example: In the states a beer will cost $5US, in Mexico $2-3US, in Polynesia $7-14US, and in Tonga its $2-3US. In hindsight we wish we had left more time for Tonga and not so much for Polynesia. We can't wait to see what NZ has in store for us.
On Tuesday morning, we set our alarm for 5:00am so we could have an early morning departure from Neaifu Harbor in Vavau. We only had a few remaining things to take care of aboard Tanga, and we motored out of the harbor at 6:30am, with blue skies and the warm sun shining on us.
This is what happens when we do not announce to Neptune that we are leaving. Our sail on Tuesday is now considered our best sailing day ever. Tom said this is what sailboats were invented for! I say that this is the type of sailing I always pictured from the sailing brochure aka Toms sales speech he gave me back in the decision times to go sailing around the world. The perfect and wonderful sailing conditions we are talking about are not related to fastest speed or most miles made, it is all about the blue sunny skies, a nice 15 knot wind from the east which allowed us to sail on a beam reach and is Tangas favorite point of sail, and 3-6 foot comfortable seas. It was a very relaxing, peaceful and beautiful sail. And since the conditions were so nice, we decided to sail with all the sails up; main, mizzen and jib. Tanga probably looked very picturesque with all her sails open and full.
When the sun came up on Wednesday, we saw beautiful skies to the north and very rainy grey skies to the south. Unfortunately, we were heading south to the ugly skies. We had on and off rain in the morning and just grey skies all afternoon. When we were weaving our way through the coral reefs while approaching Nukualofa, the rain began again and continued well after we were anchored, had dinner, and relaxed. Nukualofa is on the island of Tongatapu and is the capital of Tonga and the seat of the government, as well as being the location of the Royal Palace. The population is approximately 30,000, by far the largest in the Kingdom. The island looks completely different than the Vavau Islands which had hills, some small mountains and cliffs. Tongatapu is a very flat coralline island, like an atoll. If you use the Google map, you will see that we are anchored off an island called Pangaimotu, which is just across from Nukualofa. Pangaimotu is lined with golden sand beaches, with a beach side restaurant, and there is a coral reef very near to us so we plan on doing a lot of swimming, snorkeling and fishing while we are here. This is our last stop in Tonga and is our jumping point to head to New Zealand. From this point on, we will be watching, analyzing, and studying the weather, waiting for a weather window to head to New Zealand. But for the meantime, we still on island time mon!
Trip stats: Total distance: 176 miles Average speed: 5.2 knots Fastest speed: 9.2 knots Trip length: 34 hours
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