09/18/2011, Neiafu, Vava'u Island, Tonga
Well, a few more days have passed and we are still in Neiafu harbor here on Vava'u in Tonga. Paul and Karen on Gigi showed up a few days ago and we have been out having fun with them showing them the ins and outs of Neiafu. We've been zipping back and forth to town in our dingies exploring. Yesterday, we went on a whale safari out to swim with the whales. It's one of the few place left on Earth that still allows people to get in the water right beside these huge creatures. We left the dock at 0830 and didn't come back till about 1600 so it was a long day searching for whales. In all, there were 8 of us on the boat--4 from one of those 100 foot yachts. Everyone was keeping watch to see where the first whales would be spotted. There are several tour companies in town so it becomes a race to see who can get to the whales first. We spotted our first group about 40 minutes out. In groups of four, we entered the water with a guide(as the main spotter stood on the fly bridge and screamed at us when it was time to get into the water) and swam as they passed right under us. We were in and out of the water all day as we spotted numerous groups of whales through the morning. Strangely, we saw no whales after about 1400 so the afternoon was quiet.
It's great seeing Paul and Karen again and getting caught up on what has happened on both our boats. They went through massive repairs when they reached Tahiti. The list is too long to go through here but the list is quite long and I'm sure it was tough on them as our entire first year was on us. If it was on the boat, it needed attention. In the end, they got to see very little of Tahiti since they had to spend so much time on their boat. As their visas were expiring, they had to by pass most of the islands and only spent one night at Bora Bora before leaving the islands.
We just heard that Suwarrow Atoll(where we just were) has been sold to a rich Russian by the New Zealand government. Not sure why other than it was originally discovered by a Russian many years ago. It will be interesting to see what he does with this beautiful atoll. It had been one of New Zealands national parks. I guess money talks. From what we have heard, it will change hands at the end of this season.
We plan of heading out to explore the different islands of this chain tomorrow. We've made reservations at Vudo Point Marina for the Winter(their Summer) to avoid the cyclones. I'll be flying back to Denver shortly after we arrive to do some odd jobs and load up on supplies and parts we can't get out here. The list will be long and costly but cheaper than trying to get it out here. I will be leaving here at 2200 at night and getting in the same day at 1900 so I'll arrive before I'll be taking off from Fiji. Somehow, I don't think my body will be telling me the same story. Now coming back, I'll lose two days!
And that's about all that's been going on out here. Many of the boats from the Regatta have left as we will be doing tomorrow. Many have already left for Fiji or New Zealand. We don't plan of setting out from here till about October 7th. It's a good five day trip to Fiji will all the reefs between here and there. We will be constantly on watch and many of them are not charted. I have a list of at least 60 that are not on any charts so I'll be entering them on our chart plotter in the cockpit so we will know when we are near them. It' just safer that way.
Well, more to come.
09/15/2011, Neiafu, Vava'u Island, Tonga
Well, the regatta is now over and Neiafu is now return to a state of quiet. Many of the boats have taken off for other islands as we will be doing later today. It was a lot of fun though there was just about no wind for any of the races(we motored instead). We did win first prize for "Team Spirit" for the Tridecagon'athlon games.
Well, after touring Neiafu and seeing what they have to offer, we have changed our plans again and now plan on spending the "Winter"(Summer here) in Fiji. There is just nothing to keep us here. Little in the way of supplies and very little in the way of repairmen to do what I can't. No yard to haul out Zephyr for the bottom paint that needs to be put on before we set out again next year. So we are off for the islands later today for a while to see the back roads of Tonga and visit other villages and beaches as well as dive on coral to see the beautiful fishes.
We are making plans to stay in Fiji at the Vuda Point Marina on the west side of Viti Levu(not sure of the spelling). It's near a town called Latoka if that's a help.
Other than that, all is well. Blue and Snowshoe are enjoying the peace and quiet(unless the engine is running) and spending some time on deck( in the evening) as well as sleeping most of the day below decks as it get pretty warm out there. We've done a few projects but will now be saving most of them till we get to Fiji.
I'm in the process of making plans to fly home in a month or so to get a few things taken care of and order in parts and equipment that is just not available out here. DHL will love me by the time I get done in Colorado.
I'll let you know how the next few days go once we are out at anchor again.
09/09/2011, Neiafu, Vava'u Island, Tonga
Well, we've been here for a few days and are slowly winding down from our trip here. Zephyrs all cleaned up and everything is stowed safely again. We even put our area rug back out in the main salon(helps the cats walk). We cleared through Customs and after getting attached back at our mooring buoy, we headed for town. Even before we left our boat, we were visited by Lene and Henrik off Dana, out Danish friends that we first met in Nanaimo Harbor up in Canada several years ago. They had kayaked over from the town side of the harbor(we are on the west side of the bay) to welcome us and give us some info on the town. It was great to see them again as we had thought they were headed for Fiji and then to New Zealand. You never know who you are going to run into out here.
We launched Puff and took off for town and started exploring. Lene had suggested we stop in at the Visitor Center and pick up a map of the island with all the businesses in town shown making it easier to find. A great idea. We checked out the grocery stores as we went along looking for a well stocked place to get food. We had heard that Tonga was one of the poorest countries in the South Pacific and we would agree. Their stores sparsely stocked with goods. Darn few vegetables and not a good selection of the main stays of what we are used to finding in the stores. We walked up and down the streets getting a feel of the area and visited the local "farmers market" where good veggies can be found and at a decent(less that Tahiti)price. We'd also heard that their carvers were some of the best in the South Pacific and that we would have to agree on. Exquisite carvings of whales and other fishes as well as native emblems associated with the islands.
The Regatta Vava'u started on Wednesday so we got geared up for for the festivities. The town(Neiafu) closed off the main street for a plaza full of vendors and food. Lots to choose from so no one could go away hungry. We bought more tee shirts so that we could show that we had been here and to support the Regatta. This Regatta is only in its third year so it's quite new. Last year they had 40 boats. This year, well over 100 so it is growing fast. It's all done to support local charities and schools so every dollar that the organizers take in is put to good use. It also helps to stimulate the economy that is hurting so badly out here. Tonga is a monarchy. They were never taken over by any other country(French--Tahiti, Cooks & Fiji--New Zealand)so there is no super power out there to pump in capital to help them out. Everything is owned by the King but you can get up to a 50 year lease on property you want to live on. That's one reason why the big hotel chains haven't come in here as they would not own the property they would build on. The largest amount of money coming into the country is from the fees they charge boats and importers to bring goods into their country. Second is tourism. Regatta Vava'u will be a big boost for the economy for this small island.
They started the festivities with a Pub Crawl sponsored by Port Opua out of New Zealand. They are here to drum up business for their town. It's big business getting cruisers to park their boats for the Winter(their Summer) in New Zealand. Whangarei(another town in New Zealand) is sponsoring a barbecue this afternoon. The Pub Crawl started on the south side of town and slowly worked its way back into town hitting 6 bars and restaurants along the way. Starting at 1830 we finally finished about 1000. The last bar(Tongan Bob's) featured transvestite dancers. Boy, that came as a shock to many of us as we knew that Tonga is a very conservative country where even men are not permitted to take their shirts off in public(big fine). Some of the "girls" were quite good dancers having lots of fun with the cruisers in the crowd.
Yesterday, we continued out walk around town in the morning as the afternoon was set for the Tridecagon-athlon. A collection of thirteen "games" competing for first place. All the cruisers were set up in teams of 8 each making up 6 teams. We were both on team three(the Awesome Threesomes). They had a barbecue set up right next door so we could eat when ever a break came along. The games included such events as an egg roll toss and carry(roll the egg along the ground, toss it over your shoulder to the next player who then collects them(creative cheating was encouraged and the officials could be bribed with liquor if done discreetly) . Once all have been collected(some got broken along the way) the last player had to carry them in a spoon to the starting line where they were then thrown over the shoulder again to a person who had to catch them in a cup attached to their head. And that was just the first event. We had "Giants, Wizards and Elves(like Rock, paper scissors game only with the teams acting like wizards, giants or elves). There was a spelling bee, water balloon toss, person carry(no hands allowed) and several more. Even a dance competition for a free tee shirt(I won!). The last event was a pie eating contest. Each team had one person(it was me of course) who had to eat pies(no hands allowed). I lost!!! It's tough to eat a pie(banana custard) with no hands and it sure gets messy. I was a mess even before the girl next to me shoved a pie in my face.
As the competition was winding up, the skies let loose with torrents of rain. It poured and poured and poured. There was no way we were going to stay dry for the walk back to Puff so we just walked along getting passed by others that were trying to stay as dry as possible in the flood. We made it back to Puff soaked and headed back to Zephyr hoping we had closed all the port lights(we had). Once back at Zephyr, we striped down in the cockpit and tried to dry off as best we could and Tracy headed for the showers as she had gotten soaked with salt water when we arrived. Zephyr does have some leaks so we put towels where we knew they were and found lots more in the down pour. The water proofing of out dodger failed after the first four hours of the flood so I'll be retreating the fabric when it dries out. With no real water protection for the cockpit, it quickly got drenched with water. This morning was spent hanging all the towels we had used as well as our clothes from last night. Just about every boat out here has laundry hanging from it's rigging. We're getting geared up for the next rain that we figure will be hitting us later this afternoon.
Well, that's about it so far for our stay in Tonga. Lots of nice people and catching up with old friends.
09/04/2011, Closing in on Tonga
We're still out here slogging our way to Tonga. It's 1007 Sunday, Zephyr time, 0907 Monday, Tonga time. It's been a long last 24 hour with Mother Nature just poking fun at us all along the way. We had our schedule all planned out as we made decent time during the afternoon finally getting the sail backup as the wind picked up. We were on a course of about 235 degrees which would take us right to the mark we needed to round the top of Vava'u so we could make our way down the west side of the island and into the hidden harbor of Neiafu. We'd had to motor some since the wind had died off during the afternoon. As the Sun set, we started up sailing again with fair to moderate winds. To make it interesting, Mother Nature changed the direction of the winds to be just about the same course we needed to be on. You can't sail straight down wind easily so we had to head a bit north of our course and then south of the course so we could make way to where we needed to go. By 2300, the winds were back in our favor and we were pumping right along. By 0300, they had changed direction and were now coming out of the north. OK, that's fine, we can adjust to that. By 0400, they moved over to be coming out of the northwest. Since we were trying to head west, we were bashing our way into the waves making maybe 2.5 knots. With that being the case(plus rain was coming on fast) we decided to roll in the genoa and drop the forestaysail, start up the motor and make way as best we could. As I was out on the foredeck taking down the sail, the rains started. On we pushed rain soaking the boat. Got to stop for a bit, more rain is coming and I want to be in the cockpit.
OK, I already typed this before but when I shit the top of the computer, it "Preparing to go into standby" and locked up the computer so I had to reboot so here we go again.
It's a good thing I went on deck and Mother Nature threw a curve ball at us again. The wind shifted from the northwest to the southwest in the blink of an eye as the rains let loose. It poured for hours and after the wind shifted, it grew to the high 30 knot range plus the seas but much bigger to boot. Hey--we were having fun right? So the winds and rain came and on we pushed toward Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga. We were 30 miles out and with the help of our engine, making good progress since the winds were not helping us one bit. We fired up the radar so we could see what was out around us--like land!! We picked up the island on radar long before we could see it since the rain was so intense. We didn't see the island until we were 10 miles off shore!! For sailors that's close. As we rounded the top of the island, I put out a call on VHF channel 16 asking for info on the harbor--wind and sea conditions. We got a response from Papillon--already anchors near the harbor. Winds were gusting in the high 20 but there was very little swell as it is so enclosed. On we pushed finally lowering our reefed mainsail as we headed down the west coast of the island. We entered the pass and headed northeast inside the lagoon toward our destination. We entered the harbor about 1600 and started the search for a mooring buoy. It's a deep harbor with little anchoring spots. There were none available right off the town but some were available on the south side of the harbor. Over we went and found one and tied up nice and neat. Since it was now after 1700, the Immigration Office was closed. We signed in with Baluga Divers that owns the buoy and they advised us to come in the next day and get registered. We spent the rest of the day cleaning up poor Zephyr since we were expecting a visit from the Health Officer while we checked in.
Today, we prepared to head for the docks to get checked in. We disconnected from our buoy leaving a fender attached so no one would take it while we were gone. We got help getting tied off at the dock as we ended up at the main commercial docks as the Immigration docks were full. We hit Customs first and filled out their forms and gave them some of ours. On to the Quarantine Officer--more forms especially when I told her we had two cats on board. On the Immigration--located in the center of town(not near the docks) on the second floor of the bank building. As we walked over, we were approached by a man on a bicycle hawking all sorts of things--from flags, to brown bread, to jewelry to a laundry service at his home. We ordered a Tongan flag as well as a Fiji flag(just changed by the new government) as well as two loaves of brown bread. He met us in town a few minutes later with the Fiji flag as well as the two loaves of bread. He tried again with the jewelry but we declined. He left us to go get the Tongan flag for us. On we pressed to Immigration, picking up some Tongan money as we knew when you deal with a government official, there will always be fees involved. These fees are the number one GNP for Tonga(followed by Tourism). He was quick and efficient with his forms. So far, not a single person had given us any forms for us to keep. On the the Health Department. He was closed. On the way back, we were met by the flag man who had our new Tongan flag. He even climbed on our boat and ran it up the mast for us. As for the laundry, he started at $80.00 Tongan. We said no as that was way too much money. After some haggling, we finally ended up at $50.00 Tongan for all our laundry. He wanted to be paid up front but we declined. We will pay when it's all clean. Off he went--clothes bag under his arm. With the Health Officer at lunch, we did the same. We we returned, he was still gone so we hiked into town and visited Baluga Divers to complete our registration for our buoy. On the way back we met up with several cruisers we have met along our travels. We stopped and chatted for a while. As we hiked back, we were approached by one of the locals asking if the boat at the dock we ours. This was the Health Inspector. He was on his way into town but promised he would be back soon. By the time we got back(stopped at the Regatta Vava'u office to pick up paperwork) he was back. We were first advised to visit the Quarantine Office again. Here we go. Out with the wallet and pay the fee--we at least got some forms(always nice to get some paper work from officials). Back to the Health Officer. We sat down and got asked a few questions as to where we were from and where we planned to go in the future and how long we expected to be here. Normally at this time, he boards the vessel and make sure that everyone is healthy. His fee for such a job--$100 Tongan. That comes out to about $55.00. With us, he didn't bother coming on board. Of course we didn't tell him about the cats. We were finally checked into Tonga!!
Back to Zephyr we went and prepared to get away from the dock. With the wind holding us firmly to it, we consulted to books on the best way to get off it. Once the answer was found(what lines go where)we headed back on deck. Hey--there is a small power boat off our starboard side!! Maybe they will be nice a pull us off the dock. Sure enough, after a quick conversation, we tossed them a line and off we went nice and neat. We were free of the dock!! Back to our mooring buoy and we were in for the night.
We joined the cruisers net later this afternoon as we had been asked by "Two Amigos" to let them know about what the harbor was like and how Customs was. We told them that just about all the mooring buoys were taken. That concerned them as anchoring here can be tricky. We offered to see if we could make reservations on one of the last buoys around us. Boy they snapped up that offer quick. We also got a request from another boat(Dilligaf) for the same service. I switched radios and got a lock on two buoys--30 & 31 right be hind us. We told them we would go out and put fenders on the buoys to mark them for them and get back with them two hours later that the job was done. Well, we launched Puff with Dragon and took off. We found 30 but no 31. We advised Baluga Divers of the missing buoy. They are going to send out divers tomorrow to see if they can find it. When we checked back in with Two Amigos to let them know they were set, Dilligaf wasn't on station to hear from us so we'll let them know about it tomorrow. While we were on line with Two Amigos, "This Side Up"(another cruiser out here) came on line and asked us if we could find them a buoy. They had originally planned anchoring when we first started discussing it on line. I guess the "Admiral" on board changed her husbands mind. A good thing to as they don't expect to be here till late tomorrow. In our search for 31 we did find a buoy owned by the Aquarius Cafe. I switched radios again and locked it in for them. Since it was already dark, we will plop a fender on it tomorrow. We contacted "This Side Up" of the confirmation. They were thrilled as now they don't have to worry about where they will be staying when they get in here tomorrow. This place is full of boats for the Regatta Vava'u. It starts tomorrow with lots of fun and games. I'll let you know how that goes in the next post.
Meanwhile we are safe and sound and all tied up to a nice buoy for a while. It's nice to sleep in the stern bed again!!
09/03/2011, Southwest of Suwarrow Atoll
Well, it's been another 24 hours on this jump to Tonga--Vava'u Islands. We're currently at 17 32.528S 171 52.819W heading 231M making a speed of about 7 knots. The engine is on and that it what is making us move. There is just about no wind though we have had several squalls come through during the last 24 hour period. The winds continued to die as yesterday afternoon wore on till we were only making about 3 to 4 knots after the Sun went down. It was sort of on the course we needed but not quite. That's the way it has been this trip. Well, it's just like the trip to Suwarrow a few weeks ago. We had the perfect wind for the first two days and then Mother Nature got the memo that we had left Suwarrow and she knew it was time to screw up the trip. That's when the wind changed and forced us to make regular course corrections so our track marks on the chart plotter look like lots of boomerangs. Any thing but straight.
We sailed through the night as I said, making darn little speed. The heavens opened up early this morning and Tracy came on deck about 30 minutes early for her 0600 shift on watch. I headed off for the stern berth with Zephyr shifting back and forth in the swells we were left with. Since we were making darn little speed, we rocked back and forth with every passing swell. We didn't change the sails after the squall came through since we were not sure where the wind would come from once it passed. As it turned out, it went from a bit of wind to calm. At 0815, we started the engine, stuck it in gear, took in the sails(other than the main)and headed back on course. We were about 155 miles out and with out the engine, there would be no way to make our landfall when we figured we would--mid day tomorrow. While our calendar says it's Sunday, in Tonga, it will be Monday. We loose a day. Skip right from Saturday to Monday. How weird is that going to be? At least when we head back east, we will gain it back. It works out well for us since the Customs and Immigrations folks charge lots more if you come in on a weekend. Our timing will be perfect.
So here we are, 134 miles to go, the engine purring right along. Our lunch of Ravioli(one of my childhood favorites) finished, reading books and trying to not get a bad sunburn now that the clouds have gone away. With 134 miles to go, when the wind comes back-- hopefully later this afternoon, we will be able to make it in with no problems. We will be rounding the north side of Vavau and heading into Neiafu, a big harbor that is well protected from the hurricanes that frequent the area. With luck, the next post you read will be from the safety of a mooring ball in the harbor.
09/02/2011, Southwest of Suwarrow Atoll
Hopefully this post gets out faster than the last one. We've had a problem getting connected out here in the middle of no where. We might connect, but then the connection is so poor that we get cut off with nothing getting out. So here we go again. Lets get caught up.
We've just finished day 4 out here and all is still well aboard. We're both glad that Tracy made all the meals before we left Suwarrow. It has made meal time much easier. It's either made and just needs reheating or the ingredients are all in one spot ready to be assembled. Both lunches and dinners are all ready to go. Breakfast is cereal with either dried blueberries or raisins on top. Now all we have to do is decide what we want to eat. Not a real problem out here though we tend to eat much less on passage. Snacking during the night is the problem. It's easy to get the munchies as you sit alone in the cockpit at 2300 or 0200 in the morning. Our IPods are the main staple of our entertainment at night. Either music or video or even downloaded podcasts of radio shows from back home in Colorado get us through the night. Tracy is even listening to a book on tape off her IPod.
Day two found us at 15 20.052S 167 06.557W having made 131 miles in the past 24 hours. A nice bit of mileage. Unfortunately, it's gotten less and less as the day progress and the wind dies back some. Many of the boats that we listen to on the nets out here have been motoring just to get anywhere. The winds keep coming from the NE as do the swells so it makes for a rolly passage. That really hasn't stopped since we left. There are supposed to be "prevailing" southeast winds out here but we haven't found them so far.
Day three found us at 16 14.140S 168 55.636W still making headway toward Tonga. With the wind being out of the wrong direction(northeast), our track on our chart plotter looks like a boomerang. Curves to the north and then curves to south all along our passage as going straight is nearly impossible. We did really well for the first 36 hours out here but then the winds got fickle and the boomerangs started. We sometimes have to go 20 miles out of our way to collect the winds needed to then change course and get back to where we need to be on the maps.
I actually took a shower at the start of day three. Our days start and end at 1300 hours as that is the time we started this trip. We left at 1300 on Monday so day one ended at 1300 Tuesday. So I finally got a shower Wednesday afternoon. I still had the salt on me from when I had to dive on the anchor in Suwarrow. My hair was a sticky mess. As it was, with all the rolling Zephyr was doing, I had to stand with my feet braced on the wall and my back against the opposite wall. It's like taking a shower in a room that's on a roller coaster. At least I was finally clean for a change.
We have seen no other boats other than the ship Tracy saw several days ago. It's a vast blank canvas deep blue water out here. Nothing but water, a few birds, flying fish and whales(haven't seen any yet). It can get a bit creepy out here at night as we just had the New Moon on Monday night. When we arrived at Suwarrow, we came on a Full Moon so it made seeing things at night much easier.
We are still forced to run the engine each day as the DuoGen just can't keep up with the small amount of electricity we use each day. It really needs a constant speed of over 6 knots to do anything and getting a constant anything out here is darn near impossible. Our money would have been better spent on solar panels. It's just about always sunny out here with temps in the mid 80's every day. So we use the time with the engine running to get us back closer to the course we need and to make hot water for more showers and wash dishes at the end of the day. It also keeps the IPods and the computers charged.
We moved our clocks back another hour today as the Sun wasn't coming up till 0720 and setting about 1920 at night. We will be crossing the International Date Line on Sunday as we go into Tonga. We will loose Sunday totally. Our clocks will go back another hour so suddenly we will loose a day. That works out well for us as if we got into Tonga on Sunday, we couldn't check in with customs and immigrations till Monday. We'd be quarantined on board for 24 hours. The weather for the rest of the trip looks good with winds getting stronger over the next 24 hours so we can make better time. With only 250 miles to go as of 1200 today, we should arrive about noon on Sunday(actually Monday), Nothing moves in Tonga on Sunday. No work, no tasks are to be performed and all businesses are closed--period!!! It's going to be interesting. Oh, and men are not permitted to be seen with shorts and long pants are a part of the culture. Women must cover their legs and their arms if at all possible. The natives go swimming fully clothed! Visitors to their country are permitted to swim in swimsuits but they can only be worn at the beach. Leave there and you must cover up.
So that's the way it has been out here for the last few days. It has taken us a full three days to get back in the "voyage" mode. the body has to adjust to a very irregular schedule. Undisturbed sleep is a luxury especially if it comes in segments of longer than 4 hours. Last night at 0300 when I came on deck(after my 4 hours nap) I was out on the deck making a sail change so we could get back on course. You do what you have to do to get where you want to go.
Tracy's two cents:
Keeping your mind occupied is the hard thing to do at sea. During the day, you can sit back and watch the water and the flying fish, but at night you fight sleep deprivation. The Ipod is a godsend and I imagine a lot of people out here have the new I Pad. I wish we had internet out here. It does exist, but it costs upwards of $20,000 to get set up then there are the monthly fees....I'm sure the megayachts have it, but we sailboats are barebones in comparison.
The days blend together, I couldn't honestly tell you what day it is or exactly how long we've been on passage. Our lives consist of 4, 3, or two hour segments. I just wish I could drop off to sleep when I lay down for a sleep segment, an hour later, I'm still not asleep. This isn't something new, I've always been that way, so why would it change?
Tonga's culture will be the first drastically different one we will come into contact with. They are deeply religious and Sunday is strictly for family and church activities, no swimming, no working on your boat, no shopping. Hmmm. All stores and restaurants are closed on Sunday, now Sunday isn't exactly my favorite day of the week anyway, so this will make it even more dull. We yachties are allowed to go swimming on Sunday if we are away from a village or town. That shouldn't be too difficult, Tonga has 170 islands and only 40 are inhabited full time. I'm glad we have a lot of books to read and a lot of stitching to be done.