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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
10/12/2008, Tonga

We woke up in a beautiful anchorage this morning. This is the kind of place we really love to find cruising. After a lazy morning we made our way to the harbor to prepare for the Monday clear in. On the way we passed around A'a island. The south end of the island seems to be the home to a large group of bats. They are really interesting critters and watching them fly about is a real treat.

It is a goo 5 mile trip up into the very protected Neiafu harbor. The harbor is deep and anchoring is possible but not convenient. All of the best spots have mooring balls in them, as usual, so a mooring is best. We picked up a free mooring only to discover it was a Moorings charter mooring and they needed it free. Our second try seemed free but we couldn't find the owner on the VHF. Beluga diving are the #1 provider, but Aquarium cafe and Sailing Safaris also have some. We settled in, a little worried that someone would show up at sunset and ask us to leave.

The Orion charter catamaran came right to us around three in the afternoon but then went to the dock. Whew. Just as it got dark, after hours of no visits or hails on the radio we got a knock on the hull. Orion wanted their mooring. So off to the very end of the harbor we went. We found a mooring before we resorted to anchoring and all was well, though we could not find the owner.

It was a long day of anchor/mooring shuffling but we are all set and waiting for the sunrise to clear in and start exploring Vava'u.

10/11/2008, Tonga

We woke up this morning anchored in paradise. Don't get me wrong, we loved Niue and Palmerston, but when you go to sleep and dream of where you want to be anchored, this is it. The hook is in 20 feet of sand. We have 150 feet of chain out (we count 5 feet of freeboard so that gives us a solid sleeping 6:1). There is a beautiful sandy beach right in front of us and a lush tropical jungle covered limestone island attached to it. The ocean is obstructed on all sides by reefs and islands and the largest fetch you could have would generate little more than a medium chop. There are coral heads in the shallows to snorkel on with lots of fish about. The sky is blue and a nice breeze is blowing through the boat.

The little island of Nuku was deserted when we snorkeled over this morning. We left our snorkel gear on the beach and walked over to the island. There is a little house on the island but it looked sort of deserted. There were the remnants of a public laundry and restrooms in the jungle also. We didn't want to disturb the household if it was occupied so we hiked through the jungle to try to get a view from the top of the island. The foliage was so dense that not only was it hard to get to the top, once there we couldn't see a thing. The greenery grows all the way to the edge of the island and down to the water creating a comprehensive canopy.

After another refreshing swim back to the boat Dave from O'Vive stopped by. He and the crew from Malaki (sp?), a Canadian boat they have been sailing with, were planning a dive on A'a in the afternoon. Hideko went for a hot shower but I can never turn down a Scuba Dive in a new location. It was a fun and easy dive just on the west side of A'a, an adjacent island. We took two dinghies over and tied up to some dead coral over the 5 foot reefy apron around the island. The reef drops off to about 80 feet to a sand bottom that slopes off steeply. The visibility was about 60 feet and there was a good bit of coral and fish life in the interesting wall formations.

Back at the big boat the weather had closed in a little. So far, our experience in Tonga has been frequent showers of short duration and overcast, but with enough blue sky to enjoy the sights in between. We settled in for a nice evening enjoying the alternating amazing view and gentle rain.

10/10/2008, Nuku

We had a lovely night and day of good weather. Unfortunately the wind was light and almost dead astern. We sailed port tack, starboard tack, wing and wing but always slow and changing. We had to keep an auxiliary involved so that we would make Tonga by sunset. And we did.

We sighted Vava'u, the cruiser haven and charter destination in Tonga, around 2PM. This was our signal to move the calendar forward. Tonga wanted to be in the same day as their trading partners in Australia, NZ and Fiji so even though they are only 174 degrees west they are +13 hours on Greenwich. So we have no blog for the 9th.

We got into the Vava'u group of islands near sunset so we made our way down to the anchorage where O'Vive was hooked up. It is a lovely little spot. We had to anchor twice to get a set, which is a singular event with our Rocna. Dave indicates that anchoring in Tonga is challenging, lots of coral and rock bottoms.

Tomorrow we will snake our way into the deep harbor of Neafu and pay the overtime vig for clearing in on Saturday (shouldn't it really be Friday?). We are happy to be here and look forward to exploring what looks to be a gorgeous group of islands.

10/16/2008 | Steve Gustafson
Hey Randy,
That's one nice dorado you've go there! What an awesome adventure. Glad to see that all is well.
10/20/2008 | Randy
Hey Stevie G!

Great to hear from you. We have certainly been having a great time out here. It is a challenging but wonderful experience. Drop me a line if you ever want to go fishing!

Randy & Hideko
Day One to Tonga
10/08/2008, Passing South of the Capricorn Seamount

We had a great last day at Niue yesterday. It was capped off by a wonderful dinner over at Godspede. We were sad to leave the many wonderful Niueians and yachties we had met there.

Morning came early and we parked the dinghy on the back porch and dropped the mooring in a flat calm. We motor sailed most of the morning trying to keep at least 7 knots of way on. At 7 knots we arrive at the Vava'u Tonga waypoint by 16:00 tomorrow. It is another two hours to the harbor from the waypoint. Vava'u is very protected and the path into the anchorage is winding and doesn't look like something you'd want to try in the dark for the first time. Any slower than 7 knots and we could miss the daylight window tomorrow.

It is about 7PM Niue time presently and we are on schedule. Tonga is the same time as Niue but a day ahead (+13 instead of -11). They decided they wanted to be synchronized with their key trading partners, Australia, NZ and Fiji. We have been running the motor a bit more than I would like, but when the speed drops off we bring it back up with the iron genny. The wind is also very deep to port. We are sailing about 150 degrees which is not the fastest point of sail for this boat. When it comes around to 130 we take off and when it flirts with 160 we have to bear away to keep from racking the rig around in the quartering seas. All in all it has been a pleasant day though, with mostly clear skies. It has rained a little here and there but nothing really squally. The forecast says 15 knots from the ESE for the next couple of days with a 1.7 meter swell, so things probably won't change.

Hideko was on her way to take a nap a few hours ago so I decided to bring in my fishing line. When I tried it wouldn't budge. There was a big fish on the end. We were under full sail down wind and on a time schedule, so we weren't about to head up to slow down. Instead Hideko pointed us dead down wind. This got us down to about 5 knots. It was a grueling 30 minute struggle to get the 4 foot Mahi Mahi on board. Hideko got her first shot at gaffing a fish as I brought him onto the swim platform. I was shouting "hook him Hideko!" and she was trying to get the hook angled into his gills. We spent a good 3 or 4 minutes at this. It was like a Key Stone Cops episode. We did land him though and I think it is the biggest Mahi Mahi we've hauled in.

Needless to say we're having fresh Mahi Mahi for dinner. We now have Parrot Fish, Tuna, Mahi Mahi and Wahoo in the freezer. That is pretty much the full line up out here in the ocean, with some Palmerston Parrot Fish thrown in for good measure. We're putting the rod away until after we can have a fish fry in Tonga with a bunch of friends.

Hideko Says: "Sad to leave Niue, it was such a special place. I look forward to discovering Tonga though!"

150 miles to Tonga!

Last Day in Niue
10/07/2008, Alofi

The sun came out this morning. We were shocked. We hadn't seen it in a week. Of course it was our last day. We did get a little shower in the afternoon but in general the weather finally seems to be clearing.

There are some disturbances south of our position but the forecast at this latitude is for trade winds for the next few days. Just what the doctor ordered for a passage to Tonga. We will leave early tomorrow and should arrive late the day after.

Thulani and Independent Freedom left today, but we hope to catch up to them and arrive the same day. It is Tuesday here so we will leave Wednesday and arrive Friday, Niue time. However Tonga has moved itself across the dateline so we will actually arrive Saturday (and pay overtime to the officials for it).

Clearing out of Niue was easy. We visited the yacht club to pay the $10NZ a day mooring fee. Then on to immigration (the police station) to get the passports stamped. Finally to customs to get a departure clearance and pay the $30NZ per person departure tax.

I also called Northland Spars and Rigging in New Zealand while ashore, to give them credit card info for the parts they shipped us. I can't say enough about the service provided by Susan and Paul there. I sent one sail mail email over the SSB and before I knew it the parts we needed to fix the traveler were waiting in Niue for us. I would highly recommend these folks.

The Niue telecom office is right in the main shop area in town. They have two booths with regular household phones in them. You pick up the phone and the operator connects you (almost like Petticoat Junction) and when your done you go to the counter and pay. Very civilized.

The shops had a pretty limited selection of groceries but I bought some juice and milk anyway. There is a ship coming in Friday and it will take two days to unload. I suppose Monday is the day to go shopping. The bond store by customs was out of beer but had duty free liquor and wine, so I picked up some Australian vino for the week ahead.

Back at the boat Hideko was getting things ready for sea. I put away Charlie's Charts of Polynesia for the first time since leaving the Galapagos. This is certainly the MVP cruising guide in our collection for all of the islands east of 165W.

We also tested the BGAN sat system to see if the Pacific satellite was operational yet. No luck. We'll probably be in the Med on the Indian Ocean satellite before they get it sorted out.

We really loved our time in Niue. Captain Cook called it the savage island because the natives repelled him when he tried to visit. It is now the polar opposite, certifiably the nicest place we have visited, people wise. They also call Niue, The Rock, which is a name it does deserve. It will be sad to sail off, but the cyclones are coming and we have to be moving on.

Niue Island Tour
10/06/2008, Niue

We were planning on leaving tomorrow but the weather in these parts has just not been so great. It has been overcast every day for the last week and the activity between here and Tonga has been disturbed. No wind, squalls, or fronts seems to be all we get. That said it is lovely in Niue and although it sprinkles now and again, there are no crazy rain storms and it is cooler than it would be otherwise.

We also didn't get around to clearing out today and we want to leave early on the day we go so that we'll get in late the following day. If we don't take off first thing we run the risk of having to slow down and double overnight it. No great problem just less time enjoying the islands. So it looks like we'll be taking off the day after tomorrow.

We used our time today to make one last jerry jug diesel run in the morning and pick up our propane tanks. The Niue propane shop had no problem filling out tanks so we are set for a good 4 months plus. We also have plenty of diesel to motor to Fiji and beyond should the need arise. We have been running the genset a lot though to keep the dive compressor in business.

After the morning chores we hit the Uga Café for lunch. They make a very tasty steak Panini and have good coffee. Next stop was the yacht club to say hi to the yachties limin' there. Our final stop was Alofi Rental to pick up a motor bike for our island circumnavigation. The 125cc Suzi was only $25 a day and had plenty of guts to get up the very steep hills leading back from the beaches with Hideko and I aboard.

Our tour of the island was fantastic. Niue is an amazing place. Most tropical islands have one stunning grotto to check out. Niue is replete with them. Every place you hike down to from the limestone perimeter is a picturesque lagoon with crystal clear rock pools, stone arches, caves and lush greenery climbing over the lot of it.

The reef right below the Uga café is lovely if you want a spot close to the quay. We stopped by the Niue Dive center, which is right next to Matavai resort, the only resort on the island. The dive center folks are great and super friendly about letting yachts use their dive moorings (for diving) if you check with them first to make sure they won't be using them. We bought a nice Dive Niue shirt and headed on around the island.

There's a nice little boat ramp in Avatele in the southwest corner of Niue. These little ramps are all around the island if you know where to look. They all drop into a pool of protected water and then typically feed out through a rather hairy and shallow pass to sea.

Crossing the south end of the island you come to the Noni farm. Noni is a nasty tasting fruit that is rumored to produce a revitalizing nectar. A tablespoon a day is suggested, which is good because you probably couldn't choke much more down.

The ride through the southeast part of the island is through the shadows of the rain forest and national park. It is an enchanting place to pass through. The tourism map shows several paths to the ocean here, some of which are highly recommended. Hideko and I only stopped when we saw signs though because we were trying to get all the way around in an afternoon. I suppose you could do the circuit in a couple of hours is you just drove fast but if you stop often you will need a day to do it right. We were hustling and trying to pick the best spots to visit.

In Liku on the east coast we found a wonderful path leading to a cave where two local kayaks were carefully stored. Down below was a complement of crashing surf with a small apron of protective reef. A thin strip of the reef made an artificial ramp where we assumed the owners of the boats would launch in calmer conditions (3 meter seas today). As we looked around here we sighted a group of Humpback whales just off shore. We were mesmerized watching the huge creates from our perch up in the cliffs.

After a number of other interesting stops we made our way across the north coast. Here you find the highest point on Niue. I don't know how high it is but it can't be much more than 300 feet. There is a motel and a group of lovely cabin rentals in the area. The northwest part of the island has perhaps some of the most spectacular stops. The arches, the chasm and the Limu Pools are all must see spots. It would be a great idea to bring swimsuits and snorkeling gear and spend the day between the three.

It is funny, but when there are ten boats in an anchorage, it is hard not to run across just about all of them when you are bopping around a small island. We ran across the Ino crew at the arches just as a nice little batch of rain started up. We wanted to give them a ride back to the quay but our circus skills were not up to par and more than two on that bike would have required such. They ended up getting a lift from some friendly locals.

After dropping off the bike we set about lowering the dink back into the water. Some friendly Ozys helped us and we were off in no time. The Ino crew was back at the quay at this point so we dropped them off and stopped by Godspede to see how they were doing with their cutlass bearing repair. They had it whipped into jury rig shape, said thanks for asking, and handed us some freshly seared tuna. Jeff is a chef and it was ridiculously good. If this isn't good incentive to check in on your neighbors I don't know what is!

Diving Niue
10/05/2008, South of the Anchorage

It is Sunday in Niue. To say Niue shuts down on Sunday would be an understatement. We decided to spend the day on the boat and we wanted to get in some diving but most activities on Sunday are prohibited. We called Niue Radio to ask if diving around the anchorage would be ok and the radio operator said that they thought it would be fine. I think that since we are out in the anchorage and not disturbing the folks on shore she felt we would not be a distracting influence. We have since heard to opinions to the contrary.

If was another gray day but that never stops us from diving. The Godspede crew and the Ino crew were interested in checking out the dive sites south of the anchorage so we made a run down that way in the afternoon. It was a nice dive on a 100 foot bottom with a chasm to the south and a swim through arch. Lots of highly venomous but aloof sea snakes and plenty of fish about.

In retrospect I would advise a full suit, gloves and booties. The sea snakes really are not a problem but just in case you accidentally bumped one or scared it the penalty for getting bit would be extremely high as there are few things in the world more venomous. That said, their mouths are pretty small and they would have a hard time biting anything much bigger than you pinky.

After the dive we filled tanks, made lattes and had a great chat aboard Swingin' on a Star. Roq was very happy to entertain all of the company.


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