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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
All Day Clear In
10/13/2008, Tonga

We got up this morning and prepared to clear into Tonga. While I always try to respect a country's official requirements, I have also learned to go with the flow. If the guy running things doesn't want to deal with you until Monday morning, should you arrive on the weekend, I find it best to oblige. It seems all officials will have a go at you if you set yourself up, but in the end most would rather you anchor out and fly the Q than take them away from their Sunday BBQ. You need to read the tea leaves carefully here however, because countries like French Polynesia and Fiji (from what I here), can get maniacal about the rules.

We took the dinghy in to the customs dock and tied up. Hideko waited aboard and I went to find the customs shed. There were no cruisers around as of yet and I asked to clear in. The official (whom I now believe to be the head honcho) asked where my boat was, so I told him. He did not like the, "on a mooring" answer one bit and demanded I immediately bring the boat to the customs dock. So off I went.

Now the customs dock in Neiafu is not like the Newport Marina. It is more like a third world container quay. In fact, it is a third world container quay. By the time we returned with the yacht it was Monday morning rush hour. Three yachts were rafted up on the protected side of the customs quay, two were rafted up at the fisheries dock, and another was tied up behind those two. The concrete walls of the main quay were towering over our toe rail, all the more so because the tide was still out. We made a pass at the long exposed side of the quay but the big black bumpers would have crushed our stanchions as we slammed underneath the overhang to the rhythm of the chop in the bay.

So we circled, waiting for someone to take off. Before long there were three yachts making the rounds like buzzards. Of course if I had come at this point the customs officer would have just cleared me in from the mooring, as he began to do with other yachts. Too late for that though, he would lose face if we were allowed to not tie up.

Margarita, a Farrier catamaran we had first met in Palmerston, and her raftee finally were released and the Fisheries dock opened up. This is the best of the three faces to choose from but the Fisheries folks charge you 13.50 Tongan for the privilege. Once on the dock our friends on Ino asked if they could raft on, so we helped them get secure and went in to the customs house as a pack.

We took care of agriculture (a copy of the vet certificate for Roq, forms and 23 Tongan) and then waited for the Customs guy. He wrapped up with the yacht he was working on and then put up the "out to lunch" sign. So we hit the ATM just up the street and waited for an hour until 13:30. We finally completed customs (forms, no fee) at around 14:30 and then headed to Immigration. Immigration is a ways down the street above the Development Bank and was more forms but no fee.

There is a nice farmers market right past customs with a good selection of fruits and vegetables and great prices. Hideko made good use of this on the way in and on the way out.

I finally returned to the boat at 3:30 PM and no one had even looked at her through binoculars. We certainly could have done all of this with the yacht on the mooring, saved a lot of time, some fuel, and avoided the dangers inherent in docking a plastic boat on a fairly rough concrete quay. Then a guy showed up from Health and asked to come aboard. Ah, so this is why they needed the boat here.

He gave me a form. I filled it out. He asked me to pay 30 Tongan. I did. He asked for a drink. I don't like it when officials do this kind of thing when on duty. I asked if he wanted a Coke or a Sprite. He said, "do you have beer?" On duty? Whatever, I gave him a beer hoping to get rid of him. I suppose you could always say no, but depending on how petty they are they could really create a lot of hassle if they wanted to. As it was he probably couldn't even tell you what color our boat was, much less whether there were any health issues.

Beer in hand the so called "Health Inspector" crossed over to Ino and gave them the same shtick. I always knew beer was healthy.

By the time we wrapped up it was pushing 4:30 in the afternoon. The Fisheries folks didn't care if we stayed the night since we had already paid the vig. The moorings are hotly contested here and it is not likely you'd find a free one at this hour. So we stayed.

I'm glad we did. We met a really cool fisherman named Albert who runs the Mahi Mahi. He gave us a lot of good pointers for fishing in the area.

As night feel Hideko and I made up a batch of chili and invited the Ino crew over for dinner. I whipped up some desert crepes and we did a bit of single malt tasting as well. It was a wonderful evening on the Tonga Fisheries dock.

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!


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