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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
The Aquarium
10/14/2008, Tonga

We had breakfast on the fisheries dock and then after Ino made way for the mooring field we followed. It can be tricky getting off of this dock if the wind in coming straight down the bay at you. HAve to watch for the fishermen with anchor lines way out front.

In the mooring field we picked up a ball that the Moorings Base quickly kicked us off of. We found a Beluga Diving mooring a little farther down that ran about 12 Tongan a day and we were finally setup in Tonga.

We made our first trip to town and tied up the dink at the Aquarium. This is perhaps the number one cruisers establishment in Neiafu. They will help you with anything and have good food three meals a day, a nice dock for the dinks, island tours, and a shop with some minimal books, charts, cruising guides and crafts. They also have internet service with supplied computers or Wifi that reaches the anchorage (barely). They will hook you up with a cab, beach BBQ, hold packages or just about anything else you can imagine. A great place for the sailors.

You will see almost everyone you know from the anchorage if you just hang around the Aquarium for a few hours. We spent a while just catching up with friends we had met and chatting.

We also had to arrange to ship the contents of our Saint Brendan's Isle mail box in Florida to the Copra Shed in Savusavu, Fiji. Our new ships documentation is in there and the old one expires on October 31st. The Coast Guard will not renew your docs prior to 30 days before the old one expires and they require you renew every year. This is a pretty big hassle for casual circumnavigators and I wish they would change the term to 2,3 or even 5 years like most other countries.

After a nice lunch and a brief tour of town we wrapped up for the day.

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.


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