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Swingin' on a Star
Ship's log for the circumnavigating Saint Francis 50 catamaran, "Swingin on a Star".
Saying goodbye to the Milk Run
10/16/2008, Neiafu

It was a sad day for us. We made our way into the Aquarium for lunch and a final internet session before our afternoon clear out. These days the coconut Milk run (the large procession of yachts making their way from Panama to New Zealand) turns south at Vava'u and make for NEw Zealand. We were heading west to Fiji.

At the cafe we saw the crews from Godspede, Ino, O'Vive, Honalee, Thulani, Kairos and others. We also talked to Independent Freedom and a few others on the radio. Some we would no doubt never see again. That said we hope to see them all again in another port along the way. After taking care of some last minute internet business and the very important forwarding of our mail we packed up and got ready to clear out.

The Aquarium had arranged for us to get fuel delivered by truck to the dock at 3PM so we tied up at fisheries around 2:30PM. After clearing out with Immigration, the port captain ($30 tongan), and customs we were allowed to fuel. Once fueled we had to return to the customs office with the receipt to get our clearance.

The sun was getting low when we left. We didn't wan to reach Fiji until morning on Monday. Fiji has very strict and comprehensive yacht clearance procedures, arriving outside of hours is not advised as high fees are charged for weekend clearance and sitting on the boat for a couple days with the Q flying is not allowed.

Our first attempt to park the boat did not work out. We tried to anchor near Malo Island in a large harbor on the way out of the Neiafu passage. There is one mooring here and a boat was on it. The bottom was 40 to 100 feet and the sun was way to low to allow any kind of color interpretation from the surface. We gave anchoring a try but after one fail set we headed for known territory (always a good idea when it is getting late).

We came just outside of the Neiafu exit and headed down to Nuku. The pleasant sandy island was waiting for us just as we had left it. We set the anchor in good holding sand and shut down to await our departure window.

Plumbing Fix
10/15/2008, Tonga

Sometime on the way to Niue we began to have a serious leak in our fresh water system. The starboard bilge pump was running pretty frequently any time we would leave the water pressure on. The culprit turned out to be a Whale type T fitting (a compression fitting that you just plug the pipe into with no crimps). This is a 15mm T fitting below the starboard aft cabin hanging locker. Not the easiest thing to get to. It has the main port water pump line coming in one side and the main starboard water pump line coming in the other. The T then feeds the hot water heater. It wasn't quite squirting but it was close. We went on a strict "turn off the water pressure" program as soon as we discovered the problem. I made a few half hearted attempts to remove the fitting but it was hard to get to and not budging. I didn't want to break it because I didn't have a replacement. As a stop gap I siliconed some duct tape (what else?) and taped it up to reduce the outflow.

The fitting is PVC and so are the two feed pipes. The hot water heater has a copper pipe however. I'm no expert but that copper pipe gets pretty hot and I doubt the PVC T is designed for metal pipe.

Dave from O'Vive came over to help me get a fix in place. Dave was not only wired in Neiafu but also traveling in company with a plumber! I had asked on the local cruisers net to see if anyone had what I needed. One boat set us up with some Ts. Cruisers are always ready to help and it is hard to believe the different spares you can come up with when tapping into a group of perhaps a hundred boats, such is the fleet in Vava'u this time of year.

Unfortunately the Ts were not the right type, although in a pinch we could have used them to make something work. After scouring the town to no avail, Jeramy on Thulani told us he had a T. We zipped over to Thulani, who was moored across the bay, and Jeramy had the exact part! After thanking him profusely we headed back to Swingin' on a Star.

I was expecting to work on the fix with Dave, but Dave does not mess around. He had the whole thing replaced before I could get him a screw driver. I think the solution is better than the original as well. Dave cut back the copper pipe and we now have a flexible hose connecting the copper to a PVC pipe stub fixed in the T. The other two PVC pipes were left unchanged. Now the PVC T has only PVC pipe in it and an isolator between it and the copper pipe as well. Hopefully this will last forever.

We re-pressurized the system and all was well. The old T has a nicked O Ring and may be reusable with a replacement O Ring. It was a long day and we really didn't do anything but bird dog the parts for the plumbing repair. It was well worth it to get the fix in though, many thanks to Dave and Jeramy! Not a moment too soon either because we are low on water and certainly aren't going to make water in the midst of 50 yachts...

During the day one of the local craftsmen stopped by the boat. He was a nice guy and had some pretty cool stuff. Hideko bought a nice basket that we are both pretty happy with.

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

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