Just keeps getting better
23 October 2016
For those who noted some of the exceptional experiences we have had in Tonga this season, it just got better. One needs to understand that just being in any Pacific Island Nation or "Kingdom" in this case, is generally quite sufficient to provide one with the feeling of accomplishment, one of,,,having done it. That in itself is usually enough. Having travelled long distances in most cases, overcome some challenges, expenditures and stresses as we all must do to get "out here", then the actual time spent enjoying the topical paradise of the day and all things related, are usually more than sufficient stimuli to create memories for a lifetime, which is of course why we came way out here in the first place. Many things such as whale experiences and encounters, diving, snorkelling, fishing, beach combing, hiking, walking and visiting and getting to know local folks are more than enough perfect experiences for most of us. In fact most of us do not do all of those things all of the time, it is just too much with all the other things we do on a daily basis out here, such are the demands of the boat and ourselves. There is the feeding of all manner of fluids and fuels and cleaning, resting and maintenance of all sorts of both the boat and ourselves. There is the constant weather watching, preparations, provisioning and of course the socializing and sleeping to contend with on a daily basis, to say nothing of the daily consumption of the demon alcohol. All this before we entertain outside or off the boat activities leaves little room for things outside the normal preverbal box as they say. Living with these daily responsibilities becomes sort of normal and when you get to take part in ECA' s "extra curricular activities" sort of like space missions with the EVA's, or OBA's "off boat activities", it is the reward for all the work and commitment you made to get out here. We have been so fortunate this season with some very special ECA's and the last highlight of course being able to have HRM, Queen Mother of Tonga join us aboard A-TRAIN for an afternoon sail. Wow Royalty, real Royalty, on our boat! How can it get better than that? Well perhaps being invited to sit with His Royal Majesty, King Tupou VI, Ruler of the Kingdom of Tonga in a private beach setting with his private guard, a mutual friend and us might be just a little bit cooler and that is what happened. Yup, just us! Then add to this, Gwen was appointed to bake for His RM's afternoon tea which was served while we sat with HRM. Who does these sorts of things? We had some laughs and good conversation about many things, various sports, hunting and fishing, firearms, scuba and personal histories stories and experiences. What a very Royal Majesty he is indeed! So very well spoken and educated, so Regal, in demeanour and with such a commanding presence it is hard to describe. Royalty is just something the rest of us are Not! I was actually nervous, as one really should be,,but he made us feel relaxed and accepted us as the regular people that we are. There is so much to say and describe about everything surrounding our visit with King Tupou VI, but suffice to say it has been yet another experience of a lifetime. I mean, this is the King of Tonga we are talking about. Whew! Everything else seems to pale in the shadow of this visit and experience and yet we have had all manor of fantastic experiences but after this, we can't even remember them any more. With all these things going on this season, how can it possibly get any better ? Well It may!!! More on that later.
While we were blessed with photos of us together that are memories we can cherish a lifetime, we will not be posting these on any public forum for obvious reasons. Sorry about that. The photo included is where we met with King Tupou VI. Hard to believe really.
All too soon our time in the tropics will be transitioning into the cooler climes of the far South but the memories we have gathered this season will carry us thru the passage and trip back to Canada to visit winter and serve out our short sentence to satisfy the all important health care requirements of time "in country". Not a bad thing and we look forward to re connecting with family and friends while home and spending some time at the new Ponderosa with a crackling fire and snow instead of sand to look at. We will exchange sea and sand for sage brush and lake vistas, hot and humid for cold and dry conditions, sun in the South instead of the Northern sky, TOP for CDN dollars, foreign languages for English, driving on the right side of the road, and so on. Last night we had a huge turkey, cooked in the Umu, Gwen made stuffing and a carrot cake and we enjoyed an extended family meal at the long table with our new family here at Pangaimotu, all in celebration of Gwen's Birthday, her second one in Tonga. The staff prepared traditional Tonga dishes as accompaniments which made for a wonderful culinary experience and the turkey came out beautifully from the Umu. Turkey dinner in the tropics, who would have thunk that? We also arranged a cruisers BBQ two days ago which was yet another fun party ashore. It appears a weather window might present itself this week so we are now in preparations mode again and watching carefully so as to be ready to make the hop to NZ. It is going to be so very tough to leave here after becoming such a part of the family and being treated so well and having such other world experiences but when you are living a mobile existence this too has change with the seasons and with cyclone season on the horizon it is time to migrate once again and experience something else new and exciting which is how it seems to go when you are living, way out here!
We will post updates when underway and on YIT.
Supreme Swine Dinner
03 October 2016
The pig we bought for the family was roasted over the fire in the traditional fashion as seen in the photo, by Ben and Lia both great great guys who work here on the Motu for Big Mama and Earl. The kitchen staff prepared all of the accompanying tradditional dishes of taro, kumara and salad which was excellent. All served on top of banana leaves for the settings, cool. We pulled a few tables together and had a long table feast as a large family talking and laughing and joking which was really nice. Oh talking about eating, we brought a kilo of NZ crunchy organic peanut butter for Ana cuz we know she likes it, she thanked us but in the morning said, oh you know that peanut butter,,,Gone, they ate it last night, the boys did. Then Gwen baked a huge and fab chocolate black out cake, which is ultra electric cake, one sliver and you are buzzing all day. Anyway, she brought it in and before we knew it,,Gone,,, they ate it. Then , well you heard about Coconuts the dog already. Now they are all laying around dog tired.
No, I know this is not a super interesting blog post but worth mentioning and seeing how the pig is done. We have become quite accustomed to these Pacific Islands feasts but figured some folks at home might find it interesting. Yummy. Here is a photo. Of the Pig that is.
And we'll never be Royals, Royals, or so the song goes.
03 October 2016 | Paingaimotu Tonga
After having the privilege of sailing The Queen Mother around the harbour yesterday,here is what we know for sure. Royals are Royal and in this case very Regal. HRM the Queen Mother of Tonga, is a truly wonderful lady of 90 something and could be anyone's grandmother. She is definitely Royal and definitely Regal, of this there can be no doubt. We had her and personal servants and personal military guard and grand children and Big Mama on board for a perfect afternoon sail around the harbour, (and for the sailors) in light winds hitting just under 7 knots under main alone since limiting the healing over was a pretty big priority for me, as one might expect. There could have been better sail shape and speeds but HRM, found her favourite spot leaning on the main sheet winch with the throw pillow Gwen set her up with. Nice and comfy, BUT, not my place to ask her to move so I could trim sail, so I did the best I could and no one noticed except probably the other yachts all watching the goings on, well aware of who was on board. Of the most interest to HRM, was sailing close in past the Royal Palace and her home, twice, so she could see it from the water onboard a yacht. Not a place most would venture close by so a Royal treat for us as well. She was so happy with that part of it she asked Gwen "can I stand on the side deck and you take a picture of me and the Palace". Yes Your Majesty, I think that would be fine. The word was out via the Royal Staff at the Palace that HRM, was to be sailing on a yacht today, so there were many on shore keeping an eye out, and they have really keen eyesight Tongans do, especially HRM. Since we were sailing close in and flying a huge, Tongan flag, (which I insisted we fly out of respect and formality and which was kindly supplied by Big Mamas, pulled off the ceiling and a little worn) and with a very obvious entourage on board, we learned they had indeed spotted us and there was more than a few scrutinizing us from shore. Of course the police boat came checked us out well before the Royal Party came out to A-TRAIN in the launch. We did have pretty sold sponsorship in Earl and Ana, or nothing remotely like this would be happening anyway. The Primary Assistant is one of twin girls and nieces to HRM, who both serve HRM, MaAta, and her personal special forces military guard, Tomale, and the rest were very busy snapping selfies and sending them far and wide. Earl said it would go viral amongst the family and Palace staff and military, many of whom are overseas and photos and stories would be on Facebook everywhere by tonite. What a hoot! As they boarded the launch on the way back from A-TRAIN, HRM threw Gwen a kiss and said to Ana, "I am so happy, what a lovely couple". "How long will they stay, I want to come back over next week". Wow!
Her Royal Majesty, was married to King Tupou, and together they reigned as King and Queen for a very long time, succeeded by her first son, King George V, who died a couple of years ago and now her second son King Tupou VI was coronated last year about this time and resides on the throne today. He, His Royal Majesty, King Topou VI, was here at Paingaimotu using a hooka rig and swimming last week ( we have photos) and we hesitated to barge in on he and Earl as there were so many soldiers, but were told by someone with special authority today, that we should have. Mama told Gwen she could get up close to him and get some photos, a soldier caught her and said "NO PICTURES". You might be surprised, but that didn't stop her, she got the shot! However we will meet him when he comes back over and of course the invite to come our place and do the cowboy thing and drive around in the bush seeing critters which he really wants to do, just got a little reinforcement. Can't get what you want go win over the mother. HRM, asked Gwen, what day is it? Gwen said Saturday, she sighed, "oh, I will have to go home tonite, church tomorrow. " When she was departing with all the loads of stuff her staff brought along, we lined up in our new Uniforms at the end of the farewell line, standing at attention and as she approached to board the launch, she addressed only us and asked " are you two coming with us?" She is so nice. Anyway lots to tell but this is a snippet. Suffice to say it has been a real Royal experience for us with the whole formality thing and soldier guard and actually addressing someone as "Your Majesty" and it actually really mean Your Majesty! Ya, not what we grew up with or are accustomed too but very very cool and I think it will take a little time to for the significance of this experience to set in. Whew.
We are now back from our shoreside debrief with Ana "Big Mama" and Earl, "Pangia" the Queen Mothers Chosen Favourite, where we had a mini Tongan feast. Belch, burrrrp, ahhhh. Yummy! Earlier in the week we arranged to by a pig which the boys roasted, turned by hand to perfection over the fire while we were out sailing so we could treat the family and staff as our way to give a little back to those who have been so nice to us, invited us into the family and afforded this opportunity of a life time. The radar was meant to break, Gwen says.
This week is going to be really tough to top!
Her Royal Majesty, The Queen Mother, of the Kingdom of Tonga sailing on A-TRAIN
13 September 2016 | Pangaimotu Tonga
Looks like the South Pacific is not quite ready to release us to the North. Still in Nukualofa, and not suffering too much despite piss poor weather this past month. We have exhausted pretty much all avenues for repairing and or replacing parts of the radar system while out here and resigned to go back to NZ and deal with it there. Is is only a few days sail to the South West of here and we know it well by now and Minerva Reefs are after all on the way and as David our Kiwi friend stated, "it would be rude to by pass Minerva and not stop, would it not?" So the plan is Yes, we have one. Whatever it turns out to be.
We have been having a great time visiting with other yachties and Ana and Earl at Big Mamas and generally enjoying the Tongan experience, which if you stop to get into the rhythm of it...and them, is really quite special. They are truly their own people and not to be changed easily or any time soon. They are giving and kind and never a threat. Sure if they need something and you have it they borrow it if they need it more but that is "Kustom" and how things are. Not meant to be rationalized or considered or judged, it just IS! To date we have never had a bad or uncomfortable experience in any of the Pacific Nations inclusive of Mexico way back in 2012 when we entered the country Christmas Eve, on the way down the Baja. Says something that folks in the Americas could learn from. Enough of that, we love it out here and wish more people could experience it. Weird, that with exception of David, the other David that is, the one from Oz, who visited and cruised with us in Fiji a year ago, no one has expressed an interest to venture out for a visit and experience some of what the South Pacific has to offer. Granted it is a hell of a trek and outside, well outside actually, the comfort zone of most. We have done the flights and they are over and forgotten before you know it. Especially once aboard and it becomes reality that wow you really are looking at desert islands covered in palm trees and azure blue water and on and on. The rewards are definitely worth the trip.
We have been trading various gifts and services and foods and having a good time with that, seeing who can out do the other in terms of thoughtfulness or surprise ideas. Not cost or monetary value things, just sort of giving and getting. They are very proud, love to give and want to be the final giver but Gwen is pretty crafty and seems to pull the preverbal rabbit out every time. Right now she is putting the finishing touches on a chocolate blackout cake fresh out of the oven, it's one of her secret weapons, really not to be compared with or challenged by any other chocolate cake,,,ever! It is electric cake, you are buzzing if you have a big slice. Should be a hit tonite when we bring that in. I have many jobs and upgrades completed for the yacht club here at Pangaimotu: new lighting, refrigeration repairs and other things and now am working on the back-up generator. They only have generator power out on the motu (small island) and back-up is essential. Next up is to build a pizza oven. I already did the design and materials take off. Now keep in mind we will not be going down to Home Depot or anything remotely close here. We have to design and work with what might be available and what can be hauled out to the motu. I should photo "the barge"....it is ingenious as hell but it is too sad really. Anyway it is all about function out here. So the oven is up next and it will be a really popular thing for them. They think perhaps one day a week, probably just Sunday's for pizzas cuz it is a heap of work and they estimate based on knowing Tongans and yachties at least 60 large pizzas on pizza day. Gwen will conduct pizza school before too long, it is all in the dough/crust you know! We are told a typical Tongan man will order two or three large pizzas and eat them all. No, they are not really a fat people, they are simply huge by evolution. They are massively structured people compared to nearly everyone else. I am not a shrimp but a mere stick compared to most Tongan men, note to self, maybe don't piss them off too much. They were about the most feared warriors way back when, but they were not aggressors and so history did not make a big deal about them because they were not out conquering fellow nations etc.,,, Rather they were left alone, avoided really, after many raiding parties struck out for Tonga never to return. Can you spell Umu?.
Anyway, Wow a coconut husk fired pizza oven,, it is going to be pretty cool! Need to get that one done before we move on. We just applied for visa extensions so should be here long enough to get a good shot at it. Speaking of coconuts, they do have a few dogs on the motu, as pets and noise makers to keep unwanted's from sneaking ashore at night unnoticed etc... One, named Buster, a nice calm black lab something cross is a great fisherman and can be seen at dusk and dawn fishing for mullet of which he is very good at, as the dogs don't get a lot of, if any, regular dog food hand outs here. We have watched him and he is serious. He is cool and relaxed and we like him. There are a couple more making up the pet family, one in particular called Coco Nuts, yes it is a male, has been making a fuss lately fighting and biting his way up the chain as dogs must do, but a couple of the guys had had enough of that bickering so they ate him last night. Cooked in the Umu.
The Umu is an underground no nonsense traditional oven. These ovens have many names through out the Pacific, like Lovo in Fiji and Imu in Hawaii and Mumu in Papua New Guinea and Toonai in Samoa and so on. Not so much the actual implement as in "an oven", more the feast and meal and celebration associated with its use and the treasures that come out of it when the cooking is complete. We have had several over the years and the food, while widely varied and locally influenced or in fact limited by what may be at hand, is always delicious and thoroughly enjoyable. More though the atmosphere in the air and the enjoyment of sharing the food and the long tropical evening and into the night with relaxed well fed and happy people is the really cool part. Then again maybe the Kava has a slight influence on all that. Either way, it doesn't get much better than that whole combination of things to overload the senses and make you grin and besides, what else would you expect, way out here? Woof!
Still in Tonga
08 September 2016 | Pangaimotu
Still hanging out in Tonga, where it has been sticky but pretty nice overall. Next few days will be rainy and very humid causing that dripping glazed skin effect and meaty odour all to familiar with life in the topics. No anti aging creams required down here. Gwen just made another batch of perfect yogurt by just leaving it sit on the counter, no additional heat required. Yup pretty warm. We have been sourcing out a solution to the radar issue without success so far. You may wonder, since I usually just get things done, how can you not just order and get one and be done with it? A new modern system is in order but to install it requires removal of the stainless arch a substantial bit of structure, only achievable with a crane or forklift. Not happening out here I am afraid. So we need to somehow repair the existing one before moving on. The Radome appears to be the problem and an easy swap considering, but it is so large freight costs to get one here or close by are in the thousands USD plus plus. We can afford it but that is real money and we are struggling to rationalize that expense for a used and older system that we would replace in the near future when proper facilities are available. So we have been searching for one where the seller is competent enough to be able to and willing to, remove the guts and package them up and send those to American Samoa via US postal service a much more affordable option. We have had a few tantalizing possibilities but those fizzled like a wet match and burned up a couple of weeks of getting our hopes up. Now waiting on a guy in Florida who sells used marine electronics and said yesterday he would test the radome he has and is willing and capable to disassemble and ship once it checks out. Hopes are up again! The time and day difference adds to the challenges and of course Internet is not what you might think out here. Not quite two coconuts and a string or even long distance drums which do work by the way, but it is spotty and slow and can indeed be frustrating to the point of testing patience somewhat. So we will continue that quest for now. If no solution presents itself we are likely to sail back to NZ where anything can be accomplished then have a shot at the traditional Tahiti route next year. A much longer and challenging route to be sure. If we do alright with this present possibility it would mean shipping it to American Samoa, hint, American and US Postal Service, which is about 500 nm N East of here so we can wait for a weather window and sail up. Pago Pago, pronounced Pango Pango is a very commercial port, based around the Pacific fishing fleet and canneries and all the pleasant stuff associated with being a previously sort of abandoned US territory where back in the departure days all manner of stuff was simply dumped into the harbour creating a foul anchorage not conducive to hanging out in a proper yacht. We hear reports of fouled anchors that have gone through the window of an old car, hooked on a washing machine or plastic kids pool and so on and many tales of poor holding when your anchor finally finds the bottom and dragging anchor in moderate winds etc... Not really attractive. There are reports of a major clean up and closing of one cannery recently but nothing verified. I think our plan would be to head for Western Samoa, 65 nm West of there and another special place with wonderful people well worth visiting, then take a ship over to Am Sam claim the package and return to Samoa proper where I can do the swap out of equipment reasonably easily at anchor. There is the very tempting big box store shopping excursion possibility in Am Sam which will be difficult to resist but we have equipped fairly well in NZ so are not really wanting for all that much. Cheese could be a problem with only a couple of kilos of NZ tasty cheddar remaining but we can stretch that out a little. The plan to sail back to the Americas appears to be moving out of reach with this delay and soon will vaporize as the change of season occurs in the North Pacific bringing on the cold fronts and nasty low pressure systems that pack a wallop and are not to be confronted by the conservative mariner with more than two brain cells functioning. Maybe a blessing having just watched the tropical storm pass Hawaii and curve up through the North Pacific still intact which is very very unusual where it is making landfall on the BC coast still very potent. No big deal except it followed nearly exactly the course I have plotted from Hawaii to BC. While it was moving very quickly and would have overtaken and left us within less than a day I fear the gift it would bring would not be very welcome and I am relieved we did not find ourselves in the same area of sea to experience the conditions that would have accompanied a real tropical storm, near hurricane event. Shudder and pucker just does not cover it and would be of little use during the beating in those pure survival conditions. No thanks. So as that option fades new ones open up and tomorrow the sun will come up, not visible here mind you with a trough (dark low cloud, rain at times very heavy,squalls and humidity) dominating the next several days but it will be there and we will continue the adventure in some other way. No problem keeping busy with refrigeration servicing and repairs for Big Mamas as well as installing new lighting throughout their bar and repairing this and that at the yacht club to help them out which all takes time and feels good to give back. In return they accept us as part of the family, spoil us with suprise meals and beer and other kindness which is their "Kustom", and is a large part of the gift of being here. Caught a really nice yellow snapper off the back of the boat here at anchor the other day and brought it in to Big Mamas where they were happy to have it. Tongans love all kinds and all parts of Fish. We stopped in and had a bite and it was prepared perfectly and delicious. Mama, demonstrated how to eat the best part as she sucked the eyeballs out in a big slurp followed by a satisfied sigh and smacking of the lips. She ate that head clean down to the white bone to the point it looked like it had been in the desert sun for years. How they love their fish! The meat line is back out now dangling a tantalizing bit of bacon in hopes of attracting more sea food snacks we can contribute. They said when they cleaned it they were surprised to find a cucumber in the stomach! A vegitarian snapper? Now tell me,,,where does a snapper get a cucumber,,,, way out here?