31 December 2014 | Tongatapu, Tonga
Tongatapu Tonga revisted 22 years later
After motoring around for several minutes looking for a shallow place to drop the anchor on the lee side of Pangaimotu, aka"Big Mama's Yacht Club", I gave up and drop in the deepest part, in the back of the pack with plenty of swinging room. There are over 2 dozen yachts here, and all of the good places are taken. Decided to anchor here so when the strong winds come from the opposite direction I'll be in the front of the pack and won't have to worry about another big boat dragging down on me. Don't want a repeat of America Samoa's anchor dance. I just hope I don't have to pull 100 meters of chain up by hand.
I made it here just in time for Papa's birthday celebration. Plenty of good food, good drinks, good music, and good people. Besides anchoring next to my lil brother again on Silhouette there are lots of cruisers also here that I have met since French Polynesia and other places along the way, all waiting on the next weather window for the passage to New Zealand. The party lasted until about 3am when Big Mama said lights out, go home! Boy does time fly when you're having fun and drunk?
Unfortunately the weather man was right. High winds arrived late Saturday night due to a small tropical depression passing to the south of Tonga. Just in time to interrupt any thoughts of a good night sleep in a calm anchorage. Winds in the 30 knot range, coming from the west. About 5 miles of open water which means at that distance and that wind the waves get big, making for a rock and roll anchorage. My anchor did break loose, but reset itself in a short distance. I then ran the engine in forward to take some of the strain off the anchor hoping it'll give it a little more time to burry itself. Also notice that big red boat on the side of me also was dragging anchor a little, but she reseated herself also, about 3 times. Besides she's on the side of me and if she breaks loose I won't be in the way. This wind lasted all day and since everything is closed on Sunday might as well stay aboard and do a little surfing - on the internet and watch the anchor alarms.
Big Mama has the perfect set up, almost. Unlike the northern Vava'u Group of islands, the southern group, Tongatapu, do not have many good places to anchor. And she is located at the best spot. Not only does she have the bar and restaurant she has rooms for rent as well. Also runs a ferry service 3 times a day most days into town and back. Cater to all the cruiser's needs. And when they are all gone for the season she sets up special things for the locals. Since this is the last big group of boats that she will have until next cruising season she decide to put on a couple of festivals for us. Got to make the money when you can. First was a cooking class, how to cook local food the local way. All the cruisers went to the local markets and bought something fresh. Phil passed up the octopus and bought 3 Parrot Fish and learned a new way to scale them, just pull them off with your hands, no tools needed for this fish. I went to the farmers market and bought things that looks like vegetables but had the slightest idea what they were. Turn out I had squash, Japanese Egg Plants, Spinach, and who knows what else, because Big Mama said she's not cooking that - all local grown.
Now a couple of days ago Big Mama sponsored a pot luck dinner. Most cruisers brought something for the occasion, some didn't but there was enough to go around. For the cooking class not everyone got the memo and a lot of people ate for free. Make you wonder what they be thinking. The staff was supposed to join in, but the freeloaders ate their share.
So for the next festival, the pig roast, Russ from A-Train took over. We are not going to let the friendliness of the Tongans be outdone by the rudeness of the free loaders. He went to each boat and told them about the pig roast and it will cost $20pp and you must present your ticket before you can eat. He collected enough for 3 little pigs. The only cruisers that opt out were the vegetarians and those that don't eat pork. So for half price that could eat the veggies if they wanted to join in.
Plans were made - the cruisers would help cook the pigs and the restaurant staff would supply the rest. The next morning the Boys would go get the pigs and Russ told the two brothers we had to kill them. Don't want to but it wouldn't be the first animal I had to kill before I could eat. But by the time we got back from town the deed was done. The Boys wanted to make sure it was done right! The only thing left to do was shove a big stick up their asses, hang them over the fire, turn tem, drink beer, let someone else do it, drink beer, throw some wood on the fire, drink beer, turn tem again, repeat 4 more times, throw some water on the fire and some coconut water on the pigs, drink beer. By the time they were ready the 3 little pigs had names - Tasty, Crispy, Burnty. The 1st little pig was just right, the 2nd little pig look like a big crackling, and the 3rd little pig, well he wasn't black when he went on the fire.
If it wasn't a feast meant for a king it sure went well for a bunch of drunken sailors and the not so drunken sailors. Even the kids from the "Kid Boats" were having a ball and playing all over the place. Plenty of hiding spots for hide and go sea. Afterwards those that could stay up a little longer join the Boys in the Kava ceremony. And those who could sing and play a guitar joined in. Big Mama said lights out, time to go home, again very late.
Well the weather between here and New Zealand should be clearing up soon, so we head into town to try and find those favorite spots from 22 years ago. Finding the King's Palace was easy. Looks just as it did last time and it's the biggest thing on this part of the island. Finding the Parliament building was not so easy, we had to ask for directions. The canon by the seaside had been removed and in its place a big pier for the cruise ships. Many new buildings in town due to a fire a few years ago. Burnt up several blocks. Heard it was a riot after a demonstration about better pay or something like that. But where is the hotel we stayed at? We went up this street and down that street, and back up this street a little further up we go, and this time out the corner of my eye I see something that looks just right, then see the sign Hotel Nukalofa. I don't remember having to go up these small stairs before, but inside brought back some old memories. We mention to the clerk that we were here in 1992 and were just looking around and wanted to make sure it was alright to take pictures. Even the pic of King Toupu IV was hanging in the same place. Somewhere in my pic collection I have a picture of me in the doorway underneath the same picture and another picture of me shaking his hand at the airport as the Water Babies Sailing Club was departing from the 'Bu 92 tour. Now his second son will soon be crowned "The King of Tonga." Heard it will be on his Dad's birthday next year.
Most of the cruising yachts have already made it to New Zealand or are on the way at this time of the year, But we smarter than them, we decided to wait until mid November for that crossing. The cold fronts should start to lessen. Instead of one every 4 -5 days they spread out to one every 8-10 days. One of the stories we hear about the trip to New Zealand is to pick which part of the trip you want to take your ass kicking, because you will get one. The choices are the beginning, the middle, or the end, because it takes at least 10 days to cross. But we so smart and listening to other cruisers stories if you wait until almost December the chances of a cold front is less, but the chances of a tropical Depression is more. Like the one that just passed between Tonga and New Zealand last week.
Weather is getting better for the crossing to New Zealand so we check out with the local officials and head into the town harbor to fuel up. The boats who went in before us were complaining about coming up short for the fuel they paid for. 6 or so boats would go in together and buy a truck load of duty free fuel and have it delivered to the dock. We decided between the 2 of us we only need a big drum on the back of a pickup. We got what we paid for. Rumor had it the truck driver got caught stealing fuel the next time around.
There are now about 3 dozen boats anchored outside of Big Mama's hiding out, waiting on the next good weather window. Most have done the paperwork to leave for New Zealand this weekend. Kind of illegal to not leave within 24 hrs after checking out, but the weather makes you do some things you would not do under normal circumstances. Some boats left on Friday - isn't that suppose to be bad luck? Some left on Saturday, we left on Sunday, 16th of Nov. with most of the boats. And some stayed longer. Hoping I sea none of the bad weather that can happen in this part of the world.
The windlass worked. The anchor and 300 feet of chain came back aboard without me having to do anything, except step on a button. There's a parade of boats following me out the pass. Not because they think I know what I'm doing, it's just us slow boats try to leave early. Not far from the pass after setting the sails just right, I catch a big Mahi Mahi. I should have plenty of food now in case I get stuck inside Minerva Reef for weeks. Also I hear the lobsters are so plentiful there, you just walk out on the beach and pick them up.
Now you may be wondering where in the world is Minerva Reef and why are you going there? I thought you were going to New Zealand. Well the other part of the plan to avoid an ass kicking from Mother Nature on this crossing is to stop at this little atoll in the middle of the ocean and wait. Just 250 nm southwest of Tonga and 800 nm northwest of New Zealand located at 23° 38.282' S X 18° 54.8739' W (check Google earth) are these too atolls, north and south Minerva Reefs, about 4-5nm in diameter. At low tide you can see the reef, at high tide you only see the waves crashing on the reef. We never heard of this place either until we started talking to other cruisers months ago. Since everyone now have GPS for navigation almost everyone stops here on the way to New Zealand. Even the cruising guides now mentions it. Without accurate navigation skills you would normally avoid this area. But with it - paradise can be found.
It took me 2 ½ days to get there. The boats that left before us were already having a ball in the middle of the ocean, scuba diving, snorkeling, crayfishing and all the other stuff cruisers do in the middle of nowhere. The evening I arrived they were planning on going to the reef and pick some more lobsters/crayfish. I was tired and decided sleep first, fish tomorrow. Phil been there since morning and went with them and came back with 5 big ones, and I got sleep, but in the end he didn't tie the bag up good and 4 of them got away. Well at least he got to eat dummy.
That evening we all had crayfish cooked several different ways aboard s/v Nirvana, celebrating something, I think it was one of the kid's birthday or the sunset, or need a way to eat up all those crayfish. Next day the Captain from s/v Nautilus organized a dive trip. He's a commercial diver from the Netherlands and was out the day before and said that out of all his dives in the world this has to be on top. Next morning all the divers suit up, take the dinghies outside the calm protection of the reef, drop the anchor in 2 meters of water, jump into the most clearest water ever. Only problem, I'm diving without my good mask. I broke the lens a few months ago and haven't found a replacement yet. So this Walmart POS is leaking and I'm trying to clear it constantly, and then I notice my dive partner having buoyancy problems so I follow him back up to the dinghy. Phil needed more weight and I needed a mask. So I gave him a few pounds. He jumps back in to catch up with the group. In the meantime, Will is finishing snorkeling and he loans me his mask. I jump in and the water is so clear I can see the group way on the other end of the reef. I decide it's too far to go, I'll just wait for them to come back to me. Phil had the same thought only he went back to the dinghy. So I just hung out and enjoyed the scenery at about 30-40 feet. Didn't need to go any deeper. Then the group makes it back to the dinghies and Capt. Nautilus say follow me. I do and we end up going down Minerva Reef's Blue Hole. We didn't make it to the bottom where there's a cave that leads back to the outside wall because Capt. N was low on air. We all agreed that this has to be virgin diving at its best. The only ones that get to see this place must come by private yacht. One day maybe someone will start doing live aboard dive trips here, but I hope it's a very long time away, I want to come back and see it again in its virgin state.
That evening low tide is just an hour after sunset, perfect to go pick up some lobsters. Get out the lights and the lobster bags and the reef walkers and off we go. This time Phil remembered to bring a light to mark the dinghy so we can find it after we walk a mile. I caught 3 lobsters after missing 6 and a couple of flipper lobsters. Must have pick up 6 females with eggs. They go back in the water. Now catching these bugs is a lot harder than just "reach down and pick them up", because when they sense danger they move real fast, so it's like catching a blind fly with chop sticks. You blind them with the light and grab them tight before they feel it coming.
The weather is the One who is really in charge of when to move a sailboat and the winds are beginning to pick up between here and New Zealand. So while we would love to stay here longer than 3 nights it's time to go before the bad stuff gets here next week. Some boats leave on Wed, we leave on Thur. and some on Friday and the next day and the next. Ocean is full of sailboats this week. About 12 from North Minerva, a bunch from Tonga and a bunch from Fiji. I'll have to keep a good look out, not for fishing boats or ships but for another sailboat.
First day out I notice my frig keeps running. Then I notice the temp. rising in the freezer. Shit!!! Damn thang not working and I got a big fish and lobster tails. The hell with the chicken and steak, I want my seafood, so I cook all the lobsters. I ate lobster for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack, for 2 days, what a life. Then I cooked up some Mahi Mahi for the next two days, and then everything goes to the sea. I'm now living out of the can, because I haven't caught any more fish.
And to top that off Windy the wind vane steering breaks another pulley the next day. And then for the next 8 days - great passage, highest winds were 20kts for half the day, were several days of winds less than 10 with the rest less than 5kts. Needless to say I ran the motor a lot. This is one part of the ocean you don't want to wait around for the wind to come back, because when it do it does. It's getting Cold outside, the further South I go the more layers of cloths I have to put on. It got so cold I had to go dig out my long johns, and put on 2 pairs of socks. Heck can't remember the last time I wore socks and shoes. And it's supposed to be summer soon down under. I sure hope it gets here sooner.