21 July 2015 | Tongatapu, Tonga
Somewhere around the middle of May, I made my last provisioning trip to Pak n Save - a Big Super Market across the street from the Town Basin Marina. It's amazing they still have food and stuff left on the shelves, because all the other cruisers have been making the same trip, 2 or 3 times a day. There won't be a supermarket like that for any of us for a few more months. I previously stocked up on boat parts, beer, rum, and Reggae music New Zealand style a few days earlier. The only thing left before I can leave is a good weather forecast for a sail to Tonga.
That weather window came on the 17th of May. I checked out with the NZ customs in the morning with Silhouette and about a dozen other boats that made it down river from Whangarei to Marsden Cove. There have been boats leaving New Zealand for about a month now. Most of them are sailing to Fiji, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia and some farther West. But a few of us are headed to Tonga because we didn't get enough the first time around. One month in a country is not enough for me.
It's a big ocean out there and the waters between New Zealand and Tonga/Fiji is one of the most treacherous on earth for sailing. Although the weather forecast is good, everyone knows it's just a guess because the weather man sometimes ain't right. So to keep in touch with all the other boats making the same passage the Isabella Radio Net has been reactivated with the same bunch of boats as last year and a few newbie's. I also join the Pacific Seafarers Net again. This group is more professional with HAM operators setting at home playing with their radios. And if there is a problem they can easily notify the officials. But the main use is to say hi everyday to friends and see what the weather is like where they are, because most of them are miles ahead of me. Every now and then I check in with the Southern Cross Net, a bunch of cruisers whom I've met and been in touch with since leaving the Galapagos. They are all in Fiji and other islands farther to the west.
After checking out with the New Zealand customs I left NZ at noon. Only 807 nautical miles to go to the 1st stop, Minerva reef. Winds out of the South at 20kts so I only roll out the Jib and doing 6 knots. 100% cloud cover and 2 meter seas. These conditions last for the next 3 days, but no rain. Have to run the engine a few hours every day to recharge the batteries. Solar panels can't keep up without any sunlight.
Then about half way to Minerva reef the winds drop to 13kts so I raised the main sail and rolled out the staysail. Before the sun goes down the wind drops to 5kts. Well the weather forecast said that that would happen, so sails come down and the motor comes on. Glad I have a full fuel tank because these conditions are predicted to last a few days. Then on the 5th day around midnight the winds picked up enough that I can raised the sails and turn off the engine. Too bad it only lasted until sunrise, so on comes the motor and in comes the Jib and Staysail. Left the main up because I'm hoping the wind will pick up again. Lucky me that happen around midnight again so out comes the sails and off goes the engine. Rats that plastic window on the Jib is cracked. I'll have to keep it rolled up to the first reef point and hope it doesn't rip the rest of the sail. Then the sun comes up and the wind goes down, on comes the motor and sails rolled up to keep them from just flapping. Well the weather man said that that would happen.
Well with just 100nm to go the wind switches to the Northwest, the direction I want to go, at 15kts. Damn it, the weather man was right again. So now I have to tack a few times, but at least the wind is strong enough that I don't have to listen to the motor running. But that 100nm to go will take me about 2 days.
25th of May, 8 days at sea I finally reach North Minerva reef around 0700. Since I haven't caught a fish yet I decided to just motor around outside the atoll on the west side and troll a little. Other boats reported catching a fish or 2. Well I hooked a bunch of them, but got none to the boat. They kept breaking the fishing lines, or somebody doesn't know how to tie a proper knot. Well I gave up after I ran out of lures and went inside the reef to join Silhouette who made it here a day earlier. Took a quick nap before going lobster hunting on the south side of the atoll/reef. Weather conditions wasn't great, waves were big due to the increasing wind and big waves crashing on the reef. I made it inside the protection of the reef just in time. I would rather be at anchor sleeping then trying to sail in that shit. I caught one little lobster and decided to send him back to the ocean to grow up. Phil caught none, but the night before he caught 4 on the north side of the atoll. Only problem he didn't tie his bag up properly and they all escape. Same as last year.
Two days later we moved over to the Western side of the atoll and went lobster hunting again. Phil gets a bunch and I get zero. Go out a second night with crew from Ika and another boat. I caught 2, Ika caught 3, Phil catch 4 and the other guy zero, but at least he now know what they look like. Winds are still strong making this part of the atoll a very uncomfortable anchorage so we decide to move to the Eastern side, but first while close to the past in the reef we decide to go fishing. Phil catches 3 yellow fin Tuna, I caught zero. This time those giant suckers decided to break my reel. Oh well, that old Penn 404 that I inherited from my father, must be 50+ years old, have finally been retired. We drop anchor on the eastern side of the atoll to get out of them wind generated waves. Decided not to bother with trying to go get more lobsters since the waves were really breaking on the reef. S/v Ika, whom we met way back in Raiatea and New Zealand with Patrick and Mary aboard showed up and joined us for a Sushi feast. Must have eaten 25 lbs. of Yellow Fin tuna that evening between the 4 of us. How much would that cost at a Japanese restaurant in the states?
On the last day of May the weather settles down to 15kts from the SE, enough to leave the protection of North Minerva reef. We had wanted to visit South Minerva reef but - maybe next time. We need to make it to Tonga before the next bad weather comes. Rigged up my hand line to do some fishing, but caught nothing. Phil caught one. 260nm to go to Tonga and the weather is good, doing over 7kts. Just wish I had some fresh fish, because Phil so stingy, he didn't give me any of his and to think I gave him a Wahoo way back in Fanning when he couldn't catch anything.
2nd of June, I arrived at the custom's dock in Nukualofa, Tongatapu, Tonga just after lunch. Only the Health official showed up for his paperwork and money. I'll have to try and do the rest in the morning, if and when the officials show up. Well at least the quarantine is lifted and I can leave the boat and have a good meal. By noon the next day I'm officially checked in, so leave the harbor and went over to the anchorage by Big Mama's Yacht club to join the rest of the fleet.
Started to get all settled in and start to enjoy paradise, but something told me to investigate where the water came from that got my cabin cushions wet. Damn-it!!! Not only the cushions got wet but everything in the book shelf is also soaked. WTF?? Upon further investigation found the chainplate behind the books is where the water came from, and lots of it. So first to try and save my cruising guides, medical guides, and other boat books. Spread them out in the sun, hung them up, used the heater and cross my fingers. Was able to save most of them. The catalogs and some others will have to be thrown away. It's very hard to read them with the pages stuck together.
Took a look at the other chain plates and they also show evidence of leaks. Oh, well will have to reseal them all. Now what went wrong? A lot of people have been bragging about the stuff call butyl tape. It never hardens, never cures, and always stays flexible, never cracks, so it should last forever or one short trip across a river not an ocean. The problem was since it never cured and I was trying to seal a hole on a horizontal plane gravity just pulled it out of the hole and into the bottom of the boat and in comes more water with worse results then before I worked on them.
Now it's time to fix them instead of just working on them. So I decide to seal them like my buddy George recommended doing the last time. Which mean removing the chainplates again, remove that messy butyl stuff and clean up - almost like tar, and then fill the hole in with epoxy. When the West System epoxy cures it's as hard as fiberglass, won't move, won't flex, and won't leak - I hope. Removing the chainplates this time was pretty easy. Instead of using several different types of power tools all I had to do was removed the bolts and pull the plates out. Now how come the factory never made it that easy? Instead of using that butyl stuff again to seal the top I used a little of this and a little bit of that - I only had partial tubes of different types of caulking, so this will be a test to see which manufacturer is the best and then when I get back to NZ or someplace that sells boat stuff I'll know which one to buy. Well there went my first few weeks of cruising and enjoying paradise.
In between all the work I did manage to get to town a few times. The original plans was only to stay in this part of Tonga for a few weeks, but - beside the unplanned boat work I found out that July 4th is the date for the coronation of the new King of Tonga, King George Tupou VI. Now how many chances in life does one get to attend the crowning of a new King and all the festivals that goes with it? It wasn't hard to convince Phil and the crew from Sequoia to hang around a little while longer instead of racing thru paradise with that question.
Compared to last year the town of Nukualofa has had a major make-over. All buildings have been or in the process of being painted. New trash cans have been installed everywhere - now to get people to use them and someone to dump them. Banners hanging from every other power pole congratulating the New King. Tongan flags everywhere. And I mean everywhere. The town population has double due to all the Tongan's living abroad coming back home for this special event. And lucky me I just happen to be passing by.
Well not wanting to miss out on anything I decided to move Irie II into the town harbor instead of being anchored out 1½ nm away and be at the mercy of the water taxi or a long wet dinghy ride at night. Beside I might want to have a few drinks and/or stay out pass 7pm.
The first event was the Parade of athletes on June 30th, started early in the morning. All I had to do was walk a few blocks from the harbor into town to view. Phil had to wait for the water taxi, which meant he didn't see the parade. And by the time he made it to the sports stadium some of the events had finished. No King, but the Crown was represented by the Crowned Prince and his wife. The event was to mark the opening of the commissioner of athletics or something like that.
Later that night was a Tongan fashion show, showing the traditional attires. We all made it to that event. The star of the show was the Crown Prince's son, the 2nd in line to the thrown at the age of 4. Again no King, just the Crown Prince his wife and son and other high ranking ministers and nobles.
On Wed. there wasn't much going on or nothing we cared to see so we took a land tour of Tongatapu. Stopped and visited a few historical sites and had lunch at a fancy resort. About the only thing we could afford there.
The next day I walk into town by myself since the others missed the water taxi or didn't care about what might be going on. There was something going on at the parade grounds next to the palace. It wasn't advertise in the tourist brochure so I don't know what it was all about, just a lot of school children performing for the King. Wow I finally got to see the new King from a distance since it was by invitation only to get inside the fence. Anyway it was kind of exciting to see the kids dancing and the school bands marching. So I guess it was the kid's day to perform for the new king.
On Fri there was another parade advertised in the tourist brochure. It was listed as the largest parade in the South Pacific and I can see why. It consisted of all the high school graduation classes from the pass. As far back as the 50's. But what's with all those American, New Zealand and Australian flags? Well all the Tongan's living abroad came back home for the festivities, so not only they are representing what year they graduated from they be representing where they came from. Since it started close to the harbor I got to see it all. The other guys had to wait on the water taxi and only got to see the end. Since it was a slow parade we took the back streets to town and caught up to the parade so that at least they got to see the 2nd half of it. Boy sure glad I'm in town and don't have to depend on anyone else to get me to the party.
Saturday, the 4th of July, Coronation Day. The ceremony is at the Free Wesleyan Church, by invitation only. For this event Phil and I dressed up in our traditional dress with the Tupenu (a skirt) and a Ta'ovala (A special mat, a precious heirloom) that we borrowed from Big Mama's husband, Earl. He's kin to the royal family thru his mom, but not close enough to get us a special invitation into the church.
Someone suggested for us to go to the church and who knows, since we are dressed like Tongans and look like Palangis (foreigners) we might can get into the church as representatives from the USA. Well since someone had to catch the water taxi and by the time we got to town the ceremonies had already began, so we just found us a place on the street corner near the Palace hoping to get a glimpse of the New King when he drives by. Well that plan worked. Not only a glimpse we were within 10 feet and got a wave from the King - or was he just waving to the crowd. Nice parade, the USA was represented by the Marine Marching Band who was marching with the New Zealand and Australia bands.
Now way back in 1992 when the Water Babies Sailing Club visited these islands I was lucky enough to shake hands and present King George IV with a WBSC t-shirt. Now I have gotten to see his son King George VI, and his grandson and his greatgrandson. Mmmm 4 generations of a royal family. Now I'm feeling lucky.
Well since we didn't get invited to the palace for the after party we went back to Big Mama's for her party and the most beautiful sunset. Then after the sun sets all the kids on all of the islands throughout the whole kingdom light torches lining the beaches. It's an old tradition signaling the arrival of the King. In the old days he visited the islands by canoe and the touches showed the way. Then a fireworks show. Guess I got to see 4th of July fireworks after all, just for a different occasion.
The only thing happening on Sunday is church and since I didn't get an invitation to join the King I just stayed home and done a few boat projects. On Monday the tourist guide said there was a Tatto going on at the parade grounds. I just had to go see what that was about. Turned out it's a Tongan word for military parade and the King's inspection of the troops. The others stayed home.
Later on in the week I hear all this music and loud speakers coming from the parking lot on the other side of the harbor. I just got to go see what's that's about. Turned out it was a beauty pageant. So I got to see Tongan's most beautiful girls. Boy, sure glad I wasn't at anchor, would have missed that since it wasn't advertise in the tourist guide. Later that night me and a boat neighbor on s/v Searcher decided to go to one of the restaurants/bars in the opposite direction of town from the marina. Wow, all those beautiful girls from the pageant were there, a double dose of Tongan beauty, how lucky can a single guy get? Oh well I can always dream.
By the middle of July all the festivals, feasts, and special parties are over. It's time to get out of the harbor and go cruising. Silhouette and Sequoia left first. A few days later I joined them at an anchorage off the little island Toke on the west side for the night. Next day we sail over to Fofa where there's a resort. Made reservations for dinner, not a bad place if you want to get away from it all and pay a lot of money. Then back to Big Mama's and then the next day me and Paul on Searcher sail on to Molina, a picture perfect little island, that's really away from it all. If you didn't bring it you don't need it. It has to be the best beach in this group. And at low tide you get to see the beautiful reef, just like you were snorkeling over it. Water so clear and coral so pretty and since the water is so cold, no need to get wet.
20th July and I've been here a month longer than originally planned. So now I'm thinking if I go to Fiji I might as well spend cyclone season there. So on to see some more of Tonga, say good-bye to Big Mama and her staff, get our inner Island movement papers and leave Pangaimotu very early in the morning for the Ha'Apai' Group, only 50nm to the north.