20 August 2015 | Ha'Apai Group Tonga
21st July Tuesday
s/v Irie II, Silhouette, Sequoia, and Searcher decided to leave very early in the morning from Tongatapu to the Ha'pai Group, like 0500, to make it to the next anchorage before sunset. It's dark but the pass through the reefs are wide and since we have all been through them before in the daytime all we need to do is just follow our tracks on the GPS. Winds are light around 6kts, so will be motoring for awhile. Weather man said they should be picking up later.
Plan A was to stop by Kelefesia, only a 6hr sail. Other cruisers said that this was their favorite spot on earth. The book said the anchorage was big enough to easily hold 3 boats. But by the time we got there the winds where up to 15-20kts from the SSE and I could see these big swells breaking on the reef. Since Silhouette got there first Capt. Phil decided to go thru this narrow passage in the reef and give a report - big waves inside, and room for only 3 small boats.
So on to plan B which is another 4 hrs sail further north to the island of Numuka Iki. This was the last anchorage Capt. Bligh used before the mutiny, to take on fresh water for the Bounty. But since it was a little rolly and not much to do except take a walk on the beach looking for shells we only spent one night here. Besides we didn't need any water.
Next morning, anchors up and we all move to the next anchorage north, Ha'afeva, about 25nm. Winds from the SE at 20kts. This island and the reefs around it make this place one of best for winds from any direction in the Ha'pai Group. All the others have no protection from the West and very little from the North and only a few patches of sand in between all the coral to drop the anchor. Since the winds are going to be blowing strong for awhile we plan on staying for awhile.
There's a village on the South side of the island so we take a walk to visit. Along the road/path we come across this Tangerine tree, just loaded with beautiful fruit. So we loaded up our pockets and backpacks and continued thru the jungle. Then we decided to have a bite - shit, they taste like green lemons. Uck, no wonder the tree is full of them, not even the birds want anything to do with them. When we make it to the other side, the store - if you could call it that, which was mention in the cruising guide was closed. But school was out for lunch time and we did have some fun trying to communicate with the kids. They were the only one on the island that could speak any English, what they learn in school - Hello? What's your name? Where you from? Etc. but when grandpa was trying to negotiate a deal with some bananas and coconuts they were lost. This part of the world rarely see any "plangies" aka foreigners and those who do come, come by private yacht and can't speak Tongan.
We spent the next day snorkeling. And the next day beachcombing. Found a few lovely shells. Cheryl will be happy for them. Some of my best finds yet. Another 4 boats showed up in the next few days. Yes this is a popular anchorage. Almost getting crowed must be 8 boats here. A few we met in New Zealand.
Monday, and we want to visit more anchorages and islands in the area so at Phil's suggestion we sail to O'au South. It's another one of those anchorages that is not on any charts, but the cruising guide give a few waypoints to guide you in and describe it as another perfect spot. Three hours later we arrive at the entrance through the reef and Silhouette goes in first. One reason he always goes first is he have a modern fin keel sloop with a bow thruster and he can turn around on a dime. The 3 other boats are old classics with full keels and turn around like a drunken elephant. He reports the waypoints were correct; the depth was over 3 meters except in one place where a rock was visible, easy to go around. And the anchorage was calm.
This was another one of them places that has room for 3 small boats and we are 3 medium size and one large. Oh well we are all friends so anchoring real close to each other shouldn't be a problem. Except at around 0200 the winds picked up to 20-25kts with higher gust. My anchor and Sequoia's set the first time, but Phil and Paul tried several times to get hooked which means this isn't a good place to be in high winds especially since there is a boat eating reef just one boat length behind me. Needless to say I got no sleep from that point on. I already had all the anchor alarms set, now added a depth alarm and an alarm clock to make sure if I did fall asleep in didn't last more than 10 minutes.
Just as the sun gets high enough in the sky to light up the way out of there - I'm out of there. Searcher right behind me. Silhouette asked what's the problem? We haven't been to shore yet. He slept all night, ignorance is bliss sometimes. Since Uiha is on the list of places to visit I set a course for it. But after getting out of the lee of O'au those waves got real big. Searcher called on the VHF and said FTS, he's going back to Ha'afeva where there is a good anchorage and only 10 miles away. We all change course to join him. Just after lunch we'll back at a nice anchorage. Now to catch up on the sleep I missed last night.
Next morning I'm determine to get to Uiha and picked up anchor early in the morning for a 6 hour sail to windward with Searcher following. The others stayed, some excuse like the winds are to high and from the wrong direction to sail in - but it was okay to anchor in that shit- hole? Heck it wasn't that bad, only had to tack 6 times and after anchoring I found that starboard aft chain plate dripping water on my bookshelf again. Damn it. So now I'm convince it's not the chainplate that's leaking, it's when the rail is under water due to being heeled over in rough seas. Water is somehow getting inside the cavity above the chin plate. Now I'll have to remove everything and recaulk everything on that side of the boat. Been having that problem since leaving Texas, and I thought it was the chainplate. On well that's a job for another day because it's going to take some time to do it right. Well at least there is no water coming in when it rain.
Me and Paul take a tour of the island the next day while the other 2 boat are on the way. They had a south wind and didn't have to beat into it. They had a better sail. When they get there we take a walk around the beach looking for some more shells. Found a few, some almost perfect, some was perfect but still had someone living in it, no need to kill just to have a shell.
Monday, August 3rd
The weather forecast for the next week doesn't look good. There is a cold front coming our way with strong winds and to make it worst they will be coming from the West. We starting looking at the charts and reading the cruising guides and decided the best place to be is inside the town harbor on Lifuka. Besides we need to check-in with the officials. The winds are already blowing 25kts from the SE but we do have some protection behind the islands and the reefs. It was a short motor-sail over to the village of Pangai. We went paid our respects to the immigration guy and surprisingly no fees to pay. Now that's a first. Then we went looking for the harbor master to get permission to move into the harbor. No problem except 3 solo sailors trying to anchor and then back up to a rock wharf and tie up to some trees. The plan was made; we'll all help each other. But there was a small sail boat anchored right in the middle of the small anchorage. We went and had a talk with him, found another single handler needing help to tie up to the trees. We got him in position then, Searcher, and then Irie II and this time Silhouette got to go in last. Sequoia decided to stay put and wait for the winds to die down and to see if there would be anymore room in there for her. Then a big catamaran came in and picked up the mooring in the middle. Not any room for a small boat now.
Next day the weather forecast is the same, except the wind should switch to the north before going west. As long as our anchors hold we should do fine, if they don't it'll be a mess. So while waiting on the weather we take a short walkabout, lasted all day. Guess who's coming to town? King George Toupou VI will be here and they are getting the town ready for his royal highness. Streets being clean, trash picked up and repairs from last year's category 5 cyclone in full swing, even working overtime, just not on Sunday.
Sequoia came in to do the paperwork and then went back to Uiha for the bad weather; at least it has good protection from the strong north winds. Then when the cold front finally got here the winds went from the East to the North to the West to the South and back to the East in 20 minutes, nothing over 15kts. Sure glad the weather man was wrong about the strength of the winds. It turn out that this was almost a perfect place to be. No long dinghy rides, and we didn't have to cook, just walk to town where a meal cost $5 Tongan. Or about $2.50 US. They even had the Chinese owned stores on every other block just like the big city of Nukualofa, only 10 blocks..
After a week in the harbor it's time to move on and do a little cruising and visit some more nice quite anchorages. So on to Uoleva South, just a few miles south of here. Beautiful beaches with resorts on all of them. But these are not the kind you see in places like Bora Bora. Best way to describe them - shacks with a view. The resort at the North end is a Kite boarders paradise. Good winds and good beach make this one of the best places for that sport. Of course with such beautiful beaches we just had to take a walkabout, looking for shells. Found lots of them. These islands all the best spot for shell collecting. And we were thinking with all the tourist in the resorts there wouldn't be any. But they don't get that many customers per year. This place isn't the easiest to get to from the first world countries, and for the price you think they would have windows and door locks. Not needed, just a mosquito net.
Wednesday is the big day for the King's visit and the agriculture and fishermen's show, so off we go early in the morning to make sure we get a good seat only we anchored out this time. No bad weather on the horizon. They had all sorts of farm products from all the villages in this group. I didn't think that there was that many people here to grow that much food. And all the fish and lobsters and octopus and stuff. No one will be hungry tonight. And this was the first time I seen a pig or a chicken in a pen. Guess they had to keep them in one place to be judged. At the end the King gave awards to the winners. And there were lots of winners.
We tried to hire one of the locals for a tour, but he wouldn't accept any money from us, done it all for free, so be bought bread from his bakery even though we didn't need any. They don't call this place the friendly islands for nothing. We couldn't even pay for his gas. The Ha'pai Group is where King George I came from. To unite the islands under one rule he captured an English Privateer. He invited the English for dinner, only they became dinner, took the cannons, and went on to capture the rest of the islands with his new military power.
Well we still have a few more islands to visit and more shells to collect so while the winds have abated a little we say goodbye to everyone, get our inner island movement paper work and got a verbal permission to stop at a few islands on the way to Vava'u. Early Saturday morning we are on the way to Nukupule, which the cruising guide says have the best cower shells anywhere. So when we get there we spent the whole afternoon looking. I found a few, but none perfect like the ones Jan and Phil found. Oh well better luck next time I hope.
So since I couldn't find any there the next day we take a 3mile dinghy ride to the next island inside the atoll, Meama, hoping for better luck. Different type of island, only a small beach and cliffs, but a hike to the inside did produce some green Papayas. And zero coconuts, not even one in a tree. Somebody has been here and took them all. With nothing else to do on a Sunday we had a Pot luck dinner on the beach, with a camp fire and all, hoping to warm up a little and keep the bugs at bay. I also had a beauty contest. With all the shells I have collected it's time to get choosey. Separated all the perfect ones from the near perfect ones from the good ones from the bad ones. Brought all the bad ones back to the beach along with all the good ones. Will keep the perfect ones for myself and send Cheryl the near perfect ones to go with all the ugly ones that I sent here last year.
Monday morning, anchors up on the way to Ha'ano, about 16nm to the NE, and guess which way the wind is coming from? Well those 16nm took 6 hours, but was paid back with whales swimming all around the boat. Like they thought I was a whale. They came right up to the boat and said hi. Like only 3 meters away, but by the time I went and got my camera they drop back a little, must have been camera shy. Searcher said he even caught one on his fishing line, lucky the line broke, it's against the law to catch them. The faster boats left later and had a similar experience. Dang if we hadn't check out of this group of islands we would hire someone to take us on a swim with the whales tour. But it'll have to wait until Vava'u.
Since it took all day to get there we didn't get to shore until the next morning. We hiked to the village to the north. Turn out it's a gated community, in Tonga, with a security fence all around it. On second thought since there isn't any crime to mention, it must be a fence with a gate to keep the cattle out and the pigs in. And the store was actually open this time. Just when you need a cold drink, well room temperature is cold enough for a soda but no beer here.
Time to head north to Vava'u. Since it's over 60nm we decided to leave just after sunset on Thursday and sail all night. Winds less then 10kts when we head out, but before midnight it's blowing over 20kts so reef the main and rolled in the Jib. We all reached there in the morning, except Phil, he didn't leave until a few hours before sunrise. We all looked around for a mooring to pick up. Vava'u's anchorage is real deep and the part that's shallow is full of coral. And this place must have over a hundred boats here. What a culture shock, we haven't seen this many boats since leaving New Zealand. Oh well time to check in with the officials and join the party.