French Polynesia to Tonga
05 September 2009
I realize it has been a long time since we sent a general update. Internet has been sketchy in many of the places we have visited, but hopefully this will get through. After our last update when our engine had been stolen, we returned to Papette to receive our starter part which was due on Monday. On Friday, it finally arrived and it took Russ longer to take out his tools, than to fix the starter. It is so nice to know the boat will start when you turn the key on the first try. After a few days of rowing, we broke down and pulled out the plastic for an outboard in Papette. It is a 6hp - 4 stoke Suzuki and sounds like a lawn mower, but not much was available that we could afford. It's fine for going to shore, but not for excursions if there is much wind or seas. We miss our Nissan. We finally left Papette on July 21 to visit some of the other Society Islands before our visas for French Polynesia expired. (90 days seemed so long when we checked in and so short by the end)
We sailed to Huahine, where we stayed for several nights at a beautiful anchorage where we walked and snorkeled. Then we moved to the village of Fare to provision (definition = grocery shopping that takes all day) before we continued to Tahaa. At Tahaa we did a pass snorkel at what is called the coral gardens and then spent several days waiting out a small front on a free mooring in Haamene Bay. After a brief stop in Raitea, we sailed to Bora Bora where we spent a great week at the Bora Bora Yacht Club. There we snorkeled with the sharks (blacktip and lemon) off a cruiser friend's dingy and Debbie actually got in the water with them (Russ didn't hesitate). On this same outing, we also had a close encounter with a humpback whale. We saw the whale from the water and rushed back to the dingy so we could get closer and get a better look. We motored to within about 12 feet of him, and then he turned around, looked at us and turned toward the dingy and came under it. He was curious about us. After he passed under us, he went down and then breached as he swam away. It was awesome. Also in Bora Bora, we visited the famous Bloody Mary's restaurant . Then we went snorkeling in the Bora Bora coral gardens, which is one of the best aquariums we have swam in. Also in Bora Bora, we met up with some old time Tahoe sailors, Eric and Emmy who are also cruising the south pacific this year. We had a good time sharing stories and catching up with them.
After checking out of French Polynesia in Bora Bora, it was a 4 night sail to Aitukaki in the Cook Islands. This is a beautiful, friendly island but the pass into the harbor is only 6ft at high tide so many boats cannot visit there. We draw only 4'3', so the pass wasn't a problem at high or almost high tide. The problem we had was that we arrived way too early so we dropped an anchor outside the pass and when it came time to retrieve it, it was stuck in the coral. We were in the company of 2 other boats, so we let them know we were stuck and they should go ahead (we were supposed to go first) in before the tide changed. It was blowing pretty good, so we did not want to launch our ding and try to get through the pass with our little outboard, so we opted to stay on the boat that evening. The next morning, one of our friend boats had blown onto the reef and we went into the harbor to help him re-anchor. While in the harbor we talked to one of the dive boats and thought they were going to meet us the next day and dive on the anchor. They were teaching a PADI course in the area of our boat, so that same day they just went down as part of their dive and moved our anchor from where it was stuck to another spot. When we offered to pay, they wouldn't accept money. Great island hospitality. We just loved Aitukaki, the locals were friendly and everyone spoke English. After 90 days of feeling very isolated since we don't speak French, it was great to be able to ask questions and read the signs. If you stood on a corner with a map in your hand, someone would come by and ask where you wanted to go and direct you. Stacy, from the S/V Lightfoot, and I experienced this many times on our morning jogs about the island. Aitukaki is also the kite boarding capital of the South Pacific and we went out with Joel from Paradise Bound to watch his crewmember kite board. It was very windy and the kite boarders were having a blast. That day we also did a snorkel to see the giant clams. The biggest clams were up to 30 inches across. We also rented motor scooters for $20NZ per day and explored the whole island.
After Aitukaki, we sailed for Palmerston which was a very rolly 2 night sail. Those who read sailing magazines may have heard of Palmerston as it has been written up many times by Cruising World, etc. Palmerston was really interesting but unfortunately the weather prohibited anything but a real short stay. We took a mooring ball outside the reef, since sailboats cannot pass through the reef into the lagoon. It was really rolly and we spent an uncomfortable night. Palmerston Island has a unique history. It was settled by Bob Marsters, a Lancashireman who settled there in 1862 with three Penrhyn Island wives. He fathered 26 children, divided the islands and reefs into sections for each of the three "families" and established strict rules regarding intermarriage. The original home was built using massive beams salvaged from shipwrecks and still stands today. It is now only used for storage. The three families still control the island and own all the land. They have put in moorings to help passing yachts visit. We approached the island and Simon (the head of one of the families) came out to meet us and tell us which mooring to use. He then came back a few hours later and brought the immigration officials to process our paperwork. He then brought us and another family traveling on the yacht Lightfoot to shore. His sister-in-law, Shirley, had a delicious lunch of fish and rice ready for us. His nephews then gave us a walking tour of the island and then we returned to Shirley and Edward's house for fresh coconuts, music and conversation. The supply ship only comes to this island 2 or 3 times a year, so they live on food they grow, eggs from free-range chickens, coconuts and supplies brought by passing yachts. The population of the island is 50 and of that number they have 22 students in their school with 3 teachers. They value education and the kids stay in school. Everyone speaks English and there is internet (we never tried it) and they love movies. Their drinking water is rainwater and the generator for the island runs from 6pm to midnight and for a few hours in the morning. After a rolly night, the next day we are picked up again and went to shore with supplies for the school. We were informed on the way into the village that they are in the middle of building a cookhouse for the mission house today so we will go there and have lunch with the villagers. When we get there, there is a wonderful spread of foods all cooked by the village women. We taste a bit of everything, not really sure what we are eating and it is all delicious. Then Russ and John, from Lightfoot, help the men build the cookhouse. Stacy and I, sat and talked to the elder village women. They have lived in Palmerston all their lives and are very interesting. There are children running around and playing. The women do not help at all with the construction and are relegated to the food and children. After they are done with the day's work and Russ looked at the sponsor family's radios, we return to very rolly boat and decide to leave.
It is then a 3 night sail to Niue, a tiny Pacific Island county, which I had never heard of before researching this trip. The Niue Yacht Club (we are now members) had moorings available to rent. Niue is a one island, independent nation with close ties to New Zealand. Most people speak English and they use New Zealand currency. There is no ATM, no pharmacy, very limited stores, but very friendly welcoming people and beautiful natural surroundings. When you call in by VHF to Niue on arrival, they take your yacht info and then say "welcome to Niue, I hope you enjoy your stay". After FP, it was so nice to hear welcoming words. We rented a van with the family from Lightfoot and drove around to explore the island. We visited several caves and chasms, all accessible by hiking over the coral. We also visited a Noni farm where they grow and process noni juice for export. It tastes awful, but claims to take care of many health problems. Niue is in the path of the migration of the humpback whales and they were in the anchorage right next to the boat the next morning. They are curious and will come very close. Unfortunately, a front with western winds was moving towards Nuie and after 2 nights we had to leave to get in front of it. Debbie is almost getting used to these night departures.
After a 2 night sail, we are now at Neiafu, Vavau, in the kingdom of Tonga. It just happens that we arrived on the first day of the 1st Annual Tonga's Regatta Vava'u and the place is really hopping. They call it a regatta, but it is 6 days of events which include one beer can style and one 4 hour race. We were going to do the Friday beer can, but it is raining and there is no wind, so we opted out. Tomorrow we will sail the Governor's Cup which is a race to another island, where we then will anchor overnight and attend a full-moon party. So far, it has been a fun event and we have caught up with several of our friends on other cruising boats. There have also been representatives here presenting information on New Zealand and today Russ has already been offered a job, for a rigging company.
When we sailed to Tonga, we crossed the international date line and are a day ahead of the US. It was strange sailing two nights and showing up 3 days later!?!? We have celebrated our 2nd new anniversary since leaving San Francisco on August 31st, 2007 with Diane, Mark and Patrick on the Windjammers race. We still miss you guys. Sometimes the days go slow, but the months go fast and 2 years has flown by. We will leave Tonga mid to late October for New Zealand where we will spend the southern pacific cyclone season. If anyone is up to a 1100+ mile crossing, please let us know and we could take 1 or possibly 2 crew. Might not be the easiest crossing, but we plan to wait for a good weather window.