Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thank you

Today SV Adventure Bound finally pulled into the Quarantine Dock at New Zealand. Remember Adventure Bound? They were the sailing vessel (SV) that turned around to assist SV Windigo, the boat who had put out a May Day on November 8th. TV crews were waiting and interviewed them amidst all the cheering from ashore.

(Later in the week, Adventure Bound, because of their heroic endeavours to assist the stricken vessel, was presented with gifts to assist them with necessary boat repairs as well as gifts such as a free stay in a hotel, hair salon products, flowers, etc. They accepted the honourariums graciously and humbly mentioned that they did what anyone of us other sailors would have done in the same situation.)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

All Points Rally

We arrived and checked into New Zealand on November 12th; the All Points Rally runs from November 10th through November 16th, so all we missed was Meet and Greet on Saturday and a barbeque/potluck dinner on Sunday. As we sat on our boat at the Quarantine Dock on Sunday evening, we waved at all the participants who were enjoying the evening festivities at such a short distance from where we were isolated!

The All Points Rally is run by the International Cruising Association each year in November to welcome visiting cruisers, and those returning, to New Zealand with a week of fun, entertainment, and informative seminars. Under a super large tent, the seminars that we attended included:
  • Orientation to New Zealand culture and customs and also Kiwi slang which we found to be very mean (good). This was presented by John and Lyn who were this year's hosts and well versed in the subject as residents of Australia.
  • Tips on cruising New Zealand by boat and car, both of which we hope to do.
  • All the rules and regulations of fishing the area such as which fish, shellfish, and lobster are permitted as well as sizes, numbers, and times of year. Lots to be caught so it was nice to know what is allowed.
  • Rigging for cruising yachts, battery maintenance, understanding and minimizing electrolysis, problems with refrigeration in the tropics, and paint choices.
  • A weather presentation by local weather guru, Bob McDavit, which had the largest number of attendees. Everyone is interested in weather, especially in this area.
Weather info by Bob McDavit

All this brain power was interspersed with loads of fun:
  • A cocktail evening with complimentary rum punch and delicious appetizers.
  • Wine tasting and lunch at a local winery on nearby Russell Island. After a smidgen (a small amount) of each and every one, we bought a couple of our favourites.
Are we still sober?!
  • Pizza and amateur talent night with lots of crash hot (excellent) musical talent and humour.
  • Culture night - this was held at the historical site appropriately named the Treaty Grounds where the 1,100 year old story of the coming together of 2 cultures was presented.
Maori warrior and Jordan in greeting pose (either he's hot or Jordan's cold!)
  • Amateur comedy night which had everyone in stitches.
  • A windup barbie (barbeque) night with draws for great prizes from several merchants which even included a boat haul-out.
These are only the seminars and events that we attended. As you can see, a lot of work was put into this rally and we were glad that we arrived in New Zealand in time to participate.

As well as the above, Jordan and I deployed our life raft one afternoon for everyone to witness. It was a second-hand raft to us that we have had on board for the last 3 years and we felt it was high time for a new one. But it did successfully deploy! Now time to find a new one...

During this first week or so in New Zealand, we found it to be quite chilly and are definitely missing the warm tropic weather and waters.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Treacherous waters - NZ

The passage from Minerva Reef to New Zealand is not a long one in terms of ocean passages, but it has had treacherous history. A well-known tale that adds to the trepidation is that of what is known as the Queen's Birthday Storm. On the Queen's birthday in 1994, a number of boats and lives were lost in severe weather. Weather systems and fronts march up on a regular basis from the lower latitudes through the Tasman Sea and over North New Zealand and passage makers usually get hit with at least one of these on their way south.

Another possibly more severe weather situation along this stretch can be encountered when a depression (a low) moves down from the northeast and pushes up against a high, creating what is called a squash zone. Some may not know that the lows in the Southern Hemisphere rotate clockwise and the highs anticlockwise (opposite of what happens in the Northern Hemisphere) and their winds move around them respectively. What happens in a squash zone is that both winds come together and are squashed between the two counter-rotating systems and speed up. Not necessarily a bad situation unless both systems intensify.

We cut our stay short at Minerva because we were seeing on the weather reports that in fact a low was moving down from the north and New Zealand was experiencing a high so our strategy was to get as far south as possible by the time the low arrived. So there was a mass exodus of all 12 boats from the Reef on a November 4th morning even though it was glassy calm.

We motored, not the preferred means of propulsion for the purist of sailors, and witnessed the presence of Tongan Navy boats presumably guarding the territory from Fiji. We motored and motor-sailed for the first 18 hours then the winds finally picked up. And picked up. And picked up, till by the 7th, we were in a full gale with gusts over 40 knots (that's 80 km/hr or 50 m/hr for land lubbers).

Whoa!

What had developed was the low moved down from the north and really intensified, meaning the winds around it were very strong. And to make matters worse, the high over New Zealand didn't move off the east as expected, but parked itself there and it too intensified. We were in the squash zone, and a mighty strong one at that.

Even though this was our strongest winds we have experienced to date, we weren't stressed. Our heavy weather experiences have been dealt to us in ever increasing intensities so we have learned gradually that Sea Turtle can take it, and us too!

The worst of it was breaking seas, lasting about 12 hours. Our boat is normally a dry boat, meaning its flared bows break the waves to the sides resulting in fewer waves over the decks. But not in these conditions. We had many waves washing completely over the decks, at times a foot deep! We got many splashes into the cockpit and got mildly pooped only once (an actual breaking wave swamping the cockpit). Which is unusual for a center cockpit that is relatively high. The only casualties we had were from various illusive leaks.

We were flying only a small staysail through it all, making good speed, and had everything battened down. We felt very secure as we watched and listened to Sea Turtle answer each crashing wave with stalwartness. As the winds gradually subsided, the sea waves started to organize themselves into swells that were close together with deep valleys between. Jordan would watch for hours with amazement as Sea Turtle rode along and over each one as stable as can be.

Throughout this time, we monitored certain Ham/SSB radio frequencies at certain prescribed times and exchanged reports of conditions, etc. with other sailors on the same passage. The worst situation was when 1 sailboat (SV Windigo) about 300 km north of us - no doubt in the worst of the squash zone - was knocked down. The couple was banged up and their boat was disabled. It had taken on water through broken hatches or ports, rendering batteries and motor useless and (I believe) they had lost their life raft too.

They sent a May Day that they needed to abandon ship. In response, another sailboat (Adventure Bound) who was between us and Windigo, turned back to help. They had to beat into huge waves and winds at a snail's pace, a hugely taxing and strenuous task for boat and crew in such severe conditions. In the meantime, a New Zealand Orion aircraft dropped life rafts for the stricken yacht which the crew was unable to retrieve in the tumult.

Just about the time Adventure Bound made it back to the distressed boat, over a day later, there had arrived a freighter to assist. It was another 12 hours after that that they had to wait for the seas to subside enough for the crew to be rescued onto the freighter. During this ordeal, New Zealand dispatched a Navy ship to the scene, but that passage was about 700 km. The freighter waited until the Navy ship arrived when the traumatized crew was then transferred aboard for the secure trip down to their homeland of New Zealand.

As we conversed, we learned many other boats on this passage had blown out hatches and ports, had broken equipment, and almost jokingly admitted that they had discovered leaks that they never knew they had before.

But as always, storms pass and before we knew it we were sailing along in pleasant conditions with 'another one under the belt'. Below is a still visible moon setting as the sun rises over calmer waters...

Calm at last

The rest of the trip was marked with a variety of no winds to a strong breeze and by the reappearance of the great wandering albatrosses, dolphins, and as we got close to land, commercial traffic, most notably, the longliners. We chatted on the radio with 1 captain who said his line was 28 km long. He assured us that we could pass over it with no risk of tangle as the only thing on the surface was the buoys every 500 m or so. Large freighters even pass over them.

Land Ho! (We love to say that when we spot land after a long passage!) It was 11:25 on November 11th. We approached the Bay of Islands, 1 of the best cruising spots in New Zealand, where a craggy rock stood guard marking the north point of the bay.

Rock on guard

Once we passed the point and entered the large bay, we had to sail up the sound about 2 hours to the inner Opua Bay where at the marina we finally tied up for our check in. We arrived at 19:30, after-hours for check in, so we were relegated to the Quarantine dock (S35°18.815' E174°07.359') along with about 7 other new arrivals.

We were allowed to get off the boat so it was nice to find some stability and stretch our weary legs. It would be the next morning before we would be processed. Until that time, we were on a wharf secured and segregated from the marina. We could wander the wharf and visit with the other arrivals, exchanging tales of the passage, but were not allowed to board anyone else's boat.

The next morning, we were processed by 3 waves of officials. The first was Agriculture. They have a long no-fly-list of items prohibited, like eggs, vegetables, peanuts in the shell, cheese, etc. We had used up almost all items on their list, but had to sacrifice some honey and sprouts. And they took all our garbage so they could safely dispose of it!

Next was the pleasant gaggle of Custom officers who were more interested in visiting than officialdom. We showed them picture books of Vancouver Island and chatted them up till finally they said, Okay, we're done, and left without checking anything else in or around the boat. Finally it was the Immigration officers and they efficiently filled out the paperwork, stamped our passports, and bid us a G'day mate.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Lobsters

Woke up to a beautiful, clear, warm, dead calm day at North Minerva Reef. Such a strange setting and conditions to be in when you're in the middle of the ocean!

This day turned out to be special. It started with some snorkelling. We saw Ed and Fran (SV AKA) in their dinghy over at the inside of the reef so we quickly joined them. Ed was spear fishing for lobster and already had gotten 2 big guys. I snorkelled, sightseeing the fish, while Jordan joined Ed. Eventually, they produced a total of 4 great big lobsters!

Crustacean sensation!

Later, the 4 of us took a dinghy ride over to the reef and walked to the outside edge. The reef's semi-exposed surface here was about 400 metres wide (437 yards) and flat from millennia of erosion. The reef has been the bane of many a sailor leaving many a wreck. But in short time, the hostile marine environment renders the wrecks back to nature leaving but a hint of existence. We did find remnants though of a century old ship - bronze nails and bolts, iron ballast ingots, and a very intact anchor laying as though just placed there not so long ago.


Too big for a spare...

Just before leaving the reef, we spotted a curious black lionfish looking up at us from the shallows of the clear water...

Lionfish

That evening we had a feast for 4 fit for King Neptune on Sea Turtle - nothing better than freshly caught lobster with legs and claws large enough to eat!

Friday, November 02, 2012

Minerva Reef

It's been fun here at Big Mama's (Pangaimotu Island, Kingdom of Tonga) but now it's time to get things ready for the passage to New Zealand...engine oil change, getting some bugs out of the computer, cleaning the bottom, and preparing some offshore meals (our favourites: 4-bean salad and chili.)

We motored over to the Nuku'alofa harbour for a top-up of duty free fuel then back. After almost all the voyage prep jobs were done, we finally had time to snorkel around and through the wreck in front of Big Mama's and saw lots of fish and even some black coral.

1 of 2 wrecks very close to Big Mama's

On October 30th at 13:23, we sailed out of the harbour, through some tidal flowing narrows, around the east side of the big island, and set a course for North Minerva Reef. It was a 3-day run. At times, we were beating into the wind and waves leaving a zig zag line on our electronic chart.

We sailed through floating pumice from some distant underwater eruption. It was mostly as small as peas but we saw some as large as basketballs. It was usually in drifting beds that streaked the surface and we were concerned that it would (and did) get up into some of the through-hull openings. It was the worst just as we got close to Minerva Reef because Jordan thought the tide, at times, lifted it off the shallows of the Reef.

1 of several streaking beds of pumice

So who do the 2 reefs of North Minerva and South Minerva belong to? In 2005, Fiji claimed that they did not recognize any claims by the Kingdom of Tonga to Minerva Reef under a previous agreement and they lodged a complaint. Tonga lodged a counterclaim and the Principality of Minerva claimed to have lodged a counterclaim. In 2010 and again in 2011, the Navy of Fiji destroyed navigation lights at the entrance to Minerva Reef. A month later, 2 Tongan Navy ships replaced the lights, reasserting their claim. Fiji withdrew, hopefully averting a military conflict.

On November 2nd in the afternoon, we faintly spotted a cluster of masts at about the same time we discerned the ring of North Minerva Reef. There was not much to see, no islets, only rubble coral breaking the surface. We radioed in to the yachts at anchor for entry waypoints that safely found us our way through the pass, but not before Jordan caught a nice 15-kg yellow fin tuna.

Another fish story!

Once inside, it was dead calm as we motored over about 3 km (2 mi) to the far side of the lagoon and anchored (S23°39.641' W178°54.246') with the other yachts in 9 m (30 feet) of crystal clear water at 16:15. We could see our anchor and chain so clearly in the white sand bottom, just 60 m (200 feet) off the inside of the reef.

ANCHORED in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!

Right away, Jordan cleaned the fish to the delight of a 6-foot black tip shark roaming around Sea Turtle and then radioed SV AKA to come over for some big fresh fillets.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Tour and party

It was a nice day so we decided to tour around Nuku'alofa on Tongatapu Island (Kingdom of Tonga) and pick up a few groceries as none were available at Pangaimotu (aka Big Mama's). Once again, we caught the ferry for the short ride.

We rented a small car and were able to completely tour the Island. At times, we were travelling along a narrow potholed road through vast stretches of agriculture to get to some of the shore scenes. One area of the coast had a string of blow holes where the active ocean surge forced ocean geysers high in the air.

Active blow holes!

Another neat site was a hole in the high shore cliff that transitioned back into a big hole in the plateau forming a natural bridge that we would actually drive the car over.

Natural bridge (can you see the car?)

Further along, we visited a natural cave that had stalactites and clear fresh water pools that we swam and snorkelled in. There were many more pleasant scenes but one that we can't miss mentioning was a Stonehedge-type structure circa 1200 AD.

Tonga-henge

The evening was a special event at the Big Mama Yacht Club and everyone was invited. A large feast had been prepared and drinks were flowing for the celebrations.

Judy, Earl (Big Mama's husband), Big Mama, and Jordan

Sailors had come to celebrate the 40th year of the existence of the Yacht Club and the 10th anniversary of Big Mama owning the Yacht Club. There were also 3 birthdays (Big Mama's and Earl's son and 2 staff members). There were 5 delicious looking (and tasting) cakes. After a few speeches and blowing out of many candles, Big Mama handed out certificates to all the sailors for being there to share the occasion with her.

A treasured Tongan token

A live band, the Tongan Police Band, performed for all to shake a leg to till late in the evening. Congratulations Big Mama!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Nuku'alofa and potluck

After arriving 2 days ago at the Tongatapu Group of islands (Kingdom of Tonga), we caught the small ferry yesterday to Nuku'alofa at Tongatapu Island, a very short distance from our anchorage at Pangaimotu (aka Big Mama's). On the rare calm days, some sailors just take their dinghy to Nuku'alofa but the wind was picking up so we joined the gang to take the ferry.

Upon arrival, we noticed that the pier was a bit wet and slimy, and just before Jordan and I stepped off the ferry, another sailor had his feet slip out from under him and he landed very hard onto the cement. As he was being tended to, Jordan and I headed to Customs, etc. for our formal check in. We wandered around town, and after completing all our errands, headed back to the ferry dock where all the sailors were to meet for the ride back.

John, the injured sailor, also arrived in time for the ferry from the hospital in a temporary cast. John and his wife had sailed a good sized boat to Tonga and were due to leave on the passage to New Zealand, but now they had a major change of plans. He needed to be flown back to the USA as soon as possible for surgical repairs that would lay him up for months. His wife would now have to do the New Zealand run with crew (when weather permitted) where their boat could be left safely for a few months and she could join John who would then be back in the USA.

Poor John with his leg in a cast

A big front came through today. The raging wind shift delivered pelting rain with a horizontal angle. One boat dragged and in the excitement got a line wrapped in his prop. An anxious call on his radio rounded up a few helping hands in dinghies so no harm was done. We were sure glad that we had arrived at this anchorage a couple days earlier as we watched other sailors arrive from the northern islands dressed in full rain gear and/or foul weather gear.

Big Mama had offered her Yacht Club as a location for a potluck meal and a book exchange. We thought it might be cancelled or no one would attend as boats would need to be watched for fear of dragging. But it finally cleared up around 17:00 so everyone started to head in with their goodies. It turned out to be well attended and a good time was had by all.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tongatapu Group: Pangaimotu Island

It was difficult for us to leave the beautiful sandy beaches of the Ha'apai Group, especially our last anchorage at Kelefesia Island. But we had about an 8-hour sail ahead of us so we weighed anchor at 06:30, having breakfast on the way.

We were heading to the last group of Tongan islands called the Tongatapu Group where sailors usually sit and wait for a weather window before striking out for New Zealand. This is also one of the main kick-off points for those signed up for the All Points Rally, which we had done earlier. More on that later.

We had a beautiful sail under sunny skies in 12- to 15-knot winds on the beam, the best yet that we can remember! When we arrived at Pangaimotu Island (S21°07.617' W175°09.727') at 16:00, we anchored among 21 other boats and were right next to an old wreck.

Pangaimotu is better known as Big Mama's which is an open air beach bar hanging out over the water. This islet is about 3 miles off the main larger island of Tongatapu. That's where Nuku'alova, the capital, lays with its busy harbour.

Big Mama's Yacht Club

We went ashore to meet Big Mama and get the scoop on checking in; Big Mama's husband Earl told us that we could catch the small ferry boat in the morning to motor over to Nuku'alofa where the officials were. We mingled with some other sailors over beers and signed up for the much anticipated 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Big Mama Yacht Club on the upcoming weekend.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kelefesia Island

At 3:30 this morning, we heard a faint rumble and when we got up to look out we saw the supply ship making its way into the anchorage and pier of Ha'afeva Island. The dead and dark of the night was transformed into a buzz of activity under the floodlights of the dock as people came to pick up their supplies from the ship.

We weighed anchor bright and early at 06:45 to head south for Kelefesia, the most southerly and last island of the Ha'apai Group of the Kingdom of Tonga. We sailed with 20-knot winds under sunny skies with only a few clouds. A few hours out (next to the Nomuka Group of islands) Jordan snagged 2 tuna at the same time on 2 trailing lines. It's been awhile since his last catch of good eating fish.

Using the fairly accurate electronic charts we skirted around the reefs and breakers of Kelefesia Island and set the hook at 14:15 (S20°30.144' W174°44.352') in this very small anchorage which was only large enough for 3 boats. The bottom was sandy with some easy to see coral heads, as have been all of the anchorages that we visited in the Ha'apai Group. But we were all alone in this idyllic spot.

Palm trees on the dramatic bluffs rising above the sandy beaches, breaking rollers over the nearby reefs on each side, clear turquoise waters, and no one in sight on this deserted island. This is what we have been waiting for since we left our home back in Victoria BC Canada! And to think that not many sailors stop here in their rush to the last stop before New Zealand.

Sea Turtle in front of distant bluffs

I immediately doffed my clothing (oh wait - I wasn't wearing any clothes!) and jumped in the clear warm water. What a thrill! Jordan tossed me my snorkelling gear and asked me to ensure the anchor was set as he still could not go in salt water because of his head wound.

I saw a couple of new fish that I had never seen before and admired all the coral. Red coral, which is endangered, is present here but we could not take any samples of the dead coral from shore for fear that New Zealand would confiscate it - even if we found it on shore.

We both then went ashore and observed there were not a lot of seashells but the giant clam shells were evident. We found the remnants of a wrecked sailboat, only the mast partially buried in the sand. We learned later that other larger parts lay submerged in the area. As we walked around to the back side of the island, we discovered the island was not deserted but had 1 lone resident, the island's caretaker. He had a couple of pigs strolling around and a very basic open-air lean-to for a kitchen.

Jordan and caretaker next to humble abode

Kelefesia was a gift from the King to a Tongan family. Their descendants visit occasionally and allow cruisers to wander freely. But due to heavy tree growth, we had a hard time trying to make it through them.

Judy strolling towards steep cliffs

As we headed back to Sea Turtle, we noticed a few ledges of amazing coral where Jordan would have loved to dive beneath. How unfortunate the he could not.

We had a glorious evening, being the only boat with no one in sight. The waters were extremely calm and so quiet. What more could you ask for!

Looking back towards the island from its sandy beach

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ha'afeva Island

Our next sandy beach in the Tongan Ha'apai Group was Ha'afeva Island (S19°56.448' W174°42.906') where we arrived at 15:00. This was only about 4 hours from our last anchorage and we enjoyed a great sail on a beautiful sunny day. There were 7 other boats present and 1 more arrived later, making a total of 9 including Sea Turtle.

There is a wreck of a Korean-type fishing vessel with the name Ekiaki on it close to our anchorage (S19°56.161' W174°43.578') but we did not dive it as Jordan's head wound has not quite healed. I will remove the stitches tomorrow.

We were met at the dock by a 22-year old woman named Polo, a name of which she is very proud of as she was named after her paternal grandmother. She had a basket of fruit with her and offered to walk us to the village on the other side of the island, about 30 minutes away. We noticed a few cute flying fox bats overhead in the trees.

Polo and Jordan

Upon our arrival, she pointed out all the many churches, primary school, hospital, 2 small grocery stores with wickets but no door, and the cemetery. Family members make lavishly decorated homemade quilts to mark their deceased ones' plots at the cemetery.

Highly unusual way of marking grave sites

Jordan saw some type of canister and asked if it was used for warning of an approaching tsunami. Polo laughed and said it was the church bell! It was made from an old welding gas cylinder.

Odd shaped church bell

That was about the extent of the village other than the houses and dirt roads. There was also a decrepit pier at this side of the island and Polo said that a supply ship would be arriving later on the other side of the island where we were anchored and that we were anchored on the safer side of the island.

Polo stated that there were 2 trucks and 1 bicycle in the village and she thought there were about 200 people. She complained about the lazy residents of the island who never want to work.

Polo then walked us back to the other side of the island where we invited her back to Sea Turtle. She looked very intently at everything in the boat and asked questions. We purchased the fruit in her basket from her for which she asked $1! We of course paid her a more fair price and treated her to some Oreo cookies which she had never tasted before and an ice cold Cola.

Jordan returning Polo to shore

Polo seems to be quite an amazing woman. She told us she was married for a brief period but divorced her husband when he abused her. She has a college education and taught herself English by reading a dictionary and books. She likes to paint, play tennis, and she LOVES the bush. Her dad has a taro, tapioca, mango, and yam farm. As the yams won't be ready for shipping out until the beginning of December, Polo will actually sleep outside in the bush covered by taro leaves to ward off the stray pigs from the succulent yams.

She thanked us profusely for everything and we sent her home with more treats. We really enjoyed our informative visit with this happy, local, young lady.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Tatafa Island

Still in the Ha'apai Group of Tongan Islands, we pulled anchor from Uoleva Island at 16:15 and arrived 1 hour later at Tatafa Island (S19°52.721' W174°25.306') on October 20th. Tatafa is a very small island, only 1.5 km long by .33 km at its widest point (.93 by .21 mi). The eye could see sand along the entire stretch, as in so many other Tongan beaches. This is what we had been expecting to find in French Polynesia where many beaches had been mostly coral with very little sand!

The next day, Jordan and I went ashore to do some beachcombing and were soon joined by SV Buena Vista. The 4 of us cut across the island to the other side and then continued walking around and back to our starting point, thereby mostly circling the island. We had all been collecting a multitude of beautiful shells as we walked and chatted and we came back with a great collection of sea treasures including Cowries, smaller Conch shells, and Cockles. The Camp Pitar Venus shells had fantastic designs that looked as if they had been hand painted.

Big and small

SV Buena Vista also found some rare and endangered dead red coral on the beach which was very intricate and delicate and quite different from any coral we have seen before...

Magnificent but endangered red coral

Back at Sea Turtle, Jordan went up the mast using a climbing ascender with me hoisting as a safety. He needed to adjust a droopy spreader.

Tricky toe work!

We wound down a great day with a delicious potluck-style dinner aboard SV Buena Vista along with SV Victory.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Ha'apai Group: Lifuka and Uoleva

After leaving the Vava'u Group of islands (Tonga) yesterday, we checked into the Ha'apai Group at Lifuka Island at 10:00 (S19°47.983' W174°21.239'). The gentleman was very friendly and allowed us to check in and check out of the Ha'apai Group at the same time. This meant that we could visit different islands and then not have to return to Lifuka to check out several days later. SV Buena Vista was allowed the same courtesy.

Next stop was the Mariner's Cafe for lunch where everyone was craving burgers but I tried Ota Ika, raw fish mixed with coconut cream, lime juice, and spices. It was very tasty - similar to ceviche but with coconut cream.

Jordan, Debbie, and Don at cafe

The village seemed to be very laid back and rather poor, with several decrepit buildings and homes. But the people were friendly and these giggling young ladies, wearing traditional Tongan mats, were thrilled to have their photo taken. One young lady also took a photo of the group of us with her own camera.

Lots of colour

It was hot out so we tried 2 small grocery stores for ice cream but all they had were large 2-litre pails. We finally bought a small container of banana ice cream at a liquor store! We were also able to pick up a bit of fresh produce at the small market.

Several youngsters were at the pier when we returned to our dinghy. After we climbed down the steep ladder, 1 youngster jumped into the ocean and was then quickly followed by the rest of the pack!

Should we jump? YES!

All stocked up, we left Lifuka for the next island only 4 miles away and set anchor at 16:50 at Uoleva (S19°51.070' W174°24.987'). We walked along the long, sandy beach but only collected a couple of shells.

Jordan in contemplation

We passed by a camping structure that was equipped with solar panels, water catcher, a cooking area, and sleeping quarters. We briefly talked to the young Australian couple living in it who said their dad owned a boat anchored out front. From the growth on the hull we could see the boat had been there for some time. The boat was an Endurance, same hull as ours.

Just like Gilligan's Island!

Further along the beach, there was a small resort (the word resort is a stretch) with very basic cabins where you could just veg out and get away from it all.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Matamaka Island

We felt a strong boat vibration early this morning and were wondering if it was an earthquake. We later heard on the VHF Net it was indeed an earthquake tremor measuring 5.5 at 06:23 and was approximately 32 km (20 miles) away from our anchorage. This was the second tremor felt in this area in the last 2 weeks. We were surprised that we could actually feel the tremor in a boat. A sailor reported seeing many fish jumping about 10 to 15 seconds prior to the tremor.

Humidity has been quite high at 73%. I will need to scrub the dodger again with bleach to get rid of the mold that has started to grow again. It's been a long time since it needed to be done.

We pulled anchor from Lape Island (#17) to make the short voyage to nearby Matamaka Island (#15) which was only about 2.6 km (1.6 mi) away (S18°42.635' W174°04.146') where we were escorted by a couple of friendly young girls to their school. School was out but the teacher was still there. She told us that there are 20 pupils who will later attend secondary school at Vava'u Island. Once in secondary school, the students will spend the week at Vava'u Island and come back to Matamaka Island on weekends and holidays.

The school was brightly decorated with learning posters, English library books donated by cruisers for the students (and teacher) to read, and postcards. The students love to receive postcards from all over the world as they examine the globe to see where the postcards came from. If you wish, please send a postcard to the school at the following address:

G.P.S. Matamaka
P.O. Box 138
Neiafu, Vava'u
Kingdom of Tonga

The students are also taught the importance of not littering, especially around the ocean. The teacher showed us a video of coral being planted in the ocean around Matamaka. What a great concept if the planted coral is able to survive. The children are taught the importance of all sea life and coral so therefore never to walk on it or destroy it. She also told us that sea turtles nest on Matamaka beach.

Jordan in doorway of Matamaka School

After our visit, we pulled anchor at 17:30 for an overnighter to the next group of Tongan Islands which is called the Ha'apai Group. SV Buena Vista left at about the same time as we did and we chatted with them on VHF during the passage.

We have been using a new set of digital charts called OpenCPN which are actually New Zealand paper charts that have been digitized. They have been bang-right-on every time so far. So we mapped our track on the chart, weaving through the islands and set out for an overnight voyage.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Coral Wonder

Still anchored at #17 Lape Island (Vava'u Group, Kingdom of Tonga), Jordan dinghied me over to what is called the Coral Wonder (in the area of S18°43.67' W174°05.49'). The tide was coming up but was not quite yet high enough to motor across the reef in the dinghy. So we got out, raised the motor, and slowly and carefully pulled the dinghy over the reef as the tide surged in.

I had to snorkel alone as Jordan could not get his stitched wound wet with salt water. Colourful coral was everywhere and I saw a few varieties that I had never seen before such as the large flat circular ones that rose from the ocean bottom on a stalk just like a flower.

Coral Wonder was very beautiful, or perhaps I should say wondrous! Jordan was able to peek in by holding a snorkel mask on top of the water. I also saw a few fish and colourful blue starfish.

(Unfortunately, no photos as no replacement underwater camera until we return home to Victoria for a visit at the end of the year.)

We pulled the dinghy back over the reef with a higher tide and then beached it on the other side of the island where we walked along the sandy untrodden seashore and collected a few shells.

Vacant beach

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lape Island

As Jordan was feeling perky after getting stitches in his scalp wound yesterday, we once again left Vava'u Island. We arrived around 13:30 at Lape Island which is #17 on the Moorings Chart and anchored by 4 other boats that were either anchored or on a mooring ball (S18°42.975' W174°05.125').

We went ashore to check out the village, which was very small with only 24 persons as of 2010. We walked past the market just in front of the dock where there was a little fruit, cloth wraps and dresses, and some creative weavings. We admired the intricate work of the young lady with her round mats and purses.

Very small market

Her dad gave us a few mangos from the hundreds that he was in the process of bagging for shipping to the main island and then pointed us up the path toward the village and school. As we were walking, we saw a man sleeping in the middle of the path. Yes, it's a tough life in the village!

We visited the primary school that has only 9 students, aged 6 through 11. Upon reaching the age of 11, students are then boated to Vava'u Island where they stay during the week to continue secondary school and return to Lape Island on the weekends.

As we headed back to Sea Turtle, we noticed a walking path so we beached the dinghy and walked through the trees and coconut strewn path. It was very peaceful and quiet and we did not see another soul.

Jordan heading back towards Sea Turtle

Monday, October 15, 2012

Caving and misfortune

Today we dinghied from Port Maurelle to the northwest end of Kapa Island (Kingdom of Tonga) to see the much talked about Swallow's Cave (around S18°40.933' W174°02.865'). We identified it by streaks of colour on the rocks. This cave is not actually nested by Swallow birds, but by Swift birds, many of which were present. We dinghied right into the large beautiful cave...

Should be called Swift's Cave

...where we saw a few snorkellers and other admirers of this beauty where you could see the sky through a hole in the top of the cave. We noticed 1 young man walking a ridge going farther back into the cave but we had unfortunately not brought our reef shoes with good traction.

Looking out the entrance from inside Swallow's Cave

Next we dinghied across a stretch of ocean over to another island where we could check out Mariner's Cave (around S18°41.4' W174°04.4'). We had been given the GPS reading, so once in the area we looked for a dark spot in the ocean water. This dark spot identifies where you dive into the water, swim under the ledge, and come up into Mariner's Cave. Sound scary? I thought so!

But Jordan said he would hold my hand and pull me down under the water. I know this sounds strange but I cannot yet dive down wearing snorkelling gear, my body just keeps floating on the surface until I am pushed down or pulled under.

We had been told of the beauty inside this cave so we both wanted to see it. Jordan dived in alone the first 2 times and said it was indeed very beautiful with a green mist of fog every time the tide surged in and out. There was a bright blue where the light would shine from outside the cave. He said I would be able to easily make it in with his help.

So I grabbed his hand, and with big breaths, we both went down. But as Jordan pushed me in, he came up too soon and soundly bashed his head into the sharp volcanic rocks. He was bleeding profusely so we left immediately before any sharks got whiff of blood. After a quick glance around inside Mariner's Cave, we both dove down and back out.

As we climbed back into the dinghy, Jordan was still bleeding very badly, as all head wounds do, and he had a flap of scalp hanging. We knew it had to be treated by a professional so once back at Sea Turtle, we immediately headed back to Vava'u Island, about 1 hour away.

Jordan called on the VHF radio for a doctor and the sailors back at Vava'u Island immediately started calling around. They arranged for the local doctor to wait at her office until we arrived, saved a mooring ball for us to tie up to, and dinghied us ashore when we arrived so we would not waste time putting our own dinghy back into the water. On board 1 boat, there was a doctor who said she could patch up Jordan if we could not reach the doctor ashore. Wow - sailors are always there when you need them and all this help was sure appreciated by both of us!

Once at the doctor's office, she agreed that Jordan's head was in quite a mess. She shaved the area and put 8 stitches in the 2 flaps of torn scalp. Don't look at the next pictures if you are squeamish!!!

2 flaps of scalp hanging open for cleaning

Jokingly, Jordan refers to the 2 cut open flaps of skin as his 2 burgees on the port side. Amazingly, he said it hardly hurt at all. And now, sadly, he cannot be in the salt water, so no snorkelling for 7 to 10 days until it has healed and I remove the stitches.


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Vava'u Group - Kapa Island

We released the ties of our mooring ball at Vava'u Island (Kingdom of Tonga) on a sunny day around 14:00 to explore some of the islands and anchorages, the first and most northern set being the Vava'u Group.

A Moorings Chart is produced that has several circled numbers on it (along with several published guides). These numbers correspond to moorings/anchorages/places of interest. Sailors always refer to these numbers, especially when conversing on the VHF radio: Where are you? with a reply such as Oh, I'm at #16.

Our first stop was at #7, Port Maurelle of Kapa Island, only about an hour away where we set anchor at 15:00 amongst 12 other boats (S18°42.014' W174°01.788').

We immediately went snorkelling in the warm water and walked the sandy beach. We saw many of the usual fish but were treated to an eyeful of 3 very large and very bright purple starfish! Purple seemed to be the dominant colour as we also spotted purple coral. Snorkelling is always a new adventure!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Too many officials

Most of today was spent checking out from Vava'u Island of the Kingdom of Tonga. We had to go to Immigration, the Port Authority, and Customs. This was strange as we weren't leaving the Kingdom of Tonga, we were only leaving this Island.

The walk to Immigration was at the middle of town where we had to wait for about an hour for people ahead of us. Then the official was upset with us as we did not go to Immigration when we checked in. We had been told previously by officials that we only had to check in with Customs as we had already checked into the Kingdom of Tonga at Niuatoputapu, but he disagreed.

Next was the Port Authority. This tiny hole-in-the-wall office was several long blocks from the town center and nowhere near the water. Very strange.

Jordan filling in the paperwork

Finally, was Customs with more papers to fill out - almost identical to the ones we filled out when we checked in. Hmmm, is this not already stored in their computers? He also said we were not allowed to stop at any islands in the Vava'u Group but had to go directly to the Ha'pai Group. We said we definitely wanted to stop in the Vava'u Group so he agreed to give us a few days grace. This was an issue we had never encountered before in our travels but smiled and said goodbye.

We were expecting company for dinner on Sea Turtle but it was late and our dinghy's motor was out of operation as the shear pin had broken once again. So we called our guests-to-be on VHF and had them meet us at a restaurant instead where we treated them for helping us with our computer. They then towed us back in our dinghy to Sea Turtle.

A nice end to a long and frustrating day.

Sea Turtle at Vava'u Island

Friday, October 12, 2012

Taste of Tonga

We made a date with Sam of SV Suvretpa to take a tour of Taste of Tonga. This is a zero waste enterprise (www.tasteoftonga.com) that was fully explained to us by the owners, Ian and Vanessa. We saw how they:
  • make virgin coconut oil for baking and frying, using on salads and ice cream, or just eating from a spoon
  • make taro and manioke chips for snacks
  • make coconut vinegar and cheese
  • using dried shredded coconut, make pig and chicken food
  • grow maggots in shredded coconut as protein for pig and chicken food
  • from discarded coconut husks, make a type of peat  moss
  • make charcoal by burning scrap wood and tree cuttings around barrels filled with empty coconut shells
Ian and Vanessa have fully automatic, biodegradable, multiplying lawn mowers - sheep! They also have chickens, a rooster, and pigs. At the start of our tour, we witnessed 1 of many wild roosters being trapped in a Tongan trap which Ian then discreetly slaughtered for dinner that night (this was not supposed to be part of the tour!)

After the tour, we were treated to a sample of their coconut cheese with Vanessa's homemade chili jam. We purchased some of this delicious cheese along with the coconut oil after learning of all of its benefits. We chose to buy the coconut oil packaged in a squeezable pouch rather than a round hard container as the pouch would not spill in a moving boat!

Coconut oil, as well as tasting great, has claims of showing improvement for Alzheimer's Disease patients, is good for diabetics as it has zero cholesterol and helps to stabilize blood sugars, and contains Lauric Acid which has the same benefits as breast milk.

Jordan and Sam at Taste of Tonga

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fleas!

Several folks suggested Augustine's Circus Spectacular at The Baby Grand Theater was a must-see. A circus, I thought, I don't want to see a circus. But we bought tickets and were told NOT to be late.

There was only a small group of us (13) when the ticket taker opened the doors to the small foyer where we all squished in as he took our tickets and locked the doors behind us - ergo, don't be late!

Next, after a quick change of clothes, Augustine (who was also the ticket taker) opened the curtains of the foyer and escorted us into the teeny theater that seats 12 on 3 rows of foam padded wooden seats. The 13th person sat on a chair in the center aisle.

This was a 1-man show that was very comedic. He had a fabulous puppet, telling the story of a doomed presentation of a flea circus as it was acted out by fleas (Fifi, Jimmy, and Hercules) which were quite invisible but very entertaining nevertheless.

A very bad photo of the story-telling puppet...


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Vava'u Island

We left Niuatoputapu (Kingdom of Tonga) at 17:15 on October 8th after saying goodbye to everyone. We had a strong east wind that we had to beat into to get out of the lagoon around the Island before we could set our southerly course to Vava'u. Winds became southeast and strong for most of the trip but Sea Turtle does well in strong winds from most any angle.

Once we got in the lee of the main islands in Vava'u in the early hours of the morning, the islands sheltered us from the winds and we motored up the channel and into Koko Bay. On the way in, we passed lush green slopes and some interesting shore cliffs with caves. There were many boats sheltered at Koko Bay that use it as a base for great local cruising in and about the many islands here.

We tied up to a mooring ball at 08:15 (S18°39.846' W173°58.972') in front of the capital town of Neiafu. After a bit of a rough passage, it was so nice to be in such a calm harbour. It was exciting to see a few friends that we had not seen in a long while, including SV AKA and SV Buena Vista that we met in Mexico and SV Suvretpa that we met while in Chile.

After checking in with Customs, we wandered around the small town of Neiafu. There were a lot of waterfront restaurants, 2 teeny tiny grocery/hardware stores stocked with only a few basics, and the open air Utukalungalu Market of fresh fruit and vegetables. Glad I don't have to remember these complicated Tongan names! The market, besides produce, also has a section of homemade crafts such as tapas (pounded and painted bark of trees), baskets and other weavings, and carvings of bone and wood including ironwood (a type of hardwood).

It looks like this small building next to the gas station probably really needed an expansion but this blue addition really hangs over the road down below it. I wonder what Jordan is thinking?

Architectural disaster or wonderment?

One gentleman we spotted decided his pet pig needed a bath. So into the ocean they went as he gave his pink friend a wash with a bottle of pink soap.

Scrub-a-dub-dub