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.


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 ( 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


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.


Sunday, October 07, 2012

More experiences

It has been raining off and on for several days at the Tongan island of Niuatoputapu, but when it was announced on the VHF radio that humpback whales were spotted nearby, Jordan and I hopped in the dinghy to see if we could spot them up close. It started to pour but we continued and did see several spouting. We even saw 1 large whale tail as the whale came up to dive down (no whale tale!)

The next day, all the women sailors (and a few men too) came to the community hall to watch the local women weave their intricate mats.

Mat in process of being made

The hall, a basic wooden structure with no furniture, was filled with women weaving and singing, women caring for babies, the occasional woman resting or napping, and of course all the sailor spectators. The locals at first weaved very slowly so we could see how they did it and then later displayed their speedy Gonzales fingers as they weaved unbelievably fast.

Each mat, usually about 6 feet by 15 feet, would be worked on by 4 women all day every Friday. Then each group of 4 would meet at 1 of their homes to continue working on the mat each and every day except Sundays and only occasionally on Saturdays. The mat would take about 1 week to complete - if the mat was 20 feet long, it would take about 2 weeks.

Busy weaving with many spectators

These mats are used on floors to sit and/or walk on but smaller versions are also worn by the women, men, and children for special occasions and can even be worn daily. They can be painted with a dye, decorated quite lavishly, or kept fairly simple. When a death occurs, the degree of mourning can be established by how close the mat extends to the woman's underarms. They are worn over black clothing when in mourning and are tied around the waist. I think folks must get incredibly hot beneath these heavy mats.

On Sundays, work is not allowed. Locals can only sleep, eat, and go to church which is considered to be very important in their lives. We had the occasion to see several of the beautiful mats being worn when we attended church one Sunday. They all seemed to have exceptional singing voices as we listened to the hymns sung in native Tongan language.

Getting ready to enter church

Posing with Jordan after church - check out the beaded detail

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Pig roast and kava

We have been noticing an abundance of animals at Niuatoputapu (Kingdom of Tonga) since our arrival...horses, dogs, chickens, and so many pigs with their cute little piglets! Everywhere you turn, the piglets are running as fast as they can after their moms, some even as young as 2 days old.

Cutest 2-day old piglet with its mom

All the sailors in the anchorage were invited to a pig roast including traditional food and fish. Everything was cooked outside with 2 pigs being roasted on a spit.

Our hosts, Sia and her husband Niko (who had been the guide on yesterday's volcanic hike), explained what all the different dishes were once they were lavishly spread out on the table. There was taro root, taro root leaves cooked in cream shredded and squeezed from coconuts, fish, roasted pig, freshly squeezed mango juice, some type of dessert, and many other dishes that I can't remember the names of. The entire meal was delicious.

Outdoor kitchen that produced excellent food

We also had the experience of tasting the kava drink. This is something that we had been dreading since reading literature about it. In the old days, the women would all chew the kava roots till it was the right consistency and then spit it into a large kava bowl. The Chief would declare when it was ready to be consumed and a coconut cup would be passed around for everyone to partake. It would be considered rude to decline.

But fortunately, kava is now prepared in a more sanitary manner. The roots were pounded and the juice sieved into the large kava bowl and mixed with water. With everyone sitting around the bowl cross-legged, an amount was ladled into a few empty coconut shells and passed around for anyone wanting to taste and share the experience. We both did - more than once! - and found it to be quite bland, kind of like dishwater, and it made our tongues and lips numb. But it was not the horrid taste we had been expecting.

Jordan tasting his first kava under watchful eyes

Adoption among relatives is very popular and widely accepted in Tonga. Many couples adopt children of relatives for an abundance of reasons, as did Sia and Niko. And it is customary for older male children to sleep in a separate abode as we also saw while visiting this family.

Our gracious hosts, Sia and Niko

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Volcanic hike

Jordan joined many of the other sailors in 2 pangas for a wet ride over to Tafahi Island, about 6 miles to the north of Niuatoputapu Island (Kingdom of Tonga) for a hike to its summit.

Tafahi Island is a cone-shaped extinct volcano, covered in lush tropical vegetation with less than 40 inhabitants, mostly living there to farm the slopes. There was no barrier reef to form a protected lagoon. The beach landing was done through a short channel dug out of the coral that fringed the island. All hands hauled the boats over small logs up the beach for protection from the waves.

2 loaded pangas heading to volcanic island

At first, the hike was down the beach before climbing stairs to the smattering of shacks that make up what is called a village. On the way up, they were met by a farmer with his horse carrying huge stalks of taro root and a couple other villagers carrying a squealing pig hung upside down on a stick, all heading to the pangas for a ride back to the main island of Niuatoputapu.

It was a strenuous 2-hour hike up to the top, through thick tropical bush patched here and there with small plantations of banana, papaya, taro root, kava, mango, even a mandarin orange tree dripping with ripe fruit. Oh yes, of course the ever present coconut palms, one of which the guide (Niko) climbed, knocked down enough coconuts for all, and hacked the tops with a machete for the thirst quenching liquid inside.

For the collected fruit, Niko chopped down a palm frond, and within 5 minutes, weaved a carrying basket.

Nature's basket

The summit was shrouded in misty clouds so the photo shots didn't see the island they had departed from (Niuatoputapu) but the stop made a great spot to do lunch. The down-hike was through dense Jurassic Park-like forest, woven with vines, vanilla plants, giant ferns, orchids, and many other topical species.

No dinosaurs

Before boarding the pangas again, a local lady had cooked up some taro root in a chicken broth and spices that all sampled. Jordan thought it to be similar to potatoes but more delicious.

On the ride back, Niko threw out a line and within 10 minutes caught about a 12-pound tuna!

Monday, October 01, 2012

TONGA - Niuatoputapu

After a 36-hour passage (1 day and 2 nights with a full moon), we entered a narrow pass into the protection of the lagoon behind the barrier reef of Niuatoputapu (S15°56.443' W173°46.013'). Our arrival made us boat #14 in the anchorage of this remote island settlement of the Kingdom of Tonga. Our passage had been a combination of sailing with good winds but also a few hours of motoring.

Tonga was called the Friendly Islands by Captain James Cook. There are 150 islands but only 36 are inhabited.

Another boat, SV Gypsy Blues, made it in just before us and the Customs, Immigration, and Agriculture officials were already out in the anchorage processing them, so they came right over to check us in. A straightforward process, with a payment of about $50 - that required us to go ashore and walk for about 45 minutes in the HOT sun and pesky mosquitoes to the Western Union shack to have some US dollars exchanged into the Tongan currency called Pa'anga. Then the expected visits to the officials' office for payment and receipt. Offices were very basic, a wooden structure with only 1 or 2 desks and a couple of chairs, not a lot of furniture or supplies.

As we approached shore in our dinghy, this young man appeared quite surprised to see us...

Hey, who are you!?

There are about 800 residents here now. A couple of years ago, the island and its residents (then about 1,000) were seriously affected by a tsunami from an earthquake about 100 miles north. The waves washed inland as much as a mile and 9 people lost their lives and caused many to move away. We could see the results still today in the dead trees, some washed out to the shallows.

We had several sea turtles swimming in the vicinity of our boat and we also saw this one on the road as we walked towards officialdom!

Sea turtle road patch