Friday, December 5, 2008

Keeping Busy in Whangarei

December 5, 2008—In three days we will be heading back to the states for the holidays so I wanted to post one more blog before we leave.

On November 28 we went on a river walk with sv Morning Light and sv Charisma. We drove about half way up to Whangarei Falls, dropped off one car, continued up to the Falls, and parked our car. The walk started at the falls and continued along the Whangarei River. The vegetation was lush and green, and because it was in the shade, it was a nice, cool, and relaxing walk. The walk also took us by kauri trees, which were harvested heavily in the old days to make furniture, bowls, cups, etc. The trees are large and very tall, and the bark has a mottled look.

We took one of the side trails that led up a hill and looked down onto another waterfall. Some young men had been repelling down a cable just before we got there. That must have been a thrill.

We spent about three hours completing the walk. When we got back to Chris and Jamie’s car, they drove us back up to our car. On the drive back to the boat, we were forced to stop for some ice cream. Believe it or not, it is the first ice cream we have had here in Whangarei. Steve and I are both a bit disappointed in the ice cream thtat is available here. We have yet to find really good ice cream, and the selection is very limited. There is no Baskin Robbins here.

Our newly galvanized chains and anchor came back on Monday. You can see from the picture how lovely the chain looks now, as does the freshly painted anchor locker. The work continues on the chain plates. A young man named Lance is doing a fine job for us. The other projects are all moving along well, and I think the boat will look very nice when we are all finished.

On December 3 we drove up to Tutukaka to join Rikki and Bruce Going at their home for another Thanksgiving dinner. Their boat name is sv Seagoing, and we met them in Vava’u, Tonga, this year. Rikki lived in New Mexico for 20 years, so we shared that bond, and, not surprisingly, she loves Hatch green chili. Scarlett O’Hara, Bold Spirit, and Qué Barbara were also there. I made creamed corn with oysters and an apple pie. We also took a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine. There was a huge amount of food, and we, of course, ate too much.

After the meal we took a walk down to the Tutukaka Marina. The bay is lovely, and we hope to stop here on our way back up the coast in April or May. After our walk we enjoyed dessert, and then it was time for us to drive back to Whangarei. It was a lovely day, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

We are working hard to finish some of our small projects and get packed for the trip. We went to a second-hand store to pick up a large suitcase ($7 NZ or $4 US--what a steal!) so that we could get all our souvenirs back to the states and return to New Zealand with our boat parts. I just love hauling boat parts half way around the world!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

November 28, 2008—We have been pretty busy for the past week, but our boat projects are coming along nicely. Our sails are being cleaned, our chain plates are being replaced, the mast is all sanded down (there were four coats of paint on it), our large port lights will be replaced, and Steve will finish the anchor locker tomorrow.

The car that we purchased—I never thought we would own a Mercedes-- has made life easier when hauling heavy items or grocery shopping. It is still a challenge to drive on the left side of the road, but we are getting better at it. It has been raining pretty heavily for the past two days, so having the car has been really nice. We promised ourselves, however, that we would continue to walk to town as much as possible in order to get some exercise.

Chris, Marcia, and I had a very nice day shopping this week. We found a store named Farmers that is similar to Macy’s. Everything was on sale, and we found some nice items to buy. We also went to The Warehouse, which is similar to Target, and a store that is very much like Linens and Things. We enjoyed a Subway sandwich for lunch. By the time we returned to the boats, we were pretty much “shopped out.”

On Wednesday we attended a “Meet and Greet” held at the Whangarei Cruising Club and hosted by the local marine businesses. Door prizes were given out, and we won two white t-shirts from Doyle Sails. The buffet dinner was excellent plus we once again had a chance to visit with the cruisers who are staying at Opua.

Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving with Alan from sv Charisma, Jack and Marcia from sv Tracen J, and Jamie and Chris from sv Morning Light. We had the traditional turkey (pretty expensive here), stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry, gravy, green bean casserole, and cole slaw. I baked dinner rolls and an apple pie, and Marcia baked a pumpkin pie. We all met at the BBQ area at 5 o’clock to share the meal and reminisce about our sailing season. Since today is Thanksgiving Day in the states, we wish all of you a wonderful holiday with your families.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mastless in Whangarei

November 21, 2008—Our exciting week began on Monday morning when we were supposed to pull our mast. Tom the rigger came by and said that it was supposed to blow as well as rain, so we postponed until Tuesday at noon.

Well, as things usually go, the winds were calm and it only drizzled a bit on Monday; however, on Tuesday, we did have wind. Why pull out of the slip on a calm day when you can do it on a windy day! The wind was blowing over our stern and slightly to starboard, which meant that we had to watch sv Charisma on our starboard side. We enlisted a few cruisers to help make sure that we got out without any problems, and then we proceeded up the river to International Yacht Services.

The company has two pilings right on the shore so we had to pull up to them to tie off. Even though it was high tide, we ended up slightly stuck in the mud, but the boat was positioned just fine for the crane. The crane was supposed to be there at noon, but it was closer to one o’clock when he arrived. Once he got there, he got the crane set up and the hoist was connected to the strap that had been placed just under the spreaders. Tom and his crew, along with Steve, had already done much of the prep work at the marina, so it didn’t take long to get the mast pulled and laid out on the drums.

We left and headed right back for our slip, where everyone was gathered to help us get back in. The wind was still blowing in the same direction so that meant that it blew us right into our slip. Steve just had to put her into reverse to stop her, and we were tied up in no time.

When we went the yard later in the day, they had already removed the hardware and were beginning to sand the mast. They told us that they had found one of our insulators for the SSB radio was cracked so that will need to be replaced. We hope to find our problem with our VHF radio as well. It is being checked to see if the wiring down the mast is the problem.

With our anchor and anchor chain off the boat, as well as having the mast out, our boat is now angled down from bow to stern. When I got out of bed the next morning, I felt as though I were walking down hill.

Yesterday Steve undertook sanding the anchor locker. We have been putting off this “fun” chore for some time, but we decided that it really needed to be done. Our anchor locker is only accessible from inside our boat. The access is right in front of our bed, and this meant that we had to take all our bedding out and put it on the coach roof. Doing that was good because it allowed all the mattress pads to air out, and it gave me a chance to wash the mattress case and put it in the sun to dry.

Steve had bought a grinder so we hung a plastic tarp to try to protect the bunk and the rest of the boat. Well, that did about much good as doing nothing. The fiberglass dust was everywhere. Steve was wearing a respirator and goggles, as well as long pants with socks. After about an hour he emerged looking like a ghost and stood on the dock in his clothes while I hosed him down with water. Then he went to the cockpit, stripped off his clothes, changed into other clothes, and went immediately to the showers. Meanwhile, I went to work trying to clean up all the fiberglass. For those who have worked with fiberglass, you know what a nasty job it is (but not as bad as the sanding). I vacuumed up all that I could, and then I wiped down all the walls. After several hours, I thought I had gotten all of it; however, when Steve lowered our anchor locker door, we found a huge amount on it. So we had to wipe that down, as well as the ceiling above our bed.

Steve was exhausted last night and fell asleep early, but I wasn’t far behind. It had been a long and tiring day. Now we just need to let the locker dry out, and then Steve can paint it. Doesn’t that sound like an exciting week!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

We're Living the Kiwi Life Now

November 17, 2008—It has been a good week for us. We have gotten quite a bit of work done on cleaning up the boat and getting everything washed out. We have also become well acquainted with the downtown area and all the shops that are available. Steve has spent a lot of time finding every shop that he needs for boat work or boat parts. We have also opened a bank account here so that it will be easier to get cash.

The people here are amazingly friendly. Every time we stop people and ask for directions or help, they have been very helpful. A man named Keith Oaks that Steve talked with at a gas station for just a few minutes offered him a ride to a store and then told Steve that anytime Steve needed a ride, he should call him.

On Saturday Christine and Jamie, Jack and Marcia, and Steve and I went to the Growers’ Market. We arrived around 8 a.m. and were thrilled by the beautiful, fresh fruits and vegetables that people had for sale. Local honey and gorgeous flowers were for sale as well. The best part was the crêpes for breakfast. A man and his two sons had a booming business going. They had an old Volkswagen bus, and they set up their crêpe cooker in front. We had a choice of bananas with cream, bananas with honey, butter and syrup, three types of jams along with cream, or a local fruit that I can’t remember the name of. All six of us ordered one—Steve had bananas and honey, and I had black currant jam with cream, and they were absolutely delicious. Steve and I ended up buying fresh strawberries, blueberries, zucchini, and tomatoes.

Next we went to the art festival in the park next to the library. There were booths set up with local foods as well as foods from other countries. There were also crafts, art, jewelry, clothing, and flowers for sale. There was a stage set up for performances so at 10:45 we stopped to watch a Pacific Island dance group, and they were followed by a ukulele orchestra comprised of 10 women, who turned out to be very good.

After that we headed for the food booths. Steve and I ordered a Coney Island hot dog with everything. The rest of the gang had pizza. We then made a quick trip into the library to see what it was like and found a large selection of books as well as DVDs and CDs so we will need to join the library soon.

Sunday we worked hard to get rid of the clutter on the boat because on Monday we were supposed to take the boat just up the river in order to have the mast pulled so that it can be painted. We have wanted to do that for a long time, and we got a very reasonable quote to have the work done here. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was for wind and rain so we postponed until tomorrow. The sails have been sent in to be inspected and repaired if necessary. The new head (toilet) that we ordered should be here soon. The engine work will begin soon as will the stainless steel work. There is still quite a bit to do, but we are trying to balance work with pleasure.

Last night we went to dinner in town with sv Tracen J and sv Morning Light. We really enjoy Dicken’s Pub because they have wonderful food and even better desserts.s

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Whangarei, New Zealand

November 12, 2008—We have been in Whangarei for a week now, and we are enjoying it very much. It is hard getting used to the cars driving on the left side of the road, and the other night, Dennis and Janet from sv Shilling, Gary, and Steve and I were all walking to have dinner at Amici Restaurant. I stepped off the curb, but Steve suddenly pushed me back because a car was coming that could have hit me. I told them all that I had survived crossing the Pacific Ocean only to be killed by a car in New Zealand. We are much more careful now—looking both ways twice before stepping off a curb.

Marcia and Jack on sv Tracen J arrived at the marina on Thursday, so we again went out to dinner at Dicken’s Pub. I could get used to this. We had seafood chowder and a pork roast, both of which were delicious. The best part was the apple pie for dessert—it was wonderful. We were all still pretty tired from the crossing, but we had a very enjoyable evening.

Ray Roberts Marina is a small marina about 10 minutes from downtown. You can see our boat just to the right of the power boat in the picture. Ray is very helpful and will be doing some of the boat work for us. The good thing about being here is that we have certainly gotten our exercise over the past few days as we find ourselves in town just about every day.

Town Basin Marina is closer to downtown and much larger as you can see from the picture. There will be many cruisers staying there as well. It has been fun seeing some of them after several months, and more will come in over the next month. Last night we went to have dinner at Reba's, which is a restaurant right at the dock. They had a cruisers' special of ribeye steak with potato for $10 NZ which is about $6 USD, and it was quite good.

Steve and I took off this past weekend and stayed in a motel for two nights. There was a hot tub, which made Steve very happy. We watched movies, took very long, hot showers, ate in town, and just relaxed for two days. It was nice to get off the boat and away from the clean up for awhile.

Our sails are off the boat and will be cleaned and inspected. Steve has also lined up some stainless steel work, as well as engine work. Our list is not too bad, and we keep working on it slowly. I have been doing a lot of laundry because everything got wet and salty. Luckily, there are washers and a dryer on the premises, so I don’t have to lug it into town.

The scenery here is lovely; however, the weather has been a bit cold and overcast. The locals all say that it is unusual for this time of year, so we hope that it will clear off in the next few days. We plan to take a drive up north to Opua to visit some of our cruising friends who are staying there, and we will, of course, continue on our boat projects.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

November 7, 2008--Well, we arrived in Whangarei, New Zealand, early Wednesday morning and pulled up to the Customs dock to spend the night.

Tuesday was cloudy most of the day, and the winds were blowing around 23 knots with gusts up to 30. We also had rain squalls throughout the day, and the seas became confused later in the afternoon, which made for an uncomfortable ride. The line on our radar reflector chafed through so it came down and was dragging through the water until we retrieved it. One loss that we suffered was the peanut crème Oreos. Gary was eating them during his watch when they fell onto the cockpit floor and got soaked, so over the side they went—he was bummed.

Night was coming as we rounded Poor Knight’s Island to parallel the coast just a couple of miles off in order to minimize the fetch from the approaching cold front, which we expected at any time. Steve went to check our engine and found an oil leak (the head seal has finally started to give out). We turned off the engine just long enough that he could check to see how bad it was (not bad at all) and to add more oil. The wind and waves were coming from our stern, and at one point we saw over 10 knots of speed over the ground—we were surfing!

We made our turn around Bream Head and began working our way up the buoyed channel. The red and green lights were everywhere so picking out the ones that we needed was very difficult. Steve was using the GPS to find the buoys and I was using the paper chart. I thought that I had finally spotted the next red light that we needed. As I looked at it, however, I realized that it also had a white light, and it was moving past us. Turned out it was a tug boat leaving the harbor. Soon there was another tug leaving. I decided to go up on the bow to keep a lookout while Gary stayed in the cockpit to help Steve. We were making progress through the winding buoys when I heard Steve give an exclamation--we had a large cargo ship coming up the bay close behind us. Those two tugs had gone out to bring it in.

Making our way around the bay and over to Marsden Cove Marina was a challenge to say the least. We slowly made our way to the GPS waypoint for the entry. There were boats anchored along the route with no anchor lights on, so we had to find them with our spotlight. There were no real channel lights at this point, but I finally spotted the red and green lights leading into the marina; however, finding the right point in which to make the turn was more difficult. At one point we found ourselves in shallow water with the tide going down. The three of us finally agreed on our course, so we made our turn and proceeded through the dredged channel to the jetty entrance and then continued to the docks. We located the Q dock for Customs, and Steve decided to make a turn so that he could pull in with our port (left) side to the dock. When he was half way through the turn, the wind came up and caught our bow, but Steve was able to complete the turn, which was good because we were getting awfully close to a boat tied up at the end of that dock. When we beside the dock, Gary and I jumped off and secured the lines. We let the boat settle in, made sure the lines and fenders were all in place, and gave one another "high 5’s." It was now 3 a.m. and we were all exhausted, cold, and wet. We all crashed quickly because Customs would be at the boat in the morning.

We got up around 7:30 and picked up the boat as best as we could. Brian from Bio-security arrived around 9:30 (why had we gotten up so early!) to collect meat and vegetables and fill out the required forms. Right after he left, Anita from Customs arrived and filled out those required forms.

We now needed to make our way 12 miles up the Whangarei River with the wind still blow up to 30 knots. When we left the marina the wind and waves were right on the nose so we were struggling to move forward. Actually, a couple of times we were stopped dead in the water. Once we got into the river channel, the ride became better, and we were able to appreciate the beautiful countryside. When we arrived at Riverside Drive Marina, we had to hold our position while sv Shilling pulled into their slip. This was not an easy task since the winds were still gusting. The dock hands were tying up Shilling when there was a lull in the wind, so Steve yelled to them asking if the one open slip was ours. They answered that it was, so Steve just gunned the engine and headed into the slip because we wanted to get in before the winds came up again. A couple of guys did come over to take our lines. Steve came in pretty fast and then gave the engine full reverse to stop her. The dock lines were pulled in, and she settled in just fine. We had arrived!

Whangarei is a lovely town, and I will write about it in the next blog as this one has become quite long-winded. Gary was able to book a flight out on Thursday morning so on Wednesday evening Janet and Dennis from sv Shilling joined us for dinner and to celebrate arriving here. We enjoyed a wonderful meal and then headed back to crash—we were all very, very tired.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Race to the Barn

November 3, 2008--During my watch on the evening of the 1st, I was treated to a clear sky and a very, very calm sea. There was a new moon, and I believe it was Venus that was very close to it. The water was so calm that even the stars and planets were casting reflections onto the water. It was hard to believe how beautiful it was. We were motoring because the winds had dropped down again, and we need to continue moving forward.

On Sunday we had pizza for lunch. The day was mainly overcast, but we didn't have any rain, and the seas were moderate. I served some wonderful pork with green beans and fresh tomatoes for dinner. It has definitely cooled off. The water temperature during the night was down around 60 degrees, and we are all wearing our foul weather gear and boots during our night watches. Steve had rain during his whole watch last night from midnight to 4 a.m. I made plenty of coffee during the day, and quite a bit of it was gone by this morning.

When Gary came on watch at 4 in the morning, he and Steve decided to reef down the sails. Gary had cranked the line on the reef down, and Steve was on the coach roof tying down the reef points in the main sail when he realized that a bird, who had been on the deck of the boat for several hours, had had his tail pulled into the turning block during the reef. He was squawking like crazy as Steve grabbed him and pulled him loose--minus a few tail feathers. He flew off and did not come back.

Today we had cloudy skies with some rain showers. There have been squalls all around us, but, luckily, the winds have been moderate. One particularly ominous looking squall had us putting in a third reef, but the winds never developed as it passed over us. The seas have built somewhat, and we are now on more of a reach, which in turn heals the boat over making cooking and sleeping a bit more difficult. The weather reports that we are getting indicate a cold front approaching New Zealand that will have higher winds so we are pushing very hard to arrive before it does. This has meant running the engine and motor sailing to get the best speed that we can for the conditions. Right now it looks as though we will make it in time. Tracen J, who is 35 miles behind us, may have to deal with worse weather; however, out here you can never tell what will happen. It looks as though Scarlett will make it in just fine since they are about 100 miles ahead of us. They were able to leave early last Monday so they got a heard start. They have, however, had worse conditions than we have experienced so far.

Because we thought that we would have a longer passage, we are madly trying to eat the fresh meat and vegetables because we can't take them into New Zealand. I don't think that we can finish everything, but we are certainly making a valiant effort. I am sure that we will all be a few pounds heavier when we get in!

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Friday, October 31, 2008

The 500 Club

November 1, 2008--We are now 500 miles away from Marsden Cove Marina. This marina is approximately 7 km inside the Whangarei Harbour entrance on its southern side. Customs has just opened an office here so that when we arrive, we will be able to check into New Zealand here before going up the river and into Whangarei.

Yesterday was a good day. The day was mostly overcast so the temperature was mild all day long, and the winds continued at around 16 knots with moderate seas. It was early afternoon when we heard the New Zealand Air Force calling Tracen J on the VHF radio. They were verifying Tracen J's position, how many souls on board, and if a pre-arrival form had been submitted. A few minutes later the P3 Orion was circling us. The name of our boat is difficult to see on the transom, so they hailed us by our position. Steve responded to the call and gave them the information they had requested. We really enjoyed hearing the Kiwi accent over the radio. When they were done, they wished us a good day, and Steve wished them one as well. We had heard that they would be out here keeping watch over all the boats making their way to New Zealand for the cyclone season.

Last night we enjoyed chicken stir fry for dinner, which created a real challenge of getting everything cut up since the boat was a bit bouncy. The seas were bigger, but the wind was still between 16 and 19 knots. After dinner I told the guys that because it was Halloween, they had to say, "Trick or Treat." When they did, I produced two chocolate bars for their treats.

At 8 o'clock that evening Steve got on the SSB radio for a radio net with Scarlett O'Hara and Tracen J. Twice a day at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. we check in and give our position and also find out the weather conditions that each boat is experiencing. Scarlett is ahead of us so his information last night was helpful. He said that they were in 30 to 35 knots and that it was very rough. He sounded very tired (just two crew on board). Tracen J is behind us with somewhat similar conditions. They also sounded tired (a crew of two). Steve from sv Elusive, who is a retired airline pilot, has been listening in on our net from Nuku'alofa. He was very helpful with analyzing the weather that was showing up on the weather faxes. Our net has also been joined by sv Iris with John and Janet and additional crew on board. They had spent a night at Minerva Reef to get out of bad weather, so they are now behind us by a few miles. We are using Commander's Weather and Tracen J is using Bob McDavitt for weather routing on this passage. We are not sure how helpful this has been so far. We will have a better idea when we get to New Zealand.

As soon as Steve got off the radio, we went ahead and put in the triple reef so that if we did run into the higher winds, we would be ready. Steve was in his full foul weather gear so that he would stay somewhat dry on the foredeck. It has definitely cooled off, and we are now wearing long pants and long sleeve shirts. The water temperature has dropped to 69 degrees so we are wearing our boots in the cockpit. The water and air temperatures aren't all that cold, but we have become used to the warm tropical weather, so it is cold to us. Steve stayed in the cockpit during my watch from 8 p.m. to midnight because there were some ominous looking clouds up ahead. He tried to sleep but wasn't too successful. At midnight I went below to get some sleep. Gary was scheduled to come on at 4 a.m.; however, at 3 o'clock he got up and told Steve to go below and get some sleep. Gosh it is good to have him on board with us.

This morning the sun was shining and the seas had calmed down. We took a reef out of the sail and then a few hours later took another one out. The high winds never developed for us last night, and for that I am grateful. Unfortunately, the winds have now dropped to the point that we decided to motor for awhile in order to continue making way to our destination. We have only so much fuel, and it has been recommended that boats have two days' worth at the end of the trip so that it is possible to make land before bad weather sets in. Therefore, we will have to watch carefully how much fuel we consume.

Well, that all for now. We are keeping our fingers crossed that we get some wind--but not too much.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tonga to New Zealand

October 30, 2008--I believe the saying is "The best laid plans of mice and men." My plan was to write a blog on Tuesday; however, that didn't work out.

Steve and I worked very hard all day Sunday getting the boat and the meals ready to go. We were pretty tired by Sunday evening, so neither of us had any trouble getting to sleep. We were up pretty early to finish the last few items. Steve took a taxi to the airport at 9:30 figuring that it would take Gary a few minutes to get his bags. I stayed on the boat and kept busy putting all the small things away and doing some last minute cleaning. Gary's plane was delayed by just a bit, but they came back to town and he went with Steve to check us out so that we could leave by one o'clock.

As soon as Gary was on the boat, we stowed his gear, and then he and Steve ran the new Monitor steering lines that Gary had brought down with him. I got our ballots filled out and ready for Grant from sv Wind Dancer to pick up and drop off at the Aquarium Restaurant. Hopefully someone will be leaving for the states in the next few days.

We dropped the mooring ball and were underway at 12:45. The winds were light, but we enjoyed a lovely sail down the channel. When we turned to head out of the island group, the winds were pretty light so we were just creeping along. Once we cleared the last islands, the wind picked up to a nice 15 knots. The seas were very low so we enjoyed a wonderfully comfortable ride. We had lasagne, a salad, and some homemade bread for dinner and then began our watches. I will have the 8 to midnight, Steve will have the midnight to 4 a.m., and Gary will take the 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. Then we start all over again. It is amazing the difference a third person makes. We are on watch for 4 hours and then off watch for 8 hours. That is great compared to 3 on and 3 off because it allows us to get a lot more sleep.

The first night out Gary had just gone up to begin his watch at 4 a.m. when Steve told him that there was a boat up ahead and that is was fairly close. Well, suddenly they realized that the boat was hove to (basically stopped), and we passed within 20 yards of their stern. That was close. Tuesday was another nice day except for the fact that I was still seasick. The guys ate left over lasagne for lunch, and then I made meat loaf with mashed potatoes and green beans for dinner. I, however, had just the mashed potatoes.

I had planned to write the blog the next morning, but when Steve and I got up we both noticed a change in the motion of the boat. He went up to talk to Gary. The winds were pretty light, but the waves were building. It wasn't 5 minutes later that we got hit with 30 knots of wind. We got to work reefing the sails down to the third reef. After Gary was come back in the cockpit, he took off his inflatable life vest and was going to put it on the seat, but it slid onto the floor and into the water. The next thing we knew it inflated--they really do work. It was pretty rough so the guys just had a hard boiled egg, and I ate some mashed potatoes. I was still not feeling well and actually got sick right after breakfast. Then I ended up sleeping on the settee for several hours trying to get over it.

Steve had trouble getting the sail tied down in the third reef, which we have now decided was because we went from the first reef directly to the third reef, and that left a lot of sail to be tied down. We made due with a bag in the sail for several hours. The seas were large and confused, which made for a very uncomfortable ride. Steve and I finally went forward and worked together to get everything tied down correctly. It was still blowing 30 knots so we were absolutely soaked when we returned to the cockpit.

Everything down below was getting wet and salty. Of course, we developed our usual leaks in the port lights. We were shipping so much water on the boat that it was coming down the heater pipe. We were hit several times by waves breaking over the back of the cockpit. Luckily, we were all sitting further forward, but that still didn't keep us from getting hit with water several times. Steve had still not gotten much sleep and was pretty tired. The motion of the boat make it hard to get around, and it tires you out after awhile. Steve talked with Scarlette O'Hara (about 50 miles ahead of us) and Tracen J (a few miles west of us) and found out that they were experiencing the same weather.

We got through the evening watches and woke up this morning to sunshine, lighter winds, and calmer seas. We got to work cleaning up the boat, wiping down the floors, and rinsing and hanging up our salted clothes and towels. Steve made corned beef hash and eggs for breakfast, which I did eat. The winds have backed down to around 16 knots and the seas have stayed relatively calm. I think that we all feel much better today. The forecast for the next few days is for much of the same, which is good. We have made good time. Yesterday we sailed 151 miles with the sails triple reefed and sailing west instead of southwest for a short period of time. We had to do that because the winds suddenly came from the south, and we didn't want to sail into the wind.

For now we are quite comfortable. I will go make some corned beef and cabbage for dinner. We may have some squalls tonight, but the forecast indicates nothing too bad. We are very glad to have Gary here on this leg as it has really made is much easier for the two of us.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

October 27, 2008--I just posted a blog yesterday; however, I wanted to try to load just a few pictures before we leave.
At the right is the Tuk-Tuk.

This is the beach on Euakafa Island

Snorkeling in the Coral Gardens with "Nemo"

Off to New Zealand

October 26, 2008--We have been watching the weather very closely for the past few days, and we have also been receiving weather reports from several of the weather routers that are available. They pretty much agree that tomorrow is a very good time to leave. We are supposed to have light to moderate winds and seas for the first two days. Then the winds will pick up a bit, which is good since we need to make good time in order to avoid the next round of bad weather. Hopefully, the trip will take no more than 10 days.

This will be the second longest passage that we will have made since leaving Mexico but having Gary with us will make it so much easier and less tiring. As soon as Gary comes in at 9:30 a.m., we will check out of Tonga and be on our way. Tracen J and Scarlette O'Hara will leave a couple of hours ahead of us, but we will all be in radio contact during the trip so give our weather conditions. Since we will be at the back of the pack, we will have a good idea of what to expect.

I have been baking and cooking all day long so that we have some meals ready to go if the passage gets rough at any point. I baked bread, banana bread, and Snickerdoodles (one can never have enough Snickerdoodles around). I also made and froze spaghetti sauce and meatloaf. We ordered lasagne from a cafe here, and that will give us three additional frozen meals. While I was in the cafe I just happened to notice that they had cinnamon rolls and poppy seed muffins so I ordered some of those as well. Whatever happens, I don't think that we will go hungry.

Steve has been working for the past four days to insure that the rigging and the systems are ready for the passage, and we had all of our laundry done. Steve and I are definitely ready to get going, but at the same time, we can't believe that it is time to leave. We are also anxious to see what New Zealand is like. The exchange rate has improved so we will be able to get more for our money when we are there, and that is really good since we have our usual list of projects for the boat yard.

As usual we will be posting our position as we move along. I also plan to post blogs at least every two or three days. I think that it might be fun to have Gary add to the blogs this time.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Shake and Bake

October 24, 2008--We have been very busy the past few days working on our chore list, and the boat is looking pretty good.

The "shake" part of my subject is that two nights ago at 2 o'clock in the morning, Steve and I both woke up when we felt an earthquake. My first thought was that we were dragging the anchor because of the sound, but then I remembered that we were on a mooring ball. Steve said, "What was that?" We both decided that it felt like an earthquake. We found out later that the week before, Tonga had experienced a 7.1 earthquake, but we didn't hear about it until after our experience. We assume that it was an aftershock. Anyway, we both had trouble getting back to sleep after that.

The "bake" part of my subject is that I have been baking and cooking things for the crossing to New Zealand. I plan to do quite a bit more baking on Sunday so that everything will be as fresh as possible for the crossing. There is no flour in Neiafu so I will be making my own bread, which we have decided is as good or better than the store bought. I also plan to bake some breakfasts for the first few days, which usually tend to be a bit difficult. I have made and frozen some spaghetti sauce, and we were able to buy the meat that we needed a few days ago. It is all now frozen and ready to go.

The weather has been interesting. One of the weather routers here said that there would be a good window for the 24th, but then saw that the low around New Zealand had deepened so he told the boats that had left port to return to port and wait for the next window. That would be a bummer! Right now the weather looks pretty good for us to depart Tonga on Tuesday, October 28. We will keep monitoring the weather until Gary gets here, and then we can make a decision. Scarlette O'Hara and Tracen J plan to leave at the same time, so we will hold a radio net twice a day to keep in touch and discuss the weather information and our current conditions. We know of other boats that plan to leave Nuku'alofa on Tuesday, so they may be one day ahead of us, which means that they will be a good source of information for us.

That's all for now. I plan to post another blog on Sunday, and, hopefully, get some pictures posted as well.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Snorkeling in the Coral Gardens

October 20, 2008--Well, it is now one week until Gary arrives in Neiafu. We are anchored back in Vaimalo where we stayed when we arrived in Vava'u. We left the Coral Gardens anchorage yesterday and stopped here so that Steve could clean the bottom of the boat in calm water. Scarlette O'Hara and Argonaut joined us here.

We moved to the Coral Gardens last Thursday and found several boats in the anchorage. The first night we just stayed on the boat, but the next day we joined Island Time and Little Wings for a snorkel of the reef between Vaka'eitu and Nua Papu Islands known as "The Coral Gardens." We took our dinghies to shore about two hours before low tide and then walked around the point of Vaka'eitu. The surf comes in on the west side of the reef, which is where you have to enter the water, so you have to time your entry with the waves. There was a "v" cut in the coral that gave us a good place to enter, so we put on our masks and fins and waited. While we were waiting the waves were coming up and over the reef where we were standing, but they were only about ankle deep. When we saw a lull in the wave pattern, I went into the water and swam quickly away from the reef. Steve then followed me, and we began to swim parallel to the reef.

The coral at this reef was really beautiful. There were so many colors and types of coral and so much of it. The fish were also plentiful. Steve had our camera and took some very nice pictures. In one of them he caught two fish that looked like "Nemo" and were floating beside each other right above a large piece of coral. We also saw a spotted eel, and we learned later that it had been fighting with another eel. We spent about an hour in the water swimming north and then south along the reef. It was the best snorkeling that we have had.

Now we just had to get out of the water. This proved to be a bit harder. We swam back to the "v" in the coral and again watched the wave sequence. Steve was waiting a little to the left so when a swell came in, we both swam to the shelf. I was just about there when the water flowed back out. I was close enough that I could grab onto the coral with my hands--I had worn my dive gloves. This was no problem; however, now I was close to the coral when the next wave pushed me into it again. I was able to climb out and quickly sit down. Steve had worn his full Lycra suit, and I had on a full dive suit, which saved us from cutting ourselves on the coral. We both were struggling to get our fins off while trying to keep our balance and not get drug all over the coral. We then walked back to the shore to get our sunglasses and hats and then wait for the other couples to join us.

A cruiser named Hubert made it onto the shelf, but then he was getting washed over the coral, so Steve went to help him while I went to help Ron and Mary Ellen and Craig and Kay if they needed it. Hubert was okay so Steve joined me. Craig came in first with no real problems. Kay came in next with her feet in front of her, and when the wave picked her up, Steve grabbed her hand, and she gracefully stepped up onto the reef. She had left her fins with Ron, which helped a lot. Ron then threw us all their fins, and he and Mary Ellen also got out without a problem. Unfortunately, Kay had scraped her foot pretty badly when she had entered the water so it was bleeding. She joked that she had been watching for sharks the whole time she was in the water. We all agreed to give Kay the award for the best exit. We returned to our boats a little tired but glad that we had snorkeled the reef. It was well worth the effort.

That morning, Steve and I had gone around to all the boats and set up a dinghy raft-up for that evening, so at five o'clock we went over to Scarlette. We decided to stay farther out because of bugs, and it was too deep to anchor so we tied to a line that they had put in the water behind their boat. We had seven boats show up so we had a nice little floating "Happy Hour." Everyone brought something to eat and drink. The food was passed around, and we enjoyed a beautiful sunset. Two of the boats were Swiss, and they had never done this before, but for us it brought back lovely memories of Mexico.

Saturday we took a short hike on Vaka'eitu Island. There was an abandoned "Eco Resort" but a path still existed that allowed us to walk to the ridge and get a good view of the other islands in the area. It was an easy hike, but it still felt good to get some exercise. When we returned to the boat, I baked bread and made chili for dinner that night. John and Renee came over for dinner and afterwards we played Baja Rummy.

We will be in Neiafu later today and will be there until Gary gets in on Monday. I need to have some laundry done and buy some more provisions for our crossing. There are also the usual cleaning and maintenance items to get done. Neither of us can believe that we are preparing to sail to New Zealand. The time has passed quickly.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Once in a Lifetiime Event

October 16, 2008--On Monday morning we went with Larry in his "Tuk-Tuk" into Neiafu. This vehicle is a motorcycle-like vehicle with a six-passenger body attached to it. It was loaded with seven people total, so we had a bit of trouble going up the hills on the way into town. Once there we all split up to take care of our different errands.

Steve went straight to Immigration to straighten out a problem with Gary's flying into Tonga. We heard that the airlines would not let a passenger board if he or she did not have a return ticket out of Tonga. Gary will check out of the country with us on our boat, but for some reason, that is not good enough. Steve was able to get a letter from Customs here certifying the fact that he would be leaving on our sailboat. Hopefully, that will take care of the matter. We can't believe that he will be here in just 10 days.

While Steve was working on that, Renee and I went to the Bounty Bar so have our hair cut. We found Billy, who was the one cutting hair, eating his lunch. We decided to run a few errands until he was finished. We went to the market and to a few stores to buy some provisions and then returned. Steve from sv Hannah had slipped in before us so we decided to just sit and have a soda. I was next in line, so when Steve was finished, I went outside. The chair for me to sit in was placed at the top of the stairs leading down to the restrooms, but with a lovely view of the bay. Billy, who was very British, put a cape around my neck and asked me what I wanted. After I finished describing the cut, he began to work. I found out that he had been with a circus in England for some 14 years, and that is where he learned to cut hair. He also worked in hair salons in that country for awhile. He was young with spiked hair, and he was quite entertaining. He and his wife moved here six months ago and have leased an island with another couple. They are living in a tent right now but plan to move into a bigger tent in a few days. I have to say that it was the most interesting hair appointment I have ever had, and just in case you are wondering, the haircut was just fine. It cost me $30 pa'angas or about $16 USD. How many people can say that they have had their hair cut by a former circus member from England in a bar in Tonga.

We have been back here in Tapana since Sunday. The weather is still mixed. We had a couple of partly sunny days, but today we had mainly rain. We have slowly been taking care of small items that need to be done before we leave Tonga. We are also in the process of checking all sails, rigging, and systems aboard. We have also been doing an amazing amount of reading.

We plan to leave today so that we can spend some time at some other anchorages before we return to Neiafu next Wednesday.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008

More Exciting Times at Kenutu

October 12, 2008--On Thursday, we joined Craig and Kay from sv Little Wings and John and Renee from sv Scarlett on a snorkel of the reef just east of Tapana. We had snorkeled there before, but we went at low tide, and it wasn't very good, so we decided to try it again at high tide. Steve had just repaired our dinghy--again--so Scarlette and Little Wings gave us rides out to the reef. It was a nice day and the visibility was good. Unfortunately, the coral was just not that pretty. There were, however, numerous fish that were really nice, plenty of starfish, and a few shells that caught our interest. After just a short while, Kay got a jelly fish in her pony tail, which caused it to sting her on her back as she moved her head back and forth. She was experiencing some discomfort, so we all called it a day and returned to the boats.

Around 4 o'clock we went over to Little Wings to see their boat, which is a Bristol Channel Cutter. It is a small but lovely boat. They had bent their mast when they were knocked down on a rough passage between Bora-Bora and Suvarov but had been able to repair it in Pago Pago. Then at 5:30 we joined the owners of the mooring field, Larry and Sheri for dinner aboard sv Scarlette O'Hara. Renee fixed jerk chicken, wild rice, and bread. I made a salad. Dessert was a lovely apple pie that Renee had baked, and it was delicious.

On Friday morning, we left Tapana to go back to Kenutu Island where we had such a lovely experience dragging through the anchorage. The weather was calm and sunny, so we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon. That night it rained heavily, and early in the morning Steve dammed up our side deck in order to catch rain water. We also filled three buckets with rain water, which made it possible to do some laundry later that morning. About mid-morning we took the dinghy to the northern most island of the three and just motored along the shore. We got some nice videos of the waves hitting the shoal between that island and Kenutu, including a small blowhole. We ate lunch and then went back to Lolo Island to visit the blow hole there one last time. We had a chance to walk a bit farther this time and found a beautiful view of the windward side of Lolo with the waves crashing along the cliffs.

I was just about to begin dinner that night when a call for help came over the VHF radio. The catamaran that had been anchored with us had left about 30 minutes earlier and must have cut the corner too soon because they ended up hitting the reef and bending one of their two rudders. It was bent in a position that caused them to go in circles, and they were slowly drifting down on another reef. We figured out that he was about 1 1/2 miles from us so we quickly pulled our anchor and headed out to give them a tow. It was about 5:30 and it would be dark in an hour. Luckily we had our GPS track recorded from when we came into the anchorage so we just followed it back out through the reef to where they were. The sun was too low to see the coral heads so it would have been much more nerve racking without the track. Before we had arrived, they were able to disengage that damaged rudder and seemed to be able to steer the boat. We were able to get a line from them, and we began pulling them away from the reef. Once we had them clear of the reef, they chose to continue on back to Tapana, and we returned to the anchorage at Kenutu by again following our recorded track. We were rushing to get back because it was now getting dark, but we were able to get anchored and settled in before the sun had set. It is always exciting for us here at Kenutu, but we really do like this beautiful and remote anchorage.

This morning we went ashore with the couple from sv Que Barbara. We hiked over to the windward side and did some exploring. When we returned to the boat, the winds had increased so we decided to go back to Tapana for a couple of nights. We needed some fresh vegetables from Neiafu anyway. We pulled the anchor around 11 o'clock and made our way through the reef channels back to Tapana. We spent the afternoon checking the tri-sail for our passage, and I baked bread. We enjoyed a cool swim around 4 o'clock followed by showers. It looks like we may get some rain again tonight, which will help to wash off the salt spray from our trip today.

Tomorrow we will make a trip into Neiafu. Larry is giving us a ride in his "tuk-tuk" which is an open-air vehicle that seats six people and was painted by Sheri to match their floating house. John and Renee from Scarlette will go along with us to share the expense for gas.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Still in Vava'u

October 9, 2008--I realize that it has been quite a few days since our last blog entry; however, we have had a change of plans, and I wanted to be sure that everything was worked out before I wrote about it in the blog. You know sailors--their plans are written in the sand at low tide.

On Saturday we left Neiafu and sailed out of the harbor headed south for Port Maurelle. This anchorage would provide good protection for the southeast winds that were forecast. Port Maurelle was another very nice anchorage; however, the winds and rain kept us on the boat. Scarlette O'Hara was anchored there when we arrived so we talked to them about leaving for Ha'apai the next morning. They were leaving then as well, so we decided to go together. Renee and John invited us to dinner on Sunday night, and we had delicious spaghetti, coleslaw, and garlic bread with cake for dessert. We left around 8 o'clock because we planned to get up at 4:30 the next morning.

The forecast on Monday was for winds around 20 knots and seas up to 16 feet. These conditions were not good, but we all felt that we needed to get going because there were quite a few boats planning to head to Ha'apai as well. We left at 5:30 and worked our way out into the main channel in these islands. We then put up triple-reefed sails and were making good time. About 30 minutes later, we changed our point of sail in order to go around a shallow area and found ourselves beating into the wind and waves--not a good time. We then realized that this would be our same heading once we cleared the island group, which meant a very uncomfortable trip to the Ha'apai. We called Scarlette, who was behind us, on the radio and told them we did not want to continue, and they agreed. We decided to head for the "Coral Gardens" anchorage and try again tomorrow.

After getting anchored and eating some breakfast, Steve and I discussed our options. The Ha'apai group is another remote area where you have a more traditional Tonga lifestyle with more beautiful anchorages. The problem is that the group is a chain of small islands and reefs. The anchorages that are available are small and can accommodate only a few boats, plus there are very few anchorages with north or west protection from wind. We knew of six boats who were a day behind us, and those were only boats that we knew personally. That meant that there could be quite a few boats vying for anchoring space, especially in bad weather. The weather here has been unsettled since we got here, and it is certainly possible that it will continue.

After all our discussion we decided to stay in the Vava'u group until we leave for New Zealand. This area is so beautiful, and we hope that the weather will improve so that we can do more snorkeling and exploring. Leaving from here also has the advantage of giving us a better course line to New Zealand because it brings us close enough to Minerva Reef that if bad weather does hit, we can stay there until it passes. It is also much easier to clear out of Tonga from here rather than in Nuku'alofa in the southern group. We called Scarlette to tell them our decision, and they told us that they had just made the same decision themselves. We all thought that was pretty amazing. Anyway, we had them over for dinner that night and had a wonderful and relaxing evening.

On Tuesday, we headed back to Tapana. We had strong winds right on our nose and the seas were a bit choppy so it was a wet ride. It started raining just about the time that we were pulling into the anchorage, but Larry was waiting for us at the mooring ball to get us hooked up. We waited for the rain to stop before the four of us took our dinghies ashore to get a taxi into Neiafu. Of course, it started to rain again while we were in the dinghies so we were all soaked when we arrived at the beach but luckily the taxi arrived after just a few minutes.

We had to go back to Neiafu to check back into the Vava'u group. The other problem was that Gary, our crew member who was supposed to join us in Nuku'alofa, now needed to fly up to Vava'u. We took care of all the stops and paperwork to check back in and then spoke with Chathams Pacific to see about flights up from Nuku'alofa. Getting a flight would not be a major problem, so we emailed Gary and told him the plan. He told us that is was not a problem so yesterday, Steve went in and booked a flight for him.

Today the sun is out and it is a beautiful morning. We plan to stay here for a few days to relax and get started on a few things that have to be checked or repaired before we leave. We now have plenty of time to deal with the preparation for the trip south, and that will make our lives easier.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

MoreWet Weather

October 4, 2008--We will leave Neiafu this morning to find an anchorage to the south where we can ride out the winds until Monday morning. The weather was again rather blustery these past 3 days, so we decided to just stay on the mooring ball here at Neiafu. Thursday we had heavy rain and winds. We cleared out for Ha'apai, bought provisions, dropped off the garbage, and enjoyed some lunches out. The skies are sunny right now so we are getting the sail covers off and the boat ready to go.

The forecast for Monday calls for winds around 15 to 20 knots from the east/southeast, which is very good for our next leg. The seas will be a bit big and close together, but we decided not to wait until Tuesday when the winds will die down, giving us a slower passage. The leg is 60 miles so we should be able to make it in one day. It is hard to believe that we will be leaving for New Zealand within a month. The time has just flown by.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What a difference a day makes!

October 1, 2008--On Monday morning after the thunderstorm, we woke up to beautiful sunshine and calm seas. We immediately went about hanging out all our wet clothes, towels, etc., from the night before. After we had some breakfast we got in our dinghy and went around to the other four boats--Aries Tor, Mo Mo, Elios, and Upps--to thank them for their help and support during the night.

Next we headed for the beach on Kenutu Island where we found a trail (if you could call it that) leading over the island to the windward side. From the cliff we had a spectacular view looking down to the shore where the waves would come crashing up on the rocks. While we were there we talked to Rob and Kate from sv Aries Tor, and they told us about a blow hole on Lolo Island immediately to the south so we walked back to our dinghy and headed over to Lolo Island. Since we were at low tide, we saw a very small piece of beach where we landed the dinghy. We could clearly hear the blow hole above us, so we carefully climbed up the coral until we reached the top. From there we could look down about 10 feet into the large blow hole and wait for the waves to come rolling in. You could hear the wave enter the hole at the bottom, then there would be a loud whooshing sound, and then the water would come shooting up through the coral opening some 20 feet or so. It was really amazing to listen to and watch the power of the ocean. We were very glad that we came to see it.

We swam in the afternoon to cool off and were getting ready for dinner when Rob and Kate from Aries Tor called on the radio to invite all the boats--there were now eight of them--to a bonfire on the beach and then a climb to the windward side at 7 o'clock. We ate dinner, dressed in long pants and long sleeves in order to keep the mosquitos off, and headed back to Kenutu Island. Kate met us to say that the beach was too "buggy" so we should head to the other side. When we arrived, we found Rob tending a lovely fire in a fire pit. We visited with him for awhile until the crews from several other boats arrived. There were eight adults and six kids ranging from 3 to 15. Unfortunately, there were no marshmallows or hot dogs to roast, but we all had a very good time that night.

The next morning we prepared the boat to leave and then headed out for Avalau Island. It was sunny and the wind and seas were calm so we had no problems making our way back through the channels and into the open water. It took us about two hours to reach Avalau, and when we arrived, we found a lovely island with a beautiful sandy beach and only one other boat. Once we got our anchor down, we went ashore to look around. After we had pulled the dinghy up on the beach, we noticed a group of goats lying in the shade at the top of the beach. I walked a little closer to get a picture, and then Steve and I walked along the beach and out of sight of the goats. Well, about 5 minutes later a group of six boys, whom we had seen swimming ashore, came running up the beach yelling that the goat was chasing them. We laughed as they stopped to tell us all about the goat. We continued on looking for shells and enjoying the beautiful surroundings. When we headed back to the dinghy, Steve took along a large stick just in case the goat was still around. He wasn't, but we did notice that our dinghy had been moved so we figured that the kids had moved it. We headed back out to our boat but stopped to say hello to sv Iris with John and Janet on board. They laughed as they told us that the goat had been butting our dinghy to make it move out of his territory. I guess he finally gave up and went back to rest up in the shade.

Avalau was a beautiful anchorage, but we were running out of time so we knew that we needed to leave for another anchorage on Wednesday. Wednesday morning we listened to the weather and then checked the weather reports that we receive every day. We aren't sure exactly when we will leave for the Ha'apai group so we decided to go back into Neiafu to check out of the Vava'u group. Probably on Monday we will head about 15 miles to the southeast to Maninita Island. This island is the farthest south and east in the Vava'u group so that will leave us just 55 miles to reach the Ha'apai group of islands, and that we can do in one day thus avoiding an overnight sail. It will be safer for us to sail during the day so that we can clearly see any hazards along the route.

We arrived in Neiafu around 11 o'clock and began the crazy job of trying to find an open mooring ball. The anchorage areas here are not good at all. We happened upon a boat leaving a mooring, so we grabbed it. We got our bags ready to go ashore to take care of checking out and buying some provisions. The checkout procedure was more difficult than we expected. We had to go to Immigration, the Port Captain, and the Customs, and they, of course, are located all over town. We did pick up some vegetables so Steve dropped me at the boat to put things away and write this blog while he went back into town to finish up.

We have really enjoyed our time in Tonga but definitely wish that we had had a lot more time to enjoy the area. We just regret that the weather has been so poor, which kept us from really enjoying all the beautiful anchorages in this group of islands.

I wanted to include a few additional pictures while I am able to upload them.
On our way to Niuatoputapu. A 44-inch dorado and a full rainbow.

The following are pictures of our time in Niuatoputapu. From left to right--catching the sailfish, view from the volcano, kava ceremony, anchored in Niuatoputapu harbor, and our group at the top of the volcano.

Pictures from Vava'u. Below are pictures of the Tongan feast. Sorry the food is a bit out of focus, and the picture of the dancers is a bit dark.

Snorkeling on the reef

The ARK at Tapana, Steve's birthday, the carved mask.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Just when we were getting comfortable

September 30, 2008--I will begin this blog by picking up where I left off, but the best part is later on.

On Saturday night, we went ashore to attend a Tongan Feast and dance with about 60 other visitors. There were locals selling jewelry, baskets, tapas, and carvings. A man named Maka was there with carved masks as well as carved whales and other marine life. We had looked at a 3-face wood carving that he had in Neiafu but decided to wait and look around. He still had the carving that night, so Steve bought it. It is about 42 inches tall and carved out of palm wood and is quite heavy but a very nice piece. The dancing was done by one family with 11 children. The two boys performed some war dances while the girls performed traditional Tongan dances. The dancing style is again different from Polynesia or the Cooks or Samoa so it was interesting to watch. We then sat down at the table to sample all the different kinds of food. I cannot list them all and they were all fixed in very different ways, but usually the recipe included coconut milk. There was chicken, fish, pork, octopus, clams, crab, taro, breadfruit, banana bread, bananas, watermelon, and papaya. There were also small pieces of cooked dough made out of sugar, flour, and water and covered in a papaya sauce. Most of the dishes were served in half piece of bamboo or wrapped in banana leaves, and it was all very good.

On Sunday, we left the anchorage and made our way to an anchorage at the farthest eastern point in this group. We had to make our way through several channels in order to stay in deeper water; however, we had detailed way points to follow, so it was fairly easy. As we were pulling into the anchorage area, we did bump the ground, but we backed off immediately and continued on. We found a nice spot to anchor in 20 feet of water and got settled in. Steve dove on the anchor and found that it was completely buried, and he also checked the keel and found only clumps of sand stuck to it. As usual we got the boat put away, relaxed for awhile, and then we took the dinghy out to explore.

There are three islands in a line that are very close to one another. We went to the north end of Kenutu Island (the middle island) and were able to leave the dinghy and walk in low tide around the corner. There is a shoal or shallow area between Kenutu and Umuna islands where the ocean waves come through. The tide was coming in so there were spectacular waves hitting the sides of both islands and then coming through the shoal. Steve was able to get some nice photos of waves and spray without getting too wet.

The forecast that day was for some thunderstorms with 15 knots of wind. The guide book said that the holding was very good at this anchorage, and since Steve had checked the anchor and found it fully buried, we were confident that we were secure. The wind had been from the north, which is what was forecast. We enjoyed a very nice tuna dinner with rice and a tomato salad and were reading for awhile. We noticed lightening through our port lights, but the winds were steady. I had just stacked up the dishes to wash them when suddenly the boat was hit by a gust of wind and healed over some 30 degrees. It was amazing! Our GPS was indicating that we were dragging our anchor so we went into the cockpit to see what was happening. The GPS now said that we had drug some 500 feet, and now the four other boats in the anchorage were on the radio checking to see which of us was dragging. Unluckily, it was us.

It turned out that the wind had very suddenly shifted from north to south. With the 180-degree wind change and the high velocity--at 40+ knots--as the boat shifted position, it was able to gain enough speed that it pulled the anchor out of the bottom. At first we had a very difficult time getting our bearings. Using radar, the compass, and our GPS chart plotter, as well as the lights from the other four boats, we were able to get a fix on our position. Using our engine we motored forward trying to reduce the stress on the anchor chain. Then we continued to motor for over an hour and a half in order to hold a position, unsure if the anchor had reset. During that time, we had complete chaos on the boat. I found out that Corelle dishes do not only break but shatter when they hit the floor leaving very tiny shards to step on. The front of our sail cover was opened up. The rain was coming through the zippers on our dodger and the rain overwhelmed the canvas so that it was dripping into the cockpit from overhead. We had hoisted our dinghy to the side of the boat for the evening after, luckily, taking the engine off. Since we were yawing back and forth, when the wind caught our port side, it blew the dinghy up against the shrouds on that side.

I finally went forward to take down the canvas shade over the forward and center hatches, close up the sail cover, and collect four of my port light screens. I lost another one but couldn't believe that any were still on deck. Also, we were finally able to tie the dinghy up against the shrouds. Steve was also able to get the snubber off so that he could let out more chain. We were both soaked even with our four-weather jackets on. Steve had been out in the rain the most and was pretty wet and cold, so I made some hot chocolate--I hadn't used it in ages--and he changed into some dry clothes.

Our position was now stable so we just waited for the wind to die down a bit. We were focused on our depth sounder which was indicating that we were had 1.3 to 3.1 feet below our keel--a bit shallow for comfort. We did check the depth with our old-fashioned lead line and confirmed that we were in about 7 feet of water (we draw 6 feet) with LOW tide coming up around midnight. Around 10 o'clock the winds were down to a steady 16 knots so we were finally able pull the anchor and reposition ourselves. That was fine except that we again ended up on 8 feet of water. We pulled the anchor one more time and finally found a good position with good holding in 20 feet of water. It was now 10:30 at night.

We let the other boats know that we had reset our anchor and would be watching it. They had all been very helpful and supportive during the whole event. One other boat here did bump the bottom, and most of them had also turned on their engines to be prepared. Steve and I put on a 50-foot anchor drag alarm and went below. Our bed was damp from the rain, so we just lay down on the settees. Steve was so tired that he fell asleep almost immediately. I stayed awake as long as I could--probably until midnight.

When we woke up on Monday morning, the sun was shining and we were bobbing like a cork in very calm water. What a difference a day makes. One boat here said that they had seen 53 knots on their wind meter. We learned that in the main harbor two small docks had been sunk along with a 25-foot power catamaran with twin outboards. Boats in just about every anchorage had been hit, but it seems that everyone came out unscathed. Our only damage was to the hull, which we had painted last summer, when the dinghy gouged the paint and scratched up the wood caprail. That damage was minor compared to what could have happened.

We are recovered now and have discussed what we could have done differently and what we should do in the future. It was a good learning experience, but one that we both would rather have skipped. Right now we looked forward to a beautiful, sunny day.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Snorkeling at Tapana

September 26, 2008--We have now spent 10 days in this one anchorage because the weather has not been cooperative at all. It has been overcast and raining since we arrived on the 19th. The good news is that the scenery is beautiful even if it is overcast and raining.

Since I wrote the last blog, we have basically been aboard the boat reading and taking care of small chores. We did have a treat last Tuesday when we took a taxi back up to Neiafu to watch Monday Night Football at 1:30 in the afternoon on Tuesday. The Chargers played the Jets, but, unfortunately, it was not a very exciting game. Tonga Bob's had a large TV, but the screen was pretty dark (it is an old TV) so we couldn't always see exactly what was happening.

Thursday night we had seven cruisers aboard for drinks and appetizers. David and Linda from sv Toketie, Brian and Cathy from sv Tarin, Ann and Barry from sv Cat's Paw IV, and Ernst from sv Accord all found space in our cockpit. We all laughed that the stern of our boat had sunk a good foot or two with all the weight at the back of the boat. It was a fun evening, and we had a chance to get better acquainted with the couples on Toketie and Tarin.

Yesterday the sun finally came out enough that we decided to go snorkeling. Ann and Barry decided to go along, so we took our dinghies out around the point and headed for a small island with a good-sized reef at it's south end. There were some whitecaps so we had a wet ride out there. Unfortunately the tide was low, so we had to go out past the reef to get into deeper water. That meant that we were on the windward side of the reef so the waves were splashing over us, and we had to keep swimming forward so as not to get pushed onto the reef. We saw a lot of coral, but there were not too many fish. The fish that we did see were beautiful.

We will stay here for one more day so that tonight we can attend a Tongan Feast on the beach.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Soaked in Vava'u

September 23, 2008--We are still in Tapana enjoying the beautiful scenery. Unfortunately, it has rained every day since we arrived here on Friday. We were lucky enough to pick up a mooring ball, which can be more secure. We wanted to be on a mooring ball because the original forecast for this past weekend was winds from 25-30 knots clocking around from north to west to southeast. There are very few anchorages that give protection from all those directions. Luckily, the winds were not as high as predicted, and we were very comfortable at this location.

Saturday afternoon it rained so much that we dammed up the side deck and let the rain water flow into the deck fill for the water tanks. We were able to top off the tanks easily, and then we began filling our three large buckets so that I would have water for laundry. I had just picked up my laundry on Friday but found that the clothes were not cleaned very well and smelled dusty--probably from being hung outdoors so I needed to re-wash them.

On Saturday evening we went over to sv Scarlett O'Hara for dinner and to celebrate Steve's birthday. Renee cooked a pork roast with scalloped potatoes, and I added coleslaw. After dinner we lit candles on the chocolate cake that I baked, and we all sang "Happy Birthday" to Steve. We had a fun evening catching up on their exploits for the last two months. John and Renee took a different track when we all left Bora-Bora. They headed to Suvarov while we headed to Penrhyn.

Most of Sunday was spent on the boat. In the morning we did dinghy over to the "ARK" to pay for our mooring ball. Larry and Sheri sailed here on a Phillip Rhodes designed double-ender in 1983. They are now here permanently and live on a home-built, floating ark or houseboat that is about 10 by 20 feet. Half of the ark is living quarters and the other half is set up to display Sheri's paintings of Tongan life and marine life. Steve and I purchased two reproductions that were lovely. The outside of the ark is painted with a sea scape and marine life, and it is quite unique. They have about ten mooring balls in this anchorage that they rent for $10 pa'angas a day or about $5 US. I was able to wash most of the clothes and linens and get them hung out to dry before the rain started again.

Monday we relaxed and read. I did my last load of laundry in the morning. The day looked promising; however, it was overcast with small showers all day long. The air temperature has been around 75 degrees and the water temperature is down to 77 degrees. The days and nights are much cooler than Samoa, and when we asked Larry if this was normal for September, he said that it was not. We have actually seen quite a few cruisers with fleece jackets on lately.

We had planned to leave today but may stay a day or two longer depending on the weather. We don't have a lot of time here before we head south again, so we hope to have nicer weather in which to enjoy some of the lovely anchorages in the area. We will keep our fingers crossed. Closing on a "good news" note, we did get our dinghy key back. Sia on Niuatoputapu found our key in their van and asked another cruiser to bring it to us.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga

September 19, 2008--We have spent the past three days in the main town of Neiafu, which is the major port in the Vava'u group of islands. We left our beautiful, secluded anchorage on Tuesday morning and headed the two miles to the Neiaful harbor. There are four companies there that maintain mooring balls--Moorings Charters, Aquarium Restaurant, Beluga Dive, and Sailing Safaris. The harbor was very full of cruising boats, and it didn't look as though we would be able to find a mooring. As a last resort I called the Moorings. We had been told that they did not rent out their moorings; however, when I called, they did have one open for us to use. It was right in front of the dinghy dock and Aquarium Restaurant where all the cruisers tend to hang out.

We put the boat in order and then headed in to pay for the mooring. After that we headed into town to find Customs so that we could check in. There were restaurants all along the main street as well as banks, gift shops, and grocery stores. We located Customs and were checked in quickly and efficiently. We wanted to have a look in the market, but the cruise ship was in port and the town was packed with people, so we decided that we would shop tomorrow, and we headed back to the boat. That evening we joined Island Time, Elusive, and Barraka for dinner at the Compass Rose, and we really enjoyed spending time with these cruisers since it had been a long time since we had last seen them.

On Wednesday we ate breakfast at the Aquarium Restaurant, and then we headed back into town to do some shopping. We went to the local market where the locals sell vegetables and also display their wood carvings, baskets, jewelry, etc. I bought a woven basket that I really like, but we didn't see anything else that struck our fancies. Next we scheduled a Kart Safari for the next morning. Steve seemed to have a small relapse with his stomach problems, so we returned to the boat and took it easy for the rest of the day.

Thursday morning we went ashore where we dropped off the garbage and laundry and then went to the orientation for the Karts. The Karts are fancy, all-terrain, and well-used go carts. We laughed because our harasses would not tighten down enough to do us any good. We were definitely living dangerously. We left Neiafu for a three-hour tour of the east and north shores of Vava'u. We were on a paved road for the first part, but then we turned off on to dirt roads through lush jungle. It was a noisy and bone-jarring ride. We stopped at the east shore on a cliff overlooking the ocean, and it was a spectacular view so we took a lot of pictures. There were also bats flying around the point, and several came by to check out the group. We continued through the brush to the north shore to another lookout from the cliffs. Our next stop was a lovely stretch of beach where we could walk for awhile. The guide told us that the deserted buildings we saw on the beach were a resort that had been open for two days when it was hit by a cyclone (or hurricane) and wiped out--what a bummer. The beach was lovely, but we didn't have enough time to swim. Our last stop was another point on the north shore that have us a spectacular view of several bays to the east and to the west. That was supposed to be the end of the tour; however, our guide said that he could take us to a plantation if we wanted to go. We said that we would, so we drove about two miles and stopped at a plot of land where he pointed out taro, tapioca, pineapple, bananas, kava, and vanilla growing. We all then got back into the karts and headed back to Neiafu. I loved driving by homes where pigs, horses, or cows were grazing in the front yards. We arrived back just in time for lunch at the Aquarium Restaurant. All-in-all the tour was fun, and we enjoyed it.

That evening Steve and I went out to dinner at the Dancing Rooster Restaurant for his birthday. It is owned by a Swiss chef, and we had heard that it was very good plus we knew that they had lobster, which is just what we wanted. I ordered the lobster stir-fry, and Steve ordered the Surf and Turf--lobster and steak. When they brought us the food, Steve had his turf but not his surf, so they took his plate, and Steve waited for 20 minutes for them to bring it back. My meal was very good; however, Steve's lobster was very soft--almost mushy. Luckily, his steak was excellent.

This morning we picked up the laundry, stopped by a few boats to drop off books and chat for a minute, and then we got the boat ready to leave. The wind was blowing a nice 15 knots, so when we were clear of the mooring ball and got our sails up, we were treated to a lovely sail at about six knots. We were able to sail almost all of the 11 miles to the anchorage at Tapana where we were able to pick up another mooring ball. There is a small group of boats here--about six and the scenery is lovely. It is much better than the crowded bay at Neiafu. Scarlett O'Hara is here, and we haven't seen John and Renee since Bora-Bora, so we hope to have them to dinner tomorrow night for a second celebration of Steve's birthday.

Before we leave Vava'u around the end of the month, I hope to upload some pictures to the blog. I'll keep you posted on that venture.

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