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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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Arrival in Vava'u, Tonga

September 15, 2008--On Thursday, we spent the day recovering from our hike up the volcano and taking care of little things on the boat. On Friday morning we went into town to clear out of Niuatoputapu and get a clearance form from customs, and we went by the school to find Sia and Niko to set up a pot luck on the lovely motu west of the anchorage. Laura from the Palm Tree Island Resort and Oh from Immigration would also be joining us.

We went back to the boat and made some spaghetti and some brownies and headed over to the motu around 3 o'clock. While we waited for the others to arrive, we swam and walked around some of the island. The other cruisers arrived around 4 o'clock, and we entertained ourselves until 5 o'clock when Sia, Niko, Laura, and Oh all arrived in Niko's boat. The guys built a fire, and then Sia and Oh began cooking their marinated mutton. The other contributions were a rice salad, a bean salad, and some lentils. The meat was delicious, as was all the food. The moon came up in the late afternoon, and it was a beautiful scene with the palm trees against the blue sky with the moon overhead. As we prepared to leave at dusk, Sia and Laura invited us to the resort for a visit. We had a wet ride back to the boat, took a quick shower, and dinghied ashore when Sia and Niko came to pick us up. Ann from sv Cat's Paw IV joined us for the trip.

We drove to the other end of the island and pulled up to the beach on the side of a lagoon that opens into the bay running along the west side of the island. We hiked up our pants and dresses and walked across the lagoon, which was only about knee deep because it was low tide. The resort is situated on the southwest corner where the lagoon intersects the bay. There is a main building that serves as the restaurant, and there are four fales or separate cottages. The scene is really lovely, and Laura, who is the owner, took us out to the beach where we were able to walk out quite a distance because of the low tide. As far out as we went, the sand on our feet was the softest and whitest that we have found anywhere in the South Pacific. The moon was almost full so we had wonderful light, and we could see the volcano in the distance. It was almost surreal is was so pretty. I just wish that the camera could have captured the scene, but I guess that we will just have to remember it from our memories. We returned to the main building where we talked and enjoyed a cold soft drink, and then around 11 o'clock Niko drove us back to the wharf. Unfortunately, Steve and I somehow lost the key to the dinghy engine so Ann had to give us a tow out to the boat. She and Barry were kind enough to give us a spare key of theirs the next day.

We had planned to leave for Vava'u on Sunday; however, when Steve checked the weather, we realized that we should leave on Saturday instead, so we quickly got the boat pulled together and were able to leave at 9 a.m. Accord left about 2 hours before us and Cat's Paw IV was just ahead of us. We sailed out through the pass and headed northeast (into the swell), and then made one tack to the south that put us on our course line.

The passage was another fast one for us. We had an average of 16 knots of wind either on the beam or just forward of it. These are our fastest points of sail, so we averaged 6.9 knots, covering the 177 nautical miles in 26 hours. The seas were much smaller than on our last crossing, which made the ride more comfortable. In the evening we did have several squalls go over us, so we ended up double-reefing the main to handle the higher winds. Again, we were very pleased with the boat's performance.

We arrived in Vava'u at 11 o'clock on Sunday morning and proceeded to enter this lovely group of islands. The landscape reminds us of the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest. Also, the water and air temperatures are cooler here. We headed up the bay and went to check out an anchorage listed on the chart. There were already two boats anchored, and that did not leave us much room, so we decided to try the anchorage farther to the north. We pulled into Vaimalo Bay and were surprised to see NO other boats. We dropped our anchor in 35 feet of water and then took a few minutes to cover the sails and organize lines. We then relaxed in the cockpit and simply enjoyed the beautiful view. The hillsides are covered in lush, green vegetation, and huge trees have vines hanging down from their branches. Accord came in two hours after us, and Cat's Paw IV came in four hours after us so we all got together on our boat in the evening to discuss the crossing and enjoy some spirits.

I have to explain our surprise at no other boats. Three charter companies work out of Neiafu so there are a lot of charter boats plus all the cruisers who have now converged from all the other islands. Some will move on, but some will leave for New Zealand directly from here. We plan to stay here for a week to ten days and then head south to the Ha-apai or middle group of islands.

It is overcast and raining, at times heavily, right now. We will stay in this anchorage until tomorrow when we will go in to Neiafu to check in and enjoy the town.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Events on Niuatoputapu

September 12, 2008--On Tuesday after lunch, we went ashore and walked down the dirt road that runs the length of the island. We needed to go to Customs, which is located at the other end of the island, to exchange some American dollars for Tongan pa'angas so that we could pay our fees for entering Tonga. Along the way we met several friendly school kids, who had just gotten out of school for the day. After a short distance, a pickup stopped and offered us a ride, which we were more than happy to accept because it was hot. She dropped us off right in front of the Customs building. We went inside where Lauti, the Customs official, exchanged money for us, took our fees, and, last but not least, sold us some Tongan postage stamps.

While Steve was finishing up, I went next door to speak with Sia, who organizes activities for the "yachties" as she calls us. We discussed a pot luck, a trip to the neighboring island of Tafahi, and perhaps a tour of the east side of the island. We had already set up a trip to Tafahi for the next day, so I was simply getting additional information. The government building is made of wood and is very old, and there were even some boards missing in the floor. Lauti's receipt book looked like something from the 1930's, and all receipts or other documents are written out by hand. When Steve was finished with Lauti, we began our walk to the Health Department to pay a fee to them. The Health building is also very old, and the facilities are minimal, so we were more than happy to pay a small fee to them. When we finished we began the long, hot walk back to the wharf. Once again, we had not walked very far when the same woman stopped to give us a ride back, and she even drove us all the way out to the end of the wharf. By now it was very hot so we were even more appreciative.

In the evening, Sia and her husband Niko picked up nine of us and drove us to the Catholic Church community hall where a dance and kava ceremony were taking place. Kava is a drink made from the crushed root of a pepper plant. The powder or pulp is strained or mixed with water in a large wooden bowl and drunk from a coconut-shell cup. Traditionally, only men would participate, but women are now allowed to join in. Most do not, however, because they do not like the taste, and I have to agree with them. I had one cup, and that was more than enough for me, but Steve had six cups throughout the evening.

Inside, the dance was slow in getting started. Very loud hip-hop music was playing and a few women were dancing with one another. After awhile, the men began to leave the Kava drinking and take up dancing. Quite a few of the young men asked the three women yachties to dance. When Steve finished visiting with the men at the Kava bowl, he came in, and we danced for quite awhile. The locals use these dances to raise money for different causes on the islands, and there was to be another dance the next night. Around 10:15 Sia and Niko drove us back to the wharf, and we returned to our boats--we had an early morning ahead.

At 6:30 the next morning, Sia and Niko, along with 3 young men, picked us up on our boat. We then picked up Ann and Barry on sv Cat's Paw IV and Ernst on sv Accord. All ten of us left in a small, wooden boat to cross the 5.5 miles over to Tafahi Island to hike the volcano. About half way across and in 10- to 12-foot seas, we hooked a fish, and when the guys brought it in, it turned out to be a 5-foot sailfish. All the guys were lying on it to hold it down, which was difficult. Finally, Niko had to stick a knife into its brain in order to kill it. We then proceeded to the south side of the island. One young man named William gathered up a bundle of fishing net and prepared to get off onto the reef. Before William could step off, the prop struck the reef and threw the boat up on its left side sending William into the water. He was struggling with the net so Niko and one of the young men drove in after him, which was okay because Sia said that they were all going to fish while we hiked. The last young man drove the boat around the island to the west side or lee of the island where we pulled into an opening in the coral and tied the boat up on the shore. We were all very wet from the crossing, but luckily we had all worn swimsuits. I must say that we were all a little concerned about the structural integrity of the boat after hitting the reef.

We proceeded along the beach and then climbed 154 concrete steps to the village. Niko has a house here as well, so we stopped there to pick up his cousin (I can not remember his name) who would be our guide for the hike. He wore a red t-shirt with the word "official" printed on it. We were joined by two dogs--one adult and one small puppy. The climb to the summit, which is 555 meters or 1800 feet, is challenging to say the least. We were walking through thick jungle on a very narrow path. At times the path was steep enough that you had to hold on to trees or bushes in order to help pull yourself up. We stopped several times and our guide would cut down coconuts for us to drink or papaya for us to eat. We finally reached the top and were rewarded with the most spectacular view of Niuatoputapu and the anchorage, and the clouds were floating just above us. We took some time to rest, drink more coconut juice, take pictures, and just enjoy the view.

Soon it was time to go, so we headed back down the trail. It was a little easier going down the mountain; however, the trail was slippery at times, and just about every one of us went down at least once. One time when we stopped, our guide gathered oranges for us. These were not as sweet as the oranges that we are used to, but they tasted really good on a long, hot hike. Finally, we were back at Niko's house, hot and tired but glad that we had made the climb. We don't know how long it took us to make it to the top and back because not one of us had worn a watch, which means that we are all in the cruising mode.

We walked back through the small village of 8 to 10 homes, taking pictures of a family of pigs under a shade tree, a grass house equipped with a solar panel and a satellite dish, and the small Methodist Church. When we returned to the beach, Sia and Niko had fish and plantains (bananas that taste like potatoes)cooking over a fire. The food was served on large leaves, and it was delicious. The meal also included coconut juice to drink. We were all pretty hungry. Steve and I took a quick walk on the beach, and then we noticed three small boats coming back through the cut in the coral. The locals had gone over to Niuatoputapu to pick up gasoline, generators, and a few smaller items. The men would roll the 55-gallon drum over the side of the boat into the water. Then another man would roll the drum up onto the beach. Each boat carried several drums. When a boat was unloaded, logs were laid out from the water up past the high-tide line. All the men, including Steve and Barry, would then push the boat over the logs and up the beach. This was done with all three boats, and it was amazing to watch.

We loaded up our boat and left to return to Niuatoputapu. The seas were not as big on our way back, but we were just as wet when we arrived. We were grateful to be back because the boat had no life jackets, no backup engine, and no VHF radio except the one that we had brought. The good news is that it did have a bailing bucket that was used constantly on each trip. On our way across we spotted several humpback whales in the channel, which are always so much fun to watch. We arrived back at our boat at 3:45 and were given papaya and limes in exchange for a few beers. We very tired but also very happy that we had gone. It was a very full and interesting day.

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Arrival in Tonga

September 11, 2009--It is September 11 here in Tonga. We left Apia, Samoa, at 4 a.m. on Saturday, September 6. We went through the pass with no problems at all and had a nice sail for the first couple of hours. We then reached Apolima Strait. The wind died way down, and we were barely making any way. We noticed what looked like breakers up ahead, but we knew there was no land there. We checked the charts and realized that there were shallow areas (600 feet) and the tide hitting the shallower water was creating rip tides. With no wind our speed went to zero, but our speed over the ground was 3.5 knots, which meant that we had a 3.5 knot current carrying us out the channel. We finally had to start the engine in order to make it through the waves.

Once through the channel, the seas became more consistent. We had 22 knots of wind right on the beam for the whole trip. The seas were large, about 12 to 15 feet, with some waves breaking at the top. This was the wettest passage we have ever made. Luckily, we have our plastic side panels so that protects about 2/3 of the cockpit; however, at times we had to move to the stern to adjust the wind steering so timing was everything. We would try to time it so that we wouldn't get soaked. Sometimes we made it--sometimes we did not. We had several waves hit the stern and break onto the back of the boat, and there were a few times when a large wave would hit the boat and slow it way down, but the boat came through it just fine as always.

Around dawn I was on watch and saw what I thought was a large cloud very low on the horizon, but then I realized that it was Tafahi Island, which is 6 miles north of Niuatoputapu. Steve came up around 7 a.m., and we prepared to enter the lagoon at Niuatoputapu. The markers at the entrance were a bit hard to figure out, and there were large breakers on the reef to the left; however, we took our time and, once inside the pass, everything settled down and the channel was clearly marked. We anchored the boat in 35 feet of beautiful water over white sand. There were four other boats anchored here. Ernst on sv Accord anchored in front of us. He left Samoa about 2 hours ahead of us, and we ended up sailing 2 miles from each other the whole way down.

We arrived on Sunday with our plan being to have the day to rest and clean up the boat before the officials showed up to clear us in. This was the plan, and a fine plan it was, until we realized that Tonga is +13 hours on Zulu time, which meant that it was the same time as Apia, Samoa--but a day later! So it was actually Monday, and the four officials were on our boat within a couple of hours, but now we were cleared into Tonga. We were exhausted so we both finally slept for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

Steve and I feel that this island/anchorage is the most like what we thought the South Pacific would be like. The beaches are sandier and whiter, the trees seem greener against the backdrop, or the white clouds seem to move much lower and faster over the ground in the strong trade winds. It might be the geography as to our north is the small island of Tafahi that, while small and flat looking on our chart, is an almost perfect conical volcanic cone that rises to 1,000 feet or so (after it has already risen from 15,000 feet above the sea floor). As we look across the barrier reef with the breaking seas foaming, it looks a bit mystical because there is always a cloud at the summit. The island of Niuatoputapu, where we are now anchored, is low and sandy with a ridge of probably 500 feet in height running like a backbone from east to west. The ridge is covered with palm trees and other flora that masks the black volcanic earth below with a carpet of green.

The most interesting thing is the Patrol Boat, a very World War II looking patrol boat, P 202, and the only boat in the Tongan Navy. We can see that it has the capacity to carry depth charges, but we can't see any guns mounted on the deck.

I am behind on my blog (but I did lose one day remember) as we immediately became involved in local happenings, but I will post another blog tomorrow in order to catch up. In closing, for us it is September 11 and we have not forgotten.

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Saturday, September 6, 2008

Last Day in Apia, Samoa

September 5, 2008—We had a very busy day today trying to get everything done in order to leave plus take a tour of the Robert Louis Stevenson Museum. We went to Immigration and checked out there. Then Steve went to pay the marina bill. Next stop was Customs. After that we were all checked out and ready to go.

Next we went shopping for our last few provisions. We found a great store here that has wonderful New Zealand beef and beautiful vegetables. You pay extra for anything there, but it was worth it.

After lunch we took a taxi up to the museum. A quick history is that Stevenson bought 162 hectares of bushland at the foot of Mt. Vaea for $4,000 in 1889. The property is inland from Apia and high above the sea. He died of a brain hemorrhage in 1894 around 8 o’clock in the evening. Prior to his death he had been granted two requests by the chief. He wanted to be buried at the summit of Mt. Vaea overlooking Vailima, the name given to his estate, and he wanted to be buried with his boots on. Both requests had been granted. We were told by the tour guide today that the family was informed that Stevenson had to be buried by 3 p.m. the next day according to their laws. There was no path up to Mt. Vaea summit so they did not know how to carry out his wishes. Stevenson was well respected by the local people so when the locals heard about the problem, many came to the house and began working on a path to the summit that very evening. They worked all night and were able to cut a path to the summit in time. His casket was passed from one local to another all the way up to the summit. We took the hike up to the summit to visit his grave today, and it is not an easy path, but it has a spectacular view of Apia and his home. Also, he was buried with his boots on. As a side note, the local beer here is named Vailima after his home.

The estate housed different governmental officials from Germany, New Zealand, and Samoa. In 1992 Hurricane Val did serious damage to the house. Mormon businessmen from Arizona and Utah obtained a 60-year lease on the property in order to create a museum. The property was largely rebuilt, but the museum did open in 1994—100 years after his death.

We enjoyed a nice dinner out and then returned to the boat to finish cleaning up. We will head to northern Tonga and then spend the next 7 weeks exploring the northern, central, and southern islands of the Kingdom of Tonga.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Teuila Festival, Samoa

September 3, 2003—The weather has been very unsettled for the past four days. We have had wind and rain intermittently, and on Monday it was very windy. There were even some small whitecaps in the harbor.

The Samoan Teuila Festival began on Monday. We have been watching the long boat crews practicing since we got here on August 21. These boats have crews of 40 rowers. The boats are all very colorful. Every morning we would hear the beating of drums as the crews rowed in time with the beat. The Fautasi Challenge was held on Monday morning, and around 8:30 6 or 8 boats were arriving in the bay and heading for the finish line. My understanding is that the race is 5 kilometers in distance. It was a windy and rainy morning so I am sure that the conditions were a challenge for them. We quickly walked up to the sea wall to watch the winner come in. Later we were able to move farther down to get a closer look at all the boats. People were lined up all along the sea wall, and the parked cars had their radios turned to a broadcast of the race. At the end of the race, one long boat came along the sea wall so I was able to get a good picture of the boat and its crew.

On Tuesday night, we went to see the Fire Dancing finals. Steve from sv Hannah went in with us, and we stopped by the booths to get some dinner. I had curried chicken with rice while Steve had BBQ sausage, lamb, and chicken with potato salad and panzit—both were excellent. After eating we went over to the Government Building and found a seat on the lawn. We had three darling kids next to us who were enthralled with our digital camera. Steve would take a picture of them and then show it to them on the camera. They got a real kick out of it and would giggle every time.

The evening started with different groups doing presentations that involved singing. It seems that a common story was being told because there was always a young lady involved. She would be dressed in a woven palm dress with a stunning headdress made of polished oyster shells, small shells, and flowers. She would walk around the stage subtly dancing and waving a sword. I will have to find out what story is being told.

There were also groups of men that would perform what they called “slap” dancing, which, according to the announcer, used to be performed before going to war. After watching these dances, we could see how it could get the men pumped for battle, and it was also great aerobic exercise. In the picture of the two men and a woman, you can see an example of traditional tattoos for men. The tattoos go from the waist to the ankles. They take a long time to create and are said to be painful. We saw one young man getting tattooed yesterday. The tattoo was being done the old way using a boar’s tooth and a stick to pound the ink into the skin. These tattoos were traditionally done as a rite of passage for young men.

The event was very interesting and the costumes were beautiful. Unfortunately, we never got to see the fire dancing because it started to rain—heavily! We tried to wait it out, but the rain was just too heavy so we hailed a taxi and returned to the marina. We hope that they postponed the event until tonight.

We had planned to leave Samoa tomorrow; however, the weather does not look good so we will stay here for a few more days until things settle down. I don’t mind as it gives us more time to get ready to leave so that hopefully it won’t be quite so hectic.