Wednesday, September 10, 2008

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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