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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