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.