Sunday, October 31, 2004

Vava’u Group –Tonga

9/20/04 – 10/31/04

Week 1 (9/20 – 9/26)
Neiafu (main town)

After our unexpected “rough” passage, it was more than a relief to hook onto a mooring ball.  I was definitely ready to get off the boat.  But first, we needed a quick nap for revival purposes … after that it was off to a “reunion party”.   Everybody was here; all rejoined after taking our separate routes through the Cook Islands.  We all met up at the Mermaid for dinner and drinks (and more drinks).  It was never our intention to get so rowdy (‘er drunk), but I suppose between the passage we’d just finished and being back with everyone, things just took on their own pace.  It was quite the night with music, dancing, lots & lots of laughing, and story telling as we all caught up.  All was going along smoothly until I performed a Humpty Dumpty over a rock wall.  It all happened quite fast, one minute I was talking to Michael (de la Mer) & Doug (Solstice), the next minute I was somersaulting headfirst backwards over a knee level wall (which I had somehow backed into, and in my unsteady state was not able to keep my balance), into the rocks & water below.  Mary (de la Mer), came jumping over the wall into the water after me … apparently she thought the water was deep and was worried I would drown.  We both stood there in waist-level water looking at each other.  The men promptly pulled us back up the wall, where I apologized profusely both for my act of stupidity and for destroying Chris’s good camera (which was in my backpack when I toppled over and now full of sea water).

The next morning I awoke to see what Chris lovingly termed “Neanderthal woman” in the mirror.  I guess the rocks and my face didn’t get along.  I had quite a few scrapes on my cheekbone and eyebrow, but it was the swelling that caused the majority of distortion.  Later (in town) I would discover that I was now famous … everyone had heard about my graceful back-flip.  I (along with everyone) realize that I was quite lucky nothing more serious happened, but, post-event, knowing I came out okay, everyone (including myself) had a good laugh, and I was (actually still am) the subject of quite a few jokes.

We spent the next few days exploring and enjoying a real town; electricity, Internet, markets, fresh veggies, laundry service (my favorite) and restaurants (my second favorite).  We met “Pete the Meat”, who sold a huge variety of frozen-fresh (if that’s not a contradiction) meats.  We went to the outdoor market, where we excitedly purchased funky looking carrots, the world’s tiniest bell peppers, & tasty cucumbers.  We ate out almost every night, eating twice at The Dancing Rooster where we feasted on fresh lobster dishes (including lobster ravioli & red curry lobster).  We finished the week with card-day, playing with de la Mer & Island Sonata at the Mermaid.

Week 2 (9/27 –10/3)

After a week of splurging, exploring, relaxing, & eating (Chris later came up with the term, Tonga-10 for all the weight we gained), we decided we were ready to explore some of the other anchorages.  On Tuesday we moved to Nuapapu South (off of Vaka’eitu Island).  We had thought we would be “getting away” from everyone, but as it turns out Emerald, de la Mer, Island Sonata & Gumbo Ya Ya (just to name a few) were all in this anchorage as well.  In an attempt at some seclusion, we first tried to anchor around the bend from all the other boats.  This was also our first introduction to anchoring in Tonga, which we later confirmed sucks!  After about five tries, where the hook wasn’t even close to setting, we moved around to the main anchorage.  It took us two attempts to get the anchor to set, however when Billabong came to a rest we felt we were too close to Emerald.  After a few minutes we finally decided we would indeed have to move.  Who knows how many more attempts we spent trying to get the anchor to set … enough that Island Sonata came over to make fun of us asking, “Is this the first time you’ve anchored this boat?”.  We finally gave up and moved (again) to where we hoped would be better holding.  Two more attempts later we FINALLY hooked on!  We figured we spent at least 2 hours anchoring!  On the bright side, we now had lots and lots of hot water (since we had run the engine for so long).

The next day we went ashore with de la Mer to do a bit of exploring.  We checked out a resort on Vaka’eitu (which we learned only cost $200/year to lease the land!).  The resort looked cute, and the idea romantic, but after look inside one of the lodges, I was very happy to be here on Billabong.  The following morning Whisper arrived, just in time to join us on Billabong for hot Banana bread.  Afterwards we hooked up with de la Mer for some snorkeling.  We tried a number of different spots, but all we really found was a lot of dead coral, and some interesting sea urchins.  We tried again the next day, and were rewarded with some terrific snorkeling on the outside of the reef … great coral and lots of “Nemos” (our name for any sea anemone fish).  Afterwards we lifted anchor and headed back to Neifu.

Saturday was the “Kiwi Kickoff Party” (a cruiser party to celebrate everyone’s successful arrival to Tonga).  The party organizers also put together a number of “awards” recognizing those less-than-ideal moments of cruising.  We were the proud winners of three such awards:  “The prodigal dinghy of shame award” (for ‘the runaway dinghy that never returned’, also acknowledging the knot [that doesn’t work] now named after Chris – Billa-bowline);  “The Soused Swan Award” (for ‘the most spectacular unsynchronized acrobatic diving exhibition’, aka KT’s humpty-dumpty act);  and “The Papa Passed a Kidney Stone Award”.

We finished off the weekend with Canasta at the Mermaid with Island Sonata & Waking Dream  (who had just arrived in Neiafu Saturday).

Week 3 (10/4 – 10/10)

Monday was another “hang around” day, where we ran some errands around town (internet, market, etc) and did a bit around the boat (miscellaneous projects & cleaning).  Tuesday we moved over to Tapana / Afo Island.  After three frustrating tries at getting our hook to set we moved over to a mooring ball owned by the Ark Gallery (a little house-like art gallery that floats in the middle of the anchorage).  Donna threw an all girls party aboard Ocean Girl (her husband Ralph was back in Canada), while Bob from Stardust hosted the boys.  Neither party got too rowdy … the girls did a lot of eating and chatting while the boys ate spaghetti and played cards & liars dice.

The following morning we said goodbye to Emerald as they headed to the Ha’apai Group.  We headed over to La Paella (little Spanish restaurant across the bay), where Maajhi-Re, Gumbo Ya Ya, Ascension, and the local owner were having a jam session.  We are still amazed at the musical talent that exists.  We are even more amazed that Kurt manages to fit an entire drum set aboard Gumbo Ya Ya!  Afterwards we had de la Mer over for cheese fondue (which didn’t turn out so good, but we ate it anyway).

Thursday we moved over to Port Maurelle, where our anchor set FIRST try (we were ecstatic).  After a quick dip in the anchorage to see the local Nemo fish, we caught a ride in Whisper’s dinghy (Shout) and headed over to Swallow’s cave for sunset drinks.  It felt like a Disneyland ride as we entered the cave … unfortunately the graffiti dampened the Disney atmosphere.

The following afternoon, we enjoyed some terrific snorkeling just outside Swallow’s cave.  There were a variety of coral colors, tons of Nemos (which I could watch and play with for hours), and even a big ‘ol lobster.  Later that evening we ventured over to a beach party / bon fire … more excellent food, great company, and just plain good times!

We enjoyed the snorkeling so much that we went back on Saturday with Whisper & Island Sonata.  Later that evening we all hooked up aboard Whisper and feasted on pizza, chocolate soufflés, and wine.  And interesting combination, but it was all fabulous (and Chris was thrilled to here me say the soufflés were not that hard to make)!

I had signed up for Scuba diving lessons, so on Sunday we headed back to town (Neiafu).  Following our Sunday tradition, we played Canasta at the Mermaid with Bobulona & Waking Dream.  We then enjoyed another terrific lobster meal at The Dancing Rooster.

Week 4 (10/11 – 10/17)

By this time we had more-or-less decided that we would depart to New Zealand from the Vava’u Group.  We had initially thought we would head to the Ha’apai Group, followed by checking out Nuku’alofa before heading to New Zealand.  But after all the moving about over the last few months we were both enjoying the protected anchorages of Vava’u and had no huge desire to move on!  In addition, our friends from the states who were going to fly in to Nuku’alofa and crew with us down to NZ were unable to make it so we no longer had to be in Nuku’alofa.  This decision really allowed us to relax and take our time in both explorations as well as boat preparations.

I enjoyed my scuba lessons over the next three days.  Meanwhile Chris completed various projects aboard Billabong in preparation for our NZ passage.  I’ll admit, he got the short end of the stick on that one! He was a great sport about it though!  Diving was great fun.  The instructor was terrific, and the class included people I already knew.  On our graduation day we went on three open water dives.  It included a lot of firsts for me, including a Lion fish, color changing coral, and a sea anemone that closed up into this bulb-like thing!

Thursday I caught up on my chores (internet, bakery, market, etc) while Chris wrapped up his boat projects.  Friday I treated Chris to a dive outing (the Whisper’s came along too).  There were lots of chutes & tunnels in our first dive, but the second dive won all our votes with the wide variety of fish and live coral (and Chris got to see the cool color changing coral).  On the dives with us was a group from California who were chartering a catamaran.  They were another reminder to us of how lucky we are to be able to be living this life instead of just visiting it.  Vacations are great, and definitely needed, but man is it wonderful to be able to experience these things for longer than two weeks at a time!  We are continuously thankful!!!

We ended the day with drinks & dinner at the Mermaid in celebration of Ralph’s (Ocean Girl) return.  The next two days were quite mellow with card playing (including Chris becoming addicted to the computer card game, Spider), web updates, and reading.

Week 5 (10/18 –10/24)

Monday was another chore day in preparation for another week out-and-about among the anchorages of Vava’u.  We also had a marvelous dinner aboard Ocean Girl (she served an awesome red curry chicken dish, which I now make regularly!).

Tuesday we attempted to move to Mafana Island.  It was a beautiful day with excellent sailing conditions.  We were having a great time, until the critical decision-making point.  At our current speed we would arrive Mafana just as the sun was setting.  IF we couldn’t get the anchor to set we would be in a hard spot because coming back through the channel (through a reef) in low light could be hazardous.  We decided to go for it anyway.  It was a terrific spot, and no one was around.  BUT, of course our anchor wouldn’t set.  It wouldn’t even grab a bite at all (no matter how slow I backed down).  After half a dozen tries we aborted and headed back.  The lighting sucked, but luckily we also had our GPS track from our way in.  We made it safely and headed to Tapana / Afo Island.  This time we didn’t even bother trying to anchor, we headed straight for a mooring ball.

We lazily lounged around the following day, enjoy the much missed sunshine.  Whisper also arrived, and we rowed over with them to scope out the Ark Gallery (we hadn’t actually visited it on our first stay in this anchorage).  She hand paints a variety of landscapes, portraits, and boat scenes.  They are all really well done, but quite pricey.  We enjoyed talking to the owner and her husband – both cruisers who arrived in Tonga ten years ago.

Thursday we found some good snorkeling at the island across the way from the anchorage.  At least it was all good until I got a jelly fish sting across my mouth & cheek!  OUCH!!! For dinner we joined Whisper on an outing to La Paella.  We brought along two bottles of California wine, which we all drooled over (Whisper couldn't believe that we still had CA wine, and that we were willing to SHARE it!!!).  Dinner was great, and the music was lively (the owners put on a show).  We all got to join in as Percussion-type instruments (shakers, bongos, etc) were passed around.  Those who know me will be happy to learn that tone-def, beat-deprived me did not partake in the music-making festivities!!!

History was made on Friday, when Chris discovered FOUR gray/white hairs … on MY head!  I was convinced he was lying, but sure enough, he plucked them, and they were really white, not just sun bleached!!!  I was most surprised to find I wasn’t at all upset, actually just entertained!

Island Sonata showed up and we got together for some more Canasta playing.

Saturday we taxied into Nieafu to use the internet and buy a few fresh veggies at the market.  We spent the rest of the day reading, followed by a quite dinner & movie.

Sunday we hopped aboard Island Sonata, with Whisper, for a pancake breakfast.  Island Sonata then took us all over (via their boat) to Mariner’s Cave.  Along the way we picked up Waking Dream and Freebird.  It was a fun sail on the catamaran.  The girls enjoyed sitting up front on the trampoline (until we all got drenched).  Entering Mariner's Cave required a short under water dive, where you popped up inside a very dark cave.  The underwater portion was short, but it’s an interesting mind game convincing yourself that you’ll be able to surface sometime soon!

Week 6 (10/25 – 10/31)

We were now giving serious thought to when we should actually leave for New Zealand.  We started watching the weather more closely, and wrapping up all our preparation projects.  Before moving back to Neiafu we had Waking Dream, de La Mer, and Ocean Girl over for a “good-bye” dinner.  de la Mer would be leaving their boat in Tonga under the supervision of the Ark Gallery owners, who would then deliver their boat back to Southern California next season. They plan to first visit Fiji & New Zealand (via air), so we hope to catch up with them before they return to the states.  Waking Dream decided to stay in Tonga for the hurricane season.  They both had a number of potential business ideas.  Hopefully we’ll catch up with them next season.

We moved back to Neiafu on Thursday.  Thursday and Friday were spent with last minute details, including checking out, provisioning, passage meal cooking, and weather watching.  We managed to fit in a bit of fun, enjoying huge burgers at Bounty Burger, and celebrating Halloween at Anna’s Café.

After one last visit to the internet, we moved to Port Maurelle.  We were ready to go … or at least we hoped so.  This is the one passage that everyone talks about and stresses over.  Supposedly everyone gets their ass whooped on this one.  We figured it would take us 10 days if things went well, and up to 15 if things went bad.  Personally, I was tired of watching the weather and trying to pick the perfect window (good thing Chris has more patience then me).  I was tired of worrying, tired of preparing, and ready to just BE THERE!  I was very, very excited that we were about to be in New Zealand.  We were about to finish up our first year of cruising.  What had once seemed so far away, both in miles and time was now just days away!

According to the weather gurus, Sunday the weather window would be closing … it was go now or stay for another two weeks.  With Whisper in front of us, and Ocean Girl behind us we left Tonga behind.  New Zealand, here we come!

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