The Kingdom of Tonga
Update #24 -
Passage from Niue to Vava’u, Tonga:
9/1 — 9/4/2005
As I am writing this it is Saturday, September 24, 2005. For all of you reading this, today is Friday, September 23rd. That’s right, when we arrived in Tonga we officially crossed the International Date Line. It's hard to believe that we have been here almost three weeks already!
If you note the passage dates above it will appear that our 260 mile passage took three days when in reality it only took two. We lost a day upon arrival in Tonga. It truly feels like we've covered some significant nautical miles now. Our passage was probably one of our most challenging ones to date. We left knowing that we would be having some significant wind and swells. This was part of the reason for leaving Niue when we did. As you may recall, high winds and large swells made for a very unpleasant anchorage in Niue and we didn't care to be jostled about at mooring while another system passed by. We figured if the conditions were to be uncomfortable, we might as well be making some miles and tuck ourselves into a very protected anchorage. Throughout our two days and nights at sea we had our first gale of the cruise. We had 25-35 knots for most of the trip with torrential rain, a lot of lightning and large seas. With such conditions we were able to sail the first night under jib alone and make 6-7 knots over ground. The following night the winds increased along with the swells. Each of us would sit and stare at the waves coming up behind Moana. Most were in the 10-15 foot range and were quite the sight to see rearing up behind us. Every 10th – 20th wave was twice the norm. Moana’s stern would rise up to meet those 20-25 foot waves like it was something natural for her. She would simply pick up speed and surf down them. Their size was absolutely spectacular. Moana’s top surfing speed that night was 12.9 knots, sailing under staysail alone. Not too bad for a heavy displacement 32 foot boat with a 26 foot waterline. Moana felt like she was in control. Not once were we worried that the wind and waves were beyond her abilities or design. We were, nevertheless, relieved when morning came and the winds had died down. The seas however remained large and sloppy.
Ironically, after two honking nights at sea, our final day we had to motor in order to reach our destination before nightfall. After this passage we didn't want another night at sea! We were able to reach around the west side to the entrance of Tonga’s Vava’u (vah-vah-oo) Island Group. Our good friends on Seayanika called us on the radio and invited us to share the night where they were anchored.
Update #25 - Vava'u Tonga
18° 43’ South
174° 04’ West
We managed to drop the hook just before sunset and were rewarded with one of the most beautiful sunsets we've ever seen. In typical cruiser hospitality, Katriana on Seayanika insisted that she take care of dinner and provide us with HOT showers as we were still recovering from the gale.
We have been stunned by the beauty of Tonga. We've seen a lot of the South Pacific and can't believe how each new place is so different and magnificent. This holds true for Tonga. These islands are a sailor’s playground. There are 40 anchorages within about 20 miles. We've sailed to each new anchorage under jib alone but haven’t bothered to raise our main yet, as it is hardly worth the effort when you're only going 4-5 miles. The water is well protected and flat. We've almost forgotten how easy (and fun) it is to sail in flat water. After almost 6 weeks in unprotected anchorages these flat calm waters are simply spoiling us.
The Vava’u Group has turned out to be a meeting place for cruisers. Eight of 14 boats that left from Zihuatanejo are here. Some boats we haven’t seen since we left Mexico. We all met up for a day of volleyball, horseshoes, guitar playing, singing and chatting. We've also run into many other boats here that we haven’t seen since early on in French Polynesia. The reunions are a blessing and always bring great stories of adventure.
Since arriving we've visited about one quarter of the anchorages in the Vava’u Group. We have enjoyed snorkeling, diving, shelling, and hiking these areas. There are caves we've been able to explore via dinghy and free diving. We've also went diving to investigate a 400 foot copra supply ship from the 1920s which is lying on the ocean floor in Neiafu Harbor.
Absolutely, hands down, our most memorable time here has been our encounter with a mother whale and her calf. During the winter season humpback whales come here to mate and to have their calves. They can be spotted on quite regularly. There are companies that take people to whale watch and/or swim with them. There is also a lot of information posted about how to respond to the whales both in boat and in water. We just happened to be returning in our dinghy from a trip to the caves and saw a huge splash over and over again. (We learned later that it was a whale slapping her tail repeatedly over the water.) Well, the whale and her calf swam past us at a distance. We waited in the dinghy and got front seats for quite a show of them breaching and blowing! We eventually got in the water with our masks, snorkels and fins and swam over towards them. The water visibility wasn't great because it was later in the day (around 5 pm) and the sun was hidden behind clouds. As we got closer we could see the mom just lying on top of the water while her calf played. The calf appeared to be showing off for us. They both appeared completely undisturbed by our presence. In fact, they moved a bit closer to us and we were less than 20 feet away from them at one point!!! It was miraculous. I can't even describe the experience in words. We were truly in awe. We have been so blessed to witness so much of God’s awesome creations in their natural environment. To date we've swam with dolphins, sharks, sting rays, manta rays and whales. What a thrill!!!
We are planning to check out of the Vava’u Group sometime this coming week and head south to the Ha’apai Group. We will wrap up our visit of Tonga by a visit to the Tonga Tapu Group before jumping off South for our passage to New Zealand in late October or early November, pending a good weather window.
Please keep the e-mails coming! We love hearing from you!
Sam and Sally
Written Sept 24, 2005
Vava’u Group, Tonga
We've got some good Moana news. We found out yesterday that Sally’s article she submitted to Latitude38 was published in the September 2005 issue. Any of you near a yacht club or Marine store in California should be able to pick one up. If you can, pick up an extra one for us as we haven’t seen it yet.
We have decided to head to New Zealand for the South Pacific Cyclone season and leaving Moana there for a trip back to the States. Weather permitting, we hope to depart Tonga the first week of November for the 1,100 mile passage. If all goes well and we are able to quickly get Moana hauled out and secured, we may able to make it home at the end November. The current plan is to spend the month of December catching up with friends and family and finding work for the first few months of 2006 to replenish our dwindling funds. We hope to be back in New Zealand in April/May of 2006 for the start of the next non-cyclone season and sail up to Fiji. From there, we've got a blank slate.
We hope to meet up with many of you when we make it home. We miss you all very much.
Sam & Sally
currently in Vava’u Tonga
Update #26 — Nuka'Alofa, Tonga
10/25 – 10/27/2005
latitude 21° 08' South
longitude 175° 12' West
Hello from Nuka'Alofa (new-kew-ah-low-fah) Tonga. We haven't updated you all in several weeks as we've been in a very remote part of Tonga. We truly enjoyed the Ha'apai (ha-ah-pie) Island Group. The islands were some of the most beautiful we've ever seen. Most were uninhabited. We were alone in most anchorages except for the few that we traveled to with friends on another boat. We spent many days in the water swimming and scuba diving. Sally was also able to spend time shelling on the uninhabited islands (i.e. no other people to take the good shells). She found some of the best yet. The anchorages were all wonderful and shallow. It was great to be able to drop our anchor in less than 20 ft of water, especially when it came to bring it up by manually cranking on the windlass. We're used to having to bring up 200ft of chain. Here we usually had out about 100ft.
But alas, we were delayed coming to Nuka'Alofa because of very unsettled weather. There was rain and overcast days that had us locked into our last anchorage. It wasn't safe to leave in limited water visibility as there are many, many reefs. The reefs are easily seen on a sunny day, but near impossible in overcast conditions. We had hoped to be in Tonga's capitol more than a week ago to prepare for our journey to New Zealand, but I guess we don't always get to make the decision. After the unsettled weather we were left with no wind for several days. We figured we'd wait until the wind filled in to head South to Nuka'Alofa, but received other news to get us going sooner - a weather report.
Normally there is one gale per week between Tonga/Fiji and New Zealand. Since the passage there is greater than 1000 miles, you can pretty much always bet on enduring one gale in the NZ passage. Two days ago we heard good news on the daily weather that we listen to. There is a high over New Zealand along with associated weather that is predicted to remain stationary for two weeks. Essentially if we left within the next couple of days we get a "get out of jail" free card in regards to really nasty weather. We spent the next day preparing Moana for the passage (cleaning her bottom, stowing items, taking inventory) and motored through the night to get to Nuka’Alofa.
We spent the next day provisioning and the following day (today) taking care of the "paperwork cha-cha". Yes that's right. It took the entire day to take care of Customs, Immigration and the Port Authority paperwork. It reminded us of the hoops we had to jump through in Mexico. It was nicknamed the "paperwork cha-cha" in Mexico as there is a predesignated order (unknown to you until you do it) that everything had to be done in, which also includes going to the same place more than once. We were at the Customs for two different offices and had to go to the Port Authority THREE separate times. Interesting, I can't help but wonder how much money and time government (including our own) wastes in paying wages for employees to do unnecessary extra steps. The blessing in it all was that we got to meet many wonderful people.
The Tongan people are simply wonderful. They are full of smiles and kindness towards us. We can't walk by someone without receiving a warm “hello!” The kids are especially friendly. When we walk by they usually say “Bye”. We found out that their word for good-bye is the same word used when passing by. On several occasions we've had a teenager come up to us and ask us where we are going. If we let them know that we don’t know the exact location they are quick to give us directions. On some occasions they will actually walk us many, many blocks to the place. Today we were needing to go over a mile into town to see immigration. It started raining and seconds later a kind older man pulled over and said “I am going to town and would like to bring you.” When we offered to pay him the taxi fare he said there was no charge and wouldn't accept our money.
We've been working from sunrise to past sunset for the last three days in order to be ready for the voyage to New Zealand. We have almost everything done and hope to depart tomorrow morning. Just a few fresh vegetables and a few other items are left on our prep list. We will let you all know when we safely arrive in Opua, New Zealand.
We can't wait to see you all in December. Keep in touch!!!
Sam & Sally
currently in Nuku'Alofa, Tonga