Friday 5th October - Time off in Tonga - the first ten days

Jon & Carol Dutton
Fri 5 Oct 2012 06:34

18:39.52S 173:58.99W

Friday 5th October – Time off in Tonga – the first ten days

We weighed anchor in Niue into a setting sun for what we thought might be quite windy conditions.  Being prudent we put in three reefs as we hoisted the main.  Needless to say, they weren’t required in the end and two came out pretty quickly.  There was enough wind for us to catch up and overhaul John and Lisa in their catamaran, Orcinius, who had left some hours before us.  We kept them in sight for the whole passage to Tonga though they chickened out first when the wind dropped severely and put their engine on long before us.  Yanks and cats – what do you expect ?  So they took line honours for arrival in Tonga.  Coming into Vava’u, the northernmost group of the Tongan islands, is a delightful experience; lots of small islands are scattered around pleasantly smooth seas.


                                                    A delightful sight, tacking up the main channel towards Vava’u

The main island, Atu Vava’u, has a long, narrow curving harbour, bordered by the main town, Neiafu.  It is wonderfully sheltered with steep, verdantly covered cliffs either side - you could easily think you were in Salcombe harbour.  Much of the harbour is very deep so we took a mooring.  We’ve been here for quite a bit longer than we originally intended but it a delightful place to be.


                                                                        Looking west towards the harbour entrance


                                                                        Looking south-east towards the upper reaches


                                                            Suitably, an Irish boat, Saol Eile, at the end of the rainbow

We arrived a few days before the start of the annual regatta and festival and were persuaded to stay on to take part in the fun and maybe even a race.  Cowes Week it ain’t but the organisers have put together such a varied programme that everyone can enjoy themselves and learn a thing or two – there was an excellent talk on humpback whales – the ones that are currently to be seen in this part of the world, though like us they’ll be heading south in the not too distant future.

Representatives from some of the marinas in the North Island of New Zealand have been giving out lots of useful information and encouraging all those heading south to come to their particular home.  They were also sponsoring the races and so in the end our arms were twisted and we signed up for the harbour race on Thursday, 27th September.    Most of the day, there was hardly a breath of wind but by 4pm there was enough for 11 boats in three classes to line up for the two mile course up and down the harbour.  Attempts to track down racing instructions, position of the start line, course etc proved fruitless – entrants had to wait until the skippers briefing ashore at 16:00 and then zoom back to their boats for a 16:45 start –fortunately only a few hundred yards away.  But that’s how it always happens for the harbour race which they hold every week.  Besides Jon on the helm it was just Carol and Karen, a New Zealander, acting as crew and manning the 14 deck winches.  Despite the best efforts of the crew the skipper failed to cover the boat in unmatchable glory.  However, we came away with a great prize – a week’s free berthing in Whangarei, NZ.

The next day twenty or so boats took part in a much longer race to Tapana island where an end of regatta week Full Moon party was being held.  We decided to go to the party but not race.  It took about two and half hours to get there and as we left quite a bit later than the racing fleet, we had to anchor in 40 m – the leaders had taken the much shallower spots closer to shore.  So, the whole 100m of our 10mm chain attached to the faithful FBA was let go with us debating whether that was really enough.  Well, theoretically, it wasn’t.  But, we didn’t have much doubt that it’d do just fine.  Forget the 70lb anchor – we’d just let go about quarter of a tonne of chain.  OK: it’s not scientific but. . . . Although the anchorage was more exposed than Neiafu harbour, the wind wasn’t that strong and the reef meant that all was pretty calm.  We had no problems, unlike our Dutch friends, Mark (he of the cunning “Let’s dive off the quay at Niue” plan) and Vanessa, who suffered Cornelia dragging an anchor – fortunately whilst they were on board.  The party was fun though the torrential downpour obscured the full moon for a good twenty minutes.  It didn’t stop the setting alight of the Wicker Man, though.  We never established the origin of this and whether or not there was the remotest connection with the Western Isles tradition of burning of the same.  Does anyone else remember a chilling film of the same name starring Edward Woodward?  We called it a day at a relatively early hour – certainly we wouldn’t have lasted the whole night, being very old – the music eventually stopped at 4:30 the next morning.


                                                                                    The Full Moon Party’s Wicker Man

After a sleepless night for the skipper’s wife, we dropped anchor in Port Mourelle bay with the intention of doing some snorkelling and visiting a couple of spectacular caves. However, the weather had other ideas, turning grey and very rainy – not conducive to a mile and a half dinghy ride to the first cave – it’s far too deep to anchor close by.  Instead we caught up on a few chores and generally relaxed a bit.  Sam Davis from Strangford Lough dropped by for a chat.  He is sailing solo in a Rival 41.  He told us that he has to get back to Northern Ireland fairly quickly.  Most people would get on a plane, but he is heading back home with the prevailing winds via Cape Horn with a small detour to South Georgia!

The grey weather has been with us ever since – the only difference being that the rain has been torrential at times.  That being the case we decided to head back to town and avail ourselves of the various entertainments.  But first there was the little matter of dealing with the auxiliary generator behaving most mysteriously – suddenly springing into life without any human intervention!  Find out how we fared culturally and mechanically in part two of our blog – “The second ten days in Tonga”.