Astra Blog: Ha'apai Group, Tonga 06.10.08 - 15.10.08

Jeremy & Sally Paul
Wed 15 Oct 2008 05:42

Astra Blog: Ha’apai Group, Tonga 06.10.08 – 15.10.08



Monday 6th


Zulu radioed in to inform us that they were missing us so much that they were on their way from Vava’u and would arrive around 1600.  Having received this information, we set about the job list with a vengeance to get the bulk of it done before they arrived. 


George surprised almost everybody by suddenly changing his travel plans and disembarking Astra.  After a short stint ashore, which was spent sampling the delights of Mariner’s Café, Zulu were kind enough to sign him onto their crew for the final stretch to New Zealand.


Both crews then met for drinks and dinner at Mariner’s Café before returning to their respective yachts.



Tuesday 7th


All woke bright and early to finish the jobs and make sure that Astra was looking her best for the arrival of Ash’s parents.  Jeremy had the major headache of trying to repair and re-solder the cable to the Furuno GPS receiver which had become saturated with sea water during the sail down.  After a couple of hours of painstaking work we are pleased to report that the GPS is functioning once more!


At 1400 Ash departed to find the airport and meet his parents off their flight.  It was wonderful to see them again, after 7 months; they had last been on board Astra in the BVIs.  To celebrate the Rudds’ safe arrival, we met up with Zulu for drinks at Mariner’s Café then retreated to the sanctuary of Astra for tuna steaks and an early night.



Wednesday 8th


Having sorted out the various crew changes with the authorities, we left Pangai and headed north 8Nm to the island of Foa (which is in fact connected to Lifuka by a coral causeway).  After deciding that anchorage A was an unwise proposition, due to the fact that none of our three guide books or the electronic charts agreed with each other, we moved on to anchorage B.  This turned out to be by far and away the better anchorage.  Getting in was a bit difficult and threading through the coral heads required some cool nerves, lots of polarized sunglasses and Ash back on the spreaders.  However, once anchored, it was one of the most tranquil and picturesque anchorages we have been in for some time.  It was made even more perfect by the fact that we had booked dinner at the Sandy Beach resort which was situated on the beach directly in front of where Astra was anchored. 


After lunch Sally, Angie and Ash went for a bit of a snorkel that turned into quite a major expedition as far as the outside of the outer reef with tender support from John.  Having returned safely, we then ventured ashore to hire an extra dive tank, thus bringing us up to four complete sets of dive gear for the week. 


Before dinner we managed to squeeze in a sundowner on Astra, during which time we met up with Karl and Lilly from a neighboring yacht.  Karl was able to give us some invaluable advice about the weather fax/SSB conundrum which will be essential in the run-up to the Tonga to New Zealand leg; he received some serious liquid refreshment for his trouble! 


Dinner was a culinary triumph, Boris produced homemade vegetable soup, followed by the best steak we have had since we last saw Joost, delicious lobster and banana split with ice cream to finish off.



Thursday 9th


On Karl’s recommendation, we threaded our way out of the anchorage through the coral heads and motored the 3Nm north to Ha’ano Island to look for a dive site.  He had the foresight to give us the GPS coordinates, so locating the reef was straightforward.  Ash and John were sent in first while Sally covered them from the safety boat.  The clarity was fantastic, the coral plentiful and diverse and the variety of reef fish impressive, but a powerful current meant that diving was a bit of a struggle, turning the whole thing into a bit of a rock climbing session!  The others decided that they were not in the mood for this and opted instead to tender ashore to see the flying-foxes (large bats) and go for a snorkel.  This accomplished, we returned through the coral heads to our idyllic spot in Foa for a Tongan ‘feast’ at Matafonua Resort.


The Tongan ‘feast’ although highly amusing was not a feast (well unless you like plantain), there was a severe shortage of food and most of what did turn up was slightly suspect.  However, they made up for this with some entertaining traditional dancing.



Friday 10th


On Friday morning we decided to leave the anchorage early in order to head south to the next cluster of islands.  The only problem with this was that we were trying to thread between tightly clustered coral heads leaving Foa anchorage and were unable to see where we were in relation to them.  There were several uncomfortable moments during which neither Ash (on the spreaders) nor Jeremy (at the helm) were able to see anything at all because of the sun’s glare.  Fortunately, inch by inch we were able to con our way out but it was a bit nerve-racking. 


After a brief pit stop in Pangai for supplies we set off on a south easterly course for Ha’afeva 30Nm away.  If we thought that the longish stint of motoring was going to be a bit of a bore, we were in for a bit of a shock.  10Nm out, Ash suddenly got the urge to do some fishing.  On Sally’s insistence he raided the freezer for a sardine which he very scientifically married up to “Jet Head 3’ before trolling the modified lure.  He had taken no more than four steps before the line was being stripped from the reel.  The crew leapt into action, the boat was stopped, the fight began and cameras, knives and chopping boards were rushed to the aft deck.  Eventually after many false starts we got the beast alongside, at first glance we thought we had hooked a shark but on closer inspection it became clear that we had hooked our first wahoo!  While Ash worked it alongside, Jeremy managed to get a good strike with the gaff.  At this the fish went berserk and did its best to smash the side of the boat up.  A knife in its head seemed to do the trick and enabled us to get a rope around its tail.  Then Ash and Jeremy together managed to flop it over the rail onto the aft deck where they subdued the fish.  It was a proper fish; we measured it at five feet and estimated it at around 60lbs after it maxed out our scales!  We filled six big freezer bags which equates to about 12 meals for five people!


The excitement did not end there.  About 8Nm from our destination, we spotted two humpback whales: a mother and her calf.  They were a pleasure to watch and we motored gently along on a parallel course to them for an hour before resuming our proper course. 


Lunch was absolutely delicious; Angie prepared the freshest catch of the day ever in the form of wahoo and mango cerviche on pieces of toast.  We had just about finished digesting it when we arrived at Ha’afeva and had to pick our way through another dodgy bit of reef.  It proved relatively straightforward and we arrived with enough time in hand to go on a snorkeling and diving expedition to the wreck of a Korean fishing vessel, the Ekiaki, which had come to grief on the reef to the west of the anchorage. 


We rounded up a wonderful day with a few cocktails and a cracking sunset before tucking into a very fresh wahoo and mango curry!



Saturday 11th


Sally and Angie decided to take a turn ashore to try to find the village on the far side of the island.  A walk in paradise turned into a run for their lives after a large bison-like creature emerged from the shrubbery directly behind them!  Luckily the animal turned out to be friendly and not a killer bull.  On arrival in the village they met a young farmer who gave them a bit of a guided tour, told them his life story and sold them the better half of a banana tree which to Ash’s frustration is now hanging from Astra’s backstay!


Once all crew were back on board, we relocated a couple of miles south in the lee of Teaupa Island where there was a splendid reef which we fancied diving on.  Sally and Jeremy drew the short straw and were sent down first, once they returned and had passed on their findings to John and Ash, the second dive commenced.  There was plenty of coral and some decent reef fish, but probably the most exciting bit was the enormous giant clam at the bottom of the anchor chain that tried to snap Johns hand off!


Lunch was quite a feast; we kept chipping away at the wahoo with some first class sashimi and then moved on to rice salad with curried chicken for the main course.  Having tidied away the dive gear and lunch, we set off for Oua (North anchorage) a more suitable place to spend the night.  On the way we were treated to an encounter with three whales that were crossing our path.  Bringing Astra to a stop we turned off the engine.  The whales (we believe mother, father and calf) altered course and did a tight circle past us coming within 30 metres of Astra, after several minutes, they lost interest in us and dived, showing their whole tail fins as they did so.  The largest of the whales was probably the size of Astra.  It was an awesome sight and we felt very privileged.


The anchorage although not terrible interesting, was certainly well protected.  We anchored shallow amongst the coral heads which necessitated Ash and Angie going for a bit of a snorkel in the murky water to check on the anchor and the surrounding obstacles. 


After such a big lunch, most were not terribly interested in dinner (apart from Ash), so a few tins were produced and those who fancied it were treated to steak and kidney, and chunky chicken in white sauce!



Sunday 12th


We awoke bright and early keen to leave the night anchorage and find somewhere to do some diving and snorkeling.  Unfortunately, our first port of call, Wickham Reef, which is supposedly the best dive location in the Ha’apai Group, was deemed too dangerous to approach in the rough 25 knot conditions.  After a quick discussion, the itinerary was altered slightly and we headed for Limu Island on the easternmost barrier reef.  It was about 20Nm, so we put up the sails and had a thoroughly enjoyable blast. 


We anchored shallow in five metres tucked right in behind a reef but the anchorage was still rather rocky due to the chop that the wind had created.  It was so chilly in fact that some crew members even put on jumpers!  It was decided to save venturing ashore until the following morning and instead settle down to a game of scrabble before dinner.  It was at this point that the watermaker decided to start spraying water at high pressure all over the place, so Jeremy turned it off and we decided that that too would have to wait till the morning. 


Dinner was another mouth-watering recipe, this time it was wahoo chowder on the menu…we have to think of about 8 more variations and that might just do it!  However, it is such a delicious fish and we have waited so long to catch one that it is unlikely that we will tire of seeing it on the menu every other evening.



Monday 13th


Mercifully the wind had abated during the night leaving blue sky and sunshine.  This enabled Jeremy to dismantle the water maker, locate the leak (a joint had corroded) and put together a temporary repair.  While this was happening Ash, Angie and John tendered in to Limu Island to investigate.  It took about 15 minutes to walk round the perimeter!  The little island was one of the prettiest we have set foot on; white sand beach covered in amazing shells gave way to lush vegetation full of birds.  The surrounding rock pools and lagoon were spectacular shades of turquoise.


We threaded Astra out through the multitude of coral heads and headed for Uonukuhihifo.  Lunch was consumed en-route and on arrival we were delighted by an absolutely picture perfect anchorage, with fantastic shelter and crystal clear water.


Wasting no time, Sally, Ash and John went for a dive on a reef 0.5Nm NE of the anchorage while Angie provided safety cover from T/T Astra while doing a spot of snorkelling.  The clarity was incredible and the beautiful coral was absolutely pristine.  Everybody worked up quite an appetite so we had steaks for dinner.



Tuesday 14th


Tuesday morning saw the crew in the water complete with dive gear to give Astra’s hull a much needed clean.  Scrapers and scourers were the weapons used but under the circumstances submersible lawnmowers would have been more appropriate.  Nevertheless, after over an hours scrubbing, the hull was looking rather more respectable.


At 1230 we departed and motored north back towards Pangai, Lifuka.  On arrival, the Rudds’ left Astra to move into accommodation ashore and after a farewell dinner at Mariner’s Café, we all said our goodbyes and returned to our respective bunks.



Wednesday 15th


Jeremy and Sally went ashore to the immigration office to check out of Ha’apai and then paid a visit to the market to buy some supplies.  As soon as they rejoined Astra, we weighed anchor and headed south towards Kelefesia.  In order to cover the 55Nm before nightfall, we figured that we would have to do something in the order of 8 knots.  To begin with it looked like we would have to motor the whole way as the breeze was insufficient to meet our target speed.  However, an hour and a half out, the wind filled in and we were able to achieve 7 to 9 knots SOG the whole way.  Dodging the reefs was made more difficult by the overcast sky and the fact that some of the reefs were simply not marked on the charts.  Our first warning of one such obstacle was a wave like a surf break suddenly rearing up on our port bow!


On nearing Kelefesia, we dropped the sails and approached the anchorage under power.  The entrance was a daunting proposition to say the least.  Huge breakers known as ‘blind rollers’ were heaped up on either side of the channel, as we motored gingerly through, we had to dodge another shoal while surfing Astra in on the three metre swell, all the time praying that we had not picked a big set to come in on!  Some of the waves did seem like they were on the verge of breaking but we made it and dropped the hook in 9 metres in surprisingly calm water.  Fortunately, it was time for Happy Hour and a few G&Ts/rums soon mended our slightly frayed nerves.