Astra Blog: Tongatapu, Tonga 16.10.08 - 25.10.08

Jeremy & Sally Paul
Sat 25 Oct 2008 19:52

Astra Blog: Tongatapu, Tonga 16.10.08 – 25.10.08



Thursday 16th


Jeremy woke Ash at first light and at 0600 they decided the visibility was good enough to pick their way out through the surf.  Once clear of all the blind rollers and other hazards, they got the sails up and headed directly for Tongatapu’s main port of Nuku’alofa.  The 20 knots of apparent wind 60 degrees off the port bow enabled Astra to make a steady 8.5-9 knots SOG.  We covered the 50Nm with ease and just after midday we were anchored off the main port.  We went ashore to pick up Stef our new crew member and check-in with immigration. 


Back on board, we motored the short distance to Pangaimotu where we anchored for the night alongside a bunch of other cruising yachts.  That night we went ashore to the island and had dinner at Big Mama’s Yacht Club.



Friday 17th


In the morning, Sally took the island ferry into the main town to try to book flights home from New Zealand.  Meanwhile Jeremy, Ash and Stef tackled the burgeoning list of jobs.  This included all the routine maintenance jobs as well as checking, oiling, greasing, and if necessary repairing or replacing absolutely everything onboard from the masthead down.


With the vast majority of the jobs done, we all rushed ashore at 0300 to compete in Big Mama’s games afternoon.  This was an inter-crew competition consisting of coconut boules (played with large coconuts which one had to hurl at a small coconut - needless to say, they never went anywhere near where you aimed!), darts and finally a volleyball match.  Although Astra’s team dominated the warm up rounds of the coconut boules, in the actual contest we were soundly beaten.  We consoled ourselves with the fact that it definitely was a game of luck rather than skill.  We also lost the darts by a whisker to some fairly well practised players.  However, when it came to the volleyball match we redeemed ourselves completely.  Sally, Stef and Ash with a couple of the staff to make up numbers took on a combined cruisers and staff team.  It was brutal; the opposition was systematically taken to pieces by a far superior Astra team. 


After the games, we all retired to the bar to recover from our exertions.  A few refreshing beers were followed by an outstanding buffet dinner, including wahoo cerviche donated from Astra’s supplies.



Saturday 18th


Once we had recovered from the previous night’s revelry and finished the most pressing items left on the jobs list, we up anchored and motored 7Nm west to the island of Atata.  The entrance was an absolute minefield of coral heads.  All crew were required in their most serious coral spotting positions to pick a course through to the anchorage.  On arrival we were disappointed to find that the resort looked rather derelict.


While we were eating lunch in the cockpit, the generator which had been misbehaving suddenly cut out.  A quick check confirmed that it had automatically shut itself down due to overheating.  Jeremy set to work on the beast to try to ascertain what had caused it to do this.


So that Jeremy would not be distracted, Sally was sent to read her book and Ash and Stef were sent to check out the resort!  Having beached the tender, Ash and Stef wandered round what they believed to be a deserted building and were greeted by a large deck, vibrant bar and restaurant - the place was still alive and well.  Delighted by this surprise, they wasted no time in buying a beer and having a game of pool.  From then on the place just got better.  There was a happy hour (two hours), followed by a huge buffet dinner and then a floor show which turned out to be by far the most impressive yet, complete with fire dancing display!



Sunday 19th


Always keen to go for a dip, Ash and Stef decided to go for a dive on the reef outside the lagoon.  The coral was very pretty and if the sun had been shining and the visibility better it would have been fantastic.  When the diving party returned, Sally and Jeremy took the tender in to have a wander around the resort; unfortunately it seemed that guests and staff alike were still recovering from the night before!


We picked our way carefully through the coral heads and headed back to Big Mama’s so that in the morning we would be able to get straight on with the task of finding somebody to repair the generator.  Jeremy had managed to ascertain that the problem was that the pipes within the heat exchanger had corroded and had holes in them.  On the way back, we were approached by a young hammerhead shark swimming on the surface.  We are not sure what he/she found so interesting about us as we were not fishing and had not jettisoned anything overboard.  However, after a close inspection of Astra, the shark thought better of trying to take us on and disappeared.


That night Stef, who had insisted that she cannot cook, cooked some scrumptious fajitas for dinner.



Monday 20th


In the morning Sally and Jeremy rushed ashore to take the first water taxi to Nuku’alofa.  There they found a man who agreed to try to weld up the offending pipe from the generator’s heat exchanger.  Meanwhile, Ash finished the necessary (it has been on the job list for over a year!) but mind numbingly boring task of creating Astra’s new business cards.  Stef, who had delighted Jeremy when she made the mistake of admitting that she had some training in meteorology, was given the arduous task of understanding the weather between here and New Zealand.  Sally rewarded the whole team by making a massive roast chicken dinner which as usual was duly dispatched in its entirety.  There was even a dessert: baked bananas coated in sugar and generously laced in rum!



Tuesday 21st


It is impressive that despite having been in the area for nearly a week, some people had made it thus far without venturing into town.  Finally, on Tuesday morning everybody ventured in to use the internet, do the provisioning and of course have a huge Full English Breakfast at Café Reef.


On return to Astra, Sally started cooking lots of meals for the leg to New Zealand so that we would be able to just reheat them while underway.  Jeremy spent the afternoon looking at our options for repairing the generator.  A replacement was ordered from the USA, a local commercial fishing boat offered us a huge heat exchanger that they happened to have spare on board, the mechanics at the diesel engine workshop worked hard to try to patch up the holes and we even looked at linking the generator to our main engine’s heat exchanger.


Ash and Stef went ashore in the afternoon and challenged the locals (Big Mama’s offspring!) to some volley ball.  After which they were joined by Jeremy and Sally for some Happy Hour drinks at Big Mama’s Yacht Club bar.  Stef again ventured into the galley and made a delectable stir fry followed up by more baked bananas in a vast quantity of rum; we ended up crowded around it like animals at a trough!



Wednesday 22nd


First thing in the morning, we received the unwelcome news that the heat exchanger was irreparable.  Jeremy and Sally immediately went to the main town to retrieve the part and work on our other options.  In the mean time, Stef and Ash continued with the job list or as much of it was possible.  Cleaning activities were suspended due to the fact that we had no water and were unable to make any as the watermaker can only be run off the generator. 


Sally and Jeremy returned for lunch and a much needed rest, so Ash and Stef left them in peace and headed into town to hunt for Kava, unfortunately they found the ice cream shop and a bar before they reached the kava shop and when they got there they found that it closes earlier than everywhere else!


All was not lost though, because after a pleasant dinner ashore at Big Mama’s, they were invited to join in on a kava ceremony with the staff.



Thursday 23rd 


Desperate for some water so that we could shower and wash up, we were finally forced to take Astra into the main port to get water from the fish market tap!  This also enabled Jeremy to meet up with his latest generator repair man, David.  David reckoned that he could patch it up at a cost, so he has been put on stand-by in case the replacement part ordered doesn’t make it by Saturday.


After a leisurely lunch on board, everybody spent the afternoon relaxing.  Stef made a cake with Sally and then went snorkelling with Ash on the nearby wreck.  All then partook in Happy Hour before returning to Astra wahoo sashimi followed by wahoo chowder and chocolate cake.


Paul (who is kindly joining the crew for the arduous leg to New Zealand) was suppose to arrive on the morning flight (23/10) but due to engine trouble was delayed in Los Angeles.  We then all stayed up to meet him at his new ETA of 0045 (24/10).



Friday 24th 


At 0300 we finally learnt from Big Mama that the flight had been cancelled in Apia, Samoa.


Sally and Jeremy took the tender into Nuku’alofa to talk to immigration and customs about the possibility of them working on the Saturday so that we could check-out of Tonga as soon as Paul arrived.  After much negotiating a seriously complicated plan was hatched that relied on a number of rather unpredictable factors coming together perfectly!


While they were gone, Ash and Stef started cleaning Astra’s hull to gain that extra knot of speed for the trip. 


Jeremy and Sally returned just in time for the whole crew to head ashore for Big Mama’s Olympic Games.  The Astra team excelled themselves winning the volleyball hands down, coming second in the seriously dodgy coconut balls and winning (we think) in the water fight war game!


Just before Happy Hour, Ash’s parents Angie and John arrived at Big Mama’s where they had booked a fale for a couple of nights.  Dinner was a raucous affair, with a huge buffet followed by Big Mama’s prize giving.



Saturday 25th 


All available hands leapt into action for what promised to be a very busy and stressful day.  At 0800 everybody, including Angie and John who were press ganged into service, took Astra over to the main port.  Firstly, Paul’s plane had to arrive at 0800 (with Paul on it) so that we could get him and take his passport to immigration so that Jeremy could check-out at 0900.  This had to be done before we could refuel at 0930.  All the officials involved were working on overtime and therefore delays would prove pricey.  So while Sally and Angie were despatched on provisioning duties, Jeremy went to customs and immigration, Paul (still grinning from his Bloody Mary breakfast!) was whisked from the airport to immigration, John was sent to the DHL office to secure the package containing the new heat exchanger and Ash and Stef stayed on Astra to coordinate on the VHF radio and await the fuel delivery.  Amazingly all went surprisingly smoothly, Paul arrived, we checked-out, the fuel arrived, the stores arrived, the heat exchanger was eventually handed over and David helped Jeremy install it and no rats managed to scurry on board during the operation!  The capacity for a complete disaster was enormous but thankfully it never happened! 


While the generator was being flushed several times to clear it of salt water, Stef prepared some huge fresh lobsters for lunch and we broke out several celebratory beers. 


Having motored back to Big Mama’s, everybody set about cleaning the hull while Jeremy nurtured his (much happier) generator and fitted the replacement parts to the watermaker which Paul had kindly carried all the way from Europe.


That evening, a hugely relieved Astra crew joined all the other cruisers (there are now 29 yachts anchored off Big Mama’s!) ashore for a ‘bring your own meat/fish’ BBQ, Big Mama provided all the salads and needless to say we provided a large amount of wahoo!