Sat 12 Jul 2008 22:09
Date Sunday, 13th July 2008
Location 18:41.75S 174:02.00W
If my coordinates went in correctly you should find us, on this cold and windy morning, sheltering in the bay at Fangakima on the Island of Kapa, in the Vava'u group of Tongan Islands. No change then in the weather for a week now, but as we look at the seas boiling around the outer reefs we do wonder how and why we put up with such discomforts to get here.
In fact our 8 day passage from the Cook Islands went well and the dreaded South Pacific Convergence Zone (unpredictable band of weather) didn't give us too much to panic about. We had a day of calms then the Trade winds filled in with dense clouds and fresh winds that blew 20-25knts (Force 6) for the last two days of the passage and hasn't relented yet! Our main concern was that these strong trade winds (aka 'Super-Trades') were not blowing from the usuall direction and threatened to blow us away from Tonga alltogether. So we had to sail carefully and uncomfortably for a while to make windward progress through the big seas. As ever we didn't plan our arrival time that well, but anticipated this, slowed down early, and enjoyed a dawn landfall in Tonga. We approached from the northeast, and as we rounded the northwest tip of the Vava'u Island, we found ourselves in the lee of the cliffs, and at last our dear ship regained her sense of decorum, and allowed us to move around without two simultaneous handholds (try cooking with your teeth!!).
Better still was Vicky's shout from the cockpit: "Whale, whale!!". A humpback had surfaced very close to the boat. These beasts are a major tourist attraction here, but we are very early in the season, and we discovered that the local tour boats hadn't managed to find them with any reliability yet, and they charge a huge amount for the trips. Even more amazing was that down below we could hear him/she/them talking: the sound being transmitted and maybe amplified by our hull. Just like the real thing on the telly!!! Humpbacks come thousands of miles to Tonga each year for, you've guessed it, humping!
In the main port, Neiafu, we had to tie to a commercial wharf to check in: very tight, but we manged well, with a bit of shore help, and with Vicky doing sterling work on the foredeck and with the fenders. Laurie found us on the dock, and yours truly did the usual rounds of Customs, Immigration, Quarantine, and 'Health'. There is a tourist 'drag' in Neiafu, along the waterfront: the yachtie commercial activity seems to be driven by ex-pat sailing Kiwis: so loads of bars and cafes, competitive prices and all fun, each with their quota of regulars from the liveaboard sailing community in the Harbour: about half the yachts have a givaway layer of barnacles on their waterlines!!
To sober up a bit we all went on a half day cycle tour of part of the Island: excellent stuff: there are more 'wild' domestic pigs on the Island than humans, they play and squabble with the resident dog population. The habit of burying granny in the front garden is not well developed here (see previous Cook Island blog) - maybe due to the habbit of the pigs to dig up the front gardens! Next day we provisioned for our cruise through the small Islands of the group: and so here we are, early on Sunday morning, relieved that our anchor has not dragged in this anchorage. We are surrounded by chartered boats from the 'Moorings' charter base in Neiafu, mostly Australian and Kiwi crews, a few British, so we are told.
Over to Vicky who as usual will edit out anything above that she doesn't agree with, and add a tale or two of her own:
"Hi all! To give you an idea of where we are: The Kingdom of Tonga is made up of a 4 groups of islands spreadout over many hundread miles from north to south. Tongatapu is in the southern most large island group and is where the king lives (Tonga is self governing - it's never been a colony) and where the international airport is and therfore where we are heading to; Me and Laurie are departing and 2p and Hannah arriving in just less than 2 weeks time! Going north from Tongatapu about 60 miles is the Ha'apapi ('Happy'!) group, beautifull low coral islands, lots of beaches and reefs and they quite deserted. North again about 70 miles is the Vava'u group (where we are now). These are higher islands full of inlets and bays and consists of a main island (its only 10miles long!) with a scattering of 60 smaller islands to the south and west, the furthest one is only 20 miles away! This creates a sepctacular cruising ground, with hundreds of possible anchorages, coral reefs for snorkelling, beaches, sea caves and coves to explore, often anchorages are less than a mile away from each other! The Vavau group of islands are all protected from the large pacific swell by a long reef/string of islands on the eastern side which keeps the seas flat (lucky for Laurie!) and the marine life is thriving. The Moorings and Sunsail charter companies have set up small bases in the main port here and our first anchorage is one of the popular ones (mainly because it's well sheltered in the current strong winds!).
With relief Lauire found us easily on the wharf when we were clearing customs, luckily Neiafu isn't a big place and word travells fast as there is no mobile reception. Fleck was 2 days late and i'd booked Laurie in to 'The Paradise International Hotel' for a few days in order to await our arrival. It sounded good but Laurie wasn't so sure; slighly shabby, outrageous orange carpet, aircon that sounds like a jet engine; but me and Dad were so throughly impressed by the shower and seemingly endless hot water! After a coupel of days in Neiafu to get our breath back (and more than the necessary amount of showering!) we have set off to explore the other anchorages and lagoons. The winds should calm down soon before we set sail south to explore the Ha'apapi group and then on to the capital for the end of the voyage"
And in usuall Fleck style, over to the newest Crew member:
Hi all, I'll try and be brief as the blog is in danger of growing as Fleck becomes busier.
Tonga is as friendly, clean and beautiful as you would expect, although the weather is yet to be 'tropical'. However, what is really impressive (especially having just come from Singapore) is the sustainability of the place. Food comes from the garden or a local field, and restaurants are able to conjure up even western dishes like burgers and fries with produce available from the village. Needless to say the fish is all lovely and fresh.
Anyway, it is great to have joined Fleck at last and I'm hoping there will be more adventures to come.