Rarotonga to Tonga

JJMoon Diary
Barry and Margaret Wilmshurst
Fri 5 Oct 2007 20:16
Joy unbounded! No sooner had we exposed our lamentable fishing skills to the public at large than - Bingo! Mags landed a very handsome yellowfin tuna. Just right for beginners; a “good eater,” and not too big so that we could deal with the hauling on board, killing and filleting without too much mess. There really is nothing quite like eating a meal of very fresh fish caught yourself.

She was a beautiful fish.

Rarotonga is the largest of the Cook Islands lying at the southern extremity of the group which extends, so they say, to an area the size of western Europe. Aviatu is a commercial harbour serving the largest town in the group and is welcoming to visiting yachts although there are few concessions to yachtsmen's comfort. The quay space available will accommodate about a dozen boats moored stern-to, Mediterranean style. There is usually a swell so once lines have been secured ashore the boat must be hauled off ten to fifteen metres to avoid damage. You go ashore in the dinghy. There are no proper ladders up the quay wall but three steel staircases, redundant from some previous use, have been hooked over the edge and one climbs through the gap under the handrail as the dinghy surges up and down, expecting a ducking on every trip. (We never saw anyone get more than wet feet, though).

It is a pleasant if unspectacular island dependent for external security on New Zealand. It seems to be a popular place for Kiwis to go on holiday. I was chatting up the Australian harbour master when clearing out, making some comparisons with the facilities in Tahiti. “The word among yachties” I said, '' is that your island has most of what Tahiti has but is”...... “more friendly” he interjected. I had been about to say “less expensive.” It is interesting that the inhabitants of every island we have visited in the Pacific have assured us that theirs is the friendliest in the region. It is no wonder that people enjoy coming out here.

We took our usual trip round the island, on the bus this time, and got a feel for the rest of the place and a close up of pesky local school kids going home. I was with the naughty boys at the back. The same the world over.

We decided we should get some experience of the famous local dancing so we spent Saturday evening in one of the big hotels where the dance school were performing. They were impressively vigorous and skilful. After grace, said by the MC, the buffet was excellent (the people in this part of the world are large and have simply gigantic appetites) and we had a thoroughly enjoyable, touristy evening.

Dancing in Rarotonga

On Sunday morning Mags and Sue went to the Catholic cathedral. They were very impressed with the relaxed atmosphere, the powerful singing and the children who largely led the worship. Meanwhile Ross offered to help renew our engine control cables which were showing some evidence of wear. This was a tricky job with some interesting little difficulties to be overcome and altogether took quite a few hours over several days.

Now we are on day six of a probable seven day passage to Tonga. At present the motion is difficult and it is pouring with rain so I shall wait until we get in before polishing this off.

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It is Friday morning and we are in, after just seven days. It was not our favourite passage including as it did periods of flat calm, brisk winds, heavy rain and one dramatic wind shift which caused all sorts of minor chaos. However, here we are safe and in good heart.

The first time I watched television was in 1953 for the coronation. I remember little of the ceremony but one image remains very clear - Queen Salote of Tonga riding in an open carriage through the streets of London; a very large lady with a smile about a mile wide. The crowds took to her in a huge way and she became almost as much a star as our own queen. Visiting her grandson's kingdom has always been an important goal for this cruise.

As we closed the islands we crossed the international date line; jumping forward a day without passing midnight. We are now at UTC +13; British Summer time +12. There have been cases in the past where the crew have mutinied when the captain told them they had lost a day of their lives. I served the whole ship's company a cup of tea in bed this morning. It seemed to do the trick. There has been no mutiny so far.

Once again, our first impressions of a new country demonstrate the paucity of our imaginations - not at all how we pictured it but full of interest. Among the valuable resources available to us are the specialist web sites written by and for cruisers. These can be very useful in giving tips on places about to be visited as well as the latest information about piracy around the world, the best sites for weather and much other information. However, we get the impression that the people who contribute are more often than not those who are cross or disappointed with something. Contented cruisers keep mum. We had been warned here about “difficult” officials who had to be chaperoned while they searched the boat and, having confiscated food for reasons of public health, would then eat it. We gained a quite different impression only a few months later. We had four large officials sitting round our cockpit table, three gentlemen and a lady, from quarantine, public health and customs. All were at least correct and courteous and some, charming. Apart from several forms to be filled in, usually covering the same information, there was not the slightest difficulty and when they left the boat they offered to run me in to the immigration officer in their four-by-four and show me the nearest ATM so that I could pay our fees on my return. The immigration man was busy as he usually is on Tuesdays and Thursdays because there are two international flights into the airport on those days and he is the only officer on duty. Both he and the health official apologised for the lack of staff but a short wait was no problem; it was a pleasure to be dealt with by such a friendly, cheerful man, which I would say are not the usual attributes of immigration officers round the world.