Tonga, Blue starfish

Dick and Irene Craig
Sun 20 Jun 2010 23:52
The Kingdom of Tonga is stunningly beautiful, the inhabitants that we have met are simply charming, have infinite patience and appear to be incredibly chilled out.
It is the only Pacific nation never ruled by a foreign country and has the last remaining Polynesian monarchy. Thus it remains independent of aid from other countries. The Kingdom is about to become democratic, following an election in the near future.
Tonga is made up of 170 islands, of which around a quarter are inhabited, divided into four groups with Tongatapu in the south, Ha'apai consisting of low coral islands with huge volcanoes in the centre, Vavu'a , where we checked into the country and 300 kilometers further north, the volcanic Niuas.
We left Neiafu having stayed there for 3 nights and made passage, all of 5.5nautical miles, to the small island of Nuku. We went ashore and walked around the island, though it was not possible to circumnavigate it. The tide was out and a lot of marine life remained on the beach, on the reef and the coral. We saw a sea snake, a jelly fish, a huge number of creatures with five, long hairy legs and a central, black, flattish body, the diameter of which seemed to be between the size of a 20p coin and a 50p coin. We saw hermit crabs. In fact, we also saw a large shell making its way along the reef with two pink legs jutting out from the bottom. There were a lot of bright blue starfish and pretty, flower-like, pale mauve coral.
After a very quiet and peaceful night we moved 3.5nm to Kuko staying only one night before making the 4.5nm trip to the Blue Lagoon. Wow! Almost enclosed by reefs and surrounded by islands we dropped our anchor, as did four other catamarans, three in a nearby anchorage, closer to the beach.
After lunch we took the rib ashore to check out the restaurant but the season doesn't start until July 2nd, lasting until November. Although the restaurateurs were on the island when we arrived, they had come specially to open for lunch, for 24 people who had booked a month ago. Presumably those chaps are on the 3 Moorings charter catamarans.
We tried to take the rib to a reef between another two islands but there were so many coral heads in the water we gave it up exploring the beach on the island covered by lush tropical jungle. We looked into a couple of caves. The one at the end of the beach had a colorful naturally red and green wall. We didn't go inside because there were clouds of insects in the cave, mainly moths.
We cruised around, anchoring off the islands of Overlau, Tapana and Pangamotu south. We dived off the boat and explored the enormous coral head less than 50metres away.
While at Pangamotu south, we transferred some water from our tanks to Jeannius. Having a problem with the generator they have insufficient power available to utilize their own water-maker. Unfortunately, despite tasting the water as it came out of the hose pipe, we still managed to fill their tanks with sea water so then had to flush them out with pure water and refill them. We have a facility on board to swap between fresh water from the tanks and sea water from the ocean. This can be very handy when we want to rinse mud off the anchor and prefer to conserve the fresh water.
Back in Neiaku we get the passports stamped then stock up with fresh produce from the market. As we start to walk back along the main street we hear a chorus of wonderful singing voices and then see the vocalists, about fifty people, dressed in black, sitting in the front garden of a house, singing from hymn books. Across the street, in the fire station yard are some trestle tables and benches where another group of at least fifty people, also dressed in black, are eating food from white polystyrene boxes. A group of about ten people, standing on the pavement are carrying a variety of bouquets. This was a funeral.
In Tonga, as in French Polynesia, the graves are as often as not, in the gardens of the relatives of the deceased, unlike Niue, where graves might also be found along the edge of the road.
We have now all been checked out in Oz and have been granted visitors visas. We still await a satisfactory response from the Fijian authorities having advised them by email that our estimated arrival date is Monday. On Thursday we refueled, the appropriate official came aboard and we were then free to depart Tonga.
We left the Customs dock just before 3pm on the 17th June, raising the sails soon after. The wind was blowing an easterly force 4-5 in slight seas while we remained in Tonga's coastal water.
By 5pm the winds had increased and the seas were now moderate and we continued to sail with full main and genoa until around 6pm when we put a reef in the foresail and at 7pm also put a reef in the mainsail. By 6am next morning, the seas were moderate to rough and the winds stronger, so a second reef was put in the mainsail. The sky remained cloudy.
The wind had reduced a little by noon so we raised the parasailor which gave us a much more comfortable sail. We had all been feeling seasick since the previous day. I was seasick and as soon as I had cooked the supper, took to my bed. This is the first time since June 2000 that I had been seasick.
At 2pm on the 18th, although the wind was no stronger than 20 knots, we blew out the parasailor, so reverted to a reefed main and genoa until 3pm on the 19th when we shook out the reef in the main, leaving 2 reefs in the genoa. This was not because of wind strength but to ensure that the sail remained full and to regulate the speed we were sailing, not wishing to arrive in Suva, Fiji, too early on the 20th.
The last 2 days we were at sea, although the sky was still cloudy, the sun shone and the sea became slight making the rest of the journey much more pleasant.
As we approached Fiji, we could see the mountains, stretching back, one behind another,. very beautiful. The bay looked somewhat like a marine graveyard with a number of rusting merchant ships at anchor, run aground or tied to huge buoys. Arriving at Suva around 6pm on the 20th, we dropped our anchor in mud, in the quarantine area of the bay and that night, all slept like babies in the peaceful anchorage.
Next morning a huge P&O cruise ship was in the bay. We waited for the local officials to come aboard.

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