Tonga Boatyard Bliss and Hunga Haven

Mon 17 Oct 2016 19:10

Tonga Boatyard Bliss and Hunga Haven.

Motoring around the now familiar Mount Talau headland we could see the hefty blue box section trailer awaiting Zoonie’s arrival, a small but strong tractor at its shore end. The driver was in his seat and Bill and Ian ready to take a bow line and give me one of his lines, that was attached to a coral head.

We could see there was still sufficient rising tide, through the little bridge nearby, that enabled the road to cross the estuary, to set Zoonie’s stern askew and by pulling on that line we could prevent her being pulled sideways by the tide.

It took a while for Joe in his wet suit, swimming around to line Zoonie up in the slings underwater and Bill to pull her inch by inch onto the trailer. At the last minute we scrambled into the dinghy and went ashore as a bulldozer came rumbling down the hill into the boatyard and was attached to the tractor. To my surprise, the two of them pulled Zoonie on her trailer up the steep hill from the water at walking speed, I had to be quick taking my shots and its just as well the camera was set on Sport.

Since we were only staying out of the water for 24 hours the load was simply parked and chocked on the first level ground above the slip. A quick, and non- thorough spray off was done and we were left alone,  to get as much scraping off of the round white mollusc shell bases before the daylight left us.

Recently divorced Chris needed to tell us his potted life history first and a lady appeared out of nowhere, from one of the parked yachts, “Hi, my name’s …..(I can’t remember now) how long are you staying?” The hint of desperation in her voice suggested she had already been here too long, and its only the start of the cyclone season. I replied and she said, “Oh I’m so envious you lucky things,” and disappeared equally illusively.

As we settled to our seemingly endless task of chipping off the thin white circles, one by one and there were thousands of them we couldn’t help but notice the beautiful little green/yellow stubby tailed birds that swooped from foliage in the quarry wall across to the bushes around the low boundary wall of the yard. We think they were little parrots, a little fatter than budgies. Another bird was making a lovely liquid sound we had not heard before.

Zoonie now elevated a few metres above her usual element was exposed to a lovely breeze coming down the hill and we spent a comfortable night of somnolent exhaustion before resuming work just after five, in the cool of the new morning.

Like any seemingly big task the attitude that a little more done is always a little less to do we stood back after a couple of hours to enjoy the completion of the mollusc removal. Rob had used a scraper that also had the effect of stripping a layer of the Coppercoat anti-fouling paint off to reveal a layer of the copper which deters the crittures from attaching themselves to the hull. It’s the first time we’ve done it in five years and in the process our fears were confirmed; in places the coating is very thin and the full amount we had purchased a great expense had never made it onto Zoonie’s hull.

I busied myself with the compact area of the prop shaft, propeller and skeg and up front the bow thruster prop and base, scraping off the fouling and painting with white anti fouling paint while Rob replaced the anodes and cleaned out all the skin fitting shafts.

By midday we were washing the sweat off by having a swim from the end of the slip chatting with a guy from New Mexico who was snorkelling with his Tongan nephew. He came here 14 years ago, met and married a Tongan and settled down in the house we could see over the river. One year and one baby later they found they just could not earn enough to live so were forced to go back home. He yearned for the day of his retirement when he could bring his family home.

A blissful sun-heated rainwater shower later and we were lauding it over everything in the cockpit eating salmon pasta sandwiches and listening to the dulcet tones of some locals singing along to Tongan music playing on their radio while they worked on their boat. In a united effort they had spent a few years building this craft designed as a pleasure trip enterprise.

Amidst happy music, red ribbons fluttering from each window and much celebration she was launched, only to find a few days later that they had used the wrong resin and the fibreglass started to delaminate. So they were doing a hasty, well actually very relaxed repair job, since one of them spent the day snoozing on the ground, ready for next season.

Our relaunch took just a few minutes, with Chris, two little sisters and a few others watching the process, the highlight of their day. Just before leaving Alan, who partners the business with Joe and his wife Kate, came on board with an interesting device in his hand to take a look at the electrics. He surmised there is nothing wrong that another battery and a new charger would not cure. His computer deduced our usage is quite high so we simply need to charge using the engine for longer. The last 10% to go into the batteries for a full charge takes a long time.

Gail and Tony in Cetacea had invited us to join them just off Ilikutamotu Island and we could see her moored as we came back around from Vaipuua inlet. Sitting ashore on the wooden staging at a little restaurant we drank, chatted and dined the evening away, watching the orange sunset and the creeping darkness. A little piglet wandered by looking for scraps and looked expectantly towards us.

Whether he had been trained to stay off the dining area I do not know but he would not make the jump from the sand onto the wood. All we could see was his little pink hairy head, sticky out ears and beady eyes. Gail weakened and he dashed for the chunk of fish, not that he had much competition, his mum was busy snuffling along through the high waterline pile of flotsam.

The next morning I lay in bed counting 45 church bell dongs twice and then 21 followed a few minutes later by the usual voices rising to heaven. Why 45 I wondered? 21 was by way of a countdown, maybe, nuns dashing along corridors hastily arranging themselves so as to arrive impeccably and on time.

I rowed over to Cetacea since I had done my homework on her white paper about wastage guidance for cruisers like us and thought it was a good opportunity to deliver my thoughts while they were still close and we could chat in person.

Job done we said our farewells as they let go their buoy and motored off. We have the same problem as them, non-working windlass but they hope to be able to fix their’s before they leave and cruise through the islands anchorages. We will see them, and many others we have come to know and like when we arrive in NZ having crossed the great divide of latitude 30 degree south.

It was Friday and we decided to clear out with Customs on Monday, spend a couple of nights in Hunga Haven 10 miles in the right direction, while a patch of unstable weather passes, before starting off for The North Minerva Reef some 300 miles south west from here.

Back to our favourite establishment, Tropicana for a chat with Greg over weather, I took photos of his computer screen with some tips on weather from David Sapiane of Gulf Harbour Radio on it, we indulged in one hour of internet, some beer and I had a delicious bowl full with Ota Ika, (Tonga’s version of Poisson Cru) while Rob had beef burger and chips.

We promised Greg we’d be back next year but we wondered if he would be there, it seems quite a few of the businesses are for sale including his. It doesn’t matter how successful the business, how fabulous the location or how appreciative the clientele one can get sick of doing the same thing for a long time, don’t we all know!?

Maki the Menace came around Zoonie early on both Sunday and Monday, the first time Rob gave him a polite rebuff but on Sunday we just watched from behind our secretive window meshes as he rowed around the stern eyeing our boarding potential.

Rob occasionally comes up with brilliant ideas on how to spend a free day. So on Sunday, our last day on Vavau, we wandered along beneath our big multi coloured umbrella, beside the main road leading to Ian at Vavau Villa for Sunday brunch.

Three smartly clad young ladies in white blouses and long blue wrap over skirts smiled and said Good Morning on their way to church, their brolly was the same as ours. Another young lady driving a new (as yet undented) white BMW 4x4 offered us a lift but we had chosen to walk for the exercise. A hundred waving hands greeted us from passing pickup trucks. Everyone dressed in their Sunday best and heading for the same place, St Joseph’s Cathedral.

After a lunch of Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon and, well you can guess what Rob had, we chatted with two English expats who now live in NZ. The man from Leicester and his wife from Kingston upon Thames.

“Do you ever go back to England?” I asked.

“For funerals” confirmed their lack of enthusiasm for the ‘old country’.

Spot dragged himself from his cool haven in the back of Ian’s car to waddle our way for a good stroking and scratching behind the ears. Our brief Toby substitute.

I took a few photos on the way back, pandanus leaves drying on the line next to the shirts, Zoonie in the now nearly empty mooring field and the indulgent ideas of an American who ran out of money before his over-sized house could be finished. It now rots, chunks of concrete have fallen off where the steel reinforcing rods have rusted and expanded, even the plywood shutters nailed hastily over doorways and windows will soon be no more than a pile of rotdust on the ground.

With the fridge full from our Saturday shop we had only to moor alongside the Customs wharf on Monday and collect our clearance document before going to the Duty Free Shop for beer and wine (not duty free) and the gin and rum at half the normal price!

In a rising wind we cast off and while Rob helmed us away from Vavau I filleted two fish we had bought from the quay, secured the fenders and lines and started the water-maker, so as I type this Zoonie is quite level once more with both tanks full.

We listened to a radio exchange between Barry who owns the mooring buoys here in Hunga and Lito who is sailing in company with Zebedee, the junk I was telling you about who I think may be the renamed Badger I once knew. The latter has no engine so is sailing in company with Lido who planned to tow her through the narrow gap into this haven. I was hoping for an opportunity for a chat.

Not only is it a narrow gap but there is a prominent rock on the left hand side worryingly shaped like a tin opener. Barry’s home is opposite the entrance on the other side of the lagoon so he can see a vessel from his beach and guide them in. We had read the instructions in our pilot. A perpendicular approach toward the gap, pass in the middle of the channel and follow a bearing of 130’ between the red and green buoys (no longer present). It was easy enough and we could see the darker water in the centre channel. We made contact with Barry after we were safely in.

Shortly afterwards we heard that Lito had aborted the idea of towing Zebedee in because of the strong crosswind over the entrance, so I’ll just have to wait a little longer for a chat.

The lagoon is an ancient caldera from an extinct and sinking volcano. There are trees all around and it feels very protected. Barry and Cindy came from Canada a few years ago and lease a few acres from the Tongan Crown. They have built a sturdy wooden home and laid out a bountiful garden with papaya, pineapple and coconut palms and flower beds marked out with Moses in a basket plants, their spiky leaves purple on one side and green on the other, their flowers purple baskets containing a white flower like a swaddled Moses.

Here we swing on their mooring awaiting our weather window for the start of our voyage to New Zealand, The Northland at the top of North Island, Godzone as it is sometimes called via Minerva. I’ll write soon.