18:39.61S 173:58.99W Tonga Friendly Islands
18:39.61S 173:58.99W Tonga Vavau The scenery of the River Dart with the sounds of the Amazon.
It is so still here. In our mooring field there is no swell and no waves as we are almost surrounded by land and it is windless for the time being. There are spells, even during the day, when the only sounds are the birds and a distant cockerel, signature of rural communities everywhere. The banks are heavily wooded down to a metre from the water and in the early light of the morning the peaceful atmosphere is gorgeous.
We arrived two days ago along with a trimaran ketch whose light we could see during the last night, and an elderly, elegant French sloop with the same couple aboard who checked out with us in Niue.
There was a little red motor boat ahead of us as we motored around the north of Vavau that turned out to be a dive boat. A number of black wet-suited divers wearing snorkels were in the water with a mother whale and her calf. We could not believe how close to the baby they were swimming, after David on our Niue rib trip expressed the importance of keeping well away from mother humpbacks and their young.
Some other sailors who checked out just before us and helped with our mooring lines said the mother whale was asleep with her eyes shut as they snorkelled with her calf.
The mooring field at Niue was full with one yachting waiting for the gap we left as the westerly migrating yachts build up in number in the hunt for a safe mooring for the coming cyclone season. It is the same here. The field has around 40-50 moorings, mostly owned by charter and diving companies to whom one pays £4 per night and this is preferable to anchoring on an uncertain bottom, especially when the wind does get up.
On arrival we tied up alongside the main wharf to receive Customs, (Young John), Immigration man, (Very Tongan, just fitted between cockpit table and back of seat) and Health (Shifty Graham). The first two had me foxed for a while, from a distance, as we approached I said “They’re both ladies in skirts!” Then realised the custom of trouser-less skirt wearing men here!
“Have you any fresh food on board, onions, potatoes, cabbage, fruit?” Graham said his eyes wandering down below in a suspicious manner.
“No I cooked it all this morning. I just have two unripe papayas, do you want them?”
“Not supposed to have anything fresh food. Wine? I like red wine.”
“You want a glass of red wine?” On duty I thought!
“No, do you have you a bottle for me?”(Your papayas or your wine!)
Slightly aghast I offered him a bottle of Tinto. ”Ah you have something I can undo the cork?” He’s not drinking that while at work and I’m certainly not giving him a corkscrew to take away, luckily the other bottle was a screw top but a nice merlot, shit!
“No but you can have this one, the top screws off.”(Which I’d like to do with your head, you thieving corrupt ejit.)
Happy we were when he left, his back pack clinking suspiciously. We would have to see him again to pay $22 in local money cash, which of course we didn’t have as we’d only just arrived. I wondered where that would go.
The immigration man, his name Tongan so I can’t remember it, was a skirted barrel load of charm. We shared the love of rugby and when his enormous rounded face broke into a smile it revealed gold teeth amidst the perfectly white ones. He wore a big white pearl earing and had numerous gold rings on his plump fingers.
“Its so hot,” he complained. For you I thought, and you live here.
The three of us filled in forms together at the cockpit table,
“Last one.” He said kindly and “Nearly done.” I can imagine he was looking forward to his return to the air-conditioned office to dry off.
Zoonie did glide like a swan through the still waters of the lagoon passing a few derelict boats, mostly multihulls from a past era of lost dreams and towards a boat I know well from past acquaintance, ‘Badger’, now called Zebedee and previously owned by Annie and Pete Hill.
I bought a little Westcoaster 20 foot bilge keeler (two stubby keels instead of one) called Missee Lee from Annie and Pete when they were living in Falmouth many years ago and Emily and I sailed her out of Keyhaven, near Lymington and then Newtown Creek on the Isle of Wight for a few years. I hoped we would meet for a chat with the new owner sometime.
With Zoonie swinging ever so gently on her mooring borrowed from ‘Beluga Diving’ we busied ourselves with pumping up the tender and stowing the lines and fenders ready for our first sortie ashore.
A quick stop for leaflets at the Tourist Office and then on to an ATM to draw out some local dollars to pay Graham his $22 (in small denomination notes he had especially asked for!)
A family of pigs live and graze all around the town and vehicles are careful not to run the little piglets down when they venture across the road.
We emerged from the bakery with two wholemeal loaves as two mature Tongan ladies approached looking radiant in full length white ‘satin’ dresses trimmed with white lace. I couldn’t help it “Wow, you look beautiful.” I said to which they modestly thanked me. Apparently there are celebrations throughout the end of September and beginning of October, with a church dignitary arriving imminently. Much vocal rejoicing takes place in the cathedral in this loyally religious community where only the respect of the family is more important. A bit more respect for one’s environment would be fitting too, the litter on the streets was a shock after Niue and Bora Bora.
A part of the celebrations is the Vava’u Blue Water Festival of which we will be a part this year. With its strong element of fun there will be socials, races and passage planning advice from experts for our onward voyaging to NZ.
Tropical Tease is a t shirt company owned and run by Cindy, who arrived here with her husband 15 years ago in their sailing boat. Cindy is from San Diego and her husband was a Londoner, a film director who did some early work for Channel 4 when it first started. Sadly he has passed and Cindy runs her business with the help of local young women one of whom lived in Poole for a while.
The yacht they came on is now on the sea bed beneath our mooring having sunk after years of neglect. Cindy warned us that it is probably sitting upright, wedged in the mountain of Heiniken tins they cast overboard in those pre eco days!
We have a little project going with her to try and reproduce an Oyster 406 side view under sail on the computer so it can be screen printed onto ‘t’ shirts. Our Zoonie logo is easy as she has scanned a black decal we have, but finding the sail plan with good definition is proving impossible.
One thing we noticed is that once again people from abroad are providing the businesses like supermarkets, bars and restaurants, diving enterprises ‘t’shirt shop etc that both locals and visitors appreciate. There is The Basque Spanish restaurant with its reputation for fine Tapas, we have yet to enjoy.
So although the Kingdom of Tonga, and it still is just that, boasts it has never been colonised by another country, it is heavily dependent on foreigners and foreign help to be what it is today.
One thing there is here, with it being a larger community, is a good choice of places to drink and eat at night, which is a stark contrast to Niue with just the Indian and Japanese restaurants open in the evening, and all the cafes and bars that are run by locals close at 2.00pm.
Back on board we sat in the cockpit and studied the shore line, its trees and buildings and movement of humans on foot and in vehicles, as we like to do. Big fruit bats looking like tail less birds started to emerge from trees and take over the skies from the birds. The sinking sun cast a golden light onto all the white painted buildings including St Joseph’s Cathedral from which came the sound of joyous voices raised to heaven in evensong.
“Come with me to the foredeck.” Was an undeniable invitation. I swear the designers worked out the gentle angle between Zoonie’s foredeck and her coachroof was perfect for lying on. This time it proved a comfortable position for star gazing. Even the light pollution from the town did not detract from the density of heavenly bodies.
Yesterday was productive. We wandered down to the market for some fine fresh local produce and then by accident found a small family stall set up on the quay selling their catch of fish.
The supply ship is months overdue here and the island is rapidly running out of many items judging by the empty shelves and freezers in the shops. We heard about the shortage of fuel while listening to the radio in Niue. The lady in the TO said it was political and if the ship does not arrive soon it will become critical too.
There will soon be around 40 yachts also needing to top up with fuel before their 1200 mile journey south. I hope it arrives soon to relieve the locals and visitors alike.
The Tropicana Café is another foreign enterprise which has many facilities. We sat underneath suspended bicycles and diving gear for hire while drinking delicious cappuccino and admiring the wall of sayings donated by customers. In the next room is the internet area with computers available. It is also possible to leave one’s computer overnight soaking up its downloads and upgrades.
We left our two camping gaz bottle with him for re-filling.
Back on board I filleted and cooked the fish, while Rob sawed to length some of our old mainsail battens and stuck strips of them on the bottom of the gaz cylinder cupboard so the metal cylinders do not sit in water on the bottom and turn rusty. Then we went ashore with the computer to try and send the Niue pics to the blog.
At the friendly Aquarium Bar we bought internet time and the job was fast and easy. With all the dive businesses along the shore front and the presence of two really nice bars there is a genuine warm welcome for us yachties in this thriving community.