Greetings from the Kingdom of Tonga...We are currently in Vava'u the middle group of the Tongan chain of islands. It is an interesting spot here..great cruising grounds and because of that, home to Moorings and SunSail charter operations so full, full of boats and stuff to do.There are too many anchorages to count and they actually are numbered rather than making us trip up over the Tongan names with more vowels than we know what to do with. Feels rather civilized and American (a mixed blessing in many ways) compared to the other places we have been. Lots of restaurants and we are now running into some of the boats that we saw way back in the San Blas as everyone heads West to spend cyclone season in New Zealand or Australia. It is very protected here with lots of little islands to go explore within this one large bay. Kind of reminds us of Maine(except for the palm trees and warm water!)
Basically Tonga is made up of four main island groups. The first one, the Nuias is the most northern one and we stopped at Nuiatoputapu on our way from American Samoa. The island was isolated and relatively poor even before it was hit hard by the Sept. 30, 2009 Tsunami. (9 people died, most homes and gov't offices destroyed). 800 people live on the island, and there might be two dozen paying gov't or commercial (bank) jobs here. The rest send weavings to relatives on the big islands, and some money flows back. There is also subsistence farming, fishing, etc.
We volunteered to do some of the building of the small prefab homes that the Red Cross from Australia has FINALLY gotten here. The village men were thrilled that we had a battery powered drill - as there are no drills on the island - and making holes and tightening bolts was our role. They had been driving successively larger nails before to pass carriage bolts between 2x4's.They have been living in tents and tin shacks for the last year!! Very difficult to fathom what a tent would be like in rainy season (I think they get 100's of inches a year rainfall) and they would be sharing said tent with 10-15 other people as families are large! We complain of recessions and hardships caused thereof...what a joke in comparison.
We had one bad night in Nuiatopatu. After a really nice Mexican dinner aboard our boat with a couple from Mendocino as they went out to leave we found that their dinghy had come untied and disappeared into the dark of the night. Unfortunately Gram had been the one to tie it up so of course we felt quite responsible. Bill, Gram, Steve and Marjula took our dinghy out in search of it with flashlites and the next disaster hit...the lights apparently stirred up these fish called needlefish and one jumped right thru the front of our dingy putting a big hole in it before lodging itself inside said chamber. They limped back and we declared it a 2 dinghy night. Luckily Steve and Marjula were incredibly Zen and gracious about the whole thing and will just use their kayak until they finish up in Australia in a few weeks. We have somewhat patched our dinghy and can also limp along till we reach New Zealand. Bad luck continued to haunt us with 3 more breakdowns after having had a wonderful maintenance free few months. When we tried to leave the next day we found that the windlass was broken so had to juryrig a way to get the anchor up. That has since been fixed without a whole lot of problems...just a day of labor. Just before we got into Vava'u we landed a HUGE fish. Had a very hard time reeling it in and just before boarding it (when we found it was about a 120 lb tuna) it broke the reel-hopefully not ending our marvelous fishing career- and broke free. Last(or so we hope) in the series of karmic paybacks was upon leaving the main harbor of Niefu to head to one of the outer anchorages we had an exhaust flow alarm followed by engine overheating. Had to shut down immediately and kind of float back to a mooring to work thru that one. So lots of maintenance but we believe all is now well and our bad luck played itself out.
The passage from Niuatopatu to Vava'u was relatively short...about 180 miles so just a short overnight. It was pretty raunchy as they have all been lately. I think that it has been recently declared a La Nina year which brings increased trade winds and we are definitely feeling strong highs and strong winds...winds alone not so much a problem...it's the seas that they kick up that make passagemaking a rolly and uncomfortable event. I am pretty psyched tho' as that was my last overnight. I am going to fly from Tonga to New Zealand and a friend of my friend, the other Johanna, who lives in NZ is going to meet us in Tonga and be part of the delivery crew with Bill and Gram. I will be able to stay with Sharon the female part of the couple while Ralph does this sail. After making 12000 + miles I am not feeling like a wimp to bail out of this last long and generally tough leg.
We have been having alot of fun easily moving from anchorage to anchorage here and meeting up with other boats for water activities, happy hours, group dinners and few meals out. We saw a wonderful dance performance by a bunch of kids from the village of Pangiamotu. They perform to collect money to pay for schooling as it costs quite a bit for even a public education here. I think they said they hoped to raise 5000. to pay the tuitions, books, etc for these 10 kids. While there we were invited to join that family yesterday for their church and Sunday lunch. Beautiful rich voices filled the space and it was especially interesting as they place the people in the choir thruout the church making the good sounds fill the place instead of coming from the front. The family we went with and ate with were wonderful and we got to speak at length to Coletti the mother who also is the teacher/leader of the dance troup. She and her husband Tupai seem really ambitious and work at a resort as well as doing crafts and farming to well provide for their 5 kids. The kids are so well mannered and helpful and were a joy to watch. Jasmine is 16 and a track star as well as an ace student. Lola is 14, Megan 8, Brian 6 and Douglas 17 months.Very cute kids and we hope to be able to catch another of their performances this week.
One of the anchorages we spent 2 nights at had some of the best snorkeling we have done. It is called the Coral Garden and was just that. Many many varieties of coral, all different colors and shapes and really just beautiful. We are so happy to be back into the water after a couple of weeks of little to no swimming. Have had one good dive here with lots more on the radar...there is just so much to do that it is hard to fit it all in. We hope to get on a whale watch boat later this week...we saw one great tail fluke as we went between anchorages but would love to get out to the open water for more and possibly even a swim with the whales. Did hear them singing when we snorkeled the Coral Gardens and that in itself is quite magical.