Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ha'apai Endings

Big Mama's Yacht Club - Kingdom of Tonga

Today is Halloween, exactly 7 years ago that we took delivery of Visions of Johanna and sailed her down to Newport on her first passage. It was snowing when we left Camden and 7 years later, while no where near actually freezing, we are quite cold. Today actually isn't so bad as the wind is down to 15-18 kts (from 20-25 the last week) and the sun is finally out, but I am still tempted to wear socks and put on a jacket when I went up the rig for a pre-departure inspection and to take the shot above. Temps have been between high 60's at night and mid 70's during the day, which isn't really that cold until you add the 25 knots of wind and thinned blood from 16 months in the tropics....we all realize we are going to FREEZE when we get back to Maine.

We had a really great time through the Ha'apai group including some amazing dives we will have to detail later for our followers. We are now in the capital of Tonga, enjoying the great parties hosted by Big Mama. There are tons of boats leaving today for New Zealand. We have crew (Ralph, friend of Johanna Tutone of Cappy's Fame) coming to join us on the 4th and mom flies out on the 11th though we may leave her here a few days early. Final boat prep has begun, though so far it is pretty relaxed as we have plenty of time.

Now it is time for candy....

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wreck Diving in the Haapai

Nuku'alofa, Tongotapu group, Kingdom of Tonga
21 07S/175 10W

Wreck diving or snorkeling is always interesting, but somewhat sobering when it is also current events. We were just in the remote southern anchorage of Kelefesia and spent three cloudy and rainy nights.One day we snorkeled a short distance from the anchorage to the entry pass and the location of S/V La Tortue - a 32 foot ferro cement ketch that went down only 2 to 3 weeks ago. We were in Va'vau at the time, and it was a topic of discussion amongst cruisers, but details remain obscure. All on board were rescued, the ship was eventually scuttled, and friends of the crew salvaged as much as they could. The mast was removed and the vessel was laid down in a ridge beween bombies on the edge of the channel. It is not a navigational hazard.

It was erie to be over the boat, peering down into 30 feet of water or so. The port quarter was holed and the boat was mostly upright. Sea fuzz was already covering the decks, fish were already taking up residence, and there was a coffee cup snuggled in the cockpit. Open hatches almost seemed to beckon but we did not put on tanks and dive inside. We were not friends with La Tortue, but we knew of the boat as contemporary passagemakers... and visual memories of the sunken ship will linger and will always be a cautionary influence for this skipper.

Kelafesia is a stunningly beautiful island, even in clouds and rain. We had fine and adequate protection with winds east of 110 deg. T, and SE swells under 8 feet. Wind from 120 deg. T or more, or swells larger than 9 feet would probably bring some roll and swells over the surrounding reefs. Coral is not colorful, but shapely. The beach is beautiful as well. A small family group of 6 - 8 individuals live on the island in a very basic fashion - certainly no frills such as lights or electricity. The rain we had provoded much running water though.

Now in Nuku'alofa, we left Kelefesia yesterday as several more cloudy days were predicted and there was concern that the wind would shift further south, making the anchorage less comfortable. We have finally arrived at the last port before NZ, and we are here with 25 other boats or so. Talk has shifted from sites to snorkel and dive towards conversations (and rumours) centered around weather windows, departure times, who you have for routing assistance, and little else - save for the occasional mention of provisions and clearance procedures.

Crew will join us next week and departure is not immenent; we have the luxury of watchful waiting with ample time to prepare. There is a big resort hosted going away party tonight, and then boats will begin to leave in droves. We will plan departure in about10 - 12 days or so...assuming there is a good weather window, of course.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Happy in Ha'Apai

19 42.8 South 174 17.0 West anchored in 30 ft of crystal clear turquoise water

Hi there...Currently anchored off a small island called Foa in the Ha'Apai(middle group) of Tongan islands. There is a nice resort here run by a German fellow and his Kiwi wife. They have been very kind to us...first day let us borrow 6 bikes (great to not have to get our folding ones out of the foc'sle and dinghy them in) and we rode 15k to Lifuka, the biggest town in this island group. Pretty funny to ride right across and through the airstrip on our way (obviously FAA regulations are a bit laxer here than the US) Saw a few villages, lots of pigs, including a new species we have named belted galloway pigs...yes they look just like the belted galloway cows in Rockport, a graveyard that was decorated with the most amazingly gorgeous quilts...apparently a tradition here in Tonga, then over a bumpy causeway that must be underwater when there are storms at sea. The town was not much but we had pizza out and checked out the small stores. Next day went back to the fresh market (thanks to Boris's offer to give us a lift to and from town) and bought a few other items as well. Slim pickings but finally our food is diminished to the point that we are actually looking for things to supplement the canned goods and bits of dried goods we still have. Yesterday was a rainy day and Gram and I decided it was time to try to redo our food storage and get everything out of the shower as we will soon be in cold enough weather that an indoor shower will be the preferred method of bathing. So we have gone from 5 big storage boxes (2 ft x 1 1/2 ft x 1 ft) full of food in the shower to it all fitting in the cupboards and deep storage that is more generally known as boat stores. For us this is an event to be noted!!! We are so grateful to our friend Connie on Better Days who turned us on to this method of storage in Panama as I know we saved a small fortune and ate alot better for having devoted all that space and at the time expense to oodles of food!

To backtrack a bit...just before we left the Va'vau group we realized we had been there a month and needed to renew our Visas so headed back to the big town of Neifu one last time...because we were so close to town we decided to try to get together with our Tongan family (Coletti, Tupai and kids) one last time so had them all over for dinner. We invited 2 other boats as well so we had dinner for 13(a new record). Had decided on spagetti and meat balls as when we had been invited to their home they kept apologizing that they were serving us Tongan food and not spagetti..of course Tongan food was quite what we wanted from them! So it was an easy dinner however when it started to rain at 5:30 we realized that dining al fresco using the whole front deck as our space was out and had to eat inside in shifts...still lots and lots of fun and since it was still pouring well after we had eaten we invited the Tongans for a sleepover. The two teeenage girls slept in Zak's cabin, Gram gave up his berth to Colletti and Tupai and slept in the pilot house and we put the 2 little kids in the main salon on the bench and settee. Full house(or rather boat) but it was probably an experience of a lifetime for them. Hard to say our goodbyes the next morning as we had become quite fond of their family. The most remarkable memories of these travels will surely be the relationships we have been able to develop with the locals. That being said the beauty and splendor of the places runs a tie for first place!!

Left Va'vau after a few more good dives and some more snorkeling on Sun the 10th. We had to motorsail the 60+ miles but seas were down so we made excellent time. We caught 3 fish along the way...1st a bonito, then a yellow fin tuna, and last a Mahi Mahi. Apparently my begging forgiveness of the gods of neptune worked as I had cursed our tuna catching abilities a bunch of weeks ago when I declared I was sick of tuna and just wanted to catch some Mahi or Wahoo...For weeks all we caught was whitefish and Bill and Gram were very upset with me for jinxing us so I did a forgiveness ceremony and lo and behold tuna again the next day!! YUM SUSHI!!! 1st anchored off Ha'Ano and did some reeef exploration, including one OK but not extraordinary dive. That is the last I have dove as apparently the congestion remaining from my sore throat episode caused a block in my ear and I am still trying to get over that. Really angry as Bill and Gram have gone on a few more dives including one with a dive shop today and I just can't risk it. REALLY really hope that I can clear this up before we leave Tonga (3 wks) as I think this will be it for diving. It will be too cold in New Zealand for much in the way of watersports I'm afraid. This time of year is like May or June for us in the northern hemisphere. We have visited a few other islands (remote ones)...Lofunga,Ofalanga and been out on the water sailing about a bit. In between Lofunga and Ofalanga we had our best ever whale experience where 3 of them were playing about 200 ft from the boat. One of them was jumping completely out of the water and we could see his entire (HUGE) body...what a sight!!! Even more awesome than the usual tail flukes and breaching we have previously experienced.

Have had a bunch of group dinners with Jules and Louis on Simpatica and will have one last eve. with them tonight as they will begin heading to Figi. We will probably move further south with a few more stops along the way before setting ourselves up in Tongatupu (the last island group) where Ralph will fly in to take the boat to NZ with the boys. Hope fall has treated you all well and that life is settled and slowing down in Maine(tourists being just a memory at this point)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Content in the Kingdom of Tonga

I kind of like the way that sounds...the Kingdom of Tonga. We have not yet seen the King tho' I do believe he still exists and resides in Nukolofa which is in the most southern group of islands..the Tongutupu group. We will stop there briefly just before the boys head out to Minerva Reef and onwards to New Zealand and I fly out of there also headed to NZ but taking the easy route!!! I am grateful to not be making this last passage as it is the one that usually contains weather patterns slightly less than optimal and many boats encounter storms along the way. We are fast enough that most likely can beat anything as there will be lots of planning and working with our friend in Camden, meteorologist Ken McKinley who provides weather routing.

We have been really enjoying the Vava'u group of islands. We have gone to lots of the different islands and found so much good snorkeling and diving. This really is a cruiser's paradise made very easy by all the amenities and ease of moving about. Some of our best memories will include the time we have spent with the local family who befriended us. We had a wonderful lunch and visit to their church our first Sunday her and then on the following Sunday we took all of them out for a day sail on our boat. Tupai had the most wonderful smile on his face as he was at the helm and sailing the boat and the kids were just beaming as the wind blew about them. We stopped at a small island and all went swimming and on the return trip they sung to us in the most wonderful harmonies imaginable. We captured some of it on our little video camera along with the sound that it can record. They were singing hymns but since it was all in Tongan it did not necessarily sound religious...just perfectly in tune and well practiced. What a talented family! On Thurs eve. Gram accompanied the oldest daughter Jasmine to her high school ball and had a very interesting time. He reports that they were all dressed to kill (some of the boys in tuxes and the girls in ball gowns) and that the dancing was most remarkable. All very proficient and somewhat practiced with line dancing and waltzing and the like. Between dances however the boys and girls would be on separate sides of the gym with not that much interaction taking place. He had a great time and will savor the night as one of the more memorable experiences of his trip.

We did go out on one of the whale watching boats and had an experience of a lifetime. They put us in the water in close proximity to the whales and we snorkeled and swam out to watch them underneath us. They are so amazing!!! Mostly got to view mother's and their calves hanging around under us. There were too many of us in the waters at the same time because we were on a boat with an Australian filming crew so the whales headed away fairly quickly. We had numerous beautiful views of them breaching and really enjoyed the whole experience of seeing them up so close. Plan to do another trip in the HaiPai group (our next set of islands) as we have heard the experience there is even better! Yesterday on our way between anchor spots we found a group of 3 whales playing very close to us and did a bit of chasing them around, Gram and I jumping off the boat and trying unsuccessfully to catch up to them. Again tho' some amazing views of their tail flukes just 200 yards away from the boat!

I am finally feelling better after having had a touch of some flu thing for the last 5 days. Very hard for someone who never gets sick to be feverish and achey in the tropics. I have not been in the best of moods but am glad to be feeling a bit better today. We are just about to go on a dive with our friend Louis on Simpatica. They have just caught up with us after a year. We last saw them in the San Blas last Sept. We are hoping that they will head out with us at the end of the week as we make our way to the Hai Pai group. Last week we were able to dive 4 days in a row which was really incredible. This one island (Tsungisika) offered the best coral we have seen yet and so w e dove there on two days. The fish are very plentiful and the clarity was quite good but the coral, especially the soft coral in every imaginable color was just to die for.

Can't think of a whole lot more to relate 'cept that I miss the family and friends that are in the US and who I wonder about in my daydreams. I am excited to get to New Zealand but also getting ready to be thinking about home and our return. It will be a bit of a shock to both body and mind to come back in the middle of winter but good to be able to settle in during that quiet time too.