Monday, October 20, 2008

Earthquake in Tonga very close to us

Date Range:  10/13/2008 to 10/20/2008

Title:  Earthquake in Tonga

Sunday night at anchor off Pangaimotu was restful and we decided not to rush over to the main harbor to officially clear into the Tongatapu Group.  It isn’t like Tonga has a Coast Guard that comes out to check these anchorages.   We decided check-in could wait another day.  Instead we did laundry, tidied up the boat interior, ate a nice lunch ashore at Big Mama’s.  The afternoon was spent assembling the paperwork that will be required upon our arrival in New ZealandNew Zealand requires that we provide Customs with various bits of information at least 48 hours prior to our arrival.  Bill prepared the declaration form covering us and the boat and the electronics aboard, and I dug through all the food lockers and prepared a preliminary list of all foods that must be declared. 

Absolutely no fresh or frozen meats, cheese, eggs or milk (even canned) can be brought into New Zealand.  All canned meats must be declared and will probably be destroyed upon arrival, especially any meats canned anywhere in South America for some reason.  You must also declare anything that contains any meat or chicken, like pasta sauces or soups.  Popcorn is prohibited and dried beans and spices must be inspected by Quarantine officer upon arrival.   Each item must be listed as well as the country of origin, which is not necessarily the country of production.  For example, Star Kist tuna is produced in the USA but the product originates in Ecuador.  I have prepared a Word document listing all the items onboard that fall into the restricted catefories and will delete those items consumed during our passage.  I had provisioned to last through November 15 and still have “emergency” meals for another 2 weeks.  So there is still a lot of food on this boat that must be consumed or destroyed before arrival in New Zealand.

And, guess what, next year we will be visiting Australia and they are even stricter than New Zealand about this stuff.   Australia requires minimum 96 hour notice prior to arrival.  An American couple arrived in Australia and provided only 48 hours prior notice.  They had visited the Australian Consulate in New Caledonia and there received information that only 48 hours prior notice was required.  The Americans received this information in writing from the AU Consulate.  Turned out that the Australian Consulate in New Caledonia gave them incorrect information.  Their boat was impounded upon arrival in Australia.  They fought this through the Australian courts and lost.  They were fined $20,000 AUD but the fine was reduced to only $2,000 AUD.  Including attorney fees, court costs, impound fees, and fines the total cost to the American couple was in excess of $68,000 AUD.  The Australians are serious about enforcing this 96 hour prior arrival notification.  They are equally as serious about enforcing the Quarantine restrictions on foods.  We will definitely arrive in Australia with bare cupboards.

Tuesday we moved BeBe and anchored behind a reef outside the main harbor so we could take the dinghy in and do the official paperwork dance.  That part was simple.  Then we took a taxi to the New Zealand Immigration office where we were informed that we do not need a 6-month multi-entry visa after all.  Darn good thing because there isn’t time to get one now anyway.  The NZ sailing guidebook is incorrect.  US citizens are granted 90 days upon arrival in New Zealand and can extend for another 90 days in country.   That will cover the entire cyclone season.

We decided to inquire about duty-free fuel and that took hours.  Instead of having a nice lunch in town as we planned, we spent hours walking from one office to another to arrange duty-free fuel.  We visited the Harbor Authority 5 times, Customs 3 times, and the BP Terminal 3 times.  Something that should be so routine and simple took far more effort than it should have.  Any foreign yacht can purchase duty-free fuel in Nuku’alofa at any time.  You do not need to wait until you have cleared out of the country as is required in most countries (and is required in Vava’U).  But getting the right paperwork is like pulling teeth. 

Here is the simple way: 
1) Visit the Customs office on the ground floor in the corner building where Harbor Authority is located and obtain a stamped paper allowing you to purchase a specific quantity of duty-free fuel. 
2) Take this paper to the Harbor Authority upstairs – the very elderly Tongan man with the pure white wild hair will barely open his mouth to talk so this is a challenge.  Arrange with him to bring your boat to a space on the harbor dock.  Just accept whatever he says (it doesn’t mean that what he says is really going to happen).  He must give you a stamped paper authorizing you to dock your boat inside the harbor.
3) Walk across the road to the second building where you will find a WestPac ATM to obtain Tongan cash.  You are required to pay cash for the fuel.
4) Walk eastward on that main road for about half-mile until you find the BP Terminal sign; turn right and walk another quarter-mile to the office.  Show them the 2 papers you obtained earlier, pay for the diesel and arrange time for delivery to the harbor wall.

When it is time to get your fuel bring your boat into the harbor and find an empty spot along the harbor wall.  You are supposed to hail Harbor Authority on VHF channel 14 and they are supposed to tell you where to tie off.  But Harbor Authority never answers the radio.  We have not once heard Harbor Authority answer a hail on the radio.  So just find a spot and tie off. Find someone and borrow their cell phone to call BP Terminal and tell them where your boat is tied off.  They will deliver the drums of fuel with a hand-pump.

We bought two 200-liter drums of diesel (a little over 102 gallons).  Each drum cost 466.44 pa’anga.  This was duty free.  The regular price was 636.50 pa’anga per drum, so we saved a total of 340.12 pa’anga or $177 USD by doing the paperwork dance.    Soon after we finished this dance our friends on FREE SPIRIT called and said they also wanted to buy fuel.  So Bill walked Paul through the process --- very easy once you have figured it out.  Paul had his fuel delivered right then and Bill helped them.  Our fuel was delivered Wednesday morning and they helped us.   The fill location on FREE SPIRIT was too far from the dock for the hand-pump hose to reach, so their fuel had to be hand-pumped into jerry jugs and then poured into the main boat fuel tank.  We were lucky because Bill was able to piece together a hose long enough to fill our tank and we did not have to deal with jerry jugs.  We now have enough fuel to motor the entire way to New Zealand if something should happen and we can’t sail the distance.

So almost all our passage prep chores are completed and now we are waiting for the weather guy to tell us when will be the best time to depart.  The only remaining chore is for Bill to clean out the sump bilge the day before we leave.  The ocean motion causes the galley sink and shower water in the bilge to stink so we try to clean it right before each long passage.  We are not in a hurry to leave and will wait for a good weather window according to Bob McDavitt the NZ weather guru.  However, our friend Paul on FREE SPIRIT is really antsy to get started.  They might be leaving before us because we will wait until Bob McDavitt reports back to us.  Bob knows a lot more about weather in this part of the world than we do and we don’t feel comfortable relying on our interpretation of GRIB files for this typically rough passage.

Monday October 20, 2008

On Saturday we took a tour of Nuku’alofa.  It was basically the same tour we did back in 2002 during our prior visit here.  Except this time the old royal tombs have been fenced in so tourists can no longer wander around those huge stones.  That particular cemetery is interesting because it is surrounded by very large stones which act as retaining walls for the raised tombs.  Those stones were brought to Tonga from Samoa on outrigger canoes during the 11th century.  I find that simply amazing that people were capable of doing this tremendous task without blocks and tackle or tools.  This was accomplished by sheer manpower.  In another location and a several hundred years earlier they constructed 2 upright enormous stones with a huge third stone placed on top and fitted into a cut groove.  Over the centuries the purpose of this structure was forgotten.  Then in the 1980s while doing some clearing nearby they found additional stone structures that lined up with the main “arch” on the top of the little hill.  The newly found stone structures were in perfect alignment to determine summer solstice and winter solstice.  Just think, for more than a thousand years no one knew why this “arch” had been built.  It was built by a king whose lineage was later assassinated and over time the purpose was forgotten.  There were 3 lines of kings in Tonga, all related, so the royalty always has descended through one family.   Two of those lines were assassinated and the victorious third line still rules today.  Coronation for the current king was August of this year and he has already proclaimed that the operational monarchy will cease and democracy will begin in year 2010.  The monarchy will remain in place but will no longer be the all-powerful governance that it is today.  The government will be like that of Great Britain.  Parliament but with royalty all that stuff that we Americans have a hard time understanding.

The only disappointment in the tour was the flying foxes.  The guide took us to a different area than we visited in 2002, and the bats were not all that big.  Last time we saw bats that were at least 3-feet long and with a wingspan of 6 feet or more.  The ones we saw during this tour were only slightly more than a foot in length and with a wingspan of maybe 2 to 2 ½ feet.  Not all that impressive.  Believe it or not, the local people eat these bats.  Guess that is no more disgusting than country people eating squirrels or raccoons, but it sounds repulsive to us.  As one Tongan man told Bill:  Tongans will eat anything.

The blow holes were awesome.  These blow holes are on the western side of the island and are continuous for more than 15 kilometers.  Really beautiful and impressive.  We took photos and video but won’t have internet capability to upload to the website until we reach New Zealand.  I also made a video of 2 Tongan women talking so we will also be able to put an example of the language on this website.  I made the video just to get the audio and record their talking.

Today we cleared out of the Kingdom of Tonga.  We also visited the New Zealand High Council and picked up a marvelous packet of forms for arriving yachts.  Paperwork for arrival in New Zealand is pretty extensive.  I have already prepared our 2-year voyage memo and our list of foods to declare to Quarantine and Bill has prepared the form to email 48-hours prior to our arrival.  Now we  have a jillion or so more forms in this packet to complete before we arrive in Opua.  Our plan is to leave sometime tomorrow morning.  Passage to Opua, New Zealand according to our planned route is slightly more than 1140 miles and should take us about 8 days.   I have been dreading this passage since we decided to venture into the Pacific.  There are only 3 passages that concerned me:  northwest over Aruba when sailing down to Cartagena (and that lived up to its bad reputation); Tonga or Fiji south to New Zealand; and under South Africa.  Here’s hoping that this NZ passage won’t be nearly as bad as I fear it will be.  If the weather performs as predicted we should not encounter winds higher than 25 knots at any time during this passage.  Keeping our fingers crossed for that.

Yesterday afternoon there was an earthquake in Tonga.  We were down inside the boat and noticed a strange feeling – like ripples and vibration in the water.  Felt like harmonic resonance in the rigging to me.  Bill thought it felt like the ridges in roads when you approach a bridge sometimes or when driving in a particularly dangerous curve.  We both said “EARTHQUAKE!!!” and jumped up into the cockpit to see what was going on and saw people on 7 other boats also looking around.  Nothing appeared amiss and the ripples/vibration soon stopped.  We didn’t see any signs of receding water from the beaches so there was no tsunami headed our way.  Today we learned that there was indeed an earthquake.  Don’t know where the center was located or what the strength was.  No one was talking about it when we were in town clearing out today, so must assume the quake center was not on this island.  There are several active underwater volcanoes nearby.  Tonga is one of the most geologically active places in the entire Pacific Ocean.  Two years ago an underwater volcano erupted while a guy was sailing between Ha’apai and Fiji.  He ended up actually motoring through the new island as it was forming and nearly ruined his engine before he figured out what was happening.  Sounds exciting, huh?  We hope to avoid any such experiences.

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