Monday, September 29, 2008

Bad weather, and down to Manimita, a/k/a Anchorage #31

Friday the 2 divers finished cleaning the hull and we finally managed to get out of the Vava’U main harbor around 4:00 p.m. and did a quick sail down to Anchorage #16, a/k/a island of Vakaeitu.  Sailing gurus Larry and Lin Pardey arrived in the main harbor a couple of hours before we left.  Their followers got all excited and thought it was ever so cool that the Pardeys came to Tonga and they got to see the famous couple.  Bill and I agree wholeheartedly that the Pardeys are excellent sailors, but we do not believe in their motto of “go small and go now” and that boats should be the most simplistic as possible.  Bill and I subscribe more to the belief that comfort is all-important.  No way we are using a bucket for a head or showering with overhead bags and stuff like that.  We want pressurized water system, hot water heater, air-conditioning, auto-pilot, freezers, etc. – all the luxuries.  The Pardeys can keep their simple life. 

At Anchorage #16 we dropped anchor at latitude 18.43.23S longitude 174.06.096W, right next to our friends the Grego family on S/V FREE SPIRIT.  I delivered the provisions that we had bought for them in town and then grilled our last beef tenderloin from the gourmet store in Panama.  Enjoyed the evening visiting with our friends.  Between the 4 of us we managed to drink almost 3 bottles of various red wines and we were all feeling the effects the next morning.

Saturday morning we upped anchor and followed FREE SPIRIT down to Anchorage #40, a/k/a island of Avalau.  Paul dropped their anchor almost on the reef; they can do that since FREE SPIRIT is a catamaran and has such shallow draft.  We dropped our anchor extremely close to shore at latitude 18.44.93S longitude 174.05.01W.  The depth was too great for us to anchor well off the island and we had to get extremely close to shore before the depth shallowed enough for us to set an anchor.  Even then we had to let out almost all our anchor chain.  The plan was to get up at 0500 the next morning and make the passage down to the Ha’apai Group.  Weather prediction was favorable for this passage when we went to bed.  However, the wind began to shift direction to the north during the night.  None of us slept well because it was so exposed where we had anchored. 

Before daylight the next morning Paul was hailing us on the VHF radio.  He had downloaded the latest GRIB file and the weather was suddenly predicted to be quite different than the forecast 12 hours prior.  A strong front with winds of 30 knots was now predicted for the Ha’apai Group.  This island group is very flat and very exposed, with reefs literally everywhere.  None of us wanted to chance arriving in such an area during heavy weather; so the trip was called off.  Not doing it today.

We motored back up to Anchorage #11 and anchored at latitude 18.42.44S longitude 173.59.25W between islands of Pangaimotu and Tapana.  An hour or so later a boat vacated a mooring so we pulled anchor and grabbed the mooring.  Winds are predicted to shift from East to North to West tonight, and blow from the west all day tomorrow.  The waters here in Tonga are usually fairly deep until very close to shore, so you end up dropping anchor closer to shore than one would normally prefer.  That is fine as long as the wind stays from the same direction; but if there is a wind shift you might end up on the shore.  An anchorage suitable for easterly winds is not suitable for westerly winds.  That is why we prefer to be on a mooring if wind shifts are forecast.  Boats on moorings can swing 360 degrees and not hit anything.  The Ark Gallery has 10 or 12 moorings that are well set and well maintained and are perfect for this situation.  We were quite happy on the mooring and spent the day researching future routes and reading novels.

Late Sunday afternoon Bill retrieved updated GRIB files.  Tomorrow is out of the question for sailing down to Ha’apai but Tuesday appears to be okay.  Might be able to sail half-way and then motor directly into light winds for the final half of the trip.  We would prefer to be able to sail the entire trip but GRIB files for the next 10 days only get worse.  Tuesday appears to be the best choice.  FREE SPIRIT has already been waiting more than a week for good weather to sail south.  Bill and I don’t want to wait any longer.   If it means motoring half-way, so be it.

Monday September 29, 2008

Well we are now very glad that we canceled the trip south to Ha’apai yesterday morning.  All day Sunday the weather was so perfect that we half regretted not leaving early that morning as planned.  Rain started around 4 p.m. but that was no big deal and would not have stopped us from sailing.  Then around 8 p.m. last night all hell broke loose.  What is termed a “fresh gale” passed over us for about 3 hours.  We did not keep constant watch on the wind speed but I did see speeds of 42 knots several times.  The boat next to us later told me that he saw speeds of 50 knots.  Another couple of boats well behind us reported speeds of 60 knots.  That is only 5 mph less than minimum hurricane strength!   BTW, 10 knots of wind is equal to 11.5 miles per hour so the winds were between 48 mph  and 69 mph for you landlubbers.   Boats were dragging anchors in all the anchorages and radio traffic was going nuts.  We were very, very thankful to be on a strong mooring. We turned on GPS, radar, chart plotter, all spreader lights, pulled out the big 2 million candlelight flashlight and I sat at the helm with the engine running just in case the mooring snapped.  When the wind was at its highest points I would put the boat into idle-forward to help relieve the stress a couple of minutes at a time; not enough to actually move forward on the mooring.   It was pitch black and raining hard with the high winds blowing the sea into a mist.  Very difficult to see anything except those boats that had turned on their spreader lights.

A Dutch boat that was anchored well behind the mooring field dragged anchor and then moved up to our end of the bay and tried to reset their anchor.  The wind was blowing so hard that their boat turned sideways to the wind and was blown sideways completely back across this large bay.   Looked like a plastic garbage can lid blowing down a street during a heavy rainstorm.  Couldn’t believe how rapidly that boat was blown sideways down the bay.   The Dutch boat moved back up to our end of the bay 3 times and was unsuccessful in setting an anchor each time.  It is very difficult to set an anchor in high winds.  You cannot keep your boat stable in one position long enough for the anchor to even reach the sea bottom and anchors don’t grab when moving rapidly as the boat is blown about.   On the fourth attempt the Dutch boat was successful in setting their anchor behind us.  The winds had died down to around 22-25 knots at that point.

This morning we discovered that our small Texas flag was shredded so badly by the high winds that it is beyond repair.  We have another worn Texas flag that I will attempt to mend to fly until we can buy a few more when we visit home at Christmas.  Texans should always fly the Texas flag.  Boats from other states do not fly their state flags, but Texans usually do.  After all, we were once a sovereign country and should still take pride in that fact.  The really nice large US flag that Bill’s brother John bought at Walmart us last year is also shredded.  Luckily John bought 2 so we have another one to use for our ensign and I will attempt to repair the shredded one.  Looks like we also will be buying another couple of those when we are home for Christmas.  (HINT—HINT:  just in case any family members are thinking of buying us Christmas gifts; small Texas flags and 2x3 US flags are always needed.  They wear out quickly.)

Forecasts for Tuesday are completely opposite from one another.  The Tonga weather forecast center predicts wind at 10-15 knots from the E to NE.  The Fiji weather forecast center predicts wind at single digits from ESE.  Think we will try to make the passage on Tuesday and see which forecast proves true --- or if both of them are wrong.

Today the sea was very flat and barely a hint of a breeze so we took the opportunity to motor south 11 miles through the middle of the Vava’U Group to Manimita, a/k/a Anchorage #31.  FREE SPIRIT arrived there first and scoped it out.  Darn good thing they did.  This anchorage is surrounded by reef and has enough room for only 1 boat to anchor.  The plan was to get both of us anchored in there – a catamaran that is 43 feet long and 26 feet wide and our 53-foot ketch – using both bow and stern anchors on both boats.  Paul came out in his dinghy and guided us in through the sharp “S” shaped entrance through the reefs.  We would never have gotten through that entrance without his assistance.  Once inside we used the bow thruster to turn the boat around almost within its own space; then dropped the bow anchor; dropped back almost on top of FREE SPIRIT and dropped our stern anchor just off their starboard side.  Now we were anchored securely with our bow anchor right in the entrance channel.  It was very calm since we were protected by reef all around.  Waypoint for this anchorage is latitude 18.51.404S longitude 173.59.869W.  Waypoint of the entrance beginning is latitude 18.51.248S longitude 173.59.997W.  This anchorage should only be attempted during flat calm weather because you must sail between several reefs to find the entrance waypoint.  Once at the entrance waypoint someone must go through the reef channels in a dinghy with a handheld depth gauge and figure out how to wind your way in through the reef channels.  The Moorings guide does not give information on this and the new big sailing guide also does not give any detail about this anchorage. 

The island of Manimita is home to thousands of birds of various kinds.  The trees make a canopy over the island, so dense that you cannot see inside; and the trees are full of baby birds in nests.  Best to visit when mom and dad are out food shopping during the day and stay away at dawn and sunset.  The babies ignore visitors; mom and dad get a tad aggressive.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lots of boats moving on

Monday, September 22, 2008
Anchored north of Mala Island, Anchorage #6

Numerous boats checked out of Vava’U on Friday; some headed off to Fiji and others planned to head south with plans of passage to New Zealand sometime in the next month or so.  Our friends on S/V FREE SPIRIT also cleared out but didn’t make it very far because the SPCZ (South Pacific Convergence Zone – similar to the ITCZ) expanded over this area and conditions became unfavorable for sailing south.  The SPCZ is predicted to dissipate over Tonga in a few days.  We will wait for more favorable weather before clearing out of this group and sailing south to the next group of Tongan islands.  Definitely not sailing south when winds are coming out of the south.  We have plenty of time and are not in a hurry at this point and see no sense in beating upwind when it isn’t necessary.

When we arrived in Neiafu Harbor last Thursday there was only one mooring ball available.   Another boat had pre-paid for this particular mooring for a month; their engine doesn’t work and this particular mooring was situated in such a place that they could sail to pick it up == right in the middle of the mooring field but all the other moorings were placed in such a manner that it was possible for them to sail up to this ball.  We checked with the company that manages the moorings and they told us that boat had left to visit outer anchorages for a few days, so it would be okay for us to stay on their mooring for 2 nights as long as we agreed to immediately get off the mooring if the other boat should arrive unexpectedly.  Sounded fine to us. 

Mid-morning on Friday the boat with no engine arrived back without notifying the management company that they were returning early.  Bill was just getting into our dinghy to leave for an hour when the management company hailed us and told us we must get off the mooring right then.  Bill climbed back aboard and we quickly released the mooring and moved out of the path of the boat sailing in to pick it up.  Luckily our friends on FREE SPIRIT were on a mooring nearby.  They graciously allowed us to raft-up with them.  A 43-ft catamaran and a 53-ft ketch tied off on one mooring ball.   That is a lot of weight and a lot of windage for one mooring.   But there was not a hint of wind at the time so no one was worried about it.  We all went into shore for a delicious lunch of grilled fish open-face baguette sandwiches and the best onion rings any of us had ever tasted, followed by wonderful milkshakes.  What treats! 

We returned to the boats and FREE SPIRIT departed with intentions of anchoring somewhere for the night and sailing off south to Ha’apai early next morning.  We stayed on that mooring for another 2 nights.  Planned to go to Tonga Bob’s for dinner since we have not yet visited that bar/restaurant, but ended up not getting off the boat because the rain started due to expansion of the SPCZ. 

Early Sunday afternoon we motored over to Mala Island because we had reservations for the weekly Pig Roast.  Weren’t sure they were still planning to do the pig roast because of the rainy weather, but we could not contact them via VHF radio so we felt obligated to show up for our reservation.  Anchorage #6 is not the easiest place to set an anchor.  It is pretty deep --- right up to the point where it is pretty shallow.  The varying depths along with lots of coral patches and big rocks make it difficult to set an anchor.   But Bill did a great job of picking out a patch of sand in acceptable depth and we managed to set anchor on the first attempt.  Let’s hope that when it is time to go again that the anchor comes up as easily as it went down.

Shortly before sunset, or what would have been sunset if there had been any sun visible, we noticed the skiff from Mala Island Resort going over to Lucky’s Beach and picking up boatloads of guests.  Figured that meant the pig roast was on.  I dressed in long pants and long shirt and covered myself in bug spray and we went ashore to check this thing out.  We put Bill’s rain jacket and our boat keys on the last available table in the dining area and then walked down the hillside to the beach where 4 local Tongan gujys were turning long poles over an open fire and roasting 4 suckling pigs.

Those PETA people would have conniption fits if they could see a traditional pig roast.  Bill and I are dedicated carnivores and even I felt a twinge of sympathy for the 4 baby pigs being roasted.  The cute little things reminded me of puppies for some reason.  Sure am glad we waited and arrived late and the pigs were almost fully-cooked.  Seeing these little things with the long poles run through their butts and mouths would have been a bit much for me if the little babies had still been pink.  Just think; they were running around earlier that morning and now had poles run completely through their little bodies and were twirling over a hot fire.  But enough about sympathy for the pigs.  Pigs are supposed to be eaten; and they are best eaten when still sucklings.  Being cute doesn’t change that fact.

We wandered back to the dining area and browsed magazines and people watched while the pigs finished roasting.  Turned out that we had the best table in the house because the serving tables were set up right next to us.  One of the Tongan guys placed 4 tables together and then covered them with freshly washed banana plant leaves and other greenery.  That is the traditional Tongan way of serving food.  Normally the food is also eaten by hand off a large leaf, but since this is a tourist resort we were provided with plates and cutlery.  Large bowls of salads, fresh fruit, baked potatoes, and pans of baked clams and mussels were placed on the serving tables.  Then they set the roasted little pigs on the table – standing up on their tiny little roasted legs and facing right at our table where we sat 4 feet away.  Their empty eye sockets caused the eyelids to close and they almost looked like they were smiling while asleep.

Friday September 26, 2008

I cleared us out of Vava’U this afternoon.  As soon as the 2 divers finish cleaning the bottom of our boat we will leave the main harbor and move to an outer anchorage.  Weather is predicted to be favorable for the 60 mile passage south to the Ha’apai Group on Sunday; so that is what we plan at this point.  Should not have internet there so might not update the website for a few weeks.

A few nights ago we were invited for drinks on a 105-ft yacht anchored nearby.  The owners are from St. Thomas and they noticed that our hailing port is St. Thomas, so they stopped by and invited us over.  Beautiful boat and very nice people.  Neither Bill nor I ever got the name of the boat, but it was lovely and luxurious and really big.  They insisted we stay for dinner.  Their cook whipped up a great meal; even had cannolli with chocolate sauce for dessert.  Try to find the ingredients for something like that locally!

Last night we were part of a team playing trivia at Tonga Bob’s.  Our team was named Who Flung Poo.  None of our team members were very good at trivia and we were the last-placed team for the evening, but it was fun.  Tonga Bob’s serves Mexican food – the strangest Mexican food imaginable.

Will be sorry to leave Vava’U.  I really like the area and the people.  One of our favorite places even though the weather has been dreary and cold for most of our stay here.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Still in Vava'U

We are very saddened by the news of Hurricane Ike striking the Galveston/Houston area last weekend.  We were in a nearby anchorage and did not have internet.  Thank goodness for SSB email so we were able to receive updates from our kids.  All our family are safe but some still do not have electricity.  Aaron, our youngest son, lives NE of inner city on Lake Houston. He said they will not have electricity for probably another 2 weeks.  Hot, humid and lots of mosquitoes.  Everyone should pray for an early cold front or two.  Trey, our eldest son, lives in West University in the inner loop of SW Houston, which was on the western edge of the hurricane eyeball for a couple of hours.  Trey's house was not damaged but fence is down and trees are down.  Good thing he had recently had those huge pecan trees pruned.  The weight of all those unnecessary heavy limbs could have caused those huge trees to fall over.  Instead, they just had fallen limbs.  Until the electricity is turned back on they will have to keep the dogs inside the house -- with the doors and windows open during the day for ventilation.  It will take months to get that fence replaced because contractors will be busy on more important repairs.  Poor things -- both Trey's family and the dogs! 

The past week for us has been far less eventful.  One night we enjoyed dinner with friends who we had not seen since Bora Bora.  Went to a Tongan Feast on Ono Beach on island of Panga but had to leave before the dancing and food got started because Bill began to feel ill.  Within 15 minutes after returning back to our boat Bill felt fine again; but neither of us felt like taking the dinghy back to the beach for the feast at that point.  Didn't really matter to me because this Tongan Feast looked to be a very small affair -- nothing like the very nice Tongan Feast we attended here in 2002.  That one had great dancing by women and girls of all ages, and the men and boys performed stick war dances and fire dances.  The current feast and floor show looked to be very small and simple, with no men's dances at all.  Don't think we missed much.

We moved over to Anchorage #10 one day and took the dinghy over to Mala Island Resort.  They have a big screen projection TV and receive ESPN by satellite, so we were able to watch live Monday Night Football --- at 1:30 Tuesday afternoon local time.  Seems strange, huh?  We had not seen a football game since Super Bowl 2006, and had just recently talked about how much we would like to see a game or two.  This turned out to be a great game.  Game was Philladelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys.  Neither Bill nor I have ever been fans of the Cowboys, but since there was only one man in the place who was cheering for Dallas we decided to join him.  Couldn't leave him outnumbered like that.  Dallas won: 41 to 37, with 8 turnovers if memory serves.  Really was a good game.  We plan to return to Mala Island next Tuesday to watch the Jets vs. Chargers.  With so many California people currently cruising in this area, this should be a good time.  Think we will cheer on the Jets just to annoy the Californians.  We don't give a hoot which team wins but you can't remain neutral when watching sports on TV in a bar.

I spent the week reading cruising guides for Australia and Indonesia.  We think we now have a planned route to complete our circumnavigation.  We originally intended to visit Fiji, Vanuatu, Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands and the outer islands of Papua New Guinea next year, ending up in Brisbane, Australia for 2009-2010 cyclone season.  But that has all changed because it adds a whole year to our trip.  Bill is anxious to return to the Caribbean and doesn't want to delay too long in the South Pacific, even though we both love it here.  Instead, next May we will sail from New Zealand to New Caledonia; then through the Great Barrier Reef near Mackay (north of Brisbane so as to miss the strong south-setting current).  We will then sail inside the Great Barrier Reef to Cairns to clear in, then to Gove and Darwin on the northern coast of Australia.  From Darwin we sail to Bali for a few weeks, then straight to Singapore; not planning to stop in Indonesia except for Bali.  After Singapore it is a coastal hop up the coast of Malaysia to Phuket, Thailand.  At that point we will have to decide whether to go South Africa to Caribbean or Red Sea to the Med.  We will make that decision later.

We returned to the main harbor for fresh veggies and bread and internet for 2 days.  Tomorrow we will move out to another isolated anchorage again.  We have reservations to attend a pig roast on Sunday evening.   After the football game on Tuesday we will probably again return to the main harbor; fill our propane tank; buy fresh veggies; and clear out of the Vava'U Group.

Then Wednesday or Thursday we will sail down to the Ha'apaii Group of Tonga.  I absolutely love the Vava'U Group of the Kingdom of Tonga and don't want to leave.  I could happily spend years sailing between Samoa and Tonga, but we can't do that.  It is time to start working southward.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tongan history

2008-09-03 to 11   Wednesday to Friday

Latitude 18.42.619S
Longitude 173.59.249W
Distance sailed: 13NM

Weather was awful for most of last week; finally saw the sun for a few hours Friday and Saturday.  Sunday we moved to what is commonly called Anchorage #11.  This is a very nice anchorage on the SW tip of Pangamotu, near the small island of Tapana.  This is the area where we celebrated a Tongan Feast and dance show when we visited in June 2002 – probably our favorite anchorage in the Vava’U Group.  But there are many other anchorages for us to visit.  Tonga is the best cruising place you can imagine.  Far better than the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean.  Lots and lots of nearby destinations; you can either choose to anchor near other boats or find a quiet harbor all to yourself.  Topography is unique and sunsets are the most beautiful to be found anywhere in the world.

Saturday was our 39th wedding anniversary and we celebrated on the boat with champagne, smoked salmon and crab cakes – all things we brought from Panama.  Glad we had the forethought to provision well and to save the last and best bottle of champagne for our anniversary because none of these things are available here in Tonga.  The local stores sell only very basic foodstuffs; no cookies or candy or luxury items; in fact, not even things we would consider essentials.  Do not plan on provisioning in Tonga because there is very little to buy here in the way of food.  Lots and lots of baskets and various souvenir items are abundant however.  And very nice fresh local vegetables and fruits – again not a lot of the type vegetables that Bill and I like; just not into taro.

Sunday morning I realized that it was again our 39th wedding anniversary because we are now a day ahead of the time zone in which we were married.  At least I think that logic applies.  This day-ahead stuff gets me a little confused.

Yesterday we were visited by an old Tongan woman, her husband and grandson.  She was selling carved bone necklaces and woven baskets and carved wooden gods.  She asked me if I had anything to trade.  So she got the last 4 kid’s tee-shirts that I had bought in Cartagena to give away in the San Blas Islands, along with some sewing needles, fish hooks, crayons, milk and homemade oatmeal cookies.  And in return she gave me a carved god of Peace.  This little god has another name but I could not understand what she was saying.  She also invited us to attend a festival in her village on October 1 at the Catholic Church.  If we are in this area on Oct 1 then we might attend.  The church services here in Tonga are supposed to be something really special with very beautiful singing and the guide books say that if you are lucky enough to be invited that you should not miss it.

Today we sailed back to the main harbor of Neiafu.  Last Saturday we went on a mission to find Diet Coke or some kind of sugar-free cola.  I enjoy one diet cola each afternoon while Bill drinks his daily 2 beers, and was down to my last 6-pack.  After visiting a half-dozen poorly stocked stores we finally found a case at one of the Chinese food stores, but the guy wanted 250 pa’anga for a single case of Coke Zero!  That was about $135 USD for a single case of Coke!!!  No way we would pay that ridiculous amount.  But a cargo ship arrived a couple of days ago and we heard that Coke Zero was now available in several of the small stores, so it was worth the 10- mile trip back to the main harbor.  Sure enough, we scrounged all the stores and managed to buy 2 cases of Coke Zero; so now I am provisioned for a couple of months with my treat.  We bought the last 2 cases available on this island.  Glad we didn’t wait another day to make the trip back to town.  This time each case cost only 48 pa’anga, about $25 USD; a much more reasonable price.  The Chinese guy last week who wanted $135 for that case of soft drink knew he had the last case available to sell on the entire island and was price gouging.

Tonight we joined our friends on S/V FREE SPIRIT to celebrate their arrival in Tonga with the “Palmerston survivors.”  Five or six boats were caught in horrible weather for over a week while anchored or moored at Palmerston.  One of the boats was S/V FLAME; Paul and Diane were line-handlers for our boat when we transited the Panama Canal.  It was great to seen them all again.  The anchorage at Palmerston is totally exposed off the reef outside the atoll; there is no protection from the sea at all.  A tropical depression moved through the area while they were there with winds up to 40 knots and seas up to 6 ½ meters.  And they had to ride it out for an entire week.  Several boats broke off their moorings during the worst of it one night; some were damaged and some managed to move out to sea and stay out until daylight.  The whole ordeal sounds very unpleasant but they had no choice because it was 600 miles to any sheltered anchorage.  Then their passage from Palmerston to Tonga was in very hight seas and most unpleasant.  We told them they should all have tee-shirts printed saying “I survived Palmerston.”  It was a fun evening and we are very glad everyone arrived here safely.

A bit about Tonga:

One legend tells that the Tongan islands were fished out of the sea by the mighty Polynesian god Tangaloa.  Another story has Tonga plucked from the ocean by the demigod Maui, a temperamental hero well-known throughout the Pacific.  I am not sure how these “legends” evolved since Tonga was inhabited centuries before Polynesia developed and long before the idea of Maui was even conceived.

It is generally accepted that the first inhabitants of Tonga arrived from Samoa.  Historians have surmised that about 2000 BC the people of what is called the Lapita culture pushed east from the Malluca area.  By 1300 BC, via island Melanesia, they had reached Fiji and soon spread to Tonga and Samoa.  From Samoa and Tonga the Polynesian culture emerged over the next 1000 years as people continued to move east to Marquesas (300 A.D.) and south all the way to Easter Island (800 A.D.) and to New Zealand (850 A.D.) and north to Hawaii (400 A.D.)

The Kingdom of Tonga is the last operational monarchy in the world – and that is changing at this very moment.  The royal family traces its ancestry as monarchs back to around 1000 A.D.   The King of Tonga was known as Tu’i Tonga.  It is amazing that the royal line has remained unbroken for such a long time – more than 40 kings from the same family.  During the early years of the Kingdom the Tongans were often aggressive colonizers, extending their empire over eastern Fiji, Niue and northward as far as the Samoas and Tokelau.  Tongan warriors occasionally raided as far as the Solomon Islands 2700 kilometers away.  For sometime there also has been a modified form of Parliamentary government in place in Tonga, but the King still had the final say in everything.  The King’s word could not be questioned.

In 1831 missionaries baptized the ruling Tu’i Tonga, who took the Christian name George. As King George Tupou I, he united all the Tongan islands and with the help of Reverend Shirley Baker came up with a national flag, a state seal and national anthem, and then began drafting a constitution.  This constitution passed in 1875.  It included a bill of rights, a format for legislative and judicial procedures, laws for succession to the throne and a section on land tenure.  This constitution is also responsible for Tonga’s heavily Christian laws today.

The second King George Tupou II died at the age of 45 in 1918 and his 18-year-old daughter Salote became Queen of Tonga.  Queen Salote’s son, King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, brought about the re-establishment of full sovereignty for Tonga on June 4, 1970.  The constitution and nominal Parliamentary government remained in effect, but the King was again all-powerful.  The King appoints the prime minister and the cabinet.  Tonga holds regular elections but the system ensures that the 9 “People’s Representatives” elected by commoners have virtually no influence.  There are no political parties in Tonga.  As in any parliament, there are debates and votes, but in reality it is simply a rubber stamp for legislation driven by the royal family.  The prime minister and the cabinet appointed by the King serve at his pleasure, so they either do what he wants or they are replaced by someone who will.

King Tupou IV also brought about a number of notable accomplishments: two of which were admission to the Commonwealth of Nations and admission to the UN.  However, many of his economic decisions have been questionable.  His association with a series of ill-advised schemes generated much private grumbling among Tongans and a lot of unkind attention from the world’s press, which portrayed him as an autocratic buffoon.  One scheme was a plan to import and refine crude oil from Iran for shipment around the Pacific; if you could see the layout of these islands and total lack of infrastructure then you would realize how ridiculous this scheme sounds.  Another environmentally-worrying scheme was to burn used tires from the United States to generate energy.  He also fell for a scheme to build a floating city on Minerva Reef; luckily this plan was abandoned.  The most unusual was his involvement with Korean cultists who convinced him they had a machine that could convert seawater into natural gas.

By far the most damaging dent to the King’s reputation actually grew from one of his more financially successful ventures – the selling of Tongan citizenship to Chinese, which raised 30 million Tongan dollars (currency is called pa’anga).  The funds raised by this venture were placed into the Tongan Trust Fund.  The King was persuaded to invest 20 million Tongan dollars in some very questionable US companies by Bank of America “financial advisor” Jesse Bogdonoff.  Mr. Bogdonoff then moved to Tonga and convinced the King to appoint him as Tonga’s official Court Jester.  The money vanished and Tonga stopped laughing.  Mr. Bogdonoff was either an opportunistic swindler or a mid-level bank employee way out of his depth.  He protested his innocence.  The Tongan government said he is a thief.  Either way, Tonga has lost the money.  One of Mr. Bogdonoff’s previous occupations was selling magnets for back pain.  That tidbit should help you form an opinion as to his qualifications to be a financial advisor for Bank of America.

Queen Salote’s son, King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, died about 2 years ago; and his younger brother is the current King Tupou (don’t know his given name). The newest King announced several weeks ago that The Kingdom of Tonga will change to an operational Parliamentary form of government.  I do not know the actual date that this becomes effective, but the locals say this is a very welcome change.  Local opinion is that it is time for the citizens of Tonga to have a real voice in governmental affairs.  After all, with today’s technology Tonga is not the isolated groups of islands that it once was.  Tongans are very pro-democracy

When we chartered in Vava’U in June 2002 we obviously flew here.  The trip involved several flights.  First international flight was from Los Angeles to Fiji via Air Pacific.  The next 3 flights were via Royal Tongan Airlines:  Fiji to Tongatapu; Tongatapu to Ha’apai; Ha’apai to Vava’U.  Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu is the capital city of all Tonga and the King’s official residence is located there.   Our plane was suddenly diverted as we were in the process of landing in Nuku’alofa.  There was no announcement and we asked the flight attendant why the landing attempt was aborted.  She called up to the cockpit and started giggling.  Turned out that the 80-year-old King liked to jog.  His favorite place to jog was the airport.  Our flight’s landing was aborted because the old King was jogging on the runway.  His country; his airline; his airport.  If he wanted to jog on the runway that was his prerogative and all planes must wait for him to finish.

Guess that attitude will be changing now that there will be a new form of government.

The Kingdom of Tonga consists of 171 islands grouped into 4 geographical as well as governmental groups. Tongatapu Group is the southernmost group and is the administrative center.  Moving northward, next is the Ha’apai Group; then Vava’U Group.  Well north of these 3 groups is the Niuatoputapu Group, which is commonly referred to as New Potatoes by the cruising community.  Try saying Niuatoputapu --- it does sound very similar to New Potato.  Few cruisers visit New Potatoes because of its geographical location.  Not really on the way to anywhere.  We entered Tonga at the northernmost island of the Vava’U Group.  We will visit the Ha’apai Group and Tongatapu Group.  Total population of all 4 groups is around 101,000.  Total land area is only 280 square miles, although the sea area is vastly greater.

The largest tourist attraction of Tonga is whale watching.  There are more whales around Tonga than anywhere else in the world.  During the mating and calving season it is estimated that there are 2800 to 2900 whales around Vava’U.  You can take a day-tour to swim with the whales.  The only land mammal native to Tonga is the flying fox or fruit bat.  These are about 3-feet long.  We saw hundreds of them in trees around one house in outskirts of Tongatapu when we were here in June 2002 and I hope not to see one again.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Arrived in Vava'U group of the Kingdom of Tonga (we have been here before on a charter boat)

2008-08-30 to 09-02   Saturday to Tuesday

Latitude 18.39.40S
Longitude 172.59.03 W
Distance traveled: 247 NM

We departed Niue at 0500 on Friday, August 30, 2008.  Sailed 247 miles in extremely confused seas for 33 ½ hours and arrived in Tonga on Sunday afternoon, September 1, 2008, averaging 7.2 knots of VMG (velocity made good).  The hours do not match the days of the week because we have crossed the International Date Line and are now one day ahead of you folks back home.  At least this time change does not involve any physical adjustment.  Niue is GMT minus 11 hours; Tonga is GMT plus 13 hours.  So really we are on the same time as when in Niue, except one calendar day forward.

Heavy weather was predicted for this entire region and every boater wanted to be tucked into wherever they wanted to be by Saturday or Sunday, depending on your time zone.  We had planned to anchor in Anchorage #7 (Port Maurelle) upon arrival in Tonga, but that anchorage was full when we got here.  So we motored on into the main harbor at Neiafu – where we found more boats than we could have imagined.  The charts indicate 2 anchorage areas in this harbor but they don’t really exist.  Most of the harbor is 130 feet deep or deeper and anchoring is extremely unlikely.  Plus, there are mooring balls all around the harbor near the shore here now; so if you do find a spot shallow enough to drop the anchor then you are too close to a mooring field and would not have sufficient swinging room.  There are about 4 boats who have managed to anchor, but the other 70-80 of us are on moorings, plus the fleets of Sunsail and Moorings charters.  This is a very large harbor.  Still, we were surprised to find so many boats here.  We chartered here in June 2002 and there were very few boats here then.  Of course, there should not have been many, if any, cruisers here in Tonga in June.  Cruisers follow a pattern determined by the weather and would not normally reach Tonga until August or September.  So we are here at the highest cruising season of the year.

We managed to pick up the last available mooring, which was on the farthest side of the harbor away from the town.   Everything is closed in Tonga on Sundays.  The law states that no business of any kind can be conducted on Sunday.  Monday morning there were many boats double rafted up to the Customs wharf to clear in.  About 15-20 boats had arrived in Tonga over the weekend and all needed to clear in.  You are not allowed to get off your boat until you have officially cleared in.  Since we plan to stay in Vava’U group for about a month, we were in no hurry to clear in.  So we stayed on the mooring and waited for the Customs wharf to clear space for us. 

Never happened.  More and more boats kept motoring over to the wharf to clear in.  Finally, just before noon, we radioed another boat that we know that was tied up at the wharf.  They said we could come over and raft up next to them.   As we were motoring over there, yet another arriving boat got there first and rafted up to our friends.  So we rafted up to that boat.  Now there were 3 boats tied side-by-side to that one place on the Customs wharf, plus 3 more boats farther up the wharf, each with a second boat rafted up.  It was a very busy morning for the officials.

In Tonga there are 4 officials who board your boat when clearing in – Customs, Immigration, Quarantine and Health.  The first to arrive on our boat were Immigration and Quarantine.  Each man commented that he was working through lunch because there were so many boats needing to clear in.  So, what could we do but be polite and offer to feed them lunch on our boat.  I made sandwiches with chips and sliced apples.  Quarantine asked if we had any fresh vegetables on board and I told him that all we had were tomatoes and apples and they were eating the last of those.  Planned our fresh produce supply just perfect for arrival; there was nothing to remove from our boat.  Quarantine does remove your garbage, which is always a welcome thing to any boater; saves us from having to pay for disposal elsewhere or having to burn or bury it on a lonely beach.

After they left the Health official arrived.  Since we had already cleared Immigration, Bill left in search of an ATM so we could obtain Tongan money to pay the clearance fees.  I completed the necessary forms and visited with the Health official and offered him chocolate cookies while we waited for Bill to return.   I told the official that all we had to drink was cold water or beer.  He responded, “Is it cold?”  So he drank a cold beer with his chocolate cookies.  Beee-yuck!!!

Soon after the Health guy left, the Customs official boarded and we completed his paperwork.  You do not pay Customs fees until you depart from here.  BTW, you must clear in and out of each group of islands in Tonga.  This is somewhat of a hassle; sort of the same thing we had to do in Panama except there are 4 officials to deal with instead of only Immigration and Customs.  This also adds more cost and might discourage some cruisers from stopping in some of the Tongan island groups. 

Earlier in the day Bill had radioed The Moorings and arranged for us to get a mooring ball there.  The Moorings does normally rent moorings for a daily fee but they also need most of their moorings for their charter fleet.  A few weeks ago Bill had email correspondence with a friend of ours who just happens to be in charge of all Moorings and Sunsail worldwide.  Our friend emailed us that we should contact a certain person at The Moorings base here in Tonga and tell him to help us in any way we might need while here.  Well, a little name-dropping paid off handsomely.  When we left the Customs wharf we motored straight to a mooring at The Moorings base which is right in the heart of everything for the town.  This was more like it!  Would not have to dinghy way across the harbor in the high winds; restaurants and bars and markets right in front of us.  Heavy weather is predicted through Wednesday so we will stay here at least until the winds calm down before moving on to some of the outer islands and anchorages.  There is internet here but not anywhere else in Vava’U.

On Monday night we visited The Bounty Bar for a jam session presented by musically talented cruisers.  The place was packed beyond standing-room-only capacity.  We arrived early and snagged a place at the bar, where we remained until it was time to go home.  Bill developed a taste for the local Ikale beer and they even had Diet Coke for me – a truly rare treat out here.  We shared some fish and chips.  Later we both did not want any more to drink but did not feel right about taking up seating space in the crowded place unless we were either drinking or eating something, so we ordered a vegetarian pizza.  Figured it takes awhile to bake a pizza and also could take us some time to eat it.  They made the pizza from the same fresh vegetable mix that they used for the vegetable stir-fry dishes, so it was unusual.  Anyone ever had a pizza topped with cauliflower and carrot?  Actually, it was very good and even Bill enjoyed it until I mentioned that it contained cauliflower.  Then he would not eat another bite.  He does not really like pizza and he absolutely detests cauliflower.  We passed out the remaining pieces to people standing nearby and walked back through town to our dinghy, which was tied outside a competing restaurant – not a nice thing for us to do.  The next day we found another dinghy dock closer to The Bounty Bar and will park there in the future.

The music at the jam session was okay and it was a lot of fun.  There were at least 5 people playing guitars, one mandolin, one flute-looking instrument, and one saxophone.  The guitar players were more into what I would call mountain music or folk music.  The saxophone player was more to our musical taste.  But we enjoyed it all and hope they do it again.

Today we walked around the town and refreshed our memories of the lay of the land.  Not that big a place but certainly more buildings than we remembered from our visit here in June 2002.  We were last here 6 months after a class 4 typhoon had hit here.  The eye of the storm passed just north of this island, and Vava’U islands were almost completed denuded of vegetation.  The 500-feet sheer cliffs on the northwest side of the island were silvery bare stone and sand.  Now there heavy green shrubs and small trees grow all the way down those cliffs to the water edge.  The islands looked brown right after that storm but everything is lush green now.  Also, the locals tell us that it was very hot here that year after the storm, although we certainly did not think it was hot when we visited – it was way cooler than Houston in June!  They must be right because what we are experiencing now is considered normal temperature for this time of year, and it feels quite cool to us.  Temps range 73F at night to 79F during day right now.  We have changed from shorts to long pants and thicker shirts.  Loving it.

I have included a couple of photos from our last visit to Tonga.  One is a gorgeous sunset at Anchorage #11.  Another is a woman in the airport at Nuku’alofa, which will be the last town we visit in Tonga before departing for New Zealand.  This woman has some woven matting wrapped around over her clothing.  She is in mourning for a family member.  The top part that goes over her shoulder indicates that the deceased was either a parent or a grandparent, or possibly a sibling – a very close family member.  If the deceased had been a lesser family member, like an aunt/uncle/cousin, then she would wear only the bottom wrapping.  Both men and women wear these mourning “mats.”  The mats are worn over all black clothing.  The Quarantine official who visited our boat yesterday was wearing mourning attire.  I asked about it and he explained the custom.  He was in mourning for an uncle and planned to wear the attire for a full year to show honor to his uncle.

The sunset last evening was incredible.  We watched it from The Bounty Bar but could not get a photo because the place was so crowded.  The sky turned lavender with orange streaks, then pink tones which are impossible for me to describe.  Simply gorgeous with the rolling hills of various islands and the reflected water of the harbor.  Tonga definitely has the most beautiful sunsets that we have ever seen.

BTW, we did not get our visas from the New Zealand High Council office in Niue.  We happened to get a girl who was on her second day of a new job and she did not explain our application correctly to the Immigration office back in New Zealand.  The main office said we did not need visas.  We highly suspect that is an error because several other cruisers we have met obtained exactly the same visas in Raratonga that we applied for in Niue.  I asked for a copy of the email from the main office in NZ stating that we did not need the visas.  We might try again in Nuku’alofa if there is time.  Otherwise, we will deal with it after we arrive in New Zealand.  Oh, the joys of officialdom when cruising.