Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lifuka Island, Ha’afeva Island, Nomuka Iki, Kelefesia Island, Pangaimotu Island

2008-10-04 to 12

Saturday October 4, 2008
Pangai, Lifuka Island, Ha’apai Group
Latitude 19.47.928S
Longitude 174.21.294W
Distance sailed 4.5 NM

Early this morning we motored a short distance south along the coast of Lifuka Island to the main “town” of Pangai.  Pangai is the administrative center for all of the Ha’apai Group in Tonga; but it is a very, very small town.   The sailing guide stated that Customs opens on Saturdays from 0830 to noon.  Like so many other things in that sailing guide, this was incorrect information.  That was okay with us because the high winds were predicted to remain until Monday and we wouldn’t leave Pangai until the winds dropped to a more comfortable level.

Getting into the anchorage area of Pangai is challenging because there are reefs and coral heads scattered literally everywhere and absolutely nothing is located in reality where it is indicated on the charts.  We managed to find our way well into the bay without incident; however, once we were on a direct heading provided by the sailing guide we ran into a bit of difficulty.  We were precisely on the course recommended in the sailing guide when the depth indicator dropped rapidly down from 25 feet to 2 feet.  Bill was standing on the bow and looking for hidden hazards but the glare on the wind-driven water made it impossible for him to see clearly.  By the time the depth gauge indicated 12 feet I had the engine in hard reverse, so that by the time the depth reached zero the forward momentum of the boat was almost stopped.  Remember, a boat is not a car.  It does not start reversing immediately when reverse gear is engaged.  Our keel gently “kissed” the reef as we backed away.  Barely made a scraping noise and no damage was sustained.   After that close-call we crept into the anchorage area.  Have never been so glad to have the anchor set and be settled in a safe spot.

We went ashore, as did friends on S/V FREE SPIRIT and S/V AIRSTREAM, and found Customs closed for the weekend as expected (the guide said it was open until noon…wrong again).   We all managed at staggering times to find Mariners Café and shared orders of French fries for lunch.  Mariners Café is the only eatery in Pangai; and surprise of surprises they actually had internet access.  It was only one very old, very s-l-o-w computer and cost only $5 per hour.  No WiFi, but what can you expect in the absolute middle of nowhere.  Each of us took the opportunity to check a few things online – especially weather forecasts.

Monday morning we cleared both in and out of Ha’apai.  Pangai is so easy and accommodating about clearances.  We will remain in the Ha’apai Group for another week or two but Pangai is the only place that handles clearances so we checked in and out in one smooth step.

Monday October 6, 2008
Ha’afeva Island, Ha’apai
Latitude 19.56.378S
Longitude 174.42.956W
Distance sailed 26.2 NM


Majestic is the first word that came to mind when I saw an enormous sperm whale breach 300 meters off our port bow during the sail from Pangai to Ha’afeva (pronounced hah-ah-FAY-va).  We were not aware that sperm whales visited these waters but it was most definitely a sperm whale and it was an enormous one.  The head came shooting out of the water with tremendous force.  It breached the surface all the way back to the tip of its flipper and then fell down with a resounding crash to cause a big splash.  This ocean mammal was simply majestic and a memory that I will treasure always.

We were anchored on the leeward westward side of the island.  On Tuesday we walked across the island with our friends from S/V FREE SPIRIT and ate lunch at the home of a local Tongan family.  The tiny village is located on the windward edge of the island.  Bill actually ate a few bites of the traditional foods that were served island style on banana leaves and eaten with our fingers.  There were leaf packets of taro leaves cooked with flowers – looked like a green gelatinous mess but tasted very sweet.   Very messy to eat with your fingers.  Also served were taro leaves cooked with goat meat; tasted like a cross between turnip greens and kale but very mild flavor.  The woman also put on the table 4 large cut chunks of something that looked like logs.  Only one brave enough to taste one of the logs was Michele and the expression on her face warned me not to try it.  Paul thought the logs were put there to hold a hot serving pan; but, no, the logs were meant to be eaten.  I have no idea what this was called but it answers the question that many of us have had about what is sold at all the local vegetable markets.  These things look like small tree trunks with all the leaves, branches and roots cut off.  Really do not look edible and based on Michele’s reaction these are not tasty to Western palates.  The best food served to us was a baked yam.  This yam did not resemble anything we in the USA would call a yam.  The exterior is covered with fibrous hairy nasty stuff.  The interior is very fibrous and coarse.  It has no true flavor but does have a slight sweetness. 

We gave the family 2 new polo shirts for the husband and 4 bars of soap to his sister and 2 cans of corned beef to his mother.  They seemed pleased with their gifts.

Then we walked through the village and dodged pigs and dogs.  There are many more pigs on this island than people.  A few of the local children joined us as we walked through the village but turned back homeward when we started back across the island.   The path went by the local cemetery and we saw the quilts that are hung at the heads of the graves instead of headstones as we know them.

On the walk back across the island we collected mangoes from the trees lining the path.  Typical cruising day.

Wednesday October 8, 2008
Nomuka Iki, Ha’apai
Latitude 20.16.998S
Longitude 174.48.862W
Distance sailed 23.6 NM

It was a beautiful day for sailing.  Saw a few whales in the distance but nothing like previous days of sailing in this group.  Frankly, we have seen enough whales and are ready to get out of their territory before we hit one.  Bill had set our course to anchor on the NE side of Nomuka Iki.  There is supposed to be a beautiful anchorage behind the reef that is reminiscent of the Tobago Cays in the Caribbean.  But winds gusted a couple of times to over 20 knots and I was afraid to spend the night anchored behind reef on the windward side of an island.  It would not have been pleasant if the winds kicked up overnight.  Might have been ideal but not worth the chance.  So we changed course at the last minute and anchored in the lee of the island on the western side.  There are several reefs around us.  We are sheltered from the wind but there is a southerly swell causing the boat to roll quite a lot.  That is okay; the motion is tolerable and we only plan to stay here one night.

Thursday October 9, 2008
Kelefesia Island (pronounced KAY-lay-fay-SEE-ah)
Latitude 20.30.1626S
Longitude 174.44.4185W
Distance sailed 18.4 NM

Nice day for sailing.  We took the long route and went well west of all charted reefs; then turned east and motored into the very small anchorage at Kelefesia.  This is the epitome of what one thinks of as a beautiful Pacific island.  Kelefesia is unbelievable gorgeous --- as long as the weather is good.  The anchorage is small and can only accommodate 4 or 5 boats.  The sailing guide recommends no more than 3 boats for this anchorage, but there were 5 boats while we were there and there was adequate swinging room in the calm weather.   We could stay in a place this beautiful for a couple of weeks but you know the weather won’t allow that.

Sunday October 12, 2008
Pangaimotu Island at Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu
Latitude 21.07.4346S
Longitude 175.09.8088W
Distance sailed 56.3 NM

You guessed it – the weather did not stay good so we had to depart Kelefesia.  Should have left early Saturday morning but got sucked into staying another day because it was simply so gorgeous --- even though we knew higher winds of 18 knots were predicted to arrive Saturday night.  Well, those higher winds did arrive right on schedule and, of course, the winds were 25 – 27 knots instead of only 18.  And wind direction was SSE instead of the SE as predicted.  This kicked up some decent-sized waves and made the little anchorage at Kelefesia very uncomfortable.  Thank goodness a couple of boats left early Saturday so there were only 4 of us who remained.  We had raised the outboard and dinghy before sunset just in case the weather turned too bad and we had to leave quickly.  As soon as the winds kicked up we turned on all the instruments.  I stayed in the cockpit all night just in case anything happened.  Being in the cockpit would save probably a full minute of reaction time and when you are that close to reef in all directions a minute can make the difference of keeping your boat off the reef or not.  It was a rough night.  The anchor chain ground against rocks or coral all night and the boat was bucking uncomfortably against the anchor chain. 

At daylight we pulled the anchor – took more than a half-hour to get the anchor chain up from all the rocks and coral.  It was not wrapped around anything but was wedged tightly in several places.  It was a struggle and required a bit of maneuvering to get the anchor up, but finally we motored out of what had been a gorgeous anchorage and was now rapidly becoming a nightmare with pounding waves.  Glad we had the opportunity to see it as its best.

Seas were exceptionally rough for the entire passage down to Tongatapu.  The seas weren’t all that big; just short, steep and confused.  Waves were not more than 2 seconds apart.  Winds ranged 22 to 28 knots all day and were about 10 degrees too close for us to be able to sail.  So we motor-sailed all day with triple reefed sails. 

Arriving at Nuku’alofa in Tongatapu for the first time by boat is slightly nerve-wracking for us nervous sorts.  The entrance is about 18 miles long and there are many reefs to avoid.  Most of the navigational markers have been missing since 1992.  The charts are not perfectly accurate but they are more accurate for this area than they are for the Vava’U Group or the Ha’apai Group.  Maybe because Tongatapu is the commercial center and capital of all of the Kingdom of Tonga.   We were both quite happy to drop anchor for the night and try to forget the day’s passage.  There is a restaurant/bar on the beach right next to where we are anchored.  It is called Big Mama’s Yacht Club and looks like the kind of place we will enjoy.   There is internet access here but it is frustratingly slow and sporadic.

CORRECTION NOTE FOR OUR LOG 9/30 TO 10/03OUR ANCHOR NEVER ACTUALLY DRAGGED DURING THAT BAD WEATHER.  We realized later that the anchor was solidly set the entire time.  When the snubber line snapped that allowed the boat to move back on the excess anchor chain rode.  Plus, an additional 15 meters of chain slipped through the windlass gypsy.  But the anchor was still properly set the entire time.

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