Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tapana Island, Vava'u Group, Tonga

Sept 15th
The Vava'u island group reminds many of us of the San Juans and the Gulf Islands:  wooded islands, with rocky shores separated by 1/2-1 mile passages.  The bay at Tapana island is enclosed by reefs and islands all around, We were anchored near the NE part of the bay, so it was lightly breezy and very flat water.
In the morning, we woke to birdsong, land birdsong.  It had been a long time since that had happened and it was heavenly.  There is a tiny floating Art gallery there, run by a women from Long Beach, Washington.

The next day we heard on the radio that there was a cruise ship at Neifu.  That meant that the village at Ano Beach put on several song and dance performances on  the beach and there were a few dozen ship passengers around.  The ship is out of Australia, so most passengers were Aussie.  This also meant there were many cars and wee trucks giving taxi service. 

Bill and I and Kay from Pylades went ashore for a walk.  Bill decided to walk to town to do some errands.  Kay and I had a regular comedy of errors getting the dinghy started, after having to anchor as we got blown by the wind and pull by the current into moorings and the wharf.  You could have called us "Lucy and Ethel", though Kay would prefer we didn't.  But I managed to get the dinghy started again when Bill called me to pick him up at the beach.

While Bill was gone, another boat came along and anchored closer to us than was really necessary.  It was funny, because another boat had told us that same boat had anchored over their anchor a couple times before.  I guess they just like to be close. 

Vava'u Island Group in Tonga continued

Nuapapu Island, Sept 9th
We went ashore to drop off a thank you note to the classes for their warm reception the day before.  However, school had been dismissed early for a 2 week break.  Back at the wharf a couple boys helped us with our dinghy and just jumped in.  So we brought them out to the boat.  The older boy asked if we had some rice.  After a pause, I realized he just wanted something to eat.  So I fixed them peanut butter sandwiches and gatorade, and gave them each a granola bar.  The younger boy was well dressed, but the older was raggedy, so I have him a beautiful green t-shirt with a big boy scout insignia and dragon on it. They had a good time helping us raise the anchor and Bill ran them back to shore in the dinghy.

We motored across the bay (1/2 mile?) to the wee island of Lape.  It is a very deep spot and a challenge to anchor.  But we managed.  Lape's little jetty was busted up by the last cyclone, so they are raising money by putting on a monthly feast.  The island was lovely and well-tended. The school is even smaller than Nuapapu's, 5 pupils in 4 grades.  But they have a good one-room school house, a dedicated teacher and a beautiful view of the bay.

The feast was prepared by the several families on the island and was delicious and well organized.  The men had a kava circle and the children performed a dance accompanied by the older women singing.  There were 35 yachties there, and a good time was had by all.  The feast raised approx $1500, to be matched 3 to 1 by the Canadian government.  (I wonder if the wealthy Tongan royal family is chipping in.)

The next day was really blustery and too rough for snorkeling in the nearby "Coral Garden" site.

Kids at the school

More tiny dancers

Monday, Sept 13th
Monday was calm and sunny, so we sailed the long way round to Hunga Island on the west side of Vava'u. There is a tiny, shallow pass into an enclosed bay from the ocean.  We just barely squeaked through (8.5ft!) before low tide. 

Again, the bay is very deep, so you have to nibble around the edge to find a reasonable spot to anchor.  However, it was beautiful and calm and quiet.  No barking dogs, cars, stereos.  Just one old guy paddled up in a canoe to trade for fruit.  He made a killing:  he got 2 cans of Mexican beef and a big pouch of powdered milk.  I got a bunch of green bananas and 2 delicious papayas.

That night we went ashore to the small resort (6-12 guests?) for a delicious dinner.  We chatted with a young British couple on their honeymoon, who had a Sunsail charter.  There's a surprising amount of tide here, and they hadn't secured their dinghy, so it was gone when we came out after dinner.  But no worries.  The bay is almost completely enclosed and the resort fishing guide took them down the beach to retrieve it.  Too bad it was out of gas.  The guide towed them back to their boat.
All this took place in pitch dark, except right in front of the resort.

Tuesday, Sept 14th, Hunga, continued
The next morning was calm, so we dinghied outside the pass into the ocean for a spectacular snorkel.  There was a brisk easterly breeze, but the snorkel site is sheltered from both the east wind and the northerly swell.

The water is cool and very clear.  It seems strange underwater to look to the side and see Bill looking very small, a long ways away.  There were lots of fish and very rugged coral.

We went back to the boat as the weather turned squally, pulled up the anchor and went on our way.  Bill noticed a whale watch boat putting some people in the water and moments later a big humpback swam between them and us.

We arrived at beautiful Ano Beach and Tapana Island and anchored next to our friends on Pylades.   The British honeymooners were anchored on the other side of them.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Vava'u Tonga

Monday September 6th, (Labor Day in the US),
We took the laundry to the Coconet Cafe/Laundry service. It cost half as much as Bora Bora YC, and smells better! When we started this trip, I never dreamed we'd be able to have our laundry done for us once every month or so. But it's worked out well. It's kind of expensive, but it's infrequent enough, that it doesn't seem significant. (Except Bora Bora which was $50! and didn't come out that good.)

Later in the afternoon we met some French friends at a wine bar owned by a Tongan woman and had a nice evening. They sell mainly New Zealand wines and beer. Later, they showed the _Pulp Fiction_ movie out on their covered patio. They had a projector and screen, and it was pretty neat.

Tuesday, September 7th
A Tongan man approached us in his small boat and we invited him aboard. He requested a cup of coffee and presented his array of carved necklaces, pendants on black cord. He didn't want to trade for fishing lures and the items were expensive. He kept asking about pearls, but e couldn't tell if he was asking if we had any or if we wanted to buy some. We got off that subject, and bought a pendant and he went on his way.  We had lunch in town and shopped at the vegetable market. I paid $5 Tongan for a papaya and when I got it home, I noticed it was marked $2. Nice! I wonder if the vendor will try that again next time.

It was treat that night to meet friends at an expat bar for tacos! Yum. We miss Mexican food. The bars and cafes are mostly on the waterfront with big decks with nice tentlike or fixed covers.

Wednesday, September 8th
We were ready to head out to the islands. We set out for Nuapapu, just a few miles away, to meet our friends on Paikea Mist. They had befriended the teachers at the school there and were going back to fix the school's generator. So we tagged along.
The island has a small wharf on the beach. There are often kids around to help you tie up and escort you around. Or boys swim out to the yachts, sometimes a long ways. After a visit and a snack, we take them back to shore in the dinghy. The islands don't have electricity and most homes don't have generators. So often, just the school and maybe the church have generators. There are aging, solar panels around. We're told Japan is donating new ones.

The school is small: 23 students in two classes: grades 1-3 and 4-6. As with our friends who had previously visited the island's school, we were treated to introductions by the young students in English, telling their names, names of their parents and teacher, what grade they are in and what the want to be when they grow up (nurses, soldiers, police, pilots, engineers and teachers). Interestingly, male teacher's class, several boys wanted to be teachers. Also, the class sang for a few girls to perform a traditional dance. It was really lovely.

In the 1-3rd grade class, even younger children wander in and out. The schools have single textbooks, so the teachers are very please to receive a laptop and copier for each school so they can prepare materials for their classes. The equipment is donated by Japan. The school buildings were paid for by the European Community.
The teacher lives next door in a modest home. Attendance in primary school is compulsary and free. After 6th grade, those who continue must go to Neifu for high school. High school is not free and a parent or relative must move with the child, since some are just 12 years old. Not all families can afford it.

We have been told that Japan has been asking the International Whaling Commission to permit commercial whaling. Tonga has voted against this, but Japan has been lobbying them to change their position. Hence the aid to schools, apparently. This has inspired the local whale watch businesses to start taking local school kids out to see and appreciate the visiting humpbacks.
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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tonga, at last

Friday, September 3rd
Vava'u is known for it's humpback whales. But we just saw a really big shark swim under the boat as we approached. The ocean is very deep (several thousand feet deep) right up to the entrance.

We arrived in Neiafu, in the Vava'u group of the Kingdom of Tonga, on a mild sunny day. We found a usable spot at the commercial wharf for the formalities: visits by the Health Officer, (he asked if we were healthy), the Quarantine Officer (biosecurity - he examined our fruits and vegetables and took away the garbage), the Immigration Officer and the Customs Officer.

Fortunately, we was advised by a friend to serve coffee and cookies, so we were prepared. It might have been hard for me to catch on to that necessity. Although now we've learned that Tongans just ask for food and drink, so they probably would have asked if I hadn't offered. In fact, the customs officer asked for a whole bottle of wine. OK, whatever, not a problem. We later found that wasn't the usual "fee". They were all very pleasant to work with.

Neiafu is a pleasant, small town with the necessities near the waterfront: the vegetable and crafts market, banks, stores, restaurants and bars, and internet. Yay! Prices are much lower here, so we feel free to eat out a lot. However, the grocery stores are really limited. The harbor is completely protected and very deep. Fortunately, there are many mooring buoys for rent, so that makes it easy.

There was a church near our mooring and we could often hear the choir singing. And hardly any barking dogs. Yay again!, no jetskis, or loud stereos.

The Vava'u Island group has few coral reefs like we've seen in French Polynesia and Suwarrow. The islands are close together and separated by deep passages, not unlike the San Juan or Gulf Islands. It is very humid here, though not very hot. The waves don't build up much. The weather is windy and showery, but usually the showers are so light and short you don't have time to put on a jacket.

Tongans are very conservative and soft spoken and there are many churches. Sundays are special days and no business is allowed (except bars!). Even the Seventh Day Adventists have church on Sunday! Many Tongans speak some English, communications are not too hard. There is a lively expatriat community here that run many restaurants, charter and dive services. Because Tonga wants to have the same dates as Fiji, we skipped a day ahead when we arrived. So Monday night football is on Tuesday. And because there are so many kiwis and aussies, there is rugby on other days. Cricket hasn't been mentioned, so we don't know when they watch that.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Passage from Niue to Tonga

Thursday, September 2nd

Who knew? An upwind passage is a pleasant change from all the downwind sailing we've done. We were en route from Niue to Tonga. The anchorage is open to all but E wind and had become very annoying when the wind went North. Later the night we left, a number of other boats had to get out when wind and seas switched to the west.

This might be the first upwind leg we've done since Fatu Hiva to Nuku Hiva. (We shoulda skipped FH and gone to directly to NH though). This passage had light wind, mostly SW 8-10kts, 8-10 deg heel, normal wind waves and very long low swells from the south. It started out on Stbd tack on a NNE breeze and tacked when it went south (for a while). Just what the J-42s are made for. We did have to pass through a dead convergence zone. (no mountains required)

However, all good things must come to an end: the wind moved south and gave us a rolly, lumpy beam reach.

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