Thursday, November 26, 2015

Nuku’alofa Tonga: Necessary Evil -- Getting Go-Go Juice

Besides the nasty high cement dock, the other problem with getting fuel at
Tonga’s Nuku’alofa dock (from “Mr. John’s Cruising Guide to Tonga”)
Much as we love to sail and hate to motor, weather guru John Martin warned us to be prepared to motor 2-3 days out of our 1,000+ mile ocean passage to New Zealand from Tonga.

After not getting enough diesel for our passage from Galapagos to the French Marquesas and getting towed into Hiva Oa the last few miles in the dark, we wanted to avoid repeating that experience.  Our mishap was due to a mix of badly tattered sails, dying winds and a motor that refused to start due to too little diesel which turned to goo in our 37 year old fuel tank.  A humbling end to our 3,200 mile passage.

Fuel ferry arrives at our boat, anchored just off Big Mama’s
near Nuku’alofa, Tonga.
We can’t be certain our sails will complete this next passage with flying colors, but we at least wanted to make sure our fuel’s fully topped off.  Plus, the duty-free diesel price for yachts checking out of Tonga is roughly $3.30/gallon USD including the extra cost of having it arranged from Big Mama’s Yacht Club and delivered directly to our boat.

Fuel drums prepped for filling, just offside our anchored
Pearson 365 sailboat.  Pangiamotu, Tonga.
Otherwise, rumor has it to get duty-free fuel at Nuku’alofa’s tall, rough rat-infested cement dock is a colossal hassle. “Rats. Rats. Rats.” Warns “Mr. John’s Guide to Tonga,” among other cruising resources.  We’re not sure how much extra we paid – perhaps $50 – for the clean convenience of receiving fuel at our boat.  Especially after we saw Nuku’alofa’s fuel dock, we decided it was worth it.

Wayne takes hose from ferry for transferring fuel onto our boat,
anchored near Big Mama’s just outside Nuku’alofa, Tonga.
The minimum duty-free fuel purchase is 200 liters (3.7 liters/gallon = 54 gallons) minimum.  The cost was 360 painga, which roughly converts to $180 USD, or $3.33/gallon.  Topping our tanks took a little less than 40 gallons, or $132 USD; the remainder of the 200 liters, about 15 gallons, went to our friends on Armagh, also readying to cruise the same New Zealand passage. 

Even if we didn’t use much fuel on our passage, we heard diesel is substantially more expensive in New Zealand.  We figured “worst case” we could use it cruising the Bay of Islands our first month in New Zealand, before we house-sit for about three months.

Wobble pumping, a low-tech but effective means used to manually
transfer a liquid, in this case from the ferry’s drums to our fuel tank
and jerry cans. Near Nuku’alofa, Tonga.

To get duty-free fuel requires checking out of the country and providing the duty-free paperwork provided by customs upon request.  Theoretically, you’re required to leave the country within 24 hours of check out.

As “luck” would have it, we heard the optimal weather window for leaving was on the upcoming Sunday and Monday.  However, Saturday check-out cost ~$50 USD overtime.  Nor were there any diesel available on Saturday, Sunday or Monday, which turns out was a holiday, Tonga’s “Coronation Day.”  Tuesday deliveries would at soonest arrive in the afternoon.

Wayne, prudently albeit slowly filtering our fuel with a Baja filter
in case of potential engine-clogging muck prior to putting it into
our fuel tank.  The stick below Wayne’s hand is Journey’s 
high tech” fuel gauge.

We opted to go renegade.  Check out on Friday morning – knowing full well our plans were to leave beyond the “24 hour” checkout -- and hope like heck everything went smoothly with the fuel delivery to our boat via Big Mama’s Yacht Club the same day.  We were reasonably sure no one from customs planned to spend their three-day holiday weekend busting tardy cruisers who didn’t leave on time and surer still Big Mama’s wouldn’t “out” her paying customers.  Besides, the primary reason we weren’t leaving within 24 hours also had to do with weather.  Even customs knows it’s not ok to punish a cruiser for holding off exiting a safe harbor because the weather conditions were unsafe for sailing.

Jerry cans for fuel from our boat and Armagh’s combine with
our tank fill to achieve the minimum 200 liters (~54 gallons)
required for acquiring duty-free fueling.
As soon as we got our check-out paperwork including our duty-free fuel permit, Wayne dinghied back solo the 1.4 miles from Nuku’alofa back to Big Mama’s in heavy chop.  Meanwhile, Steve and Patty from Armagh and I proceeded to complete the rest of our official Tonga checkout (more on that in a future post).  Wayne would return later to meet us for a final provisioning run before we all returned to our boats together.

“Power out,” Earl of Big Mama’s glumly informed Wayne when he checked on our fuel’s delivery status.  Earl was referring to where the fuel was being pumped from prior to delivery.  “Later… hopefully.”

Fuel ferry pulling away, finished right around sunset.    
As the sun cast its golden glow before dipping below the horizon, our fuel delivery arrived.  Whew!  We were their last delivery stop until Tuesday afternoon.

We’d heard from Paul of s/v Georgia Tonga’s fuel was surprisingly clean (“dirty” fuel can clog an engine, which requires a cool down and calm conditions to clean the fuel for the engine to restart).  Still, Wayne asked if he needed to filter the fuel (using our Baja filter) prior to putting it into our tank.  Yes, he was advised, though we all knew that meant it would take longer for us to complete our fueling process.

We’d waited a while for the fuel.  At the same time, we also knew it made a long day even longer for the fellows on the ferry.  Wayne filtered the fuel, which like it was for s/v Georgia, clean.  Still, better safe than sorry.

We were ready, more or less.  Now all we needed to do was wait for the right weather window for sailing conditions.  Ideally that meant enough wind (not much more or less than 10-15 knots) in the right direction (not on our “nose”) to at least get us to Minerva Reef – ~257 miles -- in daylight hours with a minimum of motoring.  We then needed similar conditions to get from Minerva Reef to Opua New Zealand – another ~830 miles.

In fact, in less than three (24/7) days, we motored over 17 hours from Tonga’s Nuku’alofa to arrive at Minerva Reef and anchor there by daylight (separate post upcoming on our Nuku’alofa to Minerva Reef passage lowlights).  We estimate that burned about 9 gallons.  We motored just under 45 hours from Minerva Reef to Opua (normally we burn .6 gallons/hour, more this time due to some slight fuel leaks).  Traveling 1600 miles over eight months through 13 island countries in our first year of cruising (with many stops – not just two), we used less 60 gallons of fuel.

Location Location
Opua, New Zealand, Bay of Islands Marina (S35.18.825 E174.07.312).  The fuel was taken on outside Nuku'alofa, Kingdom of Tonga (S21 07.134 W175 09.622).

Cruising By the Numbers
As the crow flies, our passage from Nuku'alofa, Tonga on November 2, 2015 to Minerva Reef** was 257 miles.  It took us 2 1/2 days of 24/7 sailing to get there.  We waited there nine days for a "weather window" of good sailing conditions to sail to New Zealand, another 783 "crow flies" miles.  We arrived in New Zealand on Saturday, November 21, 2015, after 8 1/2 days of sailing 24/7 from Minerva Reef.  

**Minerva Reef is an isolated reef, offering some protection and a place to anchor.  There is no "land," but the reef is briefly above water twice daily at low tide.  

Since we left Jacksonville Florida in December, 2014 -- less than a year ago -- we've sailed over 10,000 miles.  

A set of tables detailing all our stops will be added to the blog soon.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tonga: Every Sunday…

Young auntie? Cousin?  This little girl held
a baby for the majority of the service service
in the Neiafu Wesleyan church in Tonga.
Children wriggle.  Mobile phones buzz inappropriately.  Phone cams record. Microphones cue. The girls wear their very best frocks.  The boys are as neat and clean as they can be.  Adults are for the most part, somberly (our in our case, more conservatively) dressed.  The conductor gazes at his musicians, raises his hands, the music begins….

If it’s Sunday in Tonga, it all transpires in church.

In fact, in Tonga on Sunday, other than a few restaurants, by law, all businesses are closed.

The conductor led a substantially sized all-male choir
at a Wesleyan church in Neiafu.
To attend a church service in Tonga is a true taste of their culture.  The royal Tongan church – Wesleyan, Catholic and Mormon churches appeared the most prominent and prolific.  In Neiafu, we chose to attend the Wesleyan church, over the more architecturally visible Catholic church.   Patty on Armagh's research tagged it as the best place to attend.

Even if you’re atheist, agnostic or more “spiritual” than into organized religion, you will be enchanted by the music (audio if not video clips to the choir to be added later).

Neiafu Tonga’s Catholic church building reminded me of a wedding
cake.  We attended the plainer Wesleyan church instead.  The pigs
entering the church grounds roamed freely in most
Tongan towns and villages.
Of course, given my meager Tongan vocabulary is limited mostly to “thank you” and “thank you very much” there was no possibility the all-Tongan sermon message would offend me.

As in the USA (and everywhere?), there was still the predictable sermon arc – the rise and fall of [Tongan] speech, first admonishing, then entreating (and again, and again).  Even without understanding the language, I am betting the sermon went something like this….

Neiafu Wesleyan church windows and stations of the cross
above the altar.

“Dear people.  Of late I’ve noticed a problem that concerns me deeply, [fill in the blank].  It is a serious problem because [fill in the blank – ideally this will include a very personalized story].  If is not corrected [fill in the blank].  And then, [fill in the blank].  Of course, we cannot idly allow this to happen.  You – each of you [minister eyeballing and/or pointing] – can make a difference by [fill in the blank].  After all, surely you do not want [fill in the blank] to happen.  As of today, I expect each and every one of you to [fill in the blank].  As a result [fill in the blank], and you know you will have done your part.  Thank you.  I knew I could count on you.  Amen.”

Churchgoers in their Sunday best, exiting the church.  Neiafu, Tonga.

No charge for those of you who’ve been searching for a sermon template. 

For the more irreverent, I suggest trying the template out as a MadLibs drinking game. Don’t tell your fellow compatriots it’s a sermon template.  Get a little more specific on “fill in the blank.”  Encourage loopiness and bawdiness. Uproarious results are sure to follow, particularly among the more loquaciously creative.  Perhaps it will inspire you to form your own unique church. 

Olivia, on the right, chatted with us
after the service and at the church lunch.
She was in black mourning a nephew
who died recently.
In fact, we found out afterward, the service was a dedication to two girls whose continued schooling was funded though church and community donations after the demise of the girl’s parents.  I’ve read it’s common for church members to be required to tithe as much as 30% of their income, even if it means selling off family heirlooms come collection time.

Neiafu Tonga Chief of Police and Wesleyan
church elder, who invited us to join
the church lunch, after the service.  
The local Neiafu Chief of Police chatted with us as we entered the church. Afterward as we left the church, he asked us if we had plans for lunch.  We did not.  He invited us to join the post-church lunch, held in honor of the two girls.  We joined the crowd at the long picnic tables set up under a canopy in the Police lot, near the church.

Throughout the meal, church elders (all male – as was the choir [though some women from the congregation sang along]) continued to make speeches, tell jokes and read prayers.

The meal was generous…. Whole roast pig, fried chicken, ribs, oka (Tongan version of poisson cru – raw fish “cooked” in a lime-based marinade with coconut milk), lu (meat mixed with coconut milk and onion, wrapped in taro leaves and smoke-cooked in an underground [umu] oven), octopus, taro, sweet potato, potato salad, corned beef salad, curry, watermelon…. At the meal’s end, ice cream was served.

Tables set for post-church lunch.  Note the fellow in the upper left of the photo
with bright blue sunglass frames atop his head?  He was one of a several young
otherwise formally dressed males who wore distinctively bright-colored sunglass frames.
Olivia, whose English was excellent, also talked with us after the service, and at lunch.  She was one of many Neiafu Tongans who upon learning we were departing yachties, said they would pray for us, for God’s blessing for a safe voyage.

Patty of Armagh, thanked them, and assured them that with so many prayers for us, we would indeed have a safe passage.

Our passage from Neiafu to Ha’apai was one of the smoothest we’ve had this year.

Prayer, planning or just plain good luck?  Who knows?  A little blessing can’t hurt though, especially when it’s heartfelt.

Location Location
This is a recent retrospective from our time in Neiafu, the primary population center in Kingdom of Tonga's Vava'u Island group.  We were anchored at S8.39.443 W173.58.965.  We were there September 16 - October 19, 2015.

We are currently in Opua, New Zealand, at the Bay of Islands marinaS35.18.826 E174.07.312.

Cruising By the Numbers
Since we left Jacksonville Florida in December, 2014 -- less than a year ago -- we've sailed over 10,000 miles.  Our most recent stretch, from Tonga to New Zealand was over 1,000 "crow flies" miles, with a stop in between at remote, primitive an surreal Minerva Reed.

A set of tables detailing all our stops will be added to the blog soon. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

New Zealand Bay of Islands: Arrived!

Opua, New Zealand, Bay of Islands, internationally famous for
its excellent cruising grounds and sailing resources.
Image pilfered from
 We're here!  

Opua, New Zealand, beautiful gateway to "The Bay of Islands."

After over 1,000 "as the crow flies"* miles and three weeks since we left Nuku'alofa, Tonga, we arrived in New Zealand.  It was our last long passage for at least the next five months, as we plan to nestle safely here for the cyclone (that's hurricane, South Pacific-style) season.

*Often sailing requires many more miles than it appears to, due to the need to zig-zag rather than sail along in a direct line from departure to destination due to wind, waves of obstructions.

We motored the most we ever have to avoid getting walloped by the storm system at our heels.  Sailors to New Zealand are pretty much guaranteed to hit at least one stretch of heavy winds and at least one stretch of inadequate winds.  Hmmm, makes us cruisers seem pretty picky....  Seriously, it's difficult to expect a mellow trip in, so we are relieved to be done.  Heavy winds are not only uncomfortable, it's the kind of weather most likely to cause boat damage.  Too little wind to sail, and cruisers run the risk of running out of fuel (few boats can carry enough to motor for more than a few days) too early, and finding themselves a sitting duck when the time comes to run from upcoming bad weather.

We arrived yesterday afternoon, and found ourselves caught up in a whirlwind of customs and immigration inspection, moving to a marina slip to rest, repair and reunite with our fellow South Pacific Cruisers.

"How was your passage?" is one of the most common cruiser questions here.  "We're just really, really glad to be here," we answered.  And truly, if measured by boat damage, the only issue we encountered was one torn mainsail seam (the next to last one to go on that sail) and in the last eight miles, the pin on our autopilot sheared (fortunately, we have a replacement pin and an additional spare beyond that).

More soon, including some more retrospectives from Tonga, Minerva Reef and other recent South Pacific stops.

Location Location
Opua, New Zealand, Bay of Islands Marina (S35.18.825 E174.07.312).  

Cruising By the Numbers
As the crow flies, our passage from Nuku'alofa, Tonga on November 2, 2015 to Minerva Reef** was 257 miles.  It took us 2 1/2 days of 24/7 sailing to get there.  We waited there nine days for a "weather window" of good sailing conditions to sail to New Zealand, another 783 "crow flies" miles.  We arrived in New Zealand on Saturday, November 21, 2015, after 8 1/2 days of sailing 24/7 from Minerva Reef.  

**Minerva Reef is an isolated reef, offering some protection and a place to anchor.  There is no "land," but the reef is briefly above water twice daily at low tide.  

Since we left Jacksonville Florida in December, 2014 -- less than a year ago -- we've sailed over 10,000 miles.  

A set of tables detailing all our stops will be added to the blog soon.  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Memories of Tonga Vava'u

Gluten-free bean thread salad ingredients, all purchased in
Vava'u's fabulous produce market in Neiafu, Tonga.
Still underway from Tonga to New Zealand.  Hang in there -- we'll arrive soon with lots more posts coming up.

Meanwhile check out all this great stuff from Neiafu Tonga's fantastic produce market.

This was used in a gluten-free bean thread recipe, adapted from one made by Anna of Shine at a potluck in Suwarrow, Cook Islands.

Bean Thread Salad

4 oz bean threads (1/2 a n 8 oz package, a typical “smaller” size) – preferably vermicelli style if you’re lucky enough to find them as such
2 oz. tamari*
1-2 oz. fish sauce
1 oz. lime juice (or to taste – likely more than less)
1 T rice wine vinegar**
1 T chopped garlic (or to taste)
1 t “rooster sauce” chili paste***
vegetables – what’s on hand, to desired volume
protein (optional)
¼ c fresh cilantro (or to taste), roughly chopped (optional – we prefer it whenever it’s available)

1.     Place the bean threads in a colander seated in a bowl for easy draining once they’re done and add enough boiling water to cover them.  When they are completely transparent, I figure they’re done.  I just let them sit until the veggies are ready to mix in and that seems to be about enough time.

2.     Mince the garlic and set it aside for the dressing.

3.     Prepare the vegetables.  For carrots either shred of cut them into matchsticks.  Green onions cut into ~ 1 ½ inch sections and then sliver them by cutting them vertically, rather than cutting them into rounds (although that would be fine, too).  Onions, preferably purple, cut into thin slices then either separate the rings or cut them into smaller strips.  Bell peppers or peeled cucumbers, cut into matchsticks.  Peas or better yet, snow peas are also excellent “adds.”

4.     Protein to consider adding:  prawns, finely diced cooked pork, chicken or beef.

5.     Dressing:  in a measuring cup, add the minced garlic, tamari, fish sauce, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, and rooster sauce and mix well.

6.     Drain the bean threads.  If desired, hack at the softened bean thread noodles with a knife or two knives to cut them into more manageable lengths – too hard or messy to do before they’re cooked.

7.     Transfer the bean threads into a bowl (I usually use a larger bowl then when everything’s mixed, transfer it into a smaller serving bowl).  Add the veggies, meat, cilantro and dressing and stir well.  Adjust to taste, though consider letting it sit for 10 minutes before adjusting or serving.

We’ve eaten this over 3 days and it still keeps well.  One of the reasons I don’t add tomatoes is they would not keep as well for that long once chopped and mixed in.

*gluten-free soy sauce, preferably low sodium
**Anna did not mention this but we decided to add a little rice wine vinegar and like it much better with it added.  The flavors pop more and we prefer the extra acidity.

***Anna uses a chili, then removes it – I would not remove it – maybe she does because she has kids which often seem to not like hot-spicy foods as much.  If I didn’t have chili paste, I would add either 1 t-T finely chopped fresh jalapeno or if that’s not available, crushed red pepper, at least ¼ t.

Location Location:
This post was pre-published from Nuku'alofa, TONGA outside Big Mama's Yacht Club (S21 07.134 W175 09.622).  When it posts we will be underway to New Zealand, with a possible stopover in Minerva Reef (S23 37 W178 57).  We expect to arrive in Opua New Zealand (S35.19 E174.07) in mid-November.

Cruising Progress by the Numbers
We started our cruising season December 7th 2014, from Jacksonville FL NAS, USA. 
By the time we arrive in New Zealand in November, less than a year from when we set out, we expect we’ll sail over 10,000 miles this year.  That’s a lot of miles for a boat with a hull speed of 7 knots; we usually sail far slower than that.

 The prior 2 years combined, we sailed 3762 miles.