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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Tonga’s Rugby Madness


All red-decked rugby fans, these more traditionally garbed ladies
show their support more conservatively than this bare-chested,
buff boy partaking in the parade.
Beep-Beep-Beep-ing horns and singing caught our attention as we ambled along the one road encircling “New Potato” Niuatoputapu Tonga.  Streamers, a waving of arms, lots of smiles, revelers swathed in red passed us in three large trucks, several times.

“What is the celebration -- the horns and singing all about – a wedding? A holiday?” we asked a local.  In French Polynesia, red was the color for wedding attendees.

“Rugby; Tonga is playing,” he replied.







Red-face-painted parade participant in a long-bed
pickup truck poses with a rugby ball for the video cam,
a substantial-sized loudspeaker between his cameraman and the truck cab.
In more populous Nieafu, Tonga, Thursday, Friday and Saturday the streets thronged with parading trucks, tractors, motorcyclists and even a few cars. Street curbs were crowded with cheering fans and fascinated and amused lookie-loos (like me).  Post parade, we even noticed as we departed from the small boat dock, a teenaged gal whose shirt read, “Rugby is my life.”
At last, the game was Saturday night.  With no wifi or tv, we didn’t know if Tonga won, or not.


Is this fellow sporting traditional Tonga rugby fan gender-bending
garb?  Or is he a fakeleti (male Polynesian dressing and playing
the part of a female) who happens to be caught up in rugby fever?
Watch for an upcoming short video…
where they drag him through the mud!
Then, Sunday, other than the church bells and ethereal gospel music floating into the anchorage… silence.  The town, as is the case throughout Tonga on Sundays (with a few curious exceptions like the Tropicana and Aquarium Caf├ęs) – every business, by law, is shut up tight as a drum on Sundays.

“I’m betting Tonga lost,” I told Wayne.  “If they won, it wouldn’t be so quiet.”

“It’s Sunday; that’s church day.  It’s going to be quiet,” he countered.

But I remember, even though I didn’t follow football, I could always tell when the local pro football team won or lost in the U.S.  When they won, there was celebration.  When they lost, silence.  With as much more celebration as there was here in Tonga leading up to the rugby game, surely there would be some sign on Sunday if they were victorious.


How can you not admire a tractor overflowing with
fancifully attired rugby fans parading past?
Finally, on Monday, we were at a fund-raising movie gathering for a yachtie who lost his boat on some outer island reefs.  After the movie, the big screen played rugby.  “Do you know if Tonga won on Saturday?” I asked Dee of Good as Gold, as she sat next to me and watched the highlights with interest.  “Nope; they lost; an upset, apparently.”


For the sake of the friendly and rugby-loving Tongans, in my assessment of who the winner wasn’t, it’s one time I wished to be wrong.  Whether it’s three truckloads or revelers on a small island or a melee of twenty-plus assorted vehicles on a bigger island, rugby draws the Tongan community together as surely as churches do, but with much more laughter.

Location Location
This post was finalized in Port Maurelle, Kingdom of TONGA (S18.42.024 W174.01.801) and was inspired at our first Tonga island stop, Niuatoputapu (meaning 'Very Sacred Coconut') (S15.56.395 W173.46.125).  about 175 miles from Tonga’s Vava’u island group, where we’re currently cruising.

Communication Access
There was no wifi in Niuatoputapu or Port Maurelle, so posts were written awaiting arrival for sporadic wifi access in Neiafu, of the Vava’u islands of Tonga.

Tonga wifi access is slow, so most posts will be set up to post when we’re in Tonga’s more populated areas.  Once we get to New Zealand in November, we expect much better wifi and will catch up on some recent cruising experiences and, eventually, some short video clips.

Cruising Progress by the Numbers
As of our start, December 7th 2014, from Jacksonville FL NAS, USA until our current (September 26, 2015) travels around the Neiafu, Tonga are -- ~9 months, we’ve spent about a third of our time --120 days -- sailing and covered 8,724 nautical miles.  The prior 2 years combined, we sailed 3762 miles.  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.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Deluge = Dinghy Bathtub – Really!


Wayne, unhappily hunkered under a blanket for warmth
our first morning in Neiafu, Tonga.  It was 70 degrees F
and damp but not raining.
Rain rain go away is not just a childhood chant.  It’s supposed to be the dry season here in Tonga’s Vava’u group of islands.  “Supposed to be” is the operative set of words.

Along with a gaggle of other cruisers, we sloshed our dinghy ride in for the movie fundraiser for a cruiser whose boat recently wrecked on some nearby reefs.  Throughout the movie, a Northwest Passage documentary from cruisers from La Belle Epoche we could barely hear the movie over the pounding rain.








Note the red gas tank floating in the dinghy?  We had the foresight
to set it up to float but remain connected if the dinghy flooded.
It’s hard to tell, but the water was just a few inches
from flooding over the transom. 
Wayne bailed who-knows-how-many gallons out that fell during the mere two hours of the movie before we got in to dinghy back to our boat.  The next morning, the water inside our dinghy from overnight was maybe five inches from overflowing over our transom. 

Wayne skimmed 40 gallons off the top of the dinghy for water jugs and for me to wash my hair in our cockpit, and still, there was plenty enough to take a bath in the dinghy with the remaining rainwater.

The local weather guy said he only had info on how much it rained that day until midnight; about six inches, and we know it continued to rain heavily off and on after that.


There was plenty of water to take a rainwater bath in our dinghy,
even after 40+ gallons were skimmed off the top for our water tanks
and to wash my hair in our cockpit.
For us?  We’ll simply remember it as enough to fill 40 gallons and take a generous rainwater bath.  All that was missing was a rubber ducky and some bubble bath.  Still, it was the nicest my hair and skin’s felt since before we started cruising this year.


Now, though, we’re really, really ready for some dry sunny weather to see well now that we’re in good snorkeling territory again.  Cross your fingers for us that the “Dry Season” here in Vava’u begins living up to its name.

"It's the convergence zone.... that's what's driving the crappy weather we're having here right now, explained John Martin.  

Ah well.  We'll be using those same systems to plan our passage to New Zealand in a month's time.  Wish us luck for that, too.

Neiafu Tonga anchorage; hanging out there now for the
Blue Water Festival, designed to prep us for our time in New Zealand.
Location Location
This post was finalized in Port Maurelle, Kingdom of TONGA (S18.42.024 W174.01.801) and was inspired at our first Tonga island stop, Niuatoputapu (meaning 'Very Sacred Coconut') (S15.56.395 W173.46.125).  about 175 miles from Tonga’s Vava’u island group, where we’re currently cruising.

Communication Access
There was no wifi in Niuatoputapu or Port Maurelle, so posts were written awaiting arrival for sporadic wifi access in Neiafu, of the Vava’u islands of Tonga.

Tonga wifi access is slow, so most posts will be set up to post when we’re in Tonga’s more populated areas.  Once we get to New Zealand in November, we expect much better wifi and will catch up on some recent cruising experiences and, eventually, some short video clips.

Cruising Progress by the Numbers
As of our start, December 7th 2014, from Jacksonville FL NAS, USA until our current (September 26, 2015) travels around the Neiafu, Tonga are -- ~9 months, we’ve spent about a third of our time --120 days -- sailing and covered 8,724 nautical miles.  The prior 2 years combined, we sailed 3762 miles.  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.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Renegade Kayak Paddle-About: A Sad Farewell


View of the extinct volcano Tafahi, TONGA and driftwood,
from one of the last places I tied my kayak off.
Wayne often cursed my kayak, though he understood it gave me my own much needed independent set of “wheels” to confidently explore when Wayne wasn’t in the mood.  And my kayak, powered by me, always started – unlike the finicky old Johnson outboard motor that came with our dinghy, or the deathenol-plagued Yamaha 2-stroke 5-horse outboard that replaced it.


My kayak saved me a good portion of a hot walk up the hill
to grocery shop in Hiva Oa French Marquesas and was big enough
to handle a sizable drybag backpack and a grocery sack, too.
It’s just that there was no convenient place to stow my kayak aboard, even though I bought a small one.  We opted to block our port side deck, and I regularly pointed out when we were in heavy seas my kayak’s presence greatly reduced the water volume we got through our portside galley window leak (fingers crossed – Wayne just rebedded that window and we’re hoping that ends the leaks). 

Once we anchored anyplace I planned to kayak – which was often -- we trailed my kayak off our stern cleat.  There it was well out of the way, and not disruptively “clanking” against the side of our boat, though it was a it of a hassle taking off and returning to get the kayak painter moved from the portside ladder area cleat, past the safety line stanchions, winch, and ten (yes –ten!) other vertical lines/tubes etc. to tie off to the stern port cleat.   Often, disembarking and unloading, I made a more casual side tie, given it will be moved shortly after to the stern.  Nevermore.


While my kayak always started, I can’t deny appreciating a lift 
when the paddle is very long, or in this case in Fakarava where 
t was counter to 20+ mile an hour winds.
In Niuatoputapu I’d planned to kayak the waterway between that island and the adjacent island Hunganga. Initially, I’d planned to tack the exploration onto a trip into the Customs and Immigrations office in nearby Hinfau.  Hugging the shoreline, the paddle was quite long, and took me much longer than anticipated.  Given my late start, the side trip would’ve entailed my paddling back at dusk, which was not in my plans. 

Then, the weather shifted, with gusts up to 20+ knots.  Paddling against those overly strong head-on winds required for my return dissuaded me. 

Meanwhile, Wayne got busy varnishing (well, cetoling in our case) all our exterior woodwork, starting with the sides the first few days, finishing with the cockpit, the last few days.

Finally it was time to get our boat ready for the passage to our next anchorage, and I decided I was ok skipping the paddle out to explore Hunganga.



Mangroves, like this one off the Rio Chagres, PANAMA, were magical
for kayaking, amid the tapestry of sound
from songbirds and howler monkeys.
“Where’s your kayak?” Wayne asked, as bringing it back aboard is part of our get-ready for passage process.  “It’s not on the back?” I replied.  “No… it was side tied for the cetoling,” Wayne countered.  “Uh oh… noticeable in its absence,” he lamented, ironically on my behalf


I was embarrassed when Kim got stuck with my kayak aboard
her dinghy at Conception, Bahamas.
Then, sadly, we both realized at the same time my much beloved 2-year-old West Marine kayak decided to paddle off permanently without me, surely sometime during the 20+ knot winds.  That casual side cleat tie was never meant to withstand that kind pressure.  I’d forgotten due to the cockpit cetoling which touched the usual stern cleat tie, and didn’t move it back to its usual spot, with my usual secure tie nor secured it adequately on its normally temporary side cleat tie. 

These colors, caught kayaking
in Rum Cay, Bahamas were nearly surreal.
    
Wayne valiantly hotfooted into our dinghy and raced off to the perimeter of Niuatoputapu’s reef, almost but not quite enclosing lagoon where we anchored.  “This is probably a wild goose chase,” he forewarned.  He didn’t see my kayak, but did see there was a nice little opening in the reef, (in)conveniently located directly downwind from our boat.  Behind that?  Nothing downwind but wide open ocean, not really much on the way to anywhere ….

He also checked the pier, on the outside chance one of the few local fishing boaters found it and tied it up there.  No luck there, either.


Waters Island’s crystal clear water in the Bahamas
offered fantastic kayaking; one of my favorite paddles.
If by some miracle you’re traveling Northwest near Niutoputapu bound toward Vava’u and/or New Zealand, and see a green-blue West Marine kayak with a clipped on black back support, a tattered blue life saving (buoyant, 2-handled) seat cushion and a faded blue and yellow life vest in the aft recess, let me know.

“I’m really sorry about your kayak,” Wayne empathized, more than once.  And despite all the times he cursed it, I knew he genuinely meant it. 


These Fakarava atolls were great fun to access and explore by kayak.
While not one for naming my vehicles, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it feels like I lost a good friend.  I take some consolation in that my beloved kayak was purchased at a fantastic West Marine employee discount price.  And, unlike many cruiser kayaks I see, mine really got used – a lot over its 10,500+ miles of cruising in just two years. 

Maybe it will brighten the life of some local islander or passing cruiser able to snag it in passage, as I’m guessing my sturdy kayak will remain intact, and eventually land somewhere, hopefully inhabited if not found prior.


This little new-to-me red Sekat, is the replacement to my beloved
West Marine kayak, purchased used at a swap meet in
Neiafu, Tonga.  Just as one never forgets their first love,
it’s taking me a bit to warm up to this new-to-me kayak.
At a swap meet in Neiafu, Tonga, our next stop, I found an affordable replacement to my beloved West Marine kayak.  It’s a little new-to-me red Sekat, which claims isn’t much smaller than its predecessor.  Still, just as one never forgets their first love, it’s taking me a bit to warm up to this new-to-me kayak.


So, if you’re in my neck of the woods and possess a nice, small kayak going unused, let’s talk, in case it’s one I can cherish as much as my forever departed West Marine kayak.  Though you never know, by then, I may find as much affection for the Sekat as I did for my West Marine.

Nieafu TONGA anchorage as seen from town.
Location Location
This post was finalized in Port Maurelle, Kingdom of TONGA (S18.42.024 W174.01.801) and was inspired at our first Tonga island stop, Niuatoputapu (meaning 'Very Sacred Coconut') (S15.56.395 W173.46.125).  about 175 miles from Tonga’s Vava’u island group, where we’re currently cruising.

Communication Access
There was no wifi in Niuatoputapu or Port Maurelle, so posts were written awaiting arrival for sporadic wifi access in Neiafu, of the Vava’u islands of Tonga.

Tonga wifi access is slow, so most posts will be set up to post when we’re in Tonga’s more populated areas.  Once we get to New Zealand in November, we expect much better wifi and will catch up on some recent cruising experiences and, eventually, some short video clips.

Cruising Progress by the Numbers

As of our start, December 7th 2014, from Jacksonville FL NAS, USA until our current (September 26, 2015) travels around the Neiafu, Tonga are -- ~9 months, we’ve spent about a third of our time --120 days -- sailing and covered 8,724 nautical miles.  The prior 2 years combined, we sailed 3762 miles.  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.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tonga Time-Warp: The Kinda Friendly Isles

The trek to the customs office did offer a good time to stop
and enjoy the flowers, passionfruit flowers in this case

In gratitude for the feast Tongans feted him with, Captain Cook dubbed Tonga, “The Friendly Isles.”  According to Lonely Planet, what Cook didn’t know was the real reason for the feast was to rob his boat whilst he was busy feasting, to be followed by the murder of him and his crew.  Thanks to the ineptitude driven by disagreement amongst the Tongans on the how to execute the plan, Cook sailed off demurely, one could argue, fat, dumb and happy. 

Today, “Friendly Isles” or not, Tonga is not a major tourist destination, nor is its infrastructure set up to be, though it’s trying.

We checked into the relatively remote island of Niuatoputapu (asked “very sacred coconut), population 800-900.  From the anchorage, it’s a 3 km walk down a hot dusty road to Customs and Immigration (the health department is closer in, tucked behind a church and inside a schoolyard). Both buildings bear no signs stating their purpose or hours of operation, though they are among a few with flying a Tongan flag outside. 

Both the Customs and Immigration officers on Niuatoputapu
who came aboard were women, something
Wayne found novel enough to photograph.
If you’re lucky, more likely if you arrive amidst a posse of other yachties (like we did), you might be able to arrange to dinghy the Customs and Immigration folks to your boat from the nearby dock. Customs and Immigrations does not have their own boat, nor do they arrange for a ride from any of the local boats, as we’ve experienced on other islands, such as Galapagos and Panama (though Panama charges cruisers for their water taxi).

If you’d like a tour, Sia, who handles part of the check in process is the local “arranger.”  Don’t make the same mistake I did (in the interest of coordinating plans with several folks first), not committing to arranging for a hiking guide (advised on the Soggy Paws Compendium due to the trail’s passage through private lands) when given the in-person opportunity to make that date and time arrangements.  No one monitors VHF on this island, so using that is futile.  As our first stop, we had no Tonga phone SIM card, nor are they available on Niuatoputapu, though mobile phone use on the island is rampant. 

After a long hot walk to the Customs and Immigrations office, I discovered it was closed. Outside the closed building, three girls from the nearby school chatted me up in Tongan.  “’Oka ‘iau taha’oku lea faka palangi*?  [“Do you speak any English?]” I asked, consulting my very limited Lonely Planet Tongan language cheat sheet.  Two girls nudged the third, the tallest of the bunch.  “Yes;” her one word response in English.  “I don’t speak Tongan,” I explained.  End of conversation.

*Palangi is translated to Westerner, though ironically we’ve traveled over 92 longitudes Westward to Niuatoptapu from Florida. Palangi appears to be the term used to indicate any Caucasian, and many are likely more likely to arrive from further West New Zealand and Australia or perhaps China.

Meanwhile, the bank* next door was open, so I enquired about Customs and Immigrations, noting I was looking for Sia.  “The office is closed for Coconut Day,” they informed me, apparently not a holiday that affects the bank.  No one in Customs and Immigrations mentioned the closure the day prior when I was there. 

*where money is left out atop desktops local accountholder transactions are recorded in passbooks and there is no computer or printer and I later learned in Nieafu we were given currency due to expire within the month.

Kindly, the bank folks tried phoning around on my behalf to reach Sia, to no avail.

“Go by her house,” they urged.  Sia pointed her house out to us on the whirlwind island tour we were fortunate enough to partake in when we first arrived, groggy from our overnight passage.

Niuatoputopu TONGA’s rather inconspicuous
Customs & Immigrations office and bank.
The best instructions I was able to get to Sia’s were, “In the village [there are three on the island – the one Sia lived in was closest to the anchorage, furthest from the Customs and Immigrations office, but I didn’t remember that], the house past the fenced house [nearly all houses were fenced] past the Catholic Church [one of several churches on the island, no denomination obvious from the church exterior].”

Eventually, I found it.  Fenced with a locked padlock on the gate and Sia’s truck parked inside the locked yard.  No response to my “Hellos” except to see a fellow disappear inside about a block before I got there and several dogs leaping through a gap in the fence to gleefully chase two pigs across the adjoining field.

Niuatoputapu TONGA schoolgirls,
English-speaking but too shy to speak it.
We were holding off leaving Niuatoputapu until we hiked its ridgeline, but I was done chasing down a guide for the hike.  Also rejected were snorkeling in the lagoon, which appeared nearly bereft of life, and too chalky to offer good visibility.  We’d already explored the atoll in the lagoon twice. We were too pooped on the day after our arrival to partake in the morning church service followed by the umu feast with the other 6 boats of cruisers there when we arrived. Afterward, for us, plans to partake in the local island culture just didn’t gel.

Peregrine, now the only other cruisers at Niuatoputapu were busy doing boat work.  We’d already finished our planned boat work; Wayne handily tackling the most critical -- re-cetoling our exterior woodwork.

Monarchy & technology mix on Niuatoputapu TONGA with the King’s
welcome banner contrasted with mobile phone communications center
and the solar-powered streetlights.
The next day we returned to check out.  “The person to take care of that is not here,” we were told by the three other gals there.  When will they be back, we asked, and were told “In an hour or so; they’re at lunch.”  It was Friday.  We planned to leave over the weekend, and the office is closed then.  An hour and a half later, we were checked out.

Health Center; another unsigned and inconspicuous
Niuatoputapu officially required cruiser stop.
All we needed were the standard Southeast trade winds to re-establish themselves  with enough East in them as our trip to Tonga’s beloved Vava’u cruising grounds was nearly all due South.

Pergrine crusier Gretchen refuses to watch the Health Center
tv broadcast while her partner Dirk can’t help himself from
eyeballing the women’s wrestling competition.
Alas, like the sailboats there when we first arrived, we were in for a wait.

Niuatoputapu is a pleasant enough spot.  But if other cruisers with limited time to cruise Tonga were to ask us whether to break up the sail to Tonga by first stopping at Niuatoputapu, I would advise them to continue straight to Vava’u, unless maybe they’re part of a bigger, culturally curious group. Niuatoputapu’s a good place to get boat work done with minimal distractions (assuming you have everything you need with you to do the work), far more pleasant than being downwind of Charlie-theTuna-breath in e-coli water waters of Pago Pago and unlike Suwarrow, relatively shark free. 

I found this to be the most picturesque of the churches on the island;
many of the others are post-Tsunami rebuilds or very very plain.
Leaving the Niuatoputapu, however, we saw our best-ever goodbye…. Plenty of humpback families cavorting in the seas between Niuatoputapu and nearby picturesque silhouette of the extinct volcano island of Tafahi.

In Vava’u, Tonga, we are likely to be in a better place to enjoy local culture and hospitality.  Here the passages are short, there are a number of villages welcoming cruisers, and there plenty of other cruisers around to instigate a more worthwhile cultural exchange.

Peregrine anchored at the atoll off Niuatoputapu; a great place
to get boat work done undisturbed and whale watch humpbacks
fringing the nearby reef.
Location Location
We are currently in Neiafu, Kingdom of TONGA (S18.39.842 W173.58.915).  This was written at our first Tonga island stop, Niuatoputapu (meaning 'Very Sacred Coconut') (S15.56.395 W173.46.125).  Anchor to anchor, we sailed a little over 200 miles, a 2-day 24/7 sail to get to Niuatoputapu from Pago Pago, American Samoa, then another 2-day, 24/7 177 mile sail from Niuatoputapu to Neafu Tonga.

Communication Access
While there was cell phone coverage, there was no wifi in Niuatoputapu, so posts were written awaiting arrival and wifi access in Neiafu, the Vava’u islands of Tonga, 177 nm from Niuatoputapu.

Our wifi access in Tonga will vary.  It’s very expensive and slow, so most likely posts will be set up when we’re in Tonga’s more populated areas.  Once we get to New Zealand in November,

Cruising Progress by the Numbers
As of our start, December 7th 2014, from Jacksonville FL NAS, USA until our arrival on Sept 16, 2015 in Neiafu, Tonga -- ~9 months, we’ve spent about a third of our time --118 days -- sailing and covered 8,711 nautical miles.  The prior 2 years combined, we sailed 3762 miles.  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.