Tuesday, June 24, 2014

24 June - Kenutu

1600 position 18-42S 173-56W. At anchor in 25 feet off of Kenutu Island,
Vava'u, Tonga

We decided it was time to explore the eastern end of the Vava'u group a
couple of days ago after reprovisioning in Neiafu. The most recent low
pressure system had passed, and the weather looked like it was going to
settle down for about a week of trade winds. We got a late start the
first day, and ended up anchored off of Lotuma Island, a Tongan Navy R&R
facility that is only a mile outside of Neiafu. It was so secluded and
private, we could have been fifty miles away from Neiafu. The next day we
hoisted reefed main and jib and worked our way to windward around Kapa
Island to a protected anchorage in the lee of Pangaimotu. We had intended
to anchor near the Ark Gallery, a floating art gallery in an adjacent
protected bay, but there were about fifteen boats in there, and we prefer
empty anchorages. We'll try the Ark Gallery when it is less popular.
Instead, we anchored one bay further on in the lee of Pangaimotu Island.
There was another boat there, but we never saw anybody aboard. Another
peaceful night, and we were off for the easternmost anchorages which are
only accessible by passing through the Eanua Tapu pass, a narrow and
poorly defined S shaped pass through the coral. It didn't look too bad on
the chart and in the guide books, but when we arrived there the clouds
had filled in and I couldn't see any pass at all. We furled our sails,
turned the engine on, and surveyed the approaches until I developed some
confidence that there was indeed a pass there. It was narrow and
difficult to see, but we made it through unscathed. It would have been a
lot easier had the sun been shining. Once through though, we entered a
different world of shallow reefs, sand banks, sand bars, completely
different from the high islands and steep drop offs found to the west.
This was similar to Tahiti cruising. We worked our way up into the
anchorage in the lee of Kenutu Island and have been here ever since.

Yesterday we went ashore and hiked the 150 yards across Kenutu to the
cliffs on the windward side. There is nothing to the east of Kenutu but
open ocean, and the waves breaking against the cliffs were spectacular.
Lori claimed she could feel the earth shaking as the seas hit. After
returning we were paddling the dinghy back to the boat and encountered our
first sea snake. It was about three feet long, half an inch in diameter,
and was white and black banded. It slithered on the surface of the water
like snakes do on land, and then slithered up a rock on shore. Other
cruisers have joked about checking our swim step before stepping onto it
at night to make sure a sea snake hasn't taken up residence there or
coming up the sink drains. Yikes! They are apparently very poisonous,
but have a difficult time biting people except in places where we have
folds of skin like between our fingers. We are told that they won't
bother you while you are snorkeling or swimming unless they are provoked.

Today we dinghied over to Umuna, the next island to the north, and hiked
to a sinkhole in the middle of the island that was described in the
cruising guides. There we found a lake about 100 feet down at the bottom
of the eighty foot diameter cavern.

The best thing about Kenutu though is the beachcombing. Lori is loving
spending hours wandering up and down the beaches that cover the entire
western shores of these islands searching for shells. Her collection
continues to grow. The second best thing is the seclusion. There is one
other boat here, a catamaran at the other end of the island, but he has a
camp ashore and looks like a long term resident. Nobody else has arrived
in the past two days. I suspect the journey through the Eanua Tapu pass
might keep a good number of potential visitors away.

Friday, June 20, 2014

20 June - Dealing with a rainy day

1600 position 18-39S 173-59W. On a mooring in Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga

The cruising here in Vava'u is similar to Hawaiian cruising in many ways,
but also very different.

We are at latitude 19S, which is about the same distance from the equator
as Hawaii so climate is generally similar. The winter climate here is
dominated by the weekly passing of both a low and high pressure system
heading east to the south of us. As the high passes to the south we have
strong trade winds from the southeast. Then the low passes, and the winds
back to the east, north, and west before returning to the southeast with
the next high. You can almost mark your calendar by this weekly winter
weather cycle. In Hawaii we get the troughs that pass us heading east
during the winter, but they are not as regular and we don't see the wind
moving around the clock like it does here. In Tonga we plan our
itinerary around these passing systems making sure that we are in an
appropriate anchorage for the expected winds.

Today, for example, we are on a mooring in Neiafu as a low pressure system
passes to the south. It is raining, as it usually does during the low's
passage, and the wind has backed from north to west to south since we got
up this morning. A good day to be on a strong mooring without worrying
about dragging anchor as the wind shifts. Well worth the 15 pa'anga
(Tongan dollars) it costs to use the mooring for a day. This low's
passage was forecast, so we took the opportunity to head into town,
reprovision, mail some post cards, check email on the restaurant WIFI
networks, and do some blog writing. We found some good looking lamb chops
in a small store and a bottle of cabernet for dinner. I'm keeping my
fingers crossed that the rain will let up enough for me to grill tonight.
Lori just beat me in our daily cribbage game, and now she is reading. By
tomorrow the low should be far enough to the east for the weather to
settle down and we will be on our way again exploring new anchorages.

Flora in Tonga is similar to Hawaii, but there is a striking lack of bird
life here. We do see some sea birds and plenty of blue herons, but not
much else. It seems strange not seeing or hearing birds with tropical
forests covering the islands. We thought that perhaps there were brown
tree snakes here like the ones that have devastated the birds on Guam, but
we are told that there are no land snakes in Tonga. What is really eerie
here are the bats. We see more bats than birds. The bats are as large as
boobies, and hang upside down in trees to sleep during the day. There are
still plenty of them flying around during daylight hours though, and
their squawk sounds a lot like a piglet being slaughtered.

Geology is also very different from Hawaii. The islands here in Vava'u
are all limestone, the remnants from coral reefs that have been thrust
upwards as the Pacific Plate pushes under the Indo-Australian Plate.
There is lush soil on top of these limestone islands, but no basalt can be

It is the sheltered water, numerous beaches and anchorages, and sixty
islands that really make Vava'u unique. Yesterday we sailed the ten miles
from our anchorage at Avalau Island back to Neiafu. We were on the wind
the whole way, dodging islands and reefs in 12-16 knots of breeze. Not a
drop of water on deck though since there is no fetch for seas to build.
Nearly every island has at least one secluded white sand beach, many have
multiple beaches. Yesterday's beach on Avalau was one of the best yet,
and we had it all to ourselves.

The other truly unique feature here is the support given to the community
of visiting yachts. Yesterday a local fishing boat called in a mayday on
the VHF after the morning cruisers net. The entire community mobilized to
find these guys who had engine trouble out in the ocean about fifteen
miles to the north. A visiting New Zealand sport fisherman found them,
took them in tow, and had them back in Neiafu before dark. The same thing
would have happened had these guys been visiting cruisers.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

15 June - Full Cruise Mode

1600 position 18-44S 174-05W. At anchor in the lee of Langito'o Island,
Vava'u, Tonga

Here's our daily routine. I wake up about 700AM and go on deck. I make a
couple of casts with the spinning gear off of the swim step just to
stretch, then I'm done with that for the day. I'll go below and start the
water for coffee, grind the beans, and get that made. The smell of fresh
brewed french roast usually gets Lounge Lizard Lori to start moving in bed
and she gets up and we start thinking about breakfast. Lori is a
fantastic and creative chef and is always coming up with something great.
Yesterday morning it was "Apricot Betty", or that's what she called it.
She found a recipe for "Apple Betty" in her grandmother's 1943 edition of
"Joy of Cooking" that we have aboard, but substituted dried apricots for
fresh apples, oatmeal for bread crumbs, and she added almonds. It was

Our breakfast is usually interrupted by the 830AM Vava'u Cruiser's Net on
VHF Channel 26 where we hear the weather, comings and goings of yachts,
who needs to find a new water pump impeller, who needs crew, who is trying
to sell a roll of fiberglass cloth, etc. It is hosted and sponsored by
all of the businesses that cater to the yachting community in Vava'u so we
hear what they have to offer as well. It is a great service to the
cruisers and we wouldn't miss it.

After breakfast we make a decision on where we are going to go that day.
The weather forecast has a significant influence on this decision. We
always want to end up in an anchorage for the night that will be
comfortable and safe for the forecast wind direction and speed. If we are
tired from too much relaxing, we might just stay put for the day,
otherwise we raise the hook and are off for our arduous journey of a
couple of miles to our next anchorage. I hate powering, so we usually
unroll the jib and sail as soon as the windlass has completed its job of
getting the anchor up.

The fishing line goes out, we mosey to our next anchorage, pull in the
fish line, turn on the engine, roll up the jib, and anchor. By the time
we are settled, it is usually after noon (beer o'clock in Moku pe'a time),
so we relax in the cockpit with a beer and a snack.

We try to get a hike in ashore or a snorkel by the boat if we are in an
area that is good for that. I also try to complete one boat project a day
while we are at anchor. Two days ago it was rewiring the forward running
lights that stopped working somewhere near Christmas Island. Yesterday I
moved my electrical system jumper from the positive side to the negative
side of the system. I'd had it there before and that did more good in
controlling the voltage surges we are still experiencing. Today I finally
got the mast head light working and replaced the topping lift that had
chafed where it enters the top of the mast.

Last night we went to a Tongan Feast on Lape Island. The villagers there
put on an authentic local feast for the cruisers every other Saturday
night. There were about twelve of us in attendance. It was a lot of fun,
we met some fellow cruisers from New Zealand and England, and the food was
great. The only problem was the wind was up, about 20 knots, and we had
to power over from our protected anchorage a mile away in the dinghy.
Fortunately, our trusty two horsepower Evinrude was up to the task and we
made it there and more importantly back to Moku pe'a after dark.

If we aren't doing something special, its reading, cribbage, or a movie
after dinner. My luck hasn't changed since Rocky left, and Lori skunked
me at cribbage in our first game. We are reading some great books. I am
just finishing a series of four novels that David Brown gave me about ye
olde British Navy in the days of square riggers, and Lori is reading a
novel her pal Steve aboard Rum Doodle loaned her about a destroyer north
of the Arctic Circle.

The air temperature is cooler here than in Hawaii, so the sleeping is
great, but I still get up a couple of times each night to check on
things. Two nights ago while anchored off of Mala Island in eighteen feet
over a sand bottom, the water was so clear it looked like we were aground
in the light of the full moon and zero wind.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

11 June - Ode to Rocky

1600 position 18-39S 173-59W. At anchor in Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga

Rocky departed this afternoon. It was hard to see him go. We had been
through a lot together, and he was a great shipmate and companion. He was
originally scheduled to fly to Nuku'alofa, the capital of Tonga in the
southern Tongatapu group, this morning but his flight was cancelled late
yesterday afternoon. Good thing he didn't have a connection to make in
Nuku'alofa! He is planning to spend a few days exploring Tongatapu before
flying to New Zealand and hooking up with his cousin who lives there for
some more adventuring. He is returning to Honolulu on June 22. Look for
him after that in the KYC bar, buy him a drink, and don't forget to
compliment him on his haircut!

Rocky fit in very well in Neiafu. He was on a first name basis with all
of the business owners here. The owner of the Bounty Bar gave him some
fresh sashimi, and the Moorings Base Manager gave him a ride to the
airport. Good things happen to good people. He has arranged for many of
the locals to come for a visit in Hawaii.

I'm disappointed to say that after a brief comeback on my part, Rocky
stretched his lead and easily won the Moku pe'a 2014 South Pacific
Adventure First Leg Championship Cribbage Tournament. He has taught me a
few tricks though and I am looking forward to the tournaments for the
other two legs of this cruise.

The day after getting our head stay and roller furler back together we
headed out in twenty five knots of wind for a shake down. Double reefed
main and jib made it comfortable sailing. I've got to do a bit more rig
tuning, but the boat performed flawlessly and we ended up anchored for the
night in the lee of a bluff off Falevai Tahi Village on Kapa Island.
There was a lot of wind wrap though so it was pretty uncomfortable
sleeping, but the wind generator got the batteries all charged up! The
next morning we went for a hike ashore. We walked nearly all the way to
Port Maurelle, which is on the same island. We sailed back to Neiafu
early in the afternoon so Rocky could catch the second NBA finals game
live in the Bounty Bar.

On Rocky's last day in town we rented a car to explore the island of
Vava'u. We tried to get lost, but the island wasn't that big. We took a
tour of a vanilla farm, drove past a local funeral in progress (they are
day long events), and probed every corner of the island. I don't think I
will ever complain about the pot holes on Oahu again. This place is pot
hole central with constant swerving and braking to avoid them. Add
driving on the wrong side of the road for a little extra stress. After
our drive two words come to mind in describing Vava'u - "pigs" and
"churches". I have never seen so many of both. We easily saw more pigs
than people, and they were all wandering loose, crossing the road, feeding
on the reef at low tide, grazing in people's yards. Big pigs, little
pigs, black pigs, white pigs, spotted pigs, they were everywhere. We also
saw more churches per capita than I've ever seen. There was one every
block around the whole island, and they were all immaculate while the
houses of the people were falling apart. It is easy to see where all of
the money goes. It reminds me of the stories of medieval England where
magnificent churches were surrounded by a starving population.

Tonight Lori and I are rowing about 250 feet directly ashore to a Tongan
feast at the Beach House Restaurant. Tomorrow we will head out and begin
the "Lori and Noodle Relaxation Cruise" portion of this summer's
adventure, seven weeks of play among the sixty islands in the Vava'u

Friday, June 6, 2014

7 June - Moku pe'a is Whole Again!

1600 position 18-39S 173-59W. On a mooring in Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga

Lori went for a snorkel and walk ashore in Port Maurelle yesterday
morning, and she came back an hour later anxious to tell us about her
encounter ashore with a wild mama pig and her three little piglets.
Other than a lone house on the hill, there is no civilization in Port
Maurelle, and the wild pigs have the run of the place. Lori was
exploring ashore and came across the three piglets. "How cute!", she
thought, until she heard the deep grunts of an unhappy mama pig that
wasn't pleased about Lori being so close to her keiki. She chased
Lori all the way across the beach and into the water. I would have
given anything to have a video of that!

After Lori's wildlife adventure, we headed back to Neiafu stopping
along the way to launch the dinghy so Rocky and Lori could row into
the famous "Swallow's Cave". I sat outside on Moku pe'a, and I
couldn't even see them they were so far in the cave. They got some
great pictures.

On the way to Swallow's Cave we passed our pals on Alpharatz (Tom),
who had checked out and were on their way to Fiji. As we passed
going in opposite directions they yelled over "Wait, we have
something for you!". So we did donuts while they threw a bag over
that contained all of their left over French Polynesian money. They
knew we were headed that way, and they had no use for it. We wished
them well and they continued on their journey.

We had a wonderful dinner at the Aquarium, and this morning we pulled
into one of the Moorings piers to work our headstay project. This
was not as simple as it may sound. First we had to loosen all the
rigging in order to remove the old headstay. Then, once alongside
the dock, I went up the mast to pull the pin at the masthead. We
lowered the old headstay onto the dock, made sure the new headstay
was the same length as the old one, and then started installing the
new roller furling system on the new headstay. Once the new furler
was installed, we hoisted the new headstay up to the top of the
mast, I went back up and put the pin in at the top. While I was up
there, I spent about an hour screwing around with the mast head light
trying to get it to work. It did work, intermittently, and I
eventually gave up and came down. Then we pinned the bottom of the

At that point the boat was basically back together, so we moved to
the other Moorings pier where we had arranged with the Moorings
Manager Raymond to fill with water and fuel and wash down the boat.
Raymond really took care of us, partly (I'm sure) because of Lori's
glowing personality and partly because we had booked a night in his
Boathouse Apartments. That $150 turned out to be the best investment
Alan Lloyd, Lori's Dad who insisted on buying her a night at a hotel
for her first night in Tonga, has ever made!

Seven and a half hours after starting we were done. Boat back
together, filled with water and fuel, clean. We were very happy. We
had planned to depart Neiafu in the afternoon, but it was late and we
were tired so we changed course and decided to stay on the mooring
for the night, eat ashore, and depart tomorrow.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

6 June - Lori is Here!

1000 position 18-42S 174-02W. At anchor in 28 feet, sand bottom, Port
Maurelle, Vava'u, Tonga

On Wednesday we left our sheltered anchorage in the Hunga lagoon and
sailed slowly under mainsail back to Neiafu where we anchored just before
2PM. Rocky went ashore to see if there was a basketball game on
television at the Bounty Bar and I played white tornado and cleaned up the
boat for Lori's arrival later in the afternoon. At 330PM Rocky and I met
at the Aquarium Café and Lori walked in as planned at about 4. Her
flights went without a hitch and she arrived with all of the head stay
and roller furling equipment intact.

We went for a celebratory dinner at the Lobster House where, ironically,
they didn't serve lobster. We picked that restaurant because of its
ambiance. A beautiful building right on the waterfront with marble tables
and fancy local art work on the walls. It was clearly the nicest dining
facility in Vava'u. We were the only customers that night, and the two
waitresses fussed over us, or tried to. They were both new to western
style food service. I ordered a steak, medium rare, and they didn't know
how to deal with the "medium rare" part of the order. As far as they were
concerned steak only comes one way. We also asked them if they had wine.
"Oh yes!" they answered enthusiastically, but were puzzled when we asked
what kind. They finally decided they had red and white wine, but were
further puzzled when asked what kind of grape it was. We told them that
it should say what kind of grape it is on the bottle, and now they were
really puzzled, so they went to get their inventory of wine. Out came a
soggy and aged half empty box of "Red Table" wine. It was a good meal
though, and we had fun training the wait staff.

Lori had reserved a hotel room at the Moorings' Boathouse Apartments
overlooking the harbor for the night just in case we weren't there when
she arrived. So I got a hot shower and stable bed for the evening. What
a treat. We recommend the Moorings Beach Boathouse for anybody needing
accommodations in Vava'u.

Raymond, the Moorings Base Manager who picked Lori up at the airport,
kindly agreed to allow us to use one of his piers for our head stay/roller
furling reconstruction project. He told us that we would have the minimum
impact on his business if we did the job on Saturday, so after checking
out of the apartment and doing some shopping for fresh produce, we headed
off for a couple of days of exploring.

Our first stop was the famous "Mariner's Cave" on Nuapapu Island.
Mariner's Cave is an underwater cave ten feet in diameter with an air
filled chamber at the far end perhaps twenty feet in. You have to dive
down about six feet to enter the cave. Once inside you can breathe in the
thirty foot diameter chamber, the only light inside being that which comes
in the entrance. Diving into the cave was a very cool but it was a little
bit spooky for me, the first one in. I got some good video of Rocky in
the cave, but Lori opted out. Perhaps after she sees the video and does a
little more diving here she will be comfortable enough to try it.

We then powered down to the coral gardens at the far end of Nuapapa, this
time approaching it from the other side so we didn't have to cross the
reef. Lori and Rocky snorkeled the length of the reef as I drifted
offshore aboard Moku pe'a waiting for them. The it was back to Port
Maurelle for the night.

Today we plan to head in to Neiafu in time for Rocky to watch the first
NBA finals game at 2PM, and tomorrow we tackle the head stay project.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

3 June - Fish at Last!

1600 position 18-42S 174-08W. At anchor in 35 feet, Fofoa Island, Hunga
Lagoon, Vava'u, Tonga

After Rocky got his Coral Gardens snorkel in first thing this morning we
powered up to Lape Island which was just a half a mile away and anchored
off of a white sand beach on the leeward side of the island. We had read
in one of our cruising guides that the locals on Lape were very friendly,
and wanted to check it out. We dinghied ashore to the beach to look for a
trail to the village which was on the opposite side of the half mile
diameter island. We found what looked like a trail and followed it up
into the jungle on the top of the island, but once there got a bit
disoriented (lost) and ended up wandering around for the better part of an
hour before we finally discovered the village. There we met Ko'lio, who
took us on a tour of the village and encouraged us to come back for one of
their every other Saturday Tongan Feasts. There were a couple of children
(2-5.years old) who wanted to hold our hands as we wandered around the
village. Very cute kids. After visiting with them we wandered back into
the jungle and, not quite as lost as our first trek, found our way back to
the dinghy.

Our final destination for the day was Hunga Island, so we weighed anchor,
hoisted the mainsail, and set off. Hunga is one of the barrier islands
for the Vava'u group, and while hove to the night of our arrival, we
tacked five or six times to avoid coming too close to it. Hunga is unique
in Vava'u in that it has a half mile diameter lagoon completely encircled
by high (100' -300') islands. The entrance into the lagoon is a twenty
yard wide gap in the barrier islands on the exposed western side of the
islands. If you don't know that the entrance is there, you would sail
right by it.

On our way to the Hunga lagoon we entered the open ocean again and found
ourselves rocking and rolling for the first time in over a week. But the
upside is ocean fish, and we hooked a nice five pound tuna for dinner. I
have no idea of the species. Not Ahi, not aku, not kawakawa…. Nice
looking meat though, and we are looking forward to grilling it.

Entering the lagoon was an experience. The tide was falling, and all the
water in the lagoon has to go out that sixty foot wide entrance. We had
perhaps three knots of current, which was enough to get my attention in
trying to keep from crabbing over into the shallows. Once inside it was
calm though, and we anchored off of a beautiful beach with an abandoned
home above it. We swam ashore and checked out the house, which we decided
was nice enough to live in with just a little work. Rocky discovered an
new kind of pink starfish on the way back to the boat.

The cribbage tournament is now 11 - 9 in Rocky's favor. I am pleased that
it is this close.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Cruise Mode

It rained for two days straight, but if we had to be stuck somewhere
waiting out the weather, Port Maurelle was a good place to be. The
forecast called for a continuous but light "drizzle" but it really came
down, so much that it filled the dinghy. I should have rigged my rain
catchment system to fill our nearly empty water tanks, but by the time I
realized that the forecast was really wrong it was too late. We spent our
time playing cribbage, reading, relaxing, and I installed adjustable
webbing waistbands in two pairs of shorts where the elastic was dying.

Yesterday the rain stopped so we moved about a mile south to Nuku Island
which we heard was beautiful. The gossip was correct. Nuku is a one acre
uninhabited island with a nice wide beach on one end. We swam ashore and
met a couple of women from New Zealand who said their husbands were out
sailing their cat in the ocean and left them to relax on the beach. They
didn't describe the cat, but later we saw a Gunboat 62, just about the
nicest sailing catamaran on the planet, come pick them up. Good choice
boys. I'd ditch the gals to go sailing on that boat too.

We are sailing just about everywhere we go here. We are using just the
mainsail at the moment because of the stranded headstay, but everywhere we
go is just a couple of miles away, so slow is fine. We only power if
there is no wind. The charter boats are easy to pick out from the private
yachts who sail like we do. The charterers are usually under power. They
are in too much of a hurry seeeing as much as possible to spend much time

Our sat phone email connection had been zero for ten over the past few
days, so we called Lori from Nuku. Her departure for Tonga was in just a
couple of days and she needed some logistical information we couldn't get
from the anchorage, so we booked it back to Neiafu in time to get the info
we needed and make our email transmissions from the comfort of the
Aquarium Café via WIFI. We also got stuck there with our pal Tom from
Maine, had dinner and too many beers, and he gave us a tour of his lovely
Swan 51 where we had a few too many more beers.

This morning we departed for the famous Coral Gardens between Nuapapu and
Vaka'eitu Islands. The ladies on the beach at Nuku raved about it, so we
decided to check it out. We found a nice little anchorage in the lee of
Kulo Island, but the tide was falling by the time we got in the water to
snorkel. I made it over the super shallow reef to the gardens, which were
spectacular, but Rocky didn't get there. He will try again tomorrow
morning when the tide is better.

We plan to attack the remaining lamb tonight, and explore Lape Island
after Rocky does his snorkel. Not sure where we will end up tomorrow
night, but the following day we need to be back in Neiafu to meet Lori. I
can't wait to see her!