Sunday, July 27, 2014

28 July - It's Still a Small World

1700 position 18-43S 173-59W. At anchor in 25 feet, sand bottom, Taunga
Island, Vava'u, Tonga

We dinghied over to the Ark Gallery to have a look, and there met owners
Larry and Sherry, a lovely American couple who have lived in Tonga for
eight years. When they learned we were from the windward side of Oahu
they asked, "Do you know Dave and Ann Ayling?"

"As a matter of fact, we do," I replied, "and they sold us the boat we
sailed here on! She is anchored right over there."

It turns out Larry and Sherry had done two yacht deliveries for the
Aylings, including delivering Moku pe'a from Tahiti to Hawaii. We had
even met before when Moku pe'a (then named Le Christian) first arrived at
Kaneohe Yacht Club. Dave had given me a tour of the boat and I recall
discussing her sailing characteristics with Larry although neither one of
us now recognized the other. Small world indeed.

My hunch about the art gallery not being their sole source of income
proved to be correct. They have done fifty five yacht deliveries over the
years, and they also rent out moorings and baby sit boats for owners that
fly home for work or visits. They have a good thing here, but the
business is for sale as they are ready to move on after eight years.

Every Saturday night Sherry and Larry organize a cruisers pot luck for all
of the boats in the anchorage. We attended and met some real characters.
There were cruisers from Scotland, England, New Zealand, Australia,
Tazmania, and the U.S. It reminded us of the crowd at Rick's Café in the
movie Casablanca, unique folks from all over the world that might be
running away from something. We had some time to visit with Dave and
Sara, two kids from the U.S. on their engineless Contessa 26, who have
been cruising for three years since leaving Port Townsend, WA. We had
seen them sail into Neiafu harbor at sunrise a few days earlier with their
quarantine flag up, pick up a mooring under sail, and then launch their
dinghy and row over to check into the country. Their hard dinghy seemed
to be nearly as big as their boat and I was puzzled as to where it was
stowed aboard. Turns out it was a nesting dinghy (it comes apart into
two pieces that nest together for storage on deck). The dinghy was a
beautiful piece of engineering. Gotta get me one of those. Dave and Sara
have no plans or money, go where the wind and urges take them, and are
having a ball.

Friday, July 25, 2014

26 July - Tapana

1100 position 18-43S 173-59W. At anchor in 25 feet, sand bottom, Taunga
Island, Vava'u, Tonga

Lori had mentioned to Lawrence, the English proprietor of the Bounty Bar,
how much we had enjoyed the "plowman's lunch" when traveling in England a
few years ago with Gordon Goldsmith and Ellie Tanswell. The plowman's
wasn't normally on the Bounty Bar menu, but Lawrence was so taken with
Lori that he promised to make her a custom plowman's, so on Thursday we
got to enjoy his version of this classic English luncheon made with what's
available here in Tonga. While the cheeses and pickles (according to
Lawrence) "weren't proper", it was a wonderful spread, and we returned to
the boat stuffed, happy, and longing for a pulled English ale. Lawrence
is a real character, and has been a great friend to Lori, Rocky and me.
Anybody visiting Vava'u needs to be sure to stop in at the Bounty Bar for
a drink, a chat with Lawrence and his sidekick Pete, and to give "Mr.
Bentley" (Lawrence's ever present yellow lab) a scritch.

It has been really cold here, with temperatures dropping into the high 50s
at night. Discussions on the morning radio net indicate it is air from
fifty degrees south latitude brought north around the passing high
pressure area. Hard to believe we are at eighteen degrees south latitude.
I'm wearing my lambs wool booties and hoodie sweatshirt to try to stay
warm, and it is a real ordeal trying to force myself to jump off the stern
for my daily bath.

Reprovisioned and full of water, we departed Neiafu again for our final
week alone. Matt and Vicky Dyer are arriving on 30 July, and there were
still a few Vava'u anchorages we hadn't checked out yet. On the way out
of the harbor we passed Craig on Pickity Witch heading the other way and
yelled greetings. Craig was under sail since he blew his engine head
gasket last week and is awaiting parts from New Zealand. Craig yelled
over that he is still hoping to defend his Friday night race title that
evening even if he has to sail in and out of the anchorage. Ah, the
enthusiasm of youth… We had a beautiful sail out to Tapana, this time
anchoring on the north side of the island (new to us) in a protected cove
that is also home to the island group's only floating art gallery.

We are now anchored a few hundred feet from "The Ark Gallery" and plan to
visit sometime today by dinghy. Interesting that since our arrival almost
24 hours ago we have seen no customers in the gallery. How does a
business like that survive? There are also supposed to be some
archeological ruins on the shore here that warrant exploration. The wind
is supposed to blow for the next few days, and this is a good spot to
hunker down, so we will likely stay put until it is time to head to Neiafu
to meet Matt and Vicki.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

23 July - Whales!

With a westerly wind forecast it was time to get out of Port Maurelle
after two nights, so we headed for Taunga Island where we had not been
before and which offered shelter from a westerly.  As we were sailing
along Lori yelled "Whale!" and right ahead of us appeared a humpbackheaded
 in the opposite direction.  He swam by us fifty feet away.  He was
easy to see as he surfaced to breathe, but the water here is so clear and
flat that we could also clearly also see him below the surface as we
passed each other.  This is the ultimate whale watching venue.

The Taunga anchorage is the closest to a Tahiti anchorage that we have
seen.  Only a foot under the keel at low tide and a flat sandy bottom.  We
had it to ourselves for a few hours, then another boat saw us in there and
decided they had to anchor 100 feet away from us, close enough that I was
concerned about swinging room.  I don’t get it,  they could  have anchored
a quarter mile away from us and been very comfortable.  Even stranger,
when we paddled by and said hello to be neighborly, the male skipper
disappeared below so he wouldn’t have to engage with us.  German cruisers…

That evening the wind died and the water got glassy so Lori and I took our
sunset cocktails and went for a paddle in the dinghy.  We ended up on a
beach at the east end of Ngau (pronounced "now") Island, and with the
falling tide a half mile long sandbar appeared that connected Ngau with
Pau Island.  So we strolled to Pau and then returned to Ngau.  We didn’t
get back to the boat until well after dark.

The next afternoon we decided to move to a different anchorage on Taunga
and along the way encountered a school of manta rays feeding.  They got
pretty close to us in our new anchorage as well, but not close enough to
photograph.  Another cruiser passing by under power also saw them, stopped
to watch, and then the next morning during the net made a big deal about
the encounter on the radio.  Apparently manta ray sightings are rare here.

With our water tanks empty we had to return to Neiafu to fill up.  On the
way we encountered pals Richard and Fran on Red departing for Fiji, so we
stopped and spoke for a while and wished  them a good voyage.  That’s the
second time we’ve bumped into friends in the labyrinth of channels here
who were on their way out and stopped for a chat.  This place is so cool.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

20 July - Winter

0800 position 18-42S 174-02W. At anchor in 28 feet, sand bottom, Port
Maurelle, Vava'u, Tonga

Sonny up at the Neiafu auto parts store was checking on the availability
of deep cycle batteries for us and would have the answer on Tuesday
afternoon so we could only stay in Hunga for a couple of nights. By
Tuesday morning the wind had backed around to the northwest as another low
passed, and we had a pleasant broad reach back to Neiafu. It turned out
that the battery Sonny could get for us was ridiculously expensive and
wouldn't get here until after we had planned to depart for Tahiti so we
declined, and instead purchased an automobile battery. This was not the
route we wanted to go, but we are hopeful that it will get us through the
trip. By Wednesday morning it was installed and our power problems were

We are not hanging around Neiafu much these days. It is noisy with all
the dinghies powering around and music from the bars and restaurants, and
we prefer the tranquillity of isolated anchorages. By Friday morning the
wind had died completely. I wanted to get the batteries fully charged up,
so we powered for an hour or so back to Port Maurelle which has become
our go-to anchorage when we are coming or going from Neiafu. It is on the
way to just about everywhere, is protected from all directions but the
west, and is beautiful. Friday night was glassy, and we could see
individual fish swimming above the bottom thirty feet below us in the

We had heard that there was a dirt road circling Kapa, Port Maurelle's
island, so yesterday we rowed the dinghy ashore and set off to explore.
We had a lovely two hour hike and managed to find our way back to the
boat. We even discovered a quarter mile long lake high up in the middle
of the island, certainly not what you would expect to find on an island
made of coral.

We've been in Tonga almost two months now, and it is remarkable how much
colder it has become in that time. It is the middle of winter now, and
it is blankets at night and sweatshirts morning and evening. The water is
colder too. We often wear double wet suits when we snorkel, and sometimes
just stay in the dinghy. The water is so clear we don't have to get in
the water to see what's there. We see humpback whales every time we move
the boat now, and humpbacks mean visitors to Vava'u. The area has morphed
from a sleepy little village into a tourist town. For the next three
months it's tourist season while the humpbacks are here. The once empty
hotels have folks in them now, the open market has more and better
produce, restaurants are opening, and the streets are crowded. The super
yachts are arriving daily now. Last night there was one, perhaps 150 feet
long, anchored outside of us in Port Maurelle. It was lit up like a
cruise ship. One of its two RIB tenders with inboard diesel jet drive
motored by us yesterday. I remarked to Lori that the tender cost far more
than Moku pe'a did.

All the locals are trying to get a piece of the "Tongan Feast" market too.
When we arrived there were just two, the Lape Island feast Lori and I
attended and another on the north end of Vava'u. Now every village (and
even individual families like David's on Vaka'eitu) is putting on a weekly
Tongan Feast for visitors. When we rowed ashore yesterday there was a
sign posted on the Port Maurelle beach about another new weekly feast
across the island.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

14 July - Happy Birthday to me

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

Yesterday morning I was at the top of the mast replacing a jury rigged
Windex that had fallen off in my hand a couple of weeks ago when I looked
up and our pals on Pickity Witch sailed into the anchorage at Neiafu. I
yelled hello to them as they sailed in and it was quite comical as they
looked around unsuccessfully to see who was calling. I guess that's why
deer blinds in trees work so well - nobody looks up. They eventually
found me at the top of the mast and had a laugh, and they ended up
anchored about 100 yards away from Moku pe'a.

On Friday afternoon at 330 Craig from Pickity Witch came by in his dinghy
and asked me if I was sailing Moku pe'a in the weekly Friday night race.
I told him no, and he asked me to sail with him in Pickity Witch. I
agreed and we met him ashore at 4PM for the skippers meeting at The Mango

Craig and his girlfriend Anna were keen to participate, but they had never
raced anything bigger than dinghies before. Their crew Tom had flown home
to England and Craig's sister Ally opted out, so it was just the three of
us. We were racing against three other similarly sized cruisers from
France, Germany, and a local boat. Fortunately, the competition made it
easy for us by starting on the unfavored end of the line, sailing in our
dirty air, and sailing to the wrong side of the shift on the upwind leg.
They were also slow to set and jybe their spinnakers on the downwind leg,
so we won by a mile! Anna had seen the spinnaker up before, "but never
with another sail up too". She was beside herself when we had main, jib,
and spinnaker up as we reached into the leeward mark. Craig had never
jybed with the kite up before, and wasn't aware that you could end for end
the spinnaker pole in a jybe, so I talked him through it and he did it
perfectly. Craig and Anna were ecstatic with our win, and couldn't
believe that it was possible with no yelling aboard.

Afterwards all the crews gathered at the Mango and we celebrated together.
The international contingent from Germany, New Zealand, France, United
States, and South Africa got along fine. Why can't the UN work this way?
After a few beers the party migrated to the Aquarium where we celebrated
my 60th birthday.

The next morning we decided to get out of town. We had enough of the
noise and excitement of Neiafu and departed for one of our favorite
anchorages in Hunga lagoon. We would be out in the ocean approaching
Hunga, so I put out the fish line as soon as the sails were up and the
engine shut down in Port of Refuge Harbor. We had just jybed between the
buoys at the entrance to the harbor when Lori said "Hey, what's dragging
behind the boat?" Fish on! I hadn't even heard the cloths pin snap. It
must have hit while we were in the middle of the jybe. I pulled it in,
and it was a nice fifteen plus pound spanish mackerel! Caught in Port of
Refuge Harbor! Rocky, can you believe that? That's the second fish
caught in Tonga on a Randy Reed special lure.

When we entered Hunga Lagoon we had it all to ourselves and anchored off
the beach on the eastern side of the bay. Later in the afternoon a
thirty three foot Sunsail charter monohull came in and then Paul and Ally
on Kepa II, who we had met a week or so earlier in Vaka'eitu lagoon, came
in. They invited the fleet over for cocktails, so we brought enough fresh
mackerel along to feed everybody. We got to meet Pete and Julie from
Australia who were on the Sunsail, and everybody raved about the fish the
next morning.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

11 July - More Firsts

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

We ran out of beer, which put us in a crisis condition, and we had to sail
back to Neiafu to restock. It was blowing over twenty knots when we left
Vaka'eitu, but in Vava'u's smooth water and with double reefed main and
jib Moku pe'a romped back to town.

Shortly after anchoring and cleaning up the boat, we went ashore to shop
and on the way back to the boat decided that we needed to stop in the
Bounty Bar for some of Laurence's famous rum punch. The only other
patrons there were our pals Richard and Fran from Red, and our short stop
on the way back to the boat turned into an afternoon of excess and
laughter. We managed to get out just before dark but agreed to meet the
next evening for dinner and a walk across town to Tonga Bob's for the
weekly "Fakaleiti Caberet Show" a drag queen lip sync dance review. I
need to explain that fakaleiti is an accepted Tongan custom where families
with too many sons and too few daughters raise some of the boys as girls.
Some are gay, some aren't, but all dress and act like girls all their

The next day we made friends with Ken and Patti who are moored next to us
on the trawler "Oogachaka" (perhaps the best boat name ever). They wanted
in on the fun, so the six of us had dinner at the Aquarium and then saw
the show. Attending a show like that was a little outside of Noodle's
comfort zone, but it was tons of fun.

Our electrical problems seemed to disappear as long as we had wind and sun
to keep the batteries charged, but they would come back after even a
single day of light air and overcast. It didn't make sense since our
daily electrical load was only a fraction of the batteries' capacity. I
decided to load test the batteries, and yesterday discovered that one of
my two brand new (manufactured in January, 2014) deep cycle batteries was
bad. That could explain nearly all of the problems we have been having,
and as soon as I disconnected the bad battery things improved. However, I
now have half of the amp-hour capacity I am used to having. I have been
exploring options to either buy a replacement battery, or replace both
batteries with a single battery of greater amp-hour capacity. The problem
is our remote location. There are zero deep cycle batteries available
here in Vava'u. Anything we get would have to be shipped in either from
Nuku'alofa or New Zealand. Fortunately, we have 5 weeks to get it
resolved before we are scheduled to depart for Tahiti, and we are working
on this with both local suppliers and folks in New Zealand.

Today Lori and I walked four miles across the island and back to look at a
pile of rocks she was interested in. What remains of the Kilikilitefua
Wall, built in ancient times to honor the first-born son of each family,
is a foot high rock wall 300 feet long surrounded by a barbed wire fence.
We had a nice walk though, and on the way back stopped in the open
market to buy some kava which we will try some afternoon when we are

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

8 July - Firsts

1600 position 18-43S 174-06W. At anchor in 51 feet, Vaka'eitu Lagoon,
Vava'u, Tonga

We had a few days of ideal weather to do some exploring, light winds from
the east, so we decided to check out the unprotected southern islands of
Vava'u. After departing Port Maurelle, we headed for Maninita, the
southernmost island in the Vava'u group. Maninita looked interesting to
us both because it was remote, and it reportedly had a keyhole anchorage
on the western side of the island that offered protection from the swells.
We had a beautiful ten mile sail to the island, but were a bit disturbed
to discover uncharted reefs along the way. Fortunately, the visibility
was good with the sun behind us so we saw the reefs before they became a
problem, but it is becoming clear why all the cruising guides recommend
moving during good visibility only. The entrance to Maninita's anchorage
was very tight, perhaps thirty feet wide. It's surprising to me that
Moorings would recommend that charterers take their boats into such tight
spots, but once through the pass it opened up a bit and provided a safe
calm anchorage. Lori and I snorkeled ashore, and walked around the
island's circumference. On the back side of the island we found a pack of
small black tip sharks feeding in the shallows, our first shark encounter
in Vava'u. Fortunately they didn't seem to like the side of the island we
were anchored on and we didn't see them again as we snorkeled back to
Moku pe'a.

Our final destination for the day was Kenutu, a spot we had anchored
before. It was directly to the north of Maninita along a designated
channel just inside the barrier reef that runs along the eastern side of
the Vava'u group. Earlier in the day the wind was from the east which
would have allowed us to sail directly north, but by 130PM when we
departed Maninita the wind had backed to the northeast and it was still
backing further making sailing northward, into the sun, more difficult.
We gave it a try anyway, but after a few miles of tacking and a few more
close calls with uncharted reefs on the edges of the channel, we gave up,
bore off, and headed through more open channels to an alternate anchorage
for the evening. We decided to try the anchorage at Tapana Island, which
we hadn't tried before and which would be sheltered from the wind that was
now coming from the north and forecast to stay there for a few days. We
dropped the hook at 430PM after sailing twenty seven miles for the day.

The Tapana Island anchorage was perfection, and we had it to ourselves for
two days hiking on the trails ashore, exploring the three other small
islands that surrounded the anchorage, and beachcombing. Staring into the
crystal clear water behind the boat one afternoon we saw our first squid,
a whole bunch of them in fact, taking shelter in Moku pe'a's shadow. They
were only about an inch long, but when startled were still able to eject a
stream of ink that left the water stained. Tapana also provided our first
spam encounter of the trip where it was enjoyed with eggs and rice.

The wind continued to back as the next low pressure system passed, and
Tapana would not be sheltered in a westerly wind, so we weighed anchor and
headed back to the Vaka'eitu lagoon anchorage that provided protection
from all directions but north. We had a beautiful upwind sail in five
knot winds and along the way encountered our first humpback whale of the
season. It had attracted a couple of spectator boats and was pec
slapping, breaching, and headstanding.

We've been hunkered down in Vaka'eitu for a couple of days now while the
low passed and the wind backed through west and south and has settled
again in the southeast. It is blowing hard and raining, but we are
protected here and are enjoying reading and visiting with the other
cruisers in the anchorage. We've spent a couple of cocktail hours with
Richard and Fran on the sloop "Red" from Alaska, and just got done
visiting with Paul, Ally, and their two daughters on the catamaran "Kepa
II" from Auckland. We also enjoyed another Tongan feast yesterday with
David, Hika, and five of their eleven kids, a Tongan family that owns
Vaka'eitu and lives on the beach.

David had come by in his boat the day before, indicating that he might
cook a pig if enough cruising boats were in the anchorage. Early the next
morning we heard a pig being slaughtered (not a pleasant sound), and
figured that something was up. Sure enough, an hour later David came by
and invited all of the cruisers to a pot luck on the beach at 1PM. That
sounded generous, so Lori made banana bread and lomi salmon and we took
canned food and toys along too as gifts for the kids. The roast pig was
excellent. Hika also made some potato salad and coconut dumplings. Other
cruisers brought goodies and we had a great time feasting and visiting.
David's family sang songs and showed us the trail to the other side of the
island. It was a great time, but once there and eating David let us all
know that this was intended to be a fund raiser for his family, and that
significant monetary donations were expected. This isn't the first time
that this has happened to us, and it's a part of Tongan culture that I am
having a hard time accepting. They get us to agree to something, like
accepting what appears to be a gift or invitation, and then turn it into
an obligation for us to give them back significantly more than we
received. Oh well, we are sill learning, still having fun, still enjoying
Vava'u, and still exploring.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

4 July - Young at Heart

1600 position 18-42S 174-02W. At anchor in 28 feet, sand bottom, Port
Maurelle, Vava'u, Tonga

Just before sunset tonight Lori and I were enjoying drinks in the cockpit
when a very small and ancient sloop powered into the bay to anchor. "This
should be interesting", I opined, since it is not wise to try to sneak
into an already fully occupied reef enclosed anchorage with the sun just
barely above the horizon. The micro cruiser "Pickity Witch" successfully
felt their way around the anchorage and ended up dropping their hook about
50 yards to windward, far enough away so they wouldn't impact us. After
anchoring though, their skipper, Craig, dinghied over to say hello and
politely asked if he was too close to us for our comfort. I told him he
was fine, but I was thoroughly impressed by his courtesy and we chatted a

There were four souls aboard Pickity Witch, twenty nine year old Kiwi
Craig, his girlfriend Anna, Craig' younger sister Ally, and crew Tom from
England. They had just arrived from Ha'apai, a day's sail to the south.
This New Zealand cruiser was a small, pinched ended thirty footer, an IOR
racer built in the early '70s. Craig invited us over for dinner! I guess
he felt that four wasn't enough aboard his tiny yacht. We politely
declined, but offered to bring over some tequila (isn't that what kids
drink these days?) and pupus for happy hour.

So there we were, six of us crammed below in a cabin the size of a
volkswagen van, passing around shots of tequila and telling stories.
These kids were having the time of their lives all living compatibly in
their wet (windows and deck seam leaked), crowded, tired, little ship.

At this stage in my life I can't imagine happily living and sailing in
those conditions, but I remember a time when I would have been right
there. What happened to the guy that sailed 3700 miles from Los Angeles
to Tahiti without proper foul weather gear, sun glasses, or a hat? Where
did the fellow that sailed his Ranger 29 all over Hawaii with two couples
aboard go? I don't know, but somewhere along the line, that kind of
sailing got old, and now I want to be dry, warm, reasonably comfortable,
and have some privacy and a space I can call mine alone.

It was fun to experience the energy and optimism of youth that permeated
Pickity Witch's cabin tonight. I sometimes feel that same energy when my
daughters are aboard Moku pe'a, but usually things are more rational and
sedate. That's OK, we still enjoy the cruising, just had the privilege to
witness a stunning sunset over the islands of Vava'u, and made some new