Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rain & Wind

Hunkered down behind a small island, 20 knots winds howling overhead and forecast to increase over the weekend. Lots of clouds and rain too! But we are well provisioned and have managed to explore all the reefs here. Today we walked a trail up the hill to find what used to be a resort but has been abandoned for some time. We picked a few coconuts and hacked them up with a hatchet to get at the juice inside!
Had hoped to do more sailing but weather is making it a challenge! Reading lots of books!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

King George Tupou V

Crew arrived after 36 hour odyssey via Fiji!
King arrived as well to great celebrations in the streets, along with singing in the church and lunch in the school! We escaped to the quieter more secluded anchorages nearby. Only a couple of hours away, we had the place to ourselves briefly before another boat showed up. Snorkelling on the reef between two motus! The navy showed up late at night and were very busy erecting some structure on the spit of white sand. A couple with a child in a dugout came by to sell us some carvings and told
us the king was coming to the beach for lunch! Sure enough, a small procession of boats arrived and to great cheering and singing, the king stepped off onto the beach to be greeted by the locals. The navy boat hung out all their flags and hovered nearby! We took some pictures and moved to another anchorage!
Have booked a Tongan feast for Saturday night!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mt Talau

Sure is nice not to be rolling! This harbour is so deep and sheltered that even though the breeze finds its way through it, there is no swell. So after a great night sleep, we were out exploring the town of Neiafu. A kingdom of 170 islands, of which 134 are inhabited, and 101,000 people, Tonga has been independent since the mid 70s. The combination of high volcanic and low coral forms gives them a geology all of their own. But this is a very unstable area of the Pacific. There are volcanic
islands below the surface of the sea that still erupt regularly and islands that magically rise and sink periodically. Makes for interesting navigation! There are three groups of islands, the Vava'u group that we landed in, the Ha'apai group which is mostly reefs and coral atolls in the center and further south, the capital of Nuku'alofa is in the Tongatapu group. It is apparent that the best cruising and anchorages is in the Vava'u group. We managed to talk the Moorings charter base into selling
us a copy of the guide they provide to their customers, listing all the special places to explore. Places like the Swallows Cave where you can take the dinghy in to find a large cavern full of swallows. And Barnacle Beach where the traditional Tonga feast is held, complete with Kava ceremony. And then for the more adventuresome, there is Mariners Cave which has some challenges! There is no anchorage near it so someone has to drop you off or keep the engine running while you go over the side and
dive down, find the opening , then proceed to swim about 20 feet underwater, always looking up for the opening, to emerge in what sounds like a magical cavern! We'll see whether we get to attempt that one! And of course, coral gardens and pristine beaches etc etc....I know, sounds pretty boring but hey, it's a hard life out here!
Meanwhile back to town, the new King was coronated recently and arrives in Vava'u this weekend for various ceremonies. So lots of cleaning and painting going on and the brass band seems to be practising around the clock! The people really are genuinely welcoming and it's not hard to see why they have been called the 'friendly islands'. Added to this is a layer of relatively new commerce, mostly New Zealanders, Aussies, and some Americans, and one Austrian baker, most of which is welcome to cruisers
but I suspect it has driven the economy up. For instance, bars and restaurants have prices not that different from back home which is incongruent here! If you go to the local market, you can find produce and crafts very reasonably priced and today we found where the fishermen sell their catch and bought a nice red snapper for 7 Pa'anga which is about $4Cdn.
So needing exercise, today we did a short hike up Mt Talau. It was only about 2km out of town but a most scenic walk through parts of the village where the Tongan people live. Wild pigs and chickens ran around everywhere, then a fairly steep trail on mostly coral with ropes in places to pull yourself up to several paths radiating from the top of the hill to give views in all directions of the islands. There were banded Iguanas and geckos as well as various birds but we only heard them and could
not spot them. It was a good hike and we got some lazy muscles working again.
#1 son arrives Saturday with our mail which will also be welcome!

Thursday, August 07, 2008


After a 3 night passage from Niue, we are now anchored in Neiafu, Vavau, Tonga and flying the Tongan flag that Phoebe made for us while visiting in Mexico!
The passage was pretty good, as far as passages go! The first 24 hours were very light in wind but we managed to maintain steerage and sail, if only at 3 knots for the most. The following two days, the wind gradually filled to 25 knots and we had to slow down on arrival early this morning so as not to arrive before dawn. There was no moon and the night was very black. This combined with wind and seas made for very poor visibility. And rumour had it the charts were off by a mile or so!
But we found it and made our way in, did the paperwork today or most of it anyway, seems the 'Health' department was not available so we have to look for them next week.
So far the people have been really friendly and there seems to be lots to explore. More to follow when we have rested and launched the dinghy.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Hair cutting ceremony

Kind of like a Niue-an bar mitzvah....a rite of passage or coming of age ceremony! As it was explained to us, in the old days when neighbouring groups came by to raid your village, they killed all the men and made off with the women and children. So what the locals did was grow male children's hair really long to give them a slight advantage when trying to escape from the raiding party. When they reached a certain age they had a ceremony to cut the boy's hair and then he became a man. Of course,
attending this 'hair cutting ceremony' today, we found it was not quite as simple as that! Seems it was also a very complex bartering or banking system. Invitations had gone out and relatives of the boy, yes there still was a young boy with long hair at the center of it all, had come from as far away as New Zealand to take part in the ceremony. And everyone contributed something. We got there around 10:30 in the morning and we missed the pig sticking event. Many had brought pigs as their contribution!
And they were live when they arrived. They were slaughtered en masse and stacked in a pile with some palm leaves over them (pictures to follow). We arrived as the fish were being unloaded from the pickup trucks! And what a load of fish! Sailfish, marlin, tuna, even a moon fish! Most of them taller than me! These were duly strung up by their tails from poles suspended over the pile of pigs. Then there were countless boxes of frozen chicken parts...not sure where they came from but I guess
it was easier than plucking the hundreds of chickens that wander loose over the island! Also there were bunches of taro root, about 100 square feet of it that apparently had been grown especially for this ceremony. There was a grandstand area, with chairs decorated with the family coloured prints and someone with a microphone introducing members of the community, speeches of course. Two people sat at a table with a large ledger book and recorded the donations. At the end of the day they would
carve up all the food and distribute it back according to what had been donated. Money was also acceptable! Then a priest and a grandmother and an uncle and countless others would each take a lock of the young lad's hair, tied with a blue ribbon. It was a fascinating experience actually and while we sat on log stumps under the coconut trees, members of the family circulated with trays of juice and fresh baked goodies.
Back to the yacht club for a beer! Some groceries, laundry in the tub and showers and we are back on board and ready to fire up the barbeque. Seven boats in the bay now! Weather is fairly stable, sun and clouds, the odd shower of rain. There had been a swell coming in that caused us some discomfort as the boat never stopped rocking but that seems to have died down now.