Posted by: procamnz | April 8, 2007

22 to 28 June 2004

Tuesday 22 June
Tuesday and Wednesday were spent working on the anchor winch which was suffering from being well washed in salt water many times on the trip up from NZ. We also found some time to look around some more and met an American couple off Sea Crane while having dinner at the Mermaid. They are heading from here to Alaska via Samoa and Hawaii from here. It will be their third trip to Alaska on their yacht.

On Thursday we left Neiafu and went to Swallows cave. There are actually 2 caves near each other, both have very clear deep water which is an outstanding blue colour. The sailing guide said that you feel like you are floating in air and that is just what it felt like, with all the rock formations etc below you. I have since read that there is also a dry cave accessible from Swallows cave which we will have to explore when Rowena is with us. We then went to Matamaka Island which is about 10 miles away from Neiafu. It is a well sheltered anchorage on the western side of this narrow sliver of an island. It is reasonably easy to get into other than a narrow gap between two reefs, one of which had a small buoy at its end. As we came closer we saw there was one boat already in the anchorage and it turned out to be some friends of ours from Tauranga who had arrived earlier that day from the Ha’apai group. There boat is called Icy Red and flies a large Lion Red flag and Ian’s favourite drink is Lion Red! Their autopilot died just after they left NZ so they have been hand steering for the last 1300 miles and will continue to do so from here to Fiji and on to Queensland.

On Saturday it rained all day and we caught a few hundred litres of lovely fresh rainwater. Good opportunity to do the washing and catch up on some reading and lots of emails. On Sunday we visited the northern village on the island (there is another village on the southern end). The track there was very muddy from the rain and lot of the ground had been broken up by pigs which are everywhere in Tonga. Everywhere you go there are pigs, piglets, dogs, puppies and roosters. The village was very poor with simple run down houses and sheds, no formed paths or power. There are two churches, one being constructed in concrete which served as the cyclone shelter during the last cyclone (2001). A young boy and his sister that we met showed us where their school was and we met Daniel, the head teacher. There are only 2 teachers and 2 classrooms. One classroom has years 1-3 and the other years 4-6. The latter has a total of 18 students.
English is taught as a subject so all Tongans that attend school have at least some English. Schooling is free but not compulsory. They largely follow the NZ education system. The classrooms were wiped out during the 2001 cyclone and NZ provided the materials and expertise to build the new two classroom school. We had brought up three boxes of school text books from NZ but they were for high school so we had already given these to Anna at Pangiamoto Island who will send them to her brother who is the headmaster of the high school at Nuitoputapu Island, 150 miles north of Vava’u. Daniel has invited us to come to their church with Rowena to hear the singing and then have lunch with him and his family. We will be doing this next Sunday. We have already attended a church service at Atata Island and the singing is certainly something special.

On Sunday we slowly got the anchor up after finding that we still had anchor winch problems. It was now pulling the chain in very well but was overheating on the back plate. I had emailed Matthew Laws about this and he phoned Maxwell winches and got some useful information for me confirming that the problem was the thrust washers.
We returned to Neiafu and picked up a mooring again, almost right outside the Mermaid again. I spent several hours on the winch, checking end float and clearances and fitted new thrust washers. Some limited testing indicates that it is working ok but the real test will come when we go to an anchorage and put out 40 -50 metres of chain. I am now fairly confident that it will survive the cruise after which I will buy a new winch.

On Monday, Rowena, our middle child arrived from NZ to spend 2 weeks with us. She brought us essential supplies like cheese, drinking chocolate, gin and some relays for the autopilot. The air service between Nuku’alofa and Vava’u terminated shortly after we arrived in Tonga when Royal Tongan Airlines went bankrupt. About 3 weeks ago a local hotel owner somehow leased a DC3 which is now providing an air service. You can only book in person and must pay in cash. All bookings are simply recorded in an exercise book, not a computer in sight. Anyway I phoned the airline four days before she was due to fly and found that here flight was now leaving at 6 am instead of 6:45 am. Rowena phoned us at 5 am Monday morning from Nuku’alofa to say that the plane was delayed as the airport had no aviation gas on hand and had to send a tanker to the fuel wharf. She eventually arrived at 1pm, five hours late.

Photos 29 June 2004

Jetty at Neiafu

Arriving in Vava’u early morning from Ha’apais

The Mermaid at Neiafu

Windspirit at Neiafu

11 to 22 June 2004

We left Uoleva on Sunday 13th June at 3 pm so we still had suitable light to avoid coral bommies on the way out. The total distance to Neiafu, capital of Vava’u, is 82 nautical miles (1 nautical mile = 1.51 statute miles or 1.85 km). In order to arrive at the beginning of the Vava’u group shortly after daylight, we kept the boat speed down to around 3.5 knots – very easy to know the required speed as the time of arrival shown on the Navman chart plotter is updated continuously. Had a 1-2 metre beam sea and only had about half the genoa rolled out so it was a rolly trip. We stood watches, 3 hours on – 3 hours off. On autopilot all the time. We have seen dolphins several times but no whales yet. The whales are just starting to arrive. People come from afar to do whale watching around here.

We knew that the GPS positions do not correspond with the charts so used radar to measure actual distance off islands etc from which we could be sure of our distance from submerged reefs. The chart plotter is great for knowing roughly where you are so there is not confusion over which island is which.

We arrived in Neiafu harbour around 9 am and picked up a mooring owned by the Mermaid Café which is a local institution. Most of the day was spent finding the customs office (have to get a coastal clearance from Nuku’alofa when leaving for Vava’u), sort out airline bookings on the DC3 service for Rowena, buy some bread and fresh fruit and vegetables. Met several other cruisers we knew from NZ or up here. Had dinner at the Mermaid with a couple off Jorum, another boat from Auckland.

When we were in Neiafu harbour we accurately determined the position of the boat and then applied map shift on the chart plotter which has been very useful. The GPS is approximately 0.16 nautical miles (about 300 metres) out, almost equally divided between latitude and longitude at this reference point. From subsequent cruising around Vava’u it is obvious that the GPS/chart discrepancy varies somewhat but at a second order level.

We had been having problems with our anchor winch overheating and lacking pulling ability so I did some work on the wiring, earthing etc on Tuesday and we generally spent the day tidying up the boat and doing regular maintenance. On Wednesday we went to the local hospital as we had a backpack full of medicines and dressings which Mary had got in NZ at no cost as they were close to date or out of date, or had been opened in error and resealed. The hospital is very basic and they were thrilled to receive the parcel.

On Thursday we explored around Neiafu and around the old harbour (very shallow) and went back to the market. It is very hard to buy fresh produce in Tonga. The shops are pretty basic although there is usually a cooperative shop in most sizeable places which sells tinned foods and basic items. Tinned food is very expensive. We managed to buy some carrots, potatoes and cabbages there. At the market, we bought bananas and pawpaws as well as some chockoes and Pele (bit like a cross between silverbeet and spinach). Bought a pumpkin that was the shape of a long watermelon but just like ours inside. Unfortunately we have not seen them again and are told it is the wrong season now. The market has some nice handcrafts but we are not really into that sort of thing.

We had a guy come out to our boat trying to sell large shells which we were not interested in (not collectors of anything except memories). The general advice is to not buy these shells as a market results in them being killed for selling risking the future viability of the species.

On Friday we went to Port Maurelle for a few days. It is a big well sheltered bay which we shared with two other boats. We snorkeled every day, sometimes more than once. Really beautiful, took some underwater photos on a disposable camera but will have to wait until we get back to NZ to see how they came out. We had a nice walk ashore on the lovely white beach and then along the track inland. The track was not a good idea as it was very muddy, rutted by pigs and heaps of insects. On Monday (21st June) we pulled up the anchor and headed back to Neiafu as the anchor winch was still a problem.

Photos to 16 June 2004

Royal Sunset resort, Atata Island

Atata Island

Fau harbour, Nuku’alofa

Stellite at Luangahu

Mary and Tony


Report 11 June 2004

We left Ha’afeva Island last Sunday (6th June) as the wind was going to the North and we would not have had any shelter. We sailed with another boat, Stellite from Auckland, to Luangahu Island. We caught a skipjack tuna on the way. The island is uninhabited and is an absolutely classical South Pacific Island, basically a forest of palm trees fringed by a lovely white beach.
What you do not see, unless you are a yachtie and study the charts, is that the reefs surrounding the island are often more than five times the area of the island so navigation is hard work. This island offers a little shelter but the surrounding reefs offer a lot of protection from the swell so you sit with the wind screaming through the rigging in flat water. The entrance to this anchorage was very nerve racking (yet another!) with eyeball navigation from the bow at 2 knots with hand signals to the helmsman (Mary) and the depth sounder showing as little as 800 mm under the keel. Stellite, a steel boat drawing 700 mm less than us gallantly offered to overtake us and take the lead at that stage. He touched some coral going past us and no other problems. You literally have shallow coral bommies within 3-4 metres of you on either side at times.

Once you have anchored in these islands, you need to hop in with your snorkel (and togs) and see that you have anchored in a sandy patch rather than on some coral (which is not good holding and damages the coral) and also check that there are no large coral bommies within swinging distance of your boat. The bonus is that while you are in the water, you can snorkel on the bommies which are teeming with a wide array of brightly coloured reef fish. Have not had a need to scuba yet with such easy snorkeling but we have considered getting the gear on and just sitting on the bottom and watching the fish for a longer period.

There were two other boats in the bay, one we knew and the other we had shared an anchorage with a few nights before. Unfortunately the wind was forecast to shift to the south so we left the next morning and headed to Uoleva Island on Tuesday 8th June. Had a nice easy sail here. It is very well sheltered from the westerly semicircle so we have been able to relax a bit. We invited everyone in the bay (5 boats) to a pot luck dinner on our boat – we smoked the fish and others brought various yummy treats. It was a lovely social evening.

On Wednesday Stellite and ourselves each zoomed up to Pangai in our dinghies with large outboards on. It is about 5 miles, traveling inside the reef so reasonably flat water. It is a bit dodgy taking the big boat in there due to reefs and shallow water. It is a tiny place although it is the capital of the Ha’apai group. One bank, one post office and a telecom office is about it other than a couple of cooperative shops and very poor houses. We bought some bread (usually make our own using the breadmaker), some oranges and some green capsicums – that was all the fresh produce available other than taro.

On Wednesday night we had a meal at the local backpackers “resort”. It is very native but a memorable evening – eight of us from four boats were told to arrive at 6:30pm sharp which we did to find the table set and the food set out in the middle. It was in a very basic shed, largely built out of local materials and lit by 2 kerosene lanterns. Had crumbed chicken, curried lamb (all fat and yuck), fried fish and raw fish with rice and breadfruit and caramelized fried bananas (my favourite). Other than the lamb?, very pleasant, all for NZ$10 each.

Yesterday we walked around the island a bit more and had lunch on another boat. Each day there are jobs to do – either maintenance or general chores. Last night it rained heavily all night and we caught 600 litres which filled our tanks (we hold 1300 litres) so Mary now has the washing machine on washing our bedding etc while we have water to spare.

We have plotted a course to Vava’u on the trusty Navman chart plotter (absolutely wonderful instrument and working faultlessly) and will leave here in the next day or two.

The air service from Nuku’alofa to Vava’u has been out of service since mid May but started again yesterday. They have somehow found a DC3 (or DC4 as it has twin rudders) which they have pressed into service. Yesterday I managed to get bookings on it for Rowena, our middle child, so we will not now have to sail back to Nuku’alofa to pick her up when she flies up later this month to spend 2 weeks with us. It is now Friday 11th June.

I am told that the website is getting an average of 12 hits a day so it is worth preparing copy for. Should be able to send a CD of photos by mail next week for the website

Report 11 June 2004

We left Nomuka Iki on Thursday last week after sitting out strong winds for the entire time there with about 8 other boats. Even going to visit people on other boats was a mission – wet weather gear and life jackets to go 200 metres in a nasty choppy sea.

From Nomuka Iki we had about a 30 mile sail to Ha’afeva Island. Had a nice beam reach sail and had a very big fish hook on to the lure but it broke the line before we could reduce the drag. We saw it leaping out of the water 6-8 times – he must have been really mad about getting a lure in his mouth. We were disappointed to not catch him but were a little relieved as I do not know how we would have landed it. Also saw a lot of flying fish – they have lovely coloured bodies and wings – blue and black mainly. I had always thought that they only flew for a few tens of metres but they were flying for 300 + metres, upwind.

We anchored off the west side of Ha’afeva Island. It was a very rolly anchorage because of the spate of SE winds – as noted by Colin Robinson (PCN) in the Tonga guide he lent us. We went ashore and walked around a lot of the island. Were surrounded by lots of children from 5 – 14 years of age that followed us everywhere. Got invited to the home of a family and were offered a plate of bananas to eat. She cooks on wood fire with stones in it to hold the pot, all on a concrete ledge in the kitchen which is a separate building to the living/sleeping building. They eat their meals in the kitchen. The kitchen is surrounded by a fence with step over low barriers at the gateways to keep the pigs out. Self foraging pigs and piglets are everywhere in Tonga, even Nuku’alofa. We managed to buy some bananas, breadfruit and paw paws from them this family but almost impossible to buy vegetables anywhere.

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