Posted by: procamnz | April 8, 2007

10 to 31 August 2004

Today we were snorkeling with some friends on the reef at Nuiatoputapu, the northern end of Tonga and a dinghy came passed us. They called that there were whales in the bay. Well, we jumped in to our dinghies and raced out of the bay to see three huge humped back whales. There were two adults, about 40 tons each and a baby. It felt like we were right next to them but in reality we were probably about 100 metres away. What an absolutely awesome sight. They must have known we were there because they played, dived out of the water into the air and broached several times. Oh how we wished we had our camera there. We can’t stop thinking about them and how huge they were and so friendly. It was scary being close because our dinghy seems so small and they are so big but they never seem to hurt people unless you come across them when they are sleeping.

We are very lucky because we now have some good shots of the whales. They were given to us by an other couple who were in the bay. We will put some photos on the web as soon as we get to civilization, which will now probably be Fiji.

While in the Nuis we visited the local bakery. It is hard to believe how such great bread could be produced in such primitive surroundings. The building was a tin shed. The bread was all hand mixed and kneaded on a large wooden table. There was an earthen oven. To heat the oven they burnt a few small sticks and then heaps of coconut shells. When the oven was hot the embers were shovelled out and then the bread put in to bake.

We left Nuiatoputapu on 16 August and set sail for Samoa, passing several whales on the way. The trip was almost uneventful except for a couple of squalls which, in the daytime, you can see coming and prepare for them. But at night they arrive suddenly and you are not prepared. I cant believe how heavy that rain can be. The good thing is that up here one does not mind getting wet because it is a chance to cool down. The sudden wind changes can be a challenge. At one stage, while trying to reef the sails I (Mary) managed to steer the boat in two full circles before getting back on course. It is a bit like flying blind. At least in a boat you know which way is up!

We were at sea for two nights before arriving at Apia early in the morning of, believe it or not, 17 August (Crossed the date line). It is surprising though, that you can smell the fires of the countries quite a long time before you arrive. Also the rubbish can be seen in the sea about 20 miles off shore. We even saw a drum (musical) floating in the water. After we got to Samoa we saw that the local men use the drums to keep time in rowing their large canoes).

We entered the harbour at Apia after a wee fright. Our GPS gave us the route in to the harbour but our eyes did not like the look of the breakers and eyeball navigation beats the best electronics in the world. I am chief steerer and refused to watch the GPS and so we made a safe passage in to the harbour, instead of over the reef. Oh the temperature of Samoa is really oppressive. It is hard to do anything. But there is so much to do and see that it is essential to accept the sweating and wet clothing and get on with it.

The day we arrived we spent most of the time doing the customs, port authority, dept of health and immigration details. When we fly around the world we don’t realize how easy all those formalities are, and cheap. This little lot cost about $100 just to clear in and out Samoa. It is a lot more civilized than Tonga, but a bit too Americanized for my liking due to the proximity of American Samoa. Their navigation markers are back to front (bit scarey that, coming in to port). The Samoans use the American buoyage system of red, right, returning and they drive like maniacs on the wrong side of the road.

While in Apia we met the family of one of our Auckland friends. They are Samoan and have little English. We were fortunate that their daughter and son in law did speak fairly good English which helped. The Samoan people are embarrassingly generous and when you want to repay them the just shrug and say ‘It is the Samoan Way!’ It is interesting visiting a family’s home and having a meal with them and using bits of English and lots of miming. We were even given a tour of the island, all day. We were quite spoilt.

It is impossible to sleep in at Apia harbour because every morning the canoes (40 manpower) practice their rowing at 6 am and before that at 5 am the church bells start ringing. One thing you don’t need is an alarm clock. In Tonga it was the roosters and the church bell that woke us up. Then at 7.45 am the police band marched up the main road, raised the flag in the government foreground and marched back to their centre. A bit like changing the guard really.

We had a very enjoyable day at the house of Robert Louis Stevenson. What a beautiful home, especially for the era that he lived and what an interesting life he lived. The Samoans hold his memory in revere and his local name was Tuisetala (story teller). A very rich American has bought the home and made it a museum. He pays for all the upkeep. We even climbed the hill, which took just under and hour, and really steep, especially in the heat of day, up to his grave. The view from there of Apia was grand.

We cleared customs and immigration on Friday 27 August, leaving at 6.30 am on Saturday.

On 31 Aug (after crossing the dateline again) we arrived at the French territory of Wallis Island after a rather light and boring passage. We had to motor for the last 12 hours. Until then we were flying our multi purpose spinnaker, the first time on our trip and as you can see we finally got the wind behind the beam. There is a saying that gentlemen never sail to windward which I guess does not make Tony a gentleman because we managed over 2000 miles before we got the wind behind us. Well after finally arriving at the entrance to Wallis Island the wind suddenly started blowing 20 knots and the seas built up within a very few minutes. The rain started over the island and the visibility dropped and we had trouble distinguishing the markers. After circling around several times and going in close to the reef we almost decided to head straight for Fiji but finally decided to give it a go and headed in to the pass. Apart from shaking in my boots ( which I was not wearing ) and getting a huge wave break over the cockpit and dousing us we finally entered the calm waters of the lagoon. Even inside the lagoon the navigation is tricky, although true to French standards, very well marked, compared to all the other countries we have visited on this trip.

We were pleased to find a safe anchorage especially as it blew up more in the night and we would not have wanted to be out at sea. Today we walked up the road and hitched a ride in to the main village of Mata Utu where we needed to clear in to the Gendarmerie and Douane (customs)and get our passports stamped. They are very informal and don’t even visit the boat. We had in interesting trip. My schoolgirl French was really not up to scratch but with help from a page of French/English phrases from a Lonely Planet guide and lots of miming we coped. Actually we had a lot of fun and met a very nice local couple who brought us back to the boat. He is a TV cameraman and she a school teacher. One of the courses she teaches is English, but her English is really only a little better than my French.

We are thinking of staying here 4-5 days before heading to Fiji. We wont have time to go to Futuna Island because we need to get to Fiji in time to get the plane back to NZ for Naomi’s graduation.

26 July to 10 August 2004

Whilst waiting for the anchor winch to arrive we went to TePana Island for a few days to attend another cruiser’s 50th birthday dinner at the Spanish restaurant there. It was a great evening with the woman of the house doing the flamingo and her husband and sons singing and playing guitar, drums, castanets and tambourines.

The night after the party, there was a huge electrical storm which lit up the sky like day and it went on for over an hour. We were very pleased that we were moored and not out at sea, because it was quite scary. Then to top it off we finally had hail the size of marbles, the first time Tonga has ever had hail, and then it poured down with rain. We even managed to get a couple of photos of the anchorage lit up with the lightening. We disconnected the antennae from our electronics to reduce the possibility of lightning damage.

The anchor winch arrived on the fortnightly container ship service from Auckland. The ship has all its own container loading and unloading facilities. It took less than three hours to clear the winch (two large cartons) and the total charge to customs including wharfage was only T$9.90

A couple of guys from other kiwi boats spent two days helping me fit the winch. Had a few challenges getting it to fit – had to add two layers of 12 mm marine ply on top of the existing plinth to get the underdeck clearance and had to bet some plastic waste pipe and fittings to remodel the chain tube. Only problem now is that Maxwell sent me the wrong chain gypsy wheel despite me giving them accurate (digital vernier) measurements. They have now sent the correct (I hope) wheel to Savusavu for us and we are coping with the one they supplied for now.

We then had several days blobbing out in anchorages that we had been unable to visit with no winch, had a beach BBQ with some friends. We then spend a couple of days getting the boat ready for the next ocean leg to Niuatoputapu group, the most northern group of Tonga. We then cleared customs and headed up to Nuiatoputapu Island where we are presently anchored. Went ashore yesterday and gave the villagers a large Tuna we caught on the way up. We had also caught a Kingfish and that filled up what space we had in the freezer. Today we walked to the other two villages on the island. It is very unaffected by the western world. Only two government buildings (which look like they are about to fall down) have generators. There are a lot of traditional fales made from local materials – straight stems from trees and covered in coconut fronds although a lot of them have incorporated corrugated iron into the lower parts of the walls. There are a number of more normally constructed houses but only to a very basic standard. I had to make a phone call so walked 10 km round trip to the satellite station which has 105 solar panels and used the phone at the counter to call Fiji. Telephone service only came here in 1998.

Sitting on the boat, we look out across the sea to Tafahi Island about 3 miles away – it is a classic volcano island and landing there is a wet business through the swell, with rocks and coral on all sides.

The anchorage mainly has boats from Europe heading to NZ for the cyclone season. There are boats from Germany, Sweden, USA, Canada, Finland, Scotland, Belgium and Australia.

We expect to head for Apia at the end of this week, once the winds are favourable. It is another 160 mile leg which we can do in a day and a half if the wind is suitable.

Photos 3 August 2004



Sunset at Pangimotu

Friends from Nuapapa

Blue lagoon, Vava’u


Local bartering with us at Hunga lagoon

Naomi – Hunga lagoon

Daniel – teacher at Nuapapa

The girls at the Mermaid


Tony on local boat

Daniel’s boat

17 to 25 July 2004

We packed a lot of things into the last few days that Naomi had with us. We went to Hunga lagoon again, this time getting a mooring on the northern side by the game fishing lodge. The lodge is run by some kiwis that used to do big game charters in the Bay of Islands. It is easily the nicest facility (or building or any kind) that I have seen in Tonga. The day we went ashore, they had landed a 139 kg marlin which they would normally tag and release but a shark took a great bite out of it so it was done for. The lodge give the fish to the local villagers so it does not go to waste.

We have had further sightings of whales, some individually and some in groups. One was lying at the surface and seemed oblivious to our approach on our autopilot steered course. In the end we had to take avoiding action. Even then he did not bother to move but later turned around and dived.

We went to Mariners cave with friends from four other boats (all kiwis that we have got to know). Being as our anchor winch is dead, we went on Pied a Mer who kept station close to the cave entrance while we all went into the cave. The entrance to the cave is underwater (1.2 – 2.5 metres depending in tide state) just along the cliff face of the island. You have to dive down and swim about three metres to get in. It is a bit scary as you are diving into the hole and cannot see where you are going – it is all on trust and a case of mind over matter. Of course once we had done it, it was no problem going in and out. The air pressure goes up and down as the sea level goes up and down with the swell and the atmosphere gets quite misty at times.
We anchored off Kapa Island near Nuku and snorkelled on the best coral we have seen so far, pretty shallow and teeming with a wide variety of brightly coloured fish. Some of the coral was iridescent blue.
On Wednesday we returned to Neiafu so Naomi could get the plane to Nuku’alofa and do some sightseeing down there before flying back to NZ on Saturday. I spent Wednesday and some of Thursday fitting the spare circulation water pump on the Volvo main engine as the seal was leaking. Just as well that I had a reconditioned pump and the puller etc to replace it.

Our anchor winch is totally dead now so we are anchoring in shallow water (is less than 15 metres up here)or getting on a mooring when one is available. We are going to another cruiser’s 50th birthday on Tuesday, she has arranged dinner at a Spanish restaurant on TePana island. Looks like there will be at least five boats worth of guests, most of which we know, so promises to be a great evening.

Filled up with water on Friday and got 60 litres of diesel to tide us over until we leave when we will buy duty free diesel (T$1.03 cf $1.56 retail/litre) as we will take on close to 500 litres then. Used some of our water to do several loads of washing yesterday. The washer/drier is great to have on board. We only use the drier if we it is raining – because then we have the water to run the machine. We have caught a lot of water since we got to Tonga but it has not rained in weeks. Friday was only the second time we have put a water hose in the tanks to fill up. Other than that, we have relied on the 1300 litres we took on at Opua and a total of 400 litres put on board in jerry cans, the rest coming from rain.

Hope to take delivery of our new anchor winch on Wednesday (thanks to Matthew for his leg work to make all this happen) and have it fitted by the weekend. Then we will be planning our trip from here to Fiji via Nius, Samoa (where we will visit Roger’s in-laws), Wallis and Futuna Islands (where we will have to rely on Mary’s rusty school girl French) and then Fiji where we will spend 6-8 weeks before returning to New Zealand.

Temperature at the moment (5pm) is 33 degrees and not much wind to cool us. Got the Hella fans running – great devices, draw almost no current and have a long service life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: