CHAPTER 22: September 1st - October 8th, 2003:
The Kingdom of Tonga-- Paradise Found
Sunday night, September 1st: We’ve left Niue…and now Almost to Tonga
We are now enroute to Tonga, which for a change is only a 2 1/2 day (3 night) trip... versus the last two 5-6 day/night trips we've had since leaving French Polynesia. So far we’ve had decent sailing (and a lot of motoring) with light winds, sunny skies, and so far, no squalls. I hope since we have had more than our share of bad luck on the weather these last few months that it is now someone else's turn and we will have smooth sailing from now until we "park" the boat at our last stop for this year in Fiji next month.
September 3rd: Safe Arrival
We arrived safely here in Tonga (northern Vava'u Group, Neiafu) last night and got ourselves checked and cleared into the country today.
Although we have not crossed the 180th meridian yet (the “official” dateline), Tonga is a day later here!
Wow... what a wonderful place! For a change, (SHOCK!!) we have been so busy having some fun, that I’ve neglected my writing time. We have really enjoyed ourselves since we arrived in Tonga 6 days ago. Mostly because the town/village here is the home base to 3 different sailing charter companies, so besides the usual "cruisers" like us, they have hundreds of charter boats here, which means the town really caters to the sailboats. Than means lots of cruiser friendly over-the-water bars and restaurants and a lot of colorful ex-patriots that have settled here to offer services needed/wanted by cruisers (special ordering of frozen meats from NZ, sail repair, photocopying, internet cafes, laundry service) plus the usual fruit/vegetable markets, tourist shops, etc. It is easy to see why some boats come here with 30-day visas to cruise all the hundreds of beautiful anchorages and islands here and never leave this one harbor/basin/village.
Our local watering hole here, called "the Mermaid" is a thatched roof on the water open-air place with cheap (but good) drinks, great cruiser type menu (good burgers, fries, pizza, burritos) plus "real food" with local fish, steaks, etc. The exchange rate here is wonderful 2:1 in our favor so that makes most everything really cheap in comparison to everywhere else we've been. [Actually Cook Islands and Niue was cheap compared to French Polynesia, but it is even better here.] Most of the restaurants are on the water close by where all of the yachts are "parked" and they each have their own dinghy docks, so we just drive to the restaurant/bar in our dinghy, tie up to their dock, and walk right into the restaurant. Very convenient! Plus the water in the harbor is very smooth (because it is protected from the open ocean and the wind) so we don't even get wet from waves and sea spray going from our boat to the docks or to town. That is really great! (It’s the "small" things that make me happy!)
Our 2nd day here, a local Tongan man rowed up to our boat in the anchorage and offered us a loaf of bread. (He sells the bread but the first one to “sample” was free.) But part of the deal was he wanted to come aboard for some coffee and to share the bread with us. We invited him aboard and he sat with us for several hours telling us stories and even singing us Tongan songs. Eventually Alofi (his name) invited us to have a Tongan dinner at his house. It was for a “price” but is how he makes his living-- by inviting cruisers over to eat a “typical” meal prepared by his family. The price was very cheap, and thinking that there were going to be 5-6 other cruisers attending, we thought it would be an interesting experience (which it DID turn out to be). However on the evening we went to shore to meet Alofi, we were the only 2 who showed up. He greeted us with 2 beautiful flower leis (garlands) and since he did not have a car, he hired a taxi to take the 3 of us (him and Joe and I) to the village were his home was located. Although he was very proud of what he had, by our standards, he was very poor. We counted a variety of 6-7 people that belonged to his immediate family that all lived in a very small, and what looked like a 4 room house, but he had a big garden, shade trees, and even a pig pen in his yard with new baby piglets. Joe and I were served a meal of 5-6 local steamed vegetables and fruit, chicken, fish and rice. We ate heartily but felt a little self conscious as it was only the 2 of us served the food, whereas his family sat in the background watching us eat, and the children were eating hotdogs. Then Alofi showed us his family’s handicrafts, and we bought a few of them, especially the beautiful fine woven baskets, as they were quite nice. After dinner, Alofi made us some Kava, which is a local drink made of a root that is dried and then ground. Kava is particularly a predominant part of the male culture in Fiji, but is also drunk in Tonga. It looks like dirty dishwashing water, but has very little flavor and when consumed give the lips and tongue a numbing/ sort of tingly feeling. We are told when it is drank in great quantities it is intoxicating. Alofi poured for Joe and I in small glasses the Kava and told us to shout: “O Fah’ Tu!” (their word for “Cheers!”) and then to drink it down, bottoms-up-style. I did it once, but then Alofi kept pouring more and more for Joe and him, repeating the ritual each time. I felt the tingly lips after just my one “shot” but Joe said he really felt nothing after his several. Anyway it was a fun and certainly an interesting evening.
We have been mostly hanging around with the people off 2 boats -- Swiss Lady (a man named Roman from Switzerland/England and his girlfriend, Ingrid, from Dominican Republic, who we met in Rarotonga and "hung out" with for the last month both there and in our next place, Niue) and Morgana (which is a huge 65ft motor sailboat who's owners are not on the boat presently, but they have 3 crew members from USA on board taking the boat from Port to Port... we also met them in Niue). Anyway, the Captain on Morgana is quite a gregarious character and is the "planner." (Which is a great break for me, as I usually have to be in that role!) So he is the one who has set up "events" and activities each day/night and we've pretty much joined up with them (and Swiss Lady) both in Niue as well as since our arrival here. We've gone out to dinner almost every night and gone to "Happy Hours" at the local cruiser watering hole every afternoon. One day he organized a scuba dive on a well preserved wreck down in the harbor about 80-100 ft. down, which we dove on.
A couple of days ago, Captain Wally (Morgana) organized a scuba dive on a well-preserved wreck —a nearly 400-foot copra (coconut) steamer that burned and sunk in the harbor we are anchored in 1927. It was a fairly deep dive with the beginning (top) of the wrecked ship being at 85 feet and the bottom of it at greater than 120 feet down. But it was very well preserved. Since it’s been down there for a while, lots of coral and sea anemones have formed and grown on it, making it like a coral reef and a feeding ground also for beautiful reef fish. I usually don't like to go that deep but the visibility was wonderful and we really enjoyed ourselves.
Yesterday, Captain Wally invited us along with a local Tongan family (8 women ended up showing up of all ages and sizes!) to go on a day sail/picnic aboard their boat to some of the outlying islands and we went along “for the ride.” It was nice being on a sailboat where we didn't have to do any of the work at all -- we could just sit back and enjoy ourselves and the views... and even get waited on with food and drinks. The local Tongan women had cooked up a feast of 8-9 different dishes and brought them along. Anyway it was a great day... plus their yacht is gorgeous, even with "push button" sails (they just push a button and the sails go up and down!!!) and all the latest of electronics.
Unfortunately, Morgana and their crew leave tomorrow for Fiji. It is sad meeting so many nice people and always having to say goodbye all the time. There are just so many South Pacific destinations and everyone has different itineraries that they follow. Some we run into again -- and others we do not ever see again. A lot of boats, including ourselves, are getting to the "end" of this cruising season, as most of the boats leave the South Pacific Islands by November to get somewhere safe for Cyclone/Hurricane season, which starts November 1st (the opposite of Northern hemisphere which starts June lest). So most of the boats when they finish up with cruising Tonga will be heading for New Zealand. The other majority are heading for Australia... and then very few are doing what we are doing and going to Fiji.
Despite the fun we've been having here, we are going to force ourselves to leave here in a couple of days to visit some of the other anchorages and islands.
Tonga is very fjord-like with hundreds of islands all very close to each other in 4 major "groups." The Southern group contains their capital (Tongatapu) and is the most populated. We are in one of the 2 Northern Groups, called Vava’u where, as above, is where most of the cruising boats “hang out,” as there are so many wonderful islands and anchorages here that are “easy” to cruise with a lot of protection from the prevailing winds and seas. The islands we’ve seen so far are not the very high mountainous islands, like most of the ones we've been to so far, but are still very lush, with VERY deep bottoms, except right up on the land's edge. Many have white sandy beaches, beautiful coral reefs for diving and snorkeling. What is so wonderful is the islands are all so close together. At one time when we were moving from one anchorage to another, I counted within view of where we were 9 different islands. The main harbor that we’ve been moored in is in the town of Neiafu, which is Tonga’s second largest “city” (actually in our eyes, not much more than a sleepy village) with 6.000 residents. It is wonderful to be able to go from place to place in just an hour or a couple of hours between anchorages and islands without the worry of storms, big seas, etc. At least so far.
Where we are now there is hardly ever even a ripple in the water and sleeping is very easy with no constant rock and rolling of the boat. The climate has also been wonderfully cool compared to our more equatorial stops and a lot less humid (less than 75% usually), so we have even been able to spend cabin time and sleep time without fans most of the time.
Now for a little bit more about Tonga (for those of you interested):
Tonga consists of 171 islands of volcanic origins of which less than a quarter are occupied. The total amount of land of all the islands occupy less than 300 square miles, however they are spread over 270,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean, lying South West of Samoa and East of Fiji.
Tonga is the oldest and last Polynesian monarchy — and the ONLY Pacific nation never brought under foreign rule. They have had “Kings” for over 400 years, the first one who came to power sometime in the 10th century and believed by the Tongans to be of divine origin.
The first European contact to the islands came in the 1600’s when several Dutchmen visited the islands. Then Captain James Cook visited in 1773, 1774 and again in 1777. On his 3rd voyage, he spent over 2 months in the Tongan Islands and, on one occasion, he and his crew were almost made into a tasty meal. The locals treated Captain Cook and his men to a lavish feast and entertainment in a conspiracy of the Tongans to kill them and to then raid Captain Cook’s ships. However, there was an argument between the chiefs, at the time, which caused the Tongan plan to be delayed; in the meantime Captain Cook, his men and his boats left. Due to the feast, and entertainment and open friendliness they had experienced, James Cook, named the Tongan Islands the “Friendly Islands”…(in contrast in my last chapter where I noted Captain Cook named our last visited Island of Niue, the “Savage Island”) never knowing how narrowly they had escaped with their lives and being served up as part of the feast themselves!!
As in other island nations, the European contact led to a severe decline in population due to disease as well as warring chiefs turning newly acquired muskets and cannons on each other. Then, of course, came the missionaries. Although the London Missionary Society (that successfully converted the Cook Islands and Niue, and still monopolize their religious settlings today,) tried to attract a following in Tonga, they were unsuccessful, whereas a British Wesleyan (Methodist) missionary built the first schools, printed the first book (the Bible) and eventually converted the King of Tonga. With a British Wesleyan Missionary as his advisor exerting influence, the king also established a constitutional government with a Council (of his choice) and representation for both nobles and commoners in a Legislative Assembly. This system begun in 1875 still remains in force today. Despite the British influence, Tonga is one of the few countries in the world that has never been colonized by a European power (Others include Japan, Thailand, and Nepal).
Today Tonga is a constitutional monarchy in which the king rules absolutely. He can at any time dissolve his parliament, dismiss ministers, veto legislation, and proclaim martial law. As educational levels increase and the Tongan “commoners” have become more economically independent, the power of the privileged few has been more brought into question. There have been allegations of corruption and even the church has been backing increased democracy. However, today, most Tongans still do not openly favor democracy or any change in their political system, as to do so would be disrespectful to their King, who they openly adore. In a way, Tonga’s current political problems are a direct result of the absence of colonization, because a European system of representative government was not instituted in Tonga as it was in most of the other South Pacific colonies.
As part of this old system, all Tongan land is still part of an ancient feudal system, in that the land is property of the crown, but administered by nobles, who allot it to the “common” people. The King, who above helped formed the first “government” in 1875, also decreed that all Tongan commoners have a right to 3.8 hectors of land. Although today the Tongans still have this “right” there is no longer enough land to go around. There is little social mobility: a commoner can never become a noble.
Tonga is typical of a developing country with large families and greater than normal younger population. It is one of the most densely populated countries in the Pacific (twice as dense as the Cook Islands, 3 times as dense as Fiji), but migration to New Zealand, Australia, and the USA has kept the population numbers stable at around 100,000.
To a Tongan, great physical size is the measure of beauty — Tongan women begin increasing “in beauty” from age 15 onwards. A majority of Tongans are also quite tall. Their current King (Tupou 1V) was once the world’s heaviest monarch weighing in at 444 pounds. Traditionally, the people in the royal and noble families are expected to be much larger than the commoners. In recent years, however, the king decided to set a good example for his subjects and went on a diet and fitness program, losing around 150 pounds.
The Tongans are exceptionally warm and relaxed and possibly the latter is why (despite their obesity) they have the world’s lowest death rate. If we thought the Mexicans were slow moving and service was slow, they are quite speedy in comparison to the Tongans!
The Tongan flag displays a red cross …showing how the church and government are joined. The Sabbath day is sacred: it’s against the law to work, to hold sporting events or to trade. All shops and most restaurants are closed and no fishing or swimming is allowed on Sundays. The majority of the population is members of some type of Wesleyan Church/Methodist (related to the original missionaries). Also of interest, is that Mormons account for about 15% of the population of Tonga, the highest ratio in the world! The Mormon Church has become the largest private employer in the kingdom, spending more on construction than even the government, and sending in more financial aid to Tonga than even the U.S. Government.
The Tongan’s strong religious beliefs also influence their customary dress and behavior. At no time is it acceptable for men (or women) to be shirtless. Tongans even go swimming fully dressed. And you will never see a Tongan woman in a halter-top or mini-skirt. Public displays of affection such as holding hands or kissing are also discouraged
Economically, Tonga’s main exports are (in order of importance): pumpkins, vanilla, tuna, leather goods, clothing, coconut oil, and taro root. However their trade (as in most other Pacific Islands) is severely unbalanced with imports 7 times as much as its exports. It is still very much part of the third world. Tonga’s largest single source of income is the 25 million dollars sent home by Tongans living abroad. Although it wasn’t until the 1970’s that the King approved of opening Tonga to the world by upgrading airports for jet landings and construction of the first large hotels, today earnings from tourism are higher than all exports combined.
We have finally left the main harbor/town of Neiafu where all the "action" is and have made it to one of the many beautiful anchorages out here... only 10 miles away from where we started, on Kapa Island, so just a short "motor." Everything is so close together, that you seldom see any boats with any more than just one sail up, if that... as it is hardly worth the effort to raise them all, just to an hour later take them all down... plus since there are hundreds of islands here (mostly tiny ones all over the place), the wind is kinda squirrelly.
However, we have had a major damper on our sailing plans for the next 4-6 weeks. I broke my ankle on a couple of days ago and am now in a huge heavy bulky plaster cast. As you can imagine even in the best of conditions it is hard to move around on a boat (ladders, small passage ways, slippery decks, lines and wire shrouds everywhere, etc.) -- so now it is extremely difficult for me. And of course, with plaster, that means I cannot under any circumstances get it wet, which in itself presents problems with getting to shore in a dinghy, rain, and of course totally eliminates swimming, diving, etc. Our plans for the next 3 weeks was to visit all these anchorages and do just that: swim, dive, snorkel, and beach walk... and then leave to go to Fiji, our last stop. So now we are re-thinking our plans and may depart here a bit earlier for Fiji.
So I'll back up with my broken ankle story. I wish it was a more exciting story of how I broke the ankle, but it is not. Joe and I were walking up a hill one rainy night behind the village going to a "hilltop" restaurant famous for Italian food, calzones and Pizza in particular, and I just tripped in a pothole in the dilapidated street and twisted my ankle in an un-natural position! After screaming and crying in pain, I was finally after a few minutes able to get up (out of necessity as my main fear was being run over by a car as it was getting dark and beginning to rain and I was laying on the road). Anyway, with lots of tears and with Joe's arm for support, I was able to somehow walk the 20 minutes back to where we had our dinghy tied up. The worse part was from the road down to the dinghy dock you have to navigate down about 80 steps... and by now I was soaked from the rain, and everything was slippery. But we made it to the boat and I got horizontal with my leg elevated and ice packs for the next several hours before we went to bed. The swelling was pretty bad, and the pain when I hobbled on it even worse. (Oh yes, the 2nd worse thing was we never got to eat the calzones/pizza we were so looking forward to... instead Joe managed to make me a Peanut Butter sandwich with really stale bread!)
Luckily, one of our Puddle Jump boats that was in the harbor contained a guy (that we had met before) who is an Orthopedic surgeon (His wife also is a doctor, and they and their 3 kids decided to "hang it up" from their practices in Juno Alaska and cruise around the world.) So I called him on the radio the next morning, Thursday, and surprise, surprise -- he had already heard about the accident and said he was about to call me. (We have amongst the cruisers something called the "coconut telegraph," where rumors -- especially misfortune, it seems-- travel faster than the speed of light!) So he came over to the boat and did an examination on my foot/ankle and said I needed to go into the local hospital to get x-rays -- that hopefully it was a sprain, but it "could" be a break -- impossible to tell without x-rays. So Joe and I again dinghied to town and this time were able to get a taxi to pick us up from the wharf (no way I was going to be able to make it UP the 80-something steps!!), wwhichtook us to the local hospital.
The hospital looked like something out of a scene from a movie set in deep Africa... VERY 3rd WORLD! However the people there couldn't have been nicer. They had a waiting room full of locals but, somehow, they were able to find me a very rusty dilapidated wheel chair and wheeled me right into an exam room. I declined to get up on the exam table however as the pillowcase was full of blood. (I am not lying!) The lady doctor did not even look at my foot or do an exam, and I had to tell her that I needed 2 x-rays (to get both sides of the foot) instead of one. The x-ray technician (only one they had) was on a "day off", but they were able to get her to come in from home. After the x-rays were taken I asked the tech if it was broken and she nodded yes, and said the doctor would talk to me about it. So back to the doctor (in my rickety wheel chair -- I'm sure the only one they had!) and the doctor looked at the x-rays (still she did not examine the ankle). She said the x-rays looked fine, that it was probably a sprain and to treat it as I had been: rest, elevation, ice, etc. I asked her if we could take the x-rays with us and she said yes. (Note they had no "dryer" for the x-rays so they were still dripping wet... but we took them anyway!) Back in a taxi to the dingy and I suggested we drop the x-rays off to Al, the ortho doctor in the anchorage, which we did. He took one look at them and said "Oops...bad news-- there is a break." I hadn't looked at them really but when I did, it was obvious there was a break -- i.e. 2 bones where there should have been one. So Al came over to our boat with his casting supplies and applied a cast for me. Unfortunately he did not have any fiberglass, (as most casts are made of today as they are a lot more durable, and very lightweight), so plaster was applied from my toes up to my knee.
And that's the story. Now 3 days later, I still have quite a bit of pain, when I walk, but the cast does stabilize it and prevent me from moving it too much, and hopefully it will heal correctly this way. So NEVER a dull moment around here. Ironically after all those years of wearing high heals and occasionally taking a tumble and walking on Mexican pot-holed pavement... here while wearing sandals, I do it to myself.
Otherwise, our life has been peachy keen. The weather has been cooperating... lots of rain, but also lots of sunshine and, best of all, not much wind and no swells in the harbor or in this current anchorage.
Last night our South African friends on Deja Vu (that we were with in the Tuamotus, whom we've finally caught back up with here in Tonga) joined us at the anchorage that we're at, along with our friends on Swiss Lady, and quite a few other boats that we know, and they organized a big barbecue/bonfire on the beach. The last time we did this was with them in Rangiroa-- the large atoll in the Tuamotus. It was wonderful. They brought over a huge plastic bag to put my leg/cast in and helped me get to shore out of the dinghy, set up a chair for me and we enjoyed ourselves on the beach with them for several hours. I managed to make shish-ka-bobs with the last of my stashed fillet mignons, and a chicken potato salad to add to the dishes that everyone else had brought. It was a nice night. Unfortunately our South African friends are about to depart for New Zealand where they hope to be able to immigrate to... so we will probably not cross paths with them again.
Today we took a dinghy ride around the bay on the Island we are at (Kapa Island) and toured inside with the dinghy to several caves, one well known called Swallows caves. It was beautiful inside and with the afternoon sun peeking in you could see great coral formations under the water and the different colors of the rocks and coral on the cave’s wall. We didn’t see any Swallows, but did see a whole bunch of bats on the ceiling.
September 14th: Ovalau Island
We left Kapa Island today and headed for another island called Ovalau. Our friends on Swiss Lady followed us and both boats anchored in a small area (it’s a very small island) between 2 beautiful reefs. With its aqua water and white sand beach, it looks like it should be a postcard picture. (SEE PHOTO AT VERY BEGINNING OF THIS "CHAPTER")Between this island and another one close by, there is an adjoining reef, so it breaks the waves, making us very protected from swells. Joe and Roman (Swiss Lady) went snorkeling for the day, while Ingrid (Swiss Lady) kept me company. We plan to dine together on our boat tonight and probably their boat tomorrow night.
September 17th: Taunga Island
Yesterday we left Ovalau after 2 days and motored a short distance to another island, Taunga… Again a small island, that blocks the wind with a reef around it that protects us from the swell–giving us a smooth comfortable place to anchor for another couple of days. We are, as in the last island, the only 2 boats here, so we have the place to ourselves. And again, Roman and Joe have spent both days here, day snorkeling and bringing up lots of gorgeous shells. For a change, to get off the boat, the guys dropped Ingrid and I off ashore today and we found a shade tree to sit under in our folding chairs and just chatted for the afternoon while the guys were in the water. It is really driving me mad to look at these beautiful lagoons and not to be able to go in the water! Just a bit of bad Karma.
September 19th: Return to Neiafu
We’re back in the main harbor in Neiafu again. I have been managing a bit better with my cast. Walking on the boat is a lot easier, and the pain, for the most part is decreasing. Yesterday I tried shopping (groceries) several blocks around town, and that was a lot harder, but I managed. Getting in and out of the dinghy onto a wharf is neither a pretty nor graceful sight, but I can do it with help. Not much pain unless I'm not careful with how I make a movement, and I have not taken any pain pills the entire time since the incident. So it's more a "pain" in the ass versus a pain in the ankle. I will try and find a better doctor/hospital when we get to Fiji and get it re-x-rayed and see when the cast can come off... but I imagine it will need to be on for 4-6 weeks. Perhaps though they can substitute the plaster for fiberglass or even a "splint" that can be removed and put on at will so I can shower easier. We ARE considering taking a hitchhiker "crew" person with us on the passage (5-6 days) from here to Fiji though as there are several people looking for "rides." I can handle my boat responsibilities with the cast as long as it is not raining or we do not hit bad weather, and even then, if I HAVE to, I will adapt... but we know the chances of us NOT having squalls or bad weather are the exception to our passages... unfortunately. We will interview someone interested hopefully later today.
Our plans WERE originally to return to the town here just to check out with the authorities (customs, immigration, port authorities, etc.) and then leave for the central section of Tonga (another group of islands south of here that is famous for it's reefs, snorkeling and diving... even more so than the group where we are now) -- but Joe really does not enjoy snorkeling by himself, and of course, scuba diving solo without a buddy is a big "no- no" -- so we are now re-planning our trip to stay here another week where we are and then leaving from here to go to Fiji instead of the central group of Tongan islands. At least here, we can get off the boat and socialize and eat out in town. That also means we will be arriving in Fiji a few days ahead of our originally planned time, but that's okay. We really will not be doing much "cruising" in Fiji in October --i.e. we are going straight to the marina that is going to haul our boat and get it ready to haul out of the water for the cyclone season. We have lots of boat projects to do that we have been "saving" until our arrival there, so I'm sure we won't lack for things to do there. We have to take almost everything off the deck as well as prepare the inside of the boat to be locked up for nearly 5 months (mildew and bug prevention). Anyway, we plan to do our Fiji "sightseeing" mostly when we return, as we'll have a lot of time then.
We’ve been eating out a lot since we returned from visiting the outer anchorages, as there I had to cook most every meal… and soon we will be leaving here again for our passage, where I’ll be doing the same. We’ve found quite a few great eateries. 3 times we’ve eaten at a place called the Dancing Rooster, famous for it’s fresh Lobster. Joe had one there one night that had to have been 4-5 pounds as eating only the tail, he STILL could not eat the whole thing. Then another night we went to a waterfront restaurant called Anna’s Café where they had Fijian dancing after the meal. It was the first place in our Polynesian dance watching we had seen the “fire dancing” that I remember so well from all the shows I used to watch in Hawaii.
Tuesday, September 23rd
We have checked out "officially" from Tonga today and will head to one of the outer harbor anchorages tomorrow for a couple of more days for Joe to snorkel and hopefully for one more time to meet up with our friends on Swiss Lady (so Joe will have a snorkeling partner) and also to wait for the right weather window. If all is well, we will depart Tonga in 3-4 days, on Friday or Saturday and we’ll have another 5+-day voyage over to Fiji.
The good news is we have, as of yesterday, taken aboard a crewmember, Julie... a well-experienced young (32ish) British Lady who will make the trip with us. She has been sailing the South Pacific now for several years and just got "dumped" by her skipper boyfriend, who basically just let her off on shore here for her to fend for herself. She’s well traveled (having lived with her parents in Washington DC, and has backpacked across South Africa, Australia, NZ, South East Asia, and many of the South Pacific Islands.) She comes well recommended, seems nice, and even if it turns out differently that first impressions-- well it is only a short trip. We have committed her a trip over to Fiji and the ability to stay aboard for up to 2 weeks after our arrival -- giving her time to either find another boat to crew for or for her to take off and go backpacking, for which she is set up to do. She has also shown us that she has enough money for an airplane ticket as a worse case scenario. So I think we'll be okay... we can certainly handle having someone with us for a short period. I'm actually hoping it might be a good experience so Joe will re-consider us taking a crew with us next year for the majority of our trip to make it easier for him. He is reluctant to do so -- but has seen how hard it has been on both of us physically this year with just the 2 of us, and the rough weather that we've encountered. The only problem we could see with her is she does have a lot of “stuff” and we have very little room. But she’s looked at the space we have in our forward cabin (the room we call our “garage,” as it is filled to the brim with spare parts and our “stuff”) and thinks she can manage with her bags and ours and somehow curl up around them to form a space to sleep!
We're going to our Mermaid watering hole for our last drinks tonight and then are going to TRY to get to the restaurant on the top of a hill -- that we were trying to find the night I broke my ankle-- for some Italian food and Joe's favorite pizza. Another of the boats with a couple that we really like that we haven't seen since Bora Bora (Mike and Karen aboard Priceless) just arrived in port so this will be our only chance to see them before we leave and after this we will be going separate paths... us to Fiji and them to Australia.
September 24th: Vaka eitu Island
We left Neiafu today heading to join up with our friends Swiss Lady on Kapa Island, only an hour or so out of town. It turned out to be very crowded at the anchorage. Although it is a big bay, it gets deep very quick (too deep to anchor) the further you get away from shore. We tried several times to squeeze into “empty” spaces but after letting the anchor out with enough rode (chain) to give us enough swing room, we ended up being too close for comfort to other boats. Finally we decided to give up and move to another anchorage. When we pull our anchor, Joe yells off to me how many feet of the anchor is up (i.e. “ 100 feet,” “75 feet,” “50 feet,” etc.) so I know by our depth meter when we are off the bottom, so I can quickly move the boat out and away from the other boats. This time however when the anchor was off the bottom, Joe was still having a terrible time pulling up the chain. (He doesn’t do it by hand: we have a motorized machine called an anchor windlass that actually pulls it up.) The windlass was smoking and groaning and having really hard time getting the remaining bit of anchor and chain up on the boat. When he finally got the anchor to the water’s surface, we could see why. It looked like we had pulled half of Tonga up with us. The anchor was imbedded in a HUGE coral rock and that had come up WITH the anchor still attached. 2 boats in the anchorage, came to the rescue in their dinghies and with ropes and maneuvering were finally able to un-attach the rock from our anchor and we were finally on our way. The winds had really picked up (over 25 knots) so we needed to find another anchorage with good protection from the direction the winds were coming from. We headed for Vaka eitu Island–another couple of hours away.
Saturday, September 28th
We are hanging out at an anchorage on Vaka eitu Island, still in Tonga waiting for the winds to die. Yes, they are either too great or too little. Ever since last Tuesday (5 days now) we've had constant winds at greater than 20 knots. The weather report between here and FIJI are for 20-25 knots of wind with gusts over 40 and 10-15 ft. seas. AND USUALLY we always seem to end up with a lot MORE than predicted... so we decided to wait it out a bit. We plan to leave here tomorrow as they are POSSIBLY going to start to decrease and we don't want to wait until ALL the wind is gone. Actually the wind is from the right direction for us, and we can handle the amount of wind (we just use less sails), but it is the waves, as you know from my previous trip accounts that usually "do us in" and make everything so miserable. So anyway we will at least leave tomorrow and poke our head around the corner from the island we are now tucked behind and sail out a bit from land and see how it is. If it's too bad, we'll come back and wait another day or two. The only hurry we have is I do not want to be at sea on my birthday... but then if that's the way it has to be, I'll manage!
Our new crewmember, Julie, so far is working out. She is a quick learner and is quick on her feet and is always offering to help. Of course we have not done much since we took her on except motor to this anchorage (a couple of hours away from town) and just wait. She and Joe have gone shell hunting and snorkeling a couple of times (poor me-- stuck on the boat), so at least he is having some fun. ... and in return they are finding lots of pretty shells for me and my collection. Our friends, Roman and Ingrid, on Swiss Lady are also here with us... also awaiting the winds to die down as they also are heading for Fiji, probably tomorrow with us-- although they are going to the big town/capitol city of Suva on the East coast of the main island and we are going to the town of Lautoka on the west coast, where our marina is. Ingrid and Roman came over here for dinner 2 nights ago, and last night we went over there... we hope to cross paths with them again, but there is a chance that tomorrow will be our last time, -- as they are going onward to New Zealand after a few weeks in Fiji.
Sunday, September 29th: Finally enroute to Fiji
We leave Tonga with beliefs that, so far of all of our South Pacific destinations, this is the type of cruising grounds we had pictured our journeys would take us to. Now that we have found what we feel to be near "perfect" paradise, it is sad to have to leave. I feel particularly, I missed out with my inability to explore the reefs, but perhaps if we ever return anywhere, this will be it.
But they say all good things must end... so we left as semi-planned this morning from our anchorage in Tonga and headed around the corner from our well protected smooth seas and blocked wind area and within minutes were in breaking waves and 24 knots of wind. But we put the wind at our butts and the seas mostly from the same direction and decided that it wasn't too unpleasant of a ride. We have only 3 sails up and they are reefed (made smaller so we go slower in these high winds) and are making pretty good time, going so far for these first 10 hours of our trip between 5-6 knots, which is pretty fast for us. Our friends on Swiss Lady left at the same time as us and quickly passed us up... as they have full sails out and are traveling at 7+ knots... but that is okay. It has been far from comfortable the further we got away from land and as the seas have built more and are coming more from our beam than pleasantly from behind... but we've been in a lot worse.
For me though it is a lot worse than I imagined with my cast. My cast is covered with an ace bandage (I do not have a "walking" cast... the kind with a rubberized "heel" or "sole" on it,) so all movements and walking is like wearing a sock on a highly waxed (varnished) floor... and then having the floor move up and down and from side to side. In NORMAL health, I have to hold on while walking around, but now I hold on for dear life to move around even short distances. I decided to make dinner real easy tonight, so just boiled some water for pasta and had a homemade pesto sauce to pour over it. But even that was hard as my boiling pasta water was sloshing out of the pan with the boat rolls and I was tossed over the cabin floor like a rag doll a few times. And to make things worse, the final result was it tasted pretty awful! Oh well, perhaps tomorrow will be better.
Julie is helping out a lot working with Joe and will pull a watch with him tonight so that he can "train" her so she can pull a watch by herself tomorrow night. That will shorten Joe's watch a bit to give him a break. With these high winds we are not expecting any squalls tonight -- plus it's actually quite chilly in the wind and squalls usually don't like the cold air... So perhaps it will be a quiet night. The hard part will be trying not to roll out of bed with the big rollers.
Wednesday October 1st… finally an almost perfect day of sailing
What is a perfect day of sailing… the right amount of wind from the right direction for us to sail the course we want at a decent speed that doesn’t heel us over too much, and seas that don’t knock us over on our ears. Add sunshine and no rain or squalls. No engine noise. Well that’s how it was today. We’ve been going between 5.5 and 7.5 knots (fairly fast for us) and the seas are fairly smooth, or at least we have those long rolling swells that make the ride fairly smooth. It was a bit chilly though in the high 70’s outside in the wind/shady part of the cockpit, but pleasant enough.
What could have made the day more perfect? Catching a fish… Just at sunset as we were about to reef down the sails (we always make the sails smaller at night, even in mild weather, to prevent bad things happening if we hit a squall after dark!) but we needed to take in the fishing line first. Julie, our crew member went aft to start to reel it in and I said to her, “Wouldn’t it be funny if after all day of trolling without a nibble we got a fish now…” and just as I said it, she yelled out: “I’ve got a fish!!!” First problem though is we were going over 6 knots — - way too fast to reel in a fish, and all our sails were still up so it is difficult to slow down, but I turned the boat downwind and we were able to slow down a little and she was able to reel in the fish to just behind the boat. Second problem, we tow a 100 ft. line behind our boat with a propeller at the end of it that is attached to a generator (aptly called a towing generator) that with its spinning around, it makes power for our batteries and hence, electricity for our use on the boat. Well the fish, now identified as a beautiful (and they are gorgeous in the water — bright aqua blue green and yellow) large (?4’) Mahi Mahi (dolphinfish), crossed over and went under the towing generator line, and then crossed over it and got tangled in it. Sounds simple–just pull in the towing generator line… well not so easy as the boat has to be going very slow —about 2.5 knots or under in order to pull the line in and there was no way with the sails up and the beautiful wind we had to get it in before the fish got tangled in it. I continued to try and slow the boat while Joe tried to pull the towing line in with the now tangled fish and lure attached while Julie tried to get the fish net out … Finally we got the fish dangling out of the water only about 2 feet from Joe’s reach, and you know our luck: the damn fish spit the lure and got away! #@!!# 2nd time we’ve had a mahi mahi that close and out of the water that it’s been able to get away from us. Oh well, our bad fishing Karma continues!!
Thursday, October 2nd: Day 5 at sea
Our almost “perfect” weather has deteriorated. Today, we have almost no wind, so the motor is back on and the cabin again is noisy and smells of diesel! We put the fishing lines out again hoping to get our escape artist mahi mahi back, and–shock! We did get a strike! We think we had some sort of billfish on the line but within about 1 minute, or perhaps less, as we got all excited he jumped out of the water (he was huge) did a big wiggle and broke my line carrying away my lucky lure. Well not sure how "lucky" it is. I've gotten 3 hits now on it, but not one fish have we gotten to eat!!! (We had the tuna that got eaten by the shark before we got it all the way in, and then yesterdays mahi mahi and today's billfish) So that's about all that's broken up the monotony of the trip so far today.
At least I don't have tales of horrible storms this time as we've actually had, (knock on wood as we're not there yet!) a fairly benign trip. The main reason we wanted a "crew" along to help was in case we had a bad storm or for all the rain squalls we usually have in which my cast would be a huge hindrance (would probably “melt”), but naturally this is our first trip ever since we got to the South Pacific where we have not had squalls or at least rain... Oh well... Julie has still been a big help for Joe, and perhaps this experience will be more positive than our remembrance of Sea Sick Jake and Joe will consider us taking on a crew person full time for our future journeys.
We will actually pull into the reef that surrounds the island we are going to in Fiji tonight-- in a few hours, but we then have another 24 miles to go from there until we reach the harbor where we need to check in. Those last 24 miles although INSIDE the barrier reef, are laden with coral heads (huge boat-eating coral mounds) and shallow spots that can only be seen in good daylight. So our plan for now is to go in and anchor and then at daybreak pull anchor and proceed to the harbor. That will take us about 4-5 hours and then we need to do our check in with all the officials which will take another few hours. Then we hope to have enough daylight to proceed to the marina we have reservations at. So with any luck again by tomorrow this time, we will be on land again!
Saturday, October 4th: Safe Arrival at Vuda Point Marina, Viti Levu Island, Fiji… and MY BIRTHDAY!!!
As per above, we arrived safely at 3 AM Thursday night in Fiji. We anchored inside the coral barrier reef pass in a small anchorage (very scary to be sure we were coming in at the right place even though we had charts, radar, night vision goggles, etc... but we made it safely). We then got 3 hours sleep and were up at 6 AM getting dinghy deployed and ready to go for our arrival at the Customs dock 24 miles north of us. It took us 5 1/2 hour inside the barrier reef up to the harbor for official check in (town called Lautoka on western side of main island, Viti Levu of Fiji). Of course we arrived just at lunchtime for them and all the port authorities (Health inspectors, immigration, customs, agriculture) were closed for an hour. Finally after waiting and loads and loads of forms to fill out (using old fashioned carbon paper -- that had been used probably 50 times) we finished there at 3:30PM... and then proceeded to again pull off motor of the dinghy, haul it out and then proceeded south again to our marina where we had reservations. So we didn't get here until after the office closed and just before dark. It was again a little scary coming into a very, very narrow passage in very shallow water through 2 reefs... but we made it. We couldn't get any help getting into a slip assignment so we just pulled up to a fuel dock (of sorts... a high concrete wharf with layers of tires running down the side of it for "bumpers") and tied up there for the night.
We were exhausted by then (6:30 PM) and I was not about to cook after 9 days of cooking on the boat, so we went to the Yacht club for a drink at "Happy Hour" and ordered dinner. Unfortunately we did not get served our dinner until almost 2 hours later at 8:15, and we were all about to fall asleep in our chairs at the table. But when it arrived, we gulped it down very, very quickly and then were back on the boat by 9PM to get our first good sleep in 6 days... (I had only had 3 hours sleep in 40 hours so was exhausted!!)
Today, Saturday, we got up at 5 AM -- to be prepared to move away from the fuel dock and have spent the entire day trying to get settled into our marina slip assignment. We have changed the lines tying us in several times (didn't have the right sizes that we needed ready) and now are trying to figure out how to hook up the 220 volt electricity hooked up to our boat. We bought a transformer in Papeete, but don't have the right type of "Fijian" plug that hooks up to the marina power lines... so Joe has been trying to jerry rig something for us. It is a LOT hotter here than we've experienced in the last 6 months. Over 92 degrees INSIDE the boat, which feels "cool" compared to outside... and almost no breeze. So we also have to get our "tent" -- awning up. Lot of work and lots of projects just to get settled in. And on top of that it's my birthday. Not much of a "fun" day, so far. But I'm having 2 birthdays -- one today for my Fijian birthday, and one (since we are over the dateline now) tomorrow for my California/USA birthday. Good thing as today shouldn't count with having to get up at 5AM -- and working, etc. Oh well we do what we have to do. I think I'll chill my last bottle of champagne (but I think it's rot-gut stuff that someone gave us!!) for later on, and we have several boats of cruising friends here that will join us to go out to dinner somewhere.
Monday, October 6th:
We did finally finish "work" on the boat on my Fijian October 4th birthday by around 4:30, showered and had a glass of New Zealand Bubbly that I had chilled. Then Joe, Julie, and I joined the 2 remaining crew of Morgana (the boat that we had done things with in Niue and in Tonga), and 2 more people from another boat (Pau Hana) went out for dinner at a restaurant in Nadi (the largest town on this side of the island — where the international airport and most of the tourist hotels are located). It was fun, and again, nice after so many days at anchorage and at sea to eat good food that I didn't have to cook. They have a lot of "new" fish here that we haven't tried... "Walu" (not Wahoo)–which is some type of large Mackerel (which I didn't think I'd like, but is really good, and "Rock Coral Trout" which really is not a trout, but looks like a large one and has wonderful moist mild white meat. Different anyway from the Mahi Mahi that we've been eating a lot of ever since Mexico. All of the countries in the south pacific have their own name for a ceviche type of fish... all marinated in lime, but also soaked in coconut milk, and usually served with a salsa type chopped tomato and onion... and some have chopped cucumber in it. Here they usually use the wahoo as the fish where as our previous stops have used mostly mahi (and in Mexico, they usually use Sierra).
Sunday was my American October 4th (due to dateline) birthday, and although we still did some boat chores in the morning, we slipped away to the First Landing Resort pool--right next door to our marina. Joe and I lounged around in the shade with our books and he took a dip or two. (I still couldn't go in because of my cast). We then returned to the boat, showered and went back to the resort for my 2nd Birthday dinner... this time just the 2 of us. We had a table on the sand overlooking a gorgeous sunset, palm trees, tiki torches, and some soft male Island singers and guitar players in the background. It’s small moments like this when our cruising life seems wonderful! We also had a wonderful meal of fresh local reef fish with a 5 star presentation. For the finale of the evening, they brought to the table a cheesecake dessert with a candle in it and the "band" walked over to the table to sing happy birthday. Were we ever surprised when written in a raspberry sauce on the rim of the plate, it said "Happy Birthday JOE!" -- and the singers sang "Happy Birthday, dear Joe, Happy birthday to you!" Obviously we are still in the land of "NQR" (as I used to say in the Philippines) -- i.e. "Not Quite Right." What had happened is Joe had made reservations for our dinner under the name of "Joe" and told them we were celebrating a birthday... so obviously we had a miscommunication. Anyway, we went along with the "celebration" and had a good chuckle about it!!!
Today, more boat projects in the morning and then in the afternoon, the crew on Morgana (they have a rental car) invited us to go to Nadi (the big city about 20-30 minutes away) for lunch and shopping. They then dropped me off at a doctor's office that I had made an appointment with for x-rays and to re-look at my foot. Most of the businesses and most of the "professionals" in Fiji are of Indian descent (i.e. from India), as was my doctor. After 6 sets of x-rays they could still not see the bone through the cast, so the doctor finally took off the cast and I was re-x-rayed again. The break is still there, but looks as if it is still re-calcifying. I was able to walk on it also with minimal pain so even though it might have been better to leave the cast on for another week or two, we made a decision to leave it off. (Plus the doctor wanted to send me to another town an hour away to see another doctor to re-put the cast on.) He wrote me a prescription for a very strong elastic ankle brace, which Joe picked up at the pharmacy and I am now wearing 2 shoes again. I am still using the cane I have for now as I am afraid of re-twisting it and feel the need to pamper it for a bit longer, as there is still pain with some normal twists and movement. I will probably have a US doctor re-look at it / re-x-ray it when we return.
Julie, our crew is still with us and is helping Joe a lot with the outside tasks. She is looking for another passage, as she would like to continue cruising. We decided life has been easier with her and made the offer to take her on with us as crew next year as we make our way throughout Fiji, and onward to Australia. She IS interested but has the problem of what to do between now and when we return next March. She may end up backpacking around Fiji and semi-watching after the boat. However, with the boat out of the water, we will have no on-board refrigeration and only enough power to keep our batteries charged. Anyway, she is still exploring her options. She has been offered 3-4 crew positions so far on other boats and has turned them all down for different reasons.
We will not have our boat hauled out and put in a "graveyard" in the ground until probably just before we leave here. We have to take all the sails off the boat as well as everything on deck and store everything and the boat is then hauled out with a crane, lifted out of the water and then the keel is placed in a custom dug hole in the ground. Then lots of old tires are placed under the boat on the ground (so the boat does not actually touch the ground) for padding and buffering. Then cables are tied from rods in the ground to the boat to further secure the boat from high winds of hurricane/cyclones. It is quite a process... but has proven in past years and cyclones to be effective to prevent damage.
So that brings you pretty much up to date with us. I’m going to end this journal chapter here, and I'll save writing about Fiji on our return when we start exploring more and cruising some of it's 300+ islands. Our plans in the next few weeks are to continue with getting the boat ready for cyclone season, then to fly home (San Diego) on November 2nd, to enjoy the holidays with our friends and families, and to just relish in a relaxed life with NO BOAT CHORES at our Mexican oceanfront hacienda.