Friday 16 June - Monday 26 June - Tonga
Friday 16 June
We wake up to a rather cloudy day, and set to work preparing for our cruise with Andy, Steph, and their children. We fill with water and food, and do some minor repairs that needed doing.
In the evening we take part in a fun race that happens in the lagoon just in front of Neiafu. Its organised by the Moorings charter base, and consists of a simple course up and down the bay. We are slow to start, but soon power away up the first beat. We round the windward mark in third place, behind a fast catamaran and an American racing boat. We are unable to catch these two, especially downwind, so concentrate on staying in front of the rest of the boats, which mainly consist of the Moorings fleet of plastic Beneteaus. Unfortunately, after rounding the downwind mark and trying to tack, the leech line on the genoa rips out all the way along to the top of the sail. I had been a bit worried about how tired this sail was looking, especially the leech. In fact we are able to keep sailing without incurring any further damage, and we finish the race in third place (from 12 starters). But there is now a sewing job to do!
At the prizegiving we are awarded the prize for first cruiser home, and get dinner for two at a local island restaurant. We all thoroughly enjoyed the race, and it was good to feel the old adrenaline going again after being in cruising mode for so long.
We also meet up this evening with Robert and Tania Sweet, some old friends from New Zealand. We had sailed with Tania on Sitra in Malta over ten years ago. She and Robert had flown up to meet up with us, and very kindly brought lots of sailing books and other goodies with them for us.
Saturday 17 June
The weather is still rather grey and drizzly, so we decide to delay our departure out to the islands. We do some shopping ashore, and explore Neiafu.
In the afternoon we start the mammoth sewing job which is needed on the sail. We need to hand stitch a new leech onto the sail, using the repair kit that Anton Cachia had put together for us in Malta. Thankfully, this has all the sail tape, needles, thread, punches, and leather palms that we need. We start at 4.30 pm. Andy and I do the hole punching, and Caroline and Steph do the sewing. It is pouring with rain most of the time, so we are fortunate to have the use of the huge covered shed on the Paradise hotel dock.
It turns out to be a longer job than we originally anticipated. We are still stitching away at midnight, having worked virtually non stop, apart from a brief break for dinner. The girls are using the head torches to see their sewing, and Andy and I have a good rhythm going for our hole punching. Gin and tonic helps lubricate the proceedings. But progress is very slow as we want to make it very strong. A sweepstake is run on when we will finish. Caroline puts the final stitch in at half past midnight, and in so doing wins the sweepstake. She is on something of a winning streak with these this week. We are delighted to get it finished tonight, as it means we can set off sailing tomorrow if the weather is better.
The leech now has a good strong repair, which leaves it much tougher than it was before. We are so grateful to Anton for preparing us such a comprehensive sail repair kit, and to Andy and Steph for helping with all the stitching work.
Sunday 18 June
We set off to go to church at 10 am. We had been told of the amazing singing in the churches in Tonga. We were not disappointed. The Wesleyan church is a huge airy building full of Tongans in their Sunday best. The singing is truly one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. The Tongans have taken the missionary hymns, switched them from major to minor key, and have the whole congregation singing them in four part harmony. The effect is quite simply magical and my hair was standing on end throughout. A rare treat.
After church we set off on Lazy Duck for a day trip out to the islands. The weather was still not ideal, with a few showers. But there is enough blue sky and sun to make an excursion worthwhile, so we head off. We spend a day at anchor off the lovely island of Nuku, about 7 miles away, and then return in the evening to a mooring off the Tongan Beach resort. We say goodbye to Robert and Tania, who are heading back to New Zealand soon, after a stop over in the Haapai group on the way.
Monday 19 June – Wednesday 21 June: In Vav’au group of islands, Tonga Lat: 18 degrees 39 S, 174 degrees 00, W
In the morning we treat ourselves to a good breakfast under the palm trees on the beach. Here we say goodbye to Nick and Sarah, who have been staying in one of the two over-the-water bungalows at this resort. They have been on board for almost a month, and we have so enjoyed having them with us. Its been a very special time, not least for reasons which will shortly be revealed.....
We set off for the anchorage off Kapa, which is next to a long reef known as the coral gardens. The next two days are spent in anchorages in this area. The highlight is the morning snorkelling on the Garden itself. None of us have ever seen coral this varied, or this beautiful. It is another brilliantly colourful world, and the visibility is perfect.
In the evening Andy, Steph, Caroline and Andrea went for a walk across the peninsula to find a wonderful view of the South of the Vav’au group. They came across a village on the way which was evidently inhabited, as it had a smoking fire and washing on the line, but was completely deserted. On Wednesday the weather is still somewhat unsettled and rainy. We move back round to the Tongan Beach where a Tongan Feast has been planned for the evening. A Tongan feast involves a pig on a spit, and lots of delicious dishes cooked in an UMU, underground oven. Everything has a smoked taste to it. The local school puts on a musical display for us, with dancing and singing, much to the delight of our children. Before dinner we get to know the local band who are playing there. They let us play their instruments as we have a song swapping session.
On Thursday Caroline and I stay on the boat with the children as Andy and Steph head off for a day of diving. Caroline did some final adjustments to the sail repair.
Andy and Steph came back at lunchtime, having done two tank dives. As they walked up from the dive boat with huge grins on their faces I knew that they must have seen something special. They were absolutely buzzing with excitement; they had just been diving with a humpback whale!
Although we knew that the whales were starting to arrive in the area, they very rarely come near divers. They were diving in a group of seven. Andy was the lucky one to spot it. He was swimming along and saw something slowly overtaking him out of the corner of his eye, about 8 feet away. He turned and saw it was a 40 foot humpback gliding along effortlessly, despite weighing over 30 tons. As he swam along beside it, the whale turned towards him and Steph, who was by now beside Andy. It came up really close, up to three feet away then ducked aside, its curiosity satisfied. Then it glided off slowly into the big blue. There was much underwater celebrating and high fives all round. Some of the dive instructors have never seen anything like this. A rare treat and they were extremely lucky to see it. We wondered if it might have been the one that we saw breaching on the way to Tonga. After the dive, they saw the whale again from the dive boat. It put on a display of breaching, this time joined by another whale. They had 15 minutes of this, before the whales headed away.
So now we know there are a couple of humpback in the area, we will take the Duck round to the band of sea that they hang out in and hope we are as lucky. Andy and Steph are with us until Monday 26th, so we have a few more days cruising in this paradise. Then on Monday 26th they take off and we start preparing the boat for the next leg to New Caledonia.
Thursday 22 June – Monday 26 June
On Thursday afternoon we set off in search of a sheltered anchorage, as the wind was blowing up again. Andy and Steph were still buzzing with excitement after their dive with the whales.
We headed back for our favourite anchorage, off Nuku island. The snorkelling is excellent, and Steph was inspired by the scenery to do some lovely watercolours. Sarah and Hannah looked over her shoulder and tried to copy as best they could. On Friday we went whale-watching, but had no further luck. We spent the evening at the coral garden anchorage, and met up with some Australian friends, Travis and Marcelle, who were on the Norwegian yacht ‘Mazy’.
On Saturday morning, when I downloaded e-mail, there was a message from John-John telling Andy that there was a problem with his Tonga – New Zealand flights for some reason. So we headed back to Neiafu to sort it out. It was all fixed by lunchtime. Turned out that the Air Tonga plane had blown a windscreen and was going to be repaired on Monday morning, but would cause a whole sequence of delays! We wondered if they might want to borrow some of our Duct Tape and silicone sealer. After much rescheduling, all was well and we could relax again. We were invited round to Nuku again to join a big impromptu barbecue being held for all the yachts with children. There were about six yachts, from all over the place, all on long term cruisers like us. In fact our cruise is the shortest in terms of time, with most people taking 2/3 years off. We had got to know Jim and Loretta on ‘Hijacker’ from Santa Cruz, California, Dale and Nanette on ‘Nangana’ from Sydney, and Duncan and Caroline on ‘Blue Gum’ from Byron Bay, Australia. They all have kids of similar ages, so there was a riot of fun on the beach. The bonfire added to a great atmosphere.
On Sunday we had lovely day in perfect weather at Nuku, before reluctantly heading back to Neiafu. On Monday Andy and Steph and their family left us to fly to Sydney where they will spend a week. We felt particularly bereft. It has been a really happy time here, and they have been wonderful to have on board. A huge help to us, and the children got on so well. It was far too short a time together, so we are plotting to come back and charter some boats here and cruise together.