Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Pangiamotu & Nuku'alofa

[Kyle]After the isolation of Malinoa, we headed to the big city. Well, sort of. The main wharf where boats tie up at Nuku'alofa, Tonga's biggest "city", is said to have a pretty uncontrollable rat problem. We opted instead to anchor at Big Mama Yacht Club on Pangiamotu Island. It's just across the water and they have a ferry that goes back and forth to the city several times a day.

A relaxing weekend on the Motu at Big Mamas Yacht Club with a handful of other cruisers

We went ashore at the motu and found Big Mamas restaurant/bar with a great view, but no yacht club office per se. It took asking a few different people, none of whom seemed to be in charge, before we were able to piece together what opportunities were available and come up with a plan. Laundry wasn't available as they send it out and get it back the next day, but being the weekend we wouldn't get it back until Tuesday and we'd hoped to be departed from Tonga by then... Oh well...

We could take our propane tanks and diesel jugs with us on the ferry and they would fill them for us while we ran errands in town. We needed to pick up a few things, but our main task is clearing out of Tonga.

The kitchen was closed, but the next day, we were able to go ashore for lunch and have our first meal out in a couple of weeks. I wouldn't say my fish burger was as good as Maryanne would make, but at least I wouldn't have to do the dishes after.

We pottered about the boat and the Motu over the weekend and were all set to go across on the mini-ferry on Monday to complete our clearance paperwork to exit and to get our propane topped up (which should give us enough for our time in NZ and to reach Chile). It was suddenly clear that for today only, there would be no propane fills - Doh! no propane for us then. (In hindsight we should have just taken the cylinder into town ourselves, but we had no idea how straightforward getting a fill would have been - plus we didn't want to be walking around town with our propane cylinder all day).

[Maryanne]In Nuku'alofa we needed to complete our exit formalities and also to get to the FedEx office to return our broken kindle e-reader. Clearing out was straightforward, once we knew where to go - there were four boat crews on the taxi-ferry over and three boats among us needed to visit customs and immigration. After trying the empty waterfront office and asking around, eventually we all piled into a cab that took us to the right place, a little waiting, and a lot of paperwork later we were officially ready to leave the country.

Kyle was keen to rush about to get back for the 1pm ferry and prep the boat for departure. I'd have liked to dawdle and really explore Nuku'Alofa a but, but obliged by keeping up the pace. Tonga is one of the countries that have a King as head of state, so naturally there is a palace. You can't visit inside but you can peer through the fence over the great lawns and look. The King also goes to church regularly - so most tourists get their first sighting of the King at the Cathedral in town. From the ferry stop - there is a nice waterfront walkway into town (although it is a bit of a hike, plenty of people stopped to ask if we wanted a ride, but we were happy to walk it and soak up the experience). Once in town though the highlight again was the market - plenty of fresh veggies to prepare us for our passage to Minerva and New Zealand, and we squeezed in time for a nice lunch at the well known hangout of "Friends cafe". We made that 1pm ferry, and back at the boat completed the last few chores to have us ready to depart Tonga.

A quick tour of the capital Nuku'Alofa
Cathedral, Seafront views, Palace and typical buildings found in the big city

Saturday, October 21, 2017


[Kyle]The sail to the Tongatapu group from Kelefesia was right at the edge of the distance that could be done in daylight. Unfortunately, we had almost direct headwinds to deal with. That meant we would have to tack back and forth, which would almost double the number of miles we would have to actually sail to cover the distance. Our plan was to sail across the shallow water of the Ha'apai shelf in daylight and then spend the darkness in the deep ocean before sailing onto the Tongatapu plateau in the morning.

It kind of worked out that way. Our first tack took us straight to the narrowest part of the submarine trench between the groups, which was only two and a half miles wide. When we got to the other side, we turned through the wind onto the other tack and followed the trench out into the deep sea to the east. Just before midnight, Maryanne tacked us back, putting us on a perfect line for Malinoa Island on the north side of the group.

{Maryanne}It would have been a perfect fishing passage, but our recent catch had lasted us 3 days of meals, and we were ready for a change, so we didn't bother... Next time.

I spent the wee hours of my watch slowly reducing sail, which put us right at the edge of the Tongatapu shelf at dawn. The weather worsened, which made it really hard to make out underwater features. We had a nervous couple of hours picking our way around the bommies looking for a big enough patch of sand to lay our anchor. We eventually ended up with a less than ideal spot that was exposed to wind and sea and too far from the island itself for convenience. We spent the next day glad for the rest but also wishing we had more to do. That left us with pretty much no other option except stay on the boat compiling lists of things we need to do on our next haulout and organizing our next few legs, all with a maddeningly useless signal. I'd rather have been swimming.

The wild point of Malinoa (we were not anchored nearby)
and another beautiful sunset

Thursday, October 19, 2017


[Kyle]We left Lalona early for an all-morning sail to the very Greek sounding island of Kelefesia. This place is pretty much right on the beaten path for most of the boats going through the Ha'apai, so we were expecting to find our first company after nearly a week of solitude. I was pretty surprised to round the island and find the anchorage empty.

It turned out to be a good thing. The entrance to the anchorage at Kelefesia is narrow and tricky. The sand bottom at ten meters is broken everywhere by coral heads that thrust vertically until they just graze the surface. We picked our way in very slowly and managed to find a spot (THE spot) of uninterrupted sand just big enough for our anchor and chain. There was no room for any other boats. When we set the anchor, we backed down good and hard for there was a reef breaking the surface right behind us and we didn't want to take the chance of even moving an inch.

Kelefesia is beautiful. In addition to being the usual palm-studded beach, the island actually had a few cliffs thrown in for effect, which made it seem twice as nice. The surrounding coral made for a nice effect on the color of the water and completely flattened the roiling sea. I was really not sure the difficult anchorage was worth it, but then we jumped in to have a look at the reefs.

Kelefesia Island

Alright, Kelefesia gets our vote for prettiest place in Tonga. We love it! We stayed just over twenty-four hours and spent as much of the time as we could either in the water or hiking all over the island. If we ever go all Robinson Crusoe, this would be my top pick.

Kelefesia beneath the waves
The last pic is of a Nuidibranch - a Spanish Dancer!

Except that someone beat us to it. We followed a narrow path through the trees on the beach and discovered somebody's homestead. They seemed to be gone for the day, but we kept flushing out their pigs as we walked the paths from one end of the island to the next.

We really hated leaving Kelefesia, but the wind was forecast to go a bad direction for the anchorage and then start blowing hard, so we had to leave the next day for the overnight sail to Tongatapu.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


[Kyle]From Limu, we sailed to yet another of the islands just inside the reef on the windward side of the group.

Along the way, Maryanne tried again with her fruitless attempt to catch a fish. We've been meeting people everywhere who routinely put a line in the water for five minutes every afternoon while the skillet is heating on the stove. Ten minutes later they're eating the fish they just caught.. We have the same gear and as far as we can tell, we are using it in the same way, but the last fish we caught was in Northern Ireland over eight years ago. Our skillet is warm already!

Poor Maryanne gets so hopeful every time she deploys the line and so dejected when she finally gives up. Just before it was time to bring it in, I looked back and found we were dragging something that looked like a crushed beer can. As she pulled it in, it turned out to be the gaping mouth of an exhausted fish. Maryanne had caught a three-foot Great Barracuda!

Those teeth! Luckily, the poor thing was so tired it had no fight left and Maryanne was able to dispatch it quickly. Between the Barracuda and the coconuts, we were successful hunters and gatherers. For the next three days, every meal would contain lots of both.

Yay - we caught a Barracuda
On Arrival there were some interesting reef waves to navigate around

Again, we seemed to be the only boat for ten miles when we set anchor off the northwest side of the island. Lalona had a lot more swell than Limu, which was only partially dampened by the coral surrounding the small anchorage. The motion on the boat was comfortable, but the big crashing waves all around us were a little disconcerting. We swam on our anchor. It and the first twenty feet of chain were buried out of sight in the sea bottom, so we weren't going anywhere, but we were so sensitive to any shift in wind or current that we both slept poorly through the night.

After checking our anchor, we did a quick swim around the perimeter at the coral's edge. It's just getting better. There's more variety of coral and fish and the towers and canyons are all taller.

If the weather had been more settled, we would have loved to stay longer to swim more of the reefs and to have a walk ashore, but we were nervous about getting too far from the boat, so we decided to cut our visit short and head for the next place.

It briefly calmed down a bit just before sunset. On our post-sail rig check, I noticed that we had popped a couple of rivets on our radar mount and decided I would be a lot more comfortable with our next sail if I went up the mast and replaced them first.

After a short snorkel, Kyle decides to climb the mast to practice his swear words.

Well, the swell was most decidedly NOT gone. I had an hour of holding the mast in a leg lock while I did the work. When I was finished, both arms and legs were badly bruised and my muscles were mush. I told Maryanne I thought I was more sore than I was on the day we submitted Mt. Whitney.

Monday, October 16, 2017


[Kyle]The island of Limu - Now there's a nice easy name.

We sailed to Limu Island, which managed to take up only two vague lines in one of our guides. It was a good distance for a day sail and I was trying to avoid sailing too far to leeward for fear of having to make it up by bashing upwind later. Limu was the most upwind place I could find.

Limu was great. We had the place all to ourselves for two whole days. We had to anchor a long way from the island due to its extensive fringing reefs. That gave us a long and beautiful swim through great gardens of coral to get to the beach. When we got there, we circumnavigated the island via the white sand beach, collecting more coconuts along the way and enjoying the views. It seems that we never tire of looking at palm trees swaying over turquoise water.

Exploring Limu

Saturday, October 14, 2017


[Kyle]If we were ever to move for some reason to a suburban development that uses cutesy Tongan street names, I would pay extra to take our second choice and avoid having Uonukuhihifo Terrace as our street address. Imagine having to write that on all of your correspondence.

So far, Uonukuhihifo Island has no roads or houses or mini marts or anything else other than a whole lotta coconuts. We swam ashore to collect just four for our personal use, walked the beach and then took the log way home via the coral reef surrounding the anchorage. The reef here was much taller and more dramatic than in Uoleva and we had a good time threading our way through its columns.

Once we were back aboard and getting dry, I spotted a small pod of about four dolphins swimming behind the boat. Maryanne decided she just couldn't miss them and went in in pursuit. I stayed behind with the binoculars so I could guide her to them with big arm signals.

Two or three times, she got within ten meters of them, but couldn't see them below the water because of poor visibility. She finally gave up when they headed for deep water and she could no longer make out my directions, which by then had all switched to 'come back'.

When she finally turned home for Begonia, she had over a mile to go against the current. Even with binoculars, she looked small and alone out there. I knew she could probably make out the bottom where she was so she would be a better judge than I as to whether she was making any progress towards me. I decided to keep a close eye on her with the idea that if she stopped swimming for any length of time, I would start Begonia, pull up the anchor and go get her. She didn't, though, and after hunkering down and swimming pretty hard for almost an hour, she finally grabbed the swim ladder and was able to rest before finally pulling herself aboard. She more than earned her dinner that night.

Exploring Uonukuhihifo

Thursday, October 12, 2017


[Kyle]As we were leaving the Ha'apai for Tongatapu, we got tired, so we pulled into an anchorage at the far end of the island of Uoleva just a few miles away.

Enjoying Uoleva above and below the water line
That last picture is a Zebra Shark (It's the juveniles that have the stripes)

The anchorage is very large with big coral reefs at each end of a very long stretch of sand. There were six other boats anchored near an eco-resort on the beach. We elected to go for a spot far from land at a notch in the coral more convenient for snorkeling.

We were in the water as soon as we were able. There was a whole lot of coral, but none of it seemed as interesting as we had hoped. Most of the structures were dead and covered with silt, although the fish populations seemed healthy.

The next morning during our morning coffee and briefing, we had a little back and forth over our plans for our day.

My plan was to take the dinghy to the beach. I wasn't even keen on that idea because a beach landing would be necessary. I prefer rowing when landing on beaches because I don't like to risk damaging the prop on our motor in shallows and surf. The distance to the beach was such that it seemed to be best thought of in fractions of a mile rather than smaller units like feet or meters. This put it outside of the imaginary radius where my desire to keep things simple and get a little exercise in the bargain by rowing resides and into that nether region where I concede to the hassle of digging out the motor and installing it in the interest of expediency.

As I was going back and forth over what was the best thing to do about the dinghy, Maryanne came up with her plan to swim to the beach, walk to the other end and then do some extensive snorkeling on the other reef at that end. She's nuts. I think she was trying to get an early start so she could sneak in a swim to our next anchorage to check it out for hazards. I had my doubts that she would want to swim several miles and also walk several miles on soft sand to boot, but she seemed to think there would be nothing to it. I agreed, knowing she would throw in the towel at some point.

We swam to the beach. It was a long way. It started okay, but then we entered a long middle section where the beach looked really far, but the boat also looked really far, too. Giving up would mean a long swim back for nothing, or we could swim just a little bit further than that and we'd be at the beach. It did look like a nice beach. At length, we finally got to where the beach was close and inviting and it also offered the chance to sit in the shade of a tree and rest. Then the choice was obvious.

We staggered onto the beach, removed our fins and started mooshing through the sand toward the far end. The beach really was beautiful. We were tired, but we kept wanting to see that bit that was just a little further ahead. When we got there, we kept on to the next one and the next one until we had made it all of the way to the other end in the same manner. Inconceivable.

We were both tired by then, but we had lugged our snorkel stuff the whole length of the island, so we picked out a promising looking spot for a token swim just so we hadn't wasted the effort. The coral on this end was much healthier and formed into more impressive structures. We kept finding some cool thing appearing in the distance and swimming over to look at it. When we had finally had our fill, we found that we had saved ourselves half of the walk back.

The remaining walk wasn't enough of an interlude for us to be feeling like getting back in the water yet for the swim home. Luckily, Sea Change, the eco-resort previously mentioned, had a bar and it was open. We each had a drink and passed the time chatting to a few of the other boaters, including a group we had last seen in Suwarrow. When it came time for us to leave and pay, the woman behind the bar asked if I could see Kao. Kao is a distant cone-shaped volcano that can be seen on clear days. It is Tonga's highest point. Maryanne didn't quite get what was happening and said she couldn't see much without her glasses on. I jumped in and said I could see it, it's right there.

“Where?”, the bartender asked.

“There. It's right there.”, I said. “Well, you can't actually see it from the bar here, but it's behind that tree there. I saw it earlier”

This was kind of a lie. We saw it the day before when we were sailing. The visibility was too poor to have been able to see it just then, but I was pretty sure I was pointing in the correct direction.

Why the hubbub? Because the drink I ordered was called a Kao Calypso and on the menu board it said it was four Pa'anga cheaper if you could see Kao. The bartender looked uneasily at her boss, the woman standing behind her. She gave us all a look that said, “C'mon, the real price is the cheap one. He said he saw it.” She didn't point to her eye and wink, but I knew what she was doing. The bartender still looked unsure and Maryanne hadn't caught up because she couldn't read the menu and there was no time to fill her in, but the manager rang us up with a smile and wished us a good trip home.

Begonia was a little speck on the horizon when we reached the spot on the beach where we had landed before. Rather than just go, we decided to walk on the one bit of beach we hadn't seen, just so we could get the full set. We left from the point on that end, which offered the advantage of being a little bit further upstream so our swim home would be more across than into the current.

Or so that was the plan. All of the good reef was into the current, so we swam like hell to get there and then enjoyed a gradually easier trip as we progressed. Our big find along the way was a Leopard Shark, which for some reason is really called a Zebra Shark. The thing has spots like a leopard. Why would you call it a Zebra?