JUNE , 2012

June 6 - 11, 2012

It was finally time to leave New Zealand and set sail for the Kingdom of Tonga.  There was a short weather window of five days with the wind in a southerly direction, which would take us to Minerva Reef.  We called our crew, Robin, in Auckland and asked him to come to Bella Via so that we could leave on the 7th.

Here is Robin and his wife, Sue, arriving at Bella Via in Whangarei.

We left the Town Basin Marina and headed downriver to Marsden Cove Marina, where the Customs dock is located.  The next day, we were cleared for departure by the officials and we departed for Tonga, via Minerva Reef, at 1030h on Thursday, June 7.
The compass course to Minerva is northeast.  All of the weather models predicted four days of southerlies followed by a day of easterlies, then strong northerlies due to the approach of a moderately deep tropical low.  This low was 1500 miles to the northwest and predicted to pass to the south of us, and we wanted to get to the shelter offered by Minerva in 5 days. 

We needed to average 6.5 knots over the ground to arrive in S. Minerva before the arrival of the tropical depression and the accompanying 30 to 40 knot northerlies.  For the first 6 hours we averaged 8 knots of speed in 20 to 35 knot tail winds.  A wonderful sleigh ride with a full main and both jibs wing and wing. As expected, the wind dropped off to settle in at 10 to 15 knots on one quarter or the other and the iron genny (diesel engine) was turned on and stayed on until our arrival at Minerva.  This was necessary to keep our average speed at 6.5 knots.  Additionally, we headed east of our destination while the wind was favourable, just in case the north easterlies beat us to Minerva.  The wind was very steady except on Saturday when we sailed through a short-lived squall which delivered gusts of 50 knots.  Except for reefing during the squall, we motor-sailed, wing and wing, until the early hours of Monday morning, when the wind began to slowly back.   By 0200h, Tuesday, with only 45 miles to S. Minerva and bearing almost due north, we were sailing close hauled, just fetching Minerva.  Would we get to Minerva before the wind strengthened and came right on the nose?   We did, but only JUST.

This was one of Robin’s favourite spots on passage.  He could be found here most days when the sun was setting, waiting for the best sunset picture.
We had very little rain while at sea.  One day we could see squalls all around us but only once did we have rain and wind enough for us to proactively put two reefs in the mainsail.  The squall passed quickly and all was calm once again – and, of course, we then enjoyed a beautiful rainbow.

June 12, 2012

We entered the wide pass in good light at 1000h and dropped anchor in S. Minerva at 1030 h on Tuesday, June 12, exactly 5 days after departing NZ.  Within hours, the wind was blowing 20 to 25 out of the north and the rain poured steadily for the next 24 hours.  It was a close call.
Shortly after we had gone through the gap in the reef we were hailed on the VHF radio by one of the two Tongan patrol boats which were anchored in the reef.  The Tongan officer welcomed us to seek shelter at Minerva and to enjoy our stay.  It was a very nice greeting indeed.

Almost immediately after anchoring in the northeast corner of the reef, Paul and Robin donned their wetsuits and went off snorkelling.  Paul’s goal was to spear fish every day and fill up our freezer.  Mary set out to tidy up the boat and put it into semi-cruising mode until we continued on to Tonga.

This Amberjack is the largest and easiest fish that Paul has ever speared.  Amberjack, to their demise, are curious in nature and will swim close to you to investigate who and what you are.  All one needs to do is float quietly a few metres deep and wait for one to come within range.  Fortunately, Paul’s shot went right through the head of the fish killing it immediately.  Had he speared the fish in the body, it is most likely Paul would have lost his spear gun, for the fish was large enough to have pulled the gun away from Paul, especially if it dove deeper.

This was the first time that we had been in South Minerva.  We had always been told that the coral is not as high as at North Minerva and at high tide it could be lumpier with more water coming over the reef.  While in Whangarei, Paul had spoken with two sailors who disagreed with that statement and found South Minerva to be quite comfortable.

Sad to say, we did not find South Minerva as comfortable as North Minerva.  We pretty well bobbled the entire time and the last afternoon and evening Mary was sure that there were waves of one metre height going under the hulls.  It was so uncomfortable that Mary could not finish the dinner prep and Paul and Robin cooked dinner and cleaned up.  We also did not sit at the salon table to eat that night but ate quickly out in the cockpit.  We have decided that we will not return to South Minerva Reef, unless we absolutely have to.

June 16 – 19, 2012

The wind had swung around from the southwest and it was time to continue on to Tonga.  We left South Minerva early in the morning on Saturday, June 16.  We had an uneventful three day trip with the wind mostly on the starboard quarter and beam.  We arrived in Tonga at 0300h local time on June 19. 

We do not make it a practice to enter countries in the dark.  However, as the narrowest portion of the pass into Vava’u is a full 2 miles wide, and we had been through the passage before, and we have good electronics, we decided to chance it.  We had three GPSs, and radar running.  Paul set waypoints that would take us up the middle of the channel.  Mary was at the helm and Paul and Robin were standing watch on either side of the cockpit, although it was so dark (there was no moon) they could barely see anything.

At 0300h, we dropped anchor in an anchorage close to the town of Neiafu rather than enter the harbour in the night.  After celebrating with our obligatory bottle of champagne we retired for a good but short night’s sleep.

In the morning we entered the harbour and tied up to the main wharf.  Within two hours we were graciously cleared into the country by the four officers who arrived at the boat.  We spent the remainder of that day settling in to the cruising life and showing Robin the sights of Neiafu. 

June 20 – 30, 2012

The mood of the people of Vava’u and the yachting community was very somber.    On the previous Friday night, a 50 foot sailboat, with two persons aboard from Australia ran into a volcanic island 25 miles from Neiafu.  The EPIRB was set off and one of the men made a satellite phone call to his wife.  At that time he reported that the yacht was breaking up on the reef.  That was the last communication that anyone had with the crew.  A week-long search by New Zealand, Tonga, and Australia failed to locate anything other than debris.  Two large sport fishing boats from the cruising community (one from New Zealand and one from the U.S.) had been part of the search efforts for the week.  The search was eventually called off. 

Communications with our Tongan friends Kolio and Tala are nil when we are back in New Zealand and we always approach Tonga wondering if they are alright.  It was with great joy that we heard Kolio on the VHF radio that first morning and we made arrangements to meet at Lape Island the next day.

We arrived at Lape Island on Wednesday, June 20, and picked up one of their brand new moorings.  Kolio told us later that they had only been installed for about one month.  The moorings were installed to exact specifications as part of a New Zealand aid program.  Lape Island will be setting up an inspection schedule.  Paul and Robin immediately dove in the water and checked out the moorings and were pleased to report that they are well made and the chain is secured to a large slab of concrete.

Here are young Malie and his uncle Viola showing off the new moorings at Lape Island.  We have found that most of the yachties are going in to the island by dinghy and paying the $10 TOP ($6 Cdn) fee per night instead of calling Kolio on the radio.  The alternative is that Viola will come out in his dinghy to collect the fee, which is added to the community coffers.

We knew that Kolio and the other villagers would have difficulty collecting mooring fees from us and, in fact, we learned that they had held a village meeting and decided that we would not be charged.  Paul explained that we were not comfortable staying on a mooring without paying.  Because we spend most of our time at Lape Island and we understand the need to use moorings to protect the coral (anchors in coral cause damage), we asked if we could negotiate a season’s pass.  Thankfully Kolio agreed to this and we gave 200 TOP to Lotu, the Town Officer.

The day after we arrived was Report Card Day and the end of a school term.  Here are the two teachers Daniel and Meleani with half of the students.  Report card day is a public affair and all of the parents are invited.  The students are called up one by one and there is much applause as they are each handed their report card for the term.
After the report card activity, the village played volleyball, a game that they play quite well.  Here are Paul and Kolio in action.  Both think they are still young kids and both came away from the game with minor injuries.

Robin and Paul managed to get out snorkelling and spearing every day.  We had told Robin that it is very difficult to catch fish in Tonga. The locals have more luck but they fish at night predominantly and mostly for small fish.  Well, Robin seems to have brought us luck because our freezer is now half full of fish.

Here is Robin with part of one day’s catch.  To their amazement they caught and speared 10 fish this day.  The large silver fish is a dog-tooth tuna, easily identified by its mouth full of dangerous teeth.  It is a very delicious, light coloured and light flavoured tuna.  They caught two of these and gave one to our friends on Lape.  The smaller fish is a beautiful coral trout.  In our opinion the nicest table fish of all.  Four of these were caught this one day.
The day before Robin had to leave Tonga, we attended a Lape Island Market Day and he bought himself one of Tala’s beautiful woven trays.
Robin couldn’t resist going for a paddle in Viola’s traditional canoe.  The day before, Paul and Robin found Viola on the beach repairing his canoe.  Paul went back to the boat for some spare rope and nails which he offered to Viola to make the job easier.

On June 25, we went back into Neiafu because Robin was flying back to New Zealand the next morning.  Robin treated us to dinner at a new Italian restaurant, Ciao, and the meal was superb.  We will be back to that place in the future.

The next morning we said an early goodbye to Robin.  It was a pleasure having him aboard and he made us promise to visit them in their home when we get back to New Zealand.  Thanks Robin, you arrived as a crew and left as a friend.

June 26 – 30, 2012

Back we went to Lape Island to relax and finish putting the boat in cruising mode.  We still had lots of salt water on the deck and windows from our passage.  But amidst our boat tasks, we spent a lot of time on Lape Island with our Tongan friends.  Here are several pictures for you to enjoy.Robin and Paul managed to get out snorkelling and spearing every day.  We had told Robin that it is very difficult to catch fish in Tonga. The locals have more luck but they fish at night predominantly and mostly for small fish.  Well, Robin seems to have brought us luck because our freezer is now half full of fish.

A new business producing coconut oil has been established in Neiafu.  This business is purchasing coconuts from many of the islands and villages in Vava’u, including Lape Island.  Paul went along for the ride aboard Lotu’s boat, and then by truck, to delivery 1100 coconuts.  Not only were there coconuts aboard but also many bunches of pandanus leaves that were being brought to Noah, a skilled Lape Island weaver who is temporarily living in Neiafu.  Despite being heavily laden with coconuts and pandanus there were 7 villagers and Paul aboard.  It would not be uncommon for the entire village of 24 people to travel to Neiafu aboard this vessel all at once.
Once at the coconut oil factory, the coconuts were unloaded one at a time so that they could be counted.  The island receives 30 pa’anga (18 cents) for each coconut.  A cheque for 330 pa’anga was given to Katie (the woman in the red blouse) by the owner of the factory.  From the factory, they went to the bank where Katie cashed the cheque and divided the portion owing those islanders present, who immediately went off to the shops and purchased supplies and a few treats.  Most notably fresh white bread and butter which they ate in great chunks during the return trip to Lape.
We went ashore to watch the women of Lape in their tie-dying endeavours.  They were tie-dyeing 20 sarongs for the next market day.  They use different patterns but this is one of Mary’s favourites.  They start with wrapping the cloth around a finger placed in the middle of the fabric.
They then take the rolled up fabric and dip half of it into a container of one of the colours and then dip the other half in another colour.
Here is the finished result for this pattern.  The sarongs are then laid out on the grass in the sun and weighed down with stones until dry.
Here is the new wharf at Lape Island.  The village has been fundraising for the last two years to rebuild what was damaged by a cyclone.  As part of an aid project, the village had to supply a certain percentage of the money and that is why they have been having monthly fundraising Tongan feasts during the cruising season.  The next phase of the project is to complete a floating dock that can be pulled out of the water during cyclone season.  The fundraising for this phase continues.
Here is the new walkway leading up to the village at Lape Island.  The previous climb up from the beach was treacherous, as it involved uneven ground and several tree roots.  We were surprised to see that the contractors (chosen by the aid project organizers) did not build stairs instead of just laying down large slabs of concrete.  We still find the walk quite steep and it will be difficult to navigate when wet.
The new wharf at Lape Island was decorated with flags and palm trees for the celebration feast on June 30.  They were celebrating the completion of the first part of the wharf project and the installation of the new moorings.  Here are the children standing at the entrance of the wharf..
The village always sings a hymn before serving the meal at a feast.  Here is Kolio (on the left) introducing the village and thanking the yachties for their generous donations over the last two years.  At the top of the picture, the tie-dyed sarongs are shown.  The handicraft market was set up in a newly-cleared area above the food table.
Viola says that his father was a sailor.  If we understand Viola’s English correctly, this is the first time that Viola has tried sailing his canoe.  If this is true, he was remarkably successful on his first attempt.  We first realized what he was doing when we could hear him and Malie hooting and hollering with glee as they skimmed along on a fairly blustery day.  Their big grins say it all.  Viola’s first rig, as shown in this picture, is a gaff rigged square-s’l (never meant to be perfectly square) made of construction plastic left over from the recent wharf construction.
A few days later, Viola had produced a sloop rigged vessel with a mains’l and jib.  This rig allowed him to point a little higher into the wind.  In both cases, he reached across the bay, fished for a while, went ashore, completely dismantled the rig and reassembled everything at the opposite end of the canoe so that the outrigger would still be able to function as a float on the down-wind side, keeping the canoe upright.

July 1, 2012

It’s July 1st and Canada Day! - The day that Canada’s Confederation was signed in 1867.  We started the day by singing “O Canada!” out on deck.  The boat next to us is also from Canada and they came out on their deck and sang the French version.  As Paul’s students always sang O Canada in French every Friday, he was able to join in.  It’s a good day in Tonga!  Happy Canada Day to our family and friends back home.


    Journal 2011