September 5 -30, 2012

It’s the middle of September and we are in Fiji now but we have a couple more stories to tell about Tonga.

On Wednesday, September 5, we were in Neiafu, Tonga, to meet Kolio and Tala when they arrived from visiting family in Nuku’alofa.  The ride back to Lape Island was filled with laughter and conversation as they recounted their journey for the past ten days.

On our part, we told them what had been happening on Lape Island and the drama with Oscar.  We also told them that there was a surprise waiting for them on Lape Island but we wouldn’t tell them anything else.

When we neared the island’s moorings we called our friends on Lark, Linda and Brad, and told them to get in their dinghy and meet us ashore. 

Linda and Brad were part of the surprise and the surprise is that steps had been built from the beach area up to the path leading to the village while Kolio and Tala were away.  The steps were part of what Kolio saw as a future improvement, especially since the older women had difficulty on the new steep sidewalk when it was wet and slippery.  Kolio did not know how to go about constructing the steps but that is what he envisioned for his island.

Linda is a landscape architect and Brad is in construction.  They used their expertise and designed some simple steps, utilizing material at hand from the island, and with the help of Paul and several people from the island the steps were constructed over a two day period.  Kolio and Tala noticed the steps as soon as they got to shore and were thrilled.  Here is a pictorial review of the step construction.

The first step was to fell a green coconut tree and cut it into sixteen pieces, each 2 feet long.  Brad had worked as a logger in the US northwest for a full year and knew how to handle a chain saw.  When Paul tried to pick up one of these lengths of coconut tree he was surprised at how heavy they were, approximately 50 pounds.  A wheel barrow was used to get the pieces from the bush to the work site.
The first few steps are being put into place.  The ground was notched with axe and shovel.  That’s Viola with the axe, Brad the builder with the shovel and Fakahoko and Paul looking on.
A 1/2 inch hole was drilled into each end of a coconut log, then an 18 inch length of rebar was hammered through the hole and into the ground to secure each log step.  That’s Viola on the hacksaw.  Paul and Viola have become quite close for they have many common interests which include sailing and spear fishing.  They very much enjoy working together, during which time Viola tries to expand on Paul’s Tongan language skills.  It’s fun to hear Viola’s laughing at Paul’s crude attempts.
The women of Lape, in this case, Uiniketi (Keti) never shy away from physical labour.  Keti was showing Paul how easily she could handle this load of sand when Paul had just previously been making a dramatic show about how difficult it was.
Here is Brad hammering a length of rebar through the coconut log into the ground with Viola waiting to relieve him.
After each log was staked into place, the ground was levelled and covered with a layer of sand to make each step soft on bare feet, not that the Tongans cared about the soft feature for their feet are tough as nails.  Fakahoko is using a bush knife to level off a root that was used as one of the steps. Note that Tongans never bend their knees when they bend over to pick something up or do something.
Look at the expression on Tala’s face when she first saw the steps.  To the right of Tala is Linda, the designer of the steps.
Tala trying out the steps.  We kept telling her to slow down and rest if she had to but she did them all in one go.
Tala had run up the steps so fast that she had to rest at the top!

It was time to say goodbye to our friends on Lape Island and we told them that we would come ashore on Thursday afternoon.  The women weavers wanted to meet with us in Keti’s house.  They had prepared a bag of crafts that we will be taking home for our friends in Canada.

Thursday was windy and rainy, probably the worst weather day in our three months in Tonga.  By the time we got ashore, we were drenched from the driving rain and salt water from the big waves.  We sat with the women and Kolio for two hours, talking and laughing about all kinds of things.  The crafts that they had prepared are beautiful and we know will be much appreciated by our Canadian friends and family.  Noa, the eldest woman in the group, gave a lengthy prayer in Tongan which Kolio told us later called for blessings in our journey and thankfulness for bringing us into their lives.  After that, we tearfully said goodbye and see you next year to our friends.

Kolio refused to say goodbye at that time and announced that he would be going into Neiafu with us the next day and would find his own way back to Lape Island.  We were delighted to be able to spend some more time with him.

September 7, 2012

This day, our last in Tonga, started out early.  We had a booking for duty-free fuel in Neiafu at 1030h, and needed to get to the wharf before that to begin the clearing out process.  Paul picked up Kolio from the beach and we got underway.

We were twenty minutes away from Lape Island when Kolio announced that he would like to do the passage to Fiji with us next year.  He was quite disappointed when we told him that we already had someone who had asked to do that passage.  We asked him, “What about now?”  He said that he and Tala had talked about it the night before and it would be fine.  We quickly did a turnaround and headed back to Lape Island.  Kolio called Tala on the VHF radio so that she could find his passport and pack him some clothes.

Kolio was a great help when we arrived at the dock, as the clearing out process, although not lengthy, involves several stops.  The first stop is Immigration but the office was closed when Paul arrived so we did that step last.  Customs gave him a bit of grief about that.  Next, Customs to get the paperwork that would allow for duty free fuel.  Kolio went with our bag of crafts to Quarantine where he received a Phyto Certificate declaring the crafts to be bug free.  Mary called the Sunset Grill for three take-out meals of burgers and chips.  She called it her last good meal for three days!  Then we all waited for the fuel truck to arrive, as did the two other boats at the wharf.  The truck arrived two hours late and after Paul made one last visit to Customs with the fuel paperwork and to the Immigration Office, we were free to leave the country.

The harbour was rough with a west wind and the boats were bouncing at the wharf so we left the dock as soon as possible.  We motored out of the harbour to the first place we could find to sit at anchor and complete the last minute tasks before we set sail for Fiji.

At 1500h we motor sailed out of the heads and headed west for Fiji.  We had very good winds for sailing so turned the motor off and put up a reefed main and the jib.  Unfortunately, the wind was from the south, not southeast or east as forecasted, so it was on the beam and that is not a comfortable point of sail for Bella Via. 

The wind came out of the southeast the next day and the rest of the trip was quite comfortable.  The last night we turned the motor on as the wind had gone light and we wanted to arrive early in the morning.  By 1000h on September 10 we were on a mooring at Copra Shed Marina in Savusavu, Fiji.

Kolio was great to have aboard as crew.  He felt a bit queasy the first evening but then his stomach settled down.  He really enjoyed the trip.  He is a very quick learner and has a remarkable memory.  Here are a few pictures of Kolio on Bella Via, both at sea and in Fiji.

Here is Kolio on his afternoon watch.
One afternoon at sea when Paul was on watch and Kolio was resting, he laughingly showed Paul his “palangi feet”.  He had not been on Tongan soil for a few days and his feet were now as clean as city folk!
We discovered that Kolio could fall asleep anywhere.  Here he is having an afternoon nap.  Once we were in Fiji, he usually started out sleeping in the cockpit every night.  Only the mosquitoes or the cool night air drove him inside.
A special breakfast of bacon and eggs on Bella Via.  Kolio ate everything that Mary cooked but she noticed on the last evening that he only took a very small amount of mashed potatoes.  She thinks that it might have been the texture.  He didn't know what most of what he ate was so we talked a lot about food and table etiquette. He told us that he was going home to talk to Tala about eating better - more vegetables and fruit.  Tongans don't eat anything until about noon and then they never eat palangi vegetables.  They eat a lot of root vegetables which are very starchy.
Kolio is examining a garlic press.  It took him a few minutes but he finally worked out what it was.  Kolio was amazed at how many 'things' palangis have - glasses, cutlery, gadgets, etc.  While he and Paul were washing dishes, Paul had to explain the word "gadgets" to him.  Then Paul said, "Every American household has lots and lots of gadgets."  With a very straight face, Kolio responded with "Why?!!”   Why, indeed?!!
Here is Kolio cooking the garlic toast for the first time on our barbecue.

September 13 – 17, 2012

We discovered that Kolio would not be able to get a flight back to Tonga until Monday, September 17.  We decided to head out to Fawn Harbour, a distance of 25 miles to the southeast, where Kolio would hopefully get a chance to see a Fijian village and the sevusevu ceremony.

Fawn Harbour offers a choice of anchorages and we chose to spend the night just inside the reef behind a small island, where we had stayed last year.  Paul and Kolio immediately jumped in the dinghy to visit the village and do sevusevu (the custom of offering a gift to the chief of a village).

The route to the village was not that evident and the path they took brought them through a mangrove swamp.  Paul called it scary!  Once at the village, they offered a gift of kava to the son of the chief as the chief was not well.  The son performed a small ceremony and welcomed Paul to the village and told him that he could fish in the waters and walk in the area.
On the way back from the village, Kolio and Paul put their fishing rods in the water.  They didn’t have any success until they went out to the reef.  An excited Kolio and Paul returned to Bella Via with a giant trevally and a small trevally.  Yeah Kolio!

We had an uncomfortable night in the anchorage that we chose because there was a strong current that held the boat crossways to the wind.  We rocked and rolled.  Early in the morning we decided to move further into the harbour and anchor in an anchorage described in our guide book as a cyclone shelter.  We joined two other boats already at anchor.  It was indeed a very sheltered spot and we spent two comfortable nights there with Paul and Kolio continuing to fish with success each day.

September 16, 2012

It was time to return to Savusavu.  The wind was very favourable for the ride back and we travelled with jib and mainsail at 8-9 knots.  It was a wonderful ride.

When we neared the point near Savusavu where we would turn and head down towards the creek and the marina, we were captured on film by our friends Liliane and Michael on ‘Meikyo’.  They were at anchor beside the reef.

On Monday morning, September 17, we said a fond goodbye to Kolio as he headed back to Tonga.  Thanks Kolio, this was a very special time for us.

Additional Tongan language lessons learned while Kolio was aboard...

  • The meaning of Vava’u – Va Va means ‘doing things in happiness’.  U (pronounced oo) – means ‘time to do it’.  Therefore, Vava’u means ‘time to do things in happiness’!
  • The meaning of Lape Island – La means ‘sail’ and Pe means ‘everyday’.  Therefore, Lape Island means ‘sail everyday”.  Appropriate!

Our favourite quote from Kolio is “This trip is making history in my life”.

September 18 – 30, 2012

Paul took SCUBA diving lessons the winter of 2004 just to help him get over his fear of going any deeper in the water than a metre or so.  The course was a success in that Paul has become a very comfortable free diver (without SCUBA equipment) to a depth of 10 metres.  However, up until this year, he had only used SCUBA equipment once since completing his course in 2004 and even then he didn’t really enjoy it.  That is, until Liliane and Michael came along with their spare equipment and a compressor on board for refilling dive tanks.  They first got him in the water with SCUBA when they were inspecting the moorings at Lape Island back in July.  Subsequently they took him for a couple of shallow water dives at his favourite snorkel sites near Lape Island.  Paul found, for the first time, he actually enjoyed the experience and was very grateful to Michael and Liliane for helping him get over his fear of diving with tanks.  Though not officially instructors, they are extremely experienced and helped Paul enjoy SCUBA. When we parted with Liliane and Michael they made it clear that if we connected in Fiji, there would be more opportunities for Paul to SCUBA with them.

Sure enough, when we arrived in Savusavu, Lillian and Michael were planning some time at Namena Island, one of the top dive locations in Fiji.  On Tuesday, September 18, we travelled 24 miles and entered the reef at north Save-a-tack Passage.  There we stayed for 13 consecutive days while Paul, Michael and Liliane dove almost every day, sometimes twice a day.  Paul logged a total of 8 hours of bottom time at an average depth of 15 metres during which time he experienced some amazing sites.  Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Enjoying the colours and diversity of plant, coral and animal life that was richer than he has ever seen before.  Hard to believe considering all of the places he has snorkelled.
  • Finding himself in the middle of a school of 100 barracuda.
  • Finding himself in the middle of a school of 300 silver trevally.
  • Having a curious turtle swim up to him until they were literally nose to nose, then turn as they swam alongside one another only centimetres apart.
Paul is very grateful to Liliane and Michael for sharing their equipment and their expertise.

Our dinghy is loaded to the max with three sets of dive equipment and barely enough room left for Liliane and Michael.  Paul was using Michael’s spare SCUBA equipment.  Most readers would be familiar with normal SCUBA equipment, a tank of compressed air mounted on the divers back fed to the diver by a single hose and a mouth piece.  As the diver breathes, air is consumed from the tank and when the diver exhales, the bubbles exit the mouth piece and rise to the surface.  A tank full of air would last about 45 minutes during a 15 metre dive.
Michael looks like an astronaut all geared up with his rebreather.  In the case of a rebreather, there are two tanks, a small tank of air and a larger one of pure oxygen.  A hose feeds air from the air tank to the diver’s mouth piece, similar to SCUBA tanks, however, exhaled air does not leave the system and bubble to the surface.  It passes through a filter system called a ‘scrubber’ where the carbon dioxide is removed.  Occasionally, small amounts of pure oxygen are added, by computer, to the air tank to keep a normal air mixture.  With this system a diver has sufficient oxygen to stay underwater, at considerably much deeper depths, in excess of three hours.

We stayed at Namena island for almost two weeks.  The lagoon at Namena island is quite big but unfortunately the island is small and the southeast wind wrapped around the southern end of the island to the anchorage.  At high tide, the seas became quite choppy and we bobbled a lot.  We found the movement to be worse on Meikyo, being a monohull, and we were careful not to spend an evening over there during high tide.

We played cards and dominoes, we watched movies, we shared dinners, and we talked and laughed a lot; usually getting together every other evening.

On one of our last evenings together, Liliane pulled out her guitar and we had a singsong.  She is quite talented and we spent an enjoyable evening.

It’s September 30, and it’s time for us to move on.  Liliane and Michael will be continuing south to the island of Viti Levu and we will be making our way back to Vanua Levu.

We had a special get-together before we parted – our grandson, Miles Christopher Major was born on September 27 at 0118h.

Here we are enjoying a special champagne breakfast with Liliane and Michael to welcome Miles Christopher Major to this world. 


    Journal 2011