Monday, July 27, 2015

So Many Choices, So Little Time in Tonga

We visited a number of islands in the Ha'api Group in Tonga
There are so many lovely anchorages and beaches to enjoy. Many are on uninhabited Tonga islands. Our next anchorage was just off a sand bar that connects two small islets south of Uoleva. It is a beautiful beach that encircles both islands. The reef on the eastern shore gives it protection.

The islet names are Uanukuhahaki and Uonukuhihifo.  I really don't know how the native people know how to distinguish some islands from others as they have similar sounding difficult names. I am sure I would end up in the wrong place!

This volcano is active. You can see smoke on some days.
We did share one Sundowner Beach fire with the local herd of cattle. They are the only ones living on Uanukuhahaki. The cows were quite vocal about our trespassing. Fortunately, the bull did not appear. He has been known to chase yachties into the water. 

A day sail to the west took us into a protected anchorage between Ha'afeva West and Ha'afeva East. Ha'afeva is a large island with much to explore. We had several good night of sleep here. Our trip ashore led to a trek across the island to the village where we met the local people. We visited the nursery school and their general store. The kindergarten children sang for us. They were shy at first, after a little while they started interacting.

A view inside the only store on the island.

As for the store, there wasn't much to buy. No bread or fresh fruit, just canned goods and eggs. We did note that the trash can in front of the store was filled with empty beer cans. Actually, the door was locked, so I put my camera through s little opening in the screen covering the window to get this photo.

We also learned that there were six or more churches for a village of two hundred! The Catholic Church only has one family attending. The missionaries certainly made their mark here. 

Kids are kids - everywhere!
This is the only road on the island. We only saw a
couple of trucks and a bike. Everyone walks everywhere.

The nicest house and yard seems to be the Pastor's.

This fiber was drying in several grassy areas.
When other sailors returned to their boat after a village visit the next day, they told us we could get some fresh things from Peter on shore. So Dennis set off hunting and gathering.

He returned with a whole stalk of bananas, papaya, breadfruit and oranges. We gave others some bananas, but we are going to eat them quickly before arriving in Fiji, where they will confiscate fresh fruits and vegetables and certain meats.

The pigs roam freely everywhere.
This is the windward side of the island. We are anchored
on the opposite shore for protection from the swells.

Skippperette searching for shells.
The Tongans are known for their hearty and heart-felt singing so we were heading over to Uiha (pronounced wee a) for a Sunday service. On shore, we saw the raised burial grounds in several areas. When you live at sea level, burial is usually above ground.

When inquiring about time of service, we got several different answers. We later learn why. There are four churches for the village of about 200 people. The churches had no signs telling the name of the church or time of services. We were looking for the Methodist Church, but ended up in the Free Church of Tonga! But we didn't know that until after the service. When you can't understand the language, it doesn't matter which church it is!

So we picked one that we thought was 9 AM but it wasn't! So we waited and waited. We should have walked further to another one. Since we had spoken with some of the clergy, it didn't seem like we should abandon this one. 

The service finally got under way.  Of course, we couldn't understand a word of it, but they were very welcoming. There we five women, seven men (including two clergy) and eleven children - and very well dressed and behaved. The rest of the congregation was in Vava'u for a conference.

Although they were small in numbers, their voices raised the roof! After the service, the women asked us what they could give us! Of course the answer was nothing. We felt like we should give to them so we gave a donation to the church.

The little children came to the church an hour early and sat relatively quietly until the adults arrived. They usually have Sunday School before the service. However, this Sunday, their teacher was acting as the Pastor so there was no Sunday School. They were all dressed in their Sunday finest and were very well behaved.

Following the service, we walked through part of the village with the women and children as they made their ways home. We were able to ask them about the island and share a little information about sailing around the world. In general, this community appeared to be more developed than many we have seen.

A typical yard and home here.
It looked like this island had been decimated by a cyclone and/ or tsunami. The buildings near the ocean had been flattened and were being rebuilt. I am not sure the new structures can withstand a hit, but they are raised and nice and clean. They even have indoor plumbing which the old ones do not.

One could not miss the massive burial mounds throughout the village. It was a lovely village to visit. We didn't stay long as we need to return to Custom and Immigration to clear out of Tonga. You must have official clearance paperwork or you cannot clear into another country.

Sundowners on Trillium before we leave the Pacific
Circuit Rally fleet to head to Fiji on our own.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Minerva Reef: an Oasis in the Middle of Nowhere!

Our British friends, Susie and Paul on S/Y Firefly
On May 2, we departed Opua, NZ in the Bay of Islands for Ha'apai Tonga via Minerva Reef. Another rough North- South trip! I am beginning to hate them. I did learn about a drug called Pahia Bomb that works really well for sea sickness. Unfortunately, I didn't take it early enough so the first few days were hard. After I recovered and had a break at Minerva Reef, I was able to take the Pahia Bomb as it only works is you take it before you get seasick. It is my new drug of choice - so far! 

The fleet at the Masquerade Ball on Minerva Reef!

Minerva Reef was a nice respite two-thirds of the way to Tonga from Opua, NZ. It is a little atoll in the middle of nowhere! Past Pacific Circuit Rally cruisers have been able to walk on dry land at low tide. Not this year.
Snorkeling at Minerva Reef.
In the middle of the ocean! Wild!

Actually, the surf was so strong outside that we were never able to make it onto the reef itself, but we did snorkel and the ICA Rally held a Masquerade Ball in our dinghies! Unfortunately, I forgot about it so we had no costumes, so we went as seasick sailors. No masks needed for that look!

We are now members of the most exclusive yacht club in the world: The Minerva Reef Yacht Club. Like the Nuie Yacht Club, you must sail in from somewhere and sail off to somewhere to be a member!

Once in Tonga, we experienced the real South Pacific. The Ha'apai group is full of islands with white sand beaches and palm trees. It is much different from the Vava'u group where we were last year.

One of several potluck BBQ's with the fleet.
Most of the islands in Vava'u rise straight up from the sea with few beaches. Ha'apai is a quiet paradise ! I love the big white sand beaches for walking and shell seeking. This is the South Pacific I expected everywhere!

Traveling with the Island Cruising Association's Pacific Circuit Rally, we had many beach events and meals together. Lyn and John actively participate in the fun and they sing and play the guitar as well. Great fun in the evenings - almost like being at summer camp!
The anchorage from the Ha'api Beach Resort.

We cleared into Lifuka Island at the Ha'apai Beach Resort where Matt and Jody had arranged to bring the officials to each boat. That made checking in easier. After several evenings of Sundowners and a BBQ there, we moved south to Uovela Island to spread the wealth to two other establishments. 
Rob and Jenny treated us to a lovely dinner at the Serenity Beach Resort. Since it is off season, we were the only dinner guests. We met Patty, the owner, who used to live in SE Michigan. She said she wanted to meet the boat listed from Grosse Pointe Farms. And I said, "That would be us!" From then on, we were treated as old friends!  She also served the whole Rally the next night for our big arrival party!

Patty is a very interesting woman. She has sailed most of oceans and has had more than a lifetime of experiences. Her dream was to create a secluded resort where clients would enjoy yoga, massages, beach walks, snorkeling, whale watching and beach bonfires. This is it!

The guys found the trip north exciting. I had other thoughts!
She had the main building pre-made in Bali. There are no windows or doors - totally open on all sides with a wonderful ocean breeze.

It is a wonderful space complete with candles and oil lanterns for light. She does not use electric lights as the generator is only used to keep the refrigerator cold. Solar lamps and candles are everywhere. It is a lovely get away place.

Jenny and Rob heading off for a real vacation in Tonga!
And the best time to go would be July through October when the Antartica whales come to breed and give birth. They swim here ever year for the season. After breeding,they return to Antartica for the twelve month gestation period.
Then they swim back to the Ha'apai area to deliver the babies. After several months, the young are strong enough to swim back to Antartica where they stay for several years until they are ready to mate. I wish we were going to be here to see the whale invasion.

This view never gets old!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

On the Third Day, She Arose and Ascended into the Cockpit

After five months of marina living and land cruising, we are on our way back to the tropical islands of the South Pacific. Can't wait! It is getting chilly in New Zealand as their winter is setting in. 

We have said goodbye to our friends and helpers from the Whangaporoa Rotary Club and the Wentworth College class, both groups collecting items for Vanuatu Cyclone Pam victims. It was a wonderful experience working will them. Now our boat is overloaded and we will live with it all until we get to Vanuatu!

Rob, our neighbor in Gulf Harbour, is sailing with us, which makes me very happy in case I get seasick. It is helpful to have another crew. His wife, Jenny, will be joining us in Tonga. We had to rearrange the goods for Vanuatu to make room for Rob to sleep during the passage. Jenny was kind enough to endure the settee when she joined us.

Dennis and Rob in their Tropical Woolies gear
We had a week of Rally activities in Opua with the Island Cruising Association's Pacific Circuit Rally. They take a group of boats north each May to cruising the South Pacific Islands until time to return to New Zealand in late October. This is a fun group with lots of joking and singing, plus different activities at each stop.

We decided to head to the fuel dock early one morning before it became crowded. When I turned the key to start the engine, nothing happened! It wouldn't start again. After the episode in Port Fitzroy, we had the mechanic check the starter. He said it should work fine and showed Dennis a work-around should it happen again. Well, no more messing with this. It was time to install a new starter!

Meals were prepared. Routes were determined. We were just waiting for the word as to when we would start the rally. After route and weather briefings, we were given the signal that we did the final check of the boat. All systems GO!

The sea was absolutely flat! First sunrise on passage.
Or so we thought! I was sending a last minute email test to the Rally Control boat when I could not get a Satellite phone connection. Panic! We are to communicate our position each day via email through the SAT phone as well as receive fleet position reports and weather updates. There is always a last minute issue and this was it for this passage!

After some trouble shooting (thank goodness for all those years of teaching Root Cause Analysis), it worked. I discovered that the program kept tripping to DEFAULT. Now I have a work-around. I guess one of the blessings of having owned my own business was that I had to solve a lot of technical issues - usually in the wee hours of the night when facing a deadline!

Rob & Dennis enjoying yellow fin tuna - raw! Yuck!
So we missed the official Start! Who cares! We are on our way. We are in the Pacific Circuit Rally this time. Yes, we could make this trip on our own now, but why when we can travel with others and have some fun! This rally isn't timed and there are no prizes for the first ones over the non-existent line.

Another beautiful evening sky.
The weather pattern is favorable for a smooth trip. There have been days of high winds with gust 35-50 knots for the past month. It was somewhat like our Michigan late fall weather - without snow flurries. Unfortunately, our first day has been motor sailing since the wind is well under ten knots most of the time. We need at least 12-15 to move well under sail. As a result, we are going the long way: starting out east to catch a beam reach later in the course. For you landlubbers, that means having the wind coming perpendicular to the side if the boat and sail.

The first night was beautiful with a full moon and flat seas. Good for watch-keeping and sleeping. And the first sunrise on the ocean was spectacular! The ocean was flat calm for a full day. Since we were motor sailing, our goal was to get as far east as we could because as we sail further north the wind will clock from northeast to east. The goal is to get below the Minerva reefs and come up on them instead of beating into the wind at the end.

North Minerva Reef in the Pacific Ocean
It wasn't long before we found the wind -  and the swells. This is where my trouble began! Mal de mare raised its ugly head - and lowered mine into the porcelain throne! I have decided I don't like sailing the north-south routes as the are often very lumpy. This time I was down for three days, but I came up to do my watches.

Tonga Ahoy! That is one of the active volcanoes.
In order to enter North Minerva Reef in good light, we hove to for a few hours just southeast of  South Minerva so we could approach North Minerva in the morning. The entrance is quite tricky. It is very narrow and has reefs on both sides of the entrance,  plus the current flowing out of the lagoon is quite strong - 4-5 knots against you at times. And it is not a straight shot in! But to say you have been to Minerva Reef in the middle of the Pacific Ocean puts you in less than 1% of those who sail the oceans! That makes it real special!

Arriving at Ha'apai Beach Resort for check in
It was a good thing that Rob had joined as crew. He and Jenny own the yacht next to use in Gulf Harbour Marina. Since Kiwi boat owners much pass a Category 1 inspection and proficiency evaluation before they can take their boats offshore, Rob had to complete an offshore passage as part of the qualifying. Jenny will fly Upton Tonga and join us for the fun stuff! Land Ho will not be heard soon enough for me!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Farewell Gulf Harbour! And New Zealand ...

The great people who helped us collect goods for Vanuatu.
It is time to say goodbye to our new friends in Whangaparoa and Gulf Harbour as we slip out of the marina to sail north. Since we did a direct overnight trip down from Opua last fall so we could fly to see the family for the holidays, we did not stop anywhere along the coast or the many islands off New Zealand's mainland. The boat is filled to the ceiling with goods for Vanuatu and provisions for the next few weeks.

We are stuffed to the ceiling!
We did have to delay our departure for several days due to 40 knot winds and rough seas. It is a sure sign that winter is coming in from the south. We planned to stop at Great Barrier Island about 40 km northeast of Auckland on our way to the Bay of Islands. Again, the wind was light so we sailed a little and then motor sailed to get anchored before dark. This is one of the local favorite weekend destinations.

A view from Port Fitzroy wharf.
Trillium in the foreground with Circe
We found a lovely calm anchorage in Overlook Bay off Kiakoura Island. Captain Grill Master did his thing and we had a fine dinner in the cockpit. It was so incredibly quiet there. We played a card game of Hand and Foot which we do regularly before tucking in for the night. 

What a great feeling to be lulled by the gentle rock instead of being tied to the dock. The stars were so bright since there were no city lights anywhere near. I love nights where the sky looks like black velvet strewn with diamonds!

And the only store has the essentials!
One road and a few places to see.
In the morning, we weighed anchor and moved around the island and through a channel to Port Fitzroy. What a nice surprise to friend our World ARC friends from Germany on S/Y Circe anchored there! We tucked in behind a small islet which protected us from the wind and tide and settled in for a nice day and night. 

After a little excursion to see the town and walk in the woods we had Sundowners actually, a lot of red wine on S/Y Circe that evening. S/Y Circe is a Hallberg-Rassy 48 and was one of the five Hallbergs in our Rally year.

While enjoying our wine in the saloon, we saw another boat buzz us very closely! In fact, it seemed too close for comfort. When we looked out, we discovered that it was another German WARC boat just having fun with us! So we had our own little WARC flotilla anchored in the harbor.

Much to our frustration, we woke to a miserable day of rain and wind so all of us stayed put on our own boats. It was a batten down the hatches sort of day. Since there was no Internet available, it was time to start a new book! Sometimes it is good to have a day where you can just veg!

Since we had a reservation at the Opua Marina, we needed to move on the following morning. Dennis was on the bow ready to weigh anchor when I announced that the engine wouldnt start! It didnt give any signs of life! Nothing! Oh, great! Here we are in the middle of nowhere, our friends are pulling out and we are stuck! After some serious trouble shooting, he got it started and we headed out of the islands toward the mainland.

Hole in the Rock where tour boats pass through!
Our destination was Tutukaka harbor for the night. It was an all-day sail with a little motor assist at the end to get through the channel before dark. Once the anchor was down, we settled in for a short night, knowing we needed to get out on high tide early in the morning. The anchorage was crowded as a number boats were also on their way north to the Bay of Islands. 

Cape Brett lighthouse
The second long day of sailing took us around Cape Brett. Actually this time we were brave enough to cut between the mainland and Hole in the Rock island so it saved at least an hour. 
Since we had never sailed in this area of hundreds of small islands and reefs, we followed several boats. It could have been the blind leading the blind, but it worked out just fine. We followed another Hallberg-Rassy as we assumed that their draft would be similar to ours. If they ran into trouble, we would see it before finding it ourselves!

Paradise Bay: And it is!
S/Y Alba led us to a beautiful anchorage where we stayed for two nights, calling the marina to postpone our arrival. I could have spent a week in Paradise Bay, which is one of the most popular anchorages in the Bay of Islands. We went ashore to explore Unupukapuka Island and walk the beach. Shell collecting was bountiful.

I spotted a familiar boat in the anchorage. It was the catamaran, Field Trip! We had sailed with them in the Atlantic Cup back in 2012. The children had grown so much! We had Sundowners on Field Trip and caught up on the events since we were last together. It is so much fun to cross wakes with people you have met in other times and places out on the ocean.

We did a huge provisioning with Paul and Susie on S/Y Firefly, totally filling a van with stuff! I think we spent $2000 between us. Food and everything is expensive in New Zealand! We took advantage of a holiday to do our shopping in Kerikeri about 40 km inland. The weather was awful! Torrential rain all day! Unfortunately, I had left two portholes open while we provisioned. Upon return, my heart sank when I discovered the crew cabin, including the mattresses and all of our chart books, were flooded. Since Rob was going to sleep on the top bunk and the lower one was crammed with goods for Vanuatu, we had to move quickly to get everything dried! What a mess! How stupid of me to forget that I opened the portholes the day before to air out the cabin. So for three days we climbed around drying mattresses and bags of clothing. 

It is time to say goodbye to New Zealand at least for this year and head to the marina for departure preparations. We will be sailing with the Island Cruising Association Pacific Circuit Rally during the cruising season. Several of our World ARC New Zealand boats will be heading off to Australia so we have to endure more goodbyes. I hate it when we go our separate ways. One has to hope our wakes will cross again, but as we all move closer to the end of our cruising adventures, we will have to meet on land somewhere in the world. 

We enjoyed a dinner across the bay in Russell. And I arranged to have a World ARC New Zealand dinner again at 35 Degrees, the same restaurant where we had our initial dinner upon arrival in New Zealand. Unbelievably, everyone made it! Two boat crews arrived by car since they were not in Opua. What a great group of sailing friends! Tough goodbyes!

At the final weather briefing, we were told we would be leaving on time on May 2. The winds should be light the first two days and then pick up when we reach the trade winds. The plan is to stop at Minerva Reef, which is a submerged reef in the middle of nowhere. You want to know where it is so you dont hit it! Only one percent of people who sail the oceans stop at Minerva Reef so this is a special opportunity.