Sunday, October 28, 2012

Calm O'ua Island

We left the rough and tumble of Ha'afeva and calmly and slowly sailed about 10 miles to O'ua island on Saturday. It was good to be away from the constant rocking and rolling of the boat. We had good directions into this "lagoon-like" spot behind O'ua island. The light was good enough to see the reefs and we weaved our way through reefs, bommies and shallows to a very sheltered anchorage. It was as flat as a lake – and we were grateful.

Our friends aboard "Superted V"* invited us to go ashore with them for a walk followed by burger night aboard their boat. We were also joined by the folks from "Victory." The two dinghies were met at the dock by about eight children – all eating raw fish. There were these small fish on the dock that they were nibbling on with great delight – as if they were a favorite candy or potato chip. They had terrific smiles and were all very helpful tying up our dinghies. We weaved our way up a path and then didn't know which way to turn until we were told to climb a short fence (with stumps to help you step over) and walk through what looked like yards. The fences are all up to keep the many, many pigs in their owners' areas. After one fence there was another with a woman telling us to come through her yard. It was all quite funny with the six "palangi" (foreigners) walking through these Tongan people's yards. It had rained a lot the day before so it was quite a muddy trek. That, along with the many mango trees that were dropping fruit, it was a squishy walk.

We found the "main road" - which was the only muddy road - and walked up and down it. Jean was in search of bananas, onions and eggs and we were told there were a few stores. Very few people on this island speak English – so it was quite difficult to communicate. But lots of arm movements, smiles and laughs, we would be pointed in various directions. The most fun was watching Jean imitate a chicken and then a chicken laying an egg to make the point about getting some eggs. The stores are little pantry-like rooms with shelves. They have a small window with wiring over it so you don't go in and look – you ask for things and are given them through the window. Jean got some oil at the first shop. We were then directed to a house with banana trees for the bananas and without getting the price the woman just chopped a big bunch of bananas from the tree It ended up being $15 pa'angas for the large stalk – so the three couples split the bananas and got a good deal for $5 pa'anag each (about 3.90 US) Then came all the other stuff – they brought us cucumbers, a huge bag of yellow bananas, and a papaya for the cost of the bananas. Then Jean did her chicken imitation again and bought six eggs. They were $10 pa'anga but Jean ended up trading some fishing supplies instead. On our way out of town loaded down with good fresh stuff, Michael stopped at another shop. The 20 year old woman there spoke quite good English. Her name was Rachel and we bought some flour from her. On the way back to the dock we were gifted with several coconuts as well. A young boy climbed up a very tall coconut palm to fetch them. He was quite a climber and did it in no time. Our little parade of six white people and at this point about a dozen children made it to the dock. We handed out pencils to all the kids who seemed grateful and told us what they were called in Tongan "penru"(our phonetic spelling).

We had a fun evening aboard Superted V with burgers and sausages and a tasty apple crisp, coleslaw and all the fixings. And we came back aboard and had the first really good night sleep in several nights. It was flat calm and comfortable.

On Sunday morning (today), we decided to go to one of the local churches and that turned into yet another great adventure. Rachel at the store invited us to her church where she said they had the best singing on the island. It was to start at 8:30. So Jean from Superted V joined us as we dinghied in. Being Sunday, the docks were all empty as were the streets. We found our way to the "blue and white" church around 8:20 – and there was absolutely nobody there and no activity. Then Rachel came over to tell us the bells rang ealier announcing that it wouldn't start until 9 am. She invited us into the church and we were joined by about six children all dressed in their Sunday clothes. All very traditional with their woven mat over-skirts – both boys and girls.

Well, 9 am came and went and the children and us are in the church talking – as best we could. Many of the children speak a bit of English – they counted to 100 for us; they told us their names each saying "My name is...." We told them our names. Then very suddenly all the children ran to the front three pews of the church and sat very quietly. We realized a very stern looking woman was approaching the church. This was their Sunday school instructor. Now it was well passed 9 and we were still in the church listening to a lesson in Tonga. At one point we heard the word "palangi" and all the children turned and looked at us. The woman was quite a task master and had a long stick that she would poke or swat the kids with if they weren't paying attention. Ouch. We decided to sneak out and take a walk. After about 15 minutes we heard the children singing - so we headed back inside. Then the bell rang again – this time it rang non-stop for about two minutes. Nobody sleeps through Sunday morning on this island. People started to finally arrive and some of them started singing. It was lovely. The service actually began about 10 am. The service had lots of singing which was very nice. There were about 13 people in the "choir" and they sang quite loudly filling the small church. They harmonized quite well with tenors, sopranos, bass and altos all having their parts. The sermon itself was quite long and it was not a happy sermon – no humor – more hell, fire and brimstone like from a very passionate minister. By about 11 am the service was over . At the end, one of the ministers invited us to join them for a meal. These are people without a lot and they are very generous to share what they have. We saw that the day before with all the fruit and vegetables we were given. We thanked them but passed on their offer as we had not come prepared with gifts to give them in return or anything to contribute to the meal. There are four churches on this small island – how they support them all is amazing with such a small population. We think we did pick the one with the longest service – as we saw the other churches let out much sooner. And we heard from some other folks who attended a different church that they seemed to have a "happier" sermon...though they too couldn't understand a word of it. Listening to Tongan spoken though is quite lovely.

It was a great experience and something that was a very local event – not done for the "palangi" but something they do weekly. Everyone is dressed up in very nice clothes (heels, make-up, traditional mat skirts and long dresses on the women). Everyone was very friendly to us and seemed grateful that we took the time to share in their spiritual service.

*Superted by the way is an old British cartoon character much like Superman or Mighty Mouse – only this one was a teddy bear!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ha'afeva Fury

We should have left with our friends two days ago...but we supported the local economy by having some laundry washed here and that delayed us from departing with them. They managed to hide away in a lagoon like anchorage nestled between three islands where there was no roll from the seas. We had every intention of following in their wake the next morning – but the weather wasn't very good. We felt we needed good visibility to sneak into this spot because of all the reefs and it was raining, grey and windy. So we waited with the hope it would clear by noon or 1300 (1 pm). It didn't – the weather deteriorated as the day progressed. In hindsight, we should have escaped first thing in the morning. Our buddies offered to help us get into the lagoon. But we hate putting people out on our behalf so we stayed here. We are the only boat here.

The day was filled with lots and lots of torrential rain, changing wind speeds and directions and we watched as the barometer plummeted from 1007.6 to 1002.4 in less than three hours. That's fast – and it showed. The skies were very dark and the winds were steady 20-25 all afternoon shifting from the normal east to north then to the northwest.

Then it hit! We watched the barometer drop quickly and a microburst , the front or something hit us right when the barometer was at its lowest point. The wind built very quickly and Michael saw 40 plus and our anemometer registered a maximum of 56 knots of wind. The boat heeled way over, Michael started the engine and we watched and hoped the anchor would hold. We now had a lee shore with a reef behind us. .so holding was now even more critical with less room to drag. We also lost our anchor floats (the floats we tie to the anchor chain to float the chain off the corals). We watched them float away. Don't know yet if the line or the hook broke. They were still tied together and we watched them get to the shore!

Now all is calm. The wind passed. The rain stopped. The barometer is 1010.1 now. It has settled and our favorite roll is back. We will leave this morning for the calm and quiet anchorage where our friends have had some good nights rest! All is well on the good ship Astarte – she did good as did our anchor set. It gives us confidence in the gear.

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Family Portraits on Ha'afeva

The island is lovely. The water is clear and in varying shades of blue. The anchorage is very rolly. And the people on shore are quite friendly. Especially an enterprising young woman named Polo. Polo, aged 22, lives on the island and has befriended cruisers. She speaks quite good English and meets cruisers at the wharf dock when they dinghy ashore. She offers to take them into the village for a tour; get them mangoes (now in season and everywhere), papayas or bananas; and, do laundry. We took her up on the laundry offer and she charges "whatever you think it is worth." She said she has a machine and then line dries it. Because the power on the island only runs from 6 pm until 1 am – she does the laundry at night then hangs it out in the morning. We dropped off a bag at 4 pm (Polo met us at the dock to take it) and we got it returned the following afternoon. She gave us a tour of the island along with our friends Matt and Jean from Superted V.

On the island tour, Michael took some photos of some of the locals weaving traditional mats and some small children. When he came back to the boat, he printed them up and when we brought our laundry in, he gave them to Polo to give to the families. She was sorry she didn't get a photo with her dad – so we told her that when we picked up our laundry, we'd take a photo and print it for her. When we got the laundry, we walked back to the village and to Polo and her families' farm and home. Michael took several photos of her, her mom, dad and brother. It made us realize how we take for granted having pictures of our family and friends – and in some places it is a rare commodity and much treasured. After the family photo session, we got some mangoes, Tongan onions (which Polo pulled right out of the ground!) and a lemon right off the tree. The onions are like green onions/chives. We tried some tonight and they don't have a very strong onion flavor.

The islanders farm a wide variety of foods. The traditional taro is most abundant – but they also grow tapioca, tomatoes, green beans, onions and yams. The fruit trees are plentiful with bananas, mangoes and papaya and some citrus. There are also lots and lots of pigs on the island. On our walk yesterday they were rooting along the side of the road and running from one side to the other. Lots of pigs in yards and little piglets running around. We were told that it costs $100 pa'anga for a piglet – so they are a valuable commodity. Cows are also on the island and of course, the flying foxes. We see these critters leave the trees around sunset each night – and they must be fat and happy right now with all those ripe mangoes to nibble (perhaps our bananas on board are safe!)

Polo was a lovely young woman and a pleasure to get to know. She has a great sense of humor and jokes with the cruisers. She trades fresh fruit for things she needs or would like. Her mom asked if I had any perfume on board that she could have. I had given Polo some hand lotions, soaps, and shampoos – and sent along a small perfume to her mom. We do like to support the local islands that we have the pleasure to visit. After all, they are allowing us on to their home islands...but we do prefer buying things from them or using a service they provide rather than just giving handouts. We think they prefer that as well. However, we do enjoy giving a gift to someone who has been nice to us or has gone out of their way to be helpful.

We did enjoy a nice snorkel yesterday after our walk around the island. It was a little rough with big waves and a surge – but the underwater life was quite remarkable. The coral was not as fabulous as on Uoleva – but there were so many new and colorful fish and critters. Barbara saw a moray grab a fish and Michael discovered several new varieties he hadn't seen before. It was a "successful" snorkel.

The nights have not been too restful thanks to the constant roll. We will hopefully head out to another anchorage tomorrow. All the other boats left this spot today so we are sitting alone in this place – but we had to wait for our laundry. Hopefully the weather will be clear enough for a morning departure.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Sailing Tonga

Today, we had one of the many wonderful sails that we've enjoyed in the Tongan waters. We went about 22 miles from the island of Lifuka to Ha'afeva (sp?). We really have enjoyed our sailing time here – because if you plan it right, you can sail almost everywhere. We have had good winds and have plotted courses between islands (both in the Vava'u Group and here in the Ha'apai Group) to be able to sail. We've burned little fossil fuel and have really had enjoyable days sailing to new island destinations. Most of the time you are sailing in reef protected waters – assuring you of a little swell or wind chop, but no big, ugly seas. Every so often when you come up from 1000 feet to the shallower shelves of 200 feet, you 'll get some waves building up, but it isn't too bad. So this island group has been really wonderful for being a sailboat. If any of our sailing friends are looking for some good cruising ground to charter – consider Tonga!

We officially cleared out of the Kingdom of Tonga for our trip to NZ in the town of Pangai. We will wait for a good weather window to actually depart, but we cleared out so we could go explore the islands to the south and the west and not have to beat into the wind to return to the main port of entry. There is supposed to be a front passing through over the next few days and unfortunately there are very few islands in the Ha'apai group that have protection from the north or west. So we found one that will have some protection and sailed here. We weren't alone in that thought process – as when we arrived, the anchorage already had 12 boats settled in. We found a home after a few tries to avoid destroying any corals (or getting caught in them). We did buoy up our anchor chain to protect a few small bommies.

This area is supposed to have some very good snorkeling. When Michael dove to check the anchor, he said that one coral head slightly behind us was very nice – so we have our own private dive site!

Its very windy today and that made for a fast downwind sail, but though we were sailing at fish catching speed – we fished but didn't "catch." Tinned chicken for dinner!

It's nice to be in a new location – and hopefully it will be comfortable enough. There is a little, but steady roll – and the wind continues to blow harder than predicted. But the holding is good sand – the anchor is well set, so Astarte should have a safe night.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Getting the Boat Ready

And getting ourselves ready as well! The trip to New Zealand is one that you have to really prepare for because it is one of the tougher passages. That means really getting up to speed on weather. This means learning about whole new weather systems and the way things move in the southern hemisphere. It means learning all these new names of weather systems as well as oceans, seas and islands and getting a good sense of the geography of everything and how things move. There are lots of services that offer weather information and it seems to be the talk at every social gathering. One weather guru around these parts has mentioned "analysis paralysis" and you can see how that can happen. So much information to sort through – and the bottom line is that it is guess work especially when planning so far ahead. So the daily routine aboard Astarte includes listening to several radio nets – one exclusively for weather; downloading weather "grib" files for the next 24/48/72 hours (and perhaps longer); a long range large area weather synposis; the weekly weathergram from Bob McDavitt; and then looking at all this data and trying to make some sense of it! Add to that lots of talking about weather for the NZ trip with other cruising boats heading the same way.

Besides weather we are checking all the systems aboard Astarte. Recent projects included taking a good look at the steering system. We re-did the vibration control foam on the wind generator yesterday; we have unpacked and re-packed various lockers, the V-berth, the "walk-thru" and the lazarette, to organize better and to see what was where; and, we've done a food inventory and re-organization. We also unpacked from the "stuff bags" all our cold weather clothes. We found some fleeces, long sleeved shirts and sweatshirts for the passage and for the time in NZ where it will be considerably cooler. These all needed to be hung out to air after being in lockers.

New Zealand is quite strict about what you can and cannot bring into the country regarding food supplies. They do NOT allow any meat products, beans (or anything that can sprout), certain spices, dairy products, eggs or any egg products (no mayo); peanuts or peanut butter, honey ...and the list goes on. We are not quite certain if our tinned vegetables will be allowed as we pull all the labels off to keep bugs/mold and clutter down. They allow certain things if they are packaged in certain countries – but without labels – who knows. So the goal has been to go through as many of the supplies as possible. We haven't done any major food shopping (other than fresh stuff and a few items we go through quickly like boxed milk). There is now a new sport in the anchorages – trading food. What do you have that I don't and what can I trade you for it. We have done substantial swapping with our friends on "Chapter Two." I've gotten dried blueberries, they got some nuts; I got some bread flour for some peanut butter; mayo for Parmesan cheese...and the list goes on. We got an electric transformer in exchange for some dive weights, lentils and dried cranberries. We will also gift some items to some islanders because in NZ they toss the items and that is just a waste.

Because we are using up stores – the menus are also getting more interesting based on what's left in the lockers. We are still pretty well stocked – so we had a fun "brunch" yesterday for our friends from "Victory" and "Superted V" - it was a fun day starting with brunch and ending with dominoes and games.

Tonight, we've made a beef pot pie (five tins used !!!) and will have "Chapter Two" and "Superted V" over for dinner and they each will bring dishes to share as well.

So the agenda is getting ourselves and the boat ready for the passage to NZ and enjoying our last time in the Kingdom of Tonga. We have managed to get a snorkel in everyday and the coral and fish here are magnificent.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Shelling, Snorkeling, Socializing

And several boat projects...

It has been a very pleasant stop here in Uoleva. The long beach walk yielded several beautiful shells, a lovely long hike and meeting some of the locals (or at least ex-pat locals). The beach had pretty steady surf action the day we walked so getting ashore was an adventure. We decided to row in, thinking it would be easier to handle the waves without worrying about the outboard. Plus, we could carry the dinghy higher onto the beach to keep it put of the four foot tidal change here. It all worked without too much drama! We walked the length of the beach and collected a good assortment of shells, watched hermit crabs scatter and saw a mound of pumice rock towards the neck of the island. This must have washed up from one of the areas of active volcanoes at some point. It is very strange "rock," unusual to walk on and light as a feather.

On our way back, we stopped and chatted with Dave who runs a local catamaran sail trips, whale watching trips and snorkeling adventures. He pointed out some areas with the best snorkeling, gave some advice on getting through one reef and was interesting to chat with. It was just before sunset time, so the bugs were quite numerous.

The next day, we organized Astarte some more, got out some paper charts for the New Zealand area (we don't have electronic charts for that area), and baked a cake. We still had time for a nice snorkel to one of the reefs and it was magical! The reef is so incredibly healthy with a wide variety of corals both hard and soft in every imaginable color and texture. The light was hitting it perfectly and it was like a marvelous landscape painting. Add to that an amazing array of colorful fish of various shapes and sizes with stripes, dots and decorations. We saw many we had never seen before and some old favorites as well. The structure was a nice wall – not too deep with lots of swim-thrus and inlets. It was so good we went back the next day!

We also have some of our favorite cruising friends here – so enjoyed an evening of dinner, dominoes and dessert aboard "Victory" with our Dutch friends Monique and JanBart. JanBart had caught a HUGE sailfish and though he tried to release, ended up with the fish and we enjoyed some of that. He gave half of the fish to one of the village churches to share with the island families. We stayed up enjoying a lot of laughs and couldn't believe it was 1 am when we got back to the boat.

Tonight, another fish feast aboard "Superted V" with Jean and Matt. We are always asked to bring "pudding" (that would be dessert). Guess it's good to be known as the chocolate cake boat! Barbara made coconut macaroons and brownies. She made a chocolate cake yesterday for the dinner aboard "Victory." The good news, we won't worry about having too much alcohol aboard when we get to NZ!

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Uoleva Island

We are now anchored off of one of the longest white sandy beaches we have ever seen. Like many of the islands in the Ha'apai Group, it is a low palm studded piece of paradise. We left the village of Pangai this morning (Tuesday), and sailed a few hours to this island. We are sharing the long anchorage with two other sailboats. There are reefs crashing on both ends of this island giving the anchorage some good protection against the swell.

Monday morning we re-anchored closer to town for a shorter dinghy ride to do our clearing in and exploring. We spent much of yesterday walking around the town of Pangai and finally finding the immigration and customs office (not big on signage around here) and did our official clearing into this island group of the Kingdom of Tonga. It was a very simple and friendly process. We stopped into several of the small shops and picked up some bread and eggs. We found the "famous" Mariners' Cafe (it is the place that seems to be the information source for the Ha'apai group and offers internet (slow and expensive), beer, pizza, and burgers. We ended up meeting several other boats there last night for a very fun evening of socializing. Michael did have to dash back to the boat to do his duty as net controller for the Pacific Drifters net at 5:30 pm (local time)...then came back to the gathering. He is dedicated.

A bit about the Ha'apai Group: it covers 110square km of the central waters of the Kingdom of Tonga. Comprised of 62 islands of which 45 are uninhabited. It is one of the places that are just getting discovered and more explored by yachts and tourists. There are not a lot of tourist resorts, hotels or restaurants on the islands and the best way to get around is by private boat. We feel very lucky! The islands are much like the beautiful San Blas Islands of Panama or the South Pacific's Tuamotu group in French Polynesia. The islands are low with sandy beaches, palm trees and many surrounding reefs. Getting around is tricky and you do have to be watchful of all the reefs and corals. Not many of the anchorages have all weather protection, so you always need to have an "escape plan" if the weather changes.

Inhabited for more than 3000 years (based on some archeological finds), the islands also have some interesting historic moments. In 1777, Captain Cook escaped being cooked for a "traditional" feast. The infamous mutiny on the sailing ship "Bounty" occurred offshore in 1789 and Captain Bligh and 18 loyal seamen landed on one of the islands after being set adrift. They narrowly escaped as well (and one didn't). And it was in this island group that Tupou, the King was baptized and converted the Kingdom of Tonga into Christianity. There are many of the old kings buried in the islands.

The attraction of the islands though isn't the history but the natural beauty and undiscovered charm of the many islands. Underwater the snorkeling and diving is reputed to be some of the best around and the island walks and beach exploring looks fabulous. The traditional Tongan way of life remains here and many islands have limited exposure to the outside world. Tongan is spoken and very little English is heard. Electricity on the outer inhabited islands is usually limited to a few hours per day.

This looks to be a wonderful place to explore...and we almost hope that a weather window to NZ takes a while to get here!

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Sunday, October 14, 2012


That's where we now are anchored after our overnight passage last night from the Vava'u group. We are now in a new group of islands in the Kingdom of Tonga. But we have been negligent about writing – so first a recap of our last few days in the Vava'u group before we headed further south.

Nuku island was on the list of stops in the Vava'u group and it proved to be a lovely stop – so much so we stayed there for several days. It was one of those spots that had a bit of everything – a beautiful beach island on one side; in the center an open water view protected by a reef to keep the waves and swell down and off on the port side another sandy beached island with steep green covered cliffs. Lots of reefs to snorkel and an area for good tide-pooling. The water colors were every shade of blue in the spectrum. Very pretty.

We cleared out of Neiafu for this next Tongan group and then waited a few days for the weather to get a bit better. We waited for the wind to come out of the east a bit more rather than the southeasterly winds that we had been having. We were heading pretty much south so the less southerly the better.

We left late in the afternoon on Saturday. The trip was 65 miles south – and many folks attempt it in the daytime – but we thought it might be cutting it too close to enter a reef area late in the day after the good light is over. So we opted to do the passage overnight and arrive at first light and that way have all day to find a good spot to drop the anchor. We did have to slow the boat way down to not get here too early as the conditions were quite good for a quick sail. But sitting at an anchorage – you never know what the seas and conditions are "out there" - and we're glad we made that call. It's not a bad over nighter and we had a pleasant sail The seas were a bit choppy – but not the 3 meters (9 feet) that someone told us was out there! They were about a meter to a meter and half (3-5 feet). We had a reefed main and genoa flying and sailed the entire way once clear of the anchorage in Nuku, and upon getting to Lifuka Island and winding our way into the harbor here.

It is a lovely spot facing a sandy beach. We're anchored in about 25 feet – with what looks like a good sandy bottom. A few coral "bommies" are around. The water isn't as crustal clear as we've gotten used to – but this is just northeast of the main town. We need to go into town tomorrow (Monday) to do the official check-in at this island group.

This is a pretty remote group – no ATMs, no internet nor many restaurants or shops (our kind of place!) We'll probably stay here two nights than find a protected anchorage to do some boat projects (wind generator work, bottom cleaning and organizing) as we get the boat ready for the big trip to NZ. We hope to get some more good snorkeling in as well before we leave the Kingdom of Tonga. Now it's the waiting game – waiting and learning about NZ weather patterns. The next passage is one of the more challenging.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012


GPS Matamaka is the "Government Primary School" on the lovely island of Matamaka in the Vava'u group of the Kingdom of Tonga. It has 20 students spread out through grades one thru eight with two teachers. It is a lovely little school with two classrooms and a general room used as a library, meeting room and study hall. The teacher Mr. Mosese Ma'asi was very nice and shared a lot of information about the school, the education system in Tonga and the island. The students were off that day because the next day they would be taking their examinations. There were a few students in the classrooms playing or studying or just hanging out. They were even wearing their uniforms on their "day-off." The rooms were typical of a primary school – lots of posters and craft/art on the walls. The alphabet in both Tongan and English; various math lessons and lots of maps!

The school has a postcard project so if you'd like to send a postcard to the students, they would appreciate it. The address is:
Matamaka GPS
c/o Peace Corps
PO Box 136
Neiafu, Vava'u
Kingdom of Tonga
South Pacific

A Peace Corp volunteer had started the project and they have postcards from around the world and love getting them. The students learn both Tongan and English (in fact, in high school all their lessons are taught in English.) We brought some school supplies for them and they were very grateful. The school also has four moorings in the harbour that they let boats use for a $10 pa'anga (that's the Tongan monetary unit) a day. The money is used both to maintain the moorings and goes into a school fund. A very smart thing to do to get cruisers to come by the school (we all usually bring something) to meet the students. Boats with children aboard are invited to put their children in the school for the day (they are even given a uniform for the day).

After our night and day at Matamaka, we moved on back to the big town of Neiafu to get some fuel and send an e-mail to New Zealand (our pre-arrival customs form). We also needed to download our new documentation (thank you Carol!!!).

All is well aboard and we'll be in town just a day or two, clear out of the Vava'u group and wait for weather to head to the next group of islands in Tonga as we prep for the big passage to NZ.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Traditional Tongan Feast

Lape Island is one of the small inhabited islands in the Vava'u group of Tongan Islands. We have been moored off that island most of the week and on Saturday night, the island hosted a traditional Tongan feast. The village has 32 persons – 16 adults and 16 children, a small school, a church and homes. The people are exceptionally friendly, though reserved. They invite people to this feast at no cost – though they accept donations towards a new dock they are trying to build. 94 cruisers or yachties as they call us, showed up for the feast. It was the largest number they ever had. The roasted two pigs and had more that 20 various dishes to share. There were several chicken and vegetable dishes, many fish combinations, the roasted pigs, breadfruit, a taro leave stuffed with corned beef and cooked in coconut milk (delicious!) and a variety of the root vegetables like manioc, yams and what they call figs. Prior to sharing their meal they sang a lovely hymn and offered grace in Tongan. Coconuts were cut open to drink and it was all served on these hand made plates from the trunks of banana trees.

The cruisers were generous with their donations and the village seemed pleased. It was a very fun evening with tasty and interesting new food and good friends.

We also did another great snorkel in the afternoon – a place the locals call "Coral Wonder" and came recommended by a gentleman from Lape island. It was a nice spot and we saw a sea snake – very pretty but very toxic! We also saw a colony of anenome fish, a "crown of thorns" starfish, interesting varieties of butterfly fish and some funky puffers. It was a very pleasant and interesting adventure.

This morning, we moved from Lape Island to a new spot near Matamaka Island. There is a small school on this island and we'll hopefully get ashore tomorrow morning to go visit the school which welcomes boaters. In fact, they have four moorings in the bay that the school has placed here to encourage visitors. It is $10 pa'anga a day for the mooring and the proceeds go to the school. We understand that the kids can see the moorings from the classroom and get excited when boats pull onto one of their moorings. Because it is Sunday and no school, they'll have to notice us in the morning. We have school supplies we'll deliver to the school.

It is still a bit cloudy – but the rain has held off for our snorkeling and the Tongan feast .
We have had to pull out some of our warmer clothes though, as it seems to be getting cooler – especially in the evenings.

There have been several earthquakes over the last week off Tonga but we have not felt anything – but thanks to all who've written us concerned for our well-being. All is well – but it is a bit scary thinking of this giant Tongan Trench underwater!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Amazing Underwater Creatures

The rain stopped for a few hours yesterday and the sun actually came out and that was our signal to get into the water and explore a reef known as "the coral garden." It was a shallow, long reef area filled with a field of stag horn coral – the largest stand we've seen for a long time. There was also lots of other corals and an incredible variety of wonderful fish. As we've explored new islands and countries, we always see new varieties of fish. The water was a bit chilly but very clear.

For our marine scientists, the variety would keep you in the water for hours! They included many new types for us as well as some old favorites. Our finds for the day included pipefish, filefish, triggerfish, bannerfish and a giant trumpetfish. Buried in the midst of the stag horn coral , we saw several pipefish – we think they were Messmate Pipefish (Corythoichthys intestinalis) – which are kind of like stretched out sea horses. The other real find was a pair of the Longnose Filefish (Oxymonacanthus longirostris) that were incredibly colorful spotted little fish. Always in pairs were some Pennant Bannerfish (Heniochus chrysostomus) which are very shy; many variations from the butterfly fish family – so many that it's hard to keep track; Surgeonfish of various colors and designs including the colorfully Striped Surgeonfish (Acanthurus lineatus); curious, but protective damselfish; colorful clown/anemonefish – a darker variety with a bright white stripe that live in the anemones; wrasses of every color and color combination; interesting Sandperch and Lizardfish that stand on their fins on the sandy bottoms; and so many more. It was a wonderful water day and so glad we explored.

We wanted to go to the school on Lape Island to visit it – and bring some school supplies, but the school was closed for a meeting of teachers in Neiafu. Some things are the same everywhere! We remain on the mooring on Lape and may attend the local feast there on Saturday night. We haven't done the "Tongan feast" yet where they roast a pig in the ground in what is known as an umu. It will depend a bit on weather.

We are enjoying it here – it is nice to be away from town and enjoying the beauty of the Vava'u islands.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Rainy Tonga

It has been a wet, rainy few days here in Tonga. We moved out of the town to a small island called Lape Island. It is very pretty here – even in the gray weather. We went to the island yesterday to pay for the mooring and the islanders were very friendly. In fact, they gave our friends from Chapter Two some bananas (they wanted to buy some – but they were just given them!) There is a school on the island and we'll probably walk to it today if there is a break in the rain and bring up some school supplies. It is always interesting to see these small island schools and talk to the teachers.

We do enjoy listening to the morning radio network here – especially "the market report." This is not the stock market report – but the local vegetable, fruit and fish market report. The gentleman named "Primy" or "Primrose" gives a daily report telling the listeners about the lovely tomatoes, fresh lobsters or handicrafts. The network is filled with weather, advertisements about the local businesses, all the island feasts, and non-profit announcements.

We had hoped to do some snorkeling in this area which is known as the coral gardens – but it is so gray we may put it off for a day. It just seems like it's going to be rainy for the next several days – so we'll just hang out and get some boat projects completed. We need to go through all our boat provisions to determine what we need to use up before arriving in New Zealand. NZ prohibits certain items from being brought into the country – things like all meat (frozen, canned or fresh), all dairy products and eggs (including mayonnaise), all nuts, beans, fruit and many other items. So the banned items are the high priority to eat at this point. The menus will get more and more interesting as we start to get through the stores.

Last night, we did have a lovely mahi dinner (still eating that giant fish we caught between Suwarrow and Niue) with Mike and Karen from "Chapter Two." It seems we can't stop socializing – though today may be a day of "rest" a few boat projects and a walk to the island. We need to get some laundry done – but there is no place to dry them with the consistent rain.

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Monday, October 1, 2012

The Race to the Party

"Regatta Vava'u" is over and it was a big finish! We left this blog off at the Wednesday let's backtrack to Thursday. It was a rainy – in fact pouring wet day. The "Treasures of the Bilge" swap meet took place early in the morning and Michael headed in to find treasures and to try to sell a part we've carried around for more than three years. We came out ahead by selling and managing not to buy! Then we went on to the VEPA presentation (Vava'u Environmental Protection Association) which included making a recycled pop bottle planter and seeing a presentation on coral. After that, it was off to learn more about facilities and cruising in New Zealand at the "Sausage Sizzle" aboard the barge "Marnis." They provided sausages from New Zealand (quite yummy) and a few brews and lots of great information.

That evening was the "Whangarei City Challenge Race" - and we decided not to sail Astarte around the short course but rather crew on a very fast catamaran named "Citrus Tart" (you'll see a photo of the bright yellow catamaran on the photo page). Steve and Michelle are Australians and quite fun. They built the boat themselves and it is FAST! And very yellow (thus the name!) We had a great time because we finished first in the catamaran class. Yippee!!! We celebrated with a bottle of champagne aboard before heading to the prize event.

Friday was the BIG race from Neiafu to the finish line at Tapana . . . or better known as Anchorage #11. We entered this race and there were three classes: catamarans, monohull boats under 40 feet and monohulls above 40 feet. We were in the above 40 foot class with the toughest competition.

But we held our own – coming in to the finish line ahead of some and behind a lot of others. There were about 22 boats in the entire race and it was fun and Astarte looked great and performed quite well . . but it was exhausting with only the two of us. The wind was perfect and the course forced you to sail at every point of sail – ending in a lot of tacks down to the finish line.

There was the big prize party at the end of the race and we won a prize for the "Most Spirited" boat during regatta. We had "dressed" the boat daily with a different message in signal flags and participated in many of the events. So we were given a very nice book by Jimmy Cornell, "World Voyage Planner." We also won a bunch of fun prizes like beers, bread, ice, a T-shirt and DVD.

The final party, called the "Full Moon Party" took place on Friday night and themed "Fire and Water." We decided we wouldn't dress up (costume) for this event. The evening started with some pre-party wine aboard "Chapter Two," followed by the party. Music, lights, dancing, performances all made for a fun evening on the beach. This is a big event for locals as well as the yachties so it was packed. Late into the night, they did a beach performance with fire, dancers and then lit a giant "burning man." Very cool.

It was a fun, well organized regatta and we enjoyed participating. We got to know many of the boaters much better and will enjoy spending more time with many in New Zealand.

Because we couldn't end the fun, on Saturday night, we enjoyed a potluck feast aboard "Super Ted V" with Matt and Jean. The crews of "Cuttyhunk," "Barraca," "Victory" and "Gato Go," were all there and we feasted, laughed, and enjoyed a musical festival with Tom from "Barraca" on guitar and musical lyrics on three computers in the cockpit. Oh times have changed!

We again stayed out well past midnight (two nights in a row). That was probably not such a good idea as some big squalls came in at 0400 (4 am) that included a wind reversal. That meant that many boats were suddenly stern to the shore with big winds blowing. We got close to some local moored fishing boats and had to bring in some anchor rode – but we held well. In the morning though, we decided to leave at first light and find a better anchorage for the new direction of wind. The anchorages we tried though were all packed so we headed back into town. As did a lot of other boats!

The good news is, we can post some pictures and check some e-mails. The bad news - we are back in town. We'll leave again tomorrow for an outer anchorage as it is again a very rainy, squally day today.

Regatta is over – now time to find the quiet place and snorkel and relax while we wait for the weather window to start our way further down the Tongan chain and prepare for the trip to New Zealand!

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