Land and passage notes – Nuku’alofa to Vava’u Tonga

A week has passed in Nuku’alofa, the capital of the island of Tongatapu, in Tonga. This is a Kingdom and his Majesty’s palace lies at the waters edge on the northern shore of Tongatapu, where the main port is situated and our boat anchors at times. The palace has rusty red roofs and white surrounds, wooden balcony’s and lattice work, as do most of the official buildings here. Red domes on top of buildings also feature, reminiscent to architecture in Moscow or the Middle East. The other buildings, houses and shops, range from wooden storm beaten shacks with palm leaf roofs to simple concrete cubes of one or two stories. The grave yards stand out with their elaborate and kitsch decorations: multi coloured plastic flowers, tinsel, curtains (which frame the graves like children’s stage sets and are always open), shells, quilted fabrics and blown up photographs of the loved deceased- their faces framed by soft and diffused light with descriptions of their life in calligraphic letters. Mrs something a rather was born on this day at sunrise and died on this day at sunset.

Mr Felefonu, who we had called on the telephono, prior to arrival (and of whom we had made a great song up about at sea), had greeted us as the most friendly customs agent and we cleared into Tonga swiftly and with no dramas. Here we spend a week catching up on sleep and making repairs to Darth Vader. There are only a couple of anchorages on this island and the land is very low lying with shallow and reefed waters so not a safe place to be if the wind decides to roar. Many ship wreaks lie around, some exposed and some at jarring angles reaching in desperation up to the sky, and highlight this fact. We hope to be ready to leave here soon. The bearded rabbit left on Saturday and we had a farewell dinner for him at ‘Big Mamas’, a simple South Pacific sailors haunt, based on an atoll just off the mainland. Big Mama was present having her feet massaged as she lounged languidly on a bench. Very friendly, or cunning, dogs and cats roamed the sandy floor between the plastic furniture waiting for scraps to drop. This a place where at the days end the strip lighting fizzes, the water laps at the walls and there is a quiet sadness in the air. Big mama told us of the horrors of the Cyclone in March which devastated her place and a lot of other buildings on the mainland. She said the worst thing about the storm, the scariest thing, was not the wind or the waves but the sound…we think we know what she means.

One day of passage notes below written by varying parties at the time of happening:

Day 1:

The Owl: “Tuesday morning, and good a day it is, beginning with a T ! We are ready to depart for Vava’u, the island group in Northern Tonga. I am up and waking up the cat, who is never awake at this hour unless needed. She is up and stretching away with sleep in her eyes. I am a little wary of the cat in the mornings, sometimes her temper makes her claws protrude. Well anyway must get on, one day and one nights of sailing it is and we should be at our destination, just a shortish hop away”

The Cat: “Too early to be up goodness but we must hit the watery road and I am very happy to be leaving. Nuku’alofa was great and the people the kindest and beamiest smilers I think we have ever met but not the best place for a sailing boat or for adventures- although that is what you make of that I think, or something like that. A beautiful morning with wispy disappearing clouds and a pale pinkish sky. Last night on sunset the sun was a blood red disc and you could stare straight at it, perhaps it has left a stain behind that has faintly dyed morning. The Owl has the motor started and I am making him coffee and me a cup of tea, we always drink different drinks which is vaguely annoying. Off we motor following the long, crudely marked, shipping channel and hoist our sails and out to sea again we go. The land is so low lying here the only thing we can now see behind us is a giant white cruise ship, like a bath tub, which has tied to the main port dock, but no land remains”

The Owl: “Whale, Whale, Whale ! Many whales at the edge of the reef as we depart Tongatapu. They are mothers and calves of the Humpback variety and broach onto their backs and spray spouts of water high into the air. Humpbacks are quite shy, but very friendly. I had a conversation once with one but she seemed to only want to discuss philosophical questions, very deep questions, and matters of a seemingly illogical nature and I was not quite up to joining in with her conversational repertoire. The winds look to stay between 10-15knots just aft of the beam so I am looking forward to this sail ahead.”

The Cat: “A beautiful day of sailing with fair winds and skies. We play music on deck at dusk and I am relieved that we are gifted with this gentle passage and both of our sprits are high. We sing loudly at the lonely sea. This is my first time on the ocean, sailing overnight, with just one other so I am a little nervous but there is no time like the present to learn I suppose… if that is what you wish for. A Volcano of a disappearing and reappearing nature appears on the horizon in the shape of a pyramid . My goodness that is not on the chart ! I must let the Owl know”

The Owl: “I am down below in the galley, A place I don’t normally frequent as it is too low for my gigantic head (The cat thinks this is some terrible excuse), stirring the evening pot of shepherds pie. The pie is on the hob in the pot because the blasted oven has decided to give up on life. I must stand here, at a heeled angle, with the pot and myself tied onto the oven stirring this thing for about an hour or so. The cat has asked about an island which appears not to be on the chart. There are islands out here, volcanoes which sometimes explode out of the sea and then disappear again. No one knows when they are to appear or reappear. I visited this country about 13 years ago and there is an island here that was not here before…frankly amazing! I do picture our boat suddenly rising up out of the sea on top of one but quickly erase that image in case it causes some anxiety- won’t mention it to the cat”

The Cat: “The early hours of the morning and I am at the helm while the Owl is in bed. We have decided to do two hours on two hours off which doesn’t seem to be working as neither of us are getting any sleep but luckily we should be there soon. The wind is a little shifty and I turn the autopilot, named chewy, on so I can leave the wheel to trim the sails then turn it off when I get back to the wheel. The autopilot makes an awful sound at the moment (just like Chewbacca) and uses a lot of electricity so I turn it off to try and let the owl sleep. The owl is quite tired I fear as he proclaimed that he saw aliens in his last watch, even wrote it into the log. There have been a few odd flashes in the mackerel scale sky but the brightness of the moon seems to hide most celestial activity tonight. 30 minutes left of my watch and I look forward to putting my head down again as my legs ache from standing. Must build a seat for the helm”

The Owl: “ Dawn comes quickly and there Vava’u is on the horizon. A beautiful gentle sail through the night but we are overcome with tiredness and it makes doing simple things, like getting in and out of ones clothes, hard. The tropical temperature however means we do not need to wear too many clothes and I do sometimes prefer none, although the cat with her English nature sometimes gets embarrassed by that. There is nothing better I say then sailing in the feathered buff. Whales are absolutely everywhere as we enter through ‘Richards Patches’, odd name, which encircle the Main Island of Vava’u. I smell fried eggs and buttered toast rising up from the hatch as the cat makes me breakfast. We navigate carefully through the many small islands which jut out of the sea with overhanging rock edges and lush bushed tops. A couple of large caves appear on the island on the right and I make a note that we must explore them soon.”

The Cat: “The Anchor is lowered right up in Neiafu harbour, the main township of Vava’u. The land is a lot higher here then Nuka’lofa, a lot lusher greenery and the bay extremely sheltered. Time for some sleep, although it is now mid morning and the sun is a lot hotter here then down south. The bank nearest to our anchorage is teaming with life- the sounds of squawking fruit bats, snuffling pigs, barking dogs, manic crowing cockerels and other churpy ‘earlygoodmorninghellohoware youwakeupnowyesyougetup’ birds. The Owl looks a little despondent and I am not sure he is even going to attempt sleeping yet.”

A good restful day was spent by the Owl and Cat and they went to visit some of the Owl’s old friends on the land. The Owl had lived in Vava’u for 6 months a while back and a few other animals he knew were still kicking around. While having a clean of the boat and a swim the Owl and Cat discovered an electrolysis issue and a massive amount of rust on the boat which they were jolly cross about. A problem to be solved tomorrow however and as evening came around and glow in the dark jelly fish turned on in the still waters and the stars came out they felt calm and slept a long long deep sleep, as deep as any whale around.

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