Two days from Niue to Vava’u — a group of some 60+ islands that comprise the northern part of The Kingdom of Tonga. Winds came up strong and the second half of the ride was uncomfortable, with occasional seas slamming under the bridge deck (beneath our feet, between the hulls) and against the side of the boat. We started out with our big spinnaker. At sunset we switched to the small one. Next day we switched to just the jib, trying to slow down so we wouldn’t arrive before daylight. During the second night the wind was blowing 30 knots, and even after rolling up half the jib we were still making six knots.
On arrival the wind was blowing right up the two mile long harbor, with waves slapping against the concrete customs dock. We knew we were expected to come alongside, so the authorities could board the boat — we did so with trepidation. But once we were there they understood that it was a dicey position for a boat our size, and they told us to go to a mooring, and then dinghy in for the formalities. Very nice.
Kjell is our BPO rep/helper here, and he offered us a mooring at the far (protected) end of the harbor. This turned out to be right in front of his house, and he has allowed us to connect to his Internet via the boat’s wifi antenna. We can just do it — the connection drops every few minutes, but for the most part it is better than our usual Internet connection.
As has happened before in some other new places, I experienced the Yet Another Paradise Blues. Another place where we have to figure out how to navigate through the formalities (with a little coaching from Kjell). Another place where we have to get local currency, find out where to buy food, where to do laundry, how to get around, what local customs we need to be aware of, etc. Of course this should all be part of the fun and adventure, but I have grown weary of it.
We’ve been on Kjell’s mooring for a week — longer than we had planned. One reason is that the weather has been unparadise-like. Two days were rainy, and the wind has mostly been blowing hard. The locals are complaining about how cold it is (it is the start of winter here). Also we’ve been making arrangements to have our newly made screecher sail shipped to us here, and also a new hydraulic pump for our autopilot.
About the autopilot… It keeps the boat on a set course. We rarely steer this boat by hand. But if there are waves the autopilot “wanders” off course, sometimes far enough one way to collapse our spinnaker, and then far enough the other way to collapse it again. While this has always been a problem, it seems to have gotten worse. Then a few days ago we went out for a daysail, and I watched the autopilot’s hydraulic pump and its linkage to the rudders. I could see that when there was a lot of force on the rudder (going fast in waves), the linkage would “slip” from time to time. This suggests that the valves in the pump are worn out. We had a mechanic come aboard and check out the steering, and he confirmed that the pump is almost certainly at fault, and he says it will get worse until eventually it is useless. So we’ve ordered a new pump from New Zealand. Hopefully Fed Ex will get it here before we are scheduled to leave!
During the week I have cheered up. We’ve had some delicious meals at inexpensive restaurants. We got our laundry done. We bought a cruising guide for the area. We’ve been shopping for fruit and vegetables at the open market. We’ve shopped for other food, although what is available is extremely limited. Two of our fellow BPOers have recently arrived, so we’ve seen some friends. We also had Kjell aboard to see our boat, and he came with his adorable and rambunctious two year old son. Bob played Grandpa for 45 minutes so the rest of us could have a conversation. The two of them hit it off, ran all over the boat and the dinghy, and tired each other out!
Today was my birthday, and it has been delightful. I was surprised this morning with a wrapped present from Bill’s two daughters — Bob had snuck it aboard when he joined us in Bora Bora! It came with a card that included a poem from Bob. And I got another card with a wonderful poem written by my son. Plus several birthday emails. All appreciated.
We planned to leave the harbor this morning to do some local cruising, but I slept late, then had to enjoy my presents, and then we went to do a little food shopping. Walking into town from the dinghy dock I noticed an array of shirts for sale, hanging from a tree. It took me a while to find the lady who was selling them, but I did, and I bought one that I think is very nice for the equivalent of $5. I think this set a tone for the day. A few minutes later at the market I bought a very nice woven basket, and I got a little necklace for Hallie. After buying lots of fruits and veggies, Bob went off to find a bakery with the idea of getting me a cake. I told him I’d rather have something akin to cinnamon buns, and to my surprise he returned with some, plus some made with coconut. And then we decided to have lunch…
By the time we returned to the boat it was late for going cruising. So instead we went ashore at Kjell’s end of the harbor for a long walk — the first exploring we’ve done outside of the town. But first Kjell’s wife came out with slices of fresh baked banana bread for us, and a birthday gift of homemade granola! Good granola is a rare and prized item on this boat — how did she know?!
We walked wherever the road took us, which turned out to be a beach with a view of one of the anchorages we hope to visit. The sun was getting low when we turned back, and we happily accepted an offer of a ride. We got out at a guest house we had passed on the way, where we said we’d stop for a beer on our way back. The woman we had spoken with was gone, and instead we met Ian and Keith, an Aussie and a Kiwi. Ian said it is rare to have an Aussie and a Kiwi in the same room without an argument, but the two of them are long time friends, and long time residents in Tonga.
Ian owns the guest house, but also produces vanilla and coconut oil. He is a believer in “zero waste,” and he uses the leftover coconut pressings to feed pigs and chickens, he cures pork/bacon with coconut husk smoke, he recovers methane from the pig poop, and I can’t remember the other half dozen processes that complete a full no waste cycle. He was quite talkative about the pros and cons of moving to Tonga. In his view you measure your happiness/satisfaction on two scales. One is things you can buy, like good wine. In Tonga you don’t fare well on this scale. But the other is quality of life — nice weather, low cost of living, no crime, no city congestion or foul air, no worries. Tonga scores high on the second scale. He likes the balance.
Keith ran a sport fishing operation in New Zealand when a friend told him that Tonga was an incredible place with warm water and zillions of game fish. He and his wife moved here 25 years ago, and brought up two children. He said friends questioned the wisdom of raising children here, but he thinks the Tongan schools were very good, and the kids have thrived. In addition to taking people out to catch big fish, he is licensed to take people out to swim with the whales. He says a few whales are here now, and many more will be here in two weeks. I’m considering doing this before we depart, as swimming with whales seems like something that ought to be on my bucket list.
Long, fun, delicious, entertaining day. Tomorrow we’ll go cruising…