Thursday, October 16, 2008





Vava'u Tonga

We have been in the Vavau group of islands in Tonga now for over 2 weeks and it has been a mix of highlights and frustrations.
The group of islands is lovely and a major cruising ground for both cruisers and charter boats. It reminds us of the Gulf Islands with palm trees and warm water—both would be a nice addition to Canada!!!
We were able to repair the sail damage from our squall without a lot of issues but the ongoing alternator, charging issues have been more stressful. We did get a part in from NZ which has helped and a Canadian electrician on another boat has hopefully fixed the diodes in the alternator. If this works it will be a great relief as it has been stressful—there is very little available in parts and even competent electricians here.
As we have dealt with this we have had time to have some fun as well.
There was a fundraising auction at one of the cruiser bars soon after we arrived and between Marcie, Don, Ken and I we won the bid for a weekend at a hotel and a massage each. We had not been sure what we actually had won and were delighted to find for our $50 each couple we got 2 nights accommodation 2 breakfasts and a massage for each of us. We had adjoining rooms overlooking the harbor and spent many long minutes standing under a hot shower. After all of the stress over the sails and power issues it was a very welcome break and we had a lobster dinner one night which was great and fish and chips the next which were not. All in all it was fun although we all agreed that the beds on Cop Out were superior. We did invite another boat to come and luxuriate under our showers which was appreciated.
I needed a haircut, there is no proper hairdresser here but a local women cuts hair under her breadfruit tree as the pigs run around in the yard. Everyone thought it was pretty funny but no one but me volunteered—it was fine and it will grow again anyway!!
We went to the market complete with jerry cans, a 240V rechargeable drill we had inherited, reading glasses and watches which Anne had brought with her, lipsticks and perfumes which Ashley had brought and with the t shirts and ball caps we already had were able to trade for all kinds of wonderful stuff. We got lots of fruit and vegs, shells and woven baskets. Ken also got a lovely carved swordfish bill and a carved club. I think we are the best prepared traders of all and other cruisers are astonished at what we manage to have to trade with. It is such a lot of fun and the locals are delighted to get what we have.
Our next adventure was to go on a whale swimming trip. This area is one of the two in the world where one can swim with the humpback whales which come from Antarctic each year to have their young and breed for next season. Ten cruisers chartered a boat and took our chances. We did see whales fairly close but none hung around long enough for us to go in the water with. We were disappointed as many other cruisers had swum with them but the season is nearing it’s end.
Our next event was Marcie and Don leaving us. They had always intended leaving us here but it proved more difficult than we had imagined. The local planes to go to the main Tongan island are not able to be booked on the internet and the local travel agent who appears to be the only person able to get tickets was unable to get them some. Finally they took the other option which was the local ferry. This also was difficult as there is no actual timetable and no one knows until it arrives when it will get in and therefore when it will leave again. After several false alarms it arrived—appearing to list to one side as it came into the harbour. After offloading and reloading for several hours Marcie and Don boarded only to find there was only a narrow bench to sit on to make the supposed 20 hour trip. We had heard all kinds of horror stories about the one toilet getting blocked up and the locals getting sea sick so we left them with a food supply sitting on their bench. We heard that they got there in 39 hours—only one of the two engine functioned and the toilet did work and no one was sick. They were apparently serenaded by wonderful a cappella singing at sunset each day which they have chosen to remember –they were the only palangi’s (gringos) on board and they did see some of the islands and the loading and offloading at each. It turned out to be the last ferry run as it is so in need of repair that they need to somehow get it to Fiji to haul and repair---Marcie and Don have now flown to Fiji so I guess were not willing to got the extra distance!!!!
We were sad to see them go as we had enjoyed having them on board and we all got on so well and we will miss Marcie doing the dishes and Don controlling the various games we played with his mind!!!
We finally got ourselves in a position to sail out to another anchorage where the snorkeling was lovely and it was nice to get away from the main town.
The whale watching organization had felt bad that we had not got to swim with the whales so offered us another try. This time we were very lucky and did swim with a large male whale. We spotted him and jumped in the water—he was 20feet below us and we floated on top watching him and listening to him singing---they apparently are singing to attract a female but maybe they have all left to go to Antarctic!!! After about 10minutes he slowly rose right beside us and spouted—it was an amazing experience and we felt really lucky to have witnessed it. We then went back into the boat and followed him, jumped in again and swam over him until he came up another time this time we were right in front of him--- he seemed a little close for comfort but our guide new how close we could go so it was a truly awe inspiring. We were really pumped afterwards and it has been a cruising highlight!!!
Another “must do” which we did was to swim into Mariners cave. To do this you locate the underwater entrance, swim down 4 feet and then into the cave for 20 feet and then up into a cavern. I was very nervous about doing it but did hold onto Ken and we swam in together. It was very cool and I was so glad I had had the nerve to do it.
Afterwards we took the dingy into Swallows cave which is huge and as the name suggests has swallows flying around—it is quite lovely.
We have now come into check out from these islands and will attend a Tongan feast (and more Polynesian Dancing) at Ano Beach tomorrow night and visit one or two small anchorages on our way out and will head to the Hapaii group of islands on our way south to NZ.
We hope to be there in 3 to 4 weeks but will be sure to wait for a weather window as it can be a difficult passage