Nuku’alofa and other fish tales

We are Nuku’alofa on the island of Tongatapu. I am at
an internet cafe. We are planning to leave for new
Zealand tomorrow afternoon. We sailed here yesterday
from Kelesia and I caught 4 fish including a very
large tuna (16-18 pounds) and a dorado (mahi-mahi) of
about the same size. We fed 8 people yesterday with
the fish and have about 12 adult size portions left.
The picture has me with the dorado. More later.


Nomuka Iki and Kelesia

Friday, 2 November 2007

Yesterday morning the rain stopped and we left Uoleva
heading for Ha’afeva Island in tandem with Risho Maru. The
conditions were perfect, with winds out of the northeast at
around 15 knots and the seas relatively calm behind the reefs
and small islands. As we neared Ha’afeva we decided to take
advantage of the conditions and continue on to Nomuka Iki in the
Nomuka group of the Western Ha-apai. We arrived at 5:15 to find
Yara already there. Yara left Uoleva for a different island,
Uiha, at the same time we left for Ha’afeva but they too decided
to continue on given the fine sailing weather. The anchorage
was a bit rolly but very beautiful and the water was crystal
clear. As the sun set, we could see the very large bats that
spend their days on Nomuka Iki fly overhead on their way to the
big island of Nomuka to eat whatever it is that they eat.

I hooked a fish on the way to Nomuka but lost him within 50
feet of the boat as I reeled him in. But I put the line back in
to try again. As we got closer to Nomuka, which is set away from
barrier reefs, the ocean swell finally made itself felt. It
seemed too rolly to deal with landing and gutting a fish, so
Laura decided to reel in the line without handling the rod —
she just left it in the rod holder. Laura never handled the
fishing gear before. When she had about half the line reeled in,
the reel suddenly made its whirring sound and began to unspool
quickly, and the rod bend back. Laura had hooked her first
fish. Unfortunately, this one took a leap out of the water when
it was 50 feet behind the boat and unhooked itself. That meant
chicken curry for supper rather than fish curry.

We got up at 6:30 this morning with the plan to sail to
Nuku’Alofa, the capitol of Tonga and our last stop before New
Zealand. It was windless and raining hard and after a quick
consultation with Risho Maru on the VHF, we all went back to
bed. By 9:30 the rain had stopped and a nice breeze had come
up. It was too late to sail all the way to Nuku’alofa, instead
we sailed to Kelesia Island, which brought us about 20 miles
closer to our destination. I hooked another fish soon after
leaving Nomuka Iki but this one did not get away. Laura is stir
frying the small tuna as I write this.

If the conditions are good tomorrow, we may finally make it
to Nuku’alofa. The forecast is for very light winds so we may
stay in Kelesia one more day. We need to get to Nuku’alofa no
later than Sunday since we may leave for New Zealand as early as
Monday evening. A weather window may be opening and if it does
we want to go through it. We need Monday to do the customs
check-out and provision. Sabbatical III is currently in
excellent condition and she and her crew are fit for the passage


Slowly sailing south

Slowly heading south through the Ha’apai Islands, Tonga
Wednesday evening, 31 October 2007

We are still anchored on the west side of Uoleva Island in the Eastern Ha’apai group. The weather has been abysmal. We arrived in light rain and strong winds, and the rain became torrential and the winds got even stronger. Yesterday it blew 30 knots even in the anchorage protected by the island and 90 foot coconut palms. Luckily the bottom of the anchorage is flat and all sand, and the anchor and 200 feet of chain (the chain alone weighs 300 pounds) was enough to keep the boat from dragging. You could feel Sabbatical III pulling hard and dancing around as gusts blew it from side to side.

We spent half the day yesterday on Yara along with Risho Maru. It was so cold to all of us that we consumed winter foods — hot lentil soup, coffee and cake, cups of tea with honey and rum, plus Laura’s meatballs. While the wind howled we played rummy.

The rain continued this morning but at 10 am it stopped so we joined Gesche, Herbert, and 4 year old Yannic from Yara for a walk on the island. There are only two permanent residents –Sonny and his wife Maria. They have a couple of thatched roof fales that are called the Captain Cook Resort. No electricity, phones, or running water. It is a backpackers resort with two guests. Apparently, Captain Cook anchored about where we are now during one of this expeditions of discovery. Sonny told us how to walk across the island to get to the windward side where we wanted to see if the 22 foot waves that were predicted were really there. Unfortunately, while we were blundering through the brush, Gesche had a run-in with some bees and we quickly retreated back to the beach. We returned to our boats as the rain returned and it is still raining lightly now, although the wind has diminished considerably. This afternoon, Laura and Alexandra performed an impromptu concert on Sabbatical III. Alexandra beautifully sang Steven Sondheim’s ‘No One is Alone’ from Babes in the Woods and ‘Mein Herr’ from Caberet to Laura’s accompaniment on her keyboard. Laura also performed the third movement of Bach’s Italian Concerto. We ended with three episodes of Seinfeld with Risho Maru, one of our favorite bad weather pastimes with them. Even 8 year old Finn has become a dedicated Seinfeld fan.

We hope to leave for Ha’afeva Island tomorrow. The idea is to day sail south from island to island for the next few days until we reach the big island of Tongatapu where the capitol city of Nuku’alofa is located. Tongatapu is the jumping off point for our passage to New Zealand. Risho Maru will join us while Yara stays another day in Uoleva.

Night sails are not safe in these waters. There are reefs and rocks everywhere but the charts are off and most navigational aids are broken or missing. The best charts are the British Admiralty Charts and they are marked ‘From a Survey of 1891.’ Even the fonts on the charts look like they date to Captain Cook. More importantly, the latitudes and longitudes are all off. When we anchored in Neiafu, my GPS position put me on the hill overlooking the harbor when plotted on the chart. An experienced Kiwi sailor we met in Samoa gave me lat and long offsets to add to the GPS coordinates in Vava’u and when I added them in, the chart took us off the hill and into the water. I thought that might be the fix, but in other islands it put our supposed location up on reefs and rocks. So this is purely eyeball navigation.

The plan was to put Laura up in our perch on the main mast spotting reefs and coral heads when we came into Uoleva last Monday. But with the strong winds and rough seas that was not prudent. We had to make due with approximating our position relative to waves breaking on reefs and the tip of the island all oriented to the 100 year old chart. There is supposed to be a flashing navigation light on the end of the big reef protecting the anchorage, but the light went out some years ago and was never replaced (according to Sonny). In other places we have been in Tonga, we have looked in vain for buoys that are marked in the charts but are no longer there. The buoy that marks the entrance to busy Nuku’alofa harbor went adrift in 1992 and has never been replaced.

It has been an unusually wet and windy spring in the waters between New Zealand and Tonga/Fiji. Sailors all talk about only one thing – the weather. Everyone is looking for a weather window to go to New Zealand. It is amazing to me how paranoid and over-anxious my fellow cruisers have become over this passage. It is the tropical cyclone season now and people are worried about one forming and hitting Tonga, even though tropical storms are quite rare this early in the season, but those that have departed for NZ in the past two weeks have had uncomfortable weather on the way. Many of them left all at once when one NZ meteorologist who sends out a free email weather blurb said ‘For those of you in TONGA, now’s the time to up anchor and head south.’ Then the weather guru on the German net seconded this view. The rush was on and many of our friends, such as Vera, Quest, and Nautilus, left. Two days later the weather gurus said the window was closed and everyone was advised to stay put. It is an eight day sail to New Zealand and there is no turning back.

Laura and I are trying not to get the herd mentality and will wait for a weather window large enough to get us all the way to NZ safely. To make sure we have the best information, I have engaged a very respected weather router in the US and another one in NZ to suggest when to go and what course to sail to avoid trouble. There seems to be a sequence of low pressure systems marching up from the Tasman Sea, and as long as that continues we will stay put and brush up on our rummy and concertos.


Safe arrivel in Ha’apai

October 29th – safe arrival in Ha’apai

At 10:00 a.m. today we arrived safely, if not entirely comfortably in “Uoleva” anchorage in the Ha’apai group of islands in Tonga . After spending 5 weeks among many of the 40 beautiful anchorages of the Vava’u group of Tonga we left anchorage #40 – “Ovalau” – at 6:00 p.m yesterday (in tandem with Rishu Maru), setting out for our 70 mile sail with a weather forecast of clear skies and light to moderate winds and seas. It was a gorgeaus sunset and as soon as we rounded the corner from our protected anchorage we found that there was quite a bit of wind – certainly enough for a fast sail that would get us to Ha’apai by early morning. Instead of winds of 10-15 which was forecast, we found the winds to be at least 20 knots, but from a great direction which allowed us to sail along comfortably, heading almost directly south right on our course. Our only problem was that we were moving along too fast (more than 8 knots) and would certainly arrive in Ha’apai in the middle of the night if we kept up that pace, so we started reefing our sails- something that is very easy and safe to do with our boat as you don’t have to leave the cockpit. The almost full moon rose – a really fantastic sight as there were some small clouds obscuring it when it first rose, but then they parted just like a curtain, and suddenly the orangy moon was lighting up the whole sky.

As the night progressed the wind picked up and we kept reefing sail until we had just the smallest amount of sail up and still we were charging along at too fast of a pace. We wanted to pull in the whole mainsail and just sail with the genoa and mizzen, but found that the outhaul on the mainsail was stuck so that we couldn’t pull in the whole sail. It was not a big problem though as just a small amount of sail was still up and we knew we could furl it up once we reached more protected waters. By 6:00 a.m. the winds had increased to 25-30 knots – way more than forecast, but we were only about 10 miles away from our anchorage. We had to sail almost due east to reach the anchorage and unfortunately the wind was hitting us right on the nose so we had to either motor in or tack. The wind and waves were too strong to motor at a decent speed, and we did not want to use up our precious fuel, so we tacked our way up into the wind until we were just 4 miles outside the anchorage. It was quite wet with small waves continuously breaking over the hull, and the wind barreling down at us at 30 knots. Very tiring. For the last hour we turned on the motor and proceeded directly into the big, sandy, protected anchorage. The strength of the wind could be felt right up until we were nearly on the beach, and then the island and the palm trees started blocking out most of the wind and it became quite comfortable.

Our friends on Rishu Maru do not have a strong engine at all and had to tack their way right up into the anchorage which took an additional 2 hours and they were soaking wet and exhausted when they arrived. None of us had any sleep last night (well, I had 2.5 hours), so we are all just resting up on our boats for the rest of the day. Weather forecast is for increasing wind and waves for the next day or two so we are glad to be in a sheltered and safe anchorage. The beach here looks gorgeaus, but I am not sure we will get to even walk on it until the weather clears up. Lots of books and movies on board though – plus plenty of food – so we are in good shape. It is still a long way to New Zealand and we are anxiously watching weather patterns looking for an opening to go.

Quick synopsis of our last week with Ben

Quick synopsis of our last week with Ben

Friday October 12th- Mark was not feeling too well so Ben and I went for an evening hike up in the hills. We found some beautiful tropically wooded areas but could not find any paths and the brush was too thick to walk through. Luckily for us we ran into Regine and Gerard, a fantastic French couple from the boat “Galdus” who were also out for a little hike. They are veteran walkers/hikers and before long Gerard had led us to a beautiful path up on a steep cliff overlooking the ocean. It was a great opportunity for Ben to take some pictures and for us both to practice our French.

Ben and Regine and Gerard from Galdus

Afterwards we joined a musical group that was playing together up by the site of the previous night’s pirate party. Lots of guitarists and singers and Ben impressed everyone with his drum playing on a borrowed gembe (jembe?).
Saturday October 13- we sailed with Risho Maru and Yara to anchorage 23,a gorgeaus anchorage which overlooks a sand spit – you can walk between islands on the pink sand at low tide. We all walked on the beach and then Ben, Mark and I snorkeled around one of the reefs. That night we were invited to Risho Maru for a jazz night in which Peter talked about jazz, and in particular about one of his favorite musicians, Joe Zavinol (sp?) who recently died. Then he played us a great selection of jazz going back about 40 years. Really fun and it was great to do it with Ben here.

Sunday October 14- A gorgeaus day. Our friends have windsurf boards and Peter spent a few hours with Ben teaching him how to do it. Ben realized it is a lot harder than it looks, but had a great time trying.

Monday October 15- Another beautiful day at anchorage 23. We spent a fair amount of time cleaning the hull. Mark and Ben took turns using the “Brownie” – an underwater breathing apparatus (electric hookah) that lets them go under the boat and clean off the incredibly thick growth that has accumulated there. We were invited over to “Vera” for a pasta dinner with Michel and Britta.

Tuesday October 16- Still at anchorage 23 – We finished cleaning the hull of the boat and then decided to take the dinghy over to the nearby island (anchorage #32) which is known for is good snorkeling. We found fantastic coral – greens,blues, yellows, pinks, purple, plus lots of interesting fish. The water was freezing cold in some spots and as hot as a bath in others. Risho Maru and Vera left earlier in the day for anchorage 11 and at about 5:00 p.m we pulled up anchor and sailed over to join them.

Wednesday October 17- Ben prepared to leave – packing, exchanging digital photos of the trip and giving us some new music to listen to. In the evening we dinghied over to the Spanish restaurant La Paella for a farewell dinner with our friends from Vera and Risho Maru. The only guests in the restaurant were the 8 of us at our table and one other table of 4. There is no road to this restaurant which is on Tapana Island- you have to get there by boat. We ate there two weeks ago and had a great time, but last night was even better. It is a simple, but beautiful restaurant overlooking the harbor. When you sit there with the cool breeze blowing through and the moon and stars shining through you don’t even care if the food is good. It is such a pleasant place to sit. Luckily, however, the food is also very good.

But the best part is the music afterwards. Eduardo and Maria, the husband and wife who run the place, are terrific musicians and he plays guitar and harmonica and primarily sings music from Spain, Cuba and Brazil (with some American Jazz thrown in) while she accompanies him on percussion. Last night she even did a flamenco dance. She was apparently quite a dancer in her youth. They encourage the guests to participate by playing various percussion instruments and Ben sat himself next to a great little drum and was so good at it that they invited him to stay and learn Spanish music with them if he wanted. The music was so fantastic that most of us got up and danced to the Spanish music they played after their live performance. Alex and Peter from Risho Maru are the best dancers I have seen since 30 years ago when I first saw Auntie Lillie and Uncle Benje dance. Very great place and a nice goodbye party for Ben.

La Paella

La Paella

La Paella

Thursday October 18- Despite the fact that up to last night at 10.00 P.M. we could not get the airlines here to tell us whether Ben was reconfirmed for his flight, or, in fact, what time the flight was supposed to depart, we got a taxi to the airport this afternoon and without too much of a wait, Ben was off to Fiji and hopefully by tomorrow will be in California. It is apparently quite normal here for people to find out at the last minute that their flight has either left earlier than scheduled, or several hours after the scheduled time.

We have to thank our friend Kelley Smith in Providence for contacting Air Fiji and getting us the info we needed for Ben’s return flight home. It was simply not possible to get any reliable info from here – so thanks a million Kelley!! We also were helped by Jason, a great guy at the Aquarium Cafe, who is one of the most pleasant peope you can imagine. Jason and his sister Lisa moved here from California last year and besides serving food at the Aquarium cafe they arrange tours, manage an internet cafe, and assist the sea of sailers here with practically anything you can imagine.

So now it is back to just Mark and me on the boat – and it will just be a few weeks before we set off for our last big sail of the year – Tonga to New Zealand. Quite a few sailers have already left and within the next few weeks this place will clear out completely as the season of tropical cyclones is fast approaching.


Tonga – unstable weather and reliable friends

We spent all day Tuesday on the boat in anchorage #11 as it was
cloudy and rainy all day long. Peter and Finn from Risho Maru
were not feeling well, so we didn’t even visit with them.
Miserable weather. By Wednesday it started to clear – at least
it did not rain much – so Ben and I had a swim around our boat
with Risho Maru. Now it was Mark’s turn to feel crappy, so he
just rested while Ben and I went over to Vera for an afternoon
coffee and cake, and then to some other boats in the anchorages
for quick hellos. The dreary weather was getting everyone down.
We have all been planning to move to another anchorage for a
“Pirates Party” with several other boats, but really needed to
have a bit of sunshine to do that. Finally on Thursday the
clouds cleared enough for us all to make a safe passage to
anchorage #30. It was only about an hour away (motoring), but
to get to the anchorage you have to pass through a number of
shallow reefs so it is important to have some visibility. I
stood up on the boom for a better view, while Ben sat in his
rope chair on the bow that he made, and Mark steered us around
the reefs. We followed close behind Risho Maru while French
friends on another boat, “Galdus” followed close behind.

Pirate's party

Some other friends have been here for a few days already and had
prepared a nice area up on a hill on the small island here for
the pirate’s party and barbecue. Several of the boats have young
kids and there were a few games planned for them, including a
treasure hunt. There were also some silly games for the adults.
Everyone dressed up as pirates (corny, but fun) and brought
good stuff to grill and there were also lots of fresh salads,
fruit and other good things to eat. It was a nice group – and
it was fun for us to have Ben with us for another party. He is
such a natural shmoozer and it is clear that all of friends have
become very fond of him – particularly Alex, Peter and Finn from
Risho Maru. The views from the party site were gorgeaus –
crashing waves on the high cliffs – and we spent the whole
afternoon and evening up there. When we went back to the beach
about 8:00 P.M. to go back to the boat we found that everyone’s
dinghy was there except ours. When we arrived at the party some
hours earlier we had tied it to our friend Vera’s dinghy – and
had not dropped an anchor in the sand as we usually do. In the
meantime Vera had had to go back to their own boat to get
something and had tied us up to someone else. Apparently that
other person had subsequently moved their dinghy and had either
not tied us up to anything or had not tied us up properly. It
was not a good feeling. If you lose your dinghy here you really
have no way to get to shore or to explore places – like losing
your car in a place without buses or taxis. We hiked back up to
the party to tell our friends that our dinghy was gone and
within minutes 3 other dinghies were all in the water helping us
find ours. Mark was with Peter and within just a few minutes
they found it washed up on the reef. Luckily nothing was damaged
and Mark drove it back to our boat and tied it up nice and
secure. Phew!

Today, Friday, we finally had the sun back. Hooray. It is really
beautiful here when the sun shines. We took our dinghy out to a
few areas to try snorkeling – and found crystal clear water –
but unfortunately the coral here is mostly either dead or it is
very new coral – and therefore there are not very many fish. It
was still great to be in the beautiful blue water with the sun
shining overhead. Now Ben and Mark are up on deck reading while
I am writing this. Tonight there is going to be another
barbecue – and all the musically inclined people here will be
singing and playing. Ben will be drumming on some borrowed drums.

Sunny Tonga with Son Ben

We have been having so much fun with Ben these past 5 days that
it has been impossible to write. The sun came out a few days
earlier than forecast and suddenly we were back in paradise.
Really amazing how Tonga went from feeling kind of dreary and
dull to vibrant and sunny and beautiful. We snorkeled with Ben
at our first anchorage ( #8) and had nice walks along the
beautiful beach there. Big fruit bats came out at sunset and
swooped over the mango trees. A boat came by selling fruit and
we were able to get a few papayas and limes to replenish our
store of food. Then we sailed over to anchorage #16, the Coral
Gardens. We only spent a day there but managed to fit in
several snorkels and two boat parties. Sora, a boat we have seen
many times over the past six months, has a young woman named
Cassie on it – as well as her two parents. Cassie spent a whole
year sailing with just her dad, and her mom joined them in
Tahiti just a few months ago. They invited us over for a party
on their boat along with some young people from other boats –
including a guy from the boat Caca Fuego (shitfire!) and Rick
and Courtney from Guava Jelly. In the middle of the party we
heard a call on the VHF from a neighboring boat, Tahaa, calling
for help as they thought that Irie, the boat next to them , was
dragging. Everyone on board Sora lept into their dinghies to
find the folks on Irie and to stop the boat if it was really
dragging. It turned out to be a false alarm – the boat was
secure, but had just drifted in a circle around its anchor as
the wind calmed down. It turned out to be a very nice evening
and Ben had a good time visiting with Cassie (who is very cute).
Later in the evening we sat on our deck with Ben and watched the
southern hemisphere stars in their full glory.

The next day Cassie joined us for a great snorkel on the
outside of the reef – the water was deep and very clear – with
amazing coral . Lots of fun.

Tongan feast

We then sailed over to another
anchorage – #11, which is the site of a Saturday night Tongan
Feast. We found our friends Quest at the same anchorage and
went to the feast together. It was great fun – with about 40
people there from other boats. A group of Tongan men were
seated on mats around a big bowl of kava and played and sang
Tongan music. Everyone who wanted to participate in the kava was
welcome to, so Ben, Mark and I all had a couple of cups (we are
still not sure what the effect of kava is supposed to be, but it
is fun trying it out). It rained hard for a while, but we were
dry under the thatched roof hut. Then the “formal
entertainment” started which consisted of Tongan dancing
performed by 10 Tongan schoolchildren. They were adorable and
energetic and it was great – Ben took some great photos. About
8:00 they served the feast which was a very traditional Tongan
meal – served on banana leaves and on various natural plates
such as coconut shells. Everything was eaten with your hands.
Tongan feast

There were several kinds of fish and lots of cassava, sweet
potato, cooked banana, and other starchy things. Ben wasn’t too
thrilled with the food, but Mark and I enjoyed it a lot. We had
a great time talking with Denise and Pierre from Quest.

Yesterday our friends from Risho Maru joined us in the
anchorage. It was a stunning day and Ben started wind-surfing
lessons from Peter. They started out with Ben practicing
standing on the board and getting pulled by a rope attached to
Peter’s dinghy – just like water-skiing, but on a wind-surfing
board. Ben took a few good falls and then got the hang of it and
was skiing all around the anchorage.

One of our heads stopped working and Mark decided it was time to
bite the bullet and put in the replacement macerator and pump.
Not the kind of job that one does unless absolutely necessary.
It ended up taking him the better part of the day – a real pain
in the you know what – but by 4:00 he had successfully installed
the new parts and the head (toilet) is now as good as new.
Hooray for Mark!

In the evening we went out to a restaurant on the beach here –
La Paella – which serves a fantastic paella dinner and also has
live Spanish music. We went with Denise and Pierre (who was
celebrating his 48th birthday) – and 3 bottles of wine – and had
a really fun evening. The food was great and plentiful, with a
beautiful cool breeze blowing through the thatched restaurant,
and a nice view out to the anchorage. The pet goat and dog kept
wandering around the restaurant – adding a great deal of raw
humour to the evening as the goat was a male and the dog a
female, and the goat was apparently quite a lusty guy. The goat
and the dog kept circling each other while the Spanish guitarist
(the owner) and his wife sang beautiful Spanish and Portuguese
songs. We had so much fun. We ended the night sitting on our
deck watching the stars again.

Today Mark had to do some work – “professor” work, not boat work
— so he stayed on the boat while Ben and I took a taxi into
town to do some grocery shopping and internet stuff. The taxi
driver was so great – we had to stop at so many stores to get
everything we needed – including the fresh fruit market, the
bank, the gas station, the curry man, a grocery store, the
bakery, the Aquarium cafe (where Ben was doing internet) and
best of all, ‘Pete the Meat” – the guy who collects trash 3 days
a week, and sells ‘high quality’ meat the other days. Taxis
here are very inexpensive and convenient and we were really glad
to stock up on supplies as we were running out of anything good
to eat and now we will be spending time at anchorages that don’t
have either stores or restaurants. The time is going by way
too quickly – there is so much more to see and do with Ben, but
he only has another 9 days with us. Maybe we can talk him into


First week in Tonga with Ben

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Ben on the beach at anchorage #8

It has been a week since we updated the blog. We blame it
on Ben, whose presence has distracted us a great deal. He
arrived on time last Thursday morning. More on that later.

The weather turned rainy and overcast the day before Ben
arrived and has stayed that way every day since, except for
yesterday. The evening before Ben arrived we had a table at the
Wednesday night buffet BBQ at the Dancing Rooster, a
Swiss-Tongan restaurant on the waterfront. We sat with all the
Austrians – Risho Maru, Nautilus (belonging to Ronnie, a
single-hander, who had a friend, Wolfgang, from Vienna
visiting), and Tahaa. Other tables had lots of our boat friends
from all over. The food and drink were good and plentiful. A
very strong squall blew through and it rained hard during the
meal but we were lucky to have one of the more sheltered tables
under the thatched roof of the outdoor dining area. After
dinner, Laura went to the attached karaoke bar to sing Nancy
Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking” to the delight of
me and Ronnie, who were the only ones in the karaoke area.

Getting home from dinner was difficult because the squall
played havoc with the dinghy dock. Our dinghy was far from
where we left it. We discovered that it had either been untied
or had come loose. It did not head out to sea only because it
had become entangled with the line of another dinghy. It was
also full of water. The squall had much more severe effects on
boats in the anchorages outside of Neiafu. At least one boat
went aground, and our South African friends on Robyn’s Nest told
us that they dragged into deep water with two anchors deployed
and had a very difficult time recovering the anchors and getting
the boat under control in 40-50 knots of wind and driving rain.
I worried a bit about Sabbatical III since we were tied to a
mooring of unknown provenance. We were not sure if the mooring
was a rental from a reputable owner, such as Aquarium, or a
derelict private mooring. We took it because it was the only
one that we could find in the harbor. The other moorings in the
harbor belong to the Moorings boat charter company and are not
for rent. But these have bright orange pick-ups, while ours did
not, so we did not think that likely. Boats that did take a
Mooring mooring were soon kicked off by a Mooring Company
launch. We joked to ourselves that someone would tell us to
immediately leave the mooring just as we were going to pick up
Ben from the airport.

Just as we were leaving to pick up Ben at the airport,
someone in a launch knocked on the hull and said that we were on
a mooring that belonged to the Moorings Company. I couldn’t
believe it. We had a taxi waiting on shore to take us to the
airport. I called the boss at Moorings Charter on the VHF
radio and he said it was not a problem if we stayed as they did
not need the mooring right away but asked me to stop by his
office and pay for it.

We booked Roadrunner Taxi to take us to the airport, wait for
the flight arrival, and then take us back to the dinghy dock at
the Aquarium Cafe. While waiting outside the very small airport
building, we struck up a conversation with an older couple who
were waiting to depart Vava’u, Tonga. They said that they had
been visiting their son who was on a sail boat in Fiji, and that
they were Mexican. We told them that we were friends with the
Mexican boat “Iataia” and that is indeed the boat of their son
Mark. We had anchored right next to Iataia first in Hiva Oa,
then in Nuku Hiva, and had last talked with them while doing the
check-out in Papeete.

Ben looked great and did not seem at all tired from his long
sequence of flights. As we dinghied back to the boat, we
stopped at a number of boats along the way to introduce Ben.
We had lunch at the Aquarium with Alex, Peter, and Finn of Risho
Maru, and with Regine and Girard from Galdus. The next day we
walked through town and bought fruit at the market. The poor
weather forced us to change plans and spend much more time in
Neiafu than we had hoped. It was not only rainy but cold with
night time temperatures in the high 60s which seemed frosty to
Laura and me. We spent a lot of time socializing inside of
boats because of the rain. We had Risho Maru and the American
boat Magmum (with Uwe, Anne, and 5 year old Kara) over for
sundowners. The next night we had a Seinfeld party with Risho
Maru. Another night, we had a great dinner on Risho Maru capped
with a couple of bowls of kava. On one afternoon when the rain
was only light, we joined with Risho Maru, Magnum, and Galdus
for a hike up to the peak overlooking Neiafu harbor. It was a
lot of fun and Ben got lots of attention from 5 year old Kara
and 7 year old Finn. Gerard and Regine from Galdus said that
they have never met Americans who spoke French as well as Laura
and Ben. Gerard and Regine, Bretons with a 39 foot Ovni
aluminum monohull, are doing their second circumnavigation.
Their first was 25 years ago.

Yesterday (Tuesday), we finally saw some sun. Ben and I
took the dinghy in to pay Moorings and look for eggs (there were
none since the farmer failed to deliver). By 10 am we were on
our way out of the harbor and picked up good winds of 20+ knots
out of the ESE. We sailed to Kapa Island and anchored near the
strait that separates Kapa from Nuku Island, otherwise known as
anchorage number 8. We found three boats here already – Chica
Bonita, Southern Cross, and Rasa Manis – all friends of ours.
With the emergence of the sun there was a mass exodus from the
sheltered confines of Neiafu harbor. Within a couple of hours
there were 14 boats at anchor off Kapa/Nuku Island, most of the
newcomers to the anchorage were also friends, including
Priscilla, Special Blend, Irie, Guava Jelly, Robyn’s Nest,
Asylum, Magnum, and Sisu. Our first snorkel in Tonga was along
the southern edge of Nuku Island where there were lots of fish
and fairly clear water (although nothing beats Suvarov for
clear). The water is significantly cooler than anything we have
experienced since the Galapagos, another sign that we were
getting into the high latitudes.

In the evening there was an ad hoc barbeque and potluck on
the beach of Kapa Island. Jim of Special Blend reprised his
starring role of cook established at Suvarov. Tom of Rasa Manis
sang the his old sailing song with the “G-d damn them all”
refrain that he sang in Suvarov, but this time in honor of Tom
and Susie of Priscilla, who were leaving for New Caledonia
today. They will spend the hurricane season in Australia,
rather than New Zealand like the rest of us, so none of us will
see them for awhile. After dinner, there was improvised music
from Christian (Irie) on mandolin, Tom (Rasa Manis) on harmonica
and vocals, Scott (Robyn’s Nest) and Jim (Asylum) on guitar, and
Ellen (Rasa Manis) on percussion.

The good weather lasted less than one day. Late last night
rain and squalls returned and the entire day today was overcast
with a mixture of drizzle and squalls. Robyn’s Nest decided to
delay their departure for Fiji, and instead invited Ben to join
them for a visit to Mariner’s Cave on Nuapapu Island. Ben
jumped into Robyn’s Nest as John expertly maneuvered her up to
our dinghy tied up behind Sabbatical III. Besides John (South
Africa), the Robyn’s Nest crew includes Chris (US), Scott (South
Africa), Lucy (France), and Dave (South Africa), John’s nephew.
The age range is 17 to 30 years. Ben wore Laura’s foul weather
coat over my full-body swim skin to keep warm. They had trouble
finding the entrance to the cave, which is underwater and has no
external markings. To get in, one has to dive about 2 meters
down and then go through a 4 meter tunnel that opens into a
chamber. Ben reports that the most interesting thing was
observing the effect of air pressure on the moisture holding
capacity of air. As a swell came up, the air in the chamber
would pressurize so much that he felt it in his ears, and the
air was clear. As the swell fell, the air pressure would fall
and there would immediately be thick fog that dramatically
limited vision. After Ben returned in the afternoon, we watched
a movie and then took advantage of a lull in the rain to walk on
the beach. The weather forecast is pretty bleak as a low
pressure weather system is just parked over Tonga and Fiji, but
we are hoping for the best.


Safe arrival in Neiafu, Tonga

Safe Arrival in Tonga

We arrived safely in Neiafu, Tonga, the capitol of the
Vava’u Group of islands, yesterday at 9 am local time, almost
exactly 48 hours after we left Apia, Samoa. We would have
posted this information earlier but after a nap, a visit to
immigration, and a couple of beers at the Aquarium Bar and
Restaurant, we were pretty much fit only to sleep. Our current
location is South 18 degrees, 39.96 minutes, West 173 degrees
58.92 minutes.

During our last day in Samoa, we did some final provisioning,
ate a nice meal at “Paddles”, and spent our remaining Tala at
the Aggie Grey souvenir shop. Check-out required a trip into the
immigration office in town. We took advantage of duty-free
alcohol privileges at stock up at the Le Well liquor store,
which immediately took us and our goods to customs (next door to
the marina). We received our clearance from customs, and then
paid our marina bill at the Port Authority office next door. We
did all this with our friends on the Austrian boat Risho Maru,
which was going to sail along with Sabbatical III to Vavau in
Tonga. We informed the Port Authority staff that both boats
would leave the marina at high tide that afternoon and anchor
out before leaving the next morning, and they agreed. Low tide
was at 0930 the next morning and we did not want to touch bottom
for a third time. All went well until the Port Captain called
both Sabbatical III and Risho Maru on the VHF after he spotted
us at anchor just before sunset. He harangued us at length for
leaving the marina and not putting to sea immediately. When we
informed him that we obtained prior permission from his staff in
the Port Authority office he barely relented, refraining the “I
am the boss” declaration of our first encounter with him. He
said that the strict rule is that once you leave the marina, you
must put to sea, even though one can only leave the marina at
high tide. This rule is a safety hazard to boats and both Peter
and Mark argued with the Port Captain at length about it.

The passage started slowly even though there was wind. Our
course took us up and around the barrier reef of Samoa. Our
changing course coupled with the changing wind direction kept us
busy making numerous changes in sails. The mizzen spinnaker
turned out to be very useful during these first hours. It
seemed to take forever to jibe through the Apolima Strait — at
one point we just turned on the engine to keep the number of
jibes down — until finally we caught some nice wind in the
mizzen spinnaker. A big squall soon followed and in its
aftermath the wind strenghtened and moved forward of the beam.
We just stuffed the wet spinnaker into the forward cabin to dry
as the boat heeled over in the wind and did 8 1/2 knots in a
moderate swell that occasionally came over the bow. We soon
caught and passed Risho Maru who had left Apia an hour before
us. As we passed very close to Risho Maru, Peter took photos of
Sabbatical III under full sail, and we did likewise. They even
crossed our stern so that we could get pictures from both sides
of the boats. We have not seen the photos them yet but Peter
says that some are great.

A couple of hours later, while Laura was deep in a nap, I
thought I saw a pull on the fishing rod. The rod is usually
bent over some just from the flow of the water at 8+ knots, but
this seemed a bit more of a bend. Sure enough it was a
beautiful, small yellow-fin tuna. I had to wake Laura to reduce
sail and grab my “fish processing” equipment while I landed the
fish. The fish was so tuckered out by being dragged by the boat
at high speed that it was easy to land him. The tuna weighed
about 6-8 pounds and provided about 3-4 pounds of delicious
white meat. It was too rolly down below for Laura to prepare
her wonderful stir fried tuna with Chinese noodles. Instead, she
just rubbed olive oil on the whole cleaned fish, wrapped it in
tin foil, and popped him in the oven. We ate the fish right out
of the aluminum foil while sitting in the cockpit, along with a
can of Pringles potato chips and ice cold water. A wonderful
boat meal.

We crossed the international dateline sometime during that
first night so September 23rd (Sunday) never really happenned.
We went right from Saturday to Monday the 24th. That meant
that we were the first people in the world to celebrate our son
Ben’s 24th birthday. We meant to call him on the sat phone but
the boat was bouncing along a bit too much for us to feel
comfortable handling the phone. On the second day of the
passage (call it Monday), the wind did not decrease as
forecast, and we continued to make over 8 knots with the wind
just forward of the beam. We could not longer communicate with
Risho Maru by VHF radio, so we reverted to a scheduled call on
an SSB channel. By mid-afternoon it was clear that we would
arrive at our waypoint in front of the channel to Neiafu in the
dark even if we slowed below 7 knots. We did not wish to enter
this longish and winding channel in the dark so we started to
reduce sail to slow the boat. It was rolly as the waves hit us
broadsides, with larger waves occasionally coming from every
direction. As I did my afternoon watch I saw one larger wave
sneaking up to the boat from behind. It smacked the stern and
turned into a small geyser of spray that directed inself into
the small gap we leave in the aft facing hatch. One second
later I could hear Laura squeal as the spray got her as she
slept in her berth. This is the first time that sea water has
found its way into this little opening since we left the
Caribbean. One got me too during my night watch. As I was
reclined in the cockpit in my I-pod reverie, I heard a slap
against the side of the boat and two seconds later a couple of
gallons of sea water gave me a drenching.

The wind continued strong into Tuesday night and we put the
main sail away altogether, and sailed with a small jib with a
reef and a reefed mizzen in order to slow the boat so that we
could make a dawn arrival. Turns out that was a mistake. A set
of squalls came through around 2 am and in their aftermath the
winds died back so much that we could barely make 4 knots even
with all sails. We wallowed around at this speed until Risho
Maru caught up with as a spectacular dawn began, and we were
still 10 miles from our waypoint. So we motored those last
miles. This sail south to Tonga from points north can be very
difficult with the predominately ESE tradewinds and southerly
swell. We were very lucky to have winds that were ENE becoming
NE and swells from the east. It was about as good a wind and
swell direction as one could expect this time of year.

The check-in at Neiafu has a bad reputation. Boats are directed
to tie up to a commercial dock used by container ships. It has
large black rubber protrusions that may do a good job fending
off the tall sides of a 200 foot container ship, but have done
damage to the stanchions, lifelines, and rigging of sail boats.
Our plan had been to check-in at Neiafu at the afternoon high
tide to minimize the risk of damage. But since we were tired,
it was early morning, and the wind was slight, we decided to do
the check-in as soon as we entered. We tied up to the
commercial dock at dead low tide and three beefy Tongans — one
in a grass skirt — clamored aboard. Each represented a
different agency: customs, health, agriculture/quarantine. The
immigration official had called sick or there would have been
four. Laura served cold fruit juice and chocolate cookies, they
asked a few questions, and we were done. Risho Maru tied up
right next to us and when they were done with their check-in, we
both found moorings towards the south end of the harbor so as to
be far from the “bar” area of the waterfront. A big squall blew
through just after we picked up moorings and we knew that if we
had still been at the commerical wharf at that time, we would
likely have sustained damage or at least a lot of aggravation.

After a short nap, we took the dinghy into town to do the
immigration check-in along with Risho Maru. As we dinghed
through the anchorage, we realized that that we knew dozens of
the boats there. Some we knew from the Panama, some from the
Galapagos, others from French Polynesia. Many of them had
arrived just that day from Nuie, the Cooks, American Samoa, and
“New Potatoes” since all were waiting on the same weather. It
was fun to swap stories with old friends while waiting in
immigration, and then at the Aquarium Restaurant afterwards.
Risho Maru found an Austrian bakery in town which they will
sample today.

The anticipated big event is Ben’s arrival in Neiafu
tomorrow morning. We have not seen him for 10 months are can’t
wait to have him with us. Laura baked a banana bread for a
belated birthday celebration.


Departing for Tonga

We expect to depart for Neiafu in the Vava’u Group
of Tonga tomorrow morning (local time). The course
takes us west along the northern coast of Upolo Island
(where Apia is located), through the Apolima Strait
that separates Upolo and Savai’i Islands, and then on
a course of 189 degrees magnetic for Vava’u. The
route is about 348 nautical miles and will take us
48-54 hours. The forecast is very good. Risho Maru
will be departing at the same time for Neiafu as well.

Since our last blog we attended a Samoas dance and
musical show at the famour Aggie Grey Hotel in Apia.
We went with the Risho Maru’s and with Quest (Pierre
and Denise). The show and the buffet were great. We
also snorkeled at the marine reserve near the marina.


New slideshows and news from Samoa

Check out our slideshows for new pictures from Suwarrow and Samoa.

Sunday in Samoa is truly a day of rest – nothing is open. Well, almost nothing. In the morning I stopped by the little grocery store that is just a few blocks away from us. They had told me that they would be open until 1 p.m. on Sunday and would be serving food. I did not expect much as it is a store that has very little to sell during the week. When I walked in I couldn’t believe my eyes. They had laid out a buffet table with 10 huge covered serving trays – and were selling the delicious freshly cooked food to the customers. Almost all Samoan families get together every Sunday for huge traditional dinners and this must have been set up for those people who just couldn’t cook all the required food for themselves. There was barbequed taro root, several kinds of chicken, a couple of Chinese type dishes, lamb and pork. It was sold for take-out and we ordered several plates of food – enough for us and some extra for our friends on Yara who are all still sick with the flu and stuck on their boat. Very fun discovery for us and it was delicious. All the internet cafes were closed on Sunday, except one which opened at 6:00 P.M., so after walking to town with the Risho Marus and taking their son Finn to McDonalds, we spent some time catching up on e-mail.

On Monday we all rented a van together to have a tour of the island. It was supposed to be the 3 families – the Sabbatical III’s, Risho Marus and Yaras, but everyone on Yara was still sick, so we had to go without them. We had rented a large 8 person van which we thought was pretty nice until shortly after we left the car rental place. Suddenly we noticed that there were several cockroaches on the floor. We stopped the car and took out all our bags and found that the cockroaches had already gotten into our bags. It was so disgusting and there was really nothing that we could do about it, so we just kept on rolling and making cockroach (or cockalaka as our Austrians call them) jokes. The back seat was just crawling with the disgusting creatures.

Day tour of Samoa

Most of the island is sparsely populated and very beautiful. Lots of waterfalls and beautiful beaches – landscapes ranging from rolling hills to steep green volcanic mountains. There are small villages scattered everywhere and each village has at least one church as its centerpiece. The people themselves live in houses called “fales” which are very unusual – they are totally open on all sides – with just a roof, a raised floor and beams and decorated railings holding the structure up.

Day tour of Samoa

Apparently it is considered very impolite to look inside a fale – there is an honor system that people observe so that the residents have their privacy even though everything they do is open to the world. Most of the compounds we saw, however, had both a fale and a more modern closed home next to each other, so I think that there must have been adjustments made over the years to give people more privacy and protect them from nosy tourists. They were interesting to see. On our stop at the Sapoaga Waterfall ( the prettiest one we saw) there was also a small botanical garden and a tour guide who was very entertaining – he cut a coconut for us and made fresh coconut milk – so delicious.

Day tour of Samoa

Stopped for lunch at a very cute and nice looking restaurant called SeaBreeze . It was nice, but really slow and we were all anxious to get on with our tour.

By 5:00 P.M. we had gone around most of the island and were pretty tired. We stopped at a couple of grocery stores, but found the pickings kind of slim. We were afraid to buy too much anyways as we were sure that the cockroaches would get to them if we left the bags in the car for any amount of time. One more big job was to go back to the boat, grab our 8 jerry cans and Risho Maru’s 2 jerry cans and go back to the gas station to fill up with diesel. We were getting low on diesel for the boat and there is no dock that you can pull your boat up to to fill up, so you have to “jerry jug it”. Not too bad with everyone helping out – including 7 year old Finn.

Today, Monday was a much more low key day. You have to get permission from customs here if you want to buy duty free alcohol, so we decided to do that. It was not too bad at all – we just had to bring a letter to the customs office and come back a few hours later to get the stamped and approved form. Not a big deal since the customs office is right next to the marina. We also did some boat chores, e-mail and other mundane boat tasks. Plan to leave within a few days if the weather is ok. The sail to Tonga is not terribly far ( about a 2 day sail), but it is almost due south and it will be very rough if the wind and waves are from the south – which they often are. We are looking for a good weather window to make the trip easier. Have to get there before Ben does on the 27th!

One more interesting and strange thing about being in this marina. They have “toilet bowl fish” here. We have never seen these before, but other people apparently have in other places. They are smallish fish that live in the harbor and apparently have a keen appetite for whatever comes out of the boat toilet. When you flush you hear a huge flurry of motion and commotion under the boat – which is made by dozens of fish that jockey for position to be first in line under the boat to grab whatever appetizing morsel comes out. Talk about disgusting. We just hope that the fried fish sandwiches we have been eating do not come from local waters! They tell us it is tuna.



We arrived in Apia Harbor, Samoa, on the 11th of September. We knew that you had to call the Apia harbormaster prior to arrival so we were careful to call on the VHF to announce our arrival an hour or two outside the harbor entrance. There is a reef on either side of the harbor entrance, but it is clearly marked and entry into the anchorage was very easy. Our 3 day passage from Suvarov had been good – lots of wind and a very fast passage. We had passed our friends on Rishu Maru and Yara by the evening of the first day and continued to sail quite a ways in front of them for the whole passage even though they are both on catamarans which we thought would go faster than us. It’s hard not to feel a little bit competitive when you sail, so it was fun to be so fast.

We had heard that as of a few weeks ago all yachts coming to Apia had to stay at the new marina rather than the anchorage. When we called the harbormaster to confirm our arrival and to ask how to proceed he told us to drop our anchor and we would be able to come into the marina at about 6:00 P.M. They said they would send someone out to guide us in at 6:00 when it was high tide. It was only 1:30 at the time. Just as we were dropping anchor we got a call on our VHF radio from the harbormaster telling us we should move the boat out of the anchorage and pull up to a tugboat on the wharf in order to complete the check in procedures. We took one look at the rickety old tugboat there and decided we would probably damage the boat if we pulled up beside it, so we called and asked if it was possible to leave the boat where it was and come in by dinghy to check-in. They agreed and we said we would be in as soon as possible – as both the dinghy and outboard engine were up on the deck of the boat where we leave them on our long passages and it takes us about 1/2 an hour to get everything set up. As you can imagine we were dead tired after a three day sail, with only truncated periods of sleep. But we got to work and were busy setting up the dinghy and engine when suddenly a small motorboat pulled up beside us and an official told us that we had to hurry up and get to the shore to check in. It was kind of strange as we had just arrived and it was clear that we were trying our best – so we told him we would be there as soon as possible. When we got to shore we entered the ugly dilapitated building which serves as the customs, immigration, quarantine and health office.

Only one man was sitting there – a very gruff looking Samoan. He took one look at us and proclaimed that we were late. Mark asked politely exactly what he meant as we did not know what we were late for. He said we were late in getting there to check in and that now he would have to summon back all the other officials – he was clearly bullying us around. Mark explained that we had just come in, that we had said it would take about 1/2 an hour to set up the dinghy and that we had done precisely that and had then proceeded in as required. The gruff official said something nasty and then picked up the phone to summon back the other officials. It was the strangest process. There were 4 sets of officials, one for each of the totally meaningless check-in procedures. The first person was the “health” official who asked a series of questions that would have had us both in stitches if it were not such a serious office… questions like: Has anyone died on board your ship? Do you have the plague? Do you have any rats on board with the plague? Seriously – the form must have been from the 1800’s. Then two officials from “customs” said they had to go onboard to check the boat. They came back to the boat with us on our dinghy. Both were young guys, clearly bored with their life and their jobs. They sat down below, had a diet coke, commented on how nice the boat was, and asked if we had any firearms on board. That was about it for customs and we took them back to shore. Then we had to answer some relatively reasonable questions from the immigration lady who gave us a 2 month visa for the island and wished us a good vacation. The best part was the last when 2 guys from “quarantine” had to come on the boat. One of them was clearly afraid of going on the dinghy and he backed out at the last second, but his friend came to the boat. He sat in the cockpit and glanced below to see if the boat looked like it needed to be quarantined. Despite the messy condition, he said we were just fine, but asked for $20 ( which he put in his pocket), and after asking about our religion ( did you know we were Lutherans?) and George Bush, he asked if we had any good DVDs. I told him we only watched opera so he gave up on that – but he did tell us that Pavoratti had died. Then we were done and we could take him back to shore. What a silly process! We were pissed at ourselves for giving him the bribe, but then again, $20 wasn’t too bad of a price to get rid of the guy.

We got back to the boat about 4:00 and decided to rest a bit before putting the dinghy and the outboard engine back on the deck – which we had to do before we moved into the marina. At 5:00, an hour early, the tough bully, who is apparently the harbormaster showed up in his little motorboat with 3 other guys and acted angry because we are not ready to move into the marina. We told him that we had been told to be ready by 6:00 and he said,” Who told you that? I never said that, and I am the only person here who could tell you what time to be ready”. We decided not to argue with him and just said, we would do our best to get the boat ready to pull up anchor and into the marina as soon as possible. We were pretty unhappy with the whole situation and were tempted to just pull up anchor and sail to Tonga directly, but we were too tired and really wanted just to go to sleep.

We got everything ready and asked the men on the harbormaster’s boat which side we should put the boat fenders and lines on to tie us on to the dock. It is important to get everything set up in advance before you reach the dock. We explained that we wanted to approach the dock “stern side to” – meaning that we wanted to back in to the slip – which gives Mark better steering capability . The men told us to put everything on the port side of the boat so we did – after reconfirming several times that we wanted to back the boat in. We pulled into the very tight dock area and found that access to the dock they were putting us in was partially blocked by a large dredge. This marina just opened and apparently they didn’t do a good job of dredging, or digging out, the bottom to make it deep enough for the boats. They are now trying to dredge the bottom, working around the “minor obstructions” put in their way such as the dock and the boats that are here. Once we got around the dredge we realized that the slip they had ready for us required coming in “forward side to” not “stern-side” to. We could either quickly move and re-set 4 long lines (ropes) and 8 bumpers to the starboard side, or just proceed forward side to. We opted for the later. Now safely tied up to the dock we could rest and relax a bit. We noticed, however, that our depth sounder showed less than 1 meter of water under the keel and we wondered if the slip we were in would be deep enough at low tide, or whether we would end up scraping the bottom. We had told them the depth of our keel several times and had assumed that they would take that info into account when they assigned us a slip for our stay. As you might guess, from everything proceeding this, we woke up in the middle of the night – at low tide – to the sound of our keel scraping back and forth on the rocks that were now sitting on as there was not enough water for us. We were too tired to do anything – and besides that you can’t just move out of a slip at low tide and go find somewhere else to park yourself for the night. So we drifted off to a restless sleep.

In the morning we spent about an hour and a half trying to rouse the harbormaster or his assistant via VHF. When Clare, the very nice assistant showed up, she spent some time on her cell phone, and finally a boat showed up with the harbormaster. Mark told him we had scraped the bottom all night and didn’t want to ruin the boat by waiting around for the next low tide. We needed to move to a deeper part of the marina. He didn’t seem to understand why this lack of depth was a problem for us. Mark went out and with the help of the harbormaster’s boat and a lead line to measure depth he went slowly around the marina and found what seemed to be a deeper slip on the next dock. Then with a great deal of help from all our friends and some of the harbormaster’s helpers we moved out of our slip, and crawled along at a snail’s pace to the suitable spot. The depth sounder showed zero meters under our keel ( meaning we were actually touching the bottom again), and the tide was still going out. We did make it somehow to the new slip without getting stuck on the bottom and without further incident.

After check-in we begin to appreciate Samoa for its beauty and kind people:

We have been in the new slip for 4 days now and it is just fine. It is actually great – and we are right next to our friends on Rishu Maru and Yara – so of course there has been a lot of socializing. There are only about a dozen boats here in total. We walked around the town and were delighted to find lots of restaurants and internet cafes plus interesting markets with lots of local produce and fun household items (such as kava bowls which the locals use to mix up and drink the intoxicating kava drink they use regularly). We plan to try it out when we get brave enough. I was particularly happy to find a great local beauty salon where I tamed my wild hair and brought it back to just one shade of brown rather than a mixture of brown, red, gold and grey.

On Friday we were busy taking down our big jib as it got ripped on the sail from Bora Bora to Suwarrow, and then it got even worse from Suwarrow here. We still had the ballooner up on the same headstay with the jib as it had been too windy when we approached the island a few days ago to take it down as we would have liked to. We were not sure how hard it would be to take both sails down in the slip – we were concerned that if both sails were unfurled ( which they must be to take them down), and the wind picked up it might become unmanageable However, as soon as we started to work on it the guys from Rishu Maru and Yara came over, and helped us with the whole process, taking down both sails, folding them away, and putting up the newer, smaller jib. I really love the comraderie among our fellow boaters – there are always people anxious to help out with any process that you either can not do yourself, or that you are just not comfortable doing.

We had planned to rent a van on Saturday and have a tour of the island, but the little boy on Yara got sick so we postponed until Monday. Instead we walked to town with the Rishu Marus, saw the flea market and the fish market and hopped on a local bus which took us to the Robert Lewis Stevenson museum. He lived in the 1800’s and is famous for a few of his books, including “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde” and “Treasure Island”. He apparently lived here the last 4 years of his life and had a beautiful home up on a hill just outside of town. It is now a museum and he is quite a celebrity among the Samoans ( at least that’s what they said on the tour). We really enjoyed the bus ride – it made a stop to get fuel and half the bus got off to do a quick shop in the market next door , before we proceeded on our route. The Samoan people seem to be extraordinarily pleasant and friendly and we are really anxious to do our tour of the island so that we can see the villages and meet more of the locals. If the city people are this friendly (except for the customs people), it should be a really nice experience. Today is Sunday and pretty much everything is closed for the day. This is a very Christian island and everyone belongs to a church and goes on Sunday mornings. Then it is the custom for families to spend the rest of the day having a big feast. We wish we knew someone who would invite us, but I guess we would have to hang around here longer to get to know any of the locals well enough . Mark tried his best yesterday with a taxi driver, but no luck getting an invitation for Sunday.

Leaving Suwarrow and sailing to Samoa

Monday September 10th
noon local, 2000 UTC
Position South 13.40 West 168.46

We are completing our second day of sailing between Suwarrow and
Western Samoa, a distance of 510 nm. We hope to reach Western
Samoa sometime tomorrow. So far we have had good winds – ranging
from 10 to 18 knots . We have the wind directly behind us and
have our two head-sails up making for a very fast, although
sometimes rolly sail. As the boat dips in the swells the large
jib which is poled out to the port side of the boat tends to
fill with air and then snap as it rolls off. It can be very
annoying. Other than that it is a good sail- we have made great
time – averaging almost 8 knots per hour all day yesterday.
Today so far we are averaging a little less than 7 knots. We
were sad to leave Suwarrov as it was really one of the nicest
two weeks of our trip. If anyone is interested in reading about
Suwarrow there is a great little book by a guy named Tom Neale
who lived on the island alone in the 50’s and again in the 70’s.
It is called “An Island to Oneself” and you should be able to
get it in any public library. The island really has not changed
since he lived there – except now there are a dozen boats in the
harbor as opposed to the 2 a year that visited when he lived there.
The other yachts in the harbor were all so friendly, and the
island caretakers were great. We fished, snorkeled, explored the
outlying motus, visited with friends, walked over coral reef
barriers, shared dinners, and read a lot. I even played my
keyboard for our friends – and am now planning to learn a couple
of popular pieces so that I can accompany Alexandra as she sings
them. We had planned to leave Suwarrow at the same time as our
friends on Rishu Maru and Yara, but when we tried to pull up our
anchor we found the chain was wrapped around a head of coral
some 50 feet down. Rishu Maru and Yara had already pulled up
their anchors by then, and started out of the pass. Other people
we know on the Norwegian boat “Menja” and the American boat
“Seafari” noticed we were having trouble getting our anchor up
and came over to help. Frank, the young guy on Menja even put on
his snorkel fins and mask and went into the water to get a good
look at how the anchor chain was wrapped and he called out
directions for us to move the boat. We spent quite some time
manoevering around, but were firmly stuck. Frank then went over
to another boat where he knew that they had diving tanks. It
looked like we might have to have someone dive down to free the
chain. But Mark tried moving the boat backwards which gave a
good pull on the chain and after a few more minutes we were free.

Just outside the atoll we came upon a couple of whales – the
first ones we have seen for months. They were cavorting like
crazy in the water – lifting up their fins and slapping them in
the water and then leaping staight out of the water several
times. It was fantastic to see. We soon caught up to Risho Maru
and Yara and for the first day we were all in sight of each
other and could talk on the VHF. Our boat is quite fast when it
sails downwind with the two head-sails out and by the end of the
day we had passed both of our friends and are now about 30 miles
farther west than them. We can still talk to them on the SSB
and we have scheduled calls twice a day to check up on each other.

Hannah is now in Madagascar and we are hoping to hear from her
soon. Ben has purchased plane tickets to come visit us in late
September in Tonga. An exciting last couple of months of this
trip await us.


Departure for Samoa

Within the hour we will depart Suvarov (Suwarrow) for Apia,
Samoa (previously called Western Samoa). It is now 11:15 am
local time on Sep 8, which is 21:15 UTC. The forecast in finally
good, with light winds around 10 knots today increasing to 15-20
knots by tomorrow from the ESE. It is 520 nautical miles to
Samoa and the route is straight from Suvarov to Apia on a course
of 255 degrees magnetic. We really loved our stay in Suvarov
but are looking forward to sailing again and new adventures.
Risho Maru and Yara are also leaving today for Samoa and we will
remain in SSB radio contact with them twice each day.