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.