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.