|Kingdom of Tonga, Sept 21, 2005
|The passage from Samoa to Niautoputapu (Knee Ah Toe Pooh Tah Pooh), Tonga was not bad,
but not our best passage. We did have wind the entire route. It took us 3 days.
Niautoputapu was an interesting island. It is in the northern islands of Tonga. It seemed very poor
compared to Samoa. The children didn’t look very healthy—more than the runny nose, there
seemed to be a lot of scabs on their bodies.
In every new country we have to go through customs and immigration. This can take many
forms. Sometimes we have to check in at a dock, sometimes we just anchor and go on shore. In
Tonga, we anchored and they want to come out to our boat—in our dinghy! We got the dinghy
inflated and ready to pick up the Tongans. Tongans are not known for their diminutiveness.
These are big people that carry themselves with a slow regal walk. Sometimes, they wear lavu-
lavus (straw mats) that they wrap around their waists. These are worn for ordinary wear and for
special occasions. We weren’t quite sure if it was going to work with our dinghy, but they are
graceful and got in and out of our dinghy and on and off Ace without incident. The agriculture
officer almost made us give up our cabbage, but then he said we could keep it because we had
children. (Not exactly a favor to Emily and Martin!)
In the evening, Martin was hot on finding a place to skateboard. We had seen an open shed with a
fairly smooth concrete deck near the dock. Lou, Martin and I headed for that. When we arrived at
the shed, we noticed men sitting around in a circle with a bowl in the middle. From other
descriptions, we knew exactly what was going on---they were drinking kava. But, I noticed there
were only men around the bowl. So, we asked if Martin could skateboard, they welcomed him.
They also welcomed Lou to sit around the kava bowl with them. I knew I was not welcome. So, I
walked down the road and took pictures of pigs and horses. Pretty soon, the children started
coming around me. We talked a little bit and I gave them some stickers that I had brought from the
boat. It is always a dilemma for me about giving things. The word gets around a village very
quickly that the palangi (the foreigner) has something to give away. Suddenly, you’re the most
popular person around. I did have a good time with the kids. We sang Row, Row, Row your Boat
and Jingle Bells and John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.
The next day, Lou and I borrowed some friends’ bikes and were riding through the village, and we
heard kids crying out Hello Mary! And then, we met up with one little girl on her bike. She and I
raced through the village on our bikes, smiling and giggling. It was difficult for me to leave these
We decided to leave Niautoputapu fairly quickly because we had been watching the weather
updates and it looked like we had a weather window to go to the Vava’u group. On this passage,
we relearned about sailing to windward. We had about 20 knots of wind and 10 foot seas. It was
an uncomfortable wet ride. But, once again, Ace took good care of us. We had the windvane
steering most of the trip. The good news is that the trip only lasted 28 hours. We found or maybe
rediscovered the leaks that are only obvious when we’re sailing upwind. Oh well…
We were very glad to come into the Vava’u group. I looked forward to coming to the Vava’u group
because of the whales. The humpback whales come to this area from the Antarctic every year
from about July through October, for mating and birthing (they have a 12 month gestation).
Interestingly, the waters here don’t have much krill, so the whales just live on their stored fat during
Nieafu is the main town in the island group and caters to a charter fleet of sailboats and to the
cruisers. It is a place that can easily lure you into staying a long time. The on-shore café had the
best onion rings we have had in ages and the store had Dr. Pepper. I got real excited for a brief
second hoping that they would have Diet Dr. Pepper (yes, I’m still addicted!)—but no luck! Emily
was very happy to have the Dr. Pepper.
We did go on a commercial whale watching tour because I really wanted to swim with the whales.
The whales were not much in the mood to just hang out. But, we did get to swim with them
momentarily. There was a threesome—two females and a calf. It reminded me of being in a small
airplane and having a 747 fly under you. It took my breath away. But, they were there and then
they were gone. We met some very nice Kiwis (we haven’t met any other kind, yet) on the
whalewatching trip. One is the coach of the All Blacks (the New Zealand rugby team) that had just
one the championship.
We also got to hear the whalesong through hydrophones. We were told that only males sing this
song (I’m Mr. Lonely). And that it is a mystery how they create this “song”. They do not have any
vocal chords. One night, when we were anchored out, we could hear a whale singing through our
hull. Martin had fallen fast asleep. But, Emily, Lou and I stayed up and listened to his music. We
all fell asleep to this eerie, comical (at times—get Emily to do her imitation for you next time we’re
together!) and beautiful song.
There are many wonderful anchorages in this group. All the anchorages are within about 10 miles
of Neiafu. Its usually a pleasant sail to hop between anchorages. We enjoyed this opportunity.
We also enjoyed a visit to an underwater cave. You must dive down about 6 feet and swim
underwater for about 10 feet to get into this cave. I was very apprehensive about the free dive. I
was mostly concerned about feeling cornered with no way out. Emily and Martin went into the cave,
checked it out and came back to tell me that I could do it and they would help. Lou was also
encouraging me. It was very cool to have my whole family encouraging me, without pressure. So, I
went for it and I was so glad that I did! It is beautiful inside the cave—backlit from the sunlight that
is reflecting into the cave.
I was hanging around the Nieafu market in the evening, letting Martin skateboard, and talking with a
couple of young women. They shared their watermelon with me. Watermelon tastes the best
eaten outdoors by hand! They invited us to have lunch at their house the next day. We accepted
and went with them to their house up in the hills. I was glad that someone had given me a heads
up that the Tongans will fix a meal for us and then will not eat with us, but just watch us eat! We sat
down on the mat in their front room where a wonderful feast was waiting for us. They had octopus,
fish, corned beef, chicken and taro. Way too much food!
In Tonga, we were reunited with friends we hadn’t seen for quite a few months and had to bid
farewell to some who are heading to the Marshall Islands. This family (from Pegasus) we met in
Monterey California on our second week out. We also met up with a family (Peregrinata) that we
met in Mazatlan in November 2003. We spent Christmas 2004 with them in Las Perlas, Panama.
We continued our preparations for the New Zealand passage, which will be our 2nd longest trip so
far, and is notorious for challenging weather. Lou and I are already tired of hearing about the
passage to New Zealand, but we realize this will be the topic for quite some time—even after our
arrival. (Kind of reminds me of having babies). I also let myself get way too worked up by another
cruiser because he has already started his immigration paperwork and made me feel like we were
way behind because we haven’t started our paperwork. I took a deep breath and decided to
rephrase our objective- “We are going to New Zealand and may stay for awhile if they want us.
Otherwise, we’ll formulate Plan B.” Some of the women cruisers are opting out of the passage to
New Zealand, and buying plane tickets. I’m still enjoying passages and I enjoy the rhythm of our life
at sea. But, I am looking forward to staying in one place for a while.
Books read: Happy Isles of Oceania by Paul Theroux. (Despite his grumpy way, I enjoyed his view
into these Pacific Islands), My Sister’s Keeper, The Wonderful Adventures of the Hunt Sisters,
|Some people leaving church in their
|Martin skateboarding in Niaoutoputapu!
|Mary had a little pig,,, it's fleece was
white as...Um. Actually it's brown.
|The Tongan feast! These are the
women who prepared our delicious
|Martin skurfing behind our good old
|The locals posing with their new
|A mama whale and her baby swimming
peacefully along in the Vava'u group,
Tonga. (Photo from Greg of Erin Brie)