Samoa to Tonga to Fiji
Wednesday 12th August 2009
Nick Janke arrived at 06.30 this morning from the UK. We had 4 inches of rainfall overnight but it had dried up by his arrival although he is finding it incredibly hot. Amongst some other goodies he brought the new bit to repair the spinnaker pole, so Gordon lost no time in repairing the damage.
Having done another weather check it looks as if we should leave tomorrow night for Tonga since the wind turns south on Sunday.
Samoa to Tonga
Thursday 13th August
Gordon checked out with immigration and customs while Nick took the opportunity to see Robert Louis Stevenson's house. They then went off to Aggie Grey's for lunch while I cooked and prepped for the three night journey. We set off at 16.30 but winds died so motored till 22.30 when we were able to get the sails up.
Friday 14th August
Winds 20/25 knots all night from east, so looks like a broad reach all the way to Tonga. The sea state is pretty lumpy too. We entered Tongan waters today so have lost a whole day because we crossed the International Date Line!
Saturday 15th August
TODAY DOES NOT EXIST.
Sunday 16th August
Much more comfortable night, wind reduced to 14 knots, however dropped further and to NNE 10 knots, so engine on and mainsail down. Lightning flashing around us as darkness fell so I disappeared below deck to hide.
Monday 17th August
Wind moved right round to on the nose 15 knots during the night but arrived in Tonga at 0900hrs.
Here we had to tie up alongside the commercial dock and await customs, immigration, health and agricultural inspectors, all of whom came onboard demanding not only much form filling but coffee and biscuits. It took 4 pots of coffee and 3 packets of biscuits to clear us.
By 1400 we were able to move to a mooring in the bay but were chased off two by charter companies before finding a usable one. Jonny and Kate from "Newtsville" came aboard, and "Blues", "Mikado", "Hilde", "Drimea" and "White Hawk" were all in radio contact.
Tonga is much poorer than any of the other islands we have seen in the region, they are intensely loyal to their king, the present one (George IV) being queen Salote's grandson. (Queen Salote was present at the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth 2nd and caused a big stir by riding in an open carriage despite the pouring rain.) Tongans wear a strange stiff grass woven apron over their black sarongs as a mark of respect to the royal family. These aprons are highly valued and at special occasions they can look very shabby since they wear aprons which can be up to 500 years old.
We arrived here in the midst of a great tragedy. A ferry which the Tongans had just purchased from Fiji, second hand, set off on a trip between islands with 128 men women and children onboard. As they left harbour people were already up to their knees in water. The cargo was not tied down properly in the holds and the captain unbelievably decided to send all the women and children below deck to stabilise the boat. The free water effect came into play and the vessel sank. 74 people lost their lives, mostly women and children. All crew survived. Given the population of the island this represents 0.1% of the people. The custom in Tonga is to wear black for months if a family member dies so since families are very big most people are in black most of the time, however the whole country is in black to mourn the huge loss. Incredibly their beloved king's first action the day after the tragedy was to go off to Scotland on holiday. Since he has no wife or children it fell to the Queen Mother, princess Salote Pilolevu Tuita to officiate at the many ceremonies of memorial and to console her people. They are such a gentle quiet people and openly wept when they talked about the tragedy. The enquiries are ongoing.
We had a couple of fairly major breaks on the boat. The stainless steel binnacle hand hold and instrument mount had cracked right across and required welding, and the toilet had cracked at the base of the pump. We managed to source a second hand toilet pump from Franz on "Son of Sun" and found an excellent local welder by the name of Essley who made a great repair of the binnacle for £13.
The bay here in Vava'u is lined with bars restaurants and what looks like derelict hotels. Since no one can buy land because it all belongs to the king and leasing can only be for a period of 50 years, no one wants to set up long term investment here. So although no one goes without food or shelter there is an air of poverty here not seen in other Pacific islands. Things are very very cheap and once again all businesses seem to be owned or run by the Chinese population or Aussies or New Zealanders.
On our way around the island we noticed there seemed to be great many more pigs than people and much like the Caribbean chicken they are very free range wandering everywhere amongst the houses and onto the roads. I also saw the biggest spider seen on the trip so far, stretched high up between two telephone wires and Gordon and Nick were highly amused to see me disappearing in a cloud of dust while they threatened to poke it with a stick.
Amongst our memorable nights and days here was a lady boy night at Tonga Bob's, where the lady boys were built like front props, a Tongan feast at the local hospitality college to raise funds, the Aussie v NZ rugby match, a few beers with the Ministry of Health inspector who played rugby for Tonga and played at Twickenham in 1985. We also had a lovely evening with Bertil and Britta on "Blues" for their 38th wedding anniversary.
Tuesday 25th August
We have decided to head for an anchorage only 10 miles away before moving on tomorrow to the Ha'api group of islands and from there to Nuku'alofa where Nick would catch his flight back home. The first part of the plan went well and the anchorage was lovely, however the main chartplotter at the wheel packed up leading to lengthy works to change over the module from the nav table with the on-deck one. Nick was a great help with that.
Wednesday 26th August
Up at 5.30 am and set off for Ha'api, but the wind was 20knots SSE and we could not achieve the heading or speed required to reach the next anchorage in daylight. Since these islands are all surrounded by coral reefs you must enter in daylight. Therefore in an increasingly nasty sea we made the decision to turn back to Vava'u where Nick said he was happy to book a flight to Nuku'alofa. This also means we can go straight to Fiji from here, a much better direction for the prevailing winds. We were back on our old mooring at 08.30 am. This is the first time on the trip we have turned back. On Sunday Gordon and Nick spent ages making a new deck light bulb, poor Nick thought he was on holiday but have found so many uses for his electrical engineering skills. I made bread which rose beyond belief in the heat. On Monday 31st August we saw Nick off after a last lunch together and then began to reprovision for our journey to Fiji. The weather looks best for departure on Friday 4th September.
By the way when Gordon went to the Post Office to pick something up for our friends on "Drimea" he had to show his passport. The girl behind the counter burst out laughing at his photo and looked at him in complete disbelief, then went off to share the hilarity with all the other staff. Say no more.
Tonga to Fiji
Friday 4th September day 436
After much hanging about finally cleared customs at 1400hrs and motored out towards the sea in the company of "Blaze 2" who were heading for a nearby anchorage. What little wind there was blew right on the nose so we had to motor.
Saturday 5th September
0237hrs 18deg 37.21S 175deg12.52W wind now south 12/14 knots engine off at last.
Sunday 6th September Crossed 180 degrees
2340hrs we had set waypoint 2 just before 180 degrees because we were expecting some kind of confusion from software. When we instructed the autopilot to go to waypoint 3 which was just after 180 deg it did so but turned the boat round a full 180 degrees to go back around the world again and showed distance to waypoint 25,000miles, so decided to helm manually for a while.
2344hrs 18deg24.809S 179deg59.701E. Now officially going home.
Monday 7th September
I've had a cold developing for the last few days, feeling yucky so Gordon has given me some longer sleeps. What a hero. Still raining.
Tuesday 8th September Fiji day 440
Bula (hello) from Fiji. After clearing customs at Lautoka we headed back to Vadu Point marina and tied up in a little manmade circular bay, bow-to at a little platform and held back on two stern lines attached to buoys. Incidentally I thought I had disposed of all fresh produce which is strictly not allowed into the country but the customs guys were very thorough and found the lemon in the fridge which I had missed. The way they said "What's this?" would have been appropriate for a kilo of heroin, it was carefully removed and placed in a disposal bag as if it might explode at any minute. The Fijian islands are stunning. At last we have found the screen saver, white sands, palm strewn islands which one imagines in the Pacific. The mainland looks much less rainforresty and has large areas of farmable land. We also found a great little resort right next to the marina and an efficient looking boatyard. So deep joy Gordon has decided to get the boat lifted out and get gel coat repaired and antifouling done while we will spend 4 nights in the said resort. Yipee!
Thusday 10th to Monady 14th September First Landing Resort
Firstthing we prepared boat and motored over to lift out point, I kept wondering when we would be asked to get off the boat, but we are expected to stay on the boat during the lift, and were not allowed off till the boat was on the hard. A very uplifting experience. We went round and checked in at the resort which is called "First Landing" because it is reputedly the spot where the first Melanesians landed on Fiji. Just off shore the hotel had created an island in the shape of a giant foot to celebrate the occasion. You can reach by means of a wooden bridge attached to the big toe. The accommodation is provided in wooden bungalows or buras, each with a mosquito netted veranda, large bedroom and SPA BATH. Such luxury. Dining and bars are open to the elements with some grassed roof areas in case of rain. Prince Charles stayed here in 2005 although it's not grand just beautiful.
Sadly the tourist industry here is being crushed by the repeated military coups, although it is perfectly safe for tourists so far. Here the businesses are Indian run, but the Fijian thinking is that if you live here you are Fijian, regardless of colour or origin, however the military do not agree and would like to regain control for the original Fijians.
The town of Luatoka is very Indian in style with Hindu and Muslim temples and many sari shops everywhere. Strangely though we can't find a good Indian restaurant since they all seem to prefer Chinese food.
Although the country is not politically stable and the people are afraid of the future with ever increasing government censorship, this is a much wealthier place than Tonga. Small businesses seem healthy but the sugar processing plants which produce the country's main export are falling apart and desperately need major investment. It isn't likely to happen under the current regime.
Between Friday and Sunday our sailing family began to drift in, some had been to a regatta at Musket Cove, 4 miles from here. We met some lovely new people whilst in the hotel and it was good to talk to non-sailors for a while. Cheers to Ted and Marie from NZ, Colin and Roz from Aus. The boat work went well and we were craned back in on Monday afternoon, again with us on the boat, another good view over the marina. We have spent the last few days since launch getting the boat clean and organised for the next leg of the journey to Vanuatu where we will meet up again with Murray Carmichael, a Port Edgar friend. At the moment the departure date looks like Friday 18th September. I feel sorry for Murray he has a huge list parts to bring out for repairs.