Schooner Seawanhaka

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Posting - Tonga

Date and Time:

July 24 - September 14, 2004


Kingdom of Tonga


July 24 - Today we will leave Samoa for the Kingdom of Tonga. Darren departed Seawanhaka so the crew is down to CAPTAIN Bill (who received the documentation for his official Captain's license yesterday) plus Mike and me. Unlike the "metropolis" of Apia, Samoa, Tonga is relatively undeveloped and remote. Since it is chain of islands, we will be spending several weeks anchoring in peaceful coves and picturesque bays. Our first landfall, wind-willing, will be Niuatoputapu a small atoll only about 160 miles south of Samoa. At the very south end of the island chain is the capital city of Nuku'alofa, which will probably be our last stop in the Kingdom of Tonga. Samoa has been a delightful place, full of all the charm and beauty of a South Pacific island paradise. It will be tough to say our goodbyes and pull out of the harbor but excellent to go sailing again! - Elizabeth

July 26 - We left Apia on Sunday morning. The anchor catted, we sailed to the top of the harbor to parade our great lady, the other crews on deck snapping pictures as we passed. It is pleasing to always be on the prettiest boat in the harbor. When the other yachties meet us and we say we are from the schooner, they light up and ask for a closer look. We then sailed through the reef passage to the sea. We are all pleased to be on the ocean again, where the heart lifts, the mind focuses. Familiar faces we have seen, with schools of flying fish and leisurely dolphins. We had a good dinner of octopus in coconut cream with taro and breadfruit yesterday, but the eel has gone off, so it went over the side. The weather is fair, the air light. We should make the island of Niuatoputapu in a couple of days. - Mike

July 28 (July 27th in USA) - After sailing in fair northeast winds around the island of Upolu, we turned south and sailed through Apolima Strait (the channel that separates Upolu from Savai'i). Throughout the night, the winds were light and we anticipated a long, slow trip to Tonga. When the morning came, the winds shifted from northwest to southeast and seemed to blow from every direction. By afternoon of the 26th, the prevailing southeast winds won out and we beat into the wind all night through strong winds and squalls. Yesterday morning, Seawanhaka continued to fly toward Tonga. By noon, we hove to off theisland of Niuatoputapu, waiting for the high tide to let us enter the narrow passageway into the harbor. We were greeted by our friends Luc and Jackie from Sloepmouche, our neighbors during our stay in Pago Pago. When the tide came in, we navigated successfully through the harbor entrance, anchored, and sat down to relax with a snack. Suddenly, a white van full of Tongan government officials began honking and flashing their headlights at us from the beach. New yachts must be a big event here because the officials came to see us before we could even inflate our dinghy (normally you have to wait hours or days to get checked into a new country so this was a welcome change). The Tongans were friendly, prompt and efficient as they checked us in to their country. We crossed the international dateline as we came into Tonga so we are now one day ahead of the US and we are among the first people to greet the new day. - Elizabeth

August 1 - Seawanhaka hosted a "Blue Moon" party last night, celebrating the 2nd full moon in the month of July. All the cruisers in the anchorage (Fyne Spirit, Ken-B, Namirda, Sloepmouche, Larsine and Midnight Sun) rallied for the party and a great time was had by all. That was largest number of people I've seen on Seawanhaka yet - 15! Luckily, the weather was pleasant for the party and the blue moon rose over the island of Niuatoputapu on cue. During the last couple of days, we walked through the 3 villages, biked around the island, climbed up the "mountain" in the center of the island and dinghied out to a little uninhabited island for a picnic and snorkeling. Niuatoputapu is a very small place quite far from any other islands. Only 1500 people live here and since the Royal Tongan Airlines went bankrupt a few months ago, the only way to get here is by a ship that stops in once every 3 months. Despite the seclusion from the rest of the world, the island is beautiful and the Tongans seem to live very happy lives on Niuatoputapu. - Elizabeth

August 4 - On Sunday, we went to church, each in our best going ashore rig. We walked a few miles down the dirt track, in company of Tongans dressed very finely indeed, hugging the shade on the side of the road. The man next to me in church, who turned out to be the assistant pastor, stood close and shared his hymnal with me, his finger serving as the little bouncing ball so I knew what to sing. His vocal register matched mine, so I was able to follow along and sing in Tongan. The Tongan choirs sing beautifully! Monday, we all went scuba diving, amidst the outer reefs. Yesterday, our guide Nico led us to the top of the Tafahi volcano, an 1800 foot cone of rock rising from the vast sea. 100 people, his extended family, call this tiny island home. He kept us well fed and watered, retrieving oranges, cocnuts for drinking and others for eating from the trees as we went along. The air was still and close, like being under a blanket, and the forest was enchanting, with bats as big as eagles, taro and kava plantations, noni and beefheart fruit. We have seen the whales, breaching and rolling at the surface, but have not had close encounters yet. - Mike

August 8 - Niuatoputapu is a great place for SCUBA diving! The crew of Seawanhaka, with the help of our diving-instructor neighbors on Sloepmouche, have been brushing up on our diving skills. On Saturday, we all went out to dive on a coral reef with several of the other boats here in the anchorage. On Monday, we motored in the dinghy out to a place where a local fisherman had seen an shipwreck, along with people from 2 other yachts. I put on my snorkel while Bill & Mike towed me behind the dinghy, searching for the wreck. After a while, Luc from Sloepmouche found the old 3-masted schooner about 50 feet down from the surface (that tells you how clear the water is around here) and we got to dive down to check out the wreck. For the last few days, Bill and I have been diving fools! Luc taught us courses in Underwater Navigation, Deep Diving, and Wreck Diving. Tomorrow we will do Computer Diving and Night Diving, which will certify us both as Advanced Open Water Divers. SCUBA diving is amazing, especially here in our little tropical paradise where a million fish swim by and the whales talk to us underwater. - Elizabeth

August 10 - Seawanhaka is threading her way through the small dots of rock in the Pacific on her way to Vava'u, which we hope to reach tomorrow. Sunday, the yachties were hosted by Nico and Sia to another great umu feast on the small island of Hakautu'utu'u, with roast pig, ota, taro, lobster, papaya, and mango juice. After leaving Niuatoputapu, we saw many whales in the channel between that island and Tafahi, their large black flukes rolling lazily up and back down into the blue waves. While trolling yesterday, we caught a 7 foot sailfish, who expressed his frustration by leaping completely from the water, his huge serpentine form thrashing high above the water to get free. While beautiful, sailfish are not good eating, so we released him. Right now, we struggle against contrary winds, head seas, and a never ending series of light squalls, and so look forward to dropping the hook tomorrow. - Mike

August 12 - Yesterday morning I woke up for my 6 AM watch to see the sun rising over the picturesque Vava'u islands of Tonga. Vava'u is a very popular destination for cruising yachts so as we sailed through the islands, we saw lots of boats tucked into cozy little lagoons. We motored through the straits and picked up a mooring buoy in Neiafu. The city of Neiafu has been called a "Cruiser's Mecca" and it's easy to see why. I don't think we've seen so many boats in one place since we left San Diego. The protected harbor is lined with dive shops, bars, yacht clubs, whale watching tour centers, and restaurants. Everything caters to the cruising community...people make dinner reservations over the VHF instead of by phone. It's an interesting, busy little place in the midst of this kingdom of scattered islands and quiet villages. We will stay here for a few days, then go explore some of the quiet anchorages around Vava'u before heading down to the Hapa'ai group in a week or two. - Elizabeth

August 15 - Our stay in Neiafu thus far has been one big party. Every night the bars and restaurants along the waterfront are hopping…truly a very different kind of cruiser's paradise. Two big charter boat companies are located in Neiafu so people fly in and rent a boat for a week or two to sail through the beautiful Vava'u island group. Every Friday night there is a big yacht race through the harbor, which ends in a big after-party at Ana's Caf? Seawanhaka decided not to defend her racing championship title but Mike crewed on a boat named Leila, taking 3rd place. I also heard rumor that Mike roughed up a young British crewmember from another boat but as yet, that remains unconfirmed. We decided today that it wouldn't really be a South Pacific island if we didn't go bike around it…Bill and I checked out the island from our trusty bikes, exploring Tongan villages and miles of muddy 4-wheel drive "roads" snaking through the lush farmland. Vava'u is a beautiful island, much hillier than some of the others we have visited lately. We are off to explore the rest of the group tomorrow. - Elizabeth

August 17 - We have left Neiafu to explore the Vava'u group of islands. Yesterday we anchored off the island of Nuapapu. We swam around the island, across the teeming reef, on through the blue water, stopping to listen for whales. I followed a narrow jungle track across the island, sweeping the spiderwebs away with a palm frond, birds singing from the trees. Tonight we have moved to Ovalau, a heartwrenchingly beautiful island, with a white sand beach and a dense canopy of palm trees. We have this idyllic South Pacific island to ourselves, with not a soul in sight. Whales are not uncommon in this area, but we have not seen any yet. - Mike

August 21 - It was a great week of sailing around the Vava'u group - new anchorages every night, great snorkeling and swimming, a couple of good scuba dives. Yesterday, we headed back to town, ran some errands and shared a fantastic meal with some of our friends from other yachts. This morning we sailed out of Neiafu, escaping the lure of the Mermaids Bar, the Dancing Rooster Restaurant, and Franco's homemade gelatto (Italian ice cream). It was beautiful sailing today, some of the best ever. The winds were strong and seas flat as we coasted along at 7 or 8 knots. The winds were from the northwest, which is not a normal direction. Usually the trade winds blow steadily from the southeast so almost all the anchorages are protected from the southeast. Thus, we sail all day, checking out several anchorages which were just too exposed to the winds to be comfortable and safe. By late afternoon, we sailed into the Tapana Island anchorage which offered great protection from all sides. The rainy days are a welcome sight out here in the islands: we filled our water tanks, bottles, jugs, buckets - pretty much anything that could hold water was filled to the top with fresh, pure, tasty, Tongan rainwater. - Elizabeth

August 24 - This morning we are anchored off the island of Maninita, a gorgeous, secluded little atoll. The albatrosses and "fairy birds" swoop and circle Seawanhaka then land in the palm trees just a hundred yards east of us. From my spot here at the computer I can see the waves breaking over coral reefs on 3 sides and an untouched white sandy beach on the 4th side. It truly is a tropical paradise. Yesterday as we sailed down here (we are at the south edge of the Vava'u group, getting ready to sail down to the Ha'apai group soon), we caught a tasty bluefin tuna. Our anchorage here at Maninita Island was a bit tricky to enter for a boat as big as Seawanhaka - we had to navigate through 2 very narrow, difficult channels. The reward of this pleasant little anchorage is definitely worth it. No one else is around except the birds, the tropical fish and one black-tipped reef shark that took a keen interest in the tuna remains we threw overboard. Depending on the weather, we will be off to Ofolanga Island at the north end of the Ha'apai group tomorrow. - Elizabeth

August 26 - After leaving Neiafu, we went to Maninita Island, with an anchorage the size of a soupbowl inside the surrounding reefs. While the wind backed to the northwest, the anchor off the stern dragged in the sand, and Seawanhaka drifted towards the reef to leeward. Our bower held, but not before I watched coral heads disappear under the stern. At one point, I could have stepped over the port rail and not gotten my shorts wet, but we never struck. After a night of thunderstorms, with intense lightning, we left for Ha'apai. We arrived at Ha'ano Island yesterday, in the company of whales, after a beautiful reach and a send off from the Prince's DC-3 flying overhead - a 50-year-old plane and an 80-year-old boat. During the passage, we caught a tuna and a huge wahoo, and together with the massive snapper a fisherman gave us for helping (Malo!), we now have more fish than we can eat. We continue to be ever vigilant for the "puff of smoke" that betrays the presence of the stealthy leviathan beneath the waves. This morning we heard whalesongs reverberating through the hull of Seawanhaka. - Mike

August 29 - Our days in Ha'apai have been pretty rainy and stormy. While not the best of conditions, in some ways the gray skies are a relief because we can spend our days reading and napping on the cozy Seawanhaka. Rainy skies mean no pressure to go sightseeing around the islands or to get boat projects accomplished. We spent 2 nights in Ha'ano Island before the winds turned around and blew the seas into our little "protected" anchorage. So, we motored down to a new anchorage off of Ouleva Island. Although Ouleva is uninhabited except for 2 little beach resorts, we are close enough to take the dinghy over to Pangai, which is the capital of the Ha'apai group and the only city of substantial size around. Most of the people around Pangai were busy cleaning the streets, planting flowers, hanging up decorative strands of cloth and erecting big wooden signs over the road to welcome the king of Tonga. The cause of his visit is the big "Royal Ha'apai Agricultural, Industries, and Fisheries Show" on Tuesday. This seems to be something like the state fair, where people bring their best crops and handicrafts for show. Weather-permitting, we will stay here until after the show then head south to explore the rest of the Ha'apai group. I almost forgot...on our way to Pangai yesterday we saw a huge whale floating near the surface just downwind from where Seawanhaka was anchored. She had been there for a couple of hours, nearly motionless. We drifted that way in the dinghy and suddenly saw a baby whale swimming around the big one. We can't be sure of course but we think the mother came up into the shallower, protected waters to give birth to her calf! After we watched for a while, both the mother and calf swam away, the calf flipped his tale a few times. These whales are amazing! - Elizabeth

September 4 - This is without a doubt one of the most incredible anchorages SEAWANHAKA has ever been in. Tucked in behind the little uninhabited island of Limu, at the southern extremity of the Ha'apai. Wonderful barrier reefs extending 10 miles either side. Roaring surf pounding on the reef not a mile away, sure to be heard all night. We float in the calm of their protection. Not a light in the world to be seen but the array of stars in the sky. The volcanoes of Kao and Tofua frame the sunset. Tofua bearing the fame of the Bounty mutiny, the beach where deposed Capt. Bligh landed for water and food, chased off by the Tongans at the loss of loyal quartermaster John Norton. The anchor dug into 30 feet of solid sand, whales greeting our arrival, and their songs singing as I dove in to check the set of the hook. Fresh mahi-mahi, a good catch. We hooked 2 just as I announced to the crew that we had reached trolling speed. Two wonderfully colored mahi dancing on their tails in the sun across the beautiful blue water. We landed the smaller. Went well with fresh green peppers, tomato, garlic and onion in coconut milk and spice, a shot of rum, enjoyed by all hands for dinner in the cockpit. A wonderful day of sailing, SEAWANHAKA at her best, reaching on a fair breeze through the reef infested waters. Wishing you all well. - Cpt'n Bill

September 8 - We are anchored off of the island of Nomuka today, waiting for the weather to calm down a bit before heading south to Nuku'alofa. Nomuka is small but quite famous historically. Abel Tasman "discovered" it, Captain Cook visited for a while and this was Captain Bligh's last stop before the mutiny on the BOUNTY. We ventured into town a couple days ago and were invited to attend a big feast, which we soon found was a funeral party. Everyone was in black and had donned their best ta'ovalas, distinctive mats made of woven pandamus fibers that Tongans wear for special occasions or when going to church or school. The entire extended family was there: the old men sat in a circle drinking kava while the younger men butchered several large pigs to be roasted later. We learned from a couple of Peace Corps volunteers that Tongan funerals often last 4-5 days. They begin with the family singing all night around the body and wind down into feasts and teas. It was quite an occasion and we were happy to get to experience this little piece of Tongan life. - Elizabeth

View Photos from Tonga:

View Previous Postings:

July 5 - 24, 2004 - Apia, Samoa
May 31 - July 3, 2004 - Pago Pago, American Samoa
May 22 - 30, 2004 - Pacific Ocean Crossing
May 17 - 21, 2004 - Fanning Island, Kiribati
April 24 - May 16, 2004 - Pacific Ocean Crossing
April 19, 2004 - San Diego Bay, California
April 4, 2004 - San Diego Bay, California

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