Sunday, July 7, 2013

First Few Weeks in Tonga

As mentioned in the previous entry we spent the first night at Uoleva Island, and as I am writing this, apart from an overnight stay back up at Lifuka for water and supplies we haven’t left!
One of the biggest draw cards are our friends on Wildlife who have based their Whale Watch business here. They have built themselves a little fale, a traditional coconut palm and frond house, and have different anchoring spots around the island depending on the wind direction. They also have contacts for getting the best vegetables and when it is working access to Wifi, and probably most importantly they have two children who the kids have met previously both in Tonga and back in New Zealand, and when they are here we feel a bit like orphans as we hardly ever see the kids as they explore the island and involve themselves in projects such and coconut palm frond weaving and building the framework for a “shop” they are making on the beach front.
We have also looked after their dog Milly for a bit when they went to do a provisioning trip, which was fun for everyone on board, but I would say Dan begs to differ as she didn’t like getting her feet wet and Dan had to carry her to and from the dinghy!
Our days here usually consist of school work in the morning, sometimes on the boat, and for a change of scene sometimes sitting at the fale, while Mum and Dad do the daily chores of dishes, hand washing the laundry, bread making, yogurt making, ensuring there is milk made up, planning lunch and dinner and preparing muesli or muffins for breakfasts. We generally will have a snorkel or swim and if needed a soap up in the sea before a fresh water rinse from the jerry can in lieu of a shower. We are continuing to read through the Twilight books and are now onto book three, and the kids can usually persuade me to read this a couple of times a day. The afternoon is generally spent on shore, playing/chatting with friends or just relaxing.
One morning I decided it would be a good idea to flag school and do a walk around the island at low tide. This took us about three hours and we were all exhausted afterward, including the dog, but it was good to say we had done it. We found dead and alive crabs, lots of flotsam and jetsam and some interesting shells along the way, as well as some promising spots for snorkelling when the wind is right, but I think next time we will pack a picnic and take the dingy!
The kids had a close encounter with a baby sea snake when they took our dingy back to our boat to get dry clothes. On the way back we couldn’t understand why they were paddling it and not using the motor, and as they got closer to us they all started yelling and we couldn’t really hear what any of them were saying until they got to us and we realised they were trying to say there was a sea snake and it was entwined around the outboard motor. It was obviously a bit upset that its nice hiding place had become so noisy and it had already started to wind its way out of there so Kai, one of the Wildlife kids, kindly assisted it out of the dingy and let it back into the sea where it hastily swam away, and Paige, Rylee and Oliver all got their breaths back! We have seen a few sea snakes around, but make sure we give them space and watch them from a distance.
Some of the notable fish and sea life we have seen snorkelling around here include several Lion fish of different sizes, Clown fish, Angel fish, a Crown of Thorns and the resident Turtle. Once again, when the internet is a bit stronger I hope to add some photos of these.
We have had a couple of trips to Lifuka, where the main town of Pangai is, mostly for water which we can source from the local police station but also for veggies and fresh fruit. The first veggies were organised for us by Wildlife to come up on the ferry from Nukualofa and this was amazing. The box lasted us well over a week with careful management, and we still have a few of the green tomatoes left, which we have been taking out of the fridge and ripening as needed.
On one of these trips to Pangai we caught a couple of fish, one of which was just small enough to cook whole in our largest frying pan, with careful management. This meant there were a couple of fish eyes to be had and both Oliver and Rylee said that they would have a go at eating them, but when it came time they started to chicken out, so Dan bribed them with a pa’anga (Tongan currency) each and they managed to do it, but Rylee had about three goes before he got his down. They said it was worth it for a pa’anga, but probably wouldn’t eat one again. From the look on their faces I don’t think I would be giving it a go anytime soon either!
While we have been here Dan has finished repairing the tramp, which required a bit of grinding and sanding and repainting and lots of stitching to replace what was deteriorating with the UV exposure of nearly 5 years. He also dried the dinghy out and did some patch work repairs on that too as we had a bumpy ride around the SE side of the island, and after that the water would pour in quite alarmingly when we were using it!
Another thing we have really enjoyed while being here is the freedom to have a beach fire whenever you want and we have already eaten through three packets of marshmallows! On the June full moon we celebrated Matariki and the Winter Solstice with cooked marshmallows between chocolate coated Krispie biscuits, our take on the US treat of Smores. We were also told that this particular moon was a Super Moon and this was evident in the effect it had on the tides over a few days, as parts of the reef that are not usually exposed were high and dry, which made for great exploring.
We had a lovely surprise this week when Jamarh, a Nelson based Catamaran with two more children on board, radioed us on the VHF and came into the anchorage and spent a few days here with us. Sundowners, shared meals, lots of swimming and kids games and of course, more beach fires we enjoyed by all. They have moved on North at the time of writing this but we do hope to catch up with them in the Vava’u Island Group, mainly because Dan is currently brewing his second batch of beer using some of thier desalinated water, and we will need them to help us taste test it!
So for us we are planning to move North in the next couple of days and will hopefully be able to update and add some photos with the slightly better infrastructure that can be found in Vava’u . We will keep you posted.

Friday, July 5, 2013

North Minerva to Tonga

Once the anchor was set and we were happy with our position, we had our traditional cuppa and snack and then because I had been on watch since 0100 I really needed to have a nap, so went to bed for a few hours while the kids played and read quietly, enjoying the fact that we weren’t moving too much that they could draw etc. They didn’t go for a swim as while we had been enjoying our cuppa another boat at the reef had come over the VHF just to let us know there were a couple of Tiger Sharks hanging around and if you wanted to swim it was best to do so from the shallows by the reef! Later we learned that Tiger Sharks were often at the reef, especially on the outside, but it was best to take precautions! I woke at the perfect time, just in time for lunch, then after lunch we all got stuck into housekeeping jobs of cleaning, sweeping, de-salting the boat and making yogurt/bread/dinner. The next day we were keen to explore the reef but as the tide was higher in the morning, we spent that time having a school work day and then as the tide dropped we headed off to explore. The Reef was amazing. I don’t quite know how to explain it but it is approximately 700m across with about three small tiers that drop down from the outer edge into the centre. At low tide the waves from the ocean don’t really come across the reef, so for six or so hours of the day it is like you are anchored in a marina, with hardly any boat movement. Either side of high tide is slightly different with the waves coming right across the reef, but the swell wasn’t large while we were there so it wasn’t too uncomfortable. There is also South Minerva, which I have heard is beautiful also, with a lot more coral to snorkel over and explore, but it is not as protected and only good to stop there if it is really settled weather. We walked right out to the outer edge and watched the waves crashing against the reef. The reef appears to be always covered in ankle deep water from the constant wash of the waves, with only isolated rocks becoming fully dry. We enjoyed watching the fish that washed up with the waves then swam/flew back to the ocean seemingly skimming over the water in the shock of being washed up onto the reef. We also were amazed to watch other reef fish skim on their sides from small pool to small pool. A couple of these fish must have thought we were a treat though and played dead, not moving in the pool they were in allowing the kids to get some very close contact. The other life we were really surprised about were the clams and all of their magnificent colours. When we get better internet access I will add a few photos but they don’t do them justice, and some of the best ones were when we didn’t have our cameras! The kids saw reef sharks on both the days we went snorkelling, but they were very shy and had disappeared by the time I realised they had been around. The mornings were spent doing school and light house (boat work) and Dan got to work resealing the Perspex under the mast to stop the sea water getting in, as well as tensioning the new shrouds and finding that there was a bit of chafe already in the new lashings, so end for ending them and carefully sanding of the sharp edge that had been causing this. He also did his usual routine of checking the batteries for water level and running the generator. We also finally finished the family read aloud book we had been reading over several months in Whangarei and have now started the Twilight Saga, which Paige has already read but thought we would all enjoy. We were going to leave on the Saturday around the slack tide, to try and avoid the turbulence through the entrance but we had got caught up in doing our jobs for the day that we ended up leaving on the Sunday for the last run up to Tonga. We had an early lunch then headed back up to the entrance under genoa, and once we were clear of the entrance, set the main sail and once again headed north east toward Tonga. We had a great sail that afternoon, but that night the wind died down and we started another 48 hours of sailing with light winds 5-10 knots. Tuesday late morning was the first sighting of land and we past between Tongatapu and Eua late afternoon which was celebrated by catching a couple small tuna. We always planned to clear into the Ha’apai Island group so we continued North, but because we didn’t want to get to the pass we needed to negotiate in the dark we put in a reef at 2000 but that didn’t slow us down enough so at 0100 when I took over we reduced sail right down to third reef which put as at the pass at the bottom of Uoleva as daylight was breaking, perfect timing really!! It was quite a nervous watch for me though as I had to ensure we stayed far enough off of all of the reefs on the way up, and in the dark you really need to have your ears out and trust that the GPS and charting programmes you are using are accurate! We had heard the pass we were using can be a bit difficult if there is an outgoing tide against the prevailing wind and swell, but it was fine for us, with plenty of bird life but unfortunately no fish for us. As we past the western side of Uoleva we saw friends of ours on their Schionning Catamaran Wildlife, so we were on the radio to let them know we were here and that we would see them later in the day once we had done our official paper work. We continued on the 5nm up to Lifuka Island and the town of Pangai where we had been in 2010 and Dan went ashore to collect the Customs Officer, Health Officer and Quarantine Officer. Once they had given the boat the once over, asked if we had Yellow Fever cards and checked out our supplies of fruit and vege Dan then had to go to the Immigration Office. By this time it was midday (but we were an hour out on our timing and didn’t discover this until we had been here a few days!) and we didn’t require any supplies so we headed back to Uoleva so hang out with our friends, which resulted in the first beach fire of the trip, a shared meal on shore and the kids playing happily with other kids their age. A great way to end passage!