From New Zealand to Tonga
At last, we're back at sea again. And it isn't easy, because after having lived as landlubbers for six months we are pretty seasick during the first three days of our journey. We have worked hard on Happy the past few weeks and we are now on our way with the many improvements. For example, we can now leave our navigation lights on, because we are now using energy-saving LED lights. But the best improvement is our new sail: it looks beautiful, it does not tear at the first blast of wind and the greatest miracle of all is that it pushes our little boat forward a lot better. We sail at speeds we no longer reached during the last six months. Of course, it helps that the underwater ship is nice and smooth again, and it seems that this time we will be sailing to Tonga in nine days, which is ten days shorter than our journey to New Zealand. We also enjoy our new little toilet, a new bowl and pump, but we've also made it cosier with shells, stones and pieces of coral.
Back to the tropics
We have a smooth journey with good winds and we do arrive in Tongatapu, Tonga's most southern island, after nine days. The first night we anchor at "Big Mama" and enjoy the tropical view; it is nice to be back in the tropics. Unfortunately the temperature isn't really tropical, it's 22 to 23 degrees, but that is not as warm as we are used to in Tonga. The next day we make the crossing to Nuku'alofa, Tonga's capital. It is heartwarming to meet the friendly people of the "Friendly Islands" again. We check in at customs and immigration, buy vegetables at the market and check our email at the "Friends Cafe".
After two weeks we are ready to continue, but unfortunately Dory gets the flu and stays in bed and on the couch for three days. When she is recovered after a week, the next problem presents itself: the weather, a really strong wind is approaching. The islands of the Ha'apai group, another part of Tonga we want to go to, offer little shelter, which means it's not safe there when there's a strong wind and lots of rain, so we postpone our departure for another week and stay safely in the harbour. After all, it's not much fun to be anchored at a beautiful but unsafe site, with high waves which will prevent us from going to shore with our minimonster.
We therefore decide to rent a car for a day. When we pick up the car in the morning in an area where vegetables and second-hand clothes are sold, we only need to show a driver's licence. No other official documents are exchanged, there is no mention of insurance or a deposit and we only pay 25 euros for the whole day. We pick up At and Dia of the Angelique II and career all around the island of Tongatapu. The blow holes, where the ocean spurts the water up in the air several metres high, are absolutely impressive, especially since there's a strong wind. A large gate from ancient times is beautiful, but an old king's tomb and the place where Captain Cook once landed aren't very impressive. The big surprise of the day is the Hina cave, a cave on the beach the owner of which returned from Australia eight months ago at his grandfather's request to do something about the cave. The cave had been neglected and was overgrown and full of graffiti. Together with a group of young people from the nearby village they worked really hard and two weeks ago the cave was reopened for the public. Lunch is served in the bark of a banana tree and the bananas for the dessert hang above the table. The view of the white beach with palm trees and the ocean behind it is breathtaking. The owner also had a few young people learn Tongan dancing and now they have dance performances every Friday evening, complete with live music and a buffet. It is wonderful to see how a group of young people learned how to entertain tourists in just a few months.
The weather is fine and at least we leave the harbour of Nuku'alofa. We cast off the lines and Hans winds up the anchor. It's unbelievable how much mud is pulled up by the anchor chain, everything on the forward deck, including Hans, is covered in a thick layer of mud. It takes quite a few buckets of water to clean everything and at last we sail out of the harbour. We are going to Atata, a small island ten miles away. From there we can sail to Ha'apai in one day. The weather is still a bit restless and the wind is quite strong, so we only use the headsail. When we have nearly reached the entrance of the coral reef, we start the engine and Hans positions himself on the forward deck to point out shoals. For a few seconds, he helps Dory roll up the headsail and that's when it happens! "STOP", Hans shouts and Dory accelerates backwards, but unfortunately it's too late, we feel we are stuck. We accelerate backwards, forwards, steer to the left or to the right, but nothing happens. After a lot of accelerating backwards, we finally come loose. Still shivering with nerves we very carefully sail on to where we are going to anchor. It is a beautiful spot where we are all on our own, but we can't really enjoy it; our collision with the Tongan seabed keeps going through our heads. The next day we leave early and at high tide. As we leave the lagoon, we pass over the reef again, but this time the water is high enough to sail over it.
The Ha'apai islands
The sea is still rough and turbulent, we get seasick again while we sail to the beautiful island of Kelefesia. Fortunately, it's only a short trip and before darkness falls we arrive at the island which was once a present from the king of Tonga to the family who lives there now. Since they are miles away from anywhere, the inhabitants have to go to another island once every three months for provisioning. But they are dependent on boats with outboard motors and because of the increasing fuel prices, sailing back and forth is becoming more and more difficult for them. Fortunately, nature provides food in the form of fish and drinks in the form of coconuts, but it's impossible to grow anything because their pigs eat their crops before they can harvest them. We give them sugar, flour, peppers and corned beef and in exchange they expertly roast a cute little piglet on our last night. These people have little sense of time, because when we ask them how long it takes before the piglet is done, they say it will be ready in half an hour. But it's one and a half hour before we can enjoy a delicious piece of tender meat with a crispy skin.
We continue to Ha'avefa. There we are also anchored on our own in a large, calm and quite location. You can't hear the sea thundering on a reef here, the reefs are far away. But you can hear many church bells ringing on Sundays. In this tiny little village there are at least seven churches. Evangelists and missionaries of many different religions have done a lot of work here, all inhabitants give half of their meagre income to the church! On the island we meet Manuta, a 13-year old girl who doesn't go to school because her parents can't or don't want to pay for it. She would love to learn English. We promise to look for a textbook for her.
Back to civilization
After a few days, we arrive at the island of Lifuka, with Pangai, the main city of the Ha'apai group of islands. Here there are schools and shops and we can buy all basic commodities again. We discover that the schools don't use textbooks, these books simply don't exist here. Maybe we have a better chance to find a suitable book for Manuta in Vava'u.
From Lifuka we sail to Vava'u in one night, it's a beautiful trip with a good wind. We pick a mooring at the huge, busy anchorage near Neiafu, Vava'u's main city. We were here last year so arriving here feels a little bit like coming home. For the first time in three years we come back to a place where we have been before. More about Vava'u next time.
(Translated from dutch to english by Percy Balemans)