Friday, 19 October 2007

The final passage of 2007 - Tonga to Fiji

It was a strange feeling setting off after a month of pleasant day sails. I was apprehensive of the trip to Fiji after reports of bad sea conditions from friends who had gone before us. Bobby & I were keen to ensure the final journey of 2007 left us with good memories & that love for the ocean would return after our recent bumpy passages. We were in no rush to set off & willing to wait for a good weather window, despite my itchy feet to get moving. Tonga does that to you. It’s the place where after 9 months of sailing similar paths in the South Pacific to our fellow cruisers we all begin to separate, heading off in different directions & at different timelines. The sound of air horns & ship bells being rung in mooring field was constant as boats bade farewell to friends setting off on their passages to NZ & OZ.

We said our goodbyes on the 11th Oct & headed out of Vava’u’s comfortable calm waters & into the ocean. Thankfully it has been a wonderful 4 days at sea. The weather has been warm & sunny, with no need for the thermals & foul weather gear that I had laid out ready for use in the v berth! Light winds have resulted in more engine use than usual but it has also meant a flat calm ocean – I had almost forgotten what it looked like! The sound of the engine makes Bobby anxious so he attempts to sail even in the lightest winds but the sound of the sails slapping as the wind drops makes me anxious. Needless to say the sails get reefed in on my watches to minimise the slapping & as Bobby takes over for his watch they get let out again!!

I spend my night watches staring up at the stars & Milky Way, watching brightly burning planets appearing on the horizon (we have both mistaken them for other boats!) & then rising high into the night sky, the reflection of the moon on the lake like sea & luminescent particles glowing as Barraveigh gently ploughs through the ocean. My final night watch finishes as the sun begins to rise, a new day silently beginning as the darkness gives way to the warm rays. I attempt to absorb every detail to memory, never wanting to forget how peaceful & beautiful it can be out here at sea. I wish I was able to identify more star formations & planets but I keep myself entertained inventing my own - there is the handbag, the starfish, the martini glass, the 3 sisters, the shopping trolley & the kite which I believe is the Southern Cross! ; )

We have ended our failure to catch any fish in the South Pacific, thanks to the lucky lure purchased in Tahiti. The lure, which had been lost months ago, only to find Bobby had put it in one of his “safe”, never to be found again, places! It hooked us a 4 foot Mahimahi, a beautiful aqua marine blue, so beautiful I had trouble putting the gaff (a sharp metal hook) into her gills to pull her onboard for Bobby to kill & filet. It’s just been too long since we caught a fish & I’ve become a softie, which didn’t go down well with the Captain, who pulled her in on his own! Once onboard she quickly lost her blue colouring & turned various shades of green (I hope she wasn’t seasick!). I hate to admit it but dinner was gorgeous!!

It has been a fun passage & one that will be hard to beat, we have eaten well (mainly due to the fish & the fact the fridge has stopped working so we are attempting to eat everything rather than throw it over board!), played games (Bobby refuses to play cards as I continually beat him, Yahtzee is still allowed as he remains the champion!!), spent each afternoon watching the sunset from Barraveigh’s bow & don’t tell anyone but we treated ourselves to a cold beer/G&T each eve when the fridge worked!, watched movies in the cockpit under the stars (thanks to Gil & Fiona for the new DVD’s) & laughed as we throw buckets of cold sea water over each other to bathe & cool down.

I’m delighted that the final leg of 2007 has been an enjoyable, relaxing time. 5 hours of it remain so I’m off to make the most of them!

From one kingdom to another - the UK to the Kingdom of Tonga!

After another bumpy 2 day passage (I dream of flat seas!) we arrived at the Vava’u Group, northern island chain. The scenery was stunning, 100’s of high cliff islands rising out of the sea & humpback whales teaching their young the lessons of life in the sheltered waters. Best of all it was a Sunday, nothing open in town so no rush to check in with immigration & customs. We headed to a quiet anchorage to join our friends Barefeet & Serai (we hadn’t seen Barefeet since leaving Bora Bora!). Crystal clear aqua marine waters, powder sand beaches & afternoon cocktails after a game of frizbee. It’s a tough life but someone’s got to do it! ; ) No peaceful nights sleep for me as the whales kept me awake with their singing, boy is it loud when it bounces off the hull!

Monday morning we headed to the huge dock in Neiafu to check in. It’s not easy to manoeuvre yourself into a 50 foot space in between the other yachts, reminds me of driving lessons learning to parallel park! Throwing lines to the guys on the dock who were at least 2 meters above us was also a challenge; luckily I didn’t embarrass myself with any girly throws! I shouted commands regarding what we wanted done with the line & refused to let them bully me into doing it their way, having already been given my instructions by Captain Bobby – he’s scarier than they are! I’m slowly getting to grips with this sailing lark!

This is a modest country where my bikini wouldn’t have made a good first impression so after a few wardrobe changes & finally given the thumbs up by Bobby, we were ready to welcome the officials onboard. Making the right impression is important, make the wrong impression & they hold the power to make life difficult, pulling your boat apart to search every tiny space, charging for excess alcohol, insisting you throw certain food products away & of course inventing fines & charges for the sake of getting extra money. We have a routine. Bobby puts on a shirt, I put on a skirt & let my hair down (blonde hair is rare in these parts!), I smile offering cold drinks & freshly baked muffins while Bobby does the talking, finding a common interest. It’s worked so far & we have certainly encountered fewer problems than other yachties. Despite all this the process seemed to take all day but we finally escaped & made it to the mooring field with Barraveigh in one piece! The Tongan’s never have a sense of urgency, everything is completed at a VERY sedate pace, rush them & they go even slower, not really what you want when your boat is tied against a huge concrete dock!!

We spent a month in Vava’u sailing around the many islands & heading back to town every 5 days or so when we needed fresh supplies or to socialise at the bars! Finding food supplies was a challenge unless you wanted tins of corned beef, which filled at least half the supermarkets shelves! Being closer to OZ & NZ we expected availability to be better than the out of reach islands but it was not to be. At one point there were no eggs anywhere in town for over a week! It’s part of the challenge of travelling & luckily we still have many supplies from Panama!

Our days were filled with snorkelling the various reefs & multi coloured corals, looking out for new fish or sea creatures, my fav are the starfish; the bright blue’s, the puffed up cushion’s & the fat pink ones! I practised holding my breath & diving deeper to the ocean floor in order to collect sand dollars. I’m certainly more confident in the water but unfortunately not secure enough to make it into Mariners Cave. It’s a huge cave where access is 6 feet underwater. You hold your breath as you swim through an enclosed tunnel before surfacing inside the cavern. I attempted it but I could not get my mind to cooperate. I got as far as putting my head into the tunnel but freaked out hitting the rocks with my flipper & dislodging it off my foot. Panicked I reached out grabbing anything in front of me, which happened to be Bobby’s snorkel, yanking it out of his mouth, not the best idea! We were both ok but Mariners Cave got the better of me!

We explored caves & deserted beaches in the kayaks, spent rainy days watching DVD’s (there were many of them & I soon discovered bad weather makes Bobby unbearable as he paces up & down inside the boat!), watched the England v Tonga World Cup Rugby match, supported the Miss Cosmo show, a 2 day event for the local transsexuals to show off their singing, dancing & performing talents. All ages of the community attended, supporting their favourites. Culturally it’s widely accepted in many of the South Pacific islands. If a couple have no daughters, they bring up one of the sons as a girl in order to assist with the household chores, Nan you should have considered this after having 6 sons!

We attended church where the singing was beautiful & loud enough to lift the roof off, plus we got to look at the locals in their traditional clothing, a material wrap around skirt, for both men & women, over which they wear a tapa mat of varying lengths. It was best described to me, that they appeared to have rolled on the floor & wrapped themselves up in the floor matting! On Sundays everything is closed, the high street was a ghost town, everyone is at home. Having had one two many rainy days & watched too many DVD’s we needed something to entertain us on a damp, grey Sunday! We headed out for an afternoon of “skurffing”. All you need is a powerful dinghy (not ours, which still leaks both air & water!), a surf board, a tow rope & voila you have a combination of water skiing & surfing! Great fun was had by all; I even managed to stand up the first time!

I nearly forgot to mention our minor issue of running aground, a sailors worst nightmare, well that & the 100’s of others! Yes I did happen to be at the wheel. All was well, we were in 60-70 feet of water & making our way out of an anchorage, suddenly the depth monitor began dropping & we parked on top of a coral head, not an ideal spot I know. Bobby jumped in the water to take a look around, he confirmed I had found the only coral head in the middle of the pass, lucky me! It was all very tense. With Bobby directing I slowly reversed Barraveigh off the coral (one other minor problem…I’m still not great at turning the boat in reverse especially when the pressure is on!) We thanked our lucky stars that we had been motoring slowly & there was no damage to Barraveigh’s keel or hull. It sure was a scary moment & has left me very nervous about coral as it’s everywhere & apparently Fiji is meant to be worse!

We have had to say goodbye to many good friends, especially Barefeet, Serai, Antares (who have the cutest baby in the fleet), Bluemoon, Scholarship & Afriki, all of whom are heading for either OZ or NZ to wait out hurricane season. Bobby is still happy with his decision to wait it out in Fiji; we have certainly enjoyed the more relaxed pace of life. Most cruisers are admitting to being tired & looking forward to staying put for a little while. It’s been a long distance to cover with so much to see & constantly working out how many days you can spare in one place before you have to move on. Most people have one long passage still ahead of them but for us there is only the 465 miles to Fiji left!

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

a huge thank you

I'm presently surrounded by birthday cards & presents. I have the biggest smile on my face. I'm amazed at how many people took the time to send cards all the way to Tonga & am really touched by all your kind thoughts.

It may be three weeks since my birthday but like the queen I have been able to celebrate again. With one post boat a week the post is VERY slow!

I'm looking forward to watching all the new DVD's, eating my chocolate buttons & flumps & putting all the cards up around the boat!

A huge thank you to all. I'm a very lucky girl to have such special friends & family.
Love to you all
Suzi x

P.S. Jess, your butterfly flew out of the card, across the bar & scared us all!! ; )