Our Current Position

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Happy Ha'apai

Last Saturday (21st) we left our pretty little anchorage north of Nuku island and headed west to Ovaka Island, one of the most south westerly islands in the Vava’u Group. We anchored in front of the government primary school. Just imagine going to a primary school right on the beachfront, what a wonderful setting!  We spent Sunday being mainly lazy but did do some preparations for our sail south on Monday, including getting the dinghy and outboard motor back on board X-Pat. We even had a dry night!

Primary School (white roof) on the beach at Ovaka Island

On Monday, we were up at 4am and left the anchorage at 4:30 am for the 64nm sail south to the Ha’apai group. We left early as we had some reefs to negotiate at our destination and it is best to do this when the sun is still high in the sky and one can see the reefs.

The wind had obligingly swung from south to east and so it was up with the sails and off with the engine and off we went. This was the first time we had hoisted the sails since we arrived in Vava’u, so it was a bit of a novelty sailing again, especially in the dark!

The wind soon picked up to force 3 and sometimes force 4, and we were comfortably sailing along at 7 knots on a lovely beam reach in smooth seas by the time the sun appeared over the horizon. Then the fun really began as we spotted our first humpback whales of the trip, off our port side. They were a reasonable distance off but we still had good views.

Over the nine hours that we were sailing south we counted a total of 20 whales, mostly off in the distance but a few broaching, which was pretty spectacular.

We arrived at the north end of the island of Foa, around mid afternoon and were greeted by our friends Jo and Rob aboard Double Trouble, flying their drone around us, whilst we anchored in a nice sandy patch in between the reefs. It was textbook anchoring, or so we are told!

At anchor with Double Trouble off Foa Island

It was great to see Jo and Rob again. We last saw them at Great Barrier Island in New Zealand in March. We joined them at the Sandy Beach resort for drinks where they introduced us to the managers of the resort, Richard and Kushla. We had hoped to do a whale swim with them but they had damaged one of their two boats and so had limited capacity.

On Tuesday we stayed at anchor and went snorkelling with Jo and Rob. We took the dinghies around the north end of Foa and Jo, Rob and Debi snorkelled whilst Pat manned the dinghies. Pat was still suffering with an infected arm after his argument with a pier two weeks ago and was advised not to swim, a shame as the snorkelling was fantastic with the coral in much better condition that it is in Vava’ u.

The coral at Foa is much more spectacular than in Vava'u

Coral at Foa Island


In the evening we went across to Double Trouble for sundowners and swapped experiences on the best places to visit in Vava’u and Ha’apai. It’s so useful having other people to do the hard work of exploring for you and finding all the best spots.

On Wednesday we motored south just 8 nm and anchored off the Ha’apai Beach resort, which is close to Pangai, the capital village of the Ha’apai group. For all you rugby fans this is where Jonah Lomu’s family are from.

X-Pat anchored in the distance off Jonah Lomu Park

We took the dinghy ashore and headed off into Pangai to do our official check in here with customs and have a look around the village. There really isn’t a lot here. Just a few shops with limited supplies. We did find a fuel station, which will be useful to fill the jerry cans with diesel before we leave. We visited the Mariners café, which is a bit of a yachties café run by a Polish woman, Magda. We signed the visiting yachts book. She has books going back to 2001 with a record of visiting yachts. It’s quite interesting to look back through them all.

We then took a fairly long walk to the hospital to get Pat’s arm looked at and to check on Debi’s ear. There was no doctor there as we arrived quite late, but a nurse took a look and was fairly positive about both patients and didn’t think any more antibiotics were needed. Incidentally the hospital was also the birthplace of the King of Tonga, so we were in good hands!

After a total of 9km of walking, which is unheard off these days, we had a rewarding beer(s) back at the Ha’apai Beach resort and pizza with plantain chips. We had a nice chat with the owners, Matt and Jodie, who have been running the place for over 5 years and have basically rebuilt it following a cyclone. We hope to do a whale swim with Matt next week.

We had a slow morning on Thursday recovering from beers and pizza. Debi baked some bread, which was delicious. Then we headed off south and anchored at the northern end of Uoleva island. We went ashore in the afternoon to play with the drone on the beach, which almost ended in disaster but instead ended with some hilarity.

Having flown around for a while getting shots along the idyllic palm lined beach, Pat was just bringing the drone back to land. The secret to successful drone flying seems to be to look at the screen on the controller and fly according to what you see. The mistake is to look at the drone, especially when it is facing you, as the tendency is to steer the wrong way. Anyway to cut a long story short, Pat managed to land the drone about 6m up a tree, overhanging the beach.

Then the hilarity followed. First we tried knocking it out of the tree with a stick but the stick wasn’t long enough. Then Pat tried climbing the tree and shaking the branch but it wouldn’t budge. Then Debi had the questionably brilliant idea that she could reach it with the stick if she sat on Pat’s shoulders. Pat, kidding himself that he was forty years younger than he is agreed! Pat was impressed that he actually managed to stand up with Debi and the stick on his shoulders. However, balance at this point wasn’t part of the equation and after a moment or two of staggering about, Debi managed to do a spectacular backflip off Pat’s shoulder’s and land in a heap on the sand. Thankfully she wasn’t hurt and the stick was also ok! Unfortunately the drone was enjoying nesting in the tree and failed to catch any of this on film.

At this point we decided that our beach acrobatic days were definitely behind us and so Pat set off into the undergrowth to find a bigger stick. This didn’t take long and we then managed to successfully dislodge the drone from it’s nest and get it to drop onto a carefully positioned towel, to avoid landing it in the sand! Thankfully no harm came to the drone, the crew or the two sticks involved! After all that excitement we headed back to X-Pat for one of Debi’s much needed tropical cocktails.

With our recent extensive walk in Pangai under our belt, we decided to go ashore again yesterday and walk around Uoleva island. We had read this would take us 5 hours but had no idea how far it was. We set off in a southerly direction along the idyllic sanding beach lined with palm trees and some other tree species, which have a propensity to snare drones.

At the southern end of the island there is a resort, which specialises in kite surfing holidays. It’s only a small place accommodating 10 people, but we had a chat with some of the kite surfers there. The reef is apparently very unforgiving if you land on it. Raymond and Barry Corbett would love this place, with fairly constant 20 knot trade winds to play with.

We then headed down the east side of the island which is basically just one long sandy beach, probably 5 km, bordered by turquoise waters and shallow coral. It does however face into the prevailing SE winds and the back of the beach was covered in plastic debris. There really is no escape from these ocean plastics now. They are everywhere.

The endless beach on Uoleva Island


Plastic Debris is everywhere.


According to Debi’s watch we did 11km in total walking on soft sand pretty much the whole way. It took us about three hours in total and we were glad to get back onto X-Pat and have a lazy afternoon, watching whales in the distance.







Friday, 20 July 2018

Visitors, Feasts and Antibiotics

Well another week (or maybe more!) has passed since the last blog, so here we go again.
 
X-Pat in Paradise
Malcolm and Ange arrived on Tuesday (10th) bearing welcome gifts of cheese, chocolate, gin and whisky. We spent the first day having a look around the main town (Nieafu) and sampling the local food and drink and then it was back to X-Pat for some more food and drink!
Young Sea Dogs

On Wednesday we set off, motoring through the beautiful tree covered islands for a few hours, to the island of Nuapapa. We anchored off the beach in early afternoon and then headed into the beach in the evening for a Tongan feast. Dinghy transfers always carry a bit of risk and despite the relatively calm conditions this one didn’t go well. We arrived at a pier that looked a bit tumbled down. Debi jumped off and was busy helping Ange ashore when something went wrong. We’re not sure what but Ange fell back onto the dinghy and both Ange and Pat ended up in the water. This was a somewhat embarrassing start to the feast!

It was only when Pat headed back to X-Pat to pick up Malcolm that he noticed blood all over the dinghy. He had grazed his arm against the pier, which is never good in the tropics. Despite the drenching we had a good feast and introduction to Tongan culture, including how to make coconut milk, Tongan dancing and some good food.

On Thursday we went ashore on Nuapapa again, this time landing on the beach, and had a tour of the local school (20 pupils) and the village. The organiser of the feast, who is also the local minister, was having problems with his VHF radio and so Pat volunteered to take a look. He traced the problem to a bare piece of coaxial cable rubbing up against a rusty nail. That’s never good for transmission quality. A few wraps of insulating tape and some soldering of another connection and his transmissions were once again decipherable. We haven’t seen anybody so appreciative for a long time. He presented us with some Kava as a thank-you and walked back with us through the village to the beach explaining to everyone along the way that his radio was fixed! Then it was off to Port Maurelle for some swimming and snorkelling.
 
Nuapapa Primary School

VHF Radio Repair Service

Friday was the 13th and so we decided to just be lazy and stay at anchor, reading, swimming and snorkelling. Oh and we may have had the odd drink as well!

On Saturday we headed off to a new anchorage on the south side of Tapana island. We were the only boat there and it was simply beautiful looking out over the reef to the ocean beyond. Yet again the reef looked quite damaged but there were lots of small reef fish. At this point all the activity in the water started to take it’s toll and both Malcolm and Debi started complaining of blocked ears. Pardon?

On Sunday we had a leisurely motor back into Neiafu harbour, with a plan to go and see the botanical gardens on Monday. Unfortunately this didn’t work out, as they had to close that day, so we ended up doing an island tour with Matthew, a local taxi driver.

A few of the islands are joined to the main island by causeways and so there is actually quite a network of roads and lanes passing through the villages. We visited a vanilla centre, which reportedly showed how vanilla is grown and processed on the island. Unfortunately it wasn’t operating as the crop had failed for the past two years. This seemed a little strange as we saw lots of vanilla growing later on in our tour. We also visited a good lookout point on the north east coast of the island with great views over the cliffs. Apparently whales frequently visit this area but we didn’t see any. We then had a very nice fish and chip lunch at a restaurant on Einio beach.

With ears still blocked and aching we took the opportunity to visit the pharmacist whilst we were in town. This amazing young Italian guy named Marco seemed to be dealing with every ailment that walked through the door. Debi commented to him that it must be tremendously rewarding, but he begged to differ. He said, in the excited animated way that only Italians can, that it was extremely stressful with no sleep and no time off! Armed with ear drops and antibiotics we headed off back to X-Pat to check whether one of Debi’s exotic coconut cocktails would help.

On Tuesday (17th) we dropped Malcolm and Ange into town with multiple dinghy transfers (all dry) for their flight home via Fiji. They have proudly survived (just!) their second week of living on X-Pat. Debi and Pat then did a few trips to the local garage in a taxi equipped with three jerry cans to refuel X-Pat for the next few weeks.

On Wednesday we stayed on the mooring and headed into town to do our provisioning and catch up with some internet time. Whilst in town we dropped in to see Marco the pharmacist to check on Debi’s ear and got him to look at Pat’s grazed elbow, which was looking very red, at the same time. He concluded that the elbow was infected and so now both Debi and Pat are on antibiotics!

After a few final bits of provisioning we visited customs on Thursday and checked out of Vava’u informing them that we would be heading south to the Ha’apai group of islands. They were a bit put out when we told them that Leanne had left by plane, but it didn’t seem to be a problem. Apparently we should have informed them before she left!

We then headed out of Neiafu harbour for the last time and are now anchored just to the north of a beautiful little island called Nuku. This is a real Robinson Crusoe island with coconut palms and a beautiful white powder sand beach. The weather has been really calm with very little wind, which is unusual here. We took the opportunity to go ashore and have a go with the drone, taking some photos and video. It’s fair to say that Pat is still learning what all the various buttons do, but there has been progress.  Debi used the time to practise doing handstands.

X-Pat at anchor off Nuku Island


We are now waiting for the wind to swing around from the south to the east over the next few days and then we will head south.




Monday, 9 July 2018

Tongan Time

In Tonga things happen in what is known as “Tongan time” and that includes this blog, which is well overdue for an update!

We finally escaped the clutches of NZ at 11am on June 13th when we departed Opua and motored out through the Bay of Islands on a calm day with no wind! Fortunately it only took a few hours for the wind to pick up and so up went the sails, off went the engine and with Leanne putting her sail trimming skills to good use, off we went doing 6.5 knots in lovely sailing conditions. As darkness fell for our first night at sea, Debi produced a delicious beef stroganoff and all was well.

Our route far


Leaving the Bay of Islands

Our departure was planned to coincide with the back of a low pressure system which gave us good south west winds. However, this meant that we had to contend with a large high pressure system, which developed in our direct path to Tonga. To avoid having to motor for days through the windless centre of the high, we took a rather circuitous route to the east initially, before turning north and passing to the west of the Kermadec Islands.

This was a fantastic few days of sailing with calm seas and a steady wind on the beam. Despite this, the crew were feeling a little queasy in the following seas and Leanne struck up quite a relationship with the bottom of the ship’s bucket!

At night the skies were absolutely fantastic. With no moon it was very dark allowing us to see many stars. Indeed it was so dark that even Mars cast a light across the ocean as it rose, “marshine”. As if the sky wasn’t spectacular enough the sea was also sparkling as the bioluminescence lit the water all around the boat. A real privilege to see all this.

Three days after departure we sailed across the 180 degree meridian and technically into the western hemisphere from the eastern one! As we started to progress north we watched the water temperature steadily climb. It was 13.2°C when we left the Bay of Islands and in Tonga it is 24°C!

Unbelievably windless
The air temperature also gradually rose and fleeces, wet weather gear and beanies gave way to shorts, t-shirts and sunhats.

After nearly six days of perfect sailing conditions the wind decided to turn to the north east which meant we were now having to sail to windward, which always makes living conditions more difficult. However we soon adjusted and after 9 days at sea we spotted the island of Eua, the most southerly of the Tongan Island group. Isn’t satellite navigation a wonderful thing! 

First sighting of Tonga

Our elation at arriving in the Kingdom of Tonga, was soon dashed when we realised that we would arrive into the Ha’apai group of islands, our planned destination, on the Saturday of the Kings birthday celebrations. A few quick emails confirmed that there wasn’t any hope of clearing customs until Monday, which would mean that we would be confined to the boat for two days.

Our delayed departure had made a fairly serious dent in Leanne’s timetable and had already cut down the amount of time she would have in Tonga to only ten days. It didn’t seem like a very efficient use of time to sit around for two days waiting on customs and so we bit the bullet and carried on to the most northerly group of islands in Tonga, the Vava’u group another day’s sailing north. 

Debi had just finished her midnight to 3 am watch, handing over to Pat.  The wind had picked up considerably during her watch and it was raining so we briefly debated putting in a reef, but, at 3am, it seemed like too much effort so Debi, who was drenched, went below to change her clothes and get some sleep.  Just then a big gust came through and Bob, our ever-faithful self-steering system, lost the plot and the boat rounded up into the wind.  Pat was struggling with the helm and decided it was, indeed, time to put in a reef so he yelled for help.  Debi, who had just been changing, had felt the boat round up and was already on deck clad in only her (matching, I hasten to add) underwear and a lifejacket!  Leanne followed suit but at least she was decently attired in a nightshirt.  We put the reef in, cursing ourselves for not doing so when we had first considered it, and all was well.  Debi may have started a new fashion in sailing attire but sadly we have no photographs.

At this point the winds decided to go more westerly and then south westerly, which meant we had a fantastic run weaving our way to the north of Tongatapu and then up through the west side of the Ha’apai group. This final leg was made even better when a large pod of dolphins appeared briefly to say hello! We made such good time that we arrived into Neiafu, the main town in the Vava’u group at 1630 on Saturday afternoon.

Debi made a quick call on the VHF and confirmed that the customs officers were still there and so we could clear straight away. This was a somewhat stressful process having to tie up against a horrible concrete wharf with big rubber tyres hanging off it. This was a challenge that Pat was really not ready for after 10 days at sea! The docking process was not textbook, but we got there and finally stepped on land after 10 days and 5 hours at sea.

The customs wharf!

The customs process was easy but time consuming, filling in lots of forms that all required the same information! All of this whilst listening to commentary of a Fiji v Tonga rugby match on the radio, in Tongan! Based on the smiling faces around us, we believe Tonga won. About an hour later we left the wharf and headed up the harbour to find somewhere to anchor just as it was getting dark.

The end of a very long day was celebrated with copious bottles of bubbly. We had travelled 1,369 nm (2535 km) in 10 days and 5 hours. We used the engine for about a third of the time and used an estimated 144 litres of diesel. Pat fell asleep by 7pm!

Our view from the first anchorage
Since arriving we have been chilling out and hiding in sheltered bays from some fairly high winds. Leanne was keen to get as much snorkelling in as possible so we managed to anchor at a few of the other islands and spend time swimming and snorkelling. This included snorkelling in the spectacular Swallow’s Cave.

X-Pat from inside Swallow's Cave

The team on the way to more snorkelling

Debi had some lessons from Leanne on her new camera, a gift from Leanne, and has produced some wonderful underwater shots. As with many places around the world we have found that the coral here is not in the best of health, with much of it dead or bleached. However, there are patches of good stuff with lots of fish life around it. Rumour has it that the coral in the Ha’apai group is in better shape. We will find out later in our trip!



Debi's photo's with the new camera

Debi's photo's with the new camera

Debi's photo's with the new camera

Leanne left us last Tuesday (3rd July) and flew back to Sydney. We have spent time re-provisioning and meeting up with friends from other boats. On Wednesday we walked up Mount Talau, which is not particularly high but has good views over the harbour and surrounding islands.

Re-provisioning

The weather was forecast to be a bit less windy for the end of the week and so we headed out to anchor off a small beach on the island of Lapa. The day was spent doing a few boat jobs and chilling out as unfortunately the weather was less windy but a bit rainy. 

On Saturday we headed back towards Neiafu and anchored in a nice sheltered anchorage at the foot of Mt Talau. We both did a bit of snorkelling and then got busy tidying up the boat. Pat spent some time doing repairs to the teak deck in the cockpit, which now seems to be an annual requirement!

It’s now Monday and we are back on a mooring in Neiafu. We have just been to do a few chores and say goodbye to our friends on SV Citation and SV Blithe Spirit. They are both heading off for Fiji today.

Whilst ashore Pat took the opportunity to get a well overdue haircut! The guy didn’t speak any English but seemed to be saying that he didn’t have a no.2 clipper guide and would no.3 be ok?  Sure Pat said. Somehow something was lost in translation! (see photo). The good news is that it only cost $7 and he’s not going to need another haircut for a while.

Bargain hair styling!
We are looking forward to Malcolm and Ange joining us tomorrow and then we will be off for more adventures in the islands.







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