Our Current Position

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.


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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