2010 Travelogue 3 -- Tonga

In the last travelogue we had returned to New Zealand after sustaining damage to Anna during a storm en route to
Tonga and were in the process of repairing her.  It was only July 6th that we completed all the repairs and were able
to check out from NZ again and leave for Tonga a second time, a voyage of 1100 nm.  In the interim we explored
more of New Zealand, became quite familiar with Auckland, and did some work on the boat.  The repairs I jobbed out
were much more expensive than I anticipated and budgeted for, with one technician doubling the price on
presentation of the bill after quoting me what was already a hefty sum just ten days before.  (To be fair, I made a
warranty claim on the sparmaker, King Composites, who agreed to pay a portion of the bill.)  And while I was taken
aback by the expense of the repairs, I must admit that I enjoyed our time in Auckland and can think of no major city
where I would rather be stuck repairing a boat.  Every evening we went out to escape the confines of the boat and so
we sampled many, many restaurants, cafes and pubs, but towards the end settled on a nice Irish pub called The
Muddy Farmer where we watched the soccer World Cup replays and occasionally played pool -- one of the tables
was round!

When we finally shoved off from Auckland on the 6th we were very keen to get back to the sea and warm weather --
we had to use the heaters every night for the last month or so living aboard in NZ -- and on making our way out of the
Hauraki Gulf, which serves as the entrance to Auckland, our spirits were quickly lifted as we first spotted orcas and
later a pod of about a half-dozen dolphins that accompanied us for about an hour, swimming in our bow wakes and
leaping out of the water.  We had chosen to leave at the first available weather window, on the tail of a low-pressure
system, with tailwinds from the SW but the winds were quite fresh, in the high 20's, low 30's and the seas quite strong,
several meters high, and there was rain daily so the entire voyage was rather miserable.  Our daily maximum wind
speeds for the passage to Tonga were 36.7, 34.3, 33.2, 54.8, 28.1, 39.6, 39.6, and 19 knots.   We think that the 54.8
was an aberration or the result of a glitch in our anemometer, because none of us remember that day being
particularly bad, and two 39.6 readings in a row also seem suspect, but nevertheless that is what we recorded.  Unlike
for windspeed we have no technology to gauge the size of the seas, but they were always rough, from several
directions, never a nice, easy roll, and my crew did not find their sea-legs until the final day of the trip when the wind
and seas finally relented.  We estimated that the highest seas were about five meters, but mostly just in the 3-4 meter
range.  Our max boat speed was 18.8 knots, and Anna proved again her outstanding quality as a cruising boat.

About 275 nm SW of Tonga lie the Minerva Reefs, which show no land or vegetation.  We decided to explore them
and so entered the southern one on a rain-filled morning with poor visibility but passable seas.  We anchored,
dropped the dinghy, erected the aft awning, and then Glen and I put on swimsuits and rain-jackets and went for an
exploratory trip around the lagoon in the dinghy, the rain making us wish we had motorcycle or ski goggles.  First we
put out our new 20-meter gill net, all rigged with new anchors and lines and floats, expecting a fish windfall in this
pristine uninhabited atoll, then crossed the lagoon to see what a vague lump in the distance was.   It felt exhilarating
being in the dinghy and getting out of Anna after being thrown around so much for the previous several days.  After
motoring as near as we could to the object, we anchored the dinghy and got out and waded barefoot in the shallows
where the lagoon meets the barrier reef and we found a very old and dilapidated concrete platform and some boiler
equipment scattered about, encrusted with rust and marine growth.  We never learned what the structure had been.  
We ambled around a bit and noticed that the tide was flooding into the lagoon from a nearby opening, not big enough
for a pass.  Soon we returned to Anna and noticed that the tide at the other end of the lagoon seemed to be doing
just the opposite, ebbing, as was obvious by checking the waterline on the fixed navigational post that marks the
lagoon entrance.  We noticed also that the seas both in and outside the lagoon were becoming rough, with the wind
shifting so that it was blowing right into the pass.

Once back on Anna, the winds picked up abruptly, increasing by ten knots in just a few moments, and the seas
started breaking and, because suddenly we were on a lee shore, we determined that it was prudent for us to leave
and make it out of the pass while we could.  So we raised the dinghy and hauled the anchor and then fought to take
down our rear deck awning.  We assumed this was just a squall, a temporary weather anomaly, and we could motor
around for awhile and return when the squall passed, find a better anchoring spot and retrieve the gill net, and that if
necessary we could go to North Minerva Reef and spend a day or two and then return to South Minerva to get our

After clearing the pass and fighting to stow the awning and other equipment off the decks, and generally going into
near-crisis mode with the roaring wind, the whistling rigging, and building seas, I was at the helm and tried to turn the
boat into the wind about 90 degrees to the North but the helm did not react correctly and instead continued to turn
until we were headed due South, straight for the reef.  I tried to turn the boat again and the same thing happened - it
turned and turned so that we were headed with the wind towards the reef -- and I noticed that our boatspeed had
dropped from about 6 knots to only 2 knots without reducing the RPMs.  We finally got the boat to go where we
wanted by using the engine controls - one engine full ahead while the other was in neutral - and after about a half
hour were clear enough of the reef to relax a bit.  On investigation it turns out a quadrant (more properly, a radial
drive) had slipped around one of the rudders so that the rudder moved out of alignment, fighting the other rudder
and causing a lot of drag.  By then, though, darkness had come on and the seas had become terrible again, and so
we decided just to motor away from the reef and bide our time all night then try to re-align the quadrant on the rudder
the next day in what we hoped would be better weather.

The next morning the weather had eased only a bit but sufficient for us to realign everything readily and tighten the
bolts that affixed the quadrant to the rudder.  We decided we would go to North Minerva Reef, just a couple of hours
away, and anchor there for a couple of days, await better weather and sort everything out, and then return to South
Minerva and fetch our fishing gear.  But on arrival at North Minerva, the wind was blowing hard out of the NW straight
into the entrance to the lagoon and breakers everywhere made it impossible to see the entrance even though we
knew where it was from our navigational equipment and had motored quite close for a visual inspection.  We had the
choice of heaving-to or even riding to our sea anchor, on the one hand, as we had done in the storm that had
damaged the boat, or continue on to Tonga, and when I asked John and Glen how they voted, they both chose not to
stick around, mostly because of fear of continued rudder problems, so we headed to the NE, somewhat over a day
away from Tonga.

I feel badly about abandoning our gill net in the lagoon at South Minerva both because I planned to use it a good deal
and because I don't think it is responsible to leave gear erected to trap fish that no one will eat.  It is very wasteful and
destructive.  I hope someone finds the net soon and keeps it.  The floats have "s/y Anna" written on them, and I
halfway expect someone someday to approach me at an anchorage and ask if my boat was ever in South Minerva
lagoon, and then tell me he found my net with lots of dead fish in it, and why in the world would I ever leave a net
deployed like that?

From Minerva we had a rather uneventful trip on into Tonga, although the seas did not settle down until the evening
before arrival.   We wound our way through reefs and islands, bypassing the southern group of islands in Tonga
centered around the main island of Tongatapu, to make landfall in the more thinly-inhabited Ha'apai group in the
middle of the long Tongan chain with its port-of-call at the island of Lifuka.

We saw no boats or vessels of any kind all the way from Auckland until we were just off Tongatapu, approximately
1000 nm.  I find it amazing that, even though the world is getting ever more crowded -- doubling its human population
since 1960 -- the oceans are so vacant of human presence.

I don't mean human artifacts, however, because no matter how isolated the island, you will definitely encounter
flotsam and jetsam from humans, trash abounding on all windward shores.  In order of occurrence I would say that the
most numerous human detritus in the ocean are plastic beverage containers, next come flip-flop shoes, and third are
buoys, line and net from fishermen.  On two adjacent uninhabited and footprint-free islands in Tonga we
beachcombed, we even found identical unbroken fluorescent light bulbs, and we wondered if local fishermen
somehow employed them either to attract fish or to illuminate their work areas at night.

Although I love New Zealand, the sheer ruggedness of the voyage from there to the tropics makes me hesitant to
attempt it again, so that when I return to NZ it may well be by air.

We left Lifuka as soon as we could after checking in with the authorities (three of whom we had to ferry out to Anna
on our dinghy for inspection of our boat, which consisted of the officials sitting at our dining table and us providing
them with beer, Coke, and orange juice, filling out a few forms, and the payment of about $50 US).  We had enjoyed
an abundance of civilization in Auckland and now sought isolation so left Lifuka and found uninhabited and boat-free
islands to anchor off for our first week or so. Every morning we would beachcomb on footprint-free beaches and
usually in the afternoon go for a scuba dive.  Fishing was terrible and we harvested nothing to eat but coconuts, but
we had an enjoyable time anyway.  One day while beachcombing we chased down a dozen or so crabs of two
different varieties, but when we returned to the boat I read that several varieties of crabs are poisonous, and without
any way to identify our catch we freed them.  It was good fun and exercise, though, sprinting after the little buggers,
and I am tempted to do it again when I have nothing better to do.They pinch but it is not painful.

On one of the islands there were prints in the coarse sand on the beach, but not of feet -- it was a cloven-hoofed
animal which we figured for a goat at first but later found holes where it had rooted so decided it must be a pig. We
ventured into the interior of the island looking for sweet water which we knew the animal must have and found a pond
with a very tame and friendly black and white sow in it.  She approached us and Glen cracked open a coconut with
our machete and the sow devoured it while voicing her pleasure with many grunts and snorts.  Further on we saw
several piglets and found a set of crude pens and a tarp extended tent-like, with a mound of coconuts nearby.  
Evidently Tongans from nearby islands, having found a source of fresh water on this island, use it to run some
livestock.  On another day we even saw a calf walking along the beach.

From every anchorage we could look back to the west and the see the symmetrical cone of the volcano Kao - 3380
feet (1030 meters) high -- with steam wafting up from its peak, and the nearby flatter - only  1690 feet (515) high but
much longer -- volcano, Tofua, also with steam emanating from its northern side.  They were about 15 nm away from
our westernmost anchorage and served to set a beautiful sunset pictorama almost every evening.  Tofua is renowned
for being the location where the mutiny on HMS Bounty occurred in 1789, and where Capt. William Bligh and part of
the crew were set adrift in a longboat.  (Thanks to my very able research assistant, Michael Wright, for information on
Kao and Tofua.)

Tonga is a monarchy, never colonized by the Great Powers, subsequently receives no subsidies, and is therefore the
poorest of the Polynesian countries.  I was here before on my previous boat, Green-on-Blue, and found the people
the least friendly of the Polynesians, this opinion confirmed again on this visit, with many people refusing to return a
wave, few smiles visible, most everyone sullen, dishonesty (we prepaid -- some fish hooks, a hat, and some cigarettes
from Glen - for a bunch of bananas that were never delivered) and crime a problem.  I think that at least part of the
reason for this tendency towards the morose, besides poverty and ignorance, is the fact that Tonga is strictly divided
by class:  a person is born as a commoner or an aristocrat and there is no vertical social mobility, so that at birth
one's fate is already largely determined, resulting in resignation, even fatalism.  Property is owned by the monarch,
an obese king, and each family is allotted two pieces of land, one on which to live and one on which to garden.

Like all the Pacific Islanders I have encountered, Tongans have lost the skill of sailing and, though dirt poor, totally
rely on outboards and expensive fuel.  They could make adequate fishing vessels even if just single-person rowing
ones, like one sees occasionally in French Polynesia and the Cook Islands, but I never saw a Tongan with paddles or
a sail.  When I was here before, about eight years ago, I did see several traditional outrigger canoes.  A couple of
teenage boys rowed out to visit us -- I remember after reviewing photos from my previous trip -- in a dugout canoe
made from a single log, with smaller whole limbs for the outrigger and connecting arms, and for paddles they used the
stems of palm fronds.  That is apparently all gone now, although perhaps we just did not visit the right islands to see
such traditional sea skills.  This must come from the new industry of harvesting sea cucumbers for the Chinese
market, which demands searching far and wide among the islands and reefs, then hurrying the catch to market.  We
saw these boats everywhere, relentlessly plying the backwaters of the Ha'apai group.

After a week of beachcombing and snorkeling and diving, we decided we wanted to try something else so moved to
an anchorage off an inhabited island, Ha'afeva, so we could sample remote village life and buy some fresh produce.  
On the way we finally caught a nice tuna and saw humpback whales splashing their flukes, which is normally a sign of
aggression, probably males competing for breeding rights.  The anchorage at Ha'afeva is on the west side of the
island, the village the east, and to get from one to the other one must walk about a kilometer along a road
surrounded by dense jungle-like foliage and occasional taro and yam and breadfruit gardens and one or two head of
staked grazing cattle, and the path can be suffocatingly hot.  The island has a population of only about 100 - at least
one of whom had Down's Syndrome, we noticed -- and has a small shop for packaged groceries and dry goods
managed, as is usual in the Pacific, by a Chinese.  The store has no sign but is painted bright commercial yellow, and
to buy anything you stand outside and speak through a window-like opening cut in the exterior wall and tell the
Chinese shopkeeper what you want - you are not allowed inside to look, I suppose for fear of shoplifting.  Trash
littered the only street and dogs and pigs ran freely everywhere, and the houses were mostly ramshackle. There were
at least three churches, the Mormons predominating, and as everywhere in Tonga, Sunday is strictly enforced as a
religious day of rest, with no fishing, swimming, or anything other than perhaps a family picnic. The economy is
subsistence farming/gardening and fishing and, only recently, the harvesting of sea cucumbers, as mentioned just
above.  Two Chinese men were on the island as we walked through the village, working at sea cucumber drying
racks.  The larger-scale farming appears to be of the slash-and-burn variety, as one day our boat was inundated with
ashes from farmers burning large patches of the island, and I wonder how they keep up soil fertility without intensive

We went to the store looking for produce, using a list I had written out earlier with the Tongan words for the items we
sought, but the Chinese shopkeeper had nothing fresh, only packaged goods.  When I asked for fruit he grabbed a
jar of marmalade.   Not far away we met a strange, small, wiry man by a wharf with ice-cold hands who, with my list,
communicated with a strong stutter that he could procure for us papaya, breadfruit, and yams. It turns out he had
been fishing and just spread ice on some lobsters, and we arranged to meet later after he stored the lobsters.  
Continuing on we met another man whom we asked to buy fish, and he introduced us to some people who had lobster
but no fish and we bought one lobster for each of us, and the people who sold them invited us to come for lunch the
next day at one.  We eagerly accepted, looking forward to eating local food in a Tongan home.  Then we met up
again with the cold-handed man and went to his house where his mother and sister also asked us to come to lunch
the next day, which we politely declined, then we went to his garden in the bush and got the produce, including the
bitterest limes and oranges I have ever tasted. All this was done thanks to two women in the village who translated
because the local men spoke only Tongan.

That evening the people who sold us the lobster came by in their small fishing boat and asked if they could serve us
on our boat instead of us coming to their house, and we agreed, realizing that in a village of 100, the chance to dine
aboard a foreign yacht was likely a most alluring event. And then the next morning they came by yet again and
changed the time to five in the evening, then ultimately a man and wife and her brother surprised us early at 3:30 with
a roasted whole piglet, taro leaves stuffed with canned corned beef, yams in coconut milk, some fried fish, and
frankfurters stuffed with cheese.  They joined us for the meal, occurring much earlier than we preferred because,
they said, they were going night fishing, all of which the woman translated in about three-quarters understandable
English.  We had been looking forward to eating a coconut-fed pig since we encountered the sow on the island, but
discerned no unique taste, perhaps because this piglet had hardly been weaned.  The only leftover the Tongans took
was the piglet's head.

The night before we had cooked the breadfruit and yams we had purchased, boiling them with powdered soups to
give the bland starches some flavor, which turned out wonderfully flavorful, and had each eaten a lobster, so we were
rather inundated with local food.  Our new Tongan friends invited us to join them the next day to dive for sea
cucumbers off an island about a half hour away.  They said the Chinese would pay $50 US for each one.

The next morning three Tongan men in their '30s picked us up in their 19-foot fiberglass launch powered by a 40-hp
Yamaha with tiller steering. It was almost identical to a boat we hired to take us scuba diving in Fiji last year, tough
and seaworthy, a thick hull with a nicely flared bow.  The area where we were to harvest the sea cucumbers was from
60 to 80 feet deep, and rather than free-dive - an impossibility at such depths for all three of us from Anna and
difficult for even these native young men - two of the Tongans had homemade barbed spikes about 5 inches long on
an 18-inch-long shaft with a homemade funnel-shaped lead weight that was probably about one pound heavy, and a
line about 100 feet long.   We just snorkeled near the surface until they found a suspect below then dropped the
spike and tried to spear the sea cucumber.  Over about two hours they brought in four, but also lost about the same
number that slipped off the smallish barb on the spike during the long haul up.  I was the bag man and stayed with the
Tongans the entire time while Glen and John put on scuba gear and dove, but I never could discern a sea cucumber
from our height, and was impressed with these young men's vision if nothing else.  The sea cucumbers they hunted (I
think they were of the species "Actinopyga lecanora" from my limited books aboard) look similar to an artisanal loaf of
bread, oval and brown, with a series of nipples around the edges on the ventral side.  The third Tongan man stayed
aboard the boat the entire time and was retching from seasickness when I returned to it.  The whole expedition took
only about three hours but proved good hearty exercise for me trying to keep up with the Tongans.

The reefs in the Ha'apai group -- both within the lagoon and on the fore-reef and the wall outside -- besides being
just about fished out, were beaten up in February when a cyclone passed through and the varied reef life is not in
good condition.  We enjoyed them nevertheless after the long absence from any reefs at all.  I did see an amazing
four-foot-long wrasse that I had never seen the likes of before.  The maximum water temperature in a lagoon was
about 82 deg. Fahrenheit (28 deg. Celsius). John, our crewman, had determined at the insistence of his wife that he
must return home when we arrived at Niue, which is to be our next stop after Tonga.  Niue is rather isolated, however,
and when we reached Lifuka island the second time to check out from Tonga for the trip to Niue, we searched at an
internet café for flights and found that Niue has just one flight a week -- it goes to Auckland -- and was booked until
August 20th.  Rather than wait that long, John decided to leave us there in Tonga because he could arrange flights
home in just a few days time via a more direct route through Fiji.

John is a great crewman with excellent technical skills, cooks good meals and tasty breads, and has a wonderfully
pleasant personality, so he will be sorely missed.  I can't say enough good about the man, and hope he will return as

His departure makes passagemaking a bit more difficult for Glen and me, as raising the mainsail is better done with
three, and now we have six-hour rather than four-hour watches so, for example, rather than being on watch from
midnight until four a.m. with an eight-hour respite before my next watch, I now am on watch from midnight until six a.m.
and then get only a six-hour respite.

As I write Glen and I are underway to Niue, 250 nm East of the Ha'apai group in Tonga, going against the prevailing
southeasterlies so in headwinds all the way, and the passage is a lumpy one, the winds around 20 knots.  We visited
Niue last year (this will be my third visit) and are returning because we have volunteered the use of Anna as a
platform for a humpback whale survey through the group Oceanswatch which is assisting the Niue Fisheries
Department in doing basic research that should lead to more tourism for the small island.  We will have professional
researchers aboard and will go out each day for three weeks and try to catalog all the humpbacks we see, largely
based on the tail flukes, although we may also do some DNA sampling.

Our log reads 10,933 nm since we left Chile.
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