After getting caught in winds of 50 knots the crew of Egret takes a well-earned rest

Position: S18 43.32 W174 05.90 , Vaka’eitu Anchorage, Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga

Scott (YT) and Mary Flanders (MS) left Gibraltar on 16 September 2006, and we’ll be following their journey every step of the way, thanks to this unique online “blog”. For a complete list of all the couple’s blog entries click here 

After getting caught in winds of 50 knots the crew ofEgrettakes a well-earned rest

Well, mis amigos,Egretis back in anchorage number 8 and sitting in misty rain. We dropped in 24ft and sent out 125ft of chain. We’re now sitting in 70ft of clear water over some scattered coral. After anchoring we sent a little fishing jig down where the bad boys live near the bottom with a couple pieces of rotten bacon stuck on the hook. Within a few minutes we had a nice fat grouper on board. Dinner for two again.

Saturday 27 September
Last night we were off to the yachtie races again aboardSV Vision. Roger onNew Paigeand a long time Kiwi buddy ofVision’s were on the foredeck, whileSV Vision’sIrish John and his guest were on the winches and Kiwi Jan was on the main sail winch under the pilothouse dodger.

We got balked at the start but once the 55ft hunk of steel got underway in gusts of up to 30 knots we powered past everyone with the exception of a beautiful blue Kiwi sloop skippered by a young and talented Kiwi lady. Blue Kiwi Lady was good, andVisionwas good but we still finished half a boat length back, regaining all but the important part of the poor start. Still, we were first to tie off to the buoy whereVisiondumped their anchor and chain for the race and first to pop open the suds.

While in town we picked up some T-shirts at a shop called Tropical Tease. Cynthia (Cindy), an American ex pat, has a T-shirt shop with a twist. She takes high quality T-shirts and collared shirts and soaks them in Tongan dirt and water mixed into a rust coloured mud for over a week, soaks them in sea water overnight (to set the colour) and then gives them a fresh water rinse. We loaded up with dirt shirts. Mary and I also bought some collared shirts with theEgretlogo on them. Cindy’s shirts are as original and unique as we have ever seen. To find out more email tease57@yahoo.com. When we get back into town I’ll give her permission to use theEgretlogo for our blog readers.

Sunday 28 September
Today was spent fishing offshore with theVisioncrew and their guest. We didn’t catch any fish but there were lots of whales, we even saw one up close that was lifting its tail high out of the water, cupping it on the way down, before smacking it on the water with a huge splash. The whale did this repeatedly, first belly down as usual then upside down.

Trouble at sea
After this excitement it was back to the anchorage for a few drinks withVisionbefore sunset and then dinner. Shortly after this it hit the fan, or should I say the fan hit us?

We set the anchor to the west initially in an unusual westerly breeze. We set on the shallow shelf (20-24ft) between the two islands and backed hard to the east. At around 10pm a violent front hit with heavy rain and gusts of up to 50 knots – something we haven’t seen since leaving Chile. The winds were sustained at 40 knots for quite some time, gusting higher and lower. The front first hit from the west then rapidly clocked around to the usual SE. There were boats anchored in anchorage number 16 (coral garden) west of us that got hit first.

It didn’t take long before shrill panicked voices were heard shouting on channel 16 about how they’d lost their anchor and were dragging etc… Soon it hit us, the main anchorage in Neiafu and anchorages around Vava’u. Panicked voices became the norm. I doubt whether some of the first time Pacific voyagers had proper anchors, or at least ones designed for 50 knots. The saving grace was that most of the boats in Neiafu harbour are on moorings.

We were pounded for about two hours before it dwindled to about 20 knots. In contrast this morning it is another beautiful day in paradise. Mary got up first and came back laughing about how our chain had woven its way around a couple of coral heads and that TK (our anchor) was doing its usual deal.Egretwasn’t going anywhere. I took a picture of the chain in the clear water (24ft) using a polarized filter. You could see we weren’t going anywhere and the same can be said forVision. During the blow we had the shallow depth and deep depth alarms set tight and our radar zoomed down to 1/16nm. There is an Aussie superyacht anchored nearby and during the blow they suddenly moved to the west. I’m guessing they dropped their second anchor and a ton of chain and once set they didn’t move. One of the more popular floating docks in town wasn’t so lucky – it got shredded.

We later found out what happened toN55 New Paigein an anchorage around the corner. Like us they set to the west but when the front hit the wind blew them near a lee shore in shallow water. They managed to break their anchor loose so they could reset to the SE but as they moved offshore the anchor stuck again and that was it.

New Paigewas tied to the bottom by 300lbs of polished stainless steel. They had two choices – dump the whole chain or ride it out using the engines (twins). Motoring around surrounded by reefs with no visibility during a blow of unknown duration isn’t a wise thing to do so they kept one engine in gear with the rudders hard over and jogged for the hours of the blow.

It was particularly bad in their anchorage. Apparently they had waterspouts blowing through as well so they had no visibility. What saved the day was their oversized Furuno radar, zoomed way down and an infrared thermal imaging camera. The camera looked through the blowing water and gave them perfect triangulation on the nearby islands in addition to the radar. Roger said the camera paid for itself that night.

All the local fishing boats on the west side of the island (usual lee side) ended up on the beach. The locals were out at 4am at high tide leveraging the boats back afloat.

The next morning we motored over toNew Paige’sanchorage and dropped anchor nearby. We were the only two boats in the anchorage. This is a three-island group tied together by strips of white sand. One white sandbar goes under water at high tide. You can’t imagine the beauty of this place.

Life’s a beach
So it’s a life of beach walking, snorkelling, swimming, and a bit of fishing. While walking on the beach the other day Mary and I came upon a Tongan couple sitting in the shade. We said “hi” but Mary only had on her bathing suit on so we didn’t go over. Our friends fromNew Paigedid stop and chat to them. It turns out the man is a noble, he was educated in England and was a member of the Tongan Government until recently when his father passed away and he returned to oversee his three islands and its people. He invited us to visit the local school so this morning we will do just that.

Early yesterday morning Roger and I took their dink into town so he could approve the artwork for their T-shirts. We had to wait for a while so we wandered next door to the high-end, high-quality gift shop, which specialises in Tongan art. We wanted to close the door and tell the owner we’d take it all. If you saw the art in a museum at home you would appreciate it for what it is but when you have travelled through the South Pacific it means so much more.

An Easter Island tourist trap near the Moai quarry had a traditional carved wooden fishhook that I decided not to buy thinking I could get one in town. It was not to be. Here in this shop in Neiafu the owner has several very old Tongan designs of fish hooks carved from sperm whale jawbone – remnants of the whaling industry in Fiji – so I snapped one up.

If you are interested in Tongan art there is a beautifully illustrated book available on Amazon, The Art of Tonga by Keith St Cartmail.

Yesterday afternoonVisionmoved into the anchorage. We had a group dinner aboardNew Paigelast night of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce, with cookies and cherry pie for dessert

Oh yes, I almost forgot. The other day on a hike up the hill to an abandoned resort we found a treasure buried in the rubble. While dumpster diving I found a beautiful helm chair so I have installed it to replace the swivel seat we lost in Bora Bora. Mary now has her very own Stidd seat.

Picture 1. Humpback whale tail slapping
Picture 2. CIB’s Stidd helm chair