Day 735: Having a whale of a time

Scott and Mary are settled in Vava'u, where 40 numbered anchorages and a busy social life keep them occupied

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

Scott and Mary are settled in Vava’u, where 40 numbered anchorages and a busy social life keep them occupied

Well, mis amigos, we have settled into a comfortable routine of pottering, socialising, exploring our surroundings by dinghy and fishing.

The other day we had a special day. At 8.30am three boat crews converged onEgretfor a day of offshore fishing. Shortly after getting offshore and putting the baits out we ran into a family of three humpback whales including a small calf. We pulled in the baits and slowly approached the group, staying well off to the side of the threesome to take pictures. The little one obliged us by sticking its head out of the water to take a peek at the white fibreglass whale, which was making funny sounds off to the side.

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A short time we ran into two other groups of whales, although sadly we didn’t get close enough to take any spectacular photographs of the whales breaching or slowly lifting their tails.

After a while we hooked a small marlin that tore off an amazing amount of line before the hooks pulled. Drat! It would have been fun to pull a marlin to the transom and take pictures before releasing it.

On the way back to shore we caught a small skipjack tuna, which wasn’t good to eat but at least it made us feel that we’d caught something.

Once we got backNew Paigeinvited the whole gang (12 of us) for a fish fry. The frozen fish from other outings came out and we all invadedNew Paigefor the Tongan fish feast. NPR did a superb job as grill master, delivering plates of yellowfin tuna, mahi mahi and spearfish (bambi). Another great day in the cruising life. It is days like this that make up for the occasional wave bashing trials or boat-bound days due to bad weather.

Today we are back in town (Neiafu) to pick up our inflatable dinghy that we lent a cruiser who lost theirs while towing it overnight. We offered to sell them the dinghy or to let them use it until they could buy or borrow one for their trip to Fiji before they head on to New Zealand. We have decided to buy a 9-10ft aluminium-bottomed RIB in New Zealand, along with an 8hp Yamaha two-stroke to replace the Zodiac and engine that we lost in Easter Island. If we can sell the inflatable dink, fine, if not it’s not a problem.

The main issue is storage but if we end up keeping the dinghy we’ll put it back in front of the pilothouse with a cover we had made and put the new small dink on the boat deck next to the CIB (catamaran ice breaker dinghy). The owners of a local restaurant really want to buy the fibreglass CIB from us to use as a truck, hauling building materials to the home they plan to build on a small nearby island. We gave it a lot of thought but in the end we decided the CIB is so practical that we have to keep it.

Last night we held a going away party for our Aussie buddies onSix Pack, (a 30ft sloop), who are slowly heading back to their home on Lord Howe Island off the coast of Australia. They work for 3-4 months a year in the coconut seed business and they spend the rest of the time cruising. They have repeated this cycle for many years.Six Packcircumnavigated the globe via Africa but they have clocked up many more miles here and there. We hope to go to Tasmania (a large island south of Australia) after we have visited New Zealand and spend some time there. After spending a few months at homeSix Packwill sail to “Tazzie”, cruise for a couple months before leaving the boat and commuting back and forth for a year or more. In the cruising business goodbyes aren’t always finite, it’s more like “see you in a bit.” For example,New Paigemay well end up in Tasmania, as well asLindisfarn, our Swedish buddies. Our friends aboard N57Ice Dancer IIhave also mentioned in emails they may visit Tasmania as well. Phew, we’ll need another vacation after that social whirl.

Saturday 20 September
It’s a rainy day today here in the harbour. We spent this morning shopping in light rain before collecting our two-month visa extension from immigration. The cost of the extension was around $25 per person, per month. Our shopping included ordering freshly baked bread to be delivered in the afternoon from an Austrian ex-pat at the Lighthouse Café. Shortly before it was due to be delivered the sky opened and the rain poured…and poured. The CIB filled up like the bathtub it is. We called the café on the VHF an hour after our pickup time to see how long they would be open. They were closed but said they would wait for us. They are also closed tomorrow (Sunday). Great.

So there was nothing for it. We bailed the dink and ran a half-mile across the harbour through the downpour to Aquarium Cafe’s dinghy dock. We splashed up the hill, around the church and down the hill to the Lighthouse Cafe. We had to dodge two pigs and step over the dog in the doorway. We paid for the bread, put it into a dry bag and off we splashed again. So you still think cruising is easy do you? Oh yes, we also changed oil in the main this afternoon.

So we’re back aboard, our clothes are dripping in the shower and the generator is running…again and I’m bored.

Sunday 21 September
Today is the first day of spring. We left the harbour with hardly any wind, a light overcast and no rain. Running at 1050rpm making 5 knots we chugged between the islands on our way to the next anchorage. No wind = calm offshore and perhaps a good day for fishing. So we sped up a bit, turned right (west) at the first opportunity and headed offshore. Soon the artificial baits were gurgling away out back and Mary and I were enjoying breakfast and coffee in the flybridge. Life was good. We didn’t catch any fish but it really didn’t matter. It was nice to be back on the water just pottering away, hoping for a bite and talking about whatever. Whales were everywhere, spouting in the distance. Before long the sky was black on the horizon so we headed for shore and the night’s anchorage.

Our Swedish buddies soon arrived with our new GPS receiver that plugs into the laptop through a USB port. The small 2in diameter receiver allows us to take a laptop to the flybridge for electronic charting, whereas before this we had to run down to the pilothouse to check if there was a question. This arrangement will be particularly handy entering an unfamiliar harbour/reef entrance when running the boat from the flybridge. We run the boat from the flybridge as it gives better visibility in order to read the reefs, coral and bottom.

Egretis anchored in Vaka’ eitu, described in one guide as the aquarium and in another as a coral garden. We dropped TK (our anchor) into pure white sand in 22ft of crystal clear water spotted with coral patches.

The anchorage is beautiful and surrounded on the south by a low island and to the north by a higher island (Nua’ papu) with a 210ft peak. Between the two is a sea level reef exposed at low tide. Intrepid snorkellers walk the reef at low tide and snorkel the pristine ocean side of the reef. One buddy did just that and got splattered on the coral in the surge when he returned to shore in the wrong spot. He limped over and guided his sweetie to the calmer landing. We enjoyed a potluck dinner last night aboard the Kiwi boatVision. Coral Boy whined just a little at first, showing his injuries to those of us he thought cared. We didn’t.

Mary’s donation to the potluck was coral trout. After anchoring she gave me some leftover rice to dispose of. Not to miss an opportunity to see what might be snapping I started throwing the rice over the coral to see what fish might rise off the bottom. Mary brought her rod up from below and began casting a small artificial lure off the back of the boat. On the first cast she caught dinner.Visionquick fried the trout so everyone would get a bit along with the rest of the meal. It was another good day with boating buddies.

Each morning at 8.30am is the Vava’u Cruisers Net, hosted by different businesses. The most important part of this is the weather report given by the Aquarium Cafe. First comes the Tonga government’s weather (fairy-tale), next is the weather from Fiji (not bad) and then the Wind Guru (the best and fairly accurate).

Following the weather report the radio show lists a plethora of things, including such vital details as what day the barber comes to town, crew positions wanted or required, and other information or announcements.

Crew positions can be gained in most popular cruising crossroads such as Papeete, Tahiti, American Samoa and here in Vava’u. There are a number of young international singles and couples working their way around the world giving their services for free (most boats pay for food) to gain experience and travel. Of course, there can be pitfalls on both sides but if both parties are careful it works out well. Most crew looking for rides don’t really care where they go. Here for example, most ask for passage to New Zealand or Australia.

Tuesday 23 September
It is early Tuesday morning, the generator is running…again. Clothes are in the washer, Mary has her coffee and life is good. Yesterday our Kiwi buddies lent us their spare outboard, a Yamaha 3hp two-stroke. After cleaning enough mud out of the carburettor to plant a coconut tree, it motored along like new so we chugged across the anchorage in our small inflatable, beached the dink then went exploring to the other side of the island.

Walking the trail like kids we picked up some large dried seeds growing in a long pod that had long since fallen to the ground. The pods rattle when you shake them. We have a pocket full along with some bright red seeds from another type of pod. So we explored, took pictures of mushrooms that look like trumpet bells, went into a limestone cave and walked the beach on the other side. Perfect.

Tonight we’re having reindeer meat stew aboardVisionhere in Tonga. Where are the Guinness folk when you need them?

Picture 1. Local ferry
Picture 2. Whale friends



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