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A great day

It would be really nice to say that we started our day with a lobster breakfast having done a quick trade with some locals. It really would. So I will.

Just as we were preparing breakfast Ben called out to say we had some visitors. I quickly made myself decent and went to see who was here. A couple of Tongans were here in their dugout canoe with three lobsters for trade – two quite big and one enormous. They asked if we had any alcohol. As it happened, we did. We’d bought some Tongan spirits in Neiafu which we’d grown to dislike. Having no purpose with it ourselves we have them a bottle of the local ‘whiskey’ if you can call it that. Soon we had the lobsters in the pot. We could not fit all three in at once so the two smaller ones went in first and then the large one. A totally delicious breakfast.

The Tongans had told us we could find more on the reef near our boat so later that morning Ben and I went out in search of them. The reef turned out to be a fascinating place to explore – one of our best snorkels to date. There were plenty of small underwater caves we could swim in and the odd tunnel we couldn’t. But we found no lobsters of our own. We swam round to where La Tortue had sunk and spent a while peering inside. It was about 20ft down so easy enough to reach and stay for a while. We decided the whole place was fit to scuba dive.

Back at the boat we decided not to get out of our wetsuits but to ready the hookah so we could start fine cleaning the hulls. When we get to New Zealand we understand we’ll be inspected and if there’s much growth we’ll be forced to haul out and be cleaned off – all at our own expense. We almost finished the port hull before Ben got too cold and the fuel ran out in the hookah so we stopped there.

After a couple of hours of warming up we decided to go ashore. A second vessel, Tahina, arrived. We’d briefly met Frank and Karen in the past but had yet to get to know them. We called them on the radio to see if they were interested in going ashore. They had lunch to prepare but agreed to meet up later.

As we headed in, the dugout canoe, this time with three aboard, headed out to Tahina. We were met on the beach by another local who offered to show us around the island. We learned there were nine people on the island. They all lived on Nomuka but were here for three weeks to fish. He showed us where they were drying out fish and octopus for eventual sale to New Zealand in December. We climbed to the top of a local promontory for a great view all around before heading back into the depths of the island. The paths, such as there were any, were sporadic and mainly grown over. He had to use his machete to clear the way a lot of the time. At the peak of the island he cleared a view out to the bay by cutting away the undergrowth blocking the view. Our last stop was a beach on the far side of the peak where he opened up coconuts for us to drink from and eat – totally delicious.

He then took us back over the top of the island and down to their camp where we met Frank from Tahina and his new crewmate, Paul. We learned from them that the third man in the dugout – the elder – was pissed as a fart. He’d drunk most of the booze we’d traded earlier for our lobsters. As cruisers do we were soon chatting and had arranged for evening nibbles and beers – this time aboard Tahina.

Another short rest and we were over to Tahina. Frank turned out to have an interesting history, was more than a bit of a tech head who also knew the google founders personally. We’d heard about someone with a cool phone with an application that could show and identify the night sky wherever it was pointed. It turned out to be Frank. He also has a hobby flying kites over islands and photographing them from low altitude and feeding the images to Google for their Google Earth application.

Plans for today are to do our dive. Frank will probably join us. In the afternoon we hope to finish cleaning the port hull and to start and finish the starboard. Tomorrow we may move off to Nuku’alofa. The wind has calmed which is nice and the seas should now be settling.

Kelefesia

Helen had not slept well the last night at Nomuka iti. The winds remained strong and despite two reefs to the windward side of us some swell was still getting through. She felt unsafe and couldn’t relax. She was therefore very keen, despite the continued strong winds, to move on. And that we did.

We first motor sailed eastward through the channel between the island until we had room to sail north, close hauled, to clear the reef to our south east. We tacked, missed the reef and made our way south, clawing our way upwind. The boat’s course was over 20 degrees off the way we were pointing so I tacked early to assess the effects of the current. We were making ground upwind but not a lot so I again engaged the engine to allow us to pinch 13 degrees off the wind.

As we approached Kelefesia we could see it was one of the most picturesque anchorages we have ever dropped the hook in. The anchorage itself has plenty of patches of coral so we took our time to find somewhere where we could drop the anchor and not foul the chain. Like the last place, we’re here all alone. Perfect.

This is were the sail boat La Tortue foundered a few weeks ago although their circumstances were somewhat different to ours. We’ve heard about this unfortunate sinking for some time and it was only yesterday that I saw the boat name in text. I recognized it immediately. Marie, one of the couple sailing her, was one of my partners in the tridecagonathlon at the end of the Vava’u Regatta (remember the pies). That struck home.

Despite the beautiful beach and excellent snorkelling opportunities we stayed aboard. Helen was tired and needed to rest. Ben wanted to relax after the bouncy passage. When I looked at the weather forecasts yesterday the wind was due to calm down soon and in a couple of days clock round more to the east. If these two things happen then it would be good to stay here another couple of nights making for an easier passage down to Nuku’alofa / Tongatapu.

A walk on the beach

The day ended up being a sunny one although the wind kept up it’s 20+ knot fervour. Around 9:30 we headed into the beach along a channel through the coral off our starboard beam. We dragged the dinghy up the beach and tied it to a tree not remembering well the time we lost it. The beach is just over 1km long, perhaps more if the tide was out.

We first headed north looking for possible places where the ruins of the prison would be. The interior of the island was dense foliage right up to the beach. We did see some propped up sticks at one point and we made a mental note of them as they may have been markers. At the northern end of the beach we were not far from the north western coast so we crossed the interior and came upon another beach on the far side of the thin end of this island.

This beach turned out to be another km long (I knew because I took my hand held GPS with me) which we also walked along. With some optimism we decided to cross the island through the interior. Here my GPS wouldn’t work except for one or two spots due to the overhead canopy. We weren’t able to get too far from the shore as the undergrowth got denser the further we went in. This was our chance to find the fruit trees mentioned in our guide. We soldiered on through the undergrowth sweeping away cobwebs as we went. We soon lost sense of direction although we didn’t know it. When we saw the trees thinning out we headed straight for the beach only to find it was the wrong one.

We walked back along the beach before again plunging through the interior, this time where the distance to cover was only 0.1 of a mile and taking a note of where the sun was. As luck would have it we made it back to the first beach right where we saw the two propped up sticks. We saw nothing to indicate why they were there. No prison ruins. No fruit trees.

We now walked south down the beach. We did find the prison ruins at the back of a small clearing. It turned out to be a concrete block looking more like a water cistern. There was some writing on the interior wall – perhaps from a prisoner but more likely graffitti. Next stop was to look at the wreck of a small fishing boat on the beach. Not as small as we imagined. Our guide book says a few people lost their lives when this boat foundered here in a storm. A somber reminder.

We walked as far south as we could before turning back and dinghying back to the boat where we hung out for the rest of the day making our onward plans.

Today we plan to head to Kelefesia, the southernmost anchorage in the Ha’apai group. It should be a pleasant stop with some shelter from this relentless wind. It will also shorten the trip down to Nuku’alofa as well as giving us an extra 10 degrees on the wind. After all these days of strong wind the ocean swell will be up so anything to make the ride a little more comfortable will be welcome. That means that we’ll be working our way up against the wind which is still coming form the east south east.

I made a mistake in yesterday’s blog. It turns out today (by our calendar) is our two year anniversary since moving aboard. Helen has started to write a perspective on the last year but has a bit of a block. We’ll need some patience.

Lobsters?

At 6:30am, John from Sea Mist dropped by and picked me up to go ashore. We trecked the 1/2 mile across the island to the village on the windward side to find the chap who bought lobsters from the overnight fishermen and sold them on. With all our luck finding them ourselves, this represented our best chance. It turned out the seas had been too rough the night before so noone had brought any in. So it turns out we can’t even buy them.

On the way back to the wharf we found Peter who had agreed to find us some fruit. After nearly a couple of hours of trekking through the plantations outside of the village we had a few bags full of lemons, mangoes and papaya. At the wharf we negotiated a price for it all and headed back.

During the morning I did a few minor projects. I tend not to mention this in the blog these days as I think it’s a little boring to write about and mainly I tend to forget about it when I get round to writing the blog.

Shortly before 12:30am John picked all three of us up to go ashore for the dinner we had been offered by Miimi in the village. Another trek across the island and we met up with Chris and John from Sara 2 and Lorraine and Chris from Gryphon 2. Cheryl and Ian from Sea Mist had stayed behind as neither were into sea food and we had been promised fish and lobster. On entering Miimi’s house we saw that our luck was in. There were indeed lobsters on the table. As seems to be the custom, the eight of us guests sat down to a prepared dinner while Miimi, her husband and other relatives were around. Two of them spent the entire dinner wafting fans to keep the flies away from us. The dinner was tasty and filling. At the end, after some conversation, we offered the gifts we’d all brought from our boats to Miimi who seemed quite pleased.

The afternoon, such that was left, was spent back on the boat generally relaxing.

Today we’ll definitely be moving on. Not without one more trip ashore to see if we can pick up lobsters today. You never know.

Ha’ano

Ben woke with stomach pains which put a dampener on his day eventually ruling him out of the things we had planned. In the morning Helen, myself and John from Sea Mist went ashore to stretch our legs. Having asked a local who informed us we could walk north or south and that either was much the same we chose to go north. It almost felt middle aged with the town surrounded by a fence with gates on the roads through which we had to pass to leave. We walked north along a straight track with lush vegetation on either side, often semi cultivated with plenty of fruit trees. We reached the next village to the north which again was surrounded by a fence and gates. We guess this was to keep the pigs in which roamed freely within each village.

Passing through this next village and past a pack of somewhat brave (until we got near them) dogs we found a small trail down to the beach/coast. We walked the beach for a while before finding another, longer and run down path which took us back to the trail joining it just before the gate to the second village. We walked back to the first village collecting a few mangoes on the way which were reached by Helen sitting on my shoulders. Back in the first village I picked up a few extra mobile phone minutes. It always feels strange in a village in the middle of nowhere being able to top up the phone although I do understand it’s easier and cheaper to install mobile phones these days than a land network.

We were back on the boat in time for lunch and a short rest before the afternoon events. We’d planned on getting the hookah out and we’d extended and invitation to Sea Mist to join us. Ian and John responded and with Ben out of action and Helen feeling ambivalent due to the mediocre weather it ended up with the three of us out for just over an hour. Underwater we felt none of the rain that fell. We saw plenty of fascinating corals, not too plentiful fish and explored some caves/channels. I took my small spear gun in case we found lobsters in any of the numerous nooks and crannies but none were peeping out.

Helen cooked up a curry for dinner and as we were settling down John dinghied over from Sea Mist as the one other boat nearby, Sara 2, was having difficulties raising their anchor. The winds were predicted to rotate round overnight and they had been trying to move to get further from the reef. In doing so they’d discovered their anchor was tangled in the coral and had jammed their windlass. John had got involved and figured we needed numbers and muscle to get them shifted before the light fell. John went to fetch his son, Ian, to go underwater and free the anchor while John and I went aboard Sarah 2 to assist. We soon figured out the windlass wasn’t broken and got that going again. With Ian in the water direction our motions and occasionally diving down to free up the chain/anchor we were soon off. I took my leave and zipped off back to Dignity to finish my cooling curry. We capped off the evening by polishing off 4 more episodes of Prison Break. We’re over half way through now.

Today we’re out of here. One could easily chill for days here but there’s lot to see and time is running out. The weather windows form a pattern that seems to repeat every 10 days or so. There’s a weather window opening up right now and some vessels are already legging it south to catch it. Their should be another at the beginning of November. I suspect we’ll catch the one after that.

We learned from Sympatica, over the radio a couple of days ago, that there is an excellent sea mount 3nm away from us. We may well visit that later this morning before heading back to a new anchorage.