Saturday, October 31, 2015

Enroute to Minerva Reef Day 1

After spending 5 days anchored off Big Mamas in Tongatapo and picking up our crew, Bill and Anne from San Francisco, we headed off for New Zealand. The plan is to sail two days to Minerva Reef, a 3.5 mile wide atoll in the middle of nowhere, spend a day or so there and then head off to New Zealand when the weather looks right. Last nights run was pretty comfy,with small seas. We had winds on the nose for the first 8 hours but then they clocked to the east a bit and we started making good time. We should arrive at Minerva Reef early tomorrow morning.
We celebrated Halloween with Peanut M&Ms. I broke into my Skittles bags for night watch. This time they are in big large bags, instead of the individual small bag servings. This makes it hard for me to figure out the exact daily dosage to ward off the scurvy.


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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Kelefesia Island – Last Stop in the Ha’apais

A Conde Naste beach, without the resort or footprints- we had it all to ourselves.
We stopped at the remote, uninhabited island of Kelefesia on our way to Tongatapu. It is about 44 miles to the capital city of Nuku’alofa on Tongatapu from Kelefesia. The island is a very picturesque place with sandstone cliffs, beaches and surrounding reefs.
kelefesiaIMG_3023 There is an old building that looks like a cooler shed that is still occasionally used by fishermen who come in from inhabited islands.
kelefesiaIMG_3026 We found evidence that at least one yacht has come to its grief among these reefs.
We were able to circumnavigate the island at low tide with a bit of difficulty, scoring some really nice large, shiny cowry shells.
kelefesiaIMG_3051 The best score was this duck decoy sunning itself on the beach. This one is a keeper. I need to figure out a scheme for mounting it on our bow.
Georgia snug in her anchorage surrounded by reefs. The day we arrived, there was good surfing waves breaking on the reef behind the anchorage.
The reefs around the anchorage, especially the north side, are really healthy and good snorkeling – as long as you have your wetsuit on- it’s getting cooler now as we head south.
We even found some of my favorite-- Partridge Tun shells.
Kelefesia was our eleventh and final anchorage in the Ha’apai group. The Ha’apai islands will go down as some of our favorites in the South Pacific.


The Royal Nomuka Yacht Club

nomukoIMG_2782 We arrived at Nomuka’ iki Island, just across the cut from the island of Nomuka’ iki and quickly met up with the crew of the trawler Ice. Ice is a Diesel Duck design tricked out for long range wreck exploring: The crew, Don, Jane and Brownie are from Australia. They had lots of stories to tell, including some interesting ones about Captain Bligh and the famous Mutiny on the Bounty. Turns out the Bounty stopped at Nomuka to re-stock on the day before Fletcher Christian mounted the mutiny. Bligh and 18 loyal men were cast adrift in an 21 foot open boat. They quickly made there way to the nearby volcanic island of Tofoa (visible from Nomuka’iki) where they were met by some less then friendly natives and little water and stores to stock up with. They beat a retreat from the island after loosing one crew onshore to the locals. Then they headed off on an amazing 3,600 mile voyage to Timor in Indonesia and arrived without losing a man. Bligh is known in popular culture as the evil captain of the Bounty, but to nautical historians he was an amazing seaman and navigator who accomplished one of the greatest sailing journeys in history. About 25 years ago Don, the captain of Ice, and a few of his friends did a re-enactment of the open boat journey. They lost enough weight on the trip that it nearly killed them, but they lived to tell the story.
Don and crew have been working with the Crown Prince of Tonga to create the Royal Nomuka Yacht Club on Nomuka’iki, which is owned by the Crown Prince. (For those yanks less than familiar with the ways of monarchy, the Crown Prince is next in line to become the King of Tonga.) The goal of the RNYC is to re-introduce and train the locals on traditional sailing, specifically, sailing traditional Polynesian vakas. Tongans were once the master voyagers of Polynesia, but the culture has lost this tie to the ocean. They will be building the vakas to a standard size and construction onsite at the island, then offering 9-day live on the island courses to Tongans to learn to sail them. 
nomukoIMG_2809 The yachties were all invited to join the RNYC opening festivities, a Tongan Feast. Tents were setup over a few days. This is one of the the kitchen tents.
The tent where the Crown Prince will eat and watch the ceremonies. These are very fine handmade Tongan tapa cloth and pandanus woven mats.
Some the other honored, but less fortunate, guests – suckling pigs on an open roast.
The Crown Prince, center in white, arrives from the main island.
The locals are really genuinely excited to see the prince and share in the celebration.
Where the honored guests eat, including a few yachties.
And where the prince eats and watches the festivities.
We got dancing girls, Tongan style.
We got dancing boys, too.
We got more dancing girls. The dances are similar to other Polynesian dancing, but not near as polished or organized as the Marquesian and French Polynesian ones.
We were called up to the podium to be presented with our RNYC membership card, being the first foreign boat to go through the grueling membership approval process and make a club dues payment – we’re #1.
nomukoIMG_2820  These guys are lugging the wood crate that holds the few hundred pound pig that has been offered as a gift to the Crown Prince from the Nomuka community.
Lots and lots of speeches and prays were offered this day, in Tongan.
The Crown Prince being the first to raise the RNYC burgee
The US flag flying on the port side indicating that a US yacht is in the anchorage and visiting. The stars and stripes kindly donated by the crew of Georgia.
nomukoIMG_2979 All the important people getting a photo-op with Crown Prince (center in white shirt).
And a fond farewell being offered to the prince as he floats back to Nomuka to take a ferry back to his home on Tongatapu.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ha’afeva Island

We tucked behind the island of Ha’afeva to sit out some strong easterly winds and more low overcast. The island has one of the largest towns in the Ha’apai Group with about 500 people that live there, perhaps not all full time – with older kids going to high school off island and lots of adults going to Tongatapu for extended work sessions. We took a couple of soccer balls over to the public school. The teacher – holding the balls – and the kids were pleased and very friendly to us, even though we interrupted class.
haapaiIMG_2745 This is Pita and his nephew. Pita tends to adopt any new cruisers who stop by. He doesn’t speak great English, but gets by. He believes in the Tongan custom of sharing. He always offers fruits and veggies to cruisers from his garden. Offering items from the boat or some payment is fine in return. We gave him some fish hooks. His nephew, Sori, really wanted to come out and see the boat. Once on the boat, we offered Pita some hot coffee --- he’s now hooked on Starbucks French Roast. And we gave Sori a cold Coke. He sat on the settee and just looked at the Coke for a long time. We finally asked him why he didn’t open it and he said with a shy smile “It’s too cold”. After it warmed up a bit he enjoyed it along with a Granola bar.
haapaiIMG_2742 Pita had us over to his families house for a snack and some tea. His father, an old fisherman/diver, is in the green shirt, his mother in the middle near the stove, and his sister, Star, who lives on Tongatapu is next to Chris. Chris gave the grandmother a pair of her ‘reader’ glasses in exchange for some fruit and veggies and Tongan hospitality. She was very happy with the exchange.
haapaiIMG_2727 When you walk into town you pass the cemetery with the traditional Tongan ‘quilt’ over the grave site.
haapaiIMG_2728 The graveyard is just before you get to the sliding gate on the main road. The gate is to keep the pigs out of town and the gardens. There are also stake fences along the beach to stop the pigs from doing an end run.
There are always a lot of churches in each South Pacific town. Ha’afeva must have at least 4 churches. You can always tell the Latter Day Saints churches as they have a large, lit and fenced basketball court.
The bell at the top of this mini church tower was missing. In its place are these two two-tone gas bottles hung by chain and struck by hammer.
A couple of the island ladies preparing pandanus leaves for weaving. I always ask in these situations if I can take a picture. After I take one the Tongans almost always thank me for taking it, as these ladies did.
haapaiIMG_2734 Chris bought a woven bracelet from Kalo for 10 panga (US$4.50) made out of pandanus.
  The town is on the eastern shore of the island with a 1/2 mile path across to the west where the wharf and the anchorage is. There’s some big spiders lining the trees and fences along path.
And for my entertainment, there’s some rusty stuff near the wharf. It was once used to unload the freighter that came into the wharf, before the wharf was partially destroyed by a cyclone.

Beaches Aren’t All Shells

Me holding my new best friend, Wilson
The Tongan beaches and coast are actually a lot cleaner than a lot of places we’ve been. Certainly way cleaner than the Caribbean areas, where at times you can be overwhelmed by plastic. The pictures here are all taken on the same walk – Chris looking for shells, me looking for gold doubloons and flotsam and jetsam.
HaapaiIMG_2677 A little braided rope work
Chinese 15w-40 diesel oil container
This large chunk of stuff with a water bottle under it was true art. If I could get it to New York I bet Sotheby’s would auction it.
A not so friendly Portuguese Man-of-War
I thought I had it a gold mine when I found this Nike sneaker in great shape with a tennis ball stuffed it. I was pretty sure when I pulled the ball out I was going to find someone car keys or wallet. But it was just sand inside.
Here’s a trawler net float that says Made in Denmark on it. I was planning on getting it back to our friends on Tivoli to take back to Denmark with them.
HaapaiIMG_2675 Speaking of Denmark, on this 1/3 of a life ring you can just make out the name Maersk, the huge Danish shipping company.
HaapaiIMG_2664  I found this World War II (or maybe I) plastic army man hanging on this uninhabited island.
Then when we stopped at an island 12 miles to the west and I found his comrade hanging on the beach. That’s a Giant Clam full of coral debris stuck among the rocks.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Heavy Weather Shelling

We spent 4 days in some of the outer islands of the Ha├ípai group, around Tofanga Island. Tofanga is the best shelling we’ve seen anywhere so far.
It’s been really windy and rough a lot of the times we’ve gone into the islands to look for shells. Chris is starting to write a book on Heavy Weather Shelling. Some of the highlights in the book are:
  1. How to call for help when your outboard dies, but you don’t want anyone to know where your secret spot is.
  2. How to deal with Portuguese Man-of-War flying off the beach and into the air in high winds – or when to call it quits.
  3. Are deadly cone shells worth the attraction?
  4. Convincing hermit crabs to vacate their adopted home.
  5. How many shells are too many shells?
  6. Surf landings made simple.
  7. Protecting your skin from the inevitable heavy weather sandblasting.
  8. Protecting your face from the sun – what sun?
  9. Where to find shells that hide in the rain.
  10. Cowrie stalking for the timid.
haapaiIMG_2758 These are my new favorite shells. They are Partridge Tun shells we found on Tofanga Island. Its not that often that you find a set of shells this big.
Check the size of this cowrie on the right. That Tongan 50 panga bill is the same size as a US bill.
Chris’ collection is getting fairly good sized.
Shell collecting underwater is pretty good some times, a marble cone in Chris’ glove.
Sometimes the shells are too big to bring back to the boat, so then we practice Tag and Release Shelling. This giant Giant Clam even out sizes my head and dwarfs my ego. That’s a big clam!