We’re feeling as though we’ve got our groove back although it’s taken us a bit longer than we anticipated. Our trip from Bora Bora was a quiet gentle sail and we got to cross the international date line. Finally, I am on the same day as Australia. Other than my visits to Oz. This is the first time in three years.
We arrived in Tonga in the middle of the Blue Water Cruisers Festival so have managed to participate in many social activities. First of all we heard about a race but didn’t want to enter Qi as I’d sustained some injuries on my hand on the way from Bora Bora and wasn’t up to adjusting the sails in quick manoeuvres. Thomas got chatting with another skipper who asked us to join him on his boat as his wife had just flown back to France to work and he was single-handling to New Zealand. He had a cruising boat designed by a famous French sailor who races. She was designed for the person who wanted to cruise quickly and boy did she fly. See You Later Alligator came in second in the mono-hulls not far behind a 60ft ketch.
We were only 38ft and probably averaged about 7.2knots the whole course. The skipper, Didere, made her point high up into the wind but we couldn’t quite get around one reef towards the end and we had to put in an extra tack. Annemeike, a visiting tourist from Canada, joined us for the race and steered well for a lot of the course. At one stage the boat went to round up and she called for assistance as she began to fly across the cockpit. As Thomas reached for the tiller to assist her, he also went flying across the cockpit. Didere asked why they didn’t just use the support and pulled a footrest out. This allows the helmsman supports his/her weight as the boat heels so dramatically. This boat was so futuristic that we didn’t even notice half of its features, little lone a tucked up bar that became a vital part of being able to keep the boat under control, (and the crew).
So we came in third overall after a catamaran flew in between us and the finish line. Our friends Jan and David on Rewa won the race and were pretty darn well pumped about it – David’s words. We had a great evening with a BBQ dinner and Tongan dancers. I was so impressed with the energy that the teenage boys put into their routine. They were backed by a ‘Kava’ band. It was like a cross between a steel band with some traditional drums and a banjo thrown in. So energetic. I felt like dancing too.
On the following day we had a race back to the main anchorage and the winner was the first boat to bring in a fish to a prearranged restaurant. Our friends Jack and Jan off Anthem won that. Plus our new friends on Lumbaz won a prize when they rocked up with a fish that had been handcrafted by their children. It was a fun event. Didere won lots of prizes including one for having the best boat name. He then went on to win an even bigger prize when he won, ‘worst dressed’ at the pub crawl on Friday night. That prize was a haul out and seven days on the hard stand in a marina in New Zealand. Something he will definitely use. He was so happy. It was a great festival and we got to hang out with friends from the Caribbean and the Pacific.
Our second big adventure here was to go swimming with the whales. It is one of the only places in the world that you can do this. It was wonderful although the whales are becoming a bit scarce at this time of the year. The best time would be in August. The guides told us that the bays are so thick with them that you could almost walk over them. (Slight exaggeration me thinks). The mother and calf that we spent most of the time with were really playing with us. The mother showed more interest in our group where as the second group of four snorkellers had the calf swimming close to them. The calf would roll around and swim within three or four metres of us and then rub up to its mother. But the baby went within a metre of the other group. The mother had a lot of white on her body with just a black strip down her back. She mainly just hung there in the water while the baby played around her. She was totally chilled and taking it easy. It was great to be able to take the time and really study the way they look. Our guide told us that the mothers can lose up to 15 tons of their average pre-travel weight of 40 tons on this journey. Looking at this mother, you couldn’t see it. She still had an enormous waist line. She was massive and it was incredible that we were there, right beside her. As Tonga is one of the few places in the world that allows this, it was an experience that we will always hold dear. Some conservationists would say they’re crossing the line by organising these tours but I would say it was respectfully done. We are hoping to see plenty more whales as we sail around the Vavau group of islands here in the north of Tonga.
Local boat charter companies have made a map where all the anchorages are numbered in the Vavau group. So we are off exploring some of these. We’ve had a terrific snorkel on a reef beyond a small surf. There was a great variety of coral and fish. We saw a fish that we couldn’t identify. At first I thought it was a leaf in the water but then I saw it had an eye, and fins etc. We asked some locals here and they told us it was a leaf fish. Great to see new species. We then moored near a small village and went for a wander around. Pigs ran on the beaches rooting for tasty morsels. There was an abundance of starfish so I’m wondering if that was what they were eating. Not sure. Our mooring cost us 5 USD for the night which went to the local school.
After a 12k hike along the entire length of the island to shake the cobwebs off the old muscles we visited the school. A new young teacher had the two classes as the principal hadn’t shown up on this day. She had only been teaching for two weeks. She was delightful and invited me back later. So I returned after lunch to read books to the children, (the teacher translated for me), play some counting games to help their English and we all enthusiastically sang the Hokey Pokey. Once again to help with their English but this time for naming the parts of the body. They knew the song in Tongan and were quite excited about recognising the tune. I think it got a bit cheeky for the conservative teacher when we got to the bit about putting your backside in and wiggling it all about. The missionaries did a good job here. The Togans are a pious people.
The teacher, her husband, their toddler and four month old were all staying in what appeared to be the tool shed of the school. I doubt an Australian teacher would tolerate such conditions. She’d come from another island and stays at the school during the week and she and her family return to their home island for the weekends. As she hadn’t received her first pay yet, the parents of the students were feeding them. When I took the class the teacher placed her toddler on her desk and he happily amused himself for the hour or so I was there by playing with a ruler and listening to the stories. He required no individual attention throughout the session. It wasn’t just him that was placid, the whole school had a calm feel about it. It was lovely spending time with these peaceful and content children.
There is a sense of calmness and a relaxed atmosphere over the whole of the Vavu Island group and I doubt that the rest of Tonga is any different. There is still plenty more to see but we are checking out, saying goodbye to all our friends who are heading off to New Zealand or Indonesia and heading for Fiji. Time is getting on and the cyclone season is fast approaching. It will be strange for us to continue on our way without the chance meetings with our cruiser friends that we have enjoyed so much. Only a few will follow in our wake all the way to Australia. More pics…