20 57S 175 05W 25 Oct 05
As she heads aft for a nap after completing her 5.00 to 8.00am watch
Janet: We should have enough meat for the passage. Shall we take the
David: I'll finish my breakfast and then bring it in.
David: Too late!
The fish knew it was the last chance to bite the plastic lure which we
have been towing for 30 hrs. It was a small yellow fin - the nicest of
the tunas. Harmonica is back in the deep ocean.....well 10km deep in
the Tonga Trench to the east; but round us are Minerva Reefs, Pelorus
Reef, Ata Island, and various sea mounts on the charts sticking out of
the ocean floor.
3 days ago, we made an overnight sail from the Ha'apai Group of Tongan
islands south to the national capital, Nukualofa, stern-tied to the
outer mole of the harbour. The books warned us that Nukualofa is a city
with traffic jams, and noise, but that is only true by the standards of
the Tongan islands further north. There was lots of paperwork, but all
the officials were patient and courteous with us "Palangis" (ie.
westerners). We completed paperwork at immigration/port
authority/customs, bought diesel, shopped for food, had a nice supper
at 3.30pm in a western-style cafe, then sailed out past the reefs just
before sunset. Phew!
By 5.00pm, we dropped the stern lines and Jan gave us hard forward to
clear the boat beside us in the cross-wind while Dave pulled up the
anchor and waved off the school boys who were swimming in the harbour.
It was a busy but cheerful way to leave the country we had lived in for
a month. We had casually thought that the entrance to Tonga's main port
should be straight forward, but it is surrounded by a few miles of
reefs, sand bars, and coral heads, and several of the charted buoys
were missing, so leaving before sunset was a must.
Fish hooks for bananas and lone caretakers on tropical islands, whales,
dolphins, reef sharks, and clear waters, Peace Corps volunteers, and
neat, simple, friendly villages, and singing at a kava-drinking party:
Our memories of the Ha'apai group of Central Tonga. Ha'apai is about 60
islands. 17 are inhabited and we stopped at 8. Only 2 rise above 100
feet from the sea.
It is a single night's sailing from the rockier Vavau Group in the
north, and half way down, we realized that it was Friday night so we
might not be able to check in before Monday. So on Saturday morning, we
dropped anchor by the break in the reef of Ofalanga Island and spent
the day walking round it. The volcano of Tofua was gently smoking 20
miles to the west. The only sign of people was the lean-to fisherman's
shelter on the beach made of woven pandanus leaves. On Sunday, we
drifted east to Foa, and walked up the road to the harmonies of church
Many officials wore the traditional Tongan tupenu or men's skirt. The
tupenu is also school uniform for secondary schools. They are
good-looking people and fortunately seem to like having their
One family we met gave us bananas and papaya. She was the assistant
principle of the island school and he was a fisherman. After several
visits with them they came out with their 10yr old daughter to visit
Harmonica.....their first visit to a sailing boat. We Were able to give
some pens for the school, and fish hooks for him.
The fishermen will sometimes go miles offshore in small boats with a
single outboard engine and we also gave him some spare spark plugs
which made his engine sound much healthier. Twice, fishermen asked for
the plastic squid which we use as lures for deep-sea fish, and were
interested in our home-made versions using coloured spinnaker cloth.
They are skilled fishermen. Locals also find octopus and lobster in
abundance, but our attempts were less successful: when Dave and Russ
(another Canadian cruiser) went lobster-hunting, the instructions were
simple - go out on the reef after dark at high tide when the dinghy can
cross it and they'll come to the light so that you just pick them up.
First we missed the edge of the reef and went planing off into water
1/2km deep. Then we criss-crossed all sorts of reef and snorkeled in
the dark but could not find a single lobster!
We were often glad of the faster dinghy which we had traded for in
Ecuador. Our day-time snorkeling was more successful. Ha'apai is a
destination for scuba divers but being hard to get to, very few make it
here. We could often hear whales in the water when we dived but saw
few. We saw several spinner dolphins which twist vigorously as they
jump, and we were accompanied by a pod under the bow. There is supposed
to be an underwater cave of warm water by Ofolanga and we found an
enormous spider conch (too big for Janet to take!) nearby, but we did
not find the entrance. Once Russ and Dave drift-swam, with the dinghy
behind, in the current in the pass in the barrier reef between Uoleva
and Uiha. The corals were fantastic. The clearest water we found was
probably off the "resort island" of Telekivavau.
The term Resort Island could be misleading since the last guest checked
out nearly 6 months earlier. A caretaker lives there on his own and
takes care of the lovely building and keeps the grass lawn cut. He
(Steve from Hawaii) seemed glad to have company for the 2 days we spent
anchored inside his reef and twice he joined us for supper on board
Harmonica, and we joined him for sunset drinks on the north beach where
we could watch the large flying foxes (fruit bats) desperately flapping
from one island to the next, and the frigate birds harassing boobies
The only paved road we saw in the Ha'apai runs about 8 miles from the
"Sandy Beach Resort" on Foa, across the causeway to Lifuka and south to
the smart hospital. The "Sandy Beach" was the only other palangi
(meaning ex-patriot) resort that we saw. Its German owner lives there
and runs it for the small number of European and American guests. The 3
towns on the road become progressively bigger, terminating in Pangai,
the administrative capital. Pangai boasts many churches, a small group
of administration buildings, the only airport and harbour in the island
group, about 6 schools (giving the impression of some highly educated
children), mobile telephone & internet centre. Most significant for
us - it also has the "Mariner's Cafe" where at the 5 small tables, the
few cruisers, tourists, and American Peace Corps workers would eat
burgers fish or chicken stir-fry over an evening beer and exchange
gossip. Eating out with different company becomes a luxury after weeks
of eating on board.
Ha'apai seems an ideal place for a young volunteer in the Peace Corps.
The ones we talked to mostly taught in schools. Although we sail
between islands at will, once on their islands, these volunteers may
not meet other Palangi for weeks or months. When Andrew came on board
in Oua, he sat down and announced how much we underrate furniture and
chairs. He amused us with tales of the Tongan customs of sharing - how
he would be cooking his breakfast when adults or school children would
wander into his hut, ask what he was cooking and expect to share it.
The opposite is also true, he has organized a "Youth Group" which has
grown a patch of western vegetables including lettuce which they shared
with us to our great delight, and also made a delicious drink of
coconut, and mango. Another time, we chatted to a woman as we walked
through the village in Oua, and she filled a shopping bag with fresh
green mango which Janet later made into chutney.
Andrew also invited us to a Kava drinking party (us means Russ and Dave
since the custom is that only men drink Kava). We hastily read all we
could about this Polynesian narcotic and decided that the occasion
should not be missed. The men sit cross-legged on the floor around a
traditional wooden bowl in which the Kava is mixed. Then it is served
by one individual who ladles the drink into smaller bowls which are
passed around to the head of the circle - you guessed right, that was
us. Any dregs are thrown out and more bowls are filled and passed
round. My strongest memory will be of the singing and guitar playing,
but we missed a lot by not speaking Tongan.
On Uiha, we sought out the Esi-o-Ma'afu Homestay which was mentioned in
our "Lonely Planet" guide. The collection of huts by the beach was hard
to distinguish from other homes in the village. We asked if they could
prepare a Tongan Feast for us, and returned the next day at 5.30.
Dinner was actually quite late because the young pig, which was to be
roast whole, decided to be late returning from the bush that day and
its owner dropped it down beside the umu, or hole-in-the-ground-oven,
after we arrived. There was much shelling of clams, splitting of
lobster, and boiling of vegetables, as we were joined by Mike &
Alex from a British cruising boat Sanuk (all the way to Tonga to meet a
man worked for the same seismic company as Dave in the 1970's).
Eventually the snoring occupant of the hammock was rolled away, and we
were seated as a sumptuous spread of foods was laid out. We hardly made
a dent in the quantity of food and rolled away ourselves after a true
Since starting this letter, we spent 3 days close reaching in strong to
gale force winds and steep seas. We made great speed, but at the cost
of Harmonica's dryness and our energy levels. The wind and seas have
now calmed down but we are looking forward to landfall in Opua, New
Zealand and a chance to wash the salt off everything. Harmonica has
many deck leaks to attend to, and must also be cleared of ants and
cockroaches which have infested us during the summer (just in case you
think that paradise is perfect). We'll have 6 months to look after
these while it is cyclone season in the tropics.
Best wishes to you all from
Jan, Dave & Harmonica