Passage to New Zealand – part 2

On Monday afternoon (23 October) the wind went up and down like a yoyo. One minute we were doing 5+ knots in 13 knots of breeze then we slowed to only 3 knots boat speed in 7 knots of wind. The pole helped the sail remain full but in these fickle conditions our speed was variable at best. We persevered all afternoon and at 18.00 we downloaded the latest weather. The good news was that our window continued to exist but the winds were much lighter at the earlier part of the passage than had previously been forecast.
We were expecting a trough to come through bringing squally conditions so put away the pole as we headed into our evening shifts after an amazing sunset. The sun went down and the clouds built giving us a pitch black gloomy night with no light whatsoever. All very spooky! The wind remained light and variable and we have slipped about 8 miles behind our passage plan – not much chance of making that up right now. During Richard’s evening shift he went wing on wing to boost our speed…..but I wasn’t happy to do that solo as I was worried about getting caught out in a squall so changed it back when I came on shift. Funnily enough we both clocked exactly the same average speed throughout the night so it seems to work both ways LOL.
By Tuesday morning (24 October) the sun had peeked through a very grey heavily laden sky. It remained gloomy and we were still waiting for the illusive squalls to bring us some wind. The wind died down to 5-6 knots so we motor sailed and made water at the same time trying to maintain our progress. I can hear you all wondering what does it matter if we are a bit slower, we’ll still get there, right? Well, yes, that’s true but the weather systems here come off the Tasmin Sea regularly like cars on a race track and the longer we are out here the more chance we have of getting walloped by one. So our focus is to try and keep moving as quickly as possible to make it to land in the current benign weather window.
By 11.00 we had resorted to wing on wing including a poled out genoa working really hard to keep our speed above 5 knots in the light conditions. We were still awaiting the trough so were keeping vigilant watching the skies for any signs. Thankfully the day brightened up considerably and we just had a hazy day with the odd glimpse of sunlight. It was even warm enough to take our jackets off LOL.
By 6pm we had gybed to a starboard tack with reefed genoa and mainsail. Still waiting for the trough to arrive wondering whether it had dissipated. But the latest weather forecast still included it so we continued being cautious and the barometer reading / wind direction was an indicator of rain within 24 hours. By midnight the rain had arrived….and then came the wind…with a steady 25 knots on a beam reach. We were screaming along at speeds clocking more than 8 knots. The seas built and the wind continued to blow…and it was the most exhilarating sailing ever! I could have done without the rain part though as I was pretty soggy by the end of my shift.
I handed over to Richard at 3.00 on Wednesday (25 October) and he enjoyed the same conditions. Sadly our fun came to an end by 6.00 when the wind shifted as the trough spun away and dragged behind it a very large, lumpy, and angry sea. The wind dropped to 6 knots and we made little headway despite tacking to a more favourable position. By 11.00 we were motor sailing in light airs under a gloomy grey sky into lumpy seas and was being treated to the occasional rain shower. We were waiting for the wind to swing more southerly – SE would be perfect! – so we can make up time yet again. Despite the huge gains made overnight we lost them to the grumpy sea later. Never mind…..
At 12 the wind filled in again and we were screaming along. The rain started again so looks like we may have found the other side of the trough?!? By 13.00 the wind swung around and we had to run away from our rhumb line…then by 15.00 we were heading back to our rhumb line until the next time the wind changed. Really good winds at 15-25 knots but fickle in direction so we are constantly changing course to accommodate them whilst keeping our forward momento. At 16.00 the winds died back to 7 knots – although in the right direction – so we are again motor sailing in the rain.
Just having dinner and we were contacted by SV Taranga – a Danish boat that left a similar time to us on Sunday so reassuring to know that 400 miles later we are making similar progress.
Been a strange sort of day but all is well on the good ship Morpheus.
Bye for now Jan

Passage to New Zealand – part 1

We picked up anchor as planned just before 10.00 on Monday 22 October. The wind was very light as we started motoring through the chicane of reefs, islands and cardinal markers that surround Tongatapu.
Around noon we were heading out the main shipping channel into deep water in 12 knots of breeze so we pulled out the main sail in readiness for our turn. OMG it got caught at the top edge folded in a strange way into the mast. We are not sure how this happened as it went in easily enough the other day. We decided not to try pull out any more as we risked tearing the sail so instead we furled it back in. This worked so we decided to continue on knowing that we can’t have more than a double-reefed main out at any time until we investigate further. That’s fine – we can live with that! We deployed a full genoa and starting running downwind in about 12 knots of breeze. Was a rollickingly good sail and we were grateful for such a pleasant introduction to this passage as we shook off the cobwebs.
By 18.00 the wind had switched to 120 degrees on the port side and the seas flattened as the sun started to drop in the sky…we were ahead of schedule and had seen 8+ knots of boat speed at times when the wind had increased to 20 knots. We reefed the genoa for the night and moved into our shift patterns. Jadean were behind us and radioed for a chat – wanting to know whether we were stopping at Minerva Reef or not along the way. We have named this Minervous Reef as everyone goes there to debate the weather yet again…. They wanted our weather info and I gave them a brief synopsis but, obviously, this passage plan is devised for a monohull not a large catamaran. We exchanged contact details and continued on. I forgot to tell them about our battery problem so they are probably cursing me for not replying to them by now!
We continued to sail along nicely through to about 21.00 when the wind became more fickle in both speed and direction. It swung from NE to SE and speeds have varied between 7-22 knots. So we played the ‘keeping my sails full at all time’ passage game to maintain our speed throughout the night. The night sky was fabulous with an amazing array of stars and planets shining through the pitch black shroud…only to be matched by the spectacular phosphorescence display behind the stern as we pushed our way through the water. Was a cold night and we sailed in fleeces and long trousers…but I refuse to give up on the bare feet just yet LOL.
At 6.00 on Monday 23 October we watched a beautiful sunrise and shook out the reef in the genoa. The wind is steady at 12-15 knots and we were doing well. By 10.00 the wind had eased so our boat speed had dropped below 5 knots but we remained pretty much on schedule at this point. Hoping for a bit more wind but we’ll not look a gift horse in the mouth with this beautiful crisp bright chilly day with flattish seas sparkling deep blue in the sunshine. Bliss!
At noon we calculated that we had covered 122 miles in 24 hours so we were doing fine. Sadly the wind dropped even further into single figures so we deployed the pole to see if that will lift our speed. So far so good….
Bye for now Jan

Vava’u to Tongatapu

We had a reasonable passage down from Vava’u to Tongatapu and enjoyed the sights of the perfectly-shaped volcanoes along the way plus, of course, the obligatory sunset at sea.

Wednesday afternoon Chris, from Sea Bear, came to say hi so we had a couple of restorative beers in the cockpit with him. Was nice to catch up as it was at least a week since we had seen him LOL! Later on we went ashore and got soaked in dink by the choppy waves. We admired the unusual signage for Big Mamas and enjoyed a social evening with a variety of other cruisers – some new to us like Paul and Gloria from SV Scallywag and others we had met before like Sarah and Phil from SV Serenity of Swanwick.

Thursday morning we got the little ferry across to the mainland to check in. Luckily we were with Sarah and Phil – who were checking out – so we found the relevant offices. They were a good 20 minute walk away through various car parks etc so not sure we would have found them on our own!  We completed our check in quickly and then walked along the waterfront towards the town. On the way we passed the small boat wharf and had views across to Pangiamotu where Morphie is anchored.

The banner across the main road reminded me of a long and distant past and I’m sure my BoE friends will enjoy this picture!

The walk to town was long…. Nuku’alofa is the capital of the Kingdom of Tonga so the government buildings were to be expected.  What we didn’t expect was the opulence of the new empty building which had been commissioned but not occupied. However, the King had just sacked all his cabinet so maybe that had something to do with it?!?

What is interesting is the Asian influence here – with the extension to the main harbour being financed by the Japanese and the Chinese embassy being constructed (along with CCTV and electric fencing) was a sign of their permanence in the kingdom. All corner shops appear to be owned and run by Chinese too. When we have asked about this the main story is that the Japanese and Chinese are after the fishing / whaling rights to the area. Let’s hope that they don’t give in to that pressure, particularly on whaling, as this would kill their tourism stone dead!

We wandered around and enjoyed visiting the local market and were pleased to find that we didn’t pay pelangi prices here.

Walking through the warren of small shops and buildings we came across a garage sale Tongan style – and noticed lots of other second-hand clothing shops too.

The houses were pretty dilapidated and lots of people were showing respect by wearing their weaves and mats. The Tongans are quite shy people so taking photos of them is often refused – but I did manage to catch the back end of this woman chatting through a shop window with one of her friends. Check it out!

We had a coffee on the way to the main wharf and waited for the ferry to take us back. We returned to Morphie and downloaded weather again. There is a good weather window this weekend for New Zealand and Chris is taking off on Friday. We are not ready to go but don’t want to miss the window so will continue to watch it carefully.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on board doing various jobs in readiness for our forthcoming passage including some cooking, engine checks, passage planning, some admin things like annual insurances and so on. We went ashore – getting soaked again – for sundowners and had to resort to jackets as it is really chilly here. Had another social evening but were surprised by the weather debates committee – it is up to everyone to move when they are comfortable – and it is clear that most cruisers are extremely nervous about this trip and have resorted to group think. We are not going to get involved in this as we think it is a recipe for disaster or interminable delay.

Friday morning and the favourable weather window remained – confirmed by MetBob in New Zealand whom we have engaged as our weather router – so we went ashore on the ferry again to check out (as weekends are difficult). We paid our Port Authority fees (only £20) and then got our international clearance for New Zealand. Again the only subject of conversation on the ferry over was the weather and most are heading off to Minerva Reef to stage their passage. However, the window looks good all the way so we do not plan to stop unless the conditions are not as anticipated when we get out there.

On the wharf a guy sells BBQ chicken – but cooked over logs rather than charcoal.   All the rotisseries were automated too….smelt fantastic but a bit early for us LOL.

To avoid the long walk we got a taxi into town – a huge £1.50 fare – and visited the bakers for bread for the freezer. Was delighted to find proper pastry sausage rolls so got some of them for our trip too…. The streets don’t have names here so directions are given via landmarks – here’s the church school and the big tree near the market.

We had a coffee before we returned on the ferry and said our farewells to Chris who was leaving that afternoon. We spent the afternoon doing more pre-passage preparations and then had another chilly evening at Big Momas.

This morning, Saturday, and we continue to prepare for the trip south. We have finished our passage planning; we have done all the washing; the hull has been cleaned; passage food is in the freezer; fleeces, blankets and cold weather gear have been rescued from the depths of a locker; engine checks are complete; diesel tank topped up;  and we have just got rid off all our rubbish. The outboard is on the rail and dink is back on the bow and we’re now pretty much ready. We’re not going out tonight so that we are fresh for the morning. It is a shame to be leaving so soon after our arrival here as this is where the King’s palaces and tombs are located and I’d have liked to have seen them….but we can’t afford to let this weather window pass us by.

Sunday morning we are planning on picking up our anchor at 10.00 bound for New Zealand. This is a passage of about 1100 miles through an area renowned for unpredictable weather so we hope that the forecasts are correct but we have battened down the hatches tightly anyway.  We will set the tracker off once every 24 hours (6 am UK time) so that you have an idea of where we are and I hope to continue blogging throughout the passage so long as the Iridium Go! battery lasts. Fingers crossed it gets us all the way there if we are frugal with it.

Bye for now


Passage to Tongatapu

As planned we dropped our mooring ball at 21.00 hrs on Monday 16th October and worked our way through the anchorage to the channel. We were waved off by air horns which we presume was Ian to wish us good luck so we replied in kind – and other boats joined in. Was quite touching.
We motored slowly and carefully out towards the pass to deep water through the narrow chicane and between a couple of small unlit islands. In the very dark moonless night these were nervous times.
Thankfully by around 22.30 we were running alongside Hunga in deep water so we raised a reefed genoa and main and were hurtling along. As we came to the end of the island we realised we were over canvassed for the wind and sea state so reefed down further. The forecast was 15-20 knots decreasing through the night with moderate seas. So why did we find 25-30 knots plus higher in rain squalls?!? Never mind….at least it was a beam reach. The wind kept moving forward of the beam during the night and there were lots of rogue waves slamming our port side and breaking over us so we got wet a few times.
By 6.00 on Tuesday the wind had moderated slightly giving us a steady 20 knots still on a beam reach. But the skies were grey and heavily laden with the promise of rain. We have been going much faster than our passage schedule so have decided, at this early stage, not to shake out any of the reefs. We’ll evaluate that decision later – right now we were enjoying the more comfortable ride and I was hoping that Richard would manage to sleep as he had been struggling thus far.
At 10.00 the wind had moved to 60 degrees off the port bow and eased to about 16 knots. We shook out both the headsail and genoa reefs, pulled out the staysail, and hardened up. We were easily maintaining our target speed of five knots with an ETA for Wednesday morning so everything was going to plan although I would have preferred the promised beam reach as we hadn’t sailed upwind since we left the Caribbean LOL. Was a lovely day’s sailing.
This short passage meant that we could raise dink (without his outboard which was on the rail) onto the davits. But of course he is still leaking and if he deflates he might swing about causing stresses on the arch so every shift change Richard pumps more air into him – CPR for dinghies whatever next LOL!
By the time we went into our evening shifts, however, the sea state had got lumpy and the wind continued to clock more southerly and strengthened to 20+ knots again. We couldn’t hold our course – and with hazards to starboard – we needed to tack and get more easting in. We did this and went straight into the waves making very slow progress for a few miles. Then we tacked back and were making good speed once again. At 21.00 we had a cruise ship and a fishing boat sighting – no worries or concerns – but the wind continued to shift and eventually we couldn’t hold the course again. By this time we were running in deep water (5,000 feet) between sea mounts (rising sharply to 85 feet) and active (2016) underwater volcanos to both port and starboard. The seas around these areas are confused and lumpy and we started to lose traction. Eventually by midnight we had to motor sail to make any progress….and even at 1800 rpm we were still struggling to make 3-4 knots. What a difference a night makes!
By 6.00 on Wednesday we had passed the sea mounts and volcanos and were motoring directly into wind and waves towards the ship channel entry through the reef . It was a strange feeling though to be heading towards an island that we couldn’t see when only 15 miles away from our final destination.
We worked our way in through the reefs and little islands and finally, at 11.45, we arrived having sailed 181 miles and are now anchored off of Big Mommas Resort.
Bye for now Jan

Final days in Vava’u, Tonga

Wednesday night the rain abated so we went ashore to the Aquarium Cafe. We met up with Ian and he was in a celebratory mood as his spare parts had arrived and his boat now had power again – having been stuck here for almost three months – so we had a quite a good reunion.

Thursday it poured with rain all day…..cats and dogs…..and was just plain miserable. So we stayed on board. We did a few boat jobs but most of the day we just lazed around before a few cold ones in the cockpit watching the sun go down before having an early night.

Friday morning it was miserable again….but we headed into town anyway. We dropped off our sheets and towels at the laundry, went to the fruit and veg market and various other bits and pieces before spending some time in the Tropicana Cafe drinking coffee and downloading the latest weather files.

Usually we download all our grib files using the Iridium Go! Unit. But remember that charging problem? Well, the charging USB port on the unit has completely broken and there is no workaround as the unit is sealed so we can’t re-solder the part or hard wire it instead. We have found out that it has to be returned to the USA for repairs (or swap out) under warranty. Our unit’s battery was down to two out of three bars but, luckily, we found another cruiser who was willing to fully charge our battery for us inside his own Go!  So the unit is fully operational but we have limited battery capacity. We can’t rely on getting it charged again so we are going to have to be very frugal in our use. This means that we will only turn it on for half an hour a day maximum whilst underway just to download weather;  send blog updates;  and ping the tracker. So the tracker will not follow us in real time with our boat speed etc but will at least continue to show our passage (albeit in a straight line probably over land LOL) and our position on arrival.  Hopefully we’ll be able to do this all the way to New Zealand but, if the battery doesn’t hold up, we may end up having to limit our use to just weather updates. But we’ll keep you posted.

Having done all our jobs for the day we had a lazy afternoon before heading into the Mango Lounge for sundowners. The bar was busy and the sunset was absolutely spectacular over the bay.

We had a fun evening chatting with Ian but we had to get our own drinks.  Usually the staff here are over-attentive and ask you every couple of minutes whether you want another one so Ian had complained, the old curmudgeon. So, of course, they avoided our table like the plague LOL obviously under instruction from the boss. But, have to admit, it was nice to chat without constant interruptions!

Saturday morning we were up early and headed over to Ian’s boat.

As his power was now restored we were going to help him recalibrate the autopilot which reverted to factory settings when power failed.   So we went up and down the bay, doing circles and straight lines, until finally it was done. Luckily for me he had the same Raymarine control head so I was very confident in giving instructions to Ian on the helm as we swung the compass.

Then we headed back to the mooring field and got him reattached to a mooring before returning to Morphie via the laundry.

Saturday afternoon we did our hand washing and had a leisurely afternoon followed by an early dinner before we headed into Aquarium for a drink. Ian joined us again and we had another fun evening.

Sunday morning and it was a special day.   Happy 60th Birthday Richard.   Congratulations and all my love on reaching this milestone and here’s to lots more ahead!   Cheers….

Richard enjoyed opening his cards and presents from home – which I had gathered together last November before we left home and had kept them hidden on board throughout the season.

We had a leisurely breakfast and then I cleaned the boat down below while Richard worked on dink yet again.  The glue just won’t dry here in the humidity so the patches don’t stick properly and after a few days they peel and the leaks are exposed again. Never mind, sigh…. We also did some passage planning.

Sunday evening we went ashore and celebrated Richard’s birthday.  Check out his tee shirt present – great vintage indeed LOL!

We had dinner at the Mango Lounge and the staff very kindly made Richard a chocolate desert and a happy birthday sign – he got a kiss from our waitress and we all sang to him.

By this time we had been joined by Ian and Frank (whom we last saw in Hiva Oa) and had a lovely low key evening.

This morning, Monday, and we’ve been ashore and done our inter-island clearance with customs. We’ve picked up more provisions and have returned to Morphie. I’m blogging and cooking some passage food whilst Richard is catching up on line using the phone SIM card.   Later on we are going to get the boat ready to go to sea, do last minute engine checks and rest up. Tonight at 9.00 pm we are going to leave in the dark (unusually) headed towards the capital of the Kingdom of Tonga, Nukualofa in the Tongatapu island group. Our plan is to anchor off Big Momma’s resort which is on the island of Pangaimotu. We are hoping to do our check in via the resort’s ferry rather than having to take Morphie into the rat-infested commercial harbour – fingers crossed!

This passage is 180 miles so it’s roughly a 36 hour run at an average of five knots hence our evening departure which means we’ll arrive safely in daylight on Wednesday.

Bye for now


Mounu Island Resort, Tonga

Saturday evening we spent in the Aquarium with Chris and Ian. We said our farewells to them both whilst enjoying the most spectacular sunset and a few cold beers.

Sunday we were up at a reasonable hour and slipped away from our mooring and headed to the outer islands. We enjoyed the view of the numerous wooded limestone islands and spotted numerous caves along the way.

Our destination was the private Mounu Island Resort.  This was founded by a New Zealander who became pally with the then King of Tonga and, unusually for a pelangi (Tongan for ‘foreigner), was granted a 50 year lease on this little bit of paradise. We knew that this was an exclusive private resort so we radioed ahead and asked permission to pick up a mooring. This was granted and we were delighted to find that we were the only boat there. Stunning, picture perfect, just plain beautiful!

We got ourselves settled and asked permission to come ashore. We were welcomed to the island by Kirstie and Amber – daughters of the original New Zealander – who told us a little bit about their family history. Their dad, sadly, passed away this year and the family were granted permission to bury him on the island – definitely a fitting tribute for this entrepreneurial man who was responsible for bringing tourists to Tonga to see the humpback whales. His love of the whales lives on in his daughters who are incredibly knowledgeable having been brought up here. We were welcomed as though we were guests and given permission to walk around the island which we did in about 10 minutes enjoying the spectacular scenery.

We then had a few beers enjoying the breeze and chatting to a few of the guests – there are only four rooms on the island – before returning to Morphie just as the sun was going down.

Monday we had a lazy morning before heading ashore in the early afternoon. We enjoyed ourselves bobbing in the beautiful clear water and greeted the whale watching boat as it returned. The guests were so excited about seeing and swimming with whales that we decided to book ourselves to go out with them the following day. Third time lucky!   We had a lovely afternoon on the beach – it seemed like a very long time ago since we did this.

Tuesday morning we were up really early and headed ashore by 7 am. The maintenance guy was waiting for us on the beach to help bring dink right up above the water line and tied him off to a tree. We then waited for the remaining guests – four Australian girls – to finish their breakfast and we headed out in the boat. We drove around for a while before we started to see some whales…..and then more….and then more. Just amazing especially the one who decided that our boat needed a very close encounter LOL.

We did manage to get in the water with them twice and at one point the female turned and showed us her white belly as she rose from the depths. Sadly they were too deep to get real good shots but just the memory of seeing the whales below us. watching their bubbles, and hearing their songs in the water was just fantastic.

We continued to have more surface encounters which just topped off a very special memorable day.

We returned to Morphie very happy but tired so had a rest before returning to the island for sundowners.   I went and chatted to the pet parrot while Richard got acquainted with the Royal pooch Otto – he was left on the island by the old King when he travelled abroad and, sadly, he died whilst away so never returned for him.   A real character who quite enjoyed a cuddle!

We had a few drinks with everyone before saying our sad farewells. We had thoroughly enjoyed our time on Mounu and were very grateful to Kirstie and Amber for giving us permission to visit their little bit of paradise.

We had an early night after dinner and were awoken by the sound of torrential rain. Typical!  But at least we’d had good weather whilst on the island.  Sadly, this morning Wednesday, the forecast was for unsettled weather with high winds through to and including the weekend. So that put paid to our idea of continuing to explore other islands so we returned to the safety of the sheltered anchorage in Neiafu and picked up a mooring ball just as the heavens opened again.

We also spotted a problem with our Iridium Go! unit which today decided to stop charging via the USB connector. Grrrr…. This is our lifeline for weather updates via the satellite system so we have switched it off and sent an email to the support desk to see if they can give us a workaround.  Richard thinks it is actually the connector in the (sealed) unit that has developed a fault and if we can’t charge it when the battery runs down the unit is useless until we can get it fixed.  And obviously that won’t happen in Tonga. That also puts the tracker out of action unless we can conserve enough power just to turn it on every third day or something so that it puts a position in. Of course that also means no satellite emails or blogging whilst at sea – what am I going to do with myself!?!

Seems strange to be back in town but glad to sit the weather out here with easy access to restaurants and bars particularly as we are celebrating Richard’s 60th birthday on Sunday!  Not where I had hoped to be but, hey ho, I’m sure we’ll have a good time anyway. We decided today, because of this slight weather delay, not to visit the Ha’apai group of islands so instead we are going direct to Tongatapu – a passage of about 36 hours – once the weather settles back down next week.

Bye for now


Still having fun in Vava’u, Tonga

Tuesday evening we went to the Aquarium Cafe to watching a talk about the humpback whales. This had been billed as ‘famous, entertaining and informative’ and not to be missed. Well, I beg to differ. The (English) presenter clearly knew her stuff but she thought she was funny. Her infantile attempts at humour and style of presentation was just plain annoying and irritating. Very poor and such a shame as we were keen to learn more, particularly about the migration routes and timings, but that was completely missing from the presentation. I think I could have done a better job using google as my resource. Rant over…. We had a nice evening chatting after the talk was over.

Wednesday morning and we headed to the Tropicana Cafe to meet up with our fellow Blue Water Festival participants. About 90 of us had registered for this event. We wandered up the road to the Hosea Primary School. The path up to the school was rough but the kids were lining both sides singing and dancing and dressed up in traditional costume to welcome us. Richard and I went up and down the line to shake hands and say hello to the kids and their parents and one of the taller lads gave me his flower lei. How nice!

We went to sit under an awning and were introduced to the kids by the headmistress. All the teachers and parents were dressed in their traditional finest and this was clearly a big day for them. The school is for children who are not in mainstream education – usually because they are not up to the standard required for joining or have learning difficulties – so this bridges the gap. Sadly it is not government funded at all so this little place is doing some fantastic work completely unsupported and running on school fees alone. The buildings are falling apart, the three classrooms have to have tarpaulin inside to stop the kids getting wet when it rains, and the latest project is to secure funds for roof repairs.

We sat down to be royally entertained by the kids singing and dancing – some in English – and some in Tongan. They were all absolutely amazing! The headmistress thanked us for our support as the annual Blue Water Festival and its hosts – Whangarai Marine Group and Bay of Islands Marina, New Zealand, plus some local businesses such as the Boatyard and Tropical Tease.   This is clearly a special annual event for the school – she actually broke down in tears at one point. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house at this point!

We then carried on watching the kids and eventually joined them doing ‘disco’ and the ‘train’ dance. What fun… These kids are quite shy and retiring, which is true for most Tongans that we meet, but their faces lit up when you encouraged them to join in, helped a little by the odd parental push in the right direction LOL.

After the show we then were treated to an amazing buffet lunch which had been supplied by the parents for us – ranging from suckling pig to chicken to sandwiches to cakes to fruit. We all ate our fill and then, sadly, it was time to leave. The majority of us donated some cash to the roof fund as we left and the headmistress cried all over again. As we were walking back to the waterfront all the kids and their parents were being driven away and they were all shouting and waving goodbye and wishing us safe sailing as they left.

We returned to Morphie feeling quite emotional. The school visit was certainly one of the highlights of our trip this season and showed us how generous and kind these people are despite the fact that many of them live in relatively poor conditions. Apparently the average wage here is Tongan $150 per week which equates to around £50 – and then you realise why the locals do not eat or visit the waterfront bars and restaurants as the pricing is way beyond their means.

In the evening we returned to the Aquarium where we were treated to a pizza evening and had some interesting presentations by the Whangarei Marine Group and a representative from the New Zealand biosecurity team.  We found out that there was lots of misinformation out there about what is allowed on our arrival into New Zealand. Basically we are just going to go with what we have left – food wise – and they’ll take what they want. Was another fun evening with more goodies – this time free New Zealand sim cards….  Certainly getting our money’s worth out of this festival LOL.

Thursday was the day of the Challenge Cup fun race but we decided not to join in. So Richard did some boat jobs while I tackled the New Zealand information pack to complete the necessary forms. Some can’t be completed until we actually leave Tonga but after a few hours I had made a good start!

Later on we went ashore for the After Race Party at the Basque Tavern where we were treated to a great BBQ and some free drinks….. There was some prize giving too for the competing boats and much laughter and frivolity. The music was blaring and as the drinks flowed the dancing started….. The music was an interesting mix of pretty old stuff and reminded us of a wedding DJ trying to cater to all tastes. Anyway… went on pretty late…..and we were almost the last people to leave…..suitably refreshed LOL.

Friday morning we got up at a reasonable hour and headed into town for the Treasures of the Bilge Swap Meet.

We wandered around but didn’t really find anything we needed so headed off to the market to top up on fresh produce.

We got some more drinking vouchers from the ATM before we headed to the Bella Vista for breakfast overlooking the bay and admired the (listing?) tall ship on the town’s main wharf.

The full traditional English went down very well and the huge pot of Ceylon tea certainly aided in our recovery from the excesses of the night before. On the way back up the street we popped into Tropical Tease who were making the Festival shirts.   We weren’t keen on the ‘dirt’ shirts being dried in the sun so went ahead and purchased just ‘normal’ ones which were printed to order.

In the afternoon we had a lazy time before getting ready to go ashore to the final Closing Party. When we arrived we were allocated to a table and ended up with the Bay of Islands Marina guys. Was a fun evening with a three-course meal, an auction, some more spot prizes and Tongan dancing.

The auction had another 10 days berthage in the Bay of Islands Marina so Richard bid hard…..and we were the winning boat. We now have 15 days total pre-paid and Paul, the manager, thinks we are trying to bankrupt him LOL as he had donated this (along with the 5 days we had won at an earlier event) and the money we paid went to the Vava’u Blue Water Sailing School to teach kids to sail and to swim. Another great evening…..with tunes by DJ Cue.

This morning, Saturday, and I’m blogging while Richard has filled up the diesel tank from the jugs on the rail. We need to go ashore later to get some more drinking vouchers as we spent lots at the auction….otherwise probably just a lazy recovery day from all the festivities of the last week.

Tomorrow, Sunday, we are planning on leaving Vava’u to go visiting some nearby islands – this archipelago comprises 60 islands – and we have identified a few that we fancy seeing before returning here to Neiafu to get our inter-island clearance to move to the next island group in the Kingdom of Tonga.

Bye for now


Having fun in Vava’u, Tonga

Wednesday we did a few boat jobs and spent the day on board before we headed into the Aquarium Cafe for sundowners where we met up with a few other cruisers.  We had a lovely evening….stayed longer than planned…and ended up having dinner out too. We were delighted that dink managed to stay inflated while we were out – yay!

Thursday morning we were up reasonably early and sorted out the washing – dropped it off at Bubbles Laundry – and then wandered the market looking for fresh produce. The supply ship had come in on Wednesday so we were treated to a much wider range of vegetables and made the most of it buying a big bag of goodies including squash, courgettes, tomatoes, onions, green beans, carrots, peppers and potatoes. We also went to the bakers for fresh bread and to Digicel for a top up on the SIM card. This didn’t work out too well so we had to wait for it to be activated.   Eventually, after about half an hour, we were good to go.  Afterwards we spent an hour or so in the Tropicana cafe catching up on line and bumped into the guys from the marina in Opua, New Zealand, that we have reservations for. They have travelled here looking for business as they are sponsors of the upcoming Blue Water festival. Mid afternoon we returned to Morphie and thoroughly enjoyed a salmon and roasted vegetable dinner onboard as the sun went down before having an early night.

Friday morning we awoke to a strange glow in the sky….all very eerie. There was lightning in the distance and then suddenly we were hit with winds (up to 42 knots apparently) and the sea picked up even inside this mega protected anchorage giving us a fair amount of fetch. The rain was torrential and the thunder and lightning got closer. So we quickly got dressed, put on our foulies, and sat in the cockpit armed with a hot chocolate to keep us warm while we waited just in case.

Most cruisers were in the cockpit doing the same thing just in case the moorings gave way (although most of them, apparently, are built to withstand a cyclone) but we were surprised how many crew decided to stay in bed.  We heeled over quite dramatically and the VHF was alive with chatter – and it continued for about two hours.

This storm was not expected as only very light winds were forecast with a little precipitation and apparently this element of unpredictability is a significant feature of the weather here.   Great!   We were very pleased not to have been anchored in any of the outer reef-strewn anchorages.  Many people dragged and returned to Neiafu during the morning so every mooring ended up being taken with many having to anchor off.

Suddenly it was gone….and the sun came out….and the sea flattened….and it was like another day. Amazing!  We headed into town to pick up our laundry and then came back to Morphie and relaxed for a little while before heading ashore to the Aquarium Cafe at 12.30 where we met Chris (SV Sea Bear). We had a couple of beers while waiting for the complimentary minibus that was picking us up to take us to The Boatyard. This was the unofficial start of the Blue Water Rally and we were treated to a sausage sizzle bbq, free cold beer, and traditional music including kava which Richard tried again although is not convinced of its alleged calming properties! I think it looks like dirty dish water LOL.

The Boatyard event was popular and we enjoyed looking around the new haul-out facility. It is pretty elevated and a long way up the Vaipua Lagoon and tucked in behind some pretty impressive hills. We think this will be a very popular option for people during the cyclone season although I did notice no hard standing which probably means mud in the rains!!!!  Nice place though and we hope that the owners make a success of it – certainly the little on-site chandlers seemed to have something for everyone as most cruisers purchased a few items whilst there.

Having enjoyed socialising for most of the afternoon we returned to Neiafu and jumped out at a local hostelry where Richard was enticed into a game of pool by a very drunk local! He won two games on the spin and the guy staggered off up the street…. Was quite funny to watch. We then wandered back down the hill to the waterfront and ended up having dinner in the Aquarium Cafe. Was a lovely day.

Saturday we did some hand washing and just generally lazed around. Later in the afternoon we headed into the Mango Cafe to watch a cup final in Australian rules football. Was a fast and furious match and there were a few Australians supporting both teams so there was a pretty good atmosphere. Great fun!

Sunday morning we were up at a reasonable hour and headed across to the dock to be picked up by minibus as we were going to a Tongan Feast. Feasts are a big part of Tongan life so we were excited and were hoping for a real cultural experience. Well….we arrived at the Botanical Gardens and met the retired Minister of Agriculture whose had devoted his life to the flora and fauna of Tonga. Was an interesting guy to talk to….

We also chatted with an Australian who had come on his own as his wife had been taken ill. Richard also tried the appropriately named local brew Maka as that is what some of his friends at home call him….

Sadly the ‘feast experience’ didn’t live up to expectation. Well, actually, the food did. It was a huge buffet – including a sucking pig that had been cooked underground in a traditional pit – and there was lots for everyone. Absolutely delicious.

The surroundings were lovely, sitting above the beach overlooking a nice bay…. But we didn’t see the pit or the food preparation, there was no interaction with locals, this was just a nice Sunday buffet put on for tourists. Never mind, we thoroughly enjoyed it anyway, despite the huge numbers of mosquitoes that decided to feast on us.

Coming back to the dock we stopped off at the Mango Lounge for a presentation on local anchorages here in the Vava’u group of islands. This was interesting and we will definitely be visiting some of them…. We then wandered back for a pontoonie to the Aquarium before heading back to Morphie. So completely stuffed we didn’t even eat any dinner….

Monday morning we headed into town. We picked up some more fresh produce from the market, some more drinking vouchers from the ATM, and then onto customs. We wanted to ask about the inter-island clearance rules – hoping that we could get our clearance, go off exploring and then head south to the Ha’apai group. Sadly that isn’t the case, we have to return to Neiafu, organise the clearance, and then have 24 hours to leave….. Oh well, thought that might be the case.

I blogged for a while as Richard got in the water to clean our waterline and hull again…..completely covered in green slime….this is a never-ending task!   Later on we cleaned up and headed over to Serenity of Swanwick for afternoon tea with Sarah and Phil. What we didn’t know was that it was Sarah’s birthday so glad we took a bottle of wine gift with us!  We were joined by a number of other cruisers to a traditional Devon tea including home-made scones with cream and jam. Was lovely.

Afterwards we headed to the Mango Lounge where we registered for the Vava’u Blue Water Rally.  We had a couple of cold ones while we waited for the festivities to start.

Well, the first surprise, was the Catholic School’s brass band turning up and entertaining us with their music, their beautiful singing voices and even their dancing. And yes their school uniform includes a traditional skirt for the lads. Was a great start…followed by rum punch and a bowl of cava.

Then we had the welcome chats followed by a great buffet dinner…. There was some dancing by one of the staff dressed as a woman which was hysterical and the Minister of Tourism even did a bit of karaoke. Another good evening.

Tuesday morning we were up early and headed to the Bella Vista for breakfast. This included a talk by the Bay of Islands Marina, Opua, New Zealand (where we have reservations), a weather / passage briefing, and a chat by the bio-security guy. Was very informative. There were a few quiz questions and a random drawn – I can’t believe it but we walked away with a $10 booze voucher;  a voucher for a free pizza and bottle of wine;  and, best of all, a voucher for five free days in the marina.  We never win anything so was very pleased!

We are now in the Tropicana Cafe catching up on better-speed internet. More festivities planned for tonight and the rest of the week so looking forward to that.

Bye for now


Underwater adventures in Tonga

Friday we were in town to get better internet so that I could blog – the local Digicel sim card works well enough for picking up e-mails on board – but the slow speed stopped me working on WordPress. So we headed into town to the Cafe Tropicana, picked up our laundry, and finally returned to Morphie for a few hours before heading back out to the Aquarium Cafe for sundowners. We were pleased to bump into Chris from Sea Bear who we hadn’t seen since Bora Bora, so we had a few cold ones with him and returned back with a take-out pizza as it was a bit late to cook. Was a lovely evening.

Saturday morning we were up really early as we were going whale watching for the day. At 7.30 we left the dock and were heading out. The boat was called Spy Hop, which is actually named after whale behaviour where they sit in the water vertically taking a look around. On board there was a Chinese couple from China TV and a professional marine biologist Fabian who was filming footage for them for an upcoming programme amongst others. He’d worked on the BBC’s Blue Planet Series and was a whale specialist – although his favourite is Orcas rather than humpbacks – and was an interesting guy who gave us lots of information about whale behaviour and what we should expect to see, including what not to do when in the water with them.

We drove around and around and spotted a group of whales, three of them together. A mother, a calf and an escort – an unattached male who fancies his chances for the next round of mating. We were spit into two groups and took turns quietly slipping into the water and snorkelling hard towards them. They were pretty skittish and didn’t hang around although we both did get a good look at them in the water. The females are absolutely huge!!!!  Huge grins on our faces…..and this was just the first encounter. We continued to get in and out of the water for hours after numerous whale spottings and encounters and although we saw them each time they just didn’t want to pose for underwater photographs but we did get some shots as they played around on the surface.

About 2pm the guys said we had to call it a day and were upset that we hadn’t had closer more intense encounters. So, as a sort of consolation prize, they took us snorkelling in Swallows Cave. This was on our list of things to do anyway so we were pretty happy – nice place and great visibility watching the shoals of fish inside. Shame about the graffiti scratched on the walls though, not sure why people feel the need to do this! Thoroughly enjoyed our time here….

Back to the dock – had been a long day – we returned to Morphie, got tidied up, ate the left-over pizza before heading back out to meet Chris again for sundowners. We enjoyed listening to the local Tongan Band and Richard tried the kava which is a root the Tongans grind up and mix with water and is supposed to have a mellowing effect. Didn’t notice any different in his behaviour though as he only had one bowl LOL. We didn’t hang around too late as we were pretty tired after all the day’s exertions so we just said ‘hi’ to the local youngster dressed up for the party and left.

Sunday morning and we had a lie in…..and a lazy day……and really didn’t do much at all apart from eat and relax and stayed on board all day and evening.

Monday morning and we were up really early again being on the dock with all our dive gear ready for a 7.30 am departure. Only problem was the boat had broken down. Deja vu or what?!? We sat around chatting for a few hours and eventually we were relocated to Tin Can….which actually belongs to a competitor dive operation…but was a good result for us.

We headed out to a place called Coral Garden and enjoyed the exceptional visibility. The coral was pretty healthy with lots and lots of different varieties including vast arrays of Christmas trees. Was a pretty good dive despite the lack of large critters down there although Richard did briefly spot a reef shark in the distance. We surfaced, had an interval, before we kitted up for the next dive – and this time we were the other side of this small island so we explored the gulleys and caves. This dive was much more about the topography and the small critters, including Nemo’s family which was lovely. We thoroughly enjoyed the diving here and may go again as it is much more reasonably priced than other destinations so far this season.

Monday afternoon we spent cleaning our gear and returning to Morphie to hang it all up to dry. I had a snooze while Richard identified another hole in dink – he is constantly deflating these days and clearly is coming to the end of his life. In the evening we went out to dinner at the Mango Lounge and had another nice evening with Chris and were joined by Dan who comes from Seattle and is on his boat My Dream. We are all heading to New Zealand this season and the talk is increasingly now about timings…..

Tuesday morning and Richard fixed dink – again – as well doing an oil change while I’ve been blogging.   Beyond going ashore to try and find petrol and some fresh bread we don’t have any other plans for the day although will probably do sundowners. We are still thinking of exploring other islands in the Vava’u Group but, right now, the forecast is 100% cloud cover with rain as another trough of weather comes through. So we might sit that out here. But, if we do, the Blue Water Rally starts here on Friday so we could just stay for those festivities. Decisions… decisions….. decisions.

Bye for now


Niue to Vava’u, Tonga

Tuesday morning we were up very early and headed into the wharf. The surf was running and we struggled to get out of dink and then winch him up to his parking space. Phew!

We were waiting for our whale watching boat to turn up and were very excited about this because they allow you into the water to snorkel with the whales in Niue. We were armed with swimsuits, rash shirts, snorkels, masks and fins only. The guys turned up and reversed their boat down the wharf, hoisted it up, and we took our lives into our own hands again getting into this big rib. The guys were a bit surprised we didn’t have wet suits on – we thought we wouldn’t need them as the sea seemed quite warm to us. Oh well, never mind.

Anyway…we headed out in the small rib which carried the driver, a French dive master, and four New Zealand tourists. We sat around in the bay behind the cargo ship for a while until they spotted a whale spouting towards the north of the island – so we whizzed off. We got to within about 200 metres of the whale and its calf and we entered the water…and swam towards her. Sadly she wasn’t up for company and quickly dived. Richard got a quick glance at her in the water as she dived and that was that. Never mind….

Back in the boat and we carried on searching and yes I was feeling a bit cold by now!

Again we spotted another mother and calf and we got really close but, the minute we hit the water, she was gone. The guide reckons the calf was very young and the mother may have been a first-timer as she was being very protective. It was lovely to see them despite them not hanging around long enough for a photo! We continued for a few more hours looking out for fins and spouts but, sadly, that was it for the day.

To make up for it the guys took us snorkelling into a chasm instead. This was great – we got pushed through the narrow hole in the rock and then got sped along by the waves. The noise when the waves hit the back of the chasm was like thunder it was so loud. We thoroughly enjoyed this little adventure and we saw two sea snakes as well – they are venomous so glad they didn’t come too close!

On the way back to the wharf we were told to wait for the barge to unload before approaching the dock. We tied to a mooring ball and sat chatting for a while. Then it was time to go and the boat would only reverse – no forward motion at all!!! They couldn’t fix it – a cable had broken apparently – so we were rescued by a local fishing boat who took us ashore. When we returned to the wharf the surge was huge and we decided it was too dangerous to try and get dink launched….so we had a meal at the Indian and chatted to other cruisers for a while. Was a nice way to spend the afternoon.

Wednesday and we were up early and into town. Thankfully the sea conditions had eased considerably and this view out to the anchorage shows the flat calm sea.

This was going to be a shopping day….and I had plans on making an appointment at the local hairdressers as my hair was completely wild and out of control! Well, of course, sod’s law and all that but the hairdressers had closed that day for two weeks for their annual holiday. Damn….

Exploring a little further we were interested to see the memorial to the citizens who had lost their lives in World War 1. Amazing that this tiny island in the middle of nowhere gave their young men to join the Commonwealth nations. The sad story is that many of them actually succumbed to western illnesses which they had not been exposed to before.

We stopped off at the benches outside Niue Telecom and paid for some wifi and caught up on line for a while. We chatted to the skipper and first mate of the boat (the crew of 10 we met in Palmerston) and there had been some sort of mutiny with complaints from the crew to the owner – so they were trying to work their way through all that as well as some engine issues and running out of cooking gas. Seems like everyone has trouble with their crew at some point or another….

After our internet fix we provisioned up at the supermarket and visited the duty free shop for a beer top up. Heavily laden we returned to dink in the now torrential rain and got absolutely soaked! We were, however, pleased that the swells had reduced a bit and got back to Morphie safely where we had a quiet night on board.

Thursday we had planned to go diving in the afternoon – but the boat wasn’t fixed – so that was cancelled. Was a bit disappointed but what can you do?!? So we just had a lazy day on board in the rain. We were treated to some whale action out to sea during the day to make up for it though.

Friday morning we headed into the wharf to meet customs to do our exit clearance. Overnight four boats had turned up so they were redirected to the customs warehouse and that is where we ended up – to be processed after they had cleared in. This took a while…..and then we were taken to the customs office where we finally received our papers. We were given a lift back to town so we stopped at a local restaurant famous for its fish and chips only to find out that, at 12.30 pm, they had sold out!!! Disappointed but never mind we tried the chicken burger / steak sandwich instead and it was excellent. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

We headed back to the wharf and returned to Morphie. We got dink up on the bow and the outboard onto the rail and did engine checks and other pre-passage preparation and had a pretty lazy day generally.

Saturday morning we slipped the mooring at 7.15 bound for the Vava’u group of islands, the northern area of the Kingdom of Tonga.

The passage was very light winds so we ended up motoring for quite a while. We enjoyed being at sea and watching the island appear before us after a 250 mile passage.

During the time at sea we passed the international dateline so we lost a day and went from being 12 hours behind to 12 hours ahead UK time. We are also now officially Golden Shellbacks. Woo hoo – thanks Neptune for the honour!

On Tuesday we motored around the north end of the island and then worked our way towards Neiafu enjoying spotting the caves, blow holes and small islands as we passed. We found the horrible customs dock and managed to tie up – very worried about our capping rail on the concrete overhang on this commercial-sized dock. Was not happy about being forced to do this…. We managed to get Morphie onto a big tyre hanging down and with fenders next to the tyre we kept ourselves away from the edge and tied up.

We walked to the customs warehouse – got permission to walk to the ATM to get some Tonga Pa’anga as we have to pay fees in local currency – and went back to the warehouse. We took a seat and waited….and waited….and waited. In Tongan culture it is considered bad form to be impatient or show irritation so I did my best to smile and behave! Finally we were visited by the Agriculture people; the Health people; the Immigration people; and the Customs. All with dozens of forms to complete. This whole process took about three hours and, apparently, we were lucky as this was considered pretty speedy!

We returned to Morphie officially cleared into Tonga and managed to get off the dock without any trouble despite being pushed on by the wind. Phew – glad that was over! We motored along the shore and found an empty mooring ball in a huge mooring field and picked it up. We got permission from the owner over the radio and we were set. Yay we’ve arrived! We had a few cold beers and watched the fruit bats flying into the trees and had an early night.

Wednesday morning we were up reasonably early after a very still night on board – felt just like being tied to a dock. We had breakfast and got dink off the bow and the outboard back on. We went ashore and walked around a bit. We were pleased to note a number of bars and restaurants and look forward to trying them out another day. We walked passed the church and found a hairdressers – at last – but the Chinese guy didn’t speak a word of English so gave up on that. We then found another hairdressers so I made an appointment with Tonga’s version of a wee wee for Thursday morning. We also found the laundry. Woo hoo….couple of jobs off the list. We then visited Digicel to buy a local sim card – by far the cheapest way to get internet – and were delighted with the £18 for 5GB for 60 days package. Pretty slow dial-up type speed but hey it means we can get online onboard for the first time since I can’t remember when……..

We also found a butcher and managed to get some pork chops and a ham ordered so we are now completely provisioned up all the way to New Zealand I think – will just buy fresh vegetables and dried staples as we run out. Tongan (largely Chinese-run) supermarkets are pretty basic and all carry different things so apparently you have to visit them all and buy what you see when you see it. So should be fun. Guess the meat is organic considering how many pigs we saw wandering around in people’s yards….check out these two cuties!

We are determined to swim with humpbacks before the whales and their calves start migrating to colder waters again so we booked another trip for Saturday.

Wednesday night we headed into town – our first night out for a very long time. The anchorage here is safe, Morphie is securely tied to a strong mooring ball with two pennants for each side of the bow, and the dinghy dock is not very far away. We did a mini pub crawl on the way – the streets here are very dark so we needed to be a bit careful in terms of trip hazards – and found the Bounty Bar. We had made a reservation so sat outside and chatted for a while with some Norwegian and Danish cruisers. Then we went inside and took our seats. I was surprised that some of the young girl tourists were showing shoulders and knees as this is can get them fined – guess the authorities turn a blind eye most of the time. But, to be honest, I’m happy wearing longer trousers – particularly at night – as it is really quite chilly!!!

The girlie show was funny with transvestites dancing and singing along to popular tunes – and they were very imaginative in how they collected their tips from some of the punters. There were a lot of young US Peace Corps around who were pretty drunk and a young guy was set up for the full works from the older dominatrix-type showgirl.

During the show we were joined by Bailey who is a school principal at one of the out islands and a few rum punches later we were new best friends LOL.

The evening finished off with dancing and more drinking…and we finally left about 12.30 am… Was a great evening!

Thursday morning I was up reasonably early but, OMG, I had a bad hangover. And I only drank beer – honest!   Anyway, we headed into town and I took myself to the hairdressers while Richard dropped the laundry off, and then he took himself to a local cafe for a full English breakfast, copious amounts of coffee and felt much better for it. In the meantime I had my hair dyed and cut by Sonia – another transvestite – who told me about life in Tonga as a gay man. He said that although they were allowed to live their lives openly it was illegal to have sex with another man so any relationships had to be conducted in secret and they live in fear of the police knocking when they have a ‘friend’ round. I was surprised by this after our experience in French Polynesia where ‘wee wees’ are treasured members of the community. Sonia said this was driven by the church – there is a strong Catholic contingent plus protestant, Mormons and Seventh Day Adventist communities here in Tonga. Sunday as a day of rest is particularly very important and there are very strict rules about what is and isn’t allowed – eg no swimming from the boat, no working on the boat and not allowed to hang washing up either. Shops are also closed for the day.

We are looking forward to staying here for a few more days before we head off to explore some other anchorages. As well as going whale watching we are also going to do a couple of dives if possible. Even though we will head out to explore this cruising ground we will still have to return to Neiafu to secure our onward inter-island clearance before we can go to the next group of islands in the Kingdom.

Bye for now