CAPTAIN’S LOG August 21 to September 30, 2014
The Kingdom of Tonga Vava’U – Ha’Apia – Tongatapu
Samoa to Vava’U: Our 320 mile trip down to Tonga from Samoa was a rough ride, with swells from the east in the 8-10 foot range. ARGO handles high seas very well, our stabilizers keep her from rolling or yawing very much, but the constant pitching and movement was unpleasant. It was a beam sea, and some of the swells were so large that we rolled to starboard as they began to pass under us, then leveled at the crest, and then rolled to port and slid down the back side of the wave sideways as it passed under us. Of course we didn’t leave Samoa without a weather forecast, but it was dead wrong. Unfortunately a trough had formed and it was blowing around 30 knots for the whole voyage. No one felt well during the trip, and I got a good dose of sea sickness to boot. It’s passages like this that make us think fondly of spending our time in a plush hotel in Provence!
Arrival at Neiafu: We arrived at the town of Neiafu on the Island of Vava’U at 0700 and tied to the custom’s dock. Before our lines were secured, the immigration, health and customs agents were on the dock and ready for business. After filling out the customary forms and paying about $100 in various fees, we went ashore. It wasn’t long before we had arranged telephone service, bought fresh vegetables from the farmers’ market near the dock, and made a short walk down Main Street to see what Neiafu was all about. What we found was a rag-tag collection of a few stores, three banks, a Western Union office, several bars, restaurants, churches, and souvenir shops. Neiafu is a waypoint for boaters who are either going south to Tongatapu and New Zealand, or westward to Fiji. The harbor is very large, clear blue, and deep. It can accommodate any size ship that can make it past the narrow channel in the reef at its entrance. When we arrived, there were about thirty boats on mooring balls in the harbor. At anchor in the western end of the harbor was Paul Allen’s 225 ft. yacht Meduse, one of several he owns. Along the waterfront were a selection of bars and restaurants, however the Aquarium Restaurant seemed to be the gathering spot for most of the boaters. Mike, its American owner, was a congenial fellow who gladly provided information about the island and help with anything anyone needed.
Late in the morning we moved to an anchorage just west of town and anchored in 95 feet of water near Meduse. Rumor had it that some big shot like Bill Gates was coming, but no one showed up while we were there. Not to be outdone, we had our own personage to welcome aboard at Neiafu. Just as we dropped anchor, Mike from the Aquarium called on the VHF to tell us that our intrepid friend Reid Sherard had arrived and was at his dockside restaurant waiting for us to pick him up. Reid had flown 36 hours from Los Angeles to Auckland, then to Nuku’alofa, and finally on to Neiafu. He actually arrived a day ahead of schedule. With him were two bottles of vodka and three printer cartridges (which are unique to the U.S.). It was great to see our old friend.
Meanwhile back on Argo, Tyler was diligently washing the sea salt off and readying her for company. Giving Argo a bath is a lot of work and takes an entire day. We are very lucky to have Tyler onboard; Tyler takes a great deal of pride in his work and makes this yacht shine like no other! He is a great asset to us!
The weather in Vava’U was in some ways a welcome relief from the searing heat and high humidity we had experienced since leaving Jamaica six months ago. For the first time we didn’t need air conditioning. The Tongans told us that it was unseasonable cold: the temperature was consistently about 770, humidity in the high 60’s, and the sea water temperature was 780. Despite this perfect combination of factors, the wind blew at 20 mph for days making the water a little too rough and cloudy to enjoy water sports or riding about in the dingy. This is springtime in this part of the world and transitional weather patterns brought more clouds and wind than usual. We were disappointed that Reid didn’t have better conditions given the long trip he made to get here.
We found Neiafu to be a very pleasant place with friendly people who were helpful and kind. Many boating friends that we had met along the way were also there, so we spent a few enjoyable evenings catching up and hearing about their experiences. Altogether we spent eighteen days at anchor diving, touring the island, talking with friends, whale snorkeling, going to church, feasting, and enjoying all that is.
The Kingdom of Tonga: The Vava’U Group is the northern most archipelago of the Kingdom of Tonga. The Kingdom is made up of three island groups: Vava’U to the north, Ha’Apia, in the center lying 60 miles south of Vava’U, and Tongatapu, the third archipelago that lies 60 miles south of Ha’Apia and is home to the kingdom’s capital city, Nuku’alofa. Altogether the three groups stretch about 160 miles from north to south along the Tonga Ridge, which is formed by the meeting of the Australian and Pacific Plates in the South Pacific Ocean. Tonga is thought to be moving eastward at 25 cm per year and is gradually sinking into the ocean.
Unlike all the other islands of Polynesia, The Kingdom of Tonga has never been colonized by Westerners. Tonga is governed by a king who enjoys all the regalia that goes with a monarchy: e.g., nobles, royal lands, money minted with the king’s image on it, royal tombs, a palace, and of course, ownership of the key money making enterprises. Originally the three island groups were each governed by a Tu’iTonga, a man/god chief. The Tu’iTonga on Ha’Apia with the help of the Wesleyan Methodists and the British Navy, attacked the Tu’iTonga on Tongatapu and in the twenty year war overthrew him and established a kingdom modeled on the British monarchy. The chiefs who supported him were made nobles and the Methodist Church and the British were granted special rights. The king named himself George I (all kings are named George and today we have George VI). He proclaimed that all land was owned by God and given to him by God for safe keeping. Of course he took the prime and largest cuts for himself, his cronies, and the Wesleyan Methodists. Even today all land in Tonga is owned by the king, but some time ago the king granted title to eight acre parcels to individual Tongan males. Woman may not own land.
The country has a constitution established in the mid 1800’s. Until 2006 the king was more or less an absolute monarch and ruled a nation of about 103,000 people. There were riots and the burning of buildings in 2006 as Tongans demanded greater democratization of the government, but it isn’t clear that anything of substance has changed, although it now has a parliament.
There are estimated to be about 70,000 Tongans living abroad who send money back to their families in Tonga and this constitutes the largest source of foreign revenue for the country. About 70,000 people live in the capital of Nukualofa, about 15,000 live on Vava’U, and the balance live on other islands. Land can only be titled to Tongans, however “squatter’s rights” comes into play when a person moves onto land that no one is paying attention to and resides there for ten years or more. The original owner loses title. A Tongan must appear in person on his land at least once every ten years and chase any squatters off or risk losing it. If a “palangi” (a white person) wishes to acquire property, it can only be leased from a Tongan or noble and leases must be approved by parliament and the king. Leases are easily obtained and the lessee will eventually get a copy of the lease with the king’s signature and the royal seal in wax at the bottom. Leases can extend up to fifty years.
As in Samoa, families are large (average ten children) and those members that are ambitious are encouraged to migrate abroad and send money home. By and large I don’t think Tongans are a very motivated lot, although they are very friendly. The country is very poor and the brighter people head for Australia, New Zealand or the U.S. if they can get a visa, which is increasingly had to come by. Most countries feel that they have enough islander immigrants, particularly as some Tongans abroad have been pushed into crime to meet the financial demands of their families at home. Title to land is devised on a primo-genitor basis, so if you are not the first born male you might as well leave for greener pastures. Of course at least one lucky soul is obligated to stay home and take care of mom, dad, grandma, and keep an eye on the family’s property. Despite their obvious poverty, few beg or go hungry. Tongans take care of each other and are deeply committed to their family. Tongans seem to be proud people; they have their islands, their heritage, and their religions. They also have a Western Union office in almost every village of any size, and its sign is the only one in good repair. Aside from having children, they raise pigs and chickens (raise is too strong a verb as they just let them run about and grab one for dinner as needed), cultivate small gardens of taro, kava, bananas, carrots and whatever else will grow. Most of the land I saw under cultivation was done by human labor: no beasts of burden or tractors. Driving around the whole island I saw four tractors and one horse. Undoubtedly there are a few more, but most land is cultivated on small plots on a human scale. All this is supplemented by fish the men catch.
The climate here is more temperate than all the other islands we have visited, and for the first time we have seen fruits and vegetables that we are more accustomed to seeing at home. Each village has at least one church, and Sunday is an observed day of rest, religion, family and feast. Their school system has managed to teach the English language to almost everyone over the last twenty five years. The government provides primary school, and the religious sects, particularly Moorman and Wesleyan Methodist, provide secondary schools, although you have to belong to the church and tithe in order to send your children to the church’s school. Driving around the countryside, you can see large noble estates, but most parcels are about eight acres in size and cultivated by a family for subsistence. The churches in Tonga are shamefully medieval in the power and wealth the clergy wields, and in the way people are forced to give money to them. The Mormons seem to be very aggressive and have built a facility at virtually every cross road. Homes are very basic except for those of the local church ministers or government officials. Large houses (the size of a typical American suburban home) are either owned by nobles or church ministers. The villages are not kept up as they are in the other parts of Polynesia, and on the smaller islands of the Ha’Apia Group cyclone damage from last summer’s storms is considerable.
Vava’U Group: Coming into Vava’U was very different than the other islands we had visited during the last six months. The island is not volcanic. It is a coral island rising abruptly about 300 feet from the ocean’s surface to a flat plain that is covered in dense jungle. From the sea, the islands look like huge stone monoliths with dramatic cliffs; beaches are present only where the cliffs give way to a little bay or indentations in the rock. The water is crystal clear, and the bays and passages between the islands are deep sapphire blue and the islands colorful. Here, in the shelter of the islands and the warm waters of the Mid-Pacific Ocean, Humpback Whales come to give birth and breed each year.
Whales: Vava’U is most well-known for “swimming with whales”. There are two or three outfitters who are licensed to take tourist on “whale dives”. A dive is actually a surface snorkel and is an all day ordeal in which eight or so snorkelers accompany a guide, four at a time into the water to swim next to a cow and calf (usually). Males are difficult to swim with because they are on the move and are often breaching or pushing each other around in an effort to attract the attention of a female (what’s new?). Would-be swimmers wear wet suits and ride around for hours in the open boat until an appropriate female and calf are spotted. Then the boat stops a hundred yards or so from the mother, and if she doesn’t swim off, four snorkelers at a time quietly enter the water with a guide and swim over to within fifteen or twenty feet of the whale. Females with newborns often rest for part of the day so as to let the little one nurse and safely play. As you swim toward the leviathan you can see how big these creatures are; 100 plus tons suspended just at the water’s surface with the majority of their body hanging perhaps 100 or more feet below. You first see their giant black backs with a prominent spine, as you look downward you see the spine lead to the tail a hundred feet or so below in the blue water. The black upper body changes to a white underside with huge folds in its skin. The breathing hole is at the water’s surface and is about one third of the length of the body and behind the head. Forward of the breathing hole the head rests suspended in fifteen or so feet of water and is a strange, but familiar shape. The eyes are on the side of the head well back of its huge jaw line that is covered in barnacle like growths. The little calf swims about its mother turning and twisting as it goes, and then pausing for refreshment if desired. Calves drink about 50 gallons of a yogurt type mother’s milk each day and grow rapidly. The adjective “little” really doesn’t apply as they can be thousands of pounds within weeks. During our dives we were within ten or fifteen feet of these huge, beautiful animals. On one of our dives we spent perhaps a half an hour within feet of a mother and calf. The baby came so close to us and was so frisky I thought it might injure us, not knowing its own youthful strength. After all the divers returned to the boat and were drying off, we watched the mother and baby at the surface of the water. I saw the mother’s tale flukes rise high in the air, an indication of a deep dive. I assumed she was leaving. We were only a hundred yards or so from her. A moment or two later she erupted straight up out of the sea, turning her immense body laterally over in the air, and then crashed down yards from our boat. It was awesome…spell binding…breathtaking…like nothing we had ever seen or imagined. It was as though she was offering us one last glimpse into her world. After a few moments to collect our wits, we departed thankful for the experience and emotionally closer to our origins in the natural world.
The whale’s world underwater in Vava’U is silent, tranquil, warm and slow moving. Occasionally you can hear the whales sing. Sometimes you can see the males breaching, or pushing each other about in a contest of strength, or, more aggressively, slamming each other with their giant heads in an attempt to prove dominance. For them this is not play, but the vital, essential business of life. It’s also no place to snorkel!
We have posted videos and pictures of our whale dives on www.tischtravels.com
Feasts: Like Samoans, Tongans love a feast. Aside from their private Sunday family gatherings, entrepreneurs offer feasts to tourists several days a week at different locations around the islands. We decided to go to one on Sunday at the En’toi Botanical Garden. The proprietors picked us up in their rickety old, filthy van and drove across the island through the little villages with the shiny new Moorman facilities to their sea side establishment. The owner, Halima (?), was celebrating his 69th birthday that day, so the feast was preceded by a speech in which he recalled growing up in the village and not knowing anything about the outside world, not even that it was round. He thanked providence for his good fortune to become the Assistant Secretary of Agriculture during his career, for his wonderful children, and apologized to his wife Lucy for being less than a perfect husband. With that, the feast was underway and one by one the eager guests proceeded to the buffet and began selecting from a variety of Tongan dishes including suckling pig, curried fish, poultry, taro, bread fruit, curried vegetables, and other dishes. After the feast, I looked about and saw several pictures of Halima during his career meeting Pope John Paul in Rome in the company of other Tongan dignitaries including HRH the King. He told me that he had actually met the Pope twice, and many other dignitaries from around the world as well. Not bad for a country not bigger than a small town in mid-America!
Our 25th Wedding Anniversary: We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary here in Tonga. Rebecca found a nice resort established a few years ago by a sail boating couple from Switzerland who were apparently ready for life on the hard. Normally they are booked several weeks in advance, but somehow Rebecca got us in. Kathryn had called them from NYC to try to arrange a surprise, like a bottle of champagne or a local musician to play for us, but nothing like that was available in Tonga. We moved ARGO to an anchorage off shore and dingied in for a lovely dinner complete with a table cloth and a beautiful flower centerpiece. Rebecca’s dish was quite interesting: a whole red snapper split down the back from head to tail and baked. It was very artistic as it looked like a large, pink, spiral ribbon. It was delicious.
Diving the Ship Wreck: Just west of our anchorage at Neiafu was a wreck that sunk about twenty years ago in 125 feet of water. This ship apparently had caught on fire and the captain and engineer stayed aboard to try and save her. Both died when she sank. Wrecks are common in this part of the world. In Nuku’alofa we counted nine wrecks in the harbor. In the third world maintenance is not a valued practice on anything much less a ship, and cyclones sweep thru these parts every year. Many ships drag their anchor during big storms and wind up on a reef and break apart. Compounding matters, often the crews are made up of local men and when a cyclone arrives, they abandon their ship to take care of their families.
Tyler and I dove the wreck on a sunny morning. I had never done that sort of diving before; it was a little spooky, given that at two people lost their lives. The water wasn’t very clear, but we could see her lying broken on the bottom. She was known as the Clan McClellan, a relatively large ship of a few hundred feet. We explored the decks above 100ft in depth, seeing her railing and mast and thinking of the hopes that she carried with her and the tragedy of her demise.
Going to Church in Neiafu: Religion is the center of community life in Polynesia, much like it is in the American south. Here there is practically a church on every corner. One Sunday we decided to go to church and see what a service in Neiafu was all about. The church we visited was a Catholic Church. It was built on the most prominent hill in the town and from the front looked like something you might find in Italy. The façade was Italianate in design, very ornate with painted pictures of Christ on the bell tower. It was built on a hill that required climbing about twenty five steps to reach the entrance, and the climb made the church all the more imposing. Behind the facade was a more modest structure, sort of a pole barn with a white metal roof. Inside were pews and a couple of statues and shrines, very typical of a modest Catholic church. The service began when the choir started to sing, and that was something to behold and the real reason for our visit. The choir constituted at least a quarter of the people in the church, but the quality of their singing was second to none. They were terrific. A procession then began when the priest, proceeded by a small retinue of elders and officiates, made their way down the aisle to the altar. The church was packed and people were standing outside. Men wore traditional Lava-lavas with a ta’ovala skirt wrapped around their waist. The ta’ovala is a grass cloth traditional garb woven from mulberry tree bark as in the Samoan tapa making process that I wrote about in my Samoan blog. The women were, of course, dressed in their finest, and they too wore a sort of grass skirt over their western dress, but much lacier and also made of tapa. Going to the church was a wonderful cultural experience for us.
A Drive-about: One of our friends, Adam Paskowitz Captain of Spirit of Adventure, mentioned that he had taken a dune buggy/go-cart tour on the back roads of Vava’U. Rebecca and I thought it might be fun so we arranged for a tour. The little company was run by a family of ex-pats trying to eke out a living in Neiafu. We arrived at the appointed hour and we met our guide Joshua. Joshua had grown up in New Zealand but had a Tongan father. His father owned some property in town including a distillery of sorts, and at his death it became Joshua’s. So Joshua came back to Tonga to claim his birthright. Things weren’t going all that well for him, but he knew the island well and spoke impeccable English, so off we went.
We should have known better as the cart was a death trap. I could hardly get into the thing, but anyway we rode over hill and dale, past the ubiquitous Moorman Church and basketball court, past the cemeteries with their huge quilts memorializing a recently deceased person, past the little hand tilled fields of taro, eventually finding the cow path Joshua was looking for. This path took us several miles off the beaten track—through the dense jungle, past little subsistence farms to some of the most beautifully natural and unspoiled sights we have seen. One such place was a gorgeous cliff overlooking the sea. The cliff had been eroded in a most unusual way by centuries of the relentless pounding of the sea. About fifty feet above the sea was a huge circular hole about twenty feet in diameter in the cliff’s outcropping. On the prominence above it roosted hundreds of fox bats – fruit eating bats about a foot long that hung in the branches on the trees above.
Ha’Apia Group: The Ha’Apia Group lies about 65 miles south of Vava’U. We left our anchorage early in the morning and enjoyed a lovely cruise, one of the best we have experienced down to Ha’Apia. It was a bright sunny day with calm seas and whales breaching along the way. Our trip took about eight hours and we arrived at Haano Island. Approaching these island takes great care and should only be done when the sunlight allows one to see all the coral heads and reefs. We cautiously entered the anchorage with all hands focused on any signs of danger. We were all very surprised by the geology of these islands compared to Vava’U; Ha’Apia Islands are flat sand atolls rising no more than five feet above the sea’s surface and covered in jungle and shrubs. As I mentioned, surrounding the islands are extensive coral reefs, which makes them unpopular with boaters. When we arrived we were the lone boat on the island. After a pleasant and restful night at anchor, we went ashore the next morning to reconnoiter the little village of Haano. Once ashore, we quickly appreciated that it had been terribly damaged by a cyclone the previous season. As we walked through the little village, we saw men rebuilding a water tower, and some of the people whose homes were destroyed living in tents. It was a very poor area in the best of times, but now it was devastated. After walking about and greeting the people we met, we decided to move along to the next island of Lifuka and the capital pf Ha’Apia, Pangai Village.
Tyler’s 30th birthday: We thought that Piangai would have a little more to offer, and since it was Tyler’s 30th birthday we wanted to find a town with a suitable celebratory establishment. We picked our way through the coral heads and reefs and anchored a mile or so offshore. Our friends Jeff and Sherry on Grasshopper showed up in the anchorage shortly after we arrived to help celebrate, and we all went into Pangai Village. The village itself was also heavily damaged by last January’s cyclone and people were living in very dilapidated circumstances. The town seemed all but abandoned. Dogs roamed the streets everywhere, which made us feel uneasy, particularly if they were to form packs. As on other Polynesian islands, these dogs are a very sturdy breed and look to be part pit-bull. On one street ten or fifteen of these dogs formed a pack and took off after a pig. They nipped at it and badgered it. Finally as they became more brazen and aggressive the pig must have sensed that the game could turn lethal at any moment, and with that, turned tail and outran the dogs in making its escape. As we walked further along the only human activity we saw was centered on little food markets run by Chinese proprietors. Older Tongans distrust the Chinese grocers because they sell alcohol to the young men, who in turn get drunk, rowdy, and fight. As we turned the corner toward the Mariner’s Café, we heard a commotion and saw a serious fist fight erupt between two young men who had obviously been drinking. We wanted to get away from the fight and the men who were hanging around watching, so we hurried on to the café only to find it closed. A few minutes later the loser of the fight staggered by with the aid of an inebriated friend, his head bleeding profusely from a gash administered by his opponent with a wrench. As soon as the little crowd disbursed, we headed back to Argo where Rebecca made a wonderful birthday dinner complete with filet minion, mashed potatoes, corn, and a fruit pie for dessert with candles for Tyler.
The next day we moved south about thirty miles to the island of Haafava. This island has a protected lagoon, like the Tuamotus. We entered the lagoon over a very narrow channel in the reef and anchored near the small dock the islanders use to bring in supplies. The lagoon’s bottom was littered with coral heads and rocks, so Tyler stood lookout on the bow pulpit and we picked our way around until he found a patch of sand and we dropped anchor. After settling down we found the area absolutely beautiful, but the wind was up and made for a rolling anchorage. Tyler and Rebecca went for a swim and we all took the dingy for a spin later in the afternoon. The view from Argo was absolutely beautiful. We were surrounded by other islands and, more closely in, coral reefs. The ocean swells were crashing on the reefs, and off in the distance we could see the silhouette of the only active volcano in Tonga, which made for a spectacular vista.
As beautiful as it was, it was time to continue south toward Tongatapu and prepare for our passage to New Zealand. Our wonderful friends Melanie and Curtis Hoff were meeting us in Nukualofa. They planned on joining us for the final passage to New Zealand and the conclusion of our great adventure.
Tongatapu Group: These are the main islands of the Kingdom of Tonga and site of its capitol Nuku’alofa. The city is on the south side of a very large bay that is open to the north. There are many reefs, coral heads and islands scattered about, but so far the charts have been accurate and we haven’t bumped into anything. We anchored a little over a mile from the city’s docks and inner harbor, which are in a shambles and littered with sunken wrecks. Several abandon, rusting Japanese fishing vessels are tied to a dock and bear witness to Tonga’s naval prowess; they confiscated the ships because the Japanese violated Tongan territorial waters. We anchored off Pangiamotu Island at Big Mama’s Yacht Club. Out front is a sunken bow of a large ship that went down here in a cyclone about twenty years ago. It acts as an artificial reef and attracts a lot of colorful fish. People come out to see the fish, enjoy the beautiful beach and swim in the crystal clear water. Mama is a very large lady, sort of like Aunt Jemima. She owns the tikka bar here, which looks inviting, but the food is horrible. At this end of the bay I counted nine partially sunken ships.
To get to the city we took our tender about a mile and a half across the bay to the inner harbor, and then the inner-inner harbor or boat basin. Instead of a proper, safe floating dock, they have taken scrapes of old wood and hobbled things together to build a walkway and floated it on old oil barrels. It is rickety and wobbly. The planks are unevenly spaced so that one could easily trip and fall through a space into the filthy water, or, if you get off center as Rebecca did, one end of a plank could give way; she nearly fell in. Once the dock is negotiated the main road to town is near at hand, and the town center is about a fifteen minute walk. Along the paved road are venders selling fruits and vegetables, taro, watermelons and fire wood; hundreds of neatly stacked piles of cut wood for cooking fires are stacked next to the road. This is in contrast to optical fiber cable being installed along one of the main streets downtown.
Like the harbor, Nukualofa suffers from aesthetic deprivation. It is shabby and without many of the staples of everyday life that we had hoped to find here. They have a very fine farmer’s market with all sorts of things we haven’t seen on other islands, like lettuce. I was looking around for a Tonga cap, and asked the local cap embroiderer where I could find one or if he could make one for me? He looked at me as though I were nuts. Who wants a Tonga hat? All their caps have American or other foreign sports’ team logos on them. Here, people identify with the west.
The next day we took a tour of the island. I have put pictures of these sights on www.tischtravels.com. The first stop was the Royal Palace (19th century Victorian style summer home), then the Royal Tombs (it looks like a normal Tongan cemetery, where the soil is mounded over the body, but large stone statues of the deceased kings in European military garb stand over the graves). There were several beautiful coastal sites to see including blow holes and natural arches, and finally the Ha’amonga Trilithon, which is an ancient stone arch similar in some ways to Stone Hedge, which marked the ceremonial center where the Tu’iTonga presided. Every village has at least one Moorman school, basketball court and meeting hall, and maybe a Catholic and or Wesleyan Methodist Church. There are also the odd Seventh Day Adventist and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ meeting halls as well. In Tonga the haves live well, the rest are serfs.
Leaving Tonga: Our friends Melanie and Curtis Hoff joined us in Nuku’alofa for the ride south to New Zealand. It was very symbolic in the sense that they came down to Stuart, Florida and waved good-bye to us from the bridge as we left America, and now they were joining us on our final leg of the journey to New Zealand. Because the trip to New Zealand is long and fraught with the possibility of difficult seas, we offered them the chance to just meet us in Auckland, but they wanted to come along and we were very happy to have them. The Hoffs are boaters who have cruised the U.S. East Coast extensively, so we all studied the weather files and decided unanimously to leave as soon as possible after fueling Wednesday at noon. Our passage involved threading the needle between three potential storms that were expected to form while we were at sea. A low was due to make its way across our course bringing with it very high winds and high seas (13ft.), but if we left Tonga on Wednesday afternoon we felt there was a good chance that we could get south of it. Tonga offers us the possibility of buying tax free fuel if we buy it on the way out, so Wednesday morning we hooved to a crumbling cement dock at the harbor (after helping an itinerate boater move to a mooring) and arranged to take on fuel. To get the tax free permit we had to check out of the country with customs, which meant checking out with immigration (whose office was across town), then to the Harbor Master’s office to pay port charges (a real rip off at about $200 USD for a week at anchor), then to the Total Petroleum facility with $14,000 in Tongan cash. My pockets were bulging with money, but that is the only way they do business. To get the Tongan money, we had to go to the bank on Monday and convert our dollars. Lucky for us, in Tonga you can convert without charge up to $10,000 Tongan per person. So Rebecca and I each took USD’s and converted it so that we had enough to pay Total. The tax free fuel price was the equivalent of $3.90 per gallon, which wasn’t too bad (they sell it in liters and we bought about 8,000 liters).
The fuel truck was due at noon, but arrived about an hour late (it’s on Tongan Time), and it took about an hour to fuel; in the end Argo was full! We left Nuku’alofa on the incoming tide at about 14:30 on September 24 bound for Auckland, New Zealand and the end of our voyage.
Our next Captain’s Log describes our experience with a Force Ten Gale on our way to Auckland.