Hello beautiful people,
We’ve been silent on the blog front for quite some time as we’ve been discovering the beautiful Vav’au group of Tonga and….surprisingly *sarcasm* dealing with multiple breakages and equipment failures. Don’t worry, we’re fine and things could always be worse right? (Note to self: never write that again or think that either)
Way back on June 27th we left the Ha’apai group and had a beautiful sail up to the Vava’u group. Well, the next morning our autopilot, the third crew member that steers the boat so we don’t have to stand at the wheel on passage, decided to die. Andy deduced that it was the motor component and took it to get serviced. Great! However, when the motor was reconnected it didn’t provide enough torque (strength) to move the hydraulic arms that move the rudder. Since then, we’ve been hand steering around the islands and thankfully they are all super close together with idyllic beaches and crystal clear water. Also luckily for us, we were far enough away from other islands when we temporarily lost steering on Monday. Andy was checking for hydraulic fluid leaks and the end of the hose completely burst. Andy cut off the broken bit of hydraulic hose, reattached it and all without having to dig out the massive yellow pipe we can use to steer if the hydraulic system completely fails. Andy brought the autopilot motor back to the mechanic and ordered a new motor for the autopilot along with quite a few other boat essentials for our friend Tasha to bring along (Thanks Tash)! So at this stage we’re crossing our fingers that something works out and we don’t have to end up getting a whole new system which would require much more time and lots more money. The autopilot was my favorite component on the boat and we need it to work for our next passage as 2 people plus hand steering for multiple days means exhaustion and we aren’t even considering that as an option.
A couple of days into our time in Vava’u we heard about a Fakaleiti show at a local bar. Fakaleiti means in the manner of a lady and refers to Tongan men who are raised as females from a young age especially in families that have too many boys. This type of transgenderism is accepted by the community and is present in a few other South Pacific countries. The show was hilarious and the ladies had amazing lip syncing paired with hip thrusting that kept the crowd entertained. A few times the innuendo embarrassed some of the crowd, but it only fueled the fakaleiti’s fire.
For the most part, we’ve anchored in crystal clear water in giant sandy patches but often times, the chain finds a bit of rock to rub against to serenade us with grinding and random bangs just when we’re going to sleep. We’re quite used to it these days and Andy has only had to dive to retrieve a stuck bit of chain once so we’re counting ourselves pretty lucky so far. Of course we have a second anchor as a just in case… The snorkeling hasn’t been the most stellar I’ve ever seen, but at many of the anchorages there are lots of small fish, anemones, and live coral.
When we arrived in Neiafu, the main town in the Vava’u group, we were excited to find it well stocked with fruits, veggies and other essentials which was a welcome change after subsisting on a creative blend of potatoes, carrots and onions for half of our time in the Ha’apai group (after our freezer broke). Tonga is not cheap by any means as a lot of meats and cheeses are imported from NZ or the US and are priced accordingly, but we aren’t suffering and depriving ourselves, we’re just paying 3x the price and thinking they’ll be plenty of time to make it up when we have to work again. I tend to get carried away when I go to the shops and even the market. For example, I saw this pile of glistening pineapples yesterday, grabbed one and paid $14 AUD without even a worry in the world.
We had high hopes of catching quite a few fish on our travels this year, but so far I think we’ve caught 4 or 5 fish that are each good for one meal for 2 of us. A few days ago we went offshore about a mile to get down to a lagoon on the east side (Honga) and we saw a few whales although they weren’t too close to us. We stayed one night in the lagoon and the next day we went a bit more south in choppy seas. When we turned into the islands, we hooked a Mahi, however the line snapped before Andy could reel it all the way in. Not only did we lose another lure, but we also lost a decent sized, delicious fish and as a result, we invested in some high grade fishing line so that the new line won’t snap as soon as Andy goes to reel in a tasty catch for our next meal. Hopefully we can keep all the lures we still have left and start landing some fish. The fishing is only passable outside the islands and no one has had much luck when traveling between islands up here.
I’m not sure how long term cruisers do this boat thing on a budget because just when everything is going great, another thing breaks. Yesterday, our dinghy outboard bit the dust completely and is never coming back to life. About a week ago, the start cord detached and that was an easy enough fix for Andy. Of course we had to paddle our hearts out straight into the wind to get back to the boat from the furthest dinghy dock in town. Then a couple of days ago, the engine stalled out completely and we drifted 300m away from the boat in 25 knot wind and realized the engine would not start again so we had another fervent paddle into the wind, Andy changed the spark plugs and we had another 3 days of use. Now it is never coming back to life as the fixes Andy could think of didn’t work and we brought it into the mechanic in town and the engine compression is the problem. We are now faced with getting a reconditioned outboard with a 1/4 size engine or paying 3x the price of a similar engine in Australia to get one shipped up from the main capital of Tonga. I am voting for the cheaper, smaller engine and hoping for the best, but the good news is we get 2 new crew (Tash and her mom) on Saturday so they can help paddle if all else fails.
In amongst the frustration of failing parts, we’ve had some beautiful days with wind strong enough for Andy to go kiteboarding and I even had a fourth go of it, but when Andy tried to introduce the board, it was too much for me as I was just figuring out how to drag my body through the water, keep my mouth closed, and try not to drown. The island was surrounded by a shallow (knee deep) sandy bay so if I got too much water in my mouth, I could just stand up, realign the kite and try again. Maybe by the end of the year I’ll actually get on the board, but I’m taking very small baby steps and prefer to make sure Andy doesn’t travel too far away from the island he started from (when the ideal wind is offshore). Kiteboarding is meant to be practiced with onshore winds so if your kite fails or the wind drops, you float back to shore (with the wind), but having a dinghy with a motor that works means you can get picked up if you happen to float away from the island you started from.
We’ve also been lucky enough to spot a few whales since we’ve been up here although none of them have been very close. A few nights ago we saw a pod of about 3 or 4 when we were at anchor with our chain rubbing on a rock, but they were at least a mile away. The local operators run the humpback whale swimming/sighting cruises and if any yacht or visitor is swimming or less than 300 m away from a whale, there is a serious fine and probable revocation of your visitor visa. With all of the dramas we’re having and waiting for parts, we are definitely not going to jeopardize our time in Tonga and risk getting kicked out. We’re planning to swim with whales when Tasha and Patti get here provided we get some light wind, small swell days.
As I write this and my laptop starts to die, I went to turn on the generator and it kept cutting out. So now Andy is reading the manual and trying to figure out what the problem is after the several things he thought of didn’t work. At least I don’t have to try to fix anything, I just have to hand over tools and feed the mechanic. For now, it’s getting dark and we’re recharging the batteries by running the engine. I hope you enjoyed living vicariously through this post and sorry if any part of it came across as too complain-y. We’re still floating, we have money and time to deal with things as they arise and Vava’u is a beautiful place.
Until next time,
Bre & Andy