Monday, September 29, 2008

We are hanging out in an lovely anchorage about 10 miles from Nieafu. We have met up with our Canadian buddies, Taran and Toketie again. We are getting lots of good visiting in as well as some fun in and on the water. We snorkeled the other day and yesterday I borrowed someone’s kayak and headed off for a paddle. The kayak does not have a skirt so when I got to another boat and leaned over to push myself off the boat, over I went. It must have been quite comical. I decided to see if I could get back into the kayak from the water. I managed to get on but could not balance myself well enough to get my feet in. It was about an 1/8 full of water. The poor fellow on the boat I went to visit had to help me haul up the kayak and empty it out. It was too heavy for me. I was very careful the rest of the trip to not tip over.
We went to a Tongan feast the other day. It was lovely. The kids did some traditional dancing, it was amazing that at the ages they were, about 10 to 16 that they had mastered the intricate hand movements that are a large part of the Tongan dancing. There were 2 boys who did some war dances and the clashing of their wooden staves made me wonder how many times they had mashed each other in practice. The food was delicious. There were over 60 people there and when we were lining up for supper Barry was panicking because it looked like there was not going to be enough seating for us at the tables where all the food was laid out. They brought in another table for us and we had more than any one, so we ate to our hearts content. The chicken which was wrapped in taro leaves and cooked in the underground oven was delicious. Everything was served in the traditional way with no silverware or dishes, so you ate with your fingers off of banana leaves and coconut tree stems as well as unripe papayas. Yummy
We plan to hang around here awhile longer and then move further south to the Ha’apai Group of islands. We hope to be in the Tongatapu Group about the beginning of November, planning to leave for New Zealand somewhere in the middle of Nov. Everyone is planning for the trip, trying to figure out when would be the best time, and the best angle to sail. New Zealand has very strict entrance regulations so provisioning is a challenge. You don’t want to have too much because you will just have to throw it our, and you want enough to make sure you get there with enough food. Fun, fun, fun! Hope all is well at home,

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Barry and I went to a Roman Catholic Church service today. Barry is wearing the traditional Samoan lava lava. In Tonga the men (as well as women) wear this as well but they wear a mat over top of it. I asked why they wear the mat and we were told it was as a sign of respect to their elders, a traditional form of dress no doubt. These mats are woven out of fronds. Some of the weaving was so small it would have taken hours and hours to weave, it was really quite amazing. Notice the young boys have them on as well as the woman by the car.
The church service was a real experience because of the singing. They sang acapella (sp??), there was a choir conductor, he would play the beginning notes on a instrument that he blew into but had piano keys on it and then he would just keep time with his baton. They sang without music or words, in 5 or 6 part harmony, fantastic; it gave me goose bumps. The priest spoke a few words in English at the beginning of the service and at the end. He was going on about something he thought was important, and laughing at his own jokes. Women participated in the service which I thought was very liberal, but was told later that they do that world wide now.
After we had 3 buddies over for lunch and we had a lovely afternoon, Hope you have a good Sunday tomorrow.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I had a blast last night at the races. We should have by rights come in dead last but it is just a really fun time and nobody notices if you break the rules, or screw up really bad, which is what we did! The boat I was on had a solant stay, which is a stay that is very close to the forestay so you can run two headsails. This means that in order to tack you have to roll in the genoa so it can get around, not a good sail set in a very short race when there is some tacking involved. ANYWAY, we went around the first mark and we were in the thick of things, 5 boats converging on the mark at the same time. Our tillerman decided to sneak around the inside and then we had to tack, oh oh, the owner hauled in the jib to tack and I was trying like heck on the other winch to pull the sail in when the owner figured out he had forgotten to let go of the other line. Well by this time we had drifted into the bouy that marked the turn, a huge no no in sail boat racing, then we managed to hook the dinghy that tied to the mark and started to drag the 6 foot wooden dinghy into the water. The look on the poor guy’s face who was in the dinghy was outstanding. We managed to let him loose and then had to listen to Barry, who was on an different boat harass us about our lousy sailing.
Oh yeah, we were also 40 seconds to late to the line and the accusations were flying as to whose fault it was, yup, we were racing.
We sailed the short course because we were a smaller boat and ended up being 6th across the line. The owner got a prize of a free dinner, so all was well that ended well. There is no handicapping or attention paid to rules so it was a fun way to race. We ended off the night having dinner and drinks at the Vava’u Yacht Club. Barry even managed a few dances later on in the evening.
Not much to report. Life here in Nieafu is a social whirlwind. We have been meeting old friends and making new ones. We are invited out to a 60th birthday celebration tomorrow. This afternoon I am going to go racing on a 30 foot boat. The race is just a short one in the harbour, sailing amoungst all the boats on the moorings so it should be fun. I guess a few weeks ago two boats collided!! The skipper on the boat I am going on has assured me that if there is any question of right of way, we will give way and there will be libations aboard, so I am game. He has refused to fly the spinnaker though so I may rethink my participation on his boat!!!!!
I have not taken any pictures here yet, I must remedy that situation.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

We are now in the Vava'u group of Tonga. This is a cruisers mecca. The whole town seems to be set up to part cruisers from their money. There are about 100 boats just in the harbour, not to mention in the other islands. It makes for a wild spot although you get to see everyone who has been crossing the Pacific with you. Everyone waits here until there is a good weather window to New Zealand. We are going to work our way further south and leave from the most southern group of the Tongan Islands, where the King lives. We have been told to wait until at least the middle of Nov. before we leave so we have 2 months here. There are lots of islands with beautiful clear water and sandy beaches to explore. The humpback whales are here and we are hoping to go swimming with them. It is fairly expensive but we think it would be the experience of a lifetime. I have swum with hammerhead and lemon sharks so far so humpback whales would be breath taking. I have no pictures of the town yet but do have a good shot of the volcano we climbed in Niuatoputapu.

We are getting the laundry washed today, will hang it to dry on the boat, yesterday when it rained all day we washed off the boat with the fresh water and caught water so we don't have to make it. I washed the floors and sole or floor on the boat with the fresh water. We also took down the genoa to make sure it wasn't chaffing too much and Barry checked on the windvane lines. Just so you don't think all we do is play!!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

We had a boisterous passage from Samoa to the northern Tongan island of Niuatoputapu. The winds were on the beam about 20 knots and the seas were 3 to 4 meters. We took the main down about 6 hours into the voyage and the staysail and a bit of genoa had us flying along at over 6 knots most of the time. Wendy, our wind vane decided she liked that sail set and we let her steer most of the way. It was a wet ride with waves breaking over the dodger from time to time dousing us. One wave took out our weather cloth on the port side, the only thing that saved it was it was my trusty knot!!

We have been having a great time here in Tonga. This island has just over 1000 people on it. There is one store that we could see, a health clinic and government offices. The people do not have much, the houses are very basic. Fishing is a big part of their life; fruit grows well here, bananas, papayas, coconuts, oranges and limes, they eat taro and breadfruit for their carbohydrates and there are a lot of pigs on the island, so I don’t think they will go hungry.

There is a local lady who is arranging stuff for us to do. The first day she picked us up at the wharf in the evening and drove us to a dance. The older men just sat around in a big circle (cross legged) and drank kava, a drink made out of a root. It is an acquired taste, leaving your lips with numbness and if you drink too much, affecting your balance, I believe it has some narcotic properties to it. The young men were very polite and asked all the female cruisers that attended to dance, it was fun.

Yesterday we arranged to go and climb the volcano on a nearby island. We were picked up at our boats by a big wooden fishing boat. There were a total of 10 of us in the boat, 5 locals and 5 cruisers. We crossed the 4 mile strait between the islands and we were all soaked by the time we got there. The locals fished on the way over and about half way across the driver slowed down and started hauling in his line. His wife had to help him and all of a sudden the fish was beside the boat. It was a huge sailfish, about 5 feet long. It had a long spear and a beautiful sail on his back, the sail or fin was about 18 inches high. It took 4 of them to get the fish into the boat, they really had to wrestle with it, once in the boat they plunged a knife into it’s head and it was dead, it was amazing to see how they managed to manhandle it, no net, no bonker they just grabbed it and then the knife!!

We got close to the volcanic islands shore and the boat pulled close to shore to let off 3 guys to go fishing. The driver was maneuvering the boat so that one guy could jump off the bow, he was holding a big net. The driver was trying to get close to the reef, but he misjudged it and the boat slammed into the coral, the boat tipped over about 40 degrees and the guy on the front was thrown into the water and over went the net. We were all thrown around and the guy in the water was yelling because he was afraid he was going to loose the net, so 2 of the other guys jumped ship to help him, thank goodness there was still a driver onboard and without no further ado we sped off to where we disembarked. The whole incident happened very quickly and there was absolutely nothing the cruisers could do, we just had to trust they knew what they were doing, hmmm!

We landed and headed off to climb up the volcano. There is still a community on the island, about 60 people; it looked very poor as well. I took on picture of a dwelling with a thatched roof and woven mats for windows, but there was a solar panel outside as well as a satellite dish, 2 ways of life co-existing together. Once we left the beach we had to climb 154 cement steps up to the village, from there we were led up a very steep path to the top. The volcano is 550 meter high. I had to stop and take a breather more often that I would like. I didn’t think Barry would be able to do it, but he took lots of drugs and very stoically gutted his way up the hill, I honestly don’t know how he deals with the pain. It was a real workout, but the view from the top was spectacular. Our guide stopped half way up and cut some coconuts for us as well as papayas. When we were at the top one of the other boats left the anchorage. We called him on the VHF asking about wind and wave conditions, then we told him to turn around and smile because we wanted to take his picture!!!!

We all made it down without incident, a few times Barry stumbled and had to grab on to trees to stop his descent but he never lost his balance. Once we got to the beach we were fed lunch. In the shade of a large tree, the fish that were just caught were cooked over a fire; as were plantains. We were invited to help ourselves and we had a scrumptious meal served on a banana leaf eaten with your fingers, coconuts juice to quench our thirst and a papaya for dessert. I went snorkeling to loosen up some muscles and check out the coral.

The islanders were returning from a trip to Niuatoputapu in their boats and they had fuel drums aboard. The boats would negotiate the pass that had been blown through the coral; once they got into shallow water the fuel drums were rolled off the boats into the water and the drums were spun over and over until they reached the beach. Then all the males standing around, cruisers and villagers, pushed the boats onto the beach. Nice round lengths of wood were put on the beach about 3 feet apart and the boat was pushed up these to the high tide mark. Three boats came in, fuel was unloaded and then everyone heaved it up onto the beach.

It was time to leave. We piled back in the boat and away we went down the pass, the driver timing the waves just right. We all got soaked again on the way back. We had all been out on the ocean 2 days before but somehow the waves look different when you are in a fishing boat, down among them rather than skimming along the top of them like we do in our sailboats. We spotted 4 humpback whales on the way back. Tonga is where they come to have their calves so we expect to see quite a few of the m. It was a wonderful day; I wouldn’t have missed it for the world .

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Hello All,
The crew has arrived in Tonga and they seem to be having so much fun exploring their new surrounding that they have not found time to blog yet. So I thought I would just let everyone know that The Cat's Paw has reported in and all is well.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

We spent the day getting ready to leave, again. The sea has calmed down and there seems to be a good weather window to go to Tonga so we are going to leave in the morning. We spent the morning watching the festival parade. It was very good; I have never seen so many people having so much fun, as they walked they were singing and enjoying life. We are planning, at the moment to land in the northern islands of Tonga at a place called Niuatoputapu, otherwise known in cruiser parlance as New Potatoes. It should be about an 36 hour passage so we are planning on leaving early tomorrow morning so we can enter the harbour in Tonga before dark. We will cross the International Date Line so although it will only take us 36 hours to cross we will have to adjust our calendars as if it took us 50 hours!! That pretty exciting, crossing the International Date Line, makes me feel very far away!!!
These guys were acting out the traditional art of tatooing. The traditional way is to us a sharp pointed object and then tap it on the body so it breaks the skin and the design is transferred to the body in this manner. We saw it being done here and in American Samoa, painfull.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Much to my chagrin we are still in Samoa! The seas are just not co-operating, I am fairly seething with impatience to get going but have bowed almost gracefully to Barry’s wishes not to tackle 7 meter or 20 foot seas. The wind is not too bad but there is a big low down south that is generating the huge waves so it would not be very comfortable at sea and I do recognize this. We checked out yesterday, but Barry said no go this morning so we had to run around and change the dates on all the papers. We hope to leave for Tonga on Sunday. I just need to find a few more boat projects to do and I will be fine.
Meanwhile we have been enjoying the festival that Samoa is having. We went to the dancing and singing one evening, it was great. The evening was capped off with a fire dancing competition, those guys are really amazing.
Barry and I attended our first ever live cricket match. Apparently it was Samoan rules cricket, but we really didn’t know the difference. We sat next to a couple of young English girls who explained some of the rules, it turns out they were medical students here on a rotation. (They are here for 6 weeks and then head to New Zealand for a holiday before going back home to school.) I guess the bat is quite different and the ball is a lot bouncier than a regular cricket ball. The Samoans play in bare feet and the batsmen don’t wear any equipment. The field wasn’t quite big enough, I don’t think, so there were weird ground rules. If you hit the ball out of the field and across the busy road someone could still catch it on the other side of the road. If the ball hit the roof of one of the blue roofed buildings surrounding the field, the fielder could catch the ball as it rolled off the roof and the batter would be out. I am glad we went to watch but I am not sure that I know much more about real cricket than I did when I arrived.
They have been having boat races as well. This shot is of the finish.We were walking back to the boat the other day and a team was going out to practice. We sat and watched them load up the boat, quite the process. Did I tell you there are about 50 rowers in the boat? The race was today and I counted 8 boats, that is 400 rowers, amazing, the harbour was lined with spectators as well. It was quite the event, the race starts about 10 miles away and there was a live radio broadcast, in Samoan of course.
I went into the festival grounds early yesterday and saw them preparing the traditional umu, or pig roast. Here they do not bury it they cook it above ground with hot rocks. The were very meticulous in preparing the area, first a piece of tin roofing was cut the correct size, then a layer of just right sized rocks were put on top, the roofing was outlined in some very large logs.
A well earned cooling off dip after the race as well as the only way to get to shore for these guys.

The rocks were covered with coconut shells and the coconut husks were laid against the logs all the way around. They added small bits of firewood and then larger bits and then they lit it. Once the blaze was going they put another layer of rocks on the top of everything. Quite the process!!!!
Traditionally the cooking was done by the young Samoan men, men that did not have a chiefly title. The commentator said that if you were a young man in a family and you had 4 brothers you had a lot of help with the cooking, if you only had sisters, you did a lot of work!! I asked when a young man would ever stop cooking and he explained that if a chief died the family would get together and vote on who would get the title next and once you became a chief you no longer had to cook.
The coconut was a huge part of this umu. The young men were scraping out the insides of the nuts, and then they would squeeze the fruit and get the coconut milk from it. They added onions and salt to the milk and made a package out of leaves and cooked it on the fire. First they would use about 4 or 5 young taro leaves to make a container, they would fill this with the coconut mixture, next it would get wrapped in a banana leave and then a breadfruit leave and voila a waterproof package was ready to be put on the fire. We tasted it one night when we were out to dinner and it was delicious. I did not stay to watch them sear the hair off the pigs and gut them and then get them ready for the fire. We were planning on leaving the next day so I had to go and check out. It was quite the education in the traditional Samoan way to cook a pig. Tomorrow there is a parade and then the Miss Samoa pageant is at night. I am not sure if we will go to that but I bet it would be an interesting thing to observe.