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 .