Micheal and I were standing on the patio at the Paradise Hotel that overlooks
the harbor of Neiafu,
Kingdom of Tonga, the other day admiring the view. It was a beautiful day; clear blue sky with puffy white clouds, azure and aquamarine colored water and of course, Vela Dare at anchor. I forget why we were there but Micheal was enjoying a bottle of the local beer. Anyway, out of the blue Micheal says, "You know what I really like about this place is there are no jet skis."
We have been in Vava'u for about two and a half months now. After spending six weeks in Tongatapu we sailed 160 miles north to discover one of the best cruising areas in the South Pacific. The Vava'u island group is composed of many islands all within a half days sail. There are numerous well protected anchorages, some with sandy beaches and palm tress and some lined with heavily forested, rocky hills. The Moorings Charter operation here publishes a cruising guide that refers to each anchorage by number for the charterers and everybody, including cruisers, uses it. So when someone asks your location, the response is, " Oh, we're at # 11 today and are planning on going out to # 30 tomorrow."
Early in the season Vava'u was full of Kiwis that sailed en masse from New Zealand. Most left about six weeks ago for points west like Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. Now cruisers are showing up that have made the trip from the states or points east across the Pacific. We have met a lot of interesting people from all over the planet, this includes cruisers and locals ( ex-pats? ). So this is what this article is all about, people.
Much to our surprise a few weeks ago, we discovered that there were three other Valiants in Vava'u! Sounds like a party to me, and sure enough it happened. There was a family from Finland traveling on Fillyjonk ( named after a Finnish cartoon character ), Johan, Leanna and their two sons, Emil who is six and Lemos who is four. Fillyjonk is one of the new pilothouse 40/42 Valiants. Johan has the boat rigged with twin, furling headsails, a really smart way to go. Then there was Steve and Tina on Another Horizon. They are from California and the boat is two years old, one of the last of the "old" style Valiants. They retired from their jobs at Berkeley where they worked in library administration. They have over four thousand books on board! Pacific Ave was the other Valiant with Jerry and MaryAnn aboard. Their boat is one year old, another of the new 40/42's. As a matter of fact, Micheal and I remember seeing the boat in the production shed on one of our visits to Cedar Mills. Jerry is a retired pilot from United. MaryAnn is new to sailing/cruising. Naturally, they are very comfortable on their floating home. So we all got together in Neiafu harbor and devised a rotating party. A different dish was served on each boat. This provided an opportunity to get a good look at each of the boats which was why we got together in the first place. It was a magic evening full of good food and conversation and a lot of, "Oh, so you do it this way."
Currently we are anchored at one of our favorite places, Tapana Island or # 11. Some crazy Spaniards run a restaurant on the island where they serve a very good Paella and provide live music. We have been spending a lot of time here lately. It's not hard to understand because the folks at Tapana like to have fun just like we do! Their philosophy on daily life is, "We eat, drink, work and have fun. Everyday is the same except for Sunday when there is volleyball!". Maria is the manager of the restaurant. She is the closest thing I know of to a superwoman. She does all of the shopping, cooks the meals, helps serve the guests and then goes on stage and plays the drums. Her husband Eduardo leads the band which right now consists of him, Maria, Alfredo, Micheal , me, Tom ( from the yacht Skywave, on harmonica ) and any other musicians who happen by. The very first night I was there everyone in the restaurant ended up on stage. Eduardo's style of music can be described as Spanish psychotic blues. Micheal and I haven't figured out what language he sings in, sometimes it doesn't seem to be Spanish. But it's great fun. He plays the guitar and harmonica. Maria plays the drums and on special occasions dons a dress that weighs five kilos to dance the flamenco. It's a real show stopper. Alfredo is a visiting Spaniard who plays an assortment of percussive instruments; a local log drum, the conga, bells and sticks. Micheal plays his mandolin and I make noise on the tambourine. Is it beginning to sound familiar? Just like the old Hobie Reefer band only with a stage, amplifiers and a sound system.
Last night, Steven who manages one of the local hotels, joined in with his electric guitar. It was awesome. We went to the restaurant after dining ( with nine others ) on board an 80 foot Baltic that is here for two months. The boat is from Italy and right now only the crew of three is aboard. We started with a variety of antipasto delicacies followed by spaghetti with a tomato-tuna sauce. We thought that was just awesome and then the pizza was served. That was followed by focaccia smothered in sweet onions. The band members had to duck out early so we missed the coffee. These guys told us they left Italy with 300 kilos of spaghetti and 200 liters of olive oil on board. We asked them how much wine they brought and they said it didn't matter because most of it was gone already. What a way to travel.
Sundays at Tapana we play volleyball on a court that has the best view in the world. Last Sunday we all piled on a boat and went to Kenutu ( #30 ) for a picnic. There were ten on board and Micheal and I were the only non-Spaniards. There is a restaurant on Kenutu run by a couple of German ladies. Stan, Cora, Yogi and Alice joined us from the yacht Ambler. They are Germans too. We all sat at a big table and ate massive amounts of pasta and salads. Everyone was talking and laughing in a variety of languages. This Sunday we plan to pile on Alfredo's boat to go for a floating picnic. I think we will visit some of the smaller islands south of here to do some whale watching. Humpback whales come to these waters every year to have babies and mate. So there are quite a few around. We all plan to fish along the way. I can just imagine it now, Alfredo's boat sailing along with three dinghies and about thirty lines trailing off the stern and everybody arguing and laughing in at least two languages. Micheal and I will be speaking Spanish soon.
The restaurant at Tapana is a typical Polynesian fale-style building. Rob and Laurie will know what this means. Anyway, it's made of palm tree trunks, smaller tree limbs and thatched with woven palm fronds. The floor is cement. The ceiling is high and domed. The kitchen is off the side of the building. Both the restaurant and kitchen have walls about a meter high and are open the rest of the way. There is an overhang to the roof that keeps the rain out. Colorful tapa cloth, paintings and posters cover the walls. There is a bar ( although they don't officially serve beer or wine ) and a stage. The stage is slightly raised and houses the stereo, guitar stands made from driftwood, amplifiers, Maria's drum set and Alfredo's collection of instruments. The curtain is a sail painted with images of people in very bright colors. There is seating for about twenty five people at picnic tables set with colorful table clothes and lighted with kerosene lanterns. The overall atmosphere is very comfortable. Bur that's not all. I already mentioned the volleyball court. There's Maria and Eduardo's fale too. Chickens and ducks run all over the place. At night they have to shoo the baby ducks out of the kitchen. Maria likes to say that everyone including the animals at Tapana are crazy. She illustrated this by telling me that the ducks and chickens breed with one another. We wondered what could come of it. There are numerous gardens surrounding the "complex" as well as a guest fale on the point of the island.. There's an area for bar-be-ques with natural seating. About a month ago Maria arranged, with the help of the two Kiwis from the yacht Espresso, for a pig roast. It was an exclusive party and we were lucky enough to be invited. Pig roasts are a traditional Tongan custom. Maria found the pig in town and arranged for transport via taxi and boat to the island where Pasquala ( Maria's Tongan partner and owner of the island ) killed it. It was cleaned and put on the grill. We all brought a dish and drank red wine all day while the pig roasted. Because the pig was so big it took longer than usual to cook. We ate our dinner ( the meal was set on the ping-pong table ) while Maria served her regular dinner to eighteen guests. What a place. In my mind, these people have achieved what a lot of us only dream about. A place where you can do what you want and not be bothered by rules and regulations. Tapana is truly a kingdom....a crazy one!
Well, the Sunday picnic on Alfredo's boat was great. There were 14 of us this time, speaking three languages! We sailed south to Taunga. Some went spear fishing while others gathered firewood. Maria and I jumped in the dinghy and went trolling around the reefs. We told ourselves that we did not want to catch any fish. We just wanted to drink a little wine and soak up some sun. We tricked two fish onto our line using this tactic. Back on the beach after soccer and swimming, we grilled fish and lamb chops. Everyone brought a dish and we feasted until the tide rose and we had to leave. The plan this Sunday is to pile on Vela Dare and go to a picnic at Nuku island where we can dinghy to Mariner's cave. Micheal and I have not dived the cave yet, so this should be a lot of fun. But every day is fun in Vava'u. We have met many wonderful people this season. But because we live a transient lifestyle, we have to say good-bye and that is hard.
So as the season draws to an end we have to think about leaving. We were planning on going on to Fiji but the longer we stay in Vava'u, the less sense it makes to go to Fiji for a short stay. Since we missed the Ha'apai Island group, which lies between Vava'u and Tongatapu, we will head there. We plan to stay for about three weeks. Then south to Tongatapu to check out of Tonga and maybe pick up crew. We made friends with a Kiwi couple at the marina where we berthed the boat in New Zealand. They have written to us and are keen to do the passage from Tonga to New Zealand with us. With over 20 years experience sailing New Zealand coastal waters they would be a welcome addition to Vela Dare for the passage.
Well, I could just go on and on with this article but then it would never get mailed. I can't count the times Micheal and I wish we could share our experiences here with our friends back home. We miss everyone very much.
Hasta luego, mis amigos.......