August 20, 2003
Akin to Virginia and its special title of “Commonwealth”, Tonga has chosen to be the Kingdom of Tonga. It is a special place indeed.
The last letter ended on the day prior to Jane’s diving adventure in Niue. We were unsure about the departure for Tonga and were waiting for good winds to make a quick trip. Again it was to be a case of the “best laid plans”. The day before the diving trip the winds had clocked around to the North and had gained strength. That whole day Sander ferried Jane back and forth to the dock in order to do the errands. The sea was really too wild to perform the task of getting our tender onto the dock with the crane.
The next day the seas were even wilder, the diving was canceled and we were ready to leave for Tonga 15 minutes after learning of the cancellation. Our first two hours at sea we made excellent time and watched behind us as Niue was totally socked in with overcast and driving rain. We thought that it was a good omen that we left when we did; however, we should not have been so cocky to believe that Mother Nature was doing us any favors. The winds continued to come around to the NW, exactly where we needed to go and we were thrown quite a bit south and then north of our intended course. When the winds finally came around to a good vantage point on Sunday evening, we had to decide whether we should “poor on the coals” in order to make our arrival at Neiafu, Vava’u early enough on Monday. One way or the other we were going to arrive after dark or have to stay outside until Tuesday morning unless we hurried. So we motor-sailed hard and arrived off the coast of Vava’u about noon on Monday. It was overcast, rainy and cold with limited visibility…not the best conditions to arrive at a new place but adequate. We arrived in the harbor at Neiafu about 4 PM and picked up a mooring next to our German friends on Albatros who had left Niue a few days earlier than us.
It was amazing to be in a harbor with about 50 other boats. (See photo) There are two charter boat outfits in Neiafu. The town is very cruiser friendly and has many businesses that support the cruising community.
The next day when we checked in we discovered that it was Wednesday in Neiafu and that we had inevitably lost that day due to part of Tonga being across the dateline. That took some getting used to, we can assure you.
Tonga is the oldest and last remaining monarchy in the South Pacific. They are the only S.P. country never brought under foreign rule. The country covers 700,000 square kilometers of ocean from north to south; however, the total land mass is only 691 square kilometers. We had hoped to spend the next three months trying to cover most of those 700,000 sq kilos of ocean, but fate had another plan in mind for us.
Our second day in Neiafu was the date for one of the local pageants, the Ms Cosmos competition. In the South Pacific it is very common to find a transvestite, a man living his life as a woman. These men are not scorned. They are a regular part of society and are totally accepted by the community. In fact, the Ms Cosmos honors them while having some fun too. Ms Cosmos is always the most gorgeous transvestite. Our second day here we witnessed the parade. It seemed that everyone in the village was there to see the floats with all the contestants. There was a lot of hooting and laughing with folks waving and cheering for their favorite he/she. It was a great way to be introduced to the community.
The other photos show one of the flosts and the local high school band…only boys. Notice that the boys are wearing long straight skirts with a sort of mat around their hips. This is the custom clothing here for men.
Another of the special things about Tonga is their strong religious community. Sundays are solely for the worship and they do just that – all day long. The bells ring at 5 AM for the morning service. They go home for lunch and then back to church for the afternoon service. Jane attended on Sunday morning with a very nice young couple from Seattle. The singing was grand enough to cause goose-bumps, and there was no accompaniment from an organ – all a capella. We wish that we could capture the singing on the e mail attachments as we do the photos! It is marvelous to sit on the boat and listen to the singing coming from the church. We can hear them singing at 9 PM on Sunday night and then again on Monday morning before the sun is up. The cruisers are also asked to observe the seriousness of Sundays and not work on their boats.
During our trip west from Polynesia, we began to worry about our 8 batteries that make up our house banks. The current batteries were purchased in Virginia in 1999 and should have been able to carry us to New Zealand where we knew that we would have to replace them. Soon after our arrival in Tonga we had to readjust our thinking about replacing the batteries. Perhaps we could get some new ones here or order some to be shipped from New Zealand? Neither of these plans worked out so we looked on the internet to see what we could find. There were several e mail addresses of companies in Australia who sell our type of battery. It is quite a complicated proposition to change batteries as they are very large and have to be stored very carefully on a boat. In one of those big blows we certainly don’t want them flying about. We would need to try to find replacements of the same size or face a complicated situation. We were quite lucky to get a response from one of the Australian leads who wrote that we would be able to get four of the eight needed batteries in Suva, Fiji from stock and within three weeks the other four would arrive by ship from Australia. The decision was not too hard to make. We will go another 450 miles to the west to Fiji. In the meantime the batteries were becoming weaker and weaker and we were running the engine more and more often to keep them charged. It is hard to realize all the ways that one uses electricity. Some of you have experienced electric outages at times, and know how many luxuries disappear when the electricity goes off. We received news recently from a friend in the northeast that several states suffered a serious black-out recently. We are in that state now. We have found two used 12 volt batteries that still have more punch in them than our banks so we have purchased them and hope that they will last to help us run the auto-pilot on the way to Fiji.
We are now awaiting a weather window again. While we wait we have been able to cruise to a few of the anchorages all within a day of Neiafu. One morning as we motored between anchorages we were lucky enough to see a humpback whale breaching. They are about the same size as Satori so you can imagine the force that it takes to propel their bodies out of the water, do a half turn and then crash again into the sea. It was the same thing that you have probably seen on the Discover Channel, but to witness in real life was such a marvelous thrill! Yesterday we both went with a local whale watching boat with the hope that Jane would be able to swim with the whales. We spotted a mother and calf and were so excited that we would have a lucky day. This mother had other ideas. She kept diving and resurfacing in another place. We tried one time to jump in the water but with no luck. We would have to be happy with just seeing them up close. It seems to be the luck of the draw because usually the whale watching boats come back with good reports about the mothers and calves being ready “to play”. There was a very gentle French girl aboard yesterday who is taking her third holiday in Tonga and goes every day on the whale watching boat. Perhaps she was a whale in an earlier life?
We hope to depart for Fiji on Friday or Saturday so you may want to contact our ship track website to see our progress. We will check in every day.
Jane and Sander
PS Thursday, Aug 28th We are sending this message from Fiji because the internet services were not working in Tonga prior to our departure. We safely arrived here yesterday in the early afternoon and were checked in with the officials early enough to enjoy a chow mein dinner at the local Chinese restaurant. We have really been craving veggies so it tasted almost as good as that steak dinner in Argentina!