“The world is a great book,
of which they who never stir
from home read only a page.”
- Augustine (354-430)
The Kingdom of Tonga
Where Friendliness is a Way of Life
Setting sail from Rarotonga, bound for the Tonga Islands.
Passage to the Tonga Islands
Winds of the offing were light and shifty, so a disconcerting swell rolled the brig heavily. However, we progressed favorably, and once beyond the zone of confused seas leeward of Rarotonga we found moderate conditions. Bringing to mind the trying nature of the passage from Bora Bora, we certainly relished this easier traveling.
A minke whale pays a visit.
A few days out, during a rain squall a whale appeared on the port beam. It was a magnificent creature, again a minke. Soon, though, its coming close and leaping out of the sea gave us concern. But after the whale departed we forgot our worries and remarked what a captivating show the whale had staged.
Bypassing Winslow and Beveridge Reefs
Again we were thankful to have the sat-nav, mainly while passing by the submerged Winslow and Beveridge Reefs. The previous year a yacht had strayed off course and had struck Beveridge Reef. The crew took to their life raft and drifted for two weeks, until rescued. A few weeks after Jenny and I had passed Beveridge Reef, Don McClead and Mary Frank aboard Carioca, and Jack, Rithva and Benjamin on Kulkuri used their sat-navs and radars to find Beveridge Reef. They entered a west-facing pass, and anchored within the lagoon. There they remained a few days, seeing no land. But a single above-water object stood visible: a masthead. Setting out in dinghies loaded with scuba diving gear, they surveyed what proved to be the aforementioned wrecked sailboat. Little remained intact, but Jack salvaged two anchors and a length of chain. Years earlier, in a remarkable act of seamanship the venerable and now deceased Eric Hiscock and his wife Susan had called in at Beverage Reef, without using modern navigational aids. No doubt many others have done so also.
Early morning on our seventh day we passed close by Niue Island.
Bypassing Niue Island
On our seventh day we passed close by Niue Island. Officials there had recently imposed a $30.00 entrance fee, and for this reason alone we did not call in. Larry and Mollie later stopped there, though, and they reported that the entrance fee was money well spent.
Reaching the Northern Tongas
Zoom out to see where we are.
“In two hours we must have come-about 50 times. Back and forth we tacked, sailing fast but making slow progress.”
Two days after rounding Niue, Suka reached the northern Tongas, where she then stood off-shore in a strengthening south-easterly, hove to for three hours awaiting dawn. Then in the light of dawn, against strong head winds she tacked towards Port Refuge. Jenny wielded the staysail sheets on the primary winches, and I the jib sheets on the coaming winches. The deep reefed mainsail, sheeted hard in, tended itself. A ketch is not known for its windward abilities, and ours was certainly not about to dispel the stigma. In two hours we must have come-about 50 times. Back and forth we tacked, sailing fast but making slow progress while passing a few remarkably steep-to rocky islets. Laggardly windward progress aside, the seas were flat - being protected by myriad low lying, densely vegetated islands that reminded one of short stacks of Paul Bunyan size pancakes - and we thoroughly enjoyed the lively sailing.
Eventually we rounded Vava'u: the principal isle of the northerly Tongas. While closing the Neiafu wharf we saw Bruce and Leslie from A'Strayin. They had arrived a few days previously, and noticing us coming in, they had climbed aboard a small freighter. After directing us to tie alongside this vessel they greeted us with drinking coconuts, and shared what local tidbits they had learned about the place.
The Customs officers boarded Suka, asked a few routine questions, helped us fill out the requisite paperwork, and then disembarked.
Problems with an Inebriated Police Officer
“Three and a half hours, one crumpled cigarette package, and many incredulous stories later, the police officer found the bottom of our bottle where he arrived utterly awash.”
Next, a young police officer wearing the hat of immigration that day boarded and began courteously filling in his forms while engaging us in pleasant conversation. About to leave, he asked to inspect Suka's liquor locker. "Hmmm," he mumbled approvingly, withdrawing an expensive bottle of liqueur. "Would you sell this?" he asked, producing three grimy paper bills called pa'anga. These were worth nowhere near the price of the booze, and besides, I was not vending our stores. So I simply offered him a sociable drink. This proved a gross error, not only in having shown him to the liquor cabinet in the first place, but in not accepting his moldering money and giving him the bottle--for this would have rid us of him. Three and a half hours, one crumpled cigarette package, and many incredulous stories later, the cop found the bottom of our bottle where he arrived utterly awash.
I explained to lightheaded Lave that, as darkness was nearly upon us we now needed to remove Suka to the anchorage. Lave refused us permission to leave. Nonetheless, I started the engine and cast off, and while steering out into the bay I could only listen to our belligerent guest belowdecks demanding that I shut off the engine because it was too noisy. Then he came out and insisted on taking the helm.
We proceeded to the nearby charter yacht company's moorage, where considering the exigencies of the situation I judged it prudent that we collect a vacant buoy. In a gallant attempt to pick up the mooring bridle, our inebriated stowaway nearly toppled overboard, but by grabbing a flailing leg I managed to save him. Once the ketch lay secured, we inflated the dinghy, lowered it into the water, and I prevailed upon the police officer to climb aboard.
Ashore, Lave assured us in slurred speech that should we ever needed anything, just let him know. And in fact, the next time we were to see him, in town a few days later, he acted thinly as though he did not recognize us. The lesson had been a valuable one. I had learned never again to permit an officer to inspect Suka's moonshine. After this incident we would hide it.
An Invitation to a Feast
“Did we wish to buy fruit? No, thank you. Could his wife do our laundry? No thanks. Could he guide us to the cave? No, thank you. He displayed sea shells for sale. No thanks. Tiki carvings. No. Baskets and handicrafts. No, thanks anyway. Tongan feast? "... Feast?”
Early the following morning there came a clunk at the hull. Emerging groggily I found a Tongan gentleman clinging to the rail, while standing in a dilapidated scow. One bum boater, as the nautical term has it, by the name of Alofi. Did we wish to buy fruit? No, thank you. Could his wife do our laundry? No thanks. Could he guide us to the cave? No, thank you. He displayed sea shells for sale. No thanks. Tiki carvings. No. Baskets and handicrafts. No, thanks anyway. Tongan feast? "... Feast?" I asked. Now that sounded interesting. We paid the first fiver, and agreed to pay the second after the meal. Presenting us with a bundle of mandarin oranges tied to a twig neatly in a row, he paddled away.