[100201,2328 UTC, Vaka'eitu, Vava'u Group, Kingdom of Tonga; 18°43.37'S / 174°05.92'W]
With Christmas behind us, we headed back to Neifu to meet friend Ed of Kuay who was traveling to Tonga from Pago Pago, American Samoa. Kuay, a Westsail 42, made the 350 mile trip with enhanced tradewinds in just 49 hours! A week earlier, Tribute, a Columbia 52, made the same trip in 51 hours! Both vessels were sailed single-handled and both sailed reefed down!
Ed shares Philip's birthday and we planned a party aboard Kuay, eating up the turkey and all the trimmings we'd originally planned on for Christmas (Ed could not get to Tonga by Christmas.) The birthday cake was banana nut bread. We filled the cockpit with fellow cruisers and also the Tongan quarantine officer and her friend Lynnie, the sole government official still working during the holiday season. It was a lovely party with lots of chat and even more laughter.
Shortly after the new year, a rare period of calm settled over the archipelago and we took the opportunity to complete the project of replacing our rigging wire, one wire at a time. As you may remember, our forestay failed earlier this year in Panama and we replaced a failing upper shroud in the Marquesas, so it seemed prudent to replace the remaining wire since they were all of the same vintage.
Lucky for us, when we bought Carina and re-rigged her, our rigger sold us on Sta-Lok fittings. These mechanical terminals allow for relatively easy replacement of rigging wire without the necessity of swaging equipment; nearly impossible to find out here. (Norseman and Hi-Mod are equivalent systems.). We only found one other flaw in our wire (a lower shroud) during the project but it was clear our 1 x 19 rigging wire had reached the end of its useful life. We saved the longest length of old wire to use for an emergency HF antenna, but gave away the remaining stainless steel wire to be distributed to small villages in the outer islands.
Traveling again back out to the islands, we got the opportunity to snorkel the reef at Vaka'eitu island which had been closed out by breaking waves when we were here at Christmas. The reef, dubbed the "coral garden" has healthy coral of every possible shape and size and color - from brilliant yellow, through purples and blues and oranges - and stretches for more than quarter mile, connecting the islands of Vaka'eitu and Nuapapu to its north. The visibility the day we snorkeled with friends Ed and Ingemar of Kuay was well over 100 feet and you could swim down the coral slope and watch the sparkling beauty disappear into the deep blue abyss.
While there a small local boat stopped by to visit. The Fifita family in the boat (Ben and Fa'aki with their six lovely children - Roxanne, Tomi, Koloa, Maile, Tatai and William) had been collecting mangoes on Vaka'eitu. As it turns out, this was a family we had been told of by friends who had visited Tonga in the fall. Ben and Fa'aki actually live in nearby Matamaka and had, when our friends were visiting, hosted a Tongan feast for their village in order to celebrate the high school entrance exam taken by their lovely daughter Roxanne. Roxanne passed with award-winning marks, the highest score of the entire archipelago, ensuring Roxanne a government scholarship to high school in Neiafu. Without the scholarship, Roxanne would not have been able to continue her education as her parents could not afford the tuition. It also meant her younger siblings will be able to attend school in Neiafu where they will have superior instruction relative to their tiny island school.
The day they visited our anchorage in Vaka'eitu, they were seeking clothes-washing powder and rice in exchange for mangoes. Fa'aki needed to wash clothes for the children in preparation for the start of school in Neiafu. We didn't need the mangoes but made the trade anyhow, throwing in a tin of beef and a jar of Ragu which we had acquired earlier from the spoils of a boat destroyed in the Pago Pago tsunami. Interestingly, they had no concept of pasta sauce or, for that matter, pasta; they were particularly perplexed when Philip explained that you serve the sauce over linguini. As we talked, they invited us and all of our friends to join them for a kava ceremony, church and lunch on Sunday, two days hence. We readily accepted for ourselves and arranged for Ed and Ingemar of Kuay and Larry of Tribute to join in.
Late Saturday evening Ben and Fa'aki motored up quietly near Carina and confirmed our visit for the following morning. Our plan was to take Carina the mile and a half over to Matamaka and anchor, bringing along our friends who would leave their boats in Vaka'eitu. Launching an early morning expedition of cruisers on time is always a challenge and this day was no exception, so we got a late start and (the men) missed the kava ceremony. Arriving at the small dock at Matamaka, the children and Fa'aki greeted us dressed in their Sunday finest while Ben squatted near on open fire roasting a month-old pig tunu-style on a spit. Leaving our bags and food in their house and after fitting Leslie out with a kiekie, an ornamental wrap of a number of narrow strips, woven of pandanus or even ribbons and beads, we walked through the village on our way to church. The village of Matamaka was recently awarded a prize, given by the crown-princess, for being the neatest village in Vava'u and we can see why. Though homes were modest, each was surrounded by lovely gardens of flowers and vegetables, protected from the free-range pigs by low fencing. Fa'aki carried baby William and Leslie had the littlest girls in tow, with tiny Tatai slowing down and slowing down and slowing down until Leslie hoisted her to her hip and walked on with Tatai's head resting on her shoulder.
The church was a modest affair, built of substantial concrete, encircled with a corrugated thigh-high pig barrier. Near the front entrance was a large, carved, old-growth log under a small shed-roof. This was the church's "bell" which sounded a warm booming sound when struck to call the faithful to service. Each of the five churches in this tiny village of 200 had a unique method of calling their parishioners. The service and the glorious singing was in Tongan and we did not understand whether the minister's emotional sermon was one of inspiration or chastisement, but it did not matter. It was lovely. The attendant villagers, men in sober black suits with tails and women in lovely bright dresses and large ornamental hats, listened raptly to the preacher, occasionally sinking to the floor and laying their heads on the pew. Fans fluttered to dispel some of the heat; we had none but were presented with the large breadfruit leaves which we used for the same purpose.
After returning through the village to Fa'aki and Ben's home, they spread out a large woven mat on the beach under their ovava (banyan) tree. Eating with our fingers, we had a delicious feast of roast pig, lobster, cassava, sweet potatoes, cooked sweetened papaya, otai mango (a coconut-milk-mango drink) plus our own contributions of pasta salad, rice with veggies and chicken stock, and brownies. For this feast, they asked only for 50 pa'anga (about $25 USD) in order that they could buy Roxanne's school books. We gave them much more and asked if they would join us the following week for a cruiser-style lunch under the ovava tree at Vaka'eitu Island.
A few days later while back in Neiafu (awaiting the fate of the latest tropical low, which became cyclone Nisha), we bought toys and gifts for the children including crayons and colored pencils, and practical gifts of pasta and cooking oil. Friends bought additional rice, corned beef, washing powder, sugar and investigated the purchase of fishing equipment for Ben to help the family earn more money. Returning to Vaka'eitu, Philip worried that Ben and Fa'aki would not show, but yesterday shortly after 11 am (when church ends) we saw their small, typical Tongan boat moving towards the anchorage.
Ed and Ingemar of Kuay brought their BBQ to the beach and we roasted the lobster and crab contributed by the Fifita family. The lobster took longer to cook on the grill than expected so the littlest girls - bored from running around and playing with the ball we'd brought them - began wading carefully into the water (Ben told us there were dangerous stonefish in the shallows!). Soon they were sitting in the sand pounding on what looked like rocks but were, in reality, small oysters. These they hungrily slurped as quickly as they could extract them.
In addition to the lovely lobster and unusual-looking (green) crab, we roasted hot dogs, and enjoyed a feast of everything from pineapple, mango and watermelon to otaika (raw fish with onion, lemon and coconut milk), sweet potato, pasta salad with pepper, onion, sweet basil and pinto beans (beans are not found here), savory rice, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, chocolate pudding, Coca-cola and iced tea. We watched in astonishment as the family, right down to the tiniest child, ate more food than we could have imagined. As the sun began to sink, we ferried the family to their anchored boat in a dinghy convoy. The waving children danced on the cabin top (as we enthusiastically waved back) and they slowly motored away enroute to their home in Matamaka and then onto Neiafu where the children would go back to school early Monday.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake