[091107, 0622 UTC, Neiafu, Vava'u Group, Kingdom of Tonga; 18°39.46'S / 173°58.92'W]
We write you from lovely Neiafu, in the Kingdom of Tonga, where today here is tomorrow to you. Neiafu is the principal town of the island of Vava'u in the Vava'u group of islands. We may not get to meet the king while we are here as the seat of the government and home of royal family is in the city of Nuku'alofa, approximately 150 miles south on the island of Tongatapu. It's hard to believe how far we are from our starting point, Kingston, WA - New Zealand is only 900 miles away from Tonga!
Our time in American Samoa was productive and we buzzed around the island almost daily on the aiga (family) buses, gaily decorated buses made of wood built upon truck chassis. A few of the drivers came to know us and, without our asking, would take a short detour down to the dock to drop us off with our armload of provisions instead of dropping us on the main road. The route from Pago Pago to the major hardware and grocery stores (you see how exciting this life is????), follows the rugged southern coast, protected from raging surf by a wide coral reef that forms a protective shelf. Along the route set into the mountainside are villages or nu'u, each with a communal structure, called a fale fono where traditionally the village council or fono meets to conduct the business of the fa'amatai or matai form of governing. Most today are of modern design but a few lovely traditional ones remain with rounded thatched roofs. It was particularly interesting to ride the buses during the afternoons when polite but giggling school children (girls and boys) in their matching school-insignia lavalava (sarongs) crowd onto the bus, heading home.
While in Pago Pago, we also caught up with old friends and met some new ones, picked up our supplies to replace our standing rigging and our new anchor chain and bought some anti-fouling paint in anticipation of hauling Carina out of the water on a rail in Tonga. Samoans are making great strides in cleaning up the devastation of the recent tsunami and many of the cruisers who had their boats damaged are well into productive repairs. FEMA and the American Red Cross have been fantastic in helping American Samoa get back on its feet.
American Samoa is US territory and because of this we were able to get things shipped in quite easily via cargo vessel and the good ole' reliable US postal system. (Of critical need for us were both rigging wire and anchor chain, both heavy, in imperial (vs. metric) sizes.) Luckily, friends on SV Encanto, who visited two years ago helped us to meet a lovely woman and friend of theirs named Cheryl Morales Polataivao. Cheryl graciously agreed to help us by being the local contact for our incoming goods, which helped us tremendously. Unfortunately, when we arrived six days after the tsunami, Cheryl was heavily involved in helping to manage the tsunami disaster through her work with the Governor's Task Force and the Humane Society and we were only able to meet her briefly to receive our parcels and mail and to leave her with a few small gifts. We hope perhaps someday to return and to spend more time with this generous woman and her family.
Everyone thinks of Pago Pago and American Samoa as synonymous, but that is not the case. Pago Pago is the village at the head of the nearly perfect (and physically lovely) natural deep water harbor of volcanic, jungle covered, Tutuila Island and the name give to the port. However, American Samoa also encompasses the Manu'a Islands of Ofu, Olosega, Ta'u, Rose and Swains to the east and north. Unfortunately, we were unable to stop at any of these islands or even visit much of Tutuila since we were so busy just performing basic chores.
Our passage to from Pago Pago to Tonga was ridiculously slow and frustrating, though only 340 miles. The trip took 5 days(!) and we burned an excessive quantity of fermented dinosaurs considering the relatively short distance traveled. Passages are all about weather and we chose what we thought would be a good window just ahead of a projected southern migration of the dreaded SPCZ - south pacific convergence zone. Leaving American Samoa on a cloudy, quiet, calm morning at first light, our winds started out light to non-existent and contrary, and by the end of our trip we were bashing into "noserlies" of 30 knots and big seas, making the last night at sea a sleepless one for all. We enjoyed favorable tradewinds for significantly less than a single day. So much for weather predictions, though we used a variety of sources, all equally flawed. The great news is we've arrived and we're anticipating a leisurely 5-month visit and rest amongst these island's idyllic anchorages with many caves set amongst extensive coral reefs, while we hide out (we hope) from southern hemisphere cyclones.
During our passage, Leslie decided to put out a lure early one morning while Philip was still sleeping. Almost as soon as she replaced the rod into its holder - ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ!!!!! - and she hooked a large mahi mahi. Philip jumped out of the off-watch bunk as Leslie hove-to and we brought the monster along the side of Carina only to lose the fish when the gaff broke while we were trying bring it aboard. Jake was supervising the whole procedure and returned to the cabin in disgust when the fish swam away and he realized there would be no sushi in his bowl that day. With no way now to bring a large fish aboard (since our gaff was broken), we stopped fishing and watched in dismay at the many yellow fin tuna and mahi mahi that swam and jumped all around Carina throughout the rest of the trip.
Staying in Tonga carries some risk as cyclones are not unheard here. However, they are relatively rare and we decided to take our chances rather than pushing on. We have rented a "cyclone-rated" mooring in Neiafu harbor. The bay is very well-protected and is at the end of an inverted J-shaped fjord. While here we hope to explore many of the outlying isolated anchorages and hard to reach villages on neighboring islands. If a cyclone threatens, we can scoot back to our mooring and prepare for a blow. Many cruisers choose to sail to NZ to wait out the cyclone season and we considered it ourselves. However, we were told we could almost be guaranteed of at least one gale both going to and coming back from NZ, though boats on passage now seem to be suffering from a dearth of wind rather than an excess. One other consideration is they are not very cat-friendly in the lands down under and we would have to quarantine Jake on board and be inspected weekly or bi-weekly during our stay at a cost of about $850 USD. Jake's shots are up to date and we COULD send him to kitty quarantine ashore but that's something that would make us all miserable, so we'll avoid it.
Your friends of the yacht Carina,
Philip, Leslie and fat cat, Jake
At 11/3/2009 and 18:19 UTC (GMT) our position was: 18°39.46'S / 173°58.92'W