Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Christmas in February

We finally received our shipment from Los Angeles. This was a crate that our friends from Shango arranged to ship in late December. They shipped solar panels, bottom paint, dive gear, and a bunch of miscellaneous stuff. We shipped a few boxes--new cruising and diving guides, some spare parts, a bunch of vitamins, and other miscellaneous stuff.

Dave taking our boxes out to the boat

We used SF Enterprises, which is a Tongan family-run business. We had stuff shipped from all over the U.S. directly to SF Enterprises' LA office, with Shango's name on it. Roger and Amy used their 8 hour layover in LA to go to the warehouse and pack the crate up (not absolutely necessary, but they wanted to ensure their expensive new solar panels were properly packed).

The shipment went by freighter to Nuku'alofa, Tonga, and SF Enterprises in Nuku'alofa then delivered it by ferry to Vava'u, where it was delivered to the Customs shed. Roger had to do a bank transfer to SF Enterprises in the U.S. before they would ship the goods up to Vavau. On arrival, we also had to pay some kind of paperwork fee to the shipping company, Reef Shipping.

We used Linda from Jetsave Travel in Neiafu (also the Fed Ex agent) as our Customs Agent, to get the goods released from Customs. An agent is not absolutely necessary, especially if you have invoices for EVERYTHING you've shipped, but there is a lot of paperwork involved, in Tongan. Linda helped a lot with the voluminous paperwork, and getting all the miscellaneous stuff (which we did not have invoices for) cleared, and we felt that her fee was very reasonable for the effort required on her part.

Most of the parts were considered 'repair parts', and covered under the "Yacht In Transit" rule (no duty in Tonga). Books are also duty-free. However, some things, like the dive gear, clothing, and food items, were dutiable. Dive gear ended up being taxed at almost 40%--but there isn't any dive gear available here, so there was no other option. Fortunately, we had helped Roger buy used stuff, so the tax was on less-than-retail prices. Other items, the duty was only 15%.

Some items--like tobacco, are really heavily taxed. We shipped 4 1-pound bags of pipe tobacco for Larry of the Ark Gallery in the shipment. These cost $84 in the U.S., but the Tongan duty was $240 pa'anga (about $150 USD). We left them with Customs in Larry's name--for him to decide if he wanted to pay or just leave it there. We could probably have brought some of the tobacco in our luggage duty-free had we known it would be taxed separately--like everywhere else, you are allowed a limited amount of stuff in when you fly in, duty free.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Snorkeling the Coral Gardens at Vaka Eitu (#16)

The weather has been so beautiful that, on Sunday, we decided to take a little time off to play.

Watching the Sun Rise on Another Sunny Day

My argument at the time to Dave was "We can still do our work out in the outer anchorages." But truth be told, we've not gotten much work done these last 2 days.

On Sunday, we had a nice Sunday breakfast, and then hauled anchor and joined our friends Roger and Amy on Shango, out at Vaka Eitu (Anchorage 16). They, sustaining no damage in Cyril, have been out exploring around these last few days. We arrived at the anchorage about 1:15pm, and by 1:30, we were in the dinghies heading for the "Coral Garden" reef (north of the anchorage).

Nice Beach, with Reef Beyond, at Vaka Eitu

The last time we snorkeled this reef, it was just after high tide, and fairly calm, and we (carefully) drove the dinghies out through the swell/small breakers to the deep side of the reef. We hadn't taken much time to snorkel then--we were afraid the falling tide would trap us outside the reef. This time, we left the dinghies on the beach and "Shamu-ed" out over the reef. It was pretty calm, but fairly low tide. It would be helpful doing this to have booties, gloves, and at least a rash guard or light wetsuit. I had none of those things, and still fared OK. We had to start swimming in shallow water, time our passage over the shallowest parts (so we didn't get crashed on by a wave), and suck up our bellies so they didn't drag as we snorkeled out. Half of the time, you were fighting the pull of the wave action. I found it was easiest to grab the (old, dead) coral on the bottom to pull myself along (hence gloves would be handy, because there's no time for careful hand placement).

We Have the Big Bay All to Ourselves

Once outside, we found the beautiful coral just as beautiful as we had before. This is absolutely the best array of live hard and soft coral we have seen in the entire South Pacific so far. We also saw some fantastic carpet anemones--one was about a meter square, mixed among the coral, and full of anemone fish. The water wasn't as clear as our last snorkel, but still very nice, and cleared up (and became cooler) as the tide finally turned and started coming in from the deeper water. We spent about an hour playing out on the reef and over the drop-off. We surveyed the area for a potential SCUBA dive some time in the future (we're still waiting for Shango's gear to arrive). We'll for sure be back to dive the deeper part of the reef, soon.

S/V Shango, Sharing the Anchorage with Us

We had a beautiful sunset--cocktails aboard Shango--and a quiet night.

At 02/19/2012 7:35 PM (utc) our position was 18°43.22'S 174°06.10'W

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sunny Weather for the Next Week!

Tropical Storm Jasmine is slowly moving south and east and dissolving. YAY!

Yesterday was beautiful. The wind died off to about 10 knots, and the sun was out for most of the day. The only rain we got was a tiny sprinkle, just as we sat down to dinner.

We finally went ashore last night and had our 'Valentine's Dinner'. The Aquarium Cafe was doing a BBQ night, and we went ashore for that.

Their 'sail' (large awning for a roof over most of their cafe) was torn up in TC Cyril, so we were sitting outside watching the sun go down and smelling the chicken barbecuing on the grill. MMMM!!

Just as it was getting dark, and we were all picking up our forks, it started sprinkling. Fortunately there was room to move inside. We moved back outside under the stars as soon as the rain quit.

It was a beautiful dinghy ride across the harbor, under the stars. And a nice quiet night.

The memories of 4 weeks of crappy weather is already receding!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bye Bye Jasmine!

It is ironic that, with Jasmine approaching us, and hovering over southern Tonga, we have had the best string of weather in a month--2 whole days with mostly sun!! (smiling)

Soggy Paws at the Work Dock

With the sun out we have been able to clean up and get some things done. Keeping a very close eye on Jasmine, yesterday we pulled alongside the work pier next to Customs, and James the Welder fitted our swim platform back on. This piece was critical because without it, getting out of the dinghy was difficult, and getting out of the water was impossible. We can now go swimming again.

James and Dave Putting Swim Platform Back On

We have also been working on an order for fiberglass repair material out of New Zealand. We have the order mostly complete, but it will take 2-3 weeks to arrive from NZ. We have an experienced fiberglasser lined up to do the repairs when the supplies arrive.

Next up on Dave's list is to try to repair the dinghy. Unfortunately, what dinghy repair glue we have is toast. And we're still trying to locate the patch material onboard. We may have to wait for our shipment from NZ for dinghy repairs. But we have been loaned a dinghy for the duration, so it is not critical.

The outboard motor should be done pretty soon. Dave cleaned up the carburetor, and the foot, and then handed it off to Noah, the local outboard mechanic, to pull it all together. The broken bracket is being replaced by another one from a dead outboard.

Thanks for everyone's kind comments, expressions of sympathy, offers of help, and even the "I Told You So" from Doug on Fellow Traveler. We are just thankful that we had no irreversible damage to either boat or to any person involved.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Dave's Latitude 38 Article

Dave's article on South Pacific Crossing Strategies just got published in the February edition of Latitude 38. Latitude 38 is a west coast sailing magazine similar to Southwinds in the SE.

You can download the whole Latitude 38 for free from here:


Or just Dave's article from our website here:


Next Up is Tropical Cyclone Jasmine

We are watching Tropical Cyclone Jasmine approaching from the SW. It has been slowly coming our way for about 10 days, and was originally forecast to head south and die. But the latest long range forecast shows it drifting ENE toward Tonga, and then looping back down south. The forecast showing it weakening, as it gets closer to us.

Tropical Cyclone Jasmine Current Satellite Photo

The current forecast shows it staying about 300 miles away, and weakening. Our local conditions are supposed to only build to about 25 knots here, but no one here trusts the forecasts any more!!

At least this time we'll have internet and can watch it more closely. It's walking along the 25S latitude line, which is the border between the Fiji Cyclone Center and the New Zealand Cyclone Center. It should be interesting to see how the forecast changes as it goes back and forth across that border.

The link for this sat pic is here:

Pictures of the Damage to Soggy Paws

We have moved from Tapana back around to Neiafu town, where we have some internet, so below are some pics of the storm and the damage to Soggy Paws.

Neiafu Harbor During Super Bowl (the day before)-Squalls to 30 knots.

Looking Out Our Port Side at the Height of the Storm

Sea Flyer on Our Starboard Side Minutes Before Collision

It looks like we had already started to drag by this picture, though in the excitement, we didn't really notice it until the wind shifted a little more south, which put us right on top of them.

Dave Checking on Sea Flyer and Dinghy

This is about when the shit hit the fan--the dinghy (on davits) started to flip over and flap about, and I noticed how close we were getting to Sea Flyer, and went to start the engine. About a minute later, a gust swung us towards Sea Flyer and across their mooring line and onto their bow. I quit taking pictures then, and unfortunately, no one in the harbor was taking pictures of us either.

Our Port Quarter Smashed to Hell

This shows the worst of the damage to the hull.

Oh My God!!

Port Hole Totally Bent But Glass Undamaged!

Toe Rail Smashed to Bits

Damage on the Stern

Our Monitor Wind Vane and Swim Platform Ripped Off

Fiberglass Pieces All Over My Bunk

Buckets in the Bunk to Catch the Rain

We have taped over the damage with three sturdy trashbags, yards of duct tape, and some butyl rubber (modeling clay-like stuff), yet still it rains inside when it rains outside. I'm sleeping on the settee for the time being.

Not pictured: Dinghy with one pontoon punctured in 2 places, Dinghy Motor ripped in two, smashed solar panel.

Our swim platform is being reconstructed and should be ready on Monday or Tuesday. Dave has been hustling for fiberglassing supplies. There is a guy on a mooring at Tapana that worked as a fiberglasser at a boat yard, so we'll probably have him do the fiberglassing work. We'll probably re-locate the useless porthole in the closet on the starboard side to replace the bent one on the port side. But we do need a week's worth of dry weather to do anything, and that's not in the forecast for the next 10 days.

We have a borrowed dinghy for the time being, until we can get to the dinghy repairs. Our 20 year old outboard motor, which Dave is really attached to, is in the hands of a motor mechanic who has some old motors he can use to rebuild ours with. (Dave salvaged the important parts and got them rinsed and in a diesel bath ASAP).

Please, God, let the sun come out!!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Surprise! Cyclone Cyril Pops Up Overnight

We were expecting bad weather overnight, as yet another Tropical Depression went past us. But it was supposed to peak at about 9pm and get better over time. By morning, the forecast was for less than 20 knots, and we hoped, sunny skies.

We got back from our overnight trip into town (for the Super Bowl) in the late afternoon, in the middle of a squall. Since Super Sunday (Monday here) was supposed to be nasty, we had gone ashore on Sunday evening, taken an inexpensive room in town, and watched the Super Bowl on (here) Monday afternoon.

It was a tossup whether to stay in town another night, to let the weather go by, or go back to the boat. Since the weather wasn't too bad after the Super Bowl, we decided to go ahead back to the boats.

We managed to time our arrival on the beach terribly, and ended up going back to the boats in the dinghy in a squall, but got back OK with no troubles. We were glad to be "home".

Barometer Trace from TC Cyril
The low point on the graph was about 8am our time

As predicted, it was a little wild in the evening, but a reasonably quiet night. However, about 6am, we were woken up by a nasty squall. And I noticed the wind was out of the north. "It shouldn't be north--north means we have something else coming," I said knowingly.

I started trying to pick up weather, but gave up when the 'latest' Spot forecast (taken from a GRIB file), said the wind this morning was supposed to be about 15 knots. It was gusting to about 45 then.

One of the local ex-pats got on the radio with a special weather bulletin. Apparently about midnight, a "bad spot" in the satellite picture strengthened up into Tropical Storm Cyril. Our "fun meter" (wind meter) quit working yesterday (in a 42 knot gust), so we don't really know what the wind got up to this morning, but two of our hatches blew open, and the last time it did that, the wind was 60 knots.

Soggy Paws in the Storm (taken by Sea Flyer)

And, the really fun part was... we were on a lee shore with quite a fetch. At the height of the storm we had 5' waves, and were taking sheets of water over the bow. Fortunately we were well secured to a "hurricane mooring". Unfortunately, the mooring started dragging in the middle of the worst part of it.

And our dinghy, which we'd pulled up in the squall last night, was on the davits and starting to tip over. Dave was back trying to do something with the dinghy when I noticed we were getting really close to the boat behind us. I suggested we forget the damned dinghy and start the engine. Too late... we ended up with our stern caught on the other boat's mooring and bow pulpit. We couldn't seem to pull loose manually, and couldn't run the engine for fear of wrapping our prop. Dave finally went in the water to see the situation, and their mooring line was between our skeg and our rudder. No way it was coming out under those conditions.

The other boat (Sea Flyer) had 2 lines to the mooring, and only one was caught in our rudder. Dave was trying to get Gary to cut his mooring line so we could get free, and Gary was up there trying, but the situation was so violent that Gary couldn't get in close enough with a knife without losing his arm.

Fortunately for us, the 1 1/2" mooring line finally parted. But not until we spent 10 minutes with our port quarter caught on his bow. Slamming and slamming... tearing up his bow pulpit and anchor rollers, and tearing up our fiberglass, port quarter porthole, swim platform, wind vane, etc. We had about 5 foot seas at that point, and we were broadside to the wind, about 50 feet from a really rocky shore. I really thought we were done for.

Once Sea Flyer's mooring line broke, we floated forward just enough that I could motor out of there. Fortunately Sea Flyer's secondary line held them for the rest of the storm. Dave was still in the water, and couldn't get back aboard, because our boarding ladder is the swim platform, and it was gone. So he climbed up on Sea Flyer. I spent the next 2 hours by myself on Soggy Paws, motoring to relieve the strain on our mooring, and try to keep out of Sea Flyer's mooring and away from their boat.

The wind just wanted to line us up right up on Sea Flyer, so I had to keep "tacking" back and forth, still tied to the mooring. I couldn't just motor into the wind--eventually the wind would gust from another direction, push the bow around, and I'd have to gun the motor to get past Sea Flyer's mooring again on the other tack. Dave couldn't get back aboard under the conditions, and I couldn't do anything, but keep trying to keep us off Sea Flyer.

As we came free from Sea Flyer, our dinghy, which was attached to our davits, stayed with Sea Flyer. I think Dave eventually cut it loose, because it was beating Sea Flyer to death. It ended up on the rocks, but fortunately 'only' has one chamber (of 3 punctured). Our motor is completely toast. It got beat to death--we still had the motor mount attached to the dinghy, but the head was broken off.

In looking at the port quarter after it was all over--thank god we have a CSY. We took a severe beating--it totally stove in the heavy bronze porthole, and the fiberglass is beat to hell. But the boat is still mostly intact. It will be an extensive repair, but we are floating. And no one got hurt.

Our Friends on Shango (taken by Sea Flyer)

Fortunately, this thing was really fast moving, and by about 10am, it had calmed to about 20 knots. I was still motoring--couldn't leave the helm for more than about 30 seconds--and Dave was still stuck on Sea Flyer. Fortunately, the only neighboring boat with a dinghy that they could deploy, offered to go get Dave and bring him home. Shortly thereafter, we got a line on another mooring, where we are now.

We are safe, we have at least a day before the next high wind event is due. Trying to dry our bed out so we can have a good night's sleep, and attack the problems fresh tomorrow.

One forecast says the wind will be light tomorrow. Another one says "fresh breezes to 25 knots". Not sure who to believe.

I want some calm wind and sunshine!!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Couple of Days at Vaka'eitu (Anchorage 16)

We have had a steady succession of Lows blowing through Tonga, but we did manage to escape the moorings for a couple of days at Nuapupu's south anchorage, known as Vaka'eitu. Also known as Anchorage 16.

The Tongan dialect, a variation of the same Polynesian language we have been hearing all the way across the Pacific, is full of vowels. To an english-speaking person, the names of places around here are often unpronounceable. When poorly pronounced, it is difficult to distinguish WHERE a person is talking about. So the Moorings charter outfit here, has published their guide with anchorage numbers. Most cruisers don't even bother to learn the Tongan names for the anchorages they are in, but use the Moorings anchorage numbers. But we are trying to learn the proper names as we cruise around.

The recommended anchoring spot at Vaka'eitu is situated for the prevailing SouthEasterly winds, which we haven't seen in weeks. And our friends on Shango beat us to it, so we made a new recommended anchoring spot for N-NW winds. We anchored in about 35' at 18-43.29S / 174-06.10W. We couldn't see the bottom, but could hear our chain rubbing on rock or coral. It didn't feel like a great spot, but we held OK in the squally weather overnight.

The rain quit for a day, and though it was still overcast, we did manage to go snorkle in 3 places near the anchorage. The "Coral Gardens" on the reef to the north, turned out to be outstanding. (Approx 18-47.82S / 174-06.16W) Beautiful clear water and fantastic coral growth. We'd like to come back and make a dive there, if the weather ever turns nice. We did manage, a near high tide and mild wave conditions, to drive the dinghies out over the reef from inside the anchorage area to deep water.

Another spot with some nice coral and diveable depths is along the wall to the south, at approx 18-46.65S / 174-05.51W. Though both of these spots would only be accessible in very light winds, if the wind was out of the east.

We had another low pressure area go by while we were at Vaka'eitu, and the weather got very nasty overnight, but it is a pretty well-protected anchorage. There's a bit of a fetch from the NE, but it is still inside a lagoon. It is very protected from SE around to NNE.

In the next break in the weather, we moved back to Neiafu. The long range forecast is for more bad stuff coming, and we wanted to use the break to get some internet and stock up for the 10 days of bad weather in the forecast.
Sherry & Dave
Hanging out in Tonga for cyclone season!

At 02/01/2012 3:25 AM (utc) our position was 18°39.77'S 173°58.93'W