As with most things in life we have choices and, therefore, decisions to make. Prior to leaving Samoa, on 19th August 2016, we had to make a decision on our departure date, based on the weather forecasts we had been studying. Do we take advantage of the forecasted flatter seas, but lighter winds, which meant we would be motoring or, at best, motor-sailing, or do we wait for the stronger winds that would allow us to sail, albeit a beat, accompanied by higher seas?
Based on the sailing season we’d had up to this point, we opted for the former. With two engines, the prospect of motoring or motor-sailing just meant we would adopt our normal strategy; motor at a low RPM to conserve fuel, alternate between engines and add some time to the passage to account for the slower speed we would be doing. We were also looking forward to a relatively peaceful passage based on the forecast of light and variable winds in flat seas, given that we'd spent nearly a month in Samoa, enjoying a well deserved rest in glorious sunshine, in a protected anchorage and wanted a slow transition back into the sailing realm.
Well, it seems Murphy had other ideas! We had no sooner left the anchorage when the port engine started to run a little hotter than normal. Rather than risk anything, we swapped engines and let the port engine cool down before starting the troubleshooting process. First, replace the impeller. Unfortunately that didn't resolve the issue. Second, check if the intake was blocked. So, we switched off the starboard engine as well and drifted. After adorning snorkel gear, securing a safety line for the 1.5 Kt current, Roy took the plunge. Nope, nothing seemed blocked!
Once Roy was safely back on board, the next decision had to be made. Do we return to Apia or continue on? Knowing that Samoa has no yachting repair facilities or spares, but Tonga, in particular, our next destination, the Vava'u Group, on the other hand, has a Moorings and Sunsail base where we expected we’d be able to get assistance. Also, the fact that monohulls motor on one engine all the time, we took the decision to continue and were rewarded with a beautiful sunset that evening, saw an amazingly bright "green flash" and motor-sailed under a beautiful full moon.
The next day Roy decided to tackle the port engine issue again. Unfortunately after cleaning the heat exchanger, the exhaust elbow, the pipes of the water pump and the filter, it was still running hot. The only two remaining possibilities were a blockage higher up in the intake or a faulty water pump. Since the former was a far less expensive option, we hoped for that, but neither could be investigated or repaired until we were at anchor again.
Of course, Murphy had definitely decided to have a giggle at this point. Once again our South Pacific passage weather had no resemblance to what was forecasted. The flat seas we thought we were getting for the duration of the passage only lasted a day and, by this time, we were crawling our way through very lumpy and confused seas on one engine, with the swell anything from south-westerly to southerly, the current out of the east, winds out of the southeast and we still had approximately thirty hours remaining on our passage.
When we decided on this passage plan from Samoa to Tonga we took the decision to skip the northern Tongan island of Niuatoputapu and head straight for the Vava'u Group, in order to take advantage of the forecasted benign weather, as well as not wanting to risk another weather system coming through if we delayed our passage by stopping.
Well, by late afternoon, not only was Murphy having a giggle, he was hysterical with laughter. When the weather started to deteriorate even further, we were already past Niuatoputapu and could not make it in daylight, so, we decided to soldier on. By 0100, however, with 125NM to go, in lashing rain, 25 Kts of wind, 3M swells and a very strong current, all on the nose, and with the starboard engine at full taps and the port engine on as high as we dared, we were doing a pitiful 1.8 to 3 Kts; Basically going nowhere, so we turned around!
We spent the rest of the night in 20-25 Kts, with seas of 3-4M, which were now fortunately all behind us. By sunrise on 21st August 2016, after snaking our way through the reefs, we arrived in Niuatoputapu. Although frustrated that we had to make the diversion, we were delighted to be safe and sound, albeit that the temperatures had plummeted and it was absolutely freezing. Nothing like being bundled up under duvets in the tropics!
Niuatoputapu, however, turned out to be one of the best experiences we had during our South Pacific sailing adventure and we considered ourselves extremely fortunate to have landed here so unexpectedly.
We had barely settled in when we were hailed on the VHF radio by a lovely lady called Cea, who welcomed us to the island and explained that, since it was a Sunday, we would have to remain on board until we could clear in the following morning. She apologised profusely for the inconvenience and for the fact that she was, therefore, unable to invite us to church and to the Sunday feast in the village, but instead, invited us to a potluck dinner the following night at her home. While we had a change of plan and another first on Paw Paw, by not actually reaching our intended destination, one cannot question the twists and turns of life when we stumble upon such friendliness and kindness.
The following morning we woke to glorious sunshine and another yacht limping into the anchorage; Bay Dreamer (Anna and Daniel), whom we'd met briefly in Samoa with their crew of five and a four month old baby on board, had also decided to take advantage of the forecasted benign weather and set sail for Vava'u, but was forced to divert as well.
By mid-morning it was time for Roy to collect the three friendly ladies at the dock so that they could complete all the officialdom aboard. Once that was out of the way, it was time to prepare for our potluck dinner, which had expanded with the arrival of Bay Dreamer. We'd been asked to bring a dish that represented our country of origin. So, with no ingredients for “Hotdogs and Hamburgers” or “Pap en Boerewors”, we settled for “Irish Stew and Soda Bread”. Since Bay Dreamer had caught an 80Kg yellowfin tuna en route and, although they had given us about 10Kg of it, what they couldn’t eat, ended up their contribution to the potluck dinner.
So, with our offerings in hand we headed ashore. As we walked up the “town pier” and received directions to Cea and Nico’s home from a group of children playing on the dock, we were simply amazed. We have never landed at a place where there was so much to absorb all at once.
The first thing that struck us were the number of pigs and horses freely grazing and roaming around, as well as the undernourished dogs playing in the yards. However, unlike all the other South Pacific islands we have visited, there were no gardens to speak of. Some homes had obviously tried desperately to create something that resembled one, but to no avail. Then there were the prefabricated tiny homes, of which many, if not all, were beautifully painted and maintained. Add to the mix, children running around outside, playing all sorts of games that didn’t involve any toys or electronic devices, and one could say, we were mesmerized.
Once we arrived at our hosts’ home, the absolutely basic living conditions of the village hit us. The house itself consisted of three rooms; two bedrooms and one living area, all unfurnished, except for a large table in the living area and mats on the floor in the bedrooms to sleep on. We sat on homemade benches outside and the cooking was done on an open fire. A single light bulb, powered by a small generator, helped us, more or less, see what we were doing. We never discovered what the bathroom amenities were, but we later learnt that there is no electricity, running water, natural gas, shops or stores on the island, with the exception of a small convenience store without electricity. No restaurants or bars; in fact, no alcohol at all. This translated to no electrical appliances including a fridge, freezer, television, or laptop just to mention a few modern day conveniences. No stove (electricity or gas), no heating or cooling and the only source of water was the run off rain water captured in large tanks. If you happen to have a car or generator there is no petrol station and limited quantities of fuel are delivered by a supply ship once every other month.
They do, however, have an unlimited supply of fresh pork, fruit, vegetables and fish, as well as a few chickens, sheep and goats which we saw running around on our explorations. Their basic lifestyle is subsistence farming and they exchange produce between families as needed. In essence, no one will starve, but don't crave anything like a pain au chocolat, chaisson pomme or even a simple item like a loaf of bread. Besides the fact that you would have to bake it yourself, they had run out of flour.
While these observations certainly gave us plenty of food for thought as we reflected on our experience, it is the generosity, kindness and helpfulness of the islanders that always leaves us appreciating our lifestyle and Niuatoputapu was no exception in this regard.
Besides the warm welcome and invite to dinner, Cea gave Elaine a beautiful set of earrings and matching hair clip which she had made, as well limes and tangerines from their plantation on Tafahi, referred to as the "volcano" island locally. They were also more than willing to arrange horseback riding, cycling, provide transportation to any of the other villages, acquire any fruit or vegetables we needed and take us on a boat trip to the "volcano" island to see the plantations and visit the village there.
Although we had decided to explore the island on foot, given how small it was, we had numerous folks stop and ask us if we wanted a ride. On one of our outings, we eventually accepted the offer which returned us to the anchorage in the back of a small truck filled with coconuts and the most pleasant, little old man for company. On another outing we met one of the two policemen on the island who was very helpful and informative, as well as ladies weaving all sorts of goods like mats, baskets, handbags and jewellery, all for export to New Zealand and Australia. We met men fishing and men working in their plantations who gave us the most delicious and juiciest watermelon we had ever tasted. We met a lady who picked paw paws for us when we happened to walk past her house. We stopped in at the "bank" to exchange money and found a single bank clerk behind a single desk with only a cash book and cash box to perform the transaction. Our wanderings took us along the south side of the island and one of the most beautiful sandy beaches, where we spoke to an elderly couple enjoying the outdoors as she weaved under a tree and he swam.
It was, however, during our chat to the policeman that we learnt about the human factor associated with the tsunami that devastated parts of American Samoa and Samoa in September 2009. What we hadn’t realised, is that Niuatoputapu had also been affected. This explained all the prefabricated homes that were erected right next to the foundations of a previous home on the same property, which was an odd sight that we first noticed on our arrival. Apparently the destroyed homes were brick and mortar, but were replaced by the cheaper, elevated, prefabricated homes in which the majority of villagers now live. It also explained the memorial to those who had lost their lives, but to hear the policeman give us a sorrowful firsthand account of what happened on that fateful day and learn that he had lost his father, siblings, nieces and nephews, not to mention friends, certainly struck a chord. We also learnt that Cea and Nico had lost their livelihood, when their store was destroyed and, of course, to learn, that although they had insurance, the company didn’t pay out. While the wraith of Mother Nature is one aspect to deal with, unjust corporations is simply shameful under such circumstances.
We witnessed more of the devastation again during our dinghy explorations. First stop was the moto to the west of the anchorage which appeared to be surrounded by a beautiful white sandy beach. Unfortunately, after beaching the dinghy, what we found were actually piles of dead coral, washed up by the tsunami. After visiting the moto, we dinghied back to the main island and walked along the beach bordering the northwest coast. Huge trees lying in the water and the landscape void of the lush vegetation and coconut trees was a constant reminder of the loss.
Picking a highlight of our visit to Niuatoputapu is difficult, but there were two occasions that will stick in our memories. The first was the joy on the faces of two teenage boys. They had asked Roy for a "looking glass" one afternoon on the “town pier”. Since Roy had no idea what they were asking for, they explained by way of various hand gestures and he worked out that they were actually asking for a snorkelling mask. With no promises made, Roy arranged to meet them after school the following day on the “town pier”. However, they didn’t show up. After hanging around for a while, Roy decided to return to Paw Paw. About an hour later, we saw two heads bopping in the water; The boys were attempting to swim out to the yacht, but only made it as far as Bay Dreamer, given the distance we were anchored from shore. After launching the dinghy, Roy headed to Bay Dreamer to meet them. Since the equipment was in need of some cleaning, Roy handed them each a snorkel to clean, providing instructions on how to do so. Once those were clean, he handed them each a mask to clean. They were very confused at this point, but continued cleaning as instructed. The delight on their faces was priceless, after Roy asked them who had the bigger feet before handing over the fins, when it suddenly dawned on them that what they were cleaning was theirs to keep, a full snorkelling set each.
The second was an evening of hospitality and sharing aboard Paw Paw with Cea, Nico, their daughter and friends, after arrangements were made for Elaine to demonstrate to the ladies, and those gents who were interested, how to bake Irish soda bread, since this can be performed on an open fire and was ideal for the living conditions on Niuatoputapu. We decided to combine it with a light meal, accompanied by the freshly baked soda bread. It was indeed another wonderful evening to remember knowing that the inevitably goodbyes were upon us! If, in years to come, however, soda bread is a staple diet of Niuatoputapu, it’ll have to be attributed to Elaine!
Having watched the actual weather for a number of days and compared this to the forecasts issued, the weather window we needed to head to Vava’u had arrived. It struck us though, while clearing out, that this was the first island where we had so many locals to say our goodbyes to; people who showed us nothing by kindness and invited us into their hearts and homes to share a meal or just have a chat; people who were happy to share what little they had. And, so, on our last night on this tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, under a spectacular starry night, eating an Indian curry, drinking a South African wine and listening to Irish songs like "Ireland's Shore” and "Galway Girl" ring out across the anchorage, we couldn’t help but have a feeling of surrealism and think about family who were so far away. Maybe it was the sense of family which was so paramount in Samoa and again in Niuatoputapu, that brought these thoughts to mind. Alternatively, it could simply have been the acknowledgement that this was the price to pay for our contrary and nomadic lifestyle that we have chosen to lead, albeit an enriching one. Regardless, it is fair to say, while we left our hearts in Samoa, we definitely left something of ourselves behind in Niuatoputapu as well.
Fortunately, prior to leaving Niuatoputapu, Roy had ruled out a problem with the water pump on our port side engine and found the culprit causing the blockage; a baby octopus that had decided to make a home in the cooling water intake and received a bigger adventure than it could've imagined. We hope it enjoys its new home! That meant we had both engines for the passage to Vava’u, which we certainly needed. While it is a momentous occasion for us to agree on anything, we can both categorically state that both our passages to the Vava’u Group were the worst we have ever had to undertake on Paw Paw.
We knew the second attempt would be difficult, based on the fact that we had to turn around the first time we had tried it, but, on hindsight, we should have just soldiered on the first time, because we ended up spending 24 hours, with Bay Dreamer for company on the high seas, bouncing around and slamming into waves anyway. On paper this looked like the perfect sail. We didn’t deviate from our rhumb line by more than 0.5NM at any time, but the choice to deviate in order for a more comfortable ride was unavailable, as there were numerous shallow areas that one had to navigate between.
With a 3rd reef in the mainsail for the first time ever due to the very high winds not forecasted, seas spraying over the bow, up the coach roof, up the sides, over the stern and Roy feeling "green" for the first time ever, even including all his expeditions in the Southern Oceans to Gough Island, Tristan da Cuna and Montevideo, we were delighted to spot "land ahoy" and extremely grateful that we both had managed to keep all our meals down!
After briefly seeing whales as we sailed away from Niuatoputapu on 26th August 2016, we were delighted to be greeted by whales again as we arrived in the Vava'u Group on the morning of 27th August 2016. Only this time they were breeching, which was just spectacular and a lovely ending to a terrible passage.
All in all, we had a great welcome to the Vava'u Group and enjoyed the unexpected pleasure of seeing so many of our friends. We had no sooner got settled on a mooring ball when we saw a man approaching us in a dinghy. At first we thought it was someone coming over to tell us we couldn't use the mooring ball, but then we saw a huge smile. It turned out to be Campbell from Annecam, whom we hadn’t seen since spending Christmas anchored next to him and his wife, Annette, in Bequia, Caribbean. What are the odds of that? Just incredulous!
Nina was there too. We hadn’t seen them since Bora Bora, but hadn’t expected to see them in Tonga, as they were supposed to be in Fiji. We were, however, able to enjoy an evening of laughs and giggles while playing our long overdue game of Mexican Train Dominoes with them, postponed since Tahaa. We also got to reminisce with Bay Dreamer on our dreadful passage, as well as see Kiwi Beanz (Sara and Gavin), whom we hadn’t seen since Boro Boro either and Cetacea (Gail and Tony), whom we hadn’t seen since Samoa. It was a wonderful beginning to set the tone for our stay in the Vava’u Group.
Our first evening, we watched Mercury eclipse Jupiter while enjoying our "Fish and Chips" dinner Samoan style; crumbed yellowfin tuna and breadfruit chips, accompanied by the delightful sounds of the crickets and birds ashore; Something we hadn't heard since leaving Arizona.
On our second day, we headed ashore for a tour around the main settlement of Neiafu, complements of Nina, first working our way towards the Customs Office to drop off our Inter-Island documentation from Niuatoputapu and then stopping off at Tropicana's for a morning coffee, followed by lunch at the Mango Café.
The Vava'u Group, in particular Neiafu, was nothing like any other destination we had seen, either in the South Pacific or in the Caribbean. It was a strange little place to say the least. It was definitely rustic and emphasised the fact that the Kingdom of Tonga was a lot poorer than its neighbouring countries, but it had everything we needed as far as services go.
Armed with a laundry list of errands, we were able to visit the Fresh Produce Market to stock up on some fresh veggies, the grocery store for fresh bread, visit "Trouble in Paradise" to get a spanner ground down so that it fitted our watermaker which needed some maintenance, visit a book store to pick up the latest cruising guide, stop in at the pharmacy to pick up some sterilisation tablets for our water; just as a precaution to be sure, to be sure; enquire about "Seams To Me" where we got the dinghy chaps overhauled, "Tropical Tease" to select a design for our new Paw Paw t-shirts and visit the hairdresser, Fatima, who was able to wash, cut and blow-dry Elaine’s hair straight away. Who would have thought one could get such a variety of services in such a tiny town and Neiafu definitely gets the prize for the coolest names for its businesses! Trying to look glamorous on a yacht didn’t last long though as the heavens literally opened the minute Elaine stepped out of the salon!
Sailing through the South Pacific, we found a shortage of the strangest food items and Vava’u was no exception; A shortage of eggs prevailed, just as it had in Boro Boro. This meant an early rise to get to the Fresh Produce Market to collect the eggs that one pre-ordered from the “egg lady”. We’d also hoped to acquire a lettuce, but no luck on that one!
While the temperatures dropped significantly for the duration of our stay in the Vava’u Group, resulting in numerous “popcorn and movie nights” aboard, there was plenty to occupy us otherwise. Morning cappuccinos were enjoyed at "Bella Vista", mostly to warm up. Quiz Nights were enjoyed at the "Bounty Bar". We treated ourselves to lunches at the Mango Café and a few happy hours, followed by very tasty dinners, prepared by the Swiss Chef / Owner, at the "Dancing Rooster". An unexpected evening of fun was enjoyed with Nina at the Mango Café, where the entertainment was provided by the brass band from one of the local schools. The music was fabulous and the children were so enthusiastic, not to mention very talented. We even got to enjoy a dance or two! Other festivities at the Mango Café were associated with a Fishing Contest, which we later discovered, was attended by fishermen who came from far and wide to participate, including the fishing vessel, Yellowfin, which we'd first seen in Samoa. Our “rugby night” at the Aquarium Café, outnumbered by New Zealanders and Australians, didn't deter us from supporting the Springboks, although our commiserations had to go out to the Springbok Rugby Team for losing yet another match! Another activity included a lovely walk over the causeway to Pangaimotu Island to enjoy a Sunday Brunch at Vava'u Villa.
We did, however, also take the time to leave the “cruisers social scene in Neiafu” behind and head out of town to get a better glimpse into the local life. We combined our walk with a hike up Mt Talau on one of the western peninsulas of Uta Vava'u Island.
While it was lovely to get the exercise and enjoy the beautiful views over the Vava'u Group, it was definitely an eye-opener to see the level of poverty, as well as the amount of garbage strewn around. Although Niuatoputapu was poor, it was neat and tidy for the most part and the locals were far friendlier and engaging. We actually experienced the exact opposite in the Vava’u Group, with our greetings being point-blank ignored the majority of the time.
Our theory on this, we believe, relates to “expat and cruiser fatigue”. These islands have been overwhelmed, and we would go so far as to say, overrun by expat from Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada and China, owning and running all the businesses, while the locals still try to continue their traditional lifestyle of subsistence living. They seem lost between trying to hold on to their culture, while being dragged into a more western one; A great similarity with Africa unfortunately!
We also took advantage of a break in the miserable weather to sail around the Vava’u Group, where our first stop was the beautiful anchorage between Pangaimotu and Tapana Islands and, where a short dinghy ride, allowed us to peruse the works of a local artist at the "Ark Gallery", a little floating art gallery in the anchorage.
Of course, the main reason people visit the Kingdom of Tonga, in particular the Vava’u Group, is, not only to see the humpback whales during their breeding season, but to swim with them.
We were fortunate enough to see these magnificent creatures on five separate occasions while out and about on Paw Paw and we didn’t have to pay the exorbitant price for the luxury. Also, since four out of the five times that we'd seen the whales, we also saw tour boats pursuing them. In fact, on one of the occasion, three different tour boats had cornered a pod of whales with their only escape route being directly towards Paw Paw. Needless to say, a quick tack was in order and, for our troubles, we received a beautiful display. Although we are no experts on the matter, we couldn’t help but wonder whether or not this was another example of an industry exploiting Planet Earth for financial gain. In any event, we decided not to contribute to the possibility and, therefore, did not do a Whale Swim.
Instead, we were content to savour the good fortune of spotting humpback whales on our own, where, on two occasions the whales were less than 50m from Paw Paw. On another occasion we saw a fabulous sight of a pod of whales breeching so many times we lost count. It was simply wonderful to be so close to these enormous creatures, watching them breech and swim around us. We were in awe when we saw one that was so huge, it was bigger than Paw Paw. Just Spectacular!
It is hard to compete with seeing sea life in their natural habitat, but a definite highlight of our entire South Pacific experience, however, will be the dinner we enjoyed at La Paella Restaurant with Nina. Words escape us on how to describe the experience.
Besides the unusual, but absolutely delicious tapas as well as the paella, all cooked on an open fire, the setting, which resembled more of a tree-house, with its rustic homemade furniture overlooking the bay and the goat that wondered around, was not surpassed by the entertainment show provided.
As Roy put it, the wife/owner, who was so serious, looked more like something out of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, the husband/owner, like something out of a cave and the stage beyond words, with its gold sequenced curtain as a backdrop, to bits of wood that served as microphone stands and seats. With both owners and the chef on stage singing a variety of very out of tune Spanish songs and the goat wondering around, apparently learning to sing, as the previous “singing goat” had died off a few weeks earlier, we were transported into another world and had the time of our lives. A truly memorable night!
Our “drive-by” of the Vava’u Group included the anchorages off Vaka'eitu Island, Lape Island, Nuapapu Islands and Kapa Island, but, for a variety of reasons, we ended up back on a mooring ball in Neiafu, where we awaited our weather window to sail to Fiji.
While we didn’t particularly feel welcomed by the locals in the Vava’u Group, we did get some exposure to their culture. For instance, on a Sunday, similar to Samoa, the custom in Tonga is also “church and family”. The difference, however, is that in Tonga, even visitors are not only dissuaded, but forced to comply i.e. no work of any kind. Not even on the privacy of your own yacht.
A boat tour to a Tongan Feast in Utulei Village on Pangaimotu Island provided us with a great insight into some of the other aspects of the Tongan culture. This included a celebratory, ”Kava” ceremony, which was less formal that the “Ava” ceremony we experienced in Samoa.
Prior to the ceremony we enjoyed the music and dancing performed by the villagers. In particular, the “Tau'olunga”, which is a solo dance where an individual performer, glistening with coconut oil, illustrates the song lyrics with her motions. Appreciation for the skilled dancing is shown by sticking “Pa'anga” (Tongan dollar) bills on the oiled skin of the dancer, while the dance is being performed. Sometimes another individual will jump up and accompany the dancer, drawing attention to the dancer and showing appreciation for her expertise. Tongan dancing is a combination of sensitive hand motions with graceful choreography. What made this occasion so special is that most of the dancing was performed by children, ages four and seven, with toddlers joining in whenever they wanted to.
As for the feast itself, it was more like a banquet, with most of the food prepared using a traditional underground oven called an “Umu”, similar to those found in French Polynesia. The feast included Roasted Piglet on a split, “Ota Ika” (Raw fish) in Coconut Cream and Spices, Stuffed Clams, Steamed Red Snapper, Octopus, “Mei” (Breadfruit) Chips, Plantain Chips, Curry and Rice, “Ufi” (Yam), “Talo” (Known as “Taro” in French Polynesia and Samoa), “Manioke” (Known as “Cassava” in Samoa), Barbecued Chicken, various Salads and Carrot Cake for dessert. We definitely didn't leave hungry and it was delicious.
After we were dropped back at the dock, we joined the crowds at the Bounty Bar for the “Faka Leite” show. In Polynesia, including French Polynesia, there is a custom that the youngest child, regardless of gender, is responsible for looking after the parents in their old age. If the youngest happens to be a boy, then he is raised completely as a girl to ensure the child grows up to have all the care-giving qualities necessary for the role. As such, there is an officially recognised third gender that represents this sector of the population and is accepted as the norm in society.
The “Faka Leite” show is performed by these "girls" and was very entertaining indeed. Roy has yet to get over the psychological trauma of being kissed on the cheek by one of them, while Steve hid behind Lynda and Peter pretended to be looking the other way so as not to be approached. It was a laugh just watching the reaction of the men in the audience.
With that, our time in Tonga came to a close and, with our final preparations for our passage to Fiji completed, including sending off the myriad of forms required as part of the Advanced Arrival Notice procedure for Fiji, we cleared out and headed to Port Maurelle on Kapa Island, where we spent the night prior to our departure on 17th September 2016. We topped off our time in Tonga with an impromptu "bon voyage" party together with Nina on Raya (Ros and Rick), since Raya was heading south while the rest of us were heading west.
Prior to our departure though, and as the afternoon progressed, more and more yachts arrived in the Port Maurelle anchorage, all with the same idea as ourselves; early morning departure for Fiji, having waited weeks for a suitable weather window. We had a convoy!
We do believe, however, that many yachts, like ourselves, had decided to leave Tonga, sooner rather than later, since the fuel situation had deteriorated. In essence, Tonga had gone "green" inadvertently with the supplies of petrol and diesel running completely dry.
We had heard of the petrol crisis while still in Samoa, but when Roy tried to fill our jerry cans the week before our departure to top up our diesel tanks and hit a “brick wall” with the attendant, following grumblings from the locals, since the attendant was filling our cans, we started to suspect a larger issue. It wasn't until Nina was told they couldn't have the diesel they had ordered, which resulted in a mad scramble to get them what they needed via jerry cans that we knew things were definitely heading in the wrong direction. We were, therefore, not surprised at all to hear the announcement on the cruisers net the morning of our departure that there was no more diesel and no sign of a supply ship arriving any time soon.
This not only affected all the yachts arriving from French Polynesia and the Cook Islands, as yachts generally congregate in Tonga for the passage south to New Zealand or to make the journey to Fiji before heading to New Zealand and Australia, but all the locals and their businesses. This was not the best note on which to say our goodbyes to the Kingdom of Tonga, but we were relieved to be underway with everything we needed. We did, however, give the Mango Café a gift as a thank you for the Tongan hospitality; A flag from one small Kingdom to another, Swaziland to Tonga, which now flies proudly with the other flags from around the world on the waterfront. Although these two small Kingdoms are miles apart, they were similar in so many ways!