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Day 879 - Langito'o Is., Tonga (S 18° 43 W 174° 05)
11:16hrs - October 27th 2009
Summer Time

Dream Time is ready for her next passage, the 1,200 nautical miles that will carry us out of the warm tropical South Pacific waters we have become so familiar and comfortable with, and down to New Zealand, latitude 36° south, where winter gales are still blowing across the islands in regular 6 day intervals.

To prepare Dream Time for what we suspect will be a lumpy journey, we've replaced our hatch gaskets, rebedded some deck hardware, secured storage lids, fitted our tri-sail and dusted off our sea anchor. Yes, Dream Time is ready. Her crew, however, not so much. You see with the cruising guide books bleakly predicting mariners should, "expect at least one gale on this passage", and with our bodies acclimatized to steady trade winds and
an average sunny temperature of 80 degrees, we're a little less than enthusiastic about leaving Tonga. Reinforcing this belief, a fleet of cruisers who left just a few weeks ago were caught midway to New Zealand in near gale conditions and freezing rain - FREEZING RAIN! We don't like rain, let alone the variety that gets so cold it freezes and hits you at 40 knots. But alas, our options are rather limited - stay in Tonga for cyclone season which, by-the-way, begins next week, or suck it up, dig out our oilies and head south.

But before arriving in NZ, we plan to make a pit stop at North Minerva reef - a mere speck on the charts and an anchorage that doesn't even register on radar. We won't make landfall there, because, well, there isn't any. North Minerva is just a submerged ring of coral, a tiny pinnacle of reef in a vast ocean. A little santuary allowing us to anchor in the middle of the open Pacific whilst waiting for the ideal (and hopefully warm) weather window so we can sail the final 800 nautical miles of our passage in relative comfort.

But spring has sprung in New Zealand, so on the bright side by the time we do get down to Auckland, summer should be in full bloom. So head south we shall and explore the land of glaciers, kiwis, rain forests, 1,000 year of kauri trees, bubbling volcanic mud pools, and sheep, lots and lots of sheep.


THANK YOU!
We'd like to thank everyone who has purchased their Dream Time 'World Tour' CREW t-shirt - welcome aboard!

 


 


 
 
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Day 875 - Langito'o Is., Tonga (S 18° 43 W 174° 05)
19:02hrs - October 23rd 2009
Biosecurity = Bug Free

We first met the Pacific Ocean in the last week of February via the Panama Canal, and now 8 months later in the last week of October we are getting ready to set sail for the last 1,200 miles from Tonga to New Zealand, marking the completion of our first 8,223 mile Pacific crossing.  Round of applause please and Ta da!! But it also marks the end of our carefree Pacific island hopping and the beginning of that back to civilization feeling.  Even the weather has started to turn a little cooler and it feels a bit like we are coming to the end of a blissful summer holiday.

New Zealand will be quite different from most of the other countries we have visited in the last 2 years, it has extensive and sophisticated entry formalities ready for us when we arrive including a ‘Biosecurity’ department which exists to prevent “unwanted pests, diseases and other organisms” from gaining entry into New Zealand via visiting yachts.  For Dream Time this means no critters on the outside of the boat, i.e. a squeaky clean hull, and no critters inside the boat, i.e. no potential bug hiding places, in other words no food of any kind may, be brought into NZ because it could be harboring undetectable (or sometimes detectable, yikes) critters just itching to invade and multiply.  So bottom line, food wise, we have to use it or loose it, which means eating all my carefully collected boat provisions between now and November 15th when we plan to arrive in NZ, or risk having it taken away and destroyed! Frustrating, as we have way more food on the boat than we can possibly eat, (yes I am an awesome provisioner!) but very cool when we have been able to donate everything we can’t use to people on the tiny Tongan islands along the way before we leave.

New Zealand is gong to be the first English speaking westernized country we have been to since leaving the United States in 2007, yippee! and we have all kinds of fun plans for our time there including Christmas and New Year in Auckland, exploring all over the north and south islands by car, boat projects and eating altogether too much ice-cream. We have even scheduled a trip back to the UK and the States to catch up with family and friends.  We will be spending the cyclone season there so we have a relaxing 5 months to play with, but with everything we have to do, I’m pretty sure it's going to fly by!



 
 

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Day 868 - Hunga, Tonga (S 18° 41 W 174° 07)
09:53hrs - October 16th 2009
BYOK Party

Ordinarily it would be considered rude to hurl tableware at strangers, but after attending my first kava drinking ceremony yesterday and being instructed to fling my coconut cup 10 feet across the room for a refill, it seems that it's not only accepted, but enthusiastically encouraged.

Kava ceremonies are a Tongan tradition where men gather to drink the mildly intoxicating root, that when mixed with water, strained through cloth and drunk in large quantities, results in lively discussions, debates, singing, bouts of laughter and finally, in the early morning hours, a deep stupor. So in our search for an authentic kava ceremony experience we sailed Dream Time to Hunga, a tiny village that's home to about 350 Tongans who still choose to live 'Fakatonga' - the Tongan way, and set out to seek an invitation.

Before leaving Neiafu we bought two bags of kava powder at the local market with a vague plan to present the gift to the village chief, and perhaps in exchange be invited to have a few cups with the locals. So yesterday, with our kava offering packaged in a fancy looking ceremonial New York cigar box, Nick and I set off to implement our plan.

With a population of only 350 and just a single dirt street it didn't take us very long to find the village officer, our timing couldn't have been better - a kava ceremony was already underway and after returning the kava to us (but keeping the cigar box for himself) Nuapu, the Hunga village officer, suggested we present our gift at the ceremony instead.

We found the kava hut, a rusty corrugated tin shed, on the other side of town and meekly introduced ourselves to the circle of ten men sitting quietly on the floor inside. An honored space was cleared for us opposite the kava server who met us with a steady and intense gaze, seemingly sizing-up the two 'palangi' (foreigners) who had interrupted the ceremony, and perhaps deciding whether or not we were worthy of being served. After an awkward silence we presented our kava powder, much to the groups approval, and watched as it was added to water and strained through what looked like a t-shirt into an old five gallon plastic paint bucket. Two generous servings of muddy water were scooped from the ceremonial kava bowl into coconut cups and passed carefully around the group until they reached us. We raised our cups to the group, who were giving us their full attention, and drained the contents in one long chug, believing that to sip the contents would be met with overwhelming disapproval.

After an hour, and perhaps six or ten cups of kava later (it's hard to keep track of these details) the men started to sing a deep, emotional chant that filled the tiny tin shed. Perhaps it was the gallons of kava swishing around in my system, or just the simple beauty of the moment, but it was an experience I will never forget.



   
 

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Day 865 - Maninita, Tonga (S 18° 51 W 173° 59)
17:39hrs - October 13th 2009
Respect - Tongan Style

Meeting Neville and Catherine a year and a half ago in Belize, and then transiting the Panama Canal together in February, I now find myself with my wife and friends exploring the beautiful Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific.

Yesterday, after a magical day of snorkeling off Euakafa Island, where we experienced the harmonious sounds of humpback whales singing in the background, we set sail to Maninita. This small uninhabited island is the most south easterly island in the Vava’u Group. After a relaxing 3hr sail we prepared ourselves to enter and anchor in the small lagoon on the leeward side.  According to the guide books, “This is a day anchorage and only those with local knowledge or experienced tropical sailing should attempt.”  After navigating a narrow meandering channel in the reef surrounding the island, we found ourselves in a beautiful turquoise colored lagoon surrounded by corals only a few feet from the surface.  With only one boat length to spare between us and the reef, we set two anchors to secure our purchase on the white sandy bottom.

Going ashore, we strolled along the white coral sand beach that encircles the island finding exotic cowry shells that were long ago used as a form of currency. Then, discovering a small path which led us in to the center of the island, we found ourselves surrounded by gigantic trees, some 6ft thick at the base and 12+ft in circumference.  It was an inviting enchanted forest feel, with beams of light shooting down through the leafy canopy along with the occasional sea bird.

Later, at 9pm, after a delightful dinner prepared by Catherine, we watched a small local wooden fishing boat make its way through the narrow coral channel.  Then, anchoring only 65ft away, someone immediately plunged overboard with snorkel gear and swam toward us. Coming along side and pointing to his missing snorkel mouthpiece, the man said his name was William and kindly asked if we could help. Neville quickly retrieved his spare snorkel and installed the mouthpiece on the Tongan fisherman’s gear. It was a perfect fit.  Inquisitive, we asked what they were doing. William replied, "We are diving for Sea Cucumbers to sell to the Chinese, do you like fish?" He quickly disappeared into the night waters
as we watched the dancing beams of his dive light illuminate his path. Retiring for the night, I closed my eyes to the gentle rolling of the ocean waves and fell fast asleep; only to be awakened at 2am by someone knocking on the hull. Hearing a muted voice, I exited the cabin to peer out on deck. It was William. Treading water, he handed up a 2ft long fish and a large lobster half the length of my arm. Between waves, he said, “Thank you very much for helping me this evening, we are headed
home now.” 

Tonight we look forward to a Pacific seafood feast, the result of mutual respect & gratitude between people from different countries and cultures.

Thank you William!


 

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Day 860 - Avalau, Tonga (S 18° 44 W 174° 04)
12:35hrs - October 8th 2009
Mariner's Cave

With a submerged entrance hidden under eight feet of water, tunneling through a rather nondescript stretch of limestone cliff on Nuapapu's northwestern shoreline, and with guidebook directions as vague as, "look for a patch of white leaching" (white leaching runs along the entire length of cliff) and, "the entrance can be found directly under a distinct coconut tree" (the entire ridge is lined with coconut trees - and I'm still not entirely sure was a 'distinct' coconut tree looks like), finding Tonga's famous Mariner's Cave was a little harder than we had anticipated.

After three separate dives, searching every nook and cranny along the cliff face, diving blindly into tight crevices and chasms, with surge threatening to suck us in to black holes, and with exploding plumes of compressed air whooshing out of the hidden caves around us, we finally found the right entrance. Of course, the dive boat that pulled up to the cliff face a few hundred feet from our position, which dropped
a group of tourists right over the entrance of the cave, certainly aided us in our search, but find it we eventually did.

After the rabble of tourists left, we motored Dream Time to a hundred feet from the cliff and with our friends, Nick and Rachel, who have flown over from the States to cruise with us for a few weeks, we dove over the railing, leaving Catherine on Dream Time, circling outside the entrance in deeper water.

Compared to the narrow underwater chasms we had mistaken for the entrance earlier in the day, entering the wide opening to Mariner's Cave required only a short dive, a few strokes and a couple of kicks to swim under the cliff before popping up to the surface inside the 50 foot concealed domed cavern. The afternoon sun refracted in through the entrance, illuminating the cave with soft blue light making it possible to see the limestone walls, ceiling and even the shelf where, as Tongan legend has it, a young chief who feared for his lover's life, hid her for two weeks before they eloped to Fiji together.

One of the unique features of Mariner's Cave is the mysterious mist which forms inside the cave with each incoming swell. As the water level rises, compressing the air inside, the entire cavern fills with fog, almost as though your goggles had suddenly steam up, but just as quickly, as the surge drains, the fog disappears, clearing the cave and 'popping' your ears with the drop in air pressure.

For ten minutes we bobbed around inside the cave, suspended in crystal clear water, letting the surge swell up under us, feeling the pressure change and watching the fog fill then drain from the air. The cave felt alive. Each swell was another deep breath being drawn in through its wide gaping mouth. The walls seemed to expand and contract as the pressure from each misty breath filled then drained from its chest. It was eerily tranquil.

We're now planning our next expedition, to Swallow's Cave, which unlike Mariner's has an entrance above the waterline large enough to drive a dinghy right in to, so it should be just a little easier to find.

 

Coordinates to the Mariner's Cave entrance:
18° 41.44' South
174° 04.52'
West


 

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Day 857 - Neiafu, Tonga (S 18° 39 W 173° 58)
16:52hrs - October 5th 2009
Tonga - Where Time Begins

It's been six days since our last posting, well, actually five days when you consider that we missed October 1st. Just a few days ago we were only six hours behind New York, but after 'almost' crossing the international dateline we're now magically a whole day ahead. The Kingdom of Tonga sits not only on the edge of a massive tectonic plate, the reason behind all the recent earthquake activity in the area, but Tonga is also the first country to welcome in each new day even though technically the islands are east of the international date line. It seems the islands would rather share their time with New Zealand and Fiji than their neighbors to the east. What's a little peculiar is because the date line wiggles around a little, Samoa, directly to the north of Tonga, is actually a full day behind us.

We arrived in Tonga Friday at 12:30, cleared-in and moored in Refuge Bay off Neiafu, surrounded by practically every cruiser we've met since we left Colombia almost a year ago. It's a cruisers reunion and the VHF radio is alive, broadcasting a constant never ending stream of boat names hailing boat names. Normally, after calling friends or listening to the morning net, we'd shut the radio off for a little peace and quiet, but after missing the tsunami warning in Niue we've decided to leave it on just in case any important messages are announced. So far, besides the five aftershocks that were broadcast here Friday, one a 6.3, thankfully with no resulting tsunami, the radio hails and announcements have all been of a social nature.

We've spent the last few days catching-up with old friends, stocking up on supplies and wondering around Neiafu, the largest town in the Vava'u Group. Pigs happily wander the streets here and only really need worry when there is a Tongan feast, in which case they should run or hide. The Utukalongalu market is a spectacular, colorful oasis of fresh, locally-grown fruit and vegetables where no matter what you buy, everything seems to cost around 3 pa'anga (or about $1.50). Apparently Tonga's largest export is pumpkins which are shipped to Japan and they have the best coffee here which even rivals Colombian's Juan Valdez.

Tomorrow, with our friends Nick and Rachel who have flown in from America to cruise with us for a few weeks, we'll head off to explore the 50 or so islands that make up the Vava'u Group. We plan to snorkel with the whales, free dive into Mariner's Cave, drive our dinghy right in to Swallows Cave, party at a Tongan feast and perhaps even share a little Kava with the locals.