We spent our last two nights in Tonga’s Ha’apai Island group at an anchorage off the most northern island of Ha’ano positioning us for a easy, one-day trip back to the Vava’u island group where we’d meet friends from our home town of McCall, Idaho who were flying in to do a week-long Moorings charter. Our stay at Ha’ano was made extra special when we were joined by Kiwi friends Chris and Irene from the yacht “Cuttyhunk” who were heading toward Fiji and on to New Zealand where they’d complete an amazing voyage that began several years ago when they sailed their speedy Farr 44 all of the way to Barcelona, Spain to watch the America’s Cup yacht race competition. Those familiar with the challenges of sailing east from New Zealand will appreciate what an accomplishment this is and what fine sailors they are. Having often shared Chris and Irene’s company in larger groups, we were so pleased to have them aboard “Blue Rodeo” for dinner and lively one on one conversation the evening before our departure. While at Ha’ano, we also shared the anchorage with two splendid catamarans, the smaller of which was a 65 foot Lagoon and the larger was an amazing 112 foot Sunreef, one on the largest in the word. It was quite a sight to see! As it approached, Mark studied the nicely proportioned vessel with binoculars, unsure as to its size. As it came closer, he realized that what looked like ants atop the catamaran’s fly bridge were really full grown adults standing upright.
After raising anchor on the morning of our departure and motor sailing out of the lee of the island, we were just about to shut down our engine when Anne noticed water on the galley floor near the engine enclosure. Since water inside a boat is never a good thing, Mark responded quickly searching to identify the source. It turned out to be a leaking shaft seal in the motor’s sea water cooling pump that was dripping badly enough to quickly fill the shallow bilge near the galley and slosh water onto the floor boards. Shutting down the engine and closing the thru-hull intake valve quickly solved the water ingress problem and soon we had dried the affected area and were happily sailing along. This proved to be another example of how we are often glad that we are a sail boat and not completely reliant on motorized propulsion.
With favorable winds, we were able to sail the 70 miles north to Neiafu in just over 8 hours, arriving in the early afternoon. We were even able to sail to within a few hundred yards of a vacant mooring ball and only need to run our engine for a few short minutes while we approached and tied to it. We breathed a sigh of relief knowing that we would now have time to remove, disassemble and rebuild the leaking pump at our convenience and not while rolling and pitching at sea. Over the next few days, Mark would sort through our numerous bins of spare parts, fortunately finding what he needed and successfully rebuild the pump. We guess that this is just another example of cruising really being just doing boat repairs in exotic parts of the world.
Since we still had a few days remaining before our friend’s arrival, we headed away from town and back out into the islands, anxious to explore places we had missed during our first visit to Vava’u. Several days were spent with good friends,Pat and John from “The Rose”, snorkeling, beach combing and hiking ashore. When we finally returned to Neiafu, we were armed with even more “local knowledge” to aid us in helping our friends make to most of their charter week.
Friends Mike and and Beverly, who we boated extensively with in British Columbia, and Dave and Mimi, all from McCall, Idaho arrived in Neiafu ahead of schedule catching us off guard at the Aquarium restaurant cruiser hang-out. They were bubbling with excitement about arriving in the tropical surroundings and eagerly shared the news that they’d had the pleasure to fly the last leg of their trip from Nuku’alofa to Neiafu in a 40s vintage DC-3 still operated by the local airline. Their trip was off to a good start.
Over the next several hours the girls, guided by Anne, visited the town’s markets stocking up on provisions for the week and Mike and Dave attended a chart briefing at The Mooring’s office and were given a thorough check-out on the 40’ Beneteau sloop that they’d be using for the week. Soon it was time to head out and we untied our mooring line, raised our sails and proceeded slowly out of the harbor followed by our friends aboard their boat.
The next week was spent enjoying lots of laughter, good food and great friendships while sampling some of Vavau’s most scenic spots. With chilly fall weather already enveloping the Idaho mountains, our friends were especially fortunate have nearly perfect, tropical weather for their Tongan vacation, free of the squalls and rain showers that we had been experiencing over recent weeks. The seven days of snorkeling, beach exploring and pleasant sailing passed too quickly for our group and, before we knew it, it was time for Mike, Beverly, Dave and Mimi to bid us farewell and start the long, ordeal of airline travel back to the States. Seeing them leave was made a bit easier by knowing that we’d be seeing them again in a few short months when, after sailing “Blue Rodeo” to New Zealand, we’d be returning home for a visit. This wonderful cruising adventure that we’ve been experiencing is not without some sacrifices. Traveling the world by sail boat provides countless opportunities to make new friendships but, sadly, often places us quite far away from our families and friends in the States. We miss all of them greatly and look forward to seeing everyone when we can.