Kingdom Of Tonga – Part 1

Alex Rust

08 August 2010 | Vavau Islands

We had to sail into the Vavau group of islands of the kingdom of Tonga from the east, instead of from the west which is the every other boat goes, due to us having no engine and there now being a strong south east wind. The reason no other boat comes in this way is due to the numerous coral heads and low lying islands that lay in the path the groups main anchorage. I climbed the mast for for better visibility and yelled what I saw down to Joe on the bow who would then relay with his hands to Jim who was at the helm steering the boat. Twice we nearly smashed into reef and having to turn down wind and jibing away within seconds of forcing ‘Bubbles’ to make her last bubbles. After tacking through several more islands and reef we were running out of light and had to find one of the smaller anchorages without having cleared customs and immigration (Some countries give $10,000 fines our even take your boat and deport you if you come in with clearing first with the proper authorities). We sailed behind an island where we saw three other boats and as we entered the lee of land the wind died causing us to lose steerage a drift slowly towards the rocks. We threw the dingy off and mounted the motor. Joe got on the radio and called in help from the germans anchored nearby. With their help we were able to bring bubbles into shallow enough water to anchor and by darkness we were having a beer with our new german friends.

The next morning we got the staysail up and practiced tacking to prepare for the zig zag tacking we would have to do to get through the narrow pass into the main harbor with no engine. Sure we could have called in help to tow us in but we are sailors now and felt we had to try. Sure enough with the wind gods on our side and after a couple dozen tacks taking about 5 times longer than what it should take a boat with a properly functioning engine to get in, we made it. Sailors we are! I went ahead in the dingy to pick out a mooring ball and Jim and Joe sailed up beautifully dropping the mainsail in perfect time for the Bubbles to stop on the ball so I could tie her up. There were thousands of basketball size jellyfish in the water keeping me from jumping in to the crystal clear water. We later found out they were harmless but I still found it nerve-wrecking to swim amongst the very thing that had stung me so many painful times before.

Immediately after entering tying up we were approached by other sailing friends that saw us come in. They were surprised to see Bubbles and all of us on board. They caught word of the capsized boat during the storm and knew we were on our way to Tonga from Nui and had heard parts of the conversation we had with Kiwi Air Rescue and thought it was us who had lost the boat. Turns out the capsized boat saw winds go from 18 knots to over 60 in a matter of seconds (very similar to what we saw on Bubbles) but still had too much sail up and were flipped immediately. They were picked up by a cargo ship heading to Nui and were delivered there with potatoes, onions and other mail.

First things first in Tonga was to go and check in. After spending half a day with the ministers of agriculture, health, customs, immigration and the harboar master (and also paying each his respective monies for the ‘king’) we were official and could go about our own business. Getting the engine going was a priority and after conversation relaying the symptons with several other boaters and mechanics it was still a mystery with the possibility of an entire engine needing replaced. We knew what we had to do next and after taking the injectors off each cylinder head we cranked her over with a pipe wrench. Water came gushing out each cylinder, not good! After a taste test we knew it was seawater but how did it get there? After more insight from other boaters we came to the conclusion that our ant-siphon was too long and when our bilge filled up the water it caused it to also back up into the cylinders. After another day of cleaning out the heads and changing all the fluids she was up and running once again.

That night we celebrated at the Giggling Whale where a local string band was playing. We were invited to the stage for a cava ceremony (cava is a root they grind up and drink with water, considered by some to be a mild cocaine locals here drink it everyday) with the band and next thing you know we were surrounded by native dancers half of which were carrying fire. They played traditional music through the night and welcomed us over and over again to ‘the friendly islands.’ Later we ended up at tonga bobs for the fakaleiti show that was set up by a group of british female medical students to raise money for an EKG machine that the island was in bad need of. Even later we decided to fill the dingy and give full on bubbles tours to the locals complete with flare gun demonstrations. At one point there were 17 Tongan and Samoans on the boat. Galapagos still holds the record.

The next day it was time to get out and explore. Joe, Jim and I split up in our different ways with our own missions to accomplish that morning so we could set sail and with two hours we were all back. Jim had bags of fruit and food, I had boat parts, and Joe came back with three live chickens. We released them to tie their feet down somewhere on the boat but one got away and Jim had to jump in the water and chase it down in the ocean. Whoever says chickens cant swim hasn’t seen the Tongan breed and Jim had to finally get in the dingy to catch it. Jim decided we should name our new chickens and his got appropriately named ‘Micheal Phelps’. With much clucking now going on on Bubbles we raised sail and headed for the out islands…

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