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kingdom of tonga

Sept 11 - Landfall Tonga

The seas laid down a bit, but winds kept us moving nicely, so we made Neiafu in the Vava'u Group of Tonga early this afternoon. We snaked our way past islands that reminded us of the San Juans, except you had to substitute palm trees for firs and cedars. Dave drove us to the customs dock where Jan leapt into huge sloping rubber bumpers. We tied to bollards sized for freighters. Soon we received the welcoming committee: customs, immigration and the port captain. Tomorrow we meet the health inspector. After the painless check-in we motored through the anchorage, seeing many boats we'd met in Mexico, French Polynesia and the Cooks. Neiafu is a cruiser's hang-out, lovely calm anchorage and lots of good waterfront eateries to meet and catch up with friends.

We snagged a mooring buoy and tossed the dinghy in the water. In town we found an ATM and got local money, then ran into a gaggle of cruisers headed to a bar for dinner and a string instrument jam session. Fun evening. Now we are home, ready for a good night's rest after the rowdy passage. Every one we met is enthusiastic about Tonga, and we look forward to 6 weeks of restful gunkholing in these pretty islands. This is the first moment in a month, since Papeete, that the boat is sitting quietly with no ocean swell to rock us. Bliss.

Tonga beckons, a welcome landfall.

Neiafu anchorage and resident porker.

Sept 12 - Anniversary and Kava

Today was our 38th wedding anniversary, and also the day my brother Brian weds his Karen, halfway around the world in Lugano, Switzerland. We wish we could be with them to celebrate.

We finished our Tonga check-in procedures, paid our fees (this included a bottle of wine for the immigration officer, who gently hinted such a "gift" was appropriate), and set about exploring Neiafu. The town is charming. Piglets run loose in yards and sometimes in the streets. Men and women wear long cotton skirts, with a woven mat wrapped around, secured by several loops of plaited vine. Schoolkids are in uniform, which consists of bright colored skirts, both for boys and girls.

I bought wonderful bread at a bakery, then found pamplemousse at the colorful market. Across the street under a banyan, a bunch of people were singing in harmony. We checked out the local t-shirt shop which custom silkscreens wonderful designs, then took a taxi to the "American store" which sells many familiar products, though stocks are low as the ship has not been in for some months. We had a terrific lunch at Aquarium Cafe. The shore is lined with informal restaurants, catering to the cruisers with handy dinghy docks. This afternoon the weekly sailboat race was held around the bay, and this evening we joined some other cruisers for a kava ceremony at the Bounty Bar. We had read Martin Troost's book "Getting Stoned with Savages", which describes the author's mind-bending experiences with kava. It was fun to try it, though I don't think we had enough to benefit from the full effects.

I told Dave I'm applying for Tongan residency!

Kava root in woven palm frond baskets.

Colorful market is open every day.

Old lady sells me pamplemousse.

Tin Soldier, Marilyn and Glenn, bargain for baskets.

Kava is brewed at Bounty Bar.

Dave samples a bowl.

Sean and Steve jam at the Bounty on open mike night.

The Aquarium, cruiser's hangout, offers moorings, wifi, and great food.

Sept 16 - Neiahu, Tonga

Haven't budged from our mooring since Friday. One boat has been here a month without moving! They claim the seagrass has connected to the bottom in a giant green stalagtite. It is such a relief to just sit. We have a pretty steady rainfall, so the rain catcher is doing it's job, filling our tanks. Between drizzles or downpours we go ashore to shop or meet other cruisers. We are enjoying lots of reunions with boats who had been ahead of us.

Last night we ended up again at the Bounty Bar for music, 3 sailors playing harmonica, saxophone and guitar. Though they'd barely played together before, they were absolutely amazing - jamming away in jazz and blues. We enjoyed catching up with Tom and Dawn on Warm Rain, then ended up at the Aquarium Cafe for ice cream.

We met with Steve and Wendy of Elusive and plan to join them a week from today to swim with whales. Hmmm. Sounds like they drop the swimmers into deep water in front of a pod, and you get to see them up close and personal as they swim through.

Dave took garbage in (3 paangas a bag - about $1.50) and dropped laundry off, meeting lots of acquaintances on the way. There are about 70 boats in the anchorage, most of whom we know. Fun!

Cynthia at Tropical Tease designs our boat logo for a t-shirt order.

Pigs wander freely in Neiafu.

Sunset over beautiful Neiafu anchorage.

We finally get a chance to catch up with good friends Tom and Dawn, Warm Rain.

Sept 21 - Still Neiahu

Lots of fun here, weekly sailboat race, great restaurants, nightly gatherings. Neiahu is a cruiser's mecca. A few boats have left, heading west to Fiji or New Caldonia, but most are loitering here. We compared cinnamon rolls from all 3 bakeries, Crow's Nest has Dave's vote, Lighthouse has mine. Cindy or Tropical Tease designed a boat logo for us, and we picked up our silkscreened t-shirts. They came out great.

In Friday's sailboat race one boat's gibe swiped Glenn of Tin Soldier in the back of the head, with some injury but he is apparently ok. A doctor in the fleet patched him up. Another boater working on his transmission accidentally put it into gear, and, though tied to a mooring buoy, collided with another boat. Another boat, on a mooring, broke free and drifted onto a reef. One cruiser flew home with dengue fever and a resulting infection. And it is raining!!! Every 3rd day or so we seem to have a tropical downpour. I made a paper-mache pig for Maddie's 9th birthday, but it can't set up in the humidity. They held her party anyway, despite the monsoon rain, at a hotel pool.

So all is not perfection in paradise. But the rain is filling the tanks, and we continue to enjoy Neiahu very much. Soon we need to break free and visit the wonderful nearby anchorages. But not quite yet...

Sept 26 - heading out to 11

Ok, we are still in Neiafu. The town is a magnetic anomaly, pulling us in daily to visit the market, or eat delicious meals at the Aquarium or Bounty or Crow's Nest, and visit with cruising friends. Last night Dave had snapper and I had mahi-mahi, both excellent, at the Bounty. With drinks, the bill came to $30 US. Today we hiked up "Mount" Talau, all of 400 feet above sea level to get a little exercise. We noticed a Tongan man lurking in the shadows behind us on the trail. When we confronted him, he asked for money for his electric bill. We gave him the money he needed, and he walked us back toward town, explaining customs and the traditional Tongan dress, and was obviously trying to figure out a way to repay us.

Today Talesin pulled in, Lyn and Larry Pardey's engineless boat. We dinghied by and greeted them. Their Cruising in Serafyn books, written more than 20 years ago, were the single most significant factor in influencing us to go sailing offshore, though we confess their motto ("go simple, go small, go now") got lost along the way when we found that refrigeration and engines and watermakers are pretty nice to have on a cruising boat.

We settled up our moorage fees, and tomorrow will cast off for "Anchorage 11". Yachties use the Moorings Charter map numbering. On the radio we hear, "I'll meet you in 16. Then we plan to go to 7." The anchorages have local names, but somehow the numbers caught on. Anchorage 11 is Tepana where we will attend a traditional Tongan feast on the beach. On Sunday we join 4 other cruising boats on a charter pontoon boat to swim with humpback whales. Dave and I were able to get a full boatload booked, 12 of us, so the price is very reasonable for the 6 hour trip.

On Saturdays the market is busy.

Lyn and Larry Pardey moor Talesin next to us.

Tongan ladies walk to the colonial post office.

On Tongan Ladies Day the women dress up in white and have ice cream.

A cruising boat swallows the anchor.

Neiafu contains a number of ex-cruisers who found their idea of paradise and settled in Tongan. This boat is now permanently moored among trees with attached buildings. The owner runs the Mermaid restaurant/ Neiafu Yacht Club.

Sept 29 - Feast, Whales and Typoon!!!

Yesterday we finally unglued ourselves from the charms of Neiafu and sailed a few hours to Tepana (aka "Anchorage 11" according to the Mooring guide). We anchored and did a little dinghy exploring, and visited the Ark - a floating art gallery, where I bought a tile painted by Sheri, an ex-cruiser who settled here in Tonga.

Soon it was time to go ashore for a traditional Tongan feast. A very large family provided the entertainment, 7 young dancers and a bunch of musicians, drummers, guitar and banjo, with traditional dance and singing. About 60 people attended. The feast was spread on a 80-foot table, laid with huge leaves for a tablecloth. Each serving of octopus, mussels, crab, chicken, noodles or vegetables was presented in an edible boat that looked like a huge celery section, or else in a half melon. Banana-pineapple pudding and roast pork had been cooked underground in pits, wrapped in leaves bound with vine. No plates, silverware or napkins! Wedges of watermelon were dessert. The long table was mounded with food - more than we could eat, though we did our best. All for $20 a person. Fun evening, with lots of friends.

Today we woke early to get ready for a whale watching trip - except here in Tonga you get to watch the whales from the water! We had booked a boat for $750 US, that would hold up to 12 people, so we were joined by Destiny, Estrellita, Tin Soldier, and Candine to make up the group. The pontoon boat left Neiahu with half the group, the rest of us dinghied to Malo Island to be picked up.

We motored south for an hour before whales were sighted. Our guide took the first team in the water, which included Dave and me. We hovered over 2 humpback whales, 60 feet below us but visible, especially when we could see their white flukes or bellies. Finally they came to the surface, quite close, and raised their tails dramatically, in majestic slow motion. Then it was time for the next team to have a chance. We shared the whales with another whale boat, taking turns in the water. Late in the day, after the other boat left, our guides located the whales one more time, and allowed all of us to get in the water. We hovered above them 20 minutes, swimming down for a better view. Suddenly the guide said they were rising! We watched them spiral vertically to the surface - only a dozen feet away, magnificently huge. The one nearest us then rolled completely over, exposing his white belly and striated skin. We followed them for awhile on the surface, until they sounded and dove again.

It is impossible to describe the thrill of seeing these huge creatures up close in their own environment. Today more than made up for a lot of miserable days of passage-making!

Back in the anchorage, late in the day, we pulled up the anchor and moved to a mooring. A depression was rolling though Vava'u overnight. We clocked winds of 40 knots, with flashing lightning, and the downpour filled our tanks. The boat just next to us clocked 60, sustained 50. I accuse Dave of calibrating our anemometer downward to keep me from getting scared in big winds. Larry at the Ark had secured the each mooring with multiple huge anchors from a defunct pearl farm.

We slept snugly in a secure place, and woke today to bright sun and dead calm. I used the dinghy, full of rainwater, to wash our snorkel gear.

Another ex-cruising couple built this houseboat/art gallery.

Where I buy a beautiful painted tile from artist Sheri.

Cute girls who danced for us at the Tongan feast.

The Tongan feast.

We wait on the whale boat for the first whales.

Thar she blows! Whales are sighted.

Rolling on their sides, the whales show their flukes in greeting.

One of our teams approaches the tail.

Now it is time to swim hard.

Water cascades off the tail as the whale dives.

Tired from the swim, "Totally Wild Dave" snoozes.

Barbara and Amy wait for the next whale sighting.

Our guide David gives a thumbs up. The whales are right below.

The whale begins rising.

He spirals upward, coming right at us.

Coming up!

At the surface, the whale does a barrel roll for us.

Fantastic! We get a good view of the behemoth.

The underwater pictures were taken by Destiny and Estrellita.

Oct 1 - Desert Island

Tepana was peaceful after the big blow. We snorkeled, scrubbed the bottom, and kayaked among the surrounding islets, stopping to beachcomb for shells. Our inflatable kayak, though bulky to stow for passages, has proved itself a great pleasure. Except for the whispered chop of the paddle, we can glide silently under overhanging branches full of nesting birds.

This morning I rowed over to say goodbye to Sheri and Larry of the Ark - and settle up our mooring ball fee, which ran less than $5 a night. We sailed south a few hours, threading our way past shoals that are not on our charts, but clearly visible, showing as swatches of emerald green or rusty brown. We arrived in good light at Mananita, where we heard you can snake your way carefully inside the reef to a tiny anchorage. After waltzing back and forth, we spotted the opening and Dave nosed our bow in. One quick zigzag, and we arrived in a small bathtub lagoon of emerald green - 20' of depth over sand, completely surrounded by reef. We anchored twice, to get our position just right, as there is no extra swing room. There is barely room here for one boat, and lucky us, we are that one. We rowed to the white coral sand beach and walked around the tiny island. The surf is a gentle roar all around us. Tonight we cooked pizza on the barbeque, getting one just right, the others burnt on the bottom. More practice is needed.

We have tiny Mananita Island to ourselves.

In a half hour we can beachcomb all the way around.

Baraka at anchor in the bathtub.

After zigzagging in the tricky entrance, we anchor in the exact center of a tiny lagoon. There is just barely room enough to swing 360 degrees. The surf breaks all around us.

Oct 2 -Back in Neiafu

Our tiny private lagoon turned into the Bathtub from Hell, when unforecast winds kicked up to 25 knots during the night. Dave stood an anxious anchor watch, checking where we lay. Though the surf churned all around us, with the reef only 20 feet off our stern, our well-set anchor never budged. This morning, we waited through a heavy downpour. As soon as we had enough light to see our way out, we escaped Mananita. I stood on the bow and gave Dave signals where to turn. Though the light was poor, we were just able to make out the reef edges. This is nervous work.

We need to hunker down for another blow coming this weekend, and decided to return to the protected bay at Neiafu. Others had the same idea, so all mooring balls are taken. We anchored across the bay, not our first choice but the best we could no with the bay so packed with perhaps 80 cruising boats.

Oct 3 - Opua and eggs

We rode in across the bay in our dinghy, another wet ride from the anchorage, though this time we were better prepared. Dave looked very Tongan is his men's skirt fashioned from a garbage sack. Success! We arrived sans wet "dinghy butt".

Saturday in Neiafu is garbage/laundry day. Happy from Vava'u Quality comes in her van to pick up our laundry and our garbage, for a reasonable fee. Since we were at the Aquarium dock anyway, this naturally led to breakfast with cruising friends.

Dionne from Orca III agreed to keep an eye out for a mooring on the town side. We decided we needed a code: if she called us on the VHF radio to tell us a mooring was free, others would overhear, and grab it. The radio is one huge party line. I had been telling Dionne that I have some extra mayonnaise, which I must get rid of before New Zealand, and she wanted some. So our code for the mooring would be Dionne calling to say some mayonnaise was available. If we wanted the mooring ball, we would reply "Hold the mayo".

Soon we had a call, and hurried back to the boat to pull the anchor up. We quickly motored Baraka across and grabbed the mooring. It is far more sheltered here on the town side from the gusty winds, and we can come and go without getting soaked.

Once settled, we went back in to the Bounty Bar and had dinner with a dozen friends, and got to meet Lyn and Larry Pardey again. Fun to get to know them a bit, after their being such an influence on getting us out cruising. You may not have heard of them, but they are icons in the cruising world.

Oct 4 - Hold the Mayo

Our days in town are filled with grocery shopping, which is sort of a Tongan scavenger hunt. We meet people on the street carrying eggs or apples. Where did you find those?!! Word is passed, and soon there is a run on the Chinese Store for eggs. The ship came in today, and we will have fun tomorrow checking the little stores for what shows up. Maybe chocolate? Potato chips? It's hard to recall going to Safeway where everything is available every day. Sounds oddly boring, being able to easily find what you are looking for.

We attended a cruisers information meeting this morning at the Aquarium Cafe - a man from a chandlery in Opua, New Zealand, came here to hand out materials about Opua, including the MAF - New Zealand Biohazard regulations. We will not be allowed to bring in honey, milk or meat products, eggs, seeds, grains, the list is long. So we are eating down those stores now. 12 miles offshore from NZ we will have to pitch all remaining fresh food. New Zealand is justifiably protective of their important agriculture industry. He also got us excited about seeing Opua, the Bay of Islands, and New Zealand in general.

We are anchored across the bay, and a ride to town is a wet dinghy ride across whitecapped seas. I kept my shorts in a plastic bag and dressed on the dock. Back aboard, Dave has rigged our riding sail for the first time in 2 years, to keep us from sailing side to side at anchor in the gusty winds.

This Tongan lady sells us coconuts, papaya, bananas.

Lisa at Tropical Tease silkscreens our logo on a bag.

Oct 10 - Over the Edge

Another week in Neiafu, fun gatherings with friends, and a chance to start getting the boat ready for the New Zealand passage. I have been fixing some chafed lines and doing minor repairs. The men are meeting to swap weather watch info. A lot of boats will use Bob McDavitt's met weather services from NZ. Looking at pilot charts, our chance of encountering a gale in the 10-day passage drops drops from probable (9% in October) to possible (1-2% in November). Most boats are waiting for November.

Low pressure systems blow across from the Tasman Sea, so we must get our westing in above 30 degrees south. Therefore our course will not be a rhumb line this time, and this is the end of our trade winds passagemaking.

Dave brings up our chart plotting software to plan our course. Oh, oh!!! The electronic charts end at the international date line, 180 degrees. There is only blank blue space to the west, unless we scroll all the way around the planet, past South America, Africa, the Indian Ocean, and back to NZ. So oddly, the chart software shows us heading toward NZ, then taking a 36000-mile detour eastward all the way around the globe until we can resume on the charts west of the dateline. Yow. We feel like Columbus, sailing over the edge of the world.

Oct 11 - Anchorage 16

This morning we visited the Saturday market to stock up on eggs and fresh produce: pineapple, bananas, papaya, tomatoes, cabbage, cukes. Then we cast off for "anchorage 16" aka Vaka'eitu. We wove through islands and shoals, keeping a sharp eye out since many reefs here in Tonga are either uncharted, or not where the chart shows. A big squall followed us, making it hard to see the reefs, but we zigzagged our way, arriving safely at the anchorage. Once here, the skies turned blue. After shutting the engine down, we smelled a diesel leak, so Dave spent a few hours chasing that down, and tightened the bolts on the engine lift pump. We'll test in the morning to see if that was the culprit.

We tossed the kayak over, and I got to explore while Dave dove on the anchor to make sure we were well set, then scrubbed the growth off the hull. We rowed over to Tin Soldier for a fun happy hour, and got the scoop on how to snorkel the coral gardens nearby. Tomorrow we will wait for high tide, and try to cross the reef to snorkel. Everyone here claims it is as good as Fakarava in the Tuamotus, only without the sharks.

Oct 13 - Port Maurelle and caves

We checked out the coral gardens, but the surf was high. Getting across the churning reef looked dicey. Instead, we dinghied around to the west and found a great spot, breaking reef between 2 islands. We set the dinghy hook and jumped in. Clear water, lots of colorful fish, good variety, and a good workout swimming against the incoming current that pushed us away from the reef.

We then dinghied to a small beach, and explored. A half-built (framed only) house stood abandoned in a clearing. Dave followed a trail and discovered a private beach of our own - good shelling, though most were fragments, broken by the windward reef. Dang, New Address II told us in the Societies that they had already taken all the great shells from Tonga, and nothing is left for us. May be true. The fragments were tantalizing hints that great shells are near.

This morning we pulled the hook up again, and motor-sailed to Port Maurelle. There are 2 other boats here at anchor, beautiful beach. Dave tossed the kayak over for me, and I paddled along the shoreline, finding a neat little cave to poke into. Back aboard, Dave and I jumped in the dinghy to explore Swallow's Cave. Actually, there are 2 large caves almost side by side, big enough to dinghy into to explore. The ceiling of Swallow's Cave is covered with small bats, swooping around overhead. On the way home we stopped again at the smaller cave I had found in the dinghy. With the tide higher, we were able to pass all the way through to another exit. Sweet!

Over dinner in the cockpit, we listened to the shoreside orchestra of feral roosters, replaced at dusk by thousands of crickets chirping in rhythmic cycles. Tropical music.

By kayak, I discover this neat tunnel.

Swallow's Cave entrance.

Oct 14 - A Cool Adventure

Dave got the GPS coordinates for Mariner's Cave, and Cop Out and Mister John agreed to join us. Mariner's Cave is a dome cave. Entrance requires that you swim through an underwater tunnel.

We loaded 6 of us and our gear into 2 dinghies and planed 2 1/2 miles to the cave. The GPS coordinates took us to the right place. From the outside, the only clue that the tunnel is there is a deep blue hole underwater in the cliff face. We anchored the dinghies on a coral ledge, and scoped out the tunnel entrance. The men disappeared, then returned 5 minutes later.

I like to see others come out alive from these things before I attempt them.

It was difficult to make myself dive into the cave. I knew it was not technically challenging, just intimidating. Finally, I drew big breaths and dove. The tunnel seems longer than a dozen feet, because you are swimming with, then against, the surge. I popped up inside. Cool! Fairly large dome, quite spacious. Looking down you could see the brilliant blue of two openings, the one we used 4 feet down, a second 50 feet down. Blue light from the holes illuminated the cave. When the surge rolled in, the inside air compressed to a fine blurry mist, which quickly cleared each time the surge subsided. Going out was far easier than coming in, since you could see daylight outside. Lovely!

We bob outside the underwater entrance to Mariner's Cave.

Swallow's Cave.

Dave and John decide the brown things hanging from the ceiling are bird nests, not bats.

Cop Out in the cave.

Oct 17 - Kart Safari

Today we rousted ourselves early for a Kart Safari! The Aquarium rents dune buggy type karts, and will arrange a guided tour of the island. We joined Warm Rain and Tracen J for the tour. The karts have been modified for the terrain - no reverse, no transmission to shift, and no hand brake. Hmmm. We signed our indemnity release forms and climbed in (seatbelts optional, $275 Tongan fine each time you roll the kart over).

Our little kart caravan drove through villages scattering pigs, farmland, jungle, along cliffs, to beaches and spectacular viewpoints. We woke dozens of fruit bats sleeping on a cliff. The paths wound through thick brush, canopied jungle, pine forest, and up and down muddy ravines. The others wore bandanas robber style, but Dave and I just ate red dust. Our guide climbed a palm tree, machete in hand, and whacked coconuts down, then opened them for us to enjoy a refreshing drink.

It is rewarding to get off the boat and away from the coast, and see how Tongans live. Many times the homestead reed barn looked bigger than the modest house. This is definitely third world, a poor country, but yards have planted flowers and walls are ornamented with giant clam shells. Each village has a graveyard. Handmade quilts are hung vertically next to many graves. One consistent theme is the number of fine churches, beautifully kept, and in rich contrast to the modest homes of the village. Tongans are expected to support their church, though they have little enough for themselves.

Back in Neiafu, Dave got our boat papers and passports and did the rounds to Port Captain, Immigration, Customs, to complete our check-out from Vava'u. Tomorrow we will say goodbye to this special place and start working our way south, winding through the Ha'apai Group, then to Nuku Alofa in south Tonga, where we will wait for a weather window for our New Zealand jump.

We rent dune buggies for a "kart safari".

Laughing kids on the beach give us mangoes and pose.

We take off on a dusty track...

...into jungle.

To a spectacular lookout...

...high above the shoreline.

Winding through dry pineforest...

...we come to another lookout where campers met the millenium in 2000.

Our guide climbs a tree to fetch us drinking coconuts...

...most refreshing!

We come to a final lookout...

...time to round 'em up and head home.

Tom and Dawn had arranged the fun day.


Oct 20 - Coral Gardens

On Saturday we visited the Neiafu market one last time to stock up on fresh fruits, then hit the bakeries to collect multi-grain, rye and wheat breads, fresh cinnamon rolls and sausage rolls. We enjoyed a final (yum) breakfast at the Aquarium, settled up our mooring fees, and said our seeyalaters to friends. We will miss Neiafu! No one told us we would have this extremely pleasant interlude between the arduous Pacific crossing and New Zealand passage. We have enjoyed our month-long stay in the Vava'u Group very much.

We sailed to Ovalau and anchored in the lee to snorkel. Tin Soldier anchored nearby and we had a fun evening swapping stories. We had planned to leave last night for Ha'apai, but a small system was rolling through and we opted to wait one more day. So yesterday we motored a short distance back to the Vava'eitu anchorage (aka #16), hoping to snorkel here. This morning, at high tide, we swam across the reef to the Coral Gardens. Wow! The attraction here is not the fish, though there are plenty, but the amazing coral formations. Dave found a huge one, a flat plate 6 feet across. Others resembled kale, cabbage, lettuce, brains, antlers, in reds, purples, blues and fantastic greens. People told us this was just like Fakarava, only without the sharks. But I think the corals here are the best we have seen.

Back aboard, we are stowing the boat for an overnight passage to Ha'apai. We will leave late this afternoon, in good enough light to avoid the shoals and reefs, then arrive at Ha'apai in the morning light to do the same there. We entered waypoints from 2 cruising guides into the chart plotter. These show us going over shoals and coral patches. We think the waypoints are correct and electronic charts are wrong, but there is no substitute for keeping a good bow watch in these waters, and doing shoal water travel in daylight.

Oct 21 -Night Passage to Ha'apai

We weighed anchor at 5 in the evening, and motored out from the Vava'u Group. Our charts showed shoal patches in the center of the channel, so we hugged the shore on the way out in the falling light.

Tonga consists of 3 distinct island groups. The one we are headed to tonight is Ha'apai. A lot of boats skip the Ha'apai Group, as it is poorly charted and full of coral reefs and shoals. In fact, our "best" paper chart is a faded, much-photocopied hand-drawn sketch from 1986!

We made good time, motoring in a light breeze. In fact, we made too good time, and we arrived in the group during night. Dave is sleeping. I shut the engine down and we are sailing now, staysail and reefed main, making a pokey 2.5 knots. I also moved our waypoint out into deep water, adding to our distance, so we will make our final approach to Pangai in morning light. The radar confirms that our electronic charts are inaccurate, set about a mile west of where things really are.

2pm, Pangai. Dave made the final approach, comparing our electonic charts, 2 guidebook sketches, and confirming visual marks against GPS coordinates from the guides. Success! We motored slowly inside the minefield of marked and unmarked reefs, and found a good sand spot to anchor among 8 other boats. Dave went ashore to visit customs, while Jan hit the sack.

Oct 23 -Uoleva, Friend of a Friend

From Pangai, we motored 5 miles around the corner to Uoleva Island, hoping to meet up with Jim Marco, an old cruising friend from our first voyage. We last saw Jim in Mexico in 1989. Lately, he has been anchored off Uoleva helping his friend Patti start up a new resort.

We missed Jim, who sailed to Nuku Alofa just a few days ago. We should be able to catch him there. But we met Patti, her friend Sammy, and her Tongan workers who are sprucing up the resort, hopefully for a December opening. Patti is interesting, ex-cruiser, ex-pat American. She bought the resort buildings, pre-fab, then broken down, from Bali, and shipped here in 5 containers. The buildings are gorgeous, lovely hardwoods, open air pavilions. Sammy invited us to dinner and a campfire last night, where we heard more of Patti's story. She and her friends have done an amazing amount of work in a short time. Her property is beautiful, 8 acres spanning lovely beaches on both sides of the island. Beachcombing, Dave and I saw a black and grey striped sea snake climb from sea to woods. Yikes! They are deadly, but with small mouths are really little threat to humans. Today we circumnavigated the island on a long beach hike - great cowries, a whale skull. We are exhausted from the 5-hour walk in soft sand. Can't explain it, but Dave and I often start a trek, without packing foods and fluids, that turns into an all-day ordeal. We never intend to go so far, but the beach was so gorgeous, and the day so fine. Pacific-postcard-perfect.

A Tongan family in the family car.

We beachcomb pretty Uoleva in the Ha'apai.

A mangrove dangles roots looking for ground.

Dave locked up in Mangrove Jail.

Dave wishes he were back at work.

Our days haul from beachcombing.

Patti is building a resort at Uoleva.

Patti imported custom pre-constructed pavilions from Bali and is building a new resort on Uoleva. The buildings are gorgeous, and the setting spectacular.

Oct 24 -Stepping stones to Tongatapu

We are threading our way down the Ha'apai chain toward Nuku Alofa, Tongatapu. The Ha'apai requires some diligence, traveling only in good daylight to avoid green shoals. We are now tucked safely in the lee of Ha'afeva, rocking gently at anchor in good holding sand. Looking out, it appears we are exposed to open ocean. In reality, we are embraced in the arms of a sheltering reef.

Do we want to spend a day exploring here, or keep moving? Need to flip a coin. These islands are so pretty - how we thought the South Pacific would look.

Oct 25 -Kelefesia

We motor all day in calm, passing this volcano...

...arriving at pretty Kelefesia.

Kelefesia - an island gem in the Ha'apai.

Dave turned on the radio net, and heard that Met weather guru Bob McDavitt is advising boats we know to jump for New Zealand in the next couple days. That lit a fire under us. Though Ha'afeva looked inviting, we decided to move along and get in position at Nuku Alofa if we opt to take this weather window. So we pulled up the hook and motored out between the reefs. We noticed that the missing red north entrance buoy had drug, and was hooked on the south entrance reef next to the green marker. Hmmm. So much for navigational aids in the Ha'apai!

A few minutes later I spotted a breaking rock where the charts showed deep waters. The rock turned into the back of a large humpback whale. Then we saw its baby exuberantly jump completely out of the water a half dozen times! We hate to hurry through these lovely islands. Maybe we will return...

We motored all day under sunny skies, pulling into beautiful Kelefesia mid-afternoon. We entered between areas marked on the charts as "blind rollers" which are actually breaking reefs, Jan on the bow watching for shoals. A big fancy catamaran was in the anchorage, with crew parasailing off the beach while a Tongan fisherman and his 4 dogs watched from his beach fale (house). We anchored in sand, but the chain of our scope brushes a large coral "bommie" covered with delicate corals. Makes us feel bad, like we parked our Humvee in someone's rose garden.

We explored the island and snorkeled for rumored lobsters. No luck, but what a spectacular place! The island has striated limestone cliffs topped with coconut palms, ringed by white coral sand beach, and sits in a turquoise lagoon.

Tomorrow we rise early for the all-day run south to Nuku Alofa. There we will top off fuel and prep the boat for the 10-day NZ passage.

Oct 26 -Pangaimotu, the Gang's All Here!

Got an early start from Kelefesia, and motored in dead calm all the way into Nuku'alofa where we anchored in the middle of the fleet at a small island across the bay from the main town. We are next to Destiny, Warm Rain, Charisma, New Page, Elusive, The Dorothy Marie, Blue Plains Drifter... the list goes on. It will be fun to catch up with everyone and strategize for the NZ passage.

Just ashore is Big Mama's, a bar/restaurant that caters to the cruisers, running a ferry into town. We dinghied to the dock and met the hosts, and enjoyed an evening with lots of friends.

Oct 27 -Nuku'alofa

We took the small ferry to Nuku'alofa and followed Jamie and Chris (Morning Light) today as they and 4 other boats were trying to check out of Tonga and obtain the permit for duty-free fuel (which runs $4 instead of $7 per gallon). This turned into a parade from office to office in the hot sun. Morning Light had clear instructions from Bebe, who had run the gamut Friday. We went back and forth between customs (2 offices), the Port Captain, and BP Oil, each office telling us we needed a form the previous office said we did not need. Took all morning. Visiting Tonga by boat helps develop patience.

In the early afternoon we met up with longtime friend Jim Marco at the ice cream shop. Great to see him! We cruised with Jim and his wife Marilyn in Mexico in 1988-89, and had not seen him since. We share a lot of happy memories with Jim. He is cruising on his original boat, Intention, which he built from hull out. Jim plans to return to Tonga and run whale-watching tours in Ha'apai.

We catch up with Jim Marco, special friend from our Moulin Rouge voyage.

Dave cranks fuel.

Oct 28 -Fuel Follies at Nuku'alofa

We boarded Destiny at 8 am, with our jugs, extra fenders, a fuel hose borrowed from Morning Light, and jerry jugs from several boats. Destiny had a 9 am appointment at the town wharf to load diesel. Warm Rain had taken the ferry in earlier, to catch lines at the rusty, wicked dock, and radioed that a fishing boat was tied up there, offloading fish. At 10 am, they pulled away and the dock was clear. We motored in and tied up with lots of fenders to hold Destiny off. The BP fuel truck pulled up alongside and unloaded nine 55 gallon drums. 5 were for Destiny, 2 for Morning Light, and 2 for The Dorothy Marie.

BP has only one barrel pump, in use elsewhere, so a fishing boat nearby loaned us their pump for $10 Tongan. These are hand pumps. You crank them like a meat grinder. It takes about a half hour of cranking to empty one drum.

Success! By 1 pm, all three boats were filled, and all jerry cans, and none of the boats was damaged at the dock. We hitched a ride back to Pangaimotu on The Dorothy Marie.

Dave talked to a 4th boat, Margarita, coming in to get fuel. They had ordered 100 liters more than needed, to get a good bulk price, and told Dave they would sell the rest to him. So Dave borrowed a couple 50-liter jugs from Blue Plains Drifter, and jetted back into town in our dinghy. After conversion from Tongan dollars to Euros to NZ dollars, the transaction was complete. This brings our tanks and jugs full. Looking at the gribs we may need it all - light winds are forecast over the next 10 days from here to NZ.

Funny, at home going to the gas station is a non-event. Here it requires a coordinated group effort, and we are filled with a sense of accomplishment!

Oct 30 - Flying Foxes Go to Town

Sally on The Dorothy Marie decided we need a Girl's Shopping Day in town. The husbands assume we are provisioning. On the radio she hails us as the "Flying Foxes". Flying foxes are the local fruit bats that hang all day in trees, and swoop around at night. But we are NOT old bats.

Seven women caught the 9:30 ferry to town. We walked to the market, finding a Chinese shop on the way with cheap and tacky big hats, masks and boas. We are set for Halloween tomorrow. We had a great lunch at Friends Cafe, shopped for souvenirs in the market, and ate cones at Chateau Ice Cream. On the way home we did provision a little, hitting what passes for a grocery store in Tonga, the bakery, and the frozen meat store. Fun day.

Some boats are now talking about a Monday departure. Dave has gotten most of the boat work done, and we are in fairly good shape.

Several boats already underway to NZ got beat up in heavy winds and big seas. They turned back and arrived here today, limping in with damage, a broken vang, torn sail, a broken stanchion and a sail lost overboard. We all know it will be a tough trip, though 600 boats do it every year. We are joining the Opua All Points Rally, a radio net of boats coming to NZ from "all points" - Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia.

Today we heard Timella was lost on a reef on the way to Fiji. The crew was picked up by a catamaran and are ok. Cam had sailed all the way from Ireland, and was on the home stretch headed to Australia. Sobering stuff.

These girls in traditional dress put the cell phone away for the photo.

Quilts in the graveyards.

Colorful Nuku'alofa market.

This woman makes beautiful bone carvings.

Nov 1 - Halloween

Last night was Halloween. The Flying Foxes had our costumes ready and were ready to par-tay! But a huge squall blew in, and many stayed aboard to make sure anchors didn't drag. Pelting rain happily filled our thirsty water tank. By 7 pm, Dave and I were hungry enough to brave the deluge. We put on bathing suits and foul weather jackets, clothing in a dry bag, and leapt into the bucking dinghy. Ashore we joined about half the anchorage for a wonderful buffet dinner at Big Mama's, while rain pounded a tropical drumbeat on the roof.

Back aboard we watched winds build, and saw that we were swinging into 10 feet of water (we had anchored in 28). The anchor was holding fine. During the night sometime Morning Star lost his dinghy when the painter parted. Dave is out hunting for it now, but it has probably gone to sea...

Nov 2 - Big Mama Birthday Party

Big Mama's threw a huge birthday party for our hosts Earl Emberson and his son Andrew last night, including a roasted pig on a spit and a terrific live dance band. The meal was free for the yachties. 100 people showed up. Glen (The Dorothy Marie) joined the band with his tenor sax, as did Steve (Orca 3) with his harmonica. The ladies got Big Mama up to line dance to oldie American hits. Fun night!

Major topic of conversation is weather for the NZ passage. Several boats are jumping today for Minerva Reef, where they will hunker down for a low to pass. We will wait to mid-week, we think, but nothing looks perfect, and some reports show happy winds, others show troughs. It's a bit of a crapshoot. Scarlet OHara is 48 hours out of Opua, having weathered 2 gales. It's great to hear the boats checking in and doing ok. There is a skipper's meeting ashore this afternoon to analyze weather data and discuss strategy.

Nov 3 - Passage to New Zealand

Tomorrow morning we will deflate and lash the dinghy on deck, and weigh anchor for the 8-to-10 day passage to Opua, New Zealand. We finished all the boat prep work a few days ago. Dave has been gathering weather info from gribs, weatherfaxes, Met Weather, NOAA, Commander. The passage is longer than the forecast window, which means the predicted weather gets increasingly uncertain as we go. We are subscribing to Bob McDavitt's passage forecast service. He works for NZ's Met Weather and can provide each boat a detailed passage report, which includes waypoint positions every 5 hours or so, and the weather we might expect at each point. He takes into account our average boat speed.

The usual route from Tonga is a dogleg to 175E and 30S, but given the outlook, he is showing us a rhumb line course direct to Opua. It will include an estimated 100 hours of motoring in light air as a couple highs are parked in our path.

Bob will provide an updated outlook and adjust our course along the way if we request it.

We had planned to leave today, but squally rain is blowing through so we decided to park for one more night's good sleep. I took the ferry to town and stocked up on cheese, meats, fruits & veg, only enough for the passage as all must be tossed overboard as we approach NZ.

Dave is listening to the radio nets of boats underway. Some are arriving at Minerva Reef 250 miles away, others arriving tomorrow in Opua after a rough trip. Minerva is a little out of our way, and we will carry on past it if our weather is holding, or duck in if something nasty kicks up. By Minerva, we will leave the tradewinds and enter the "variables", which include the SW Pacific Convergence Zone. Lows march from west to east from the Tasman Sea across our path, and it is generally not possible to make the entire passage without meeting at least one. Right now one is forecast just before our arrival at the north island, which should give us a boost the last day or two.

Dave saw pictures of a windvane today from a boat on its way to Australia. A great white shark took a bite out of the stainless steel paddle! Thar be monsters!

Nov 4 - 2141 S - 17549 Underway to NZ!

Today was election day at home, but we have no news out here. The world seems to revolving just fine without us!

Left Tongatapu this morning. A few quick turns through the reefs and the island was in our rear view mirror. We are in good company: Destiny, Orca III, The Dorothy Marie, Elusive, Warm Rain and a few more left with us today. We have already hit one small squall, and are now motoring, burning precious fuel in light airs. Don Pedro, a day ahead, went through a larger 3-hour squall - a lightning strike right next to the boat temporarily took out their electronics. Recycling everything brought them back. Which reminds me - if we fail to make this blog update, it may be for a simple reason like poor propagation in squally weather, or maybe we are conserving power. We are in range of other boats, traveling in a loose flotilla. Dave checks in on several radio nets. So please don't worry if I fail to report in! All is well, and the forecast looks as good as it gets.

Nov 5 - 2238 S - 17623 W

We motored all night in flat (one meter) seas, rolling along. Water tanks, battery banks are full and the fridge is cold. We have been burning through fuel at a rate we don't much like. No gas station out here! Elusive carries only 70 gallons of diesel, so is sailing in these light airs, tacking back and forth around us. Nice to have their company, though as a J boat, if the wind picks up they will jet ahead.

Dave is hearing all our friends out here checking in on the radio nets. One boat had a knockdown in a squall last night. They are fine. Reminds us to be diligent. We run the radar at night to watch for squalls. Yesterday we had enough warning to roll up the jib and put a double reef in the main before one hit. So far we have not seen weather of significance.

The McDavitt weather routing has us on a rhumbline course. Early this morning it took us through Ata Island. Good thing we zoomed in on the electronic chart and saw it! All this weather info is advice - it is still our responsibility to coalesce the info and make sense of it.

Noon - wind has filled in from the NW, enough to sail. All canvas up, and we are making 5+ knots in 10-12 of wind. NZ Customs plane Orion just buzzed us. They hailed us on the VHF radio, getting boat and passage details, and confirmed we sent in our Advance Notice of Arrival (we had).

The Orion buzzes us.

Several times the New Zealand plane Orion passes over, calling us on VHF to get our planned arrival date in New Zealand. Nobody sneaks in. Sally on The Dorothy Marie got this great photo.

Nov 6 - 2344 S - 17741 W - Detour to Minerva

When I came on watch at sunset, Dave pointed out a system far to starboard, a massive bank of clouds with long feathers of cirrus curving overhead. Hmmm. He threw a second reef in the main. We are chicken sailors.

My watch was uneventful. At 3:30 am, Dave woke me. He'd rolled up the foresails and was motoring north, trying to avoid forked lightning that was hitting the water ahead. Yikes. Dave put as much electronics in the oven and microwave as would fit, and we donned safety equipment (rubber flipflops). Using radar, we found a break in the system, and turned south again. We raced through the gap, and managed to miss the worst of it. By dawn we were through, under clearing skies.

The morning net brought news of a developing low that will hit us Saturday. It may pack strong winds. So we are now making a detour to North Minerva reef, where we will hunker down at anchor and let it pass over. Big discussions about this. A few boats are far enough to carry on south, but most of the fleet would be in the squash zone, and like us are heading for the shelter of Minerva. We will arrive early tomorrow, in plenty of time to get set, have a party, and likely won't leave until Sunday or Monday.

Got a very welcome email from Joel describing the post-election celebrations and optimism.

Nov 8 - Happily Morooned at Minerva

We arrived yesterday morning, and motored between crashing breakers through the pass. Shilling had provided recent waypoints, spot on, so the pass in was straightforward. Outside were 8-foot swells. Inside we were in lake-calm waters.

We motored across the lagoon and anchored next to Elusive, The Dorothy Marie, Orca III, Warm Rain. Soon Syren, Oddity and Sea Bright joined us.

Orca III had caught an 8-foot marlin on the way from Tonga and invited 20 of us to dinner. Dave pumped up our dinghy and acted as ferry. We had a terrific party and grilled marlin feast aboard Orca III. Amazing their boat could hold all of us.

North Minerva reef is shaped like a 2-mile-wide Cheerio. We are on a sand shelf on the SE side. Surf thunders in front of us, roaring like a hundred lions, and spewing spray into the air. Cool!

The airwaves are burning with weather talk. Problem is, there are too many sources and conflicting models. Bob McDavitt will be unable to forecast this next week as he is manning a booth at some show. His latest report says the unseasonal cold front that dumped snow on the south island is messing up all the models, and the gribs this week may fail to show isolated low pressures. Bottom line, he recommends boats not go this week. Hmmm.

We are well anchored with good holding, safe and comfortable here at Minerva, in good company with now 8 other boats.

I had booked tickets home for Thanksgiving to see family, flying out of Auckland on the 25th. As much as I'd hate to miss that, we will not put ourselves at risk. We may park here, at least through Tuesday, and see what develops. We still have 6-7 days passage to Opua. Whangerei, where we plan to park Baraka, is several days beyond that.

Weather here is cool and breezy today. Great to sleep under a blanket! Grilled marlin and wasabi for lunch. All is well.

All we can see of the reef is a breaking white line.

3 versions of Minerva Reef on our computer screen.

The left image is a Google Earth jpg of Minerva, with lat long coordinates overlaid. The middle squiggle in what our Maptech chart showed! The right most image is a C-Map chart. Combined with waypoints from Shilling, we were able to find our way inside the reef.

Following our waypoints, we found the break in the whitewater and sailed inside to flat calm water. It felt like Lake Washington, very welcome after the 5 meter ocean swells outside.

Looking back at the reef entrance.

Nov 10 - Still at Minerva

Several boats left, and 4 more pulled in to the reef. Yesterday we received a McDavitt report for departure from Minerva tomorrow, 7 days to Opua. Looks good, and that is our plan, arriving NZ either the 18th or 19th.

One of the boats that arrived here had a torn and jammed mainsail. They have in-mast furling. Steve and Mark of Elusive spent much of the past 2 days helping the owners try to pull it out of the mast, but yesterday gave up and rolled it all back in. They will have to make NZ without a main. In-mast furling is on our list of Things We Don't Need. We've seen too many problems out here.

Each day we walk on the reef at low tide. This is an awesome place, stunningly beautiful, no signs of man except for a crumbling steel wreck. We wade in ankle-deep water across the orange-brown reef, several hundred yards wide, to the ocean side where the surf claws at the coral. Gorgeous. The isolation here is absolute. There are few birds, with only a handful of rocks still dry at high tide. The reef disappears, and we hobby horse a little at anchor, as the swells roll across the reef.

Today we again tried to find the "sandbox", for which we had GPS coordinates. Success! We beachcombed with little luck, but also found the foundation of a ruined building, built of cement, coral, re-bar. A little further on was a guano covered rock. Terns took off, leaving behind eggs and chicks for us to photograph. The rock must barely be above water at high tide. We played with an eel in a tidal pool.

We dinghied back up the lagoon to meet Steve and Mark of Elusive. They had seen lobster at the wreck yesterday. We headed out with them and after several failed attempts to get several lobsters out of deep crevices, Dave located a big one under a coral head nearby. It took all three men repeated dives to drag the reluctant critter out of his hole, but we will have lobster feast tonight aboard Baraka!

Quiet anchorage inside the reef.

We walk on the reef hunting for lobsters.

Our dinghies are anchored just inside the reef shelf in knee-deep water.

We can walk right up to the reef's edge at low tide.

The sea chomps away at the reef.

This shell has a trap door to deter predators.

Baraka rides quietly inside the reef, with the ocean just 100 yards away.

8 boats at anchor. Party time!

Cruisers up the mast try to unjam a torn sail.

No joy, they lash it back inside the mast furler.

Nov 11 - Underway to Opua

This morning, we deflated the dinghy and trussed it to the foredeck, then weighed anchor and motored out the pass. Next stop New Zealand!

We hadn't planned a stop at Minerva, but are so happy it happened. There's nothing there, not a single tree or plant, yet is one of the most starkly beautiful places we have been. This morning Andreas of Point Zero came by with a goodbye lobster for us.

Winds are steady from the East, a nice 12 knots, so all canvas is up and we are rolling along, in company with Syren, Warm Rain, Elusive. The last 2 days the fleet was looking for our friends on Destiny. They had missed several roll calls on the net. They made Opua safely yesterday afternoon, but their sideband radio had died so were unable to communicate. Reassuring to see the network looking for them, which include NZ Search and Rescue.

Nov 13 - 2615 S - 17938 E - Time Travel

Today we crossed the International Dateline. Is the anti-meridian 180 west or 180 east? A new hemisphere for Baraka! We would have jumped ahead a full day, except Tonga wanted to be first to celebrate the millennium and artificially moved the dateline eastward. So today has already been tomorrow for us for some time. I hope this is clear.

We got to fly the spinnaker for a few hours yesterday, and sailed most of the night in better winds than was forecast. Sweet! Now we are motoring under thick grey clouds and heavy rain, almost no wind. Opened the water tank fill cap. Rainwater flowing down the side deck is filling our freshwater tank. A couple boats are still within visual sight, all of us on a rhumbline course for Opua. We are making good time, trying to stay on the waypoints provided by McDavitt, still looking at landfall of the 18th or so. Seas calm, all is well.

Nov 14 - 2706 S - 17829 E - Headed to Tasmania

Winds filled in, so we got to turn the motor off. Unfortunately they are on our nose, so we are steering 220-230 True when our course is 203 True. This is akin to driving from Seattle to LA by way of New York, a bit discouraging. Dave points out our velocity made good (speed toward Opua) is still above 4 knots, so we can't complain.

By tomorrow the gribs show wind clocking a more favorable direction, more easterly for a couple days. Then we will get some westerlies for a day or two, then on the nose and a bit stronger as we approach landfall. So far seas have been almost flat, so we sleep well and the boat is riding easy.

Nov 15 - 2914 S - 17721 E

Moderate easterlies have kicked in. We are making 6-7 knots under a double-reefed main in boisterous seas. I am not trying to cook food in this. Picture making spaghetti and a salad while riding Space Mountain! We swing from handhold to handhold like sea-going baboons. The boat is heeled over, and spray is sweeping the sidedeck.

This 20-25 knot wind is double the forecast according to the grib, and is covering a wide area. The other boats on passage right now are getting the same. A couple boats who just left Minerva are turning back, but we are now committed to our course.

Good news is we are clicking off the miles - only 400 to go. Boat is holding up well, and we reef early and often. Crew is tired - hard to get good rest in these conditions. But we are both enjoying audio books and able to give extra sack time to the off-watch person. A silver lining - Dave thinks we are now within fuel range of our destination, so if the winds die again we could motor the rest of the way.

Nov 16 - 3137 S - 17547 E

Doing well today. Vane steering, making 6 knots under double-reefed main and reefed jib. Dave emailed Bob McDavitt about the southwesterlies the gribs are showing as we approach Opua. Bob confirms, and has routed us a little westward in a dogleg. This will give us a better angle so we can at least motor-sail the last day into the nasty noserlies.

The seas have moderated enough that we are getting caught up on rest. I was able to cook a potato-spam fritata for breakfast, and we managed to shower without sliding up the walls. Amazing how 4 hours solid sleep, hot food and a shower improves morale aboard.

Winds down to mid-teens, aft of the port beam, lumpy 5-foot seas. 240 miles to go. All is well.

Nov 17 - 3348 S - 17436 E - Home Stretch

We have changed course, again on a rhumbline to Opua. This was to converge with Warm Rain, who found an upper shroud fraying. Tom went aloft and jury rigged a reinforcing line, so they are again ok. Dave was keeping a 3-hour contact schedule with WR, but they seem confident in the fix, so we have gone back to the regular net sched.

The forecasted cold front passed over at 0300 zulu, followed by cold rain for an hour, then by some winds on the nose. This is pretty much exactly as forecast by McDavitt, so we have become believers. Latest grib shows winds from here somewhat less than what was forecast, and we are making great time motor-sailing. Dave says the horse can smell the hay. We should arrive at the customs dock mid-afternoon if we can keep this up.

Nov 18 - LANDFALL New Zealand

We arrived in Opua this afternoon, after our six day passage from Minerva Reef. The customs clearance was polite, but extensive, with 6 officials and one sniffer dog going through the boat. After the usual inspections and paperwork were completed, we were free to move into the marina. Nice to be on land again!

Nov 19 - Opua Marina

Yesterday at the quarantine dock we called Opua Marina for a slip assignment. They gave us a spot and stayed open late to give us a dock key. We moved over and our lines were caught by a welcoming committee that included The Dorothy Marie, Destiny, Castille, New Paige. Terrific and emotional welcome! We settled in and headed to the Blue Water Cafe for a fine dinner with lots of friends. The relief at having the passage behind is palpable. This passage is one of the worst anyone has to face, and most boats caught at least one gale. So far everyone has arrived safely.

Not so Timella, lost on a reef in Fiji. Now that we have wi-fi we can see their chilling accounts and interviews. Amazing they survived. They were rescued by Ocealys, who we first met in Aitutaki.

Big news for us is that we have arranged to leave the boat here in Opua while we are gone home to Seattle. The timing was just too tight to make Whangarei in time to mothball the boat. Now we can relax... Dave is working on getting connected to the 220 50-cycle electricity here on the dock. We are starting to pack the boat up. Lots to do, but the pressure is off. Next Tuesday we will catch the bus to Auckland for the flight home, in time to be with family for Thanksgiving.

Nov 23 - Opua Fish Feast

Fun days here in Opua. When we hear of another boat arriving at the customs dock, we eavesdrop on their radio call for a slip assignment in the marina, and go to the slip to catch lines and hugs. Meridian arrived, and 30 people were on hand to greet them. John and Nancy had hosted an informal cruisers net for the passage, providing wonderful support. We handed them a bottle of champagne and dinner gift certificate, small thanks for the great job they did.

Days are flying by as we get the boat ready, and socialize with so many good friends. Tonight Orca III had 20 people over for grilled fish - marlin and tuna they caught on the way from Tonga.

Tomorrow I will catch a shuttle to Kerikeri with friends to play while Dave pickles the watermaker. Then we pack up, and Tuesday morning move Baraka to a mooring ball. At 1 pm we catch the bus to Auckland to fly out late that night.

This has been an amazing year. We were in Mexico last April, but it feels like a lifetime has happened in those 7 months.

Nov 28 - Home for Thanksgiving

On Tuesday, Oddity came by to loan us their dinghy. Warm Rain helped us pull out of the marina, and we moved Baraka to the secure mooring where she will park for 7 weeks. We caught the bus for the 4-hour ride to Auckland, then the shuttle to the airport, and flight to Seattle by way of LAX. All went smoothly. Because of the dateline, we arrived before we left.

We were surprised and thrilled to be met by our families upon landing in Seattle. All five of my siblings, their spouses, Dave's sister and niece, my sister's son, our son Joel, and my Dad and Isabel were all on hand to greet us. What a wonderful welcome home!

Malinda arranged for us to stay in a mother-in-law apartment next door to our house. Today is Thanksgiving. We have much to be thankful for.

Dec 2 - Family Whirlwind

The past few days have been an exciting whirlwind of family gatherings, including a huge Thanksgiving, special evening at Brian's with sibs and Dad, and another fun night at Molly's to see pictures of Brian and Karen's September wedding in a castle above Lugano, Switzerland. I love my family deeply and it has been wonderful to have these days with them. Missing them so much has been the single serious downside to travel

I will make only brief and less frequent journal entries while home. resuming when we return to NZ mid-January. But please do look for photo updates sometime in this next week, as I catch up on Tonga and Minerva Reef pix.

For our journal entries from Tahiti to Tonga,  click here.

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