Tin Tin's Sailing Calendar

Friday, 21 July 2017

Fish!

Phil caught a good sized Spanish Mackerel today as we motored north to Viti Levu through the reefs.  It got released as being less good eating than mahi mahi.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Hurricane Winston

As we moored in flat calm along the eastern shore of Ovslau island we came across this ferry washed bodily ashore in hurricane Winston last year.  Beyond the village stands of tall pine trees remain standing stripped of their foliage. The coconuts however seem to have mostly kept their crowns.
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The original building in which the Council of Chiefs sat until recently. Surprisingly unaffected by hurricane Winston on 20 Feb 2016.
 Next door is the new provincial government building.



Lovely laid-back Levuka!


I went ashore this morning and completed the formalities. Everyone SO friendly and helpful. It was so much easier than I'd been led to believe.  When we arrived yesterday I called the port on channel 16 and got an immediate reply. We were directed to anchor 100-200m north of the wharf.....Slightly nervous on a off shore with a vigorous breeze blowing but it worked out OK.  Then i was requested to await the Health official, so we had lunch and within the hour Mr Aquila arrived. An imposingly large man, who I collected from the dock in a sloppy sea and got aboard with difficulty.  Once he's fumigated the boat against Zika virus bearing mozzies we returned ashore to deal with Customs and immigration.  This was handled by two charming friendly ladies in the Customs House on the wharf, and I was able to nip round the corner to an ATM to get cash to pay my bills - F $168 for Health and $5 for Ports.

As it was by then 4:30 I had to wait till today to deliver personal passport forms for the crew and walk 10 minutes to the Provincial Government offices for my cruising permit. Although they had to fax details to their offices in Suva I had my permit within 30 minutes and then my clearance from Customs to proceed.

This done we set out to explore Levuka.  It's a UNESCO World heritage site and rightly so as it retains the unique style of early 19th century colonial days.  The shop fronts along Beach Rd are freshly painted with the high square frontage carrying the names of the owners...Gulabda's, Morris Hedstrom, Ivans Hot Bread Shop, Patel's Tailoring & Radio Merchants. Inside are densely stocked emporiums staffed by families of indian descent. Everything from sari silk to radios, pots and pans to watches, lights to put under your car to machetes.  There are a small number of restaurants along the front too. The Whale's Tale, Sea Site Restaurant and Horizon; some licenced, some BYO.  Cyclone Winston's devastation showed in many places where buildings were still being repaired. The Category 5 hurricane unusually headed out to Tonga and then turned back. Levuka was completely open to its force from seaward.

Today we strolled back streets, enchanted by the shady verandahs and clapboard buildings, mostly fresh painted increases, white or pale blues and greens. Only the shop fronts were pinks, reds and yellows. Everyonebwe passed greeted us with a cheery "Bula!".  Once for each in our group.

We passed large elegant school buildings with grounds and sports field alive with playing children. The occasional whistle blast showed that the games were often controlled; girls practising netball moves ends 8 year old boys working hard at very physical contact rugby, perfecting moves and playsnthat were impressively done.  We stopped at Levuka Public school and looked in at the cream painted colonial buildings chatting to the Vice Principal and various children.  

From there we strolled up the valley road toward the steep mountain wall behind the town. Neatky laid concrete paths andvsteps led off in differentbdieections snaking around from house to house, rising high above the bay. Benches had been placed at intervals for the elderly to rest. We met a young man who cheated to us for a long while and ttold us of his previous job as a long line fisherman, lettingnout up to 60 miles of baited hooks to catch tuna. He said that wages were about F $3.50/ hour -about £1.

We climbed up to a waterfall that marked the coĺection point for the town's drinmibfbwatet and then down the to the sea front again for a sandwich at the Royal Hotel.  This grand colonial building was absolutely charming with rooms preserved since the 30s, dark lounges, a great billiard room and ceiling fans maintain a breeze. Out of the rear lounge through white psinted turnedvwoodeb window bars we could see teenagers practising rugby and hockey  in the lovely afternoon light.

Before the shops shut at 5pm we bought various essentials  and pushed a trolley back to the dock.  Here we found Mark in the Port Authority office and were oeomptlyninvited to join in their Kava session.  A largeborabge buoy had been cut open to create 're kava bowl.  The youngest member, Samson, was mixing five F$2 bags of ground kava into water and straining it through a cloth.  He pouredvitbfron a heiğtbinto the bowl and listened to the splash  to judge its strength and consistency.   Then he brought me a bowl, rtimesemembering the protocol, I clapped once and drank it down in one. Everyone then clapped three  and so did I. The taste was a bit woody and mildly earthy.
After between 10-15 circuits of the room conversation was flowing and the fishing crew left to go to sea again, waving enthustically as they moored out.

We too took our leave to ferry goods to Tin Tin in the dinghy.  However the stern anchor was firmly lodged on an obstruction on the seabed.  To our surprise a man on the Jetty handed his long thin cigarette to a child and dived in, surfacing in the gloom of dusk with it in his hand.  He then leapt into a long skiff worth his three children and sped off alkbf the lagoon.  I shouted "Vinaka buku levu!!!"  Thankyou very much! After him.

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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The other side of the World

This shows that we are exactly 180 degrees opposite Portsmouth on the chart, albeit closer to the latitude of Tenerife.  Temperature is not at all tropical at 25 degrees and cold enough at night to wear long trousers, jersey and my Musto Ocean jacket! 

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Monday, 17 July 2017

Fiji

I'm on watch at 03:00 and we are approaching the southern Lau group of islands on the eastern edge of Fiji. The quarter moon is giving a dim glow so that I can see the waves as the rise astern.  The wind has dropped to 25 knots and to maintain speed I have let out a couple of reefs in the genoa, which is poled out to port as we are rolling along downwind.   I'm aiming to arrive at the unlit Oneata Passage just after dawn so that I can see our way through.

It's frustrating that we are forbidden to stop in the outer islands until we have cleared in on the mainland. I may take a chance on a breakfast halt if I can get into the Lagoon at Oneata.

I've been reading the Lonely Planet guide to Fiji (free on Kindle!) and it seems that there is very little contact with the outside world in these remote areas. So quite how the islanders would report my presencevindont know. Butchers is a policeman on Lakeba 20 miles north!

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Dorado

It's been a rough sail overnight with 30-40knots of wind and large seas which has made a few of the crew rather queasy.  But Siobhan served up a Thai curry which was enjoyed.  I am trying to control our speed to arrive at dawn at the Oneata Passage through the outer Lau group of islands in Fiji.  Beyond that is another 24 hour sail to another unlit passage which would be safer in daylight.

This morning the sun shone and we put out the fishing line on Antony's rod and at midday Mark reeled in a good sized dorado or mahi mahi which raised the spirits of the fishermen!

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Saturday, 15 July 2017

Last minute Tonga

Just before leaving Neiafu I managed to buy the essentials for a visit to any Tongan anchorage.  It is apparently obligatory to seek permission from the village chief to anchor in their waters, and to do so one must go through the ceremony of sevusevu, by which one can be accepted by the community.  This involves presenting half a kilo of kava root to the chief, which if accepted will be pounded up and made into the kava drink.  The chief partakes amidst a ceremony of works and clapping, which we have to learn and participate in.   However the price of kava has gone up a lot and more and more it is sold as a powder.  I was able to buy 6 packets of 50grams at T$10 each - about £20 in total.  This apparently is about right for the ceremony.  We will see....... I'm not Really looking forward to drinking this drug, but at least it's preparation no longer involves the roots being chewed by old men and spat into a bowl to create the brew.

We had a last minute panic whether Customs Official who had promised to be there at 3pm to check us out appeared to have gone home.  It being a Saturday I was expecting to pay overtime fees of T$120 so was surprised and dismayed, because it would delay our departure till Monday.

However he had been taken out to a super yacht, and was eventually returned in their big tender to where we were required to be,  grinding uncomfortably up and down alongside the commercial dock. For a very large man he was surprisingly agile, and dressed in formal civil service black dress wrapped with a mat and girdled with a rope, all topped off with a hi-viz jacket marked Aus Aid.

After umpteen forms filled we were given our clearance documents and enabled to set sail for Fiji.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Tonga farewell

Our sail from the Ha'apai islands to Vavau was dotted with whale encounters, many quite close.  The northern islands appeared eventually and have a very different aspect to the low lying Sandy reefs further south.  Thickly wooded mushroom islands with undercut cliffs and hardly a beach or reef anywhere.  However we found obe lovely spot and anchored in a blue lagoon and enjoyed an unusually sunny day.  We were invited ashore to the Blue Lagoon restaurant to partake in freshly caught red snapper with local spinach, pele, in coconut cream.  The resort has 3 or 4 brightly painted cottages built out of the cliff and supported on tall spindly legs over the Blue Lagoon. The resort isnt yet open, but chef Otto made us very welcome and regaled us with stories and photos of swimming with humpbacks in the lagoon.

That night the heavens opened and it rained hard for 30 hours. We motored up to the main port of Neiafu in lousy visibility with steep wooded banks either side rather like the River Dart on a wet day accentuated by lots ofbyachts on moorings.  I had to bucket 120 gallons of rainwater out of the dinghy before going ashore to deal with Customs and Port Authority. 

 Later we were surprised to spot another OVNI 455CC motor in and I recognised Alita. I had corresponded with Marcus in New Zealand when we first acquired Tin Tin, and so we enjoyed exchanging visits to compare notes. He and Michaela have made Alita immaculate as their cruising home. 

That night we succumbed to Mango, the nearest cafe to our mooring, and warmed up with hot food and bright lights. Tomorrow we clear out for a 3 day sail to Fiji.  

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Adventures in Tonga

We finally set sail from Nuku'alofa on a grey windy day to head 45miles north to the first of the Ha'apai group of islands. As we passed our through the reefs into the open sea we were delighted to have several close encounters with huge humpback whales. A mother and calf crossed right in front of us, diving to avoid collision as we pounded along close hauled with two reefs in. Another huge whale broke the surface right alongside and the huge knobbly back arched out of the water giving us a real sense of the enormous mass of muscled animal next to us. The images of those close encounters keep going through my head because they were so huge and immediate.

Then we were amazed to see flying whales, silhouetted above the horizon as they leapt clear of the water before smashing back in a gigantic wall of spray. Again and again they repeated this, and I wished that we could have been closer to see it happening nearby.

Then we were delighted to catch the biggest dorado yet, which Mark struggled to play and wind in. Justin skilfully filleted the fish and that evening served mahi maui with ginger pak choi and noodles.

We eventually found Kelefesia and made our way in rough seas between white water breaking over reefs to drop anchor in a sheltered area behind sandstone cliffs. To our left a pointy promontory reminded us of Gibraltar. This dropped into a fringe of coconuts backed by thick forest before rising again to higher cliffs. A white sand beach stretched out into a sandbar surrounded by pale blue water.

Mark and Philip explored ashore and found some beautiful cowrie shells. Two dogs appeared and, beyond Gibraltar, they spotted a small fishing boat.

The following morning was rainy and grey again, but we snorkelled from TinTin into a magical area of huge columns of coral topped with the broad think plates like acacia trees. Deep between these there were canyons of white sand. I came across a huge colony of pale pink sea anemones which were about 20 feet wide in a shallow dome, with their tentacles gently swaying in the current. One darker anemone near the centre housed a clown fish.

We got rather cold and I produced Lake Soup for lunch to revive everyone. Then while Philip and Mark had another go at solvingbthe generator problems, I went ashore with Siobhan and Justin. We waded round Gibraltar to find a fisherman's camp guarded by the two dogs and a large black pig rooting away under the trees. Fish were hung out to dry on frames, which was rather futile in the rain. Earlier we had watched a little fishing boat set off into rough seas, probably making for the village of Nomuko 15 miles to the north. It seemed a perilous journey for such a snall boat with low freeboard better suited for a calm lagoon!

Our beachcombing trip quickly brought the delight of a large brown speckled cowrie shell and many others of smaller size. We also found large blocks of layered sandstone in the water with deeply carved Tongan names.

Back on board I was ecstatic to find that Phil and Mark had solved both the current leakage from the generator, and also the problem that kept tripping the fuse so that it wouldn't start. That's taken three weeks of great anxiety off my mind!

It was my cooking night so I celebrated by producing an egg, cheese, ham, chilli and garlic potato soufflé cake coated in breadcrumbs. This was served with ratatouille and fresh cabbage steamed with nutmeg, cumin seeds and ginger accompanied by a cold Chilean Sauvignon blanc. Pudding was bananas baked with muscovado sugar and flambéed in Mount Gay rum, served with hot custard sprinkled with nutmeg.

Tomorrow we hope the weather clears for our sail north towards Ha'afeva island.

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Thursday, 6 July 2017

Tin Tin Fashion!





A certain sense of style.

Whales and limestone caverns

Mark, Phil and I explored more of Tongatapu by car, ending up descending deep into limestone caverns carved out through the ancient beds of coral. Spectacular stalactites and stalactites reached towards each other often forming thick pillars that must have taken ages to grow.  As we descended with our guides we could bear splashing and shrieking, and it soon became apparent that there were fresh water lakes down there. Two expat Tongan families visiting home from Hawaii and Texas were back g great fun leaping in.  Neither of my companions fancied it, but as we left I found another set of steps leading down to water and, reluctant to miss a wild swim, I stripped off and went in.  The water was surprisingly warm and delicious. I explored more of the cave u til I joined up with the families who all were thrilled to find a new area.

The next day was mirror calm so we took Tin Tin out through the reef to look for whales and were thrilled to come across several groups with mother and calf gently cruising along.

Phil, who is a determined fisherman has just lost his lure to a very big fish strike in the reef pass, so the whales were a nice compensation. We anchored  lose inside the reef and had an exceĺlent snorkel amidst completely new coral scenery, reminiscent of spreading acacia trees on the Serengeti plains.  The trees were two or three feet across and were vivid lime green,  copper, and purple and blue.  Fish didn't seem as abundant but there were shoals of lime green "leaves blowing in the breeze".

The next day Justin and Siobhan arrived and we had the whole boat shipshape after our maintenance work.  That evening we anchored TinTin off the Big Mama Yacht Club again and enjoyed the sunset together over a drink.

This morning I had everyone up early for  busy day.    I set old with Mark at 07:30  to spray paint Tin Tin' s logo onto the wreck by the yacht club, then got everyone to immigration at 09:00 in order to sign on the new crew and get our clearance to head north to Vavau. J&S then set off to explore Tongatapu by car whilst we lads restocked with vegetables and other groceries, and filled up with fuel before returning the car.  Of course here one must take it to a carwash first!  Driving anywhere was slow today as the streets are full of processions of trucks pumping out music, decked out with flags and balloons and laden with people waving flags in readiness for Saturday's rugby match vs Fiji



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Monday, 3 July 2017

Tongatapu

It's almost a week since we arrived in Tonga and the days since then have been occupied with some exploring, saying farewell to Emily and Julien, and welcoming Phil.  Tin Tin has shuttled from anchorage off the Royal Island, Pangai Motu, to the anchorage off the port of Nuku Alofa. Going ashore there in the dinghy, we tie up to the most ramshackle, decaying and badly built dinghy pontoon that I have ever seen.  It's the sort of thing I made a raft out of  when I was a Boy Scout with oil drums, and timbers roughly nailed together with 6" nails, most of which are protruding dangerously to puncture inflatables,. Many of the pontoon bits are half sunk as the oil drums have popped out, and attached to them are old boats, many of which are themselves half submerged in a swirl of plastic rubbish.  Depressing.

The town has grand government buildings with egg cosy shaped roofs in red, which echo the royal Palace on the sea front, in its intricate Victorian white. Some of the churches also point red spires skywards, giving a themed roof line.  The main streets are busy with people and vehicles, but no scooters or bikes. General stores are well stocked with a wide range of goods, and the market has a great variety of fresh produce. Everything seems to be in urgent need of maintenance and repainting,, with a few exceptions which gleam.

We hired a car £15/day and explored to see where Abel Tasman landed in 1643, driving along good roads through well tended villages. Little roadside shops have the fronts barricaded off with grills through which transactions take place, the shelves behind all arranged so that everything can be seen easily, stacked with Punjas Breakfast Crackers, CheeseBalls, and other staples.  Roadside vegetable sellers display piles of yams or taro.  Dogs wander everywhere, often limping from encounters with cars. Large pigs and their piglets graze the roadside or cross purposefully on a mission. Cows are often tethered under a tree.

Graves are very prominent and colourful in village cemeteries, with big signs proclaiming Happy Fathers Day Papa, quilts or bright cloths draped over the graves or hung on frames.  Our explorations took us to the blowholes in coral cliffs where the swell blasted great snorts of spray and millions of tons of water into the air.  Further on we found Tonga's Stonhenge, Ha'amomga na Maui, where two massive blocks of coral support a huge cross piece which fits into carved slots. Three avenues radiate through the woods from the stone to the sea, through which the sun shines on 21st June (the shortest day) the Equinox, and the longest day.  Two hundred metres away an imposing slab is reputed to be the backrest for the massive blind King who built this in 1200AD, where he could protect his back from assassination attempts, and wave his stick in front of him to keep people at a distance.