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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