Tonga-the unexpected treasure: drag shows, underwater caves, kava, and WHALES!

Our sail from American Samoa to Tonga was CRAZY!!!!!

To start our passage off we were hailed for the first time by a US war ship (#47 to be exact) as we were exiting the Pago Pago harbour. Of course we were right in the narrowest part of the channel when we passed her…..this should of been an indicator of how the rest of the passage was going to be : )

We set sail on September 4th and planned on an average speed of 5 knots therefore, a 320 nautical miles passage should of taken us about 64 hours, 2.5 days, arriving on September 8th local Tongan time, my birthday (we passed the international date line and lost a day).  However, we experienced heavy winds, lots of squalls, and a point of sail that made things a bit uncomfortable.  We made the passage in about 50 hours, which meant we averaged a boat speed of 6.4 knots.  This means for Slow Flight, our rails were in the water constantly when winds were sustained at 20-25 knots.  To boot…we thought we were leaking our fresh water we had made a day ago and the water pump broken and we basically ran out of water.  We broke out our “emergency” bottled water to drink, thank goodness.  The “ride” was so rough we didn’t cook, also because we didn’t have water so we ate crackers, granola bars, chips, and nuts for a 24 hour period!  Not good planning on our part, both at predicting weather and prepping food beforehand (we got lazy and maybe a bit too confident?!).  The passage was probably the worst thus far…..but at least it was a fast passage! The water issue ended up to be that we hadn’t switched the water pump to the other water tank…silly us!

Checking in to Tonga– We arrived in the Vava’u island group on September 7th (local time) just before sundown….cutting it close, we generally time our arrivals to a new port during the daylight hours since it’s a new place for us and in daylight you can see hazards underwater.  This time, and luckily, the main town of Neiafu have a series of moorings so we came in and tied off to mooring ball and waited to check into the country in the morning.

Slow Flight making landfall in the Vava’u group in Tonga…thank goodness this ride is over!
Tonga flag and our “Q” (quarantine) flag flying as we made landfall.
We had to dock our boat at the wharf with these huge black “rails”. We were at the dock so long we had to keep an eye on our docking bumpers because when the tide would go in/out it was possible our boat could of gotten stuck underneath these huge black, rubber rails. So we kept adjusting them up and down according to the tide.
It was a busy day at the wharf…we had a neighbor (SV North Star from Florida) tie up to us because there was no room on the wharf…then a cargo ship came in…eekkks
Officially checked into Tonga..what a birthday gift!

Landfall and the islands- Tonga was not what we expected geologically speaking…. Maybe I didn’t do enough research but we were surprised to see all the little islands flat, like they got a buzz cut.  No mountains to speak of but the islands were “carved” out from below from the tide and waves.  There were plenty of reefs around and we had to traverse through “passes” of coral but there was plenty of room to actually sail to one island to another.  One other note was the temperature….we were a bit farther south than American Samoa, Cook Islands, and French Polynesia which meant we had cooler temperatures!  It actually got cold enough for us to sleep with a light blanket over us.

Here is a map of the Vava’u group islands. You can see there are lots of little islands to visit. Each have a number to reference for each anchorage.
An example of the side of an island with its carved out bottom….it was the first we have seen of this and I am sure there is a scientific explanation but that is above my pay grade…
View of some of the islands from an anchorage….you can see there are no mountains and the vegetation on top looks like they got a hair cut.
A sunset version of the island view
Slow Flight sailing to another anchorage in the Vava’u group

Town of Neiafu, Vava’u, Tonga First of all, town was also a surprise to us…. it was more developed than I had imagined!  For some reason, I thought the town would be extremely poor, with little amenities, and provisioning and internet would be almost nil…..boy was I wrong!  Lots of stores, though each store had something a little different than the other so you had to go to each one to make sure you weren’t missing out on something cool.  Local market held 6 days a week for fresh veggies.  Bakery with fresh bread for $1 usd.  Internet was super fast and we actually could get cell reception and internet in all of the anchorages we went to (hench why some of you got FB messages from us).  Espresso and coffee shops selling organic foods, recycling bins, and laundry facilities for about $7 a load (wash, dry in a dryer, and fold)…..not bad.  Lots of restaurants and there was an established VHF net every morning for local announcements and specials to be announced throughout the island group.  Even small islands hosting a traditional Umu (a style of cooking in an underground pit) would advertise their specials on the net.

A view of the main road in Neiafu….Digicell was the cell and data carrier here in Tonga.
Tapa restaurant and a salon right next door…
Cafe Tropicana…owner is Greg. He offered laundry, wifi, espresso, sold postcards, country flags, kava, and I even ordered Eggs Benedict here!
Here we all are getting an afternoon adult beverage when a fellow cruisers who would volunteer at the school showed up with a local boy named Sani (pink shirt). He was selling handmade cards…we bought some for $5 Tongan dollars.
Sani’s card, front view signed by him
The poem inside…we thought it was fitting!
The outdoor market with fresh veggies held 6 days a week. Tonga is very religious…lots of different religions here but it is expected that no one works on sunday. Even if cruisers want to work on their boat on a Sunday, it is expected to keep the noise down in respect to the locals.
The market also had crafts, clothes, and other do-dads available.
On Saturday, the market generally had some kind of performance going on. Here was a local church performing traditional dancing. It was interesting to see the dress here…In American Samoa men wore the skirts (Lava lavas) that were right about to the knee. Here in Tonga the Lava Lavas were well to their mid calf. An addition to their dress was this decorative outer skirt, for both men and women, made of tapa cloth or sometime strips of cloth…much like New Zealand. Another difference we noticed was in their dancing, they would tilt their head once in awhile similar to some movements to those in Indonesian dancing.
School girls….many different types of uniforms worn and different colors.
This sign was in the middle of the town….I thought it fun as we knew where all these places were.
Ahhhh…the local beer! most of the restaurant would serve your bottled beer in a cozy..we thought that was cool and ingenious
The other local beer! I liked the Maka better ; )

Anchorage # 8 – SV Terrapin joined us a few days later and we traveled with them as well with SV Me Too all around the island group.

Slow Flight anchored near the island of Kapa
I love this..customs boat checking up on us : )

Kimis birthday

We had everyone over for dinner to celebrate Kimi’s birthday. SV Me Too surprised Kimi with a beautiful dress and card…while SV Terrapin supplied a red velvet cake and a bottle of Fireball (ouch my head already hurts : )) The girls (Emma, Jessica, and Briley) got creative on making the candle…true cruiser style!! I love it
Volley ball anyone?  Thanks to Terrapin, they had a full court sized volley ball set.  We cleared all the rocks and coral to set up just in case there was any diving for the ball…which there was…we play to win : )
We actually had an audience…. love the “wilson” hand print on the volley ball.

A Walk to Barnacle Beach- 

We took a walk on Kapa island to Barnacle beach…this was funny to us because we call ourselves the “Barnacle Fleet” after meeting the Oyster rally in French Polynesia. Oysters boats are super expensive so you get our drift….. Trevor, Jill and Clay walking on the “main road”
There was pigs everywhere…almost like dogs in Mexico or chickens in Arkansas…..these little guys were too cute to pass up on a photo opp!
So due to the religious nature, between the hours of 5-6 every day, or maybe just wendesdays…i forget, it is a time for silence. This means the kids stop playing etc…. We saw this happen in American Samoa as well…these old gas cylinders act as a bell to signal when all playing must stop and silence be observed. that a spider?
Holy spider…that thing is huge!
At last, Barnacle Beach
Cheese!!!! Or Trevor would say… “Queso”

Swallows Cave- While at Anchorage # 8, we set out in our dinghys to see Swallows cave.

The entrance to Swallows Cave
Dinghys going into the cave
Inside Swallows Cave
Looking up from inside the cave…you could hear the birds flying above
It was good to visit the cave at just about 3-4 pm as the sun angle would highlight the cave and under the water. We snorkeled it too (really cold) and saw awesome fish). Here is Briley and Trevor silhouetted from inside the cave.
Underwater in Swallows cave..tons of fish!

Anchorage # 25 and #36– We took day trips to other islands…

Ummm…that’s why the anchor didn’t come up! Och…we actually motored over to SV Me Too with this piece of coral hanging from our anchor to show off our talents…NOT!
Slow Flight anchored at an outer island for the moment…photo courtesy of Me Too

Anchorage # 16 – The wind was supposed to pick up and we wanted to find a nice protected anchorage.  We found ourselves at this gem where David and his family lived.  His family has owned this island for about 6 generations.  Trevor thought he heard that David’s wife was the sister of the King of Tonga….hard to fact check this but it makes for a good story.  

The anchorage…we had to dinghy over the reef and set a small anchor for high tide.
Some of us took a walk over to the other side of the island.
SV Sky Blue Eyes, Karl and Julie, with Trevor photo bombing in the background : )

Snorkeling–  Unfortunately the coral inside the anchorage was not very healthy but we still got to see some cool and NEW stuff!

Saw this ‘shelf” like coral…this was new to us.
Closet thing to a seahorse I’ve ever seen.
Yes this is a baby Man-o-war jellyfish……thank goodness for wetsuits!
So I thought this was a squid but I was corrected and was told it was a cuddle fish…again above my pay grade
Hummm….this guy looked scary
Brains? Nope just coral….also a new sighting

David and his family– It is customary to ask before traipsing on land for permission to do so as all the land is privately owned.  Hence why we met David and his family.  He sometime puts on a traditional Umu style feast, cooking in an underground pit, but tonight we thought we would try kava for the first time.  Trevor, Clay and David dinghy over to another island close by to purchase ground up kava root and David said he would prepare it for us.  He also offered us fresh coconut water.  We spent most of the night on the beach with him and his family while other cruisers joined us and we all chatted it up.  A great night had by all!

David and his eldest son, of 11 children, preparing fresh coconut water for us.
Fred climbing up a coconut tree for one more coconut…it was literally like the movies watching him climb the tree and cutting down a coconut.
David’s girls did a short dance for us…how adorable they were!
Karl, SV Sky blue eyes, showing his good side : )
And his other side (lol)…he’s comfortable with his manhood : )


David took us on a tour of his kava crop.  You can see the anchorage and Slow flight in the background…
Ground up kava…this bag cost us $20 Tongan dollars…about $10 usd
David preparing the kava. He put the grounds in a “net” and ‘massaged’ it for quite some time. He then added water and BAM…you had kava drink
The kava beach party
Trevor and his first cup of kava EVER!
Kimi’s first cup of kava….
And maybe her LAST?! (lol) it tasted like dirt and you really had to down the cup….afterwards your tongue and lips went a bit numb… I had 4 cups, Trevor and 6 cups…no one really felt “high”…maybe more mellow but nothing extreme. I asked David if he brewed a strong drink and he said yes! We hear there are different strengths of kava and in Vanuatu, the kava is supposed to be much stronger…I guess I will have to try it again : )
Bonfire…in a wheelbarrow
After we all went back to our boats to eat a bite of dinner…we were all invited to SV Sky Blue Eyes for a little serenade by Karl who is a fantastic guitar player and singer. Sky Blue Eyes, the name of their boat, is for Julie, his beautiful wife with…yes…eyes the color of the sky. He told us a funny story of their wedding: He wrote and played a song named Sky Blue Eyes, which he played for us that night and at their wedding. The wedding guests demanded Karl to play more songs. Karl, not expecting to go beyond a few already rehearsed ballads, he agreed and played from the top of his head…”Yesterday” by the Beatles….We all cracked up as he replayed “Yesterday” that night and listening to the words…it probably wasn’t the best song to play at HIS wedding (hahaha)!

Anchorage # 9 – We (SV Me Too and SV Terrapin) anchored here just for the day to specifically dive the famous Mariners Cave.  Mariners cave is an underwater cave, meaning you have to dive underneath the water and resurface in the cave.  We had read about it but there was still some anxiety about how long the free dive would be.  Trevor, Jill, and Phil suited up in scuba dive gear while the rest of us free dived.We weren’t sure of the cave entrance either but luckily found other boats diving it too.  Again, it was important to dive this cave at 3pm so that you were able to see the cave entrance as the sunlight would assist in getting in and out.  With little expectations, this cave was AMAZING!  Besides that fact that when you surfaced inside the cave, clearing your ears felt funny due to the fact that the air had little spaces to go since we were surrounded by water and rock.

Anchorage 9 was behind this island in the light blue parts.
SV Me Too anchoring…and being themselves…super silly : )

Mariners cave

You can see the entrance to the cave…underwater.  You had to dive down through that hole and surface somewhere inside….I was a bit scared but when the kids did it…I said WTF….why the hell not.  Here is the gang waiting to go inside the cave.
The exit from inside the can see why we need the sunlight to determine which was was “out”!
Here is me talking to Trevor on the surface inside the cave…it was super dark in there and again, it felt better to be under the water than above it due to the difficulty of clearing your ears.
Underwater shot of another lower entrance to the cave..this was about 45 ft. deep. Trevor scuba through this…Clay and Briley free dived it…I just watched them go in and out…can’t hold my breathe that long
An underwater shot of Trevor going through the lower entrance/exit
Kimi free diving out
Trevor scuba diving inside
You an see the surface on the other side of the cave

Back into town – After diving Mariners Cave we all headed back to the town of Neiafu.  We had heard of a great show at the Bounty Bar in town…special on Wednesday..a drag show!  We had to check it out. We did our last provisioning for our passage then left on September 22nd for Fiji.

Here is a cargo ship that passed us going through the passage to the town Neiafu….. the vessel is from Middlefart! We had no idea where that was so we had to google it…who would of guessed…its in Denmark!
The gang at Mangos restaurant before we left the next morning (SV Sky Blue Eyes-Karl and Julie, SV Terrapin-Phil, Aimee, Jessica and Emma, SV Me Too-Clay, Jill, and Briley, and us)
The drag show at Bounty bar! Trevor getting some action!
Or NOT!!!!!
Jill and Clay….cutest couple EVER!
Phil and Aimee…..This needs to be their Christmas card this year! Classic Terrapin style…love it!

But the whales!!!! – To make a long story short…. I particularly wanted to swim with whales.  We thought we would do this in Nuie but we never made it there due to the fact we decided to go to American Samoa instead and Nuie was far to south for us.  I had no idea the whales also migrated and birthed near Tonga so you can imagine my delight!  Without criminalizing ourselves…..a few of us got the opportunity to swim with a mother nursing her calf.  Of course my Go Pro camera died on me (of course!) but i got this one shot of them leaving us.  This photo does not give the experience justice by any stretch of the imagination but it’s all I can share with you for now.  Truly a memory I will never forget, fleeting as it may of been, a dream come true!  Most photos are taken from a video courtesy of Jill and Briley on SV Me Too…thank you for capturing this moment.

This is us in the dinghy…you can see the mama’s head in the far top left corner and I am in the water
The mama is still vertical and the calf is behind her….I love this because you can see her eye!
The mama and calf are starting to move….I must of been 10-20 feet away
They have had enough of us and are moving on……I am taking the only photo my Go Pro photo below.
Words can’t really explain the feeling!

We are currently in Fiji getting some boat work done (it’s never done) and we had a crew member (Mayo Yamaguchi) for the passage from Tonga to Fiji…our first time having crew aboard…she has been fantastic!  Next post soon..I hope!

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