22 November 2014

Estrellita: Cyclone season 2014-2015 (Keel Pit, Vuda Point, Fiji)

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Here is Estrellita’s home for the cyclone season, and you may have noticed she isn’t floating in the crystal clear blue waters of the Marshall Islands.

No one is certain (still) whether this year will be an official El Nino year or not, but with the increased west wind anomalies and the elevated risk of typhoon activity in the Marshall’s, the fact that the Marshall’s are atolls (and our own sucky experience with wind from the wrong side in an atoll), we decided to delay heading to the RMI until next year.

P1050276We debated staying in Tonga, and were on the waiting list for the keel pits in Fiji, but by mid-October had decided that we would head to New Zealand for the first time. After planning to be in NZ at the end of 2012 we figured it was about time! We had gone so far as sending in our arrival paperwork to NZ, in a 24 hour period we were notified that we had a spot in the keel pits in Fiji if we wanted it and we had a pretty fantastic opportunity to as caretakers as a resort in Tonga.

The decision: Ultimately, we decided to make the passage to Fiji, put Estrellita in the keel pit, prep her for leaving, and fly back to Tonga for some resort time near our favorite kiting location in Vava’u. And so we did…

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P1050299I’ll write more about the passage, our experience going into a keel pit, what we did to prep the boat, finish up my memories of Tonga by boat, and write about our land travel over the next few months.

The plane plan: We aren’t certain where we will head after Tonga. NZ by plane is a real possibility but we are staying open to other opportunities (anyone have any flight passes from Nadi or Auckland?) but we’ll end up back in Fiji in time to do a month or so of work on the boat and splash in Fiji at the very start of the season to start exploring a new country.

17 November 2014

Region Review: Fun Times in Tonga

estrellita in vavau 2014

We spent just under 3 months cruising Tonga – 1 week in the Ha’apai group and the rest in Vava’u. It is a long time for a cruiser trying to make it from Mexico to NZ in one season but there is so much more we could have done if we had more time. We would have loved to go back the Ha’apai group, and to have seen Niautoputapu. Even in Vava’u, we could have spent a lot more days kiting at Kenutu before we got bored of that place (if ever).

As the months past, the network of connections we had made in the place grew. We made friends. We said goodbye to friends. We joined and left (or were left by) several fun gangs of people.

We had mixed reviews of Tonga from friends before arriving. We knew boats that had been here, been very disappointed and left immediately for Fiji. We knew boats who had been here, loved it and wished for more time. It was difficult to know what to expect because most people we heard from had only spent a month here, with at least a week in the main harbor, and had their eyes on their passage to New Zealand. Many of our friends saw some cool stuff here but they didn’t have much time to explore the nooks and crannies.

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We had a fantastic time. Everyone has their own soft spots in their hearts for certain kinds of places, and Tonga didn’t capture us long term as French Polynesia did, but I can’t imagine us not having a good time here. Beautiful anchorages everywhere you go and heaps of them.

What we liked:

  • KITE, KITE, KITE. Wow. Kenutu makes our top 5 list so far – totally. If you kite, and there is wind, go!
  • Holy whales! If you arrive at the right time (it was mid-August for us this year), the mothers and their wee calves are in the shallow interior waters. Later in the year the whales stay in Vava’u but go to the deeper exterior waters where you are less likely to see them. We arrived at the peak of calving and it was amazing. Every time we went sailing we saw them. We saw them breaching and playing from our anchored vessel. Spectacular.
  • White sand beaches.
  • Amazing water colors.
  • Loads of anchorages so even when it is busy you can find your own spot if you like. Generally great holding.
  • Every place has a little surprise, something good and unexpected to find when you explore.

What was a minus:

  • Underwater is a little underwhelming. You can find some live coral, you can find fish, except in the most sheltered bays the water is clear, but to our (admittedly jaded) experience, it is…only ok.
  • Spear fishing is a bit of a no go unless you are willing to go far out and deep. No leisurely shooting in the anchorage in the coral fields.
  • While there are lots of easy great anchorages, some of the places we wanted to explore were anchorages on shelves where swinging meant coming into the reef near the beach.
  • Guidebooks were whacked (this isn’t really the fault of the place, but true).
  • Channel 26 ;)

Thank you Tonga!

livia kenutu

14 November 2014

Video: Gravity Filling Our Propane Tank

Not an actual instructional video, but it would have been nice to have seen someone do it before we tried for the first time. We gravity filled our propane tank throughout French Polynesia and here we are doing it on Taravai Island (in Mangareva Atoll, Gambier Archipelago, French Polynesia).

Direct link to the video here.

12 November 2014

Snapshots from Tonga

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10 November 2014

Boats in Tonga

P1050082Like many boaters, I enjoy walking the docks in a new location and seeing all of the different boats, the different gear and different style owners bring to each boat. If you look through the regatta photos I posted you will see a fairly large selection of the fleet of cruising boats that we saw in Tonga this year but here are a few other vessels we snapped shots of on the water.

I don’t know the name or type of all of the boats in these photos but chime in if you do.

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07 November 2014

La Paz, Mexico --> Neiafu, Tonga

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Being in Neiafu reminded us in many ways of being in La Paz. We had a great time in La Paz, and have a lot of great memories of good times with good friends there. Unfortunately, when we think of the town we also think of the bad apples in the ex-pat community. I don’t know if it was a fluke, or just our year, but we found that although most ex-pats living there were nice there were two annoying themes that kept repeating themselves: the cruiser-police who spread weird rumors and the angerballs.P1050171 An example of the cruiser-police is the person who kept saying that if your Mexican courtesy flag was smaller than your ensign, you were insulting the Mexicans. The angerballs seem to restrict themselves to making rude and aggressive “anonymous” comments on the VHF. Both of these minorities left a bad taste in our mouths about La Paz, despite the fact that we had a great time there.

Apparently, we are capable of getting smarter ;)

Three months ago we rolled into Neiafu, which has a large ex-pat community, a regular cruiser net, and repeater stations on VHF channel 26 so both the net and cruiser hails can be heard even in the outlying anchorages. After a few hours of being on 26 and the next morning listening to one net, I realized that if we didn’t turn off that channel, we were going to have the same distaste for Neiafu. So we rolled our dial back to channel 16 and have spent the last 3 months enjoying the distance that our lack of participation puts between us and any drama. Now, we hear about the cruiser-police (e.g., trying to enforce a speed limit for dinghies of dubious legality that none of the Tongan drivers or dive boat follows) and the angerballs (e.g., the guy in the crowded mooring field who rows over and tells everyone to turn off their generators and dive compressors) as funny stories told to us by our friends over happy hour beers. Because we don’t have to hear either group directly, those stories are amusing to us, not frustrating.

We really like Neiafu which I’ll post about logbook style separately, and as you can hopefully see through our various posts, we have been having a world class time in Tonga.

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