browser icon
You are using an insecure version of your web browser. Please update your browser!
Using an outdated browser makes your computer unsafe. For a safer, faster, more enjoyable user experience, please update your browser today or try a newer browser.

April ’09 – Vav’au, Tonga

Posted by on May 21, 2009
Nuiatoputapu is one of the most traditional of the Tongan Islands. The anchorage was so comfortable we had a hard time leaving.

Dear Friends:

It was hard to leave Nuiatoputapu. The wonderful anchorage, the grand excursions Keine and her family kept creating the evening views of whales spouting on the far side of the reef. But we knew we would see Keine and her family again in New Zealand within a few months and, after two weeks here we were eager to have a reunion with the Tongan family in Vav’au which had adopted us many years ago. It turned out Keine is closely related to our family and in fact lived with them while she went to high school. She had played with her young cousin, a little girl named Lini. “I never realized it was you two who where her God Parents.” Keine told us. “You have to go meet her. She will be all grown up now.”

The local women are known for their fine mat weaving, a truly labor intensive job which starts with drying pandanas leaves.

We should have listened to our instincts and grabbed the fair wind that blew on Sunday But I couldn’t say no to a last chance to go to church with Keine and her family, to listen to some of the finest voices in the world in a building with wonderful acoustics, then to share a picnic lunch with them. Besides, another cruising yacht had sailed in. Little Wing, a BCC 28 footer owned by Craig and Kaye Compton carried a pretty sophisticated radio set up. They suggested we look at their weather information and GRIB files for the area. “No reason to rush. Next few days will be just fine, winds might be a bit fresher for a few hours tomorrow night according to this” I said to Larry after going over the files. On the other hand, the clouds had changed a bit, the barometer had actually moved more than 4 millibars over the past two or three days and I instinctively wanted to set sail on the fair wind that was blowing but…the music was great, the picnic lovely, the farewells warm and finally we set sail early the next day with light south easterly winds and only about 140 miles to sail.

Larry did a marvelous job of working to windward to regain every inch the west going current stole from us

A lovely reach out of the lagoon, then we set sail wing and wing to go to leeward of the atoll (no need to put ourselves in danger by sailing past the windward side of the atoll with a west setting current just to save a few miles.) About three miles out, just as we passed over an underwater ridge, we found ourselves in the middle of a pod of feeding humpback whales. Impressive and though we know they were aware of our presence, just the sheer bulk of these animals made us slightly apprehensive of an accidental bump. Then we sheeted in to head south and for three hours we had a nice reach. Unfortunately by mid-afternoon the wind began to head us, and then it began to strengthen. By mid-night we decided to heave-to because I was getting seasick and besides, the forecasts had been for wind from the east. Long story short, it took us 4 days to finally reach Vava’u, heaving to twice for frontal passages, then beating every inch of the way against a west setting current and finally laying hove-to for nine hours to wait for daylight. Larry did an amazing job of assisting the windvane to gain every inch of weathering. He was at the helm for almost 18 hours straight on the third day out– watching for each lift, judging each wave in 30 knots gusting 35. As we finally short tacked in the well-protected waters of the archipelago I pledged to never again pass up a fair wind and to always trust my own instincts more than any weather fax or GRIB file or Weather router. (I also am very glad we have a good weatherly boat even if I am not as weatherly as she is.)

I gave him this Hero Award as a joke to reward him for doing such a grand job of getting us into Vava’u. He has kept it in his wallet for the past seven months

It was with a bit of trepidation that we took a taxi from the landing at Neiafu and rode out to the village were my Tongan family lived. Though Neiafu had grown from a very sleepy little village with half a dozen small cafes to a town with about a dozen places to eat and drink, Pangaimotu, five miles away from the harbor, was just as quiet and tranquil as we remembered. We’d known a vicious hurricane ten years previously had wiped out almost all of the old wooden, thatch and tin buildings so we weren’t surprised to see concrete block ones in their place. “Our family” had, back when we were there in 1985, already built part of their house in concrete block. Now it was all concrete but still surrounded by handsome and well cared for native fruiting trees and grass. As soon as we walked to the door and called hello, half a dozen youngsters began calling, “Lini, Lini, Lini they are here!!!” An elegant young woman walked in to the room. She took one look at us and said, “You are just like the picture I have had on my wall all my life. My husband has always wondered why I have palengi’s (white skinned people) on the wall.” She rushed over and lifted me right off the floor. “My mother will be so glad you have finally arrived. She has been keeping the house spotless everyday since we got your postcard,” Linlarry (pronounced Linlauri but mostly Lini) told us. She lead us to the veranda then insisted on hand grating fresh pineapple, coconut and lemon then mixing it with the liquid of a fresh drinking coconut to make a drink that is served with a spoon so you can eat up the fruit too. Soon she introduced us to her 3-year old daughter Vashaila, plus her younger sisters and brothers and began planning all the things we would do together.

My lovely God Daughter, Linlarry and her daughter, Vashaila (I am responsible for the colored marks on Vashaila’s face; I brought the play pens for face painting.)

According to her parents, Lini was conceived the night of a dinner party on board Taleisin 24 years ago. I remember that night especially as Ponove, her father, had played wonderful Tongan music using my guitar as we all sat in the cockpit together. Now we once again heard him play some of the lovely songs we remembered when we joined him and his friends to drink kava one evening at the town hall. Within a few days of our arrival we had renewed acquaintances with most of the Tongans we’d met so many years before. Lini would often come in to Neiafu to help me with my shopping, to join us for evenings at the local café’s where folks from yachts gathered to listen to guitar music or joined in impromptu jam sessions. I learned the modesty of Tongan society would never have let Lini come to these same café’s even with a Tongan girl friend, but with her God Parents, that was a different matter.

Ponove and Larry immediately resumed a friendship that had always included a lot of bad jokes.

Leonati, one of the few master carvers in Tonga, absolutely surprised me as I walked in to the local market place soon after we arrived. He was talking to another customer. When he finished he turned around, took a careful look at me and said, “What has happened to the little frog I carved for you?” He and his wife Anna also included us into their family life. They kept giving us fresh fruit and eggs from their garden, helping us in so many ways that I wanted to do something in return. So as an exercise in using my computer for something more than word processing and email, I tried my hand at making a brochure for Leonati. He definitely liked it and insisted on giving us even more help and gifts.

This is my first attempt at brochure design. Leonati insisted on giving Larry the wooden carving of a swordfish, whale and her calf. It was Larry’s 69th birthday – that’s the excuse Leonati used. (Click on image for a full size brochure)

But again I have rambled on a bit too long so will have to tell you of the new folks we met, the adventures afloat in Tonga in the next newsletter.

Fair Winds,

Lin and Larry

A short walk out of any village and you are still likely to find traditional cabins like this used as sleep outs or resting places for children and locals while they work on their plantations.

Leave a Reply