August 18 - November 25, 2007

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HIGHLIGHTS

Tongans -- Nice People, But From Mars. Or Are We The Ones From Mars?

Teaching And Learning In Vava'u

Swimming With The Whales

A Whole Season, And Practically No Boat Repairs!

Oh -- and Ken finally updated his blog on Iraq, even though he claims the old one stood up pretty well over time. The last one was calculated to offend nobody, but Ken says this one will probably make everybody mad. Oh well...

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August 17 - November 25, 2007

Tonga

Vava'u, Tonga is maybe the nicest and most "different" place we've been on our voyaging. (Well, NZ was nice too, but NZ felt like home. Tonga feels like a different planet.)

Tonga consists of 170 islands, spread over some 700,000 sq. kilometers of ocean. But the actual land area of the islands covers only 691 sq. kilometers. That's about 200 square miles. And only about 40 of the islands are inhabited.

Approaching Vava'u in the daylight

We arrived outside the main channel into Vava'u in the middle of the night. As usual, we hove to rather than enter a strange port at night.

Just a few weeks earlier, some cruisers went on a reef and lost their boat in Suva (Fiji), trying to enter that difficult harbor in the dark. We don't even consider it.

We expected a parade of officials (including Immigration, Customs, and Agriculture) to visit our boat for the check in.

Fellow cruisers had told us that the officials expect to be served chocolate chip cookies. Beth found this very reasonable and logical, so she whipped up a big batch. She made a separate plate for each official visitor -- we heard if you put out one big plate, the first visitor will take the whole ka boodle!

We felt right at home in a country where the officials take cookies as bribes.

Preparing for official visitors

As it happened, the officials behaved professionally and only took a few cookies. We were stuck with the surplus.

A Cruiser's Paradise

Vava'u is a cruiser paradise. The Tongan people are friendly and speak English. (Most cruisers, even Europeans, speak English.) The harbor at Neiafu provides one of the best hurricane holes in the South Pacific. And just outside the harbor, within about a ten mile radius, lie at least 40 secluded anchorages with clear water and unspoiled coral reefs.

And lots of humpback whales during the winter season.

Sort of like the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, except with whales, a much friendlier and more interesting local culture and about one tenth of the boat traffic and tourist pressure.

(However, the weather is a lot less predictable here. We frequently got rain for days at a stretch.)

Neiafu's Port of Refuge has one of the best protected harbors in the South Pacific. Neiafu's calm water

Neiafu also supports lots of small bars, restaurants and other small businesses catering to sailors, without the "big city" feel of Pape'ete in Tahiti, or Suva in Fiji.

Pete on his weekly garbage run

"Pete the Meat" provides weekly garbage pick up for cruisers. He also sells meat and does laundry.

Personally, we like to separate those services.

 

Joe, the Austrian baker Several businesses, like the Lighthouse Cafe, offer delicious baked goods. Enjoying fresh baked delights

 

Stunning Neiafu sunset   With such delights at hand, we knew right away we were going to stay for a LONG time!

Tonga -- A Different World

We stayed in Tonga for over three months, while Ken did some tutoring (in economics) for some local students. So we got to see the local culture up close. We decided that Tongans are very nice, but also very different from palagis. (Palagi literally means "star burst" or "from the stars," and it generally refers to white people -- but it also includes African Americans.)

Captain Cook called Tonga "the friendly isles." Of course Cook didn't realize that the Tongans were the toughest warriors in the neighborhood (for example, they dominated the Niueans and Fijians), or that they intended to make him and his crew the main course at their welcome feast! (At least that's the local story.) The warriors changed their minds only because the Captain was so gracious and grateful for their hospitality. (It pays to be on your best behavior out here. You just never know...)

Partly because they were such fierce warriors, the Tongans were never colonized. Missionaries came here and changed the religion (putting an end to the warfare and cannibalism), but the Tongans have kept much of their culture intact. They also have one of the last hereditary, absolute monarchies in the world.

Today the Tongans are some of the sweetest, friendliest, most polite people you will ever meet. But different.

Here are a few samples of the local culture.

Family

Tongan children

Family and church dominate Tongan life. Tongans view western-style work as something you do when you want, but obligations to family as absolute priorities.

Palagi business owners trying to employ Tongans find this concept very frustrating.

Older relative grooming young girl

But family obligations don't correspond precisely with our ideas. For example, parents often hand their children off to someone else to raise. In Tongan, the word for "mother" is the same as the word for "aunt" (on your mother's side).

Don and Nori, an American couple who have lived here for about 30 years, told us that when they first came here they had no children. One day some Tongan friends invited them to name their new baby at a "naming ceremony". The next day, Don met the father walking along the road and asked him where he was going. "I'm going to register your baby." Don did a double take. "MY baby??"

The custom is if you name the baby, its now YOUR baby! They managed to give the baby back but eventually, after they had two children of their own, they adopted a local Tongan girl (more on them later).

Hierarchy

Tonga's feudal hierarchy pervades its culture. Every Tongan knows exactly where he or she stands socially, based on class (royal, noble, and common), age (older is better) and sex (men ahead of women, but not always -- sisters rank brothers). And rank has its privileges. When the senior person in the room expresses an opinion, the discussion is over.

Tongan women going to a funeral

Tongans wear woven mats over regular clothes when they want to show respect.

The bigger the mat, the lower the wearer's status.

It's so hard to get into these 4x4s in a skirt!

Palagi are outside the hierarchy, and need to be treated with kid gloves. Therefore a polite Tongan will always tell a palagi whatever he or she wants to hear, whether or not it's actually true. Saying "no" just isn't polite. Even to a question like "Is this the way to the hospital?"

Much better to ask "Which way to the hospital?" which will get a correct answer.

Even the language reflects the hierarchy. Tongan has three distinct dialects, one for addressing commoners, one for addressing nobles, and one for royalty. Even simple words like "go" and "come" differ. Most Tongans aren't fluent in the elite dialects, and so try not to talk to nobles.

Commerce and Money

Most Tongans get by on subsistence farming, possibly selling some of their excess at the local market.

Bountiful produce at Vava'u market -- pineapple for $.50   Going shopping A tongan shopping bag -- strong, convienent and cheap

People here aren't as interested in money as westerners, partly because they can grow or make most of what they need, partly because money doesn't confer social status -- which is mostly determined by family relationships -- and partly because any money you have (and most possessions) belong to your extended family. So if you don't have money, you don't starve, and if you have money, you just have to give it away.

Kind of like a 100 percent tax rate.

Market day means catching up on the gossip Market day is also a social and family affair. Adorable children helping Mom sell mangos and pineapples

Here's an example of how Tongans think about money. A woman who had sold us some handmade craft work approached us in the street one day, and asked if we would mind buying some more of her husband's work for a very cheap price. She explained that her four year old son had seen a toy in one of the "Chinese shops," and had been crying about it for several days. So we paid her about $50 US for a couple more pieces, and she thanked us and headed off with her son to buy the toy.

We know this woman pretty well, and we're sure she was telling the truth. (And the boy was following the whole conversation.)

We took several lessons away. First, dubious western values are starting to work their way in, at least with the son. Second, this fairly prosperous and competent woman had absolutely no cash reserves. Third, she happily spent her last $50 on an unnecessary (and hugely expensive) toy for her son.

So money is like icing on the cake -- not a necessity.

This attitude toward money also explains some rather odd commercial behavior.

Coveted Chocolate Chunk Chips Ahoy

On our first shopping expedition into town, we were shocked and delighted to find Chips Ahoy Chocolate Chunk cookies!! We hadn't seen these since Panama in early 2006. We bought them all.

Three months and many supply ships later, the store still hadn't restocked those cookies.

We've had a number of people offer the same explanation -- most Tongan grocery stores are a source of pride rather than profit. They like the look of well-stocked shelves. When asked why they don't restock popular items, the shopkeepers say "It's no use. They go too fast."

Which explains why most "real" grocery stores and other businesses are owned by foreign ex-pats.

So nobody in Tonga starves, but nobody makes much money either.

Well almost nobody...

A Royal Pain

The royal family sounds like they've mastered the western view of money, chasing get rich quick schemes for their own benefit. For example, the old King offered Tongan passports for sale. That deal attracted lots of unsavory characters -- even Imelda Marcos became a Tongan citizen for a while.

The King also made Tonga a leading "flag of convenience" country for ships, leading to embarrassment when several al Qaeda ships got caught with Tongan flags.

Still, Tongans had a lot of affection for the old king, who died last year. Unfortunately, his son --educated and mostly raised in England -- seems lacking in the common touch, to put it mildly.

As crown prince, the son went into business and ended up owning the country's brewery, electric company, telephone company and airline. He also proposed making Tonga a site for disposing of nuclear waste. He dismissed Tongan occupations as "basket weaving, or whatever it is these people do."

"Whatever these people do." Making brooms for sale at the market

And he rides around in a black London taxicab with tinted windows, so that his subjects can't see in. Some of the palagi locals here told us about a visit the new King paid to one of the outlying islands. The residents decorated the whole island and prepared a big feast. But the King went straight to his room, and stayed there for several days while the villagers waited and the food spoiled.

This guy could sure use some lessons in public relations.

Many of the palagi here can't understand why the people put up with this abuse. But we've been studying a lot of European history on this trip, and we've concluded that when a country has a violent revolution, it usually takes about 50 years before you would want to live there. (The US got lucky, but we also had more of a separatist movement than a social revolution.) The Tongans are pretty happy people, so they have a lot to lose.

Extremely friendly Tongans Tongans just seem unusually friendly and happy.

Last year the pro-democracy forces held a march in Nuku'alofa, which quickly turned into a riot, targeted mostly at Chinese shops. More than half of the city burned down.

We really hope the Tongans can find a peaceful way forward to a democratic society. The problem with violent revolutions is that the people they bring to power are violent revolutionaries.

Animals

Pigs foraging in the front yard

Free range pork. Just watch out where you step!

In the US people use fences to keep their animals in. Here they use fences to keep the pigs out of the house.

Pig family running free

Dogs on the prowl

And lots of dogs. The females usually look like the dog on the right -- nursing.

We didn't see many puppies, though. We have a sneaking suspicion the locals eat them.

Mother dog taking a breather

Modesty

Good, clean fun! Tongans are even more modest than Beth, if that's possible. They even swim fully clothed!

 

Tongan boys dressed for school School kids all wear uniforms. Boys wear lava-lavas (left) and girls wear jumpers (right). Typical school girl dress

 

Tongans don't show affection for the opposite sex in public. But members of the same sex often hold hands or arms, like these boys on the right. Tongan affection

Church

Tongans are very devout Christians. Working and playing are illegal on Sunday -- you're really just supposed to rest and go to church.

On the other hand Epeli Hau'ofa, a Tongan author, claims that Tongans actually work ONLY on Sundays, since they get up so early on Sunday, and spend so long in church, and pray so hard, that they need to take the rest of the week off to recuperate!

Epeli also suggests that much of this effort may go to waste, since Sunday is also God's day off.

Catholic Church building dominates the hill above Neiafu

We could hear the singing at this Catholic church from our boat in the harbor half a mile away. The choir sings in complicated multi-part harmonys. The beauty of the music just bring tears to your eyes.

Sometimes it went on until 2:00 a.m. We had to admire their enthusiasm.

First communion procession

We were lucky enough to visit the Catholic church on a day when the young children got their first communion.

The Bishop came for the ceremony. Ken had never seen a real live Bishop before!

Charasmatic bishop greeting members of the congregation

We visited the Catholic church, but we could also have gone to Wesleyan, Methodist, Church of England, Seventh Day Adventists, or Mormon services.

Crime and Punishment

There really isn't any crime in Vava'u. We never felt safer anywhere.

We did hear about one bank robbery just after we first got here. The robber (who must have been watching Hollywood DVDs) wore a ski mask, and got away with 3150 pa'anga (the local currency). The police might have had trouble catching him if he hadn't deposited 3150 pa'anga in his bank account the next day.

We were told that the local jail used to have a sign outside that said "Doors lock at 5:00 pm. Prisoners who do not return by 5:00 will not be admitted."

Cruiser telling his side of the story to local police

Actually the only "crime" we got close to involved a violent argument between two palagis -- a cruiser and a local shop owner, an ex pat German. We didn't actually see the fight, but we heard the German guy call for help over the VHF radio after the cruiser allegedly attacked him in his shop. We went over to help.

The police were VERY reluctant to get involved in a palagi dispute, and since the shop owner didn't press charges, the whole thing was dropped.

However, on a much more serious note, the capital city of Nuku'alofa is starting to have a problem with "deportees" from the US, Australia, and New Zealand. These young Tongan men went overseas to work, but ended up in the drug trade and prison. When they get out of prison they get deported, and they come back to Tonga with graduate degrees in violent crime. Hundreds every year. Tongans here think that these guys started the looting and riots last year.

You can see both sides of this issue, but effectively we are exporting the absolute worst aspects of our culture. Tonga is just utterly unprepared for these guys, and they are going to change the society.

A Tongan Entrepreneur

We met one Tongan, Nathan, who broke all the rules. Nathan's family is Tongan, but he grew up on Niue and went to school in New Zealand. Nathan made a living as a carpenter in NZ, but decided to start buying houses and fixing them up for sale. He did pretty well.

Then he then came back to his family's land in Tonga, and decided to sink his capital into starting a vanilla bean greenhouse plantation. Since he knew nothing about farming, he studied out of books and on the internet.

This sounded difficult -- almost naive -- to us, but Nathan has made it work. His 2.5 acre farm is the largest "greenhouse" plantation in the South Pacific, and the harvests are starting to roll in. Nathan markets his high quality, chemical-free beans overseas.

The "greenhouse" isn't glass -- it's actually a porous green mesh which protects the tender plants from Tonga's intense sun.

Nathan also installed irrigation drip lines along the top of every row. Each plant grows on a pillar of coconut husks, wrapped in wire. The husks retain water.

We haven't seen any advanced farming like this anywhere else in the tropics.

Nathan showing Beth his plantation
Nathan proving that even sex can get tedious if you do it six hours a day.

Only South American bees can pollinate vanilla, and for some reason they can't survive in the South Pacific. So practically all the vanilla you eat gets pollinated by hand. Nathan and his helpers spend six hours a day pollinating.

The flowers only live for one day, and since Nathan can't work on Sundays in Tonga, 1/7th of his crop never matures. You can see it breaks his heart -- he would gladly work the extra day.

In addition to his greenhouse, Nathan raises honey bees, grows taro, kava, and pineapple, and fishes, AND he's building a new house for his growing family. Plus, he preaches in local churches!

His wife takes care of their two small children and does all of the accounting for their businesses.

The next generation

Even with all these pursuits, Nathan seems to have time for his family too.

Nathan and son

Nathan really demonstrates the opposing power of culture and education. We've seen practically no serious native entrepreneurs anywhere in the Pacific, because it's not in the culture. But once a guy like Nathan gets educated and breaks free of some of those cultural assumptions, you can't hold him down.

We hope vanilla prices cooperate for him. Prices can swing by a factor of ten from year to year, depending on cyclone damage in growing areas. It takes a strong stomach, but we believe he's up to it.

Making A Connection

One day while waiting in line at the bank, we met an ex pat American, Don Blanks. He and his wife, Nori, moved to Tonga almost 30 years ago. Nori teaches physics in the public high school and Don runs the Vava'u branch of USP (University of the South Pacific).

Don, with the family rooster. Roosters make surprisingly good pets!  Some question about housebreaking them, though.

The encounter got Ken thinking, and he finally called Don up and volunteered to do some teaching at USP. They decided that Ken should start by tutoring.

Don and Nori adopted a Tongan girl many years ago and are now raising her daughter (their granddaughter), Mona. Mona is a bright, energetic high school student, but a scheduling conflict kept her from attending the required economics class. But she still has to take the comprehensive, end of year, test in economics.

Ken held a bunch of intensive tutoring sessions with Mona and a friend of hers to prepare them for the exam. The exams follow a rigorous New Zealand curriculum and are written and graded in the capital of Nuku'alofa.

Ken also did some tutoring with one of the USP students, and plans to do a lot more next year.

Ken expounding the finer points of supply curves Over a period of several weeks, Ken met with Mona (right) and her friend Florence (middle) to prepare for the exams.

Mona, Flo, and Ken are all nervously awaiting the results.

Through Don, Nori, and Mona (at right in picture), we met Alex and Ryan (at left in picture) who are Peace Corps volunteers.

Do we look short to you?

Enjoying evening with new friends

 

Lovingly maintained Vava'u library Don and Nori started a small public library (left) a number of years ago.

 

Improvising an iron

We went to a benefit dinner/raffle for the library. Unfortunately, Beth's party dress was hopelessly wrinkled and we don't carry an iron aboard. Ken suggested using a pot full of boiling water.

Worked ok.

In a dance show at the benefit, a visiting Samoan dancer (at right) in traditional costume.

Performing traditional Tongan dance at library benefit

Back to School

Most Tongans speak some English, but they really appreciate if you make the effort to speak in their native language. Since we have decided to return next year, we made the investment in an intensive two-week Tongan language class offered by USP.

Ana, our Tongan language teacher Ana, our excellent, patient teacher.

We actually made pretty good progress, and plan to keep working when we return. We get lots of grins when we use Tongan to ask how much something costs. Even if we can't understand the answer.

Other Cruisers

Most boats coming west across the Pacific stop in Vava'u, so we met a steady parade of boats during our stay. Most had just sailed thousands of miles and they have lots of good stories.

Duncan and Susanne of "Good Karma" just got married. They met while Duncan was in the American Peace Corp in Susanne's home country of Western Samoa.

Duncan and Susanne stopping by for a visit

Duncan and Susanne both got traditional Samoan tattoos to celebrate their marriage.

Matching wedding tattoos

(Actually Duncan got the "lite" version -- a real Samoan guy would have solid wedding tattoo ink from his knees to his chest.) These things are a bit harder to take off than a wedding ring -- so we guess they'll have to stay married.

Unfortunately they've discovered that Susanne gets very seasick. We gave them some scopolamine patches. (Along with warnings about the possible hallucination side effects.)

Sistership Wunderkind sailing out of Neiafu

We met "Wunderkind" -- another Sundeer just like ours.

We caught up with our new friend Ozkan (the Turkish sailor we met in Beveridge Reef).

Ozkan provided endless entertainment -- to us and to the locals -- by proposing marriage to all the women he met. He's a pretty dashing guy, so the girls usually play along.

This waitress didn't miss a step when Ozkan said he wanted 15 children in 10 years -- she said she'd have twins!

Ozkan, making one his many marriage proposals to the women of Vava'u
Beth likes that comfy chair!

And for the first time, we met some cruisers (two different boats, in fact), who were traveling by powerboat.

We have to admit that the bridge on this Nordhaven trawler is pretty cushy.

But we like sailing better.

Cruiser Entertainment

In the height of the season, Vava'u is a lively place as cruisers from all over the world pass through.

Gail of "Fifth Season" serenading the crowd

Gail and Dave of "Fifth Season" carry a full size harp on board and Gail gave a concert at the Aquarium Cafe.
On another night, the Cafe sponsored an "open mike" where talented cruisers and locals entertained a large crowd with singing, guitar playing, and belly dancing. Daughter and mother (Christy and Julie of "Schaunakee") showing grace and athleticism with their belly dancing
Theo and Hans made a dynamite duo on the beach

Many cruisers carry musical instruments on board and hold jam sessions on the beach or on their boats.

Two Dutch sailors, Theo of "Chulugi" and Hans of "Happy Monster" entertained a small group at one of the outer anchorages.

 

Christy and her creative palm frond headdress The Halloween/full moon party gave some cruisers an outlet for creativity. Christy from "Shanachie" worked magic with a palm frond to create a clever headdress (left). Loni (right) was bold and a little scary in his black negligee. Beth wasn't sure what to make of Loni in his black negligee

 

Fire dancer expertly paints the night with his fiery torches One of the Tongan guys does a fire dance at the party.

Dune Buggies, Whales and Fish

Kart safaris in the rain

We went on a 3 hour dune buggy tour around the island one day in the rain with friends Laura and Bill of "Chantelle". We ended up driving through torrential downpours. We got pretty muddy and wet but had lots of fun.

We even got to see some big fruit bats (called "flying foxes").

Beth with Laura and Bill, good sports in the rain

Whales

Each year, whales come to Vava'u to calf and nurse their babies. And each year people come to Vava'u to swim with the whales.

Humpbacks are pretty amazing. They sing a complicated song which other whales can hear across many miles of ocean. Each year all the Humpbacks in the South Pacific sing the same song -- which is DIFFERENT from last year's song. Who decides?

The North Pacific Humpbacks do the same thing, but have a different musical tradition.

Telltale fin of the humpback whale Tours operate under strict rules to minimize harassment of the whales. When you see this, the whale is going deep for a while

 

Swimmers approaching a whale We got a chance to swim with a mother and calf. Baby whale surfacing for air

The mother suspended herself motionless down about 30 feet. The calf would lie with the mother for four or five minutes -- as long as it could hold its breath -- and then come up for air, swim around for a bit, take a look at us, and then go back to mom. They were graceful, magnificent creatures.

Also really BIG. One slap of that tail and we'd be history.

Japan continues to hunt whales in the name of "research," and this year has targeted the exact pod of whales that winters in Vava'u. They plan to kill 50 -- most of them. Japan claims that the research will prove that whales can be hunted in a sustainable fashion.

We figure that whatever annoyance the swimmers cause the whales, they more than pay back in political support.

Coral Reefs

Vava'u really shines as a cruising destination, with at least 40 anchorages within easy reach of Vava'u. The Moorings charter company has a small operation here, so the anchorages are well charted, too -- unlike lots of other places in the Pacific.

Catamaran enjoying one of the many picturesque anchorages around Vava'u. Double masted catamaran beached at Nuku Island

The gorgeous waters and reefs around Vava'u provide excellent snorkeling and diving opportunities. We liked it so much that we sometimes stayed in the water for as much as 5 hours at a time! Pretty amazing considering Beth never much liked to swim.

With so many sites to choose from, we always saw new fish or other creatures.

Here is a collection of some of the aquatic life we saw. Next year we hope to get a dive compressor and do some diving, but its a tribute to Tonga that were able to get so many nice pictures snorkeling:

CAMOFLAGUED SHARKS

Black tipped reef shark approaching us

We saw lots of black-tip sharks. If you want to know what it's like trying to spot these guys, try to find the shark in the picture at left.

On the right, a blowup of the shark.

Here he is

This is why Ken always says he needs a tail gunner to cover his "six" when we're in sharky water.

No matter which way you look, you're not looking the other way!

CORAL

Unusual white coral formation

 

STARFISH

Blue sea star Pin cushion sea star We think we'll name this one the "Teddy Bear" starfish.  It's really a starfish!

 

Crown of thorns Nodose sea star

BOTTOM DWELLERS

Freckled hawkfish Possibly a Jeweled Blenny  Dwarf hawkfish

 

Possibly a Cylindrical Sandperch Leopard blenny Possibly another Jeweled Blenny

ANEMONE FISH

Red and black anemone fish Most of the anemone fish were hiding out in -- no surprise -- anemones. But some like the Clark's anemone fish at right were boldly swimming around in the open. Clark's anemone fish

OTHER INTERESTING FISH

Fang blenny Two different looks at a fang blenny. Fang blenny

 

Humbug dascyllus Some fish, like the humbug dascyllus (left), are homebodies and like to stay near a protective coral growth. Others, like the sunset wrasse (right), swim around in a wide territory. Sunset wrasse

SEA SNAKES

Banded sea snake heading off to get air

These sea snakes are extremely venomous, but their mouths are so small that they can only bite you on the web between your fingers.

We wore gloves!

Curled up for a rest

OTHER CREATURES

Turtle hanging out A lonely turtle (LEFT).

 

We happened on this ENORMOUS lobster. He was quite aggressive and came out of his hideout to scare us off. We're amazed nobody had eaten him.

We've vowed not to catch any more giant lobsters, so he was safe from us!

Giant lobster on the defense

Working On The Boat

You may be surprised that we've gotten through an entire update without talking about maintenance issues on Eagle's Wings. We were surprised too!

The new solar panels and refrigeration system have really reduced Ken's workload -- mainly because we don't have to run the genset four hours a day. Now maybe we average 45 minutes per day. So the genset doesn't break as often.

The solar panels have been a stunning success. Our record day now is 356 AH, or 4.8 KWH. When other cruisers hear this, they want to buy power from us!

Free water!

And we decided to experiment with capturing rainwater off the deck.

Steve Dashew designed this boat so that most of the runoff passes over the water intakes. Once the deck is thoroughly washed off, you just open the fitting, dam up the water, and let it roll in.

Beth even sewed some little filters to trap debris.

It's fantastic. We took in over 250 gallons in one night. We could probably have gotten through the whole season without using the watermaker, if we had started earlier.

All of the hard work we've put in over the last few years has really paid off. Of course, a few things did go wrong...

Ken with disassembled dinghy engine

Our nice, normally reliable 15hp Yamaha outboard engine died in Niue. Ken tried everything -- even replacing the carburetor with the spare we carry. But no dice, and Ken was miserable about his failure to fix it.

We did a lot of rowing.

When we got to Tonga, we took the engine to John of Sailing Safaris, a mechanical wizard. After several days of effort and lots of different theories and tests, he discovered that a crank seal was torn. Unfortunately, the repair requires pulling the cranks off the crank shaft -- which can't be done in Vava'u.

Ken felt much better.

John helped to diagnose our engine problem

Ben of the Aquarium Cafe let us rent an old 8 hp motor he had sitting around. Unfortunately, it hadn't been run in months and salt water had rotted out part of the carburetor.

Ken working with Soa and his assistant to get spare motor working

Ken worked all day with a couple of Ben's mechanics to get the engine working. Ken and Soa (middle), the head mechanic, eventually figured out a way to jury rig the carburetor with some gasket material. It was ugly, but it ran.

Ken said neither he nor Soa would have figured it out on their own.

We used Ben's engine for a couple of weeks and then decided to buy a new, small (5 hp) Yamaha at a local shop. It sure wasn't cheap, but we figure we need a spare anyway.

We packed away the broken motor -- its so heavy that we had to rig up a derek system with our whisker pole in order to get it into the forepeak. Hoisting heavy 15 hp motor on board

 

Plastic valve didn't stand up to hot water temps One day Ken noticed a tee fitting that carries hot water was badly deformed. If that had exploded, we would have had a huge flood in the engine room. Ken replaced it with a sturdy bronze fitting. Bronze replacement is the right part for this hot water application

The other major boat issue involves our winches. It now appears that the housings of all of the original winches are deteriorating at a rapid rate. They need to be checked and unfrozen every 2 weeks. It looks like we will have an expensive replacement project ahead of us when we reach New Zealand.

The only other crisis we had was not really boat related. Ken seems to be particularly attractive to bugs -- especially the biting and stinging kind. While Beth gets nary a nibble, Ken is attacked by mosquitos, sand flies, and wasps.

Giant wasp after using Ken for a pin cushion

This aggressive wasp buzzed into the boat, made a "beeline" for Ken and stung him. Luckily we found the critter before he could do it again. You can see the stinger.

Beth is wondering how Ken will survive Australia, where everything is poisonous.

Looking For A Window To New Zealand

Many boats left for New Zealand in early to mid-October. We weren't ready to go, as we were taking the Tongan language class and Ken was still tutoring. We also weren't in that big of a hurry. It was still COLD in New Zealand and we were perfectly happy to spend more time in Tonga. The only trouble is the cyclone season was bearing down on us.

We've been ready to go now for three weeks, but the weather has not cooperated. The tropical "convergence zone" has been extremely active. One cyclone (Guba) whipped up a frenzy off the northern coast of Australia. Some weather models showed it moving south east and it could have collided with us if we had headed for New Zealand. So we decided to wait it out. Guba fizzled out and didn't come this way. But since Guba, a steady parade of lows have spawned and moved our way. We're hoping to get a break soon so we can get going!