July 1 - July 19, 2010


* A Last Taste Of Vava'u

* Getting The Job Done In Niuatoputapu


July 1 - July 8, 2010

Farewell to Vava'u

This was our third visit to Vava'u in Tonga, and possibly our last for a while, since we plan to visit Fiji, Vanuatu and other countries to the West in the future. We had made some pretty strong connections, so it was hard to leave.

We never fail to be captivated by the friendly people and beautiful setting.


  Reunion with Mona.

Mona, one of the high school girls Ken tutored two years ago, has now graduated (as head girl!!). She's full of energy and promise and recently posted her own YouTube video/poem about Tonga (called "Mona's Movie - 'Changing Sands' ") which won accolades in a global youth video competition.

Mona lives with her adoptive grandparents in Vava'u, a fairly typical arrangement in Polynesia, where children are often raised by their extended families. She had expected to go to University on the big island of Nuku'alofa after graduating -- which would be a first for her family. But her father, who is Samoan, wants her to return to Samoa, attend a junior college there, and perhaps live a bit more traditional life. Family obligations are very strong throughout Polynesia.

We hope that everything works out for Mona -- she'll be in our thoughts as she struggles with the conflicts between modern aspirations and traditional responsibilities.

A Tongan Parade

Meanwhile, Mona's High School was celebrating the anniversary of its founding 25 years ago with an elaborate parade and festivities.

We always love a parade...

The band was rousing and many of the locals really got into it.


Tongan women decked out in their best.


Our image of shy Tongans disappeared when a truck bearing a raucous group of young women tried to cut into the parade. The high school girls weren't fazed.


Like teenage boys everywhere, these guys didn't think it was cool to look too enthusiastic.

With a few exceptions, like the fellow on the right.


The younger kids couldn't contain their exuberance.

Meanwhile, Back On The Boat...

We used some of the extra time to squeeze in a few more boat repair projects.

Here Ken tries to hide from the sun while he re-caulks a pilot house seam which had started to leak on our passage from New Zealand.


We shared the harbor with two boats that had dismasted on passage -- both from failures of small bits of rigging hardware.

The dismasted boat in this picture is a floating Danish reform school. Turns out it's cheaper to send troubled teenagers to sea for a year than to house them in correctional institutions back home.

Cruising in the tropics seems like a strange punishment, but we guess any place is a prison if you don't want to be there.


And here are some cruisers who have something even we don't have -- a harp aboard!

Would you believe this is the SECOND harp-carrying sailboat we've encountered?


Finally we set off for Niuatoputapu. Steve and Lindsay of "Jemillie" (at right) decided to sail with us and help with the relief effort. We were very happy to have their company.

July 9, 2010

A Fast Passage To Niuatoputapu

Eagle's Wings covered the 200 or so miles from from Vava'u to Niuatoputapu in just 24 hours in fine, boisterous trade wind conditions. We've been letting EW have a bit more canvas up this year -- not reefing as early -- and she's been showing her stuff.

Spotting Niuatoputapu -- the familiar "hat" shaped island, and of course, Tafahi, the volcano island.


We found our friends Jim and Cindy on "Summer Sky" already in the harbor. Along with "Jemellie", we now had three crews to help with the relief effort.

July 10 - July 19, 2010

Carnage and Rebirth

Niuatoputapu is still gorgeous..

But we didn't have to look far for evidence of the September 2009 tsunami.

Twisted reminders of the force of the wave.

The northeast tip of the island was completely obliterated. Fortunately there was no village on this exposed end, because no one could have survived there. Pre-tsunami, this area had been thickly forested, with huge trees two and three feet in diameter. Now there is just rubble for many hundreds of meters.

The volcanic island of Tafahi stands as a sentinel in the distance, framed by a few remaining trees.

Behind Beth, the palm trees that didn't wash away lie parallel to the direction of the wave.

We were awestruck imagining the power and ferocity of a wave that could uproot huge trees, wipe everything bare in its path, and deposit the carnage in an impenetrable wall.

If you look hard at this picture, you'll see Beth -- near the water on the right -- providing perspective for this immense tangle of dead trees.


The trees had an erie anthropomorphic quality to them. You could almost hear them weeping.
We were heartbroken to see tons of coral deposited on the shore. The reef will take generations to recover.

Here's the story: The tsunami triggered by the earthquake south of Samoa crashed into the volcanic island of Tafahi about four miles off Niuatoputapu, wrapped around the volcano and continued toward Niuatoputapu. The NE tip of Niuatoputapu and nearby reef received the full brunt of the wave. The villages of Falehau and Hihifo were hit hard, and the fragile homes in the path of the wave were destroyed. But it appears that the extensive reefs in front of those villages absorbed some of the energy of the wave. The center village of Vaipoa was mostly spared, as it was in the shadow of the volcano.

Nine people lost their lives. Most of the people who died were on a minibus that was swept up in the wave.

Paea, the island's nurse, ran back toward the wave to rescue a friend, saving her life.

Here Paea shows us the tree she clung to as the wave swept over her.

Homes -- which were fragile to begin with -- were swept away.

Many people still live in tents.


Because the wave spent much of its force on the volcano and reef, sturdy buildings -- which on Niuatoputapu generally means churches -- sometimes survived.

The Tongan government is trying to relocate the islanders to higher ground inland, away from the sea, and has promised to rebuild homes for the people who move. But many people do not want to move up into the bush. It's hotter, buggier, further from the ocean (where the people fish and soak the pandanas plants), and there is no water source. Water must be trucked up to the settlements in the bush.

Plus, there's only been one tsunami in living memory.

Many villagers have decided not to relocate and are living in tents on sites where their houses used to be.

All of the fishing boats were destroyed by the wave.

The islanders improvised a few crude boats.

We also saw five small (15-20 foot) boats that had been brought in by aid groups.

The tsunami wrecked this fisherman's boat (left), but he has almost finished repairs.

In the meantime he uses a makeshift but ingenious raft (right) to lay his nets.


The kids seemed as resilient as ever.


Sia and her husband Niko (at left) have long welcomed cruisers and they extended their hospitality to us for a Sunday feast.

After their house was destroyed, Niko built this new one with bits and pieces salvaged from the tsunami. He salvaged the louvered windows from a wrecked building.

Niko is an impressive guy.

Handing Out The Loot

We'd been sweating about how to hand out our cargo without stirring up trouble among the islanders. Not so easy, given that there are almost a thousand people scattered over a wide area, that we don't know many of them, don't speak the language, and don't have any ground transport.

So what to do? What we really needed was a respected authority figure whose judgment about "who gets what" would be accepted by the islanders.

We met with the king's representative on the island. He seemed like a good guy, but he's an outsider, assigned for a short period (he arrived just after the tsunami). Also, his boss -- the new king -- isn't well liked by many Tongans. We got the impression that being the king's rep on Niuatoputapu was a bit like the Czar's rep in Siberia.

Except warmer.

If you want authority in Tonga, there's really only one choice -- church leaders. All Tongans, pretty much, are practicing Christians. Everyone goes to church, and everyone contributes to the church. Church bells call everyone to worship, starting at 4:30 am on Sunday.

It's officially illegal to work on Sunday, except for preparing food and such. And, unlike most other places, people really, totally, follow these rules,

(Although one Tongan humorist claims that Tongans actually work so hard on Sunday -- praying from 4:30 am to 10:00 pm -- that they have to take the following six days to rest from their labor. The same author points out that God isn't around to hear all those prayers, because Sunday is His day off.)

So when Sia invited us to her Catholic Church on Sunday, we took the opportunity to approach the priest about our mission.

We really liked Father Lolelsio. He is a quiet, strong leader who has the respect of the people. He's the only priest on the island, holding services in all three villages every Sunday.

He struck us as fair and smart.

Most Tongans are Protestants, but on Niuatoputapu, Catholics comprise a 75% majority. That made Father Lolelsio our best partner, but created an issue about what to do with the rest of the churches.

Father Lolelsio found the right answer -- he would approach the other church leaders on the island, get them all together, and we would go around as a group to distribute the goods.

Two days later, on a bright sunny morning, the leaders from five denominations showed up at the wharf with three trucks. They helped us load the supplies into the open bed of one truck -- which we pretty much filled -- and we drove off together into the villages.

Beth with ministers getting ready to load part of the supplies. From left: Maleko (Lolelsio's assistant), Beth, Taufa (Wesleyan), Lolelsio (Catholic), Maka (Free Church of Tonga), Henry (Mormon), and Brian (7th Day Adventist).

The ministers each knew who their own neediest parishioners were. (Actually the term they used was "sheep.") They worked out among themselves how much each church's followers would get. And we got to ride around and see exactly how the items were distributed.

And when one villager raised a noisy objection (in Tongan) about not getting anything while his neighbor did, the priest stopped his truck and said "I'm going to let the Wesleyan handle this -- that's one of his sheep." So the Wesleyan minister went over, spoke to the noisy guy, and shut him up. We don't know what he said, but it worked.

Imagine that conversation if we'd tried to do this on our own!

Us: "But we think your neighbor really needs help."

Noisy guy: "No, I'm poorer than he is. He has a rich uncle in Nuku'alofa. Also he got a lot of stuff from the French navy. Besides, I have more kids, my wife is sick and my vegetables aren't doing well. Also, he stole two of my chickens last year..."


Here are a few pictures from our day:















The ministers were a great bunch to work with.

They surprised us with their playful, attitudes.

Henry (Mormon minister) on his motorcycle; Maka (Free Church of Tonga) enjoying a break in the day.


One donor had given us a whole load of t-shirts to give to the youth. Holi, the high school's mathematics and science teacher, helped organize the distribution of the shirts at the school.

Eagle's Wings was riding noticeably higher in the water after we offloaded all of the goodies.

Power For The Hospital

We had brough a solar panel, a big gel cell battery and an inverter for the island hospital (all organized by our friends Steve and Tracy, formerly of "Hannah"). Our supplies would complete an existing three-panel installation to provide light and refrigeration for medicines.

Of course, nothing is ever quite what you expect. The original hospital had been wiped out by the tsunami, so it was temporarily in a Mormon Church. But the Mormons needed their building back, so the hospital would move soon to another temporary location, pending getting a brand new hospital building sometime next year.

Anticipating all of these moves, the Tongan Army had installed just one panel on top of the house (where Paea was living temporarily) next to the temporary hospital.

So basically, our new panel was just going to join the other two gathering dust in a closet!

The ideal solution would be to build a frame for all four panels that could be easily moved as the hospital changed locations. We viewed that as something the Tongan Army would have to do.

But Steve, our British friend from "Jemillie" (technically Steve is from Jersey, a small island off the coast of Normandy which is a British dependency) had managed construction projects in his pre-cruising life and felt differently.

The Brits Show Us How It's Done

Steve had spotted this very heavy, unused free-standing tower near the high school. One of the legs (just barely visible in the lower right hand corner) had been bent in the tsunami, but Steve thought it would be perfect.

He decided to talk the Tongan Army into straightening it out and moving it to the hospital. Today. Right now.

The two of us, along with our friends Jim and Cindy from "Summer Sky," all rolled our eyes. Sure, of course, no problem, the Tongan Army is going to drop it's road building program to do exactly what we say. Right!

While we were still trying to hide our amusement, Steve dashed off in a truck with Sam (far left) to cajole the Tongan Army.

Two hours later Steve was back with the Army and tower -- all fixed up. We were told they used two opposing bulldozers to straighten the bent leg.

While Steve was busy orchestrating his tower coup, Ken and Jim worked on getting the panels connected together. Jim had been an aerospace engineer, so we now had an engineer for the wiring and a construction manager for the tower. With Ken as unskilled labor!

  Jim working on wiring.
Steve and Ken removing old solar panel from the roof of Paea's temporary house.
John, the Tongan Army engineer, was terrific in working with us to construct a frame to hold the panels together.
Finally, all four panels were attached to a frame and wired together, ready to be mounted onto the tower. Paea and her staff, in happy anticipation of the panel setup.
We thought we were on a roll, but tea time intervened and work ground to a halt. Brits are VERY serious about their tea.

Rejuvenated from their tea, everyone jumped back into action. We were grateful that John, the Army engineer, stuck around to help with the final installation -- working way after quitting time..

Positioning the panel set for installation on the tower.
Carefully placing the panel array on top the tower.
Lacking proper bolts, we used heavy fencing wire to secure the panel frame to the tower.
Jim setting up the final wiring runs for the panels.
Sam, John, and Steve bending rebar to make stakes for guy wires stabilizing the tower.

At last, just as the sun was getting ready to set, the installation was finished! We were in awe with what had gotten accomplished in a day.

Final installation setup for solar panels -- a moveable structure that we hope will satisfy the hospital's needs for a long time.
We spotted this generator outside of the temporary hospital. We expect this will be used once the new hospital is built, relegating the panels to a backup/emergency function. But for now (and for the foreseeable future), the panels provide reliable, easy, cheap power.

Other Hospital Projects

While the guys were busy working outside on the solar panel setup, Lindsay, Cindy, and Beth worked inside with Paea on some smaller projects.

Lindsay, a pharmacist by training, discusses drug protocols with Paea.

We helped Paea organize tables of treatment supplies. Using Lindsay's medication expertise, we also created a spreadsheet for Paea to help summarize drug treatment options.

Paea and her staff don't just wait for sick people to come to them -- they go into the villages to try to head off health issues.

They track everything from unwed pregnancies to how many families have proper sanitary toilets.

Bug Horror

Speaking of sanitary problems, the hospital had one of its own that Paea had struggled with.

Because the lights stayed on at night, the hospital attracted horrible clumps of beetles on the ceiling, dropping excrement onto the hospital supplies below.


Steve took things into his own hands and (with Paea's permission) set off a bug bomb in the hospital. Within a short period of time, the bugs were annihilated and dropped dead onto the floor.


Thousands of bugs met their demise. Hopefully their surviving friends and relatives will be smart enough to stay away.

Loving Gifts

While we worked, several women sat nearby, weaving and creating beautiful woven jewelry.


The women gave us some lovely woven gifts to remember our visit.

Life Goes On

Amidst the backdrop of such devastation and trauma, the island is still hauntingly beautiful.

Sunrise over Tafahi.
  Tranquil scene.


Amazingly, no animals were lost in the tsunami. We were told the animals ran for high ground before the wave hit. Pretty smart.


Eagle's Wings secure at anchor.


Sunday afternoon is a day of rest. People find shade wherever they can.

Even the pigs take the day off (at right)!


The children steal your hearts.

We changed our views a bit while we were in Niuatoputapu. The Tongan government has a reputation as corrupt and inept, so we weren't expecting much. But the army had repaired roads and put up some buildings. And they were very energetic and helpful in our work.

Some islanders criticized the Army for not rebuilding people's homes yet, but we thought they were working hard. And of course people could always build their own houses, as Niko did.

Tonga's feudal culture seems to breed a lack of initiative -- people expect their social superiors, or officials like Paea or the army, to make the decisions. We could also see the same forces draining energy out of Niuatoputapu that we had seen in the small island country of Niua two years ago. And in the out islands of the Marquesas. These small islands have trouble keeping their most energetic people, who tend to go off to school and never come back.

Moving On

With our immediate relief efforts complete, we decided to continue on to Fiji -- a very different experience from Tonga.