Thursday, October 28, 2010

Happy Halloween!

Here in Nuku'alofa and all over Tonga, we've seen these wild creatures flying amidst the trees. During the day, they roost upside down dangling from branches.

At dusk, they're busy flying around, eating fruit and insects, especially mangos.

They have furry heads, a pointed nose just like a fox, but long wings and a red tongue.

They'll be out tonight ..... celebrating Halloween. Look up in the sky, you just might see one!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hanging in the Ha'apai

We left the Vav’au Group at 6 in the morning October 12 with five other boats, Stray Kitty, Anthem, Imagine, Nikita and Jackster. It was flat calm, but as predicted the winds came up from the northeast, giving us a 60 mile downwind ride to the next Tongan islands, the Ha’apai Group.

Like the Tuomotos in French Polynesia, the Ha’apai Islands are also coral atolls, rich with tropical life. We hoisted our spinnaker and enjoyed the sail to the first Ha’apai island, Ofolanga. Here's a fun picture of Kamaya with Jackster -- don't worry we didn't collide.

At Uoleva Island, I can see Tofua, an active volcano. Sometimes the volcano spews red flames into the air, but today, October 20th, it is calm. Here, in this stretch of the Pacific Ocean, the famous mutiny of the Bounty occurred.

It happened in the wee hours of the morning on April 28, 1789, when Fletcher Christian abruptly woke up Captain William Bligh. The sun had yet to rise. Christian seized Bligh and at gunpoint forced Bligh and 18 loyal men, off of the bigger 215 ton ship and into the 23-foot launch boat.

Bligh took his men to Tofoa and stayed there in a cave. At first the Tongans were friendly, welcoming them with coconuts and breadfruit. But then relations changed. Perhaps the Tongans noticed Bligh’s weakness or perhaps they wanted more from Bligh. Suddenly, Bligh and his men rushed out of the cave and as they were getting back into their small boat, the Tofuans threw stones at them. One man died, but the others escaped. This sour experience with locals shaped Bligh’s plans; he chose to go to the island of Timor, a Dutch colony, and not to trust anyone along the way.

If only we were here 211 years ago then we could have saved Captain Bligh from his grueling 41 day, 3618 mile journey. But then again, if we were here 211 years ago, people might not have been so welcoming and Captain Bligh might not have been so nice either.

Indeed, time often changes things as it has here in Tonga. Forty years after Bligh’s bad experience, the Wesleyan (Methodist) missionaries arrived in Tonga, converted the chief of the Ha’apai and crowned him King George Topou I. The country transformed, after a big battle, from a cannibalistic tribal society into a religious one. The missionaries even persuaded people to cover up – they used to wear woven leaf skirts called ta’ovalas with nothing underneath; but now they wear their traditional mats over their clothes.

Most villages that we’ve visited in Tonga have at least four churches, including the The Church of Tonga, The Mormon Church, The Free Wesleyan Church, and the Catholic Church. I asked Blair Gilbert, a peace corps volunteer from Texas stationed in the remote island of Ha’ano, why the Tongans so heartily embrace Christianity, and she responded that the Tongans like the routine, community and beliefs that accompany being a member of the church. She said that often people attend church every day and three times on Sunday.

“It gives them structure and something to do,” she told us during our visit to the school where she teaches English. Blair came to our boat and tried halyard swinging, a first for her.

Sailing in the Ha’apai Group requires keen awareness of coral reefs as they are all over, spectacular, almost alien looking,

with so many different shapes and sizes...

And these beautiful reefs can also be dangerous for sailboats. Earlier this month, a French boat, La Tortue, anchored in the small island of Kelefesia. In the late afternoon, their anchor drug and, to make matters worse, their engine wasn’t working so they couldn’t motor away from the reef. They set two more anchors, but it didn’t work and sadly the fero-cement boat ended up on the reef with a big hole in it. It eventually sank and our friends on Tyee, Jangada and Zephrus went to the island to help salvage the boat.

Many of us sailors are reflecting on the recent loss of La Tortue, trying to learn lessons from the tragedy. We wonder why they left the main island of Nuku’alofa with strong 25-30 knot winds; we wonder why they decided to go into Kelefesia, a place where guidebooks recommend going only in calm winds. We know they went down to Nuku’alofa to pick up friends from France who had a limited amount of time. Perhaps being on a schedule threw them off in the first place and set the disaster in motion. It’s amazing how fast things can spiral out of control.

Talking about schedules, it’s time for us to get ready to leave the tropics before cyclone season. Yesterday, October 28th, we had an intense sail to Nufu’alofa with 25 to 30 knot winds and rain. I'm hoping that wasn't a preview of our next 1,025 mile passage to New Zealand.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Vava'u Regatta Week

September 22nd, we went somewhere where Captain James Cook was persuaded not to go. In fact, Cook was told one of the biggest navigational lies when he was in Tonga’s Ha’apai Islands in 1777 -- that the Vava’u Group situated about 50 miles northeast from where Cook was anchored was a bad place for boats, that it lacked protected harbors and safe anchorages.

But we knew better thanks to the numerous sailors who have ventured in these waters. We sailed through the wide Pule Pule Kai Passage and into the protected flat waters of Vava’u where there are more than 40 anchorages scattered amongst the labyrinth of islands. People say the area is similar to the stellar Norwegian fiords, which must be magnificent as well.

We arrived just in time for Regatta Week, a week chock full of fun activities. Friday night, we raced on Stray Kitty’s catamaran. Saturday, we raced our own Kamaya to Tapana Bay for the Full Moon Party. This was the first time we had raced heavy Kamaya and it was exciting for a little bit. After winning the start, we were passed within minutes by the elegant Jenny, a 57-foot cold-molded classy custom yacht. We raised our spinnaker and stayed behind Jenny for a while. Sadly, we couldn’t outpoint or outsail the lighter Beneteau 50, J-42, and Hallberg-Rassy and finished fifth in our division.

We turned into pirates for the full moon party.

Back in Neiafu, the main town which has a Eugene, Oregon feel to it, Maya and Kai participated in a kid’s day and had a blast with Billy, an English bloke who, before settling in Neiafu, worked in the circus. He had boat kids and Tongan kids walking on stilts, juggling and practicing for the afternoon parade.

When the young girl's danced during kid's day, people placed money on their skin in appreciation.

For the closing ceremonies of the week, my sister Tammy joined us and won first prize for best costume; the appropriate award, 12 rolls of toilet paper. Tammy practiced sitting with her legs together, like a lady.

Maya and her girlfriends dressed up as the sarong sisters.

Since Regatta Week, we’ve explored many of the magnificent anchorages. Because palangis (that’s the term for foreigners) have difficulties pronouncing the names of the Tongan islands, we use the Mooring’s Charter Guide’s numbering system. So instead of asking, “Are you going to Tapana island?” one asks, “Are you going to Anchorage #11.” That’s the anchorage with the paella restaurant and the big goat.

Anchorage #16 has a huge banyon tree, perfect for climbing.

The fantastically diverse coral garden’s where the clown fish hide amidst the anemones are just behind Anchorage #16.

Anchorage #6 and #7 are near both Swallow’s and Mariner’s Caves. Swallow’s Cave is large enough to dinghy into, watch the bats flying around, marvel at the staligtites.

Anchorage #32 has a good stomp (a term I’ve adopted from our British friend’s Bamboozle) up to the tomb of the princess and a lookout.

This is also where Tim went out spearfishing with Stuart from Imagine and Paul from Calypso and they anchored too close to the reef and flipped the dinghy. Fortunately, they were able to flip the dinghy back over, gather all their equipment and flush the saltwater from the engine.

Indeed, had Cook sailed into this area, he would have been pleasantly surprised by this magnificent area.

And, of course, he would have liked all the pigs, especially this little piglet named Janice.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tonga, the place where time begins!

We were time travelers when we sailed 180 miles in 25 to 30 knot winds from Samoa to Tonga on September 12th, the same day as my grandmother’s 103rd birthday. Good thing Grandma Anita wasn’t with us as she would have missed her birthday because we crossed the International Dateline, and were launched into the future 24 hours (changing from GMT minus 11 to GMT plus 13).

Here in Tonga, we are in the place where time begins; we are the first people in the world to start the day. When we talk to people at home in the states, we’re often a day ahead and have to talk to the past. Pretty strange!

At first, I didn’t know much about Tonga, except that Captain Cook dubbed them “The Friendly Isles” and one of their kings was in the Guinneas Book of World Records for being the heaviest monarch. Weighing 444 pounds, King Taufa’ahau Toupou IV (King George for short), ordered his people to go on a diet. Since then, the King lost a mere 125 pounds, but was still big enough to be revered. Size is greatly admired in this society; religion and pigs are also important.

At Niuatoputapu, we found hundreds of pigs squealing through the streets, five different churches, tons of coconuts palms, gorgeous kids wanting their photographs taken and anything else that we had to offer and a community in the midst of recovery.

Last year’s hurricane on September 29th, 2009 in Samoa and September 30th in Tonga (remember we’re close to the Date line), had devastated the island, demolishing many of the wooden and straw homes. However, like the story in The Three Little Pigs, the concrete structures, including the Methodist Church, withstood the powerful tsunami.

Yet, despite this fact, the Red Cross and some other non-profit organizations sent the town kits to build hundreds of 10 x 20 foot wooden homes. Together with a few fellow sailors, Tim spent a day building a home for a very appreciative family. Even though the tsunami had happened one year ago, for many, it seemed like it was just yesterday.

Niu (in the Niuatoputapu) means “coconuts” in Tongan and it’s an appropriate name for the island because of all the coconuts. One could also call this island “pig island,” in honor of the big and little pigs rambling around, rooting in the mud flats, and burrowing underneath homes. I have never seen so many pigs in my life.

For pig population control, Sia, our welcoming local, invited us to her newly constructed wooden home for a pig roast. She also prepared Tongan fare, including baked sweet potato, taro with coconut milk, fresh fish and more. We ate extremely well.

Tim ventured one night to a Kava party, where he gathered with the men to sample the potent numbing pepper drink famous in this part of the world. He reported that the men played fantastic music, all of them singing together in multi-part harmony. I heard beautiful harmony while attending a church service where people wore the traditional ta’ovala, woven mats worn over their dresses and skirts.

Meanwhile, Maya, Kai and I rode horses bareback – but not on Sunday as it’s against the law to do anything strenuous on Sunday. Apparently, anything business related negotiated on a Sunday is null and void.

Take a look at cowboy Kai!

Here's Cowgirl Maya.

Maya and Kai also had fun building a fort with the other boat kids at the uninhabited island just behind our anchorage.

They gave decks of cards to the kids in town and taught them how to play the game, war.

On September 17th, wind conditions were predicted to be 10 to 15 knots for our next passage. We had finished sewing the metal ring onto the clew of our main (it blew out in our windy journey from Samoa), so it was time to leave. Next stop Vava’u Islands!

Maya's Reading List

For this year, 2010, my goal was to read 50 books. I started January 1, 2010 and I’ve already surpassed my goal. I read 66 books since the beginning of the year. Below is my list. I’ve added a bit about the plot and my feelings about the book.

Thick Chapter books

1. The Alchemist, #1, the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Michael Scott. A good story, but the kid I got it from told me what happened so I didn’t really like it.

2.The Tale of Despereux, Kate Dicamello. I love the way she writes. A young mouse with big ears rescues a princess.

3. Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card. Takes place in the future. A boy is chosen to work in space for fighting aliens, fascinating, though there is a lot of swear words.

4. The Chronicles of Narnia, #4, Prince Caspian, C. S. Lewis. A fun read. (I read the previous three in other years and recommend them.)

5. The Chicken doesn’t Skate, Gordon Korman. A fast read. The funniest book I’ve ever read.

Thin books

1. The Invisible Dog, Dick King Smith. More of a younger kid’s book.

2. The Hundred Mile an hour Dog, Jeremy Strong. Silly and weird.

3. Kite fighters, Linda Sue Park. I thought it would be boring, but it’s actually good.

4. The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss. Little kid’s book. Yes, I’ve read this many times, but I did read it again this year. A classic, and must read for everyone.

5. Chocolate Fever. One of those stories with a moral at the end, funny though.

6. Meet George Washington. Not so great. I read it to add to the list. Too simple.

7. The Power of UN-, Nancy Etchemendy. Very similar to back to the future.

8. Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren. Funny.

9. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl. A classic. Good and better than the movies.

10. Judy Moody, #1, was in a mood, not a good mood, a bad mood. ok book, espcially if you're just beginning to read chapter books.

Two book series

The Borrowers

1. The Borrowers, #1, The Borrowers, by Mary Norton. A bit boring, takes place underneath the floorboards of a house in England. Tiny people live there.

2. The Borrowers, #2, the borrowers afield, Mary Norton. I didn’t really like it, the main character wasn’t allowed to do anything slightly dangerous, and she didn’t seem to care.

Three book series

The City of Ember (there are at least two more books, but I don’t have them and that’s ok.)

1. The Ember series, #1, the City of Ember, Jeanne Duprauo. I didn’t really like it, about an underground city with 0 knowledge of technology. On the back it says, a science fiction for kids who don’t like science fiction. I like science fiction, so I wouldn’t recommend it.

Silverwing Trilogy(there are two more.)

1.Silverwing Trilogy, #2, Sunwing, Kenneth Oppel. Pretty good, a story about a bat who battles with a larger, cannibal bat.

Starcatcher series

1. Starcatcher Series, #1, Peter and the Starcatchers, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. About Peter Pan, the story behind how he met Captain Hook, why he can fly, etc. a great page turner. I highly recommend this series, so does my 70 year old friend, Evi!

2. Starcatcher Series, #2, Peter and the Shadow Thieves, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. A blob of shadow who can steal people’s souls, Peter must fight it.

3. Starcatcher Series, #3, Peter and the Secret of Rundoon, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. In the first one, Peter is bound on a ship to Rundoon, but the ship sinks. Now Peter Pan finds himself in Rundoon, capital of the Others.


1. Everest, #1, the contest, Gordon Korman. A thirteen year old and his older brother are given the chance to compete against other kids to see who has the skill to climb Mount Everest.

2. Everest, #2, the climb, Gordon Korman. First, the chosen teens must climb another mountain to see if they’re ready.

3. Everest, #3, the summit, Gordon Korman. Finally, they are ready to climb Everest. But everything goes wrong.


1. Dive, #1, Discovery, Gordon Korman. Four kids go on a dive tour but discover something strange about some of the people working there.

2. Dive, #2, the deep, Gordon Korman. Good.

3. Dive, #3, the danger, Gordon Korman. Great.

Horrid Henry

1. Horrid Henry and the Mummy’s curse, Francesca Simon. Horrid Henry is the naughtiest kid in the world.

2. Horrid Henry and the Bogey Babysitter, Francesca Simon. The crazy kid is back again.

3. Horrid Henry’s Revenge, Francesca Simon. Poor Peter.

The Serpent's Egg

1. The Serpents Egg, #1, The Serpents Egg, J. Fitzgerald Mcurdy. The first part is strange, but don’t let it trick you, the rest is amazing.

2. The Serpents Egg, #2, The Burning Crown, J. FitzGerald MCurdy. Extremely similar to J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the rings, the best in this series.

3. The Serpents Egg, #3, The Twisted Blade, J. FitzGerald Mcurdy. Finally, the dead come into the story. Most of the things Miranda does I would have done differently. But a great book.

Four book series

The Once and Future King

1. The Once and Future King, #3. The ill made knight, T. H. White. I read the first two parts in 2009. Long and intense, but a classic.

2. The Once and Future King, #4, the candle in the wind, T. H. White. Interesting.

1. Fudge, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Judy Blume. I’ve read one Blume book before, and hated it. But this series is so funny.

2. Fudge, #2, Superfudge, Judy Blume. Another good book. Judy Blume seems to only like writing family stories.

3. Fudge, #3, Fudge –a – mania, Judy Blume. Silly.

4. Fudge, #4, Double Fudge, Judy Blume. Double silly.

Six Book or more series

Rangers Apprentice

1. Ranger’s Apprentice, #1, the Ruins of Gorlan, John Flanagan. An orphan boy is picked by a ranger to be his apprentice. The boy, Will, is trained in unseen movement, bow shooting, and knife throwing. Much of the unseen movement facts is true and I’ve used it. Amazing!

2. Ranger’s Apprentice, #2, The Burning Bridge, John Flanagan. Great!

3. Ranger’s Apprentice, #3, The Icebound Land, John Flanagan. Good as the first one.

4. Ranger’s Apprentice, #4, The Battle for Skandia, John Flanagan. Will gets captured by the Skandians. But then another tribe attacks, and Will helps battle them off.

5. Ranger’s Apprentice, #5, The Sorcerer of the North, John Flanagan.

6. Ranger’s Apprentice, #6, The Siege of Macindaw, John Flanagan.

7. Rangers Apprentice, #7, Eraks Ransom, John Flannagan.

8. Rangers Apprentice, #8, The Kings of Clonmel, John Flannagan.

The Last Apprentice (there are five others that I know of.)

1. Last Apprentice Series: #1, Revenge of the Witch, by Joseph Delany. All the book reviews claim it’s really scary, I didn’t think so. It takes place in old England, and the main character is apprenticed to the Spook, who gets rid of witches and Bogarts and ghosts. Really good.

The Baily School Kids

1. The Baily School Kids, Sea Serpents don’t Juggle Water Balloons. An extremely thin book, probably a book for learning to read.

On the Run

1. On the Run, #1, Chasing the Falconers, Gordon Korman. Crime story, two kids try to find evidence that their parents didn’t comit the crime they are being charged for.

2. On the Run, #2, The Fugitive Factor, Gordon Korman. Super.

3. On the Run, #3, Now you see them now you don’t, Gordon Korman. Amazing.

4. On the Run, #4, The Stowaway Solution, Gordon Korman. Excellent.

5. On the Run, #5, Public Enemies, Gordon Korman. Best ever.

6. On the Run, #6, Hunting the Hunter, Gordon Korman. The most exciting, but I don’t like the end part.

Goosebumps(there are tons more than just these.)

1. Goosebumps, Piano Lessons can be Murder, R. L. Stine. A kid moves into a new house with a haunted grand piano.

2. Goosebumps, You Can’t Scare Me, R. L. Stine. The other goosebumps is way better.

Alex Rider (there are more than just four, I just haven’t read them all.)

1. Alex Rider series, #1, Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz. A fourteen year old boy finds his dead uncle was a spy, and MI6 soon recruits him on his first mission. Don’t miss it.

2. Alex Rider series, #2, Point Blanc, Anthony Horowitz. MI6 forces Alex to go to France and check out a new academy that is acting strangely. Worth reading.

3. Alex Rider, #3, skeleton key, Anthony Horowitz. The Alex Riders seem to have a patern. Alex goes on a mission but then gets captured by the evil people, then saves the day. One of the best.

4. Alex Rider, #4, eagle strike, Anthony Horowitz. When Alex Rider goes off on his own, it should change everything. Instead, Smithers gives him a bike device and the plot stays the same. Exciting anyhow.

Comic Books

1. Calvin and Hobbes, The days are just packed, Bill Waterson. funny comic book. Calvin is Kai’s best friend. I think Kai thinks he really exists.

2. Snoopy, It was a Dark and Stormy Night, Charles M. Schultz. Funny comic book. What a silly dog! My friend’s Patrick and Thomas loved this one.

3. Snoopy, It’s a Dogs Life, Charles M. Schulz. Comic book.

That’s my list! I'm hoping to hear from all of you, especially whether you have any books to recommend for me.

Looking Back

It took me more than seven years to turn our blog into a hard covered bound book. At first, I was leery of wrapping up our adventure because...