Monday, April 29th, 2013
By Kate “Bob” Addison
We sailed from Samoa to the Vava’u Group of Tonga (at the northern end of about 400 miles of islands) and, after a three day passage, we arrived on Tuesday morning. The week has just flown by. The country, one of the last absolute monarchies left in the world, is made up of dozens of small islands laced with beaches and bays and caves in the limestone cliffs. Like Samoa everything is thickly wooded, but it’s much less steep here so there are more fields and the geography has been reminding the crew of Canada, even the south coast of the UK after being so used to seeing sandy atolls and volcanic mountains typical of the South Seas.
Vava’u is some sort of raised coral or limestone cluster of islands. We sail up a five mile fjord like passage to get to the inner harbour at Neiafu. Local regulations require us to go alongside the copra wharf for clearing in – this done in as friendly a manner as can be we cast off again to find a place to the anchor down in this deep land-locked harbour. Soon enough done and the skiff is making runs into the lovely Mango waterfront cafe and the gang spreads to the winds to see what Tonga is about.
The dress is striking – school uniform seems straight from missionary times: the girls wear very modest blue or red tunic dresses with big white collars and hair in two French plaits and matching hair ribbons. A woven mat is worn wrapped around the waist as a sign of being ‘dressed up’ for formal or special occasion wear. Some of the mats are trimmed with binding in the same colour as the rest of the outfit, others are all straw and edged with a fringe. About half the people wear traditional dress, the other half baggy shorts and shirts.
Because Tonga is and always has been independent it is visibly economically poorer than its neighbouring island nations, though it is very popular with yachties so the shiny cafes, restaurants and shops by the dinghy dock and along the main street in town add a shiny, western veneer. There are a surprising number of people who turned up on yachts and never left several years later. Most of the businesses catering to yachts are run by these sailing ex-pats who seem very happy and settled here. There’s even a Friday night boat race for all comers with some great prizes, but we’d already taken monomoy off on an overnight camping expedition before we knew about it. Not that she would probably have done too well racing against a 40-foot catamaran with no handicap!
The monomoy camping expedition with Nadja and starboard watch was excellent – and exactly what Picton Castle is all about. We rigged up the monomoy with her sailing rig and oars and stowed her with all we would need: machetes for the coconuts, tarps, water, fishing gear and hammocks. Lots of lashing lines too and some duct tape obviously. Other essentials included leftover lasagne in a cooler, snorkels, and a birthday cake for Gabe. For emergencies, there was a first aid kit and a big box of birthday butter cookies that Hayley made.
Gear stowed and all aboard we hoisted our mainsail, set the jib and pushed off from the ship reaching back towards town and then tacking round the corner towards the entrance of the harbour. We did some exploring along the coastline, tacking about and looking for nice beaches or caves and dodging the coral that reefs the shoreline just below the surface of the clear water. We found a nice sandy beach for lunch and moored up Med-style, dropping the anchor off the bow outside of the coral and then swimming ashore with a stern line and making it off to a handy mango tree.
After lunch and a snooze on the beach it was time to find a camp for the night and we found our spot on an uninhabited island called Lotuma right in the entrance to the harbour. The moon was full and bright enough to snorkel by, so we did, and then Maia and Signe showed us how to make Scandinavian ‘Troll Bread’ cooked on sticks over the camp fire. Finn played his banjo and Gabe and Nadja harmonica until late. We got up at 0530 to strike camp to be back at the ship for 0800 muster and the row back to the ship into the rising sun was gorgeous. We got back close to the ship a bit early so we tied up to a handy buoy and went for one last swim call to cool off after the row.