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At Sea, Sailing From Tonga

21-05 south latitude / 176-15 west longitude

Steering SW under all sail

The Picton Castle and crew are, at this writing, a day at sea after sailing from Neiafu, Vava’u, Kindom of Tonga yesterday. We are making good time with fresh SE trade winds pulling us along at 7 knots at times. Seas are moderate and even. Skies are cloudy with enough blue peeking through to make us feel good.

The passage from Palmerston Atoll in the Cook Islands was bit odd in that we had light westerly headwinds the entire way of about 600 miles. As we need to be on time to get to Sydney, Australia for a gathering of tall ships and could not afford to tack around for weeks and wait for a wind, we ended up motoring a lot. Schedules always induce motoring somehow, no matter how much time you allow. But for those who wonder how the early Polynesian explores got to the east against the allegedly constant easterly trade winds, well, let me explain – it does not always blow steady from the east around here – we get frequent fronts and troughs that bend the winds to their will – with a passing low, far away winds can and do come from any direction and for days on end – and this situation actually makes getting back and forth around the South Pacific under sail a bit easier. But, yes, much of the time the prevailing breeze is easterly. Maybe we will pick this subject again later.

Our visit to Vava’u was lovely. We steamed in through the long fjord-like passage last Friday and moored to the old copra dock about dusk – too late to clear in with customs and immigration. But they saw us there the next morning and graciously looked after the formalities. The overtime charge was about $15. Soon we were all sorted and at anchor at the other end of this deep and very well protected landlocked sound. After a little added orientation (a few dos and don’ts to help get along) the free watch went ashore while the duty watch looked after the ship. We always keep a full watch on the ship, and there is always plenty of work to do in a ship like this. Over the next few days the weather steadily improved and old Tongan friends of the ship started showing up, either in rowboats or in greetings at the market.

The land rises steeply from the deep harbour and rises to about 50 feet more or less, and rounds off to soft red volcanic earth over ancient coral. Of course the land is dense with hardwood trees and coconut palms. It looks very fertile. What looks like flocks of crows over Pangiamotu is large bats, fruit bats. Some people eat them.

Pigs are in abundance in Vava’u. We came upon a sow and 9 tiny piglets, just the cutest little critters you ever saw, not bigger than kittens. Some were spotted, some striped, some sort of a tabby, all fresh and clean and running around their mum. They would get tired and just fall down in the grass and go to sleep. The mother porker is huge. The Coconet Internet Café has a small pig as the watch dog and denizen. This little guy is perfectly clean and she can be seen trotting around town right down the sidewalk very clearly with destinations in mind when not resting on her mat at the café, or nuzzling folks for a belly scratch. The whole town seems to know her.

What’s to do at Vava’u? Well, you have to go to the market. Fresh fruits and vegetables, carvings and excellent Tongan baskets are for sale amidst a pleasant atmosphere of Tongans who shop or sell there day after day. There may well be a dance practice going on under the big mango tree nearby or perhaps a religious singing group. Certainly there will be quite a few hangers on, just hanging around. Getting laundry done is popular with those crew who have not gotten around to doing it aboard (thus saving both money and time ashore). Internetting seems to be important too. Some crew lined up a big island feast ashore – and others enjoyed an island feast aboard up on the quarterdeck. Plenty kai-kai up on the quarterdeck that night. The main decks were being oiled so we enjoyed our feast up there, complete with delightful Tongan dancings and excellent island music with three guitars and a banjo. As the music spilled across the harbour and the dancers beguiled us with their lyrical motion, one crewmember said to another that “this was the only vessel in the harbour experiencing this tonight.” The answer was, maybe the only vessel in the world having such a feast and island dance up on her quarterdeck.

For jobs in port, the Mate Dirk got the topsides painted, the galley painted, the decks oiled and even some deck caulking instruction in. A good amount of small boat handling in the skiff resulted in added experience for those new to a small motorboat. But one must sail onward. So, after refueling from a big truck at the wharf the crew singled up the lines, we sprung off the dock, loosed and set all sail and made our way back out into the South Pacific Ocean in fine fair winds bound for Norfolk Island – then on to Sydney, Australia.

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