Spending time in Neiafu, Tonga

For the past week I have been staying anchored in the anchorage of Neiafu, in the island group of Vava’u in Tonga. This is a very different place from the other Pacific islands I have been visiting so far. First of all, the formation of the islands is different, no atoll with fringing reefs, but a large number of islands and bays, mostly of limestone. Neither are the islands very high. Then there is the fact the Tonga is the only kingdom in the southern hemisphere, something I had never been aware of until arriving here. Tonga never had a close relationship with any of the old (European) colonial powers. As a result of that, there are no strong ties with any western countries (either in Europe or near by New Zealand). The effect of this is that it is quite poor, probably as poor as most countries in Africa. On the positive side, there has not been a flee of the locals to other countries (like for example happened to Niue, where from the about 21.000 people with a Niue passport, only about 1000 live on the island). Therefore Niue left a sort of deserted island impression. So, Tonga has basically always been self governed. The people are very friendly, and live happens at a gradual place. Making money does not seem to be that big of a priority for them. In the stores (which have limited stock), you can just walk on, look around, and walk out, no one will come ask if you need help of any kind. In the evening, when things get quiet in one of the small bars on the waterfront, they don’t wait too long to see if anyone will show up, they just lock up the bar and go home. Tonga is also one of the first stops where things are reasanbly affordable (as opposed to French Polynesia, which is prohibitively expensive) and with a good place to anchor (as opposed to Rarotonga and Niue, which were absolutely uncomfortable and I was glad when the boat was back sailing, at sea under sail, the boat was calmer then in those places). So, there are a lot of boats here, all taking it easy, taking our time to prepare for the next stop (for the majority of the boats that is New Zealand, but it is too early in the season to make that jump), and just meet up with all the boats around.

Friday afternoon there is a yacht race, I played with the idea of entering my boat, but never having raced, decided that crewing on another boat probably made more sense. So I ended up sailing on board Aguja, a Westsail 32, home port Kerrville, CA. That is probably the least likely boat to enter a race in, since Westsails are sometimes nicked Wetsnails, because of there lack of speed. It is heave boat, beamy, with a cutter rig. Well, it was great fun to race. Though the rig was similar to mine, the way lines were run turned out to be completely different, Most obvious difference was the lack of self tailing winches. So, with three in the cockpit (captian Jim on the helm, his daughter Marteen and myself doing the stay sail and geno sheets). It was a lot of work, and good fun. We had a great start, Jim having timed things just right, Even were ahead of a big 47 ft Swan (a Sparkman & Stephens design, the sort of boat you would consider racing material) for part of the updwind leg. We had a close race with Palmask on the downwind leg, but they just beat us on the inside to the buoy. In the end we were 7th out of 9. But, all had a great time doing it.

Two local girls, I was just walking down the street when the called me. They were just curious I think about a stranger passing by, they wanted me to take this picture (and many more, and had to take my picture). One of those funny experiences you have when you travel.

Moonduster (the fanatic racers on a big Swan, the favorites to win, but they were to eager at the start line and had to restarts).

Captain Jim at the helm.

Willow, a jonk rigged boat, loaded with a fun crew.

Palmask, from Freemantle, Australia.

Our happy crew members on the fore deck.

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2 Responses to Spending time in Neiafu, Tonga

  1. DonKent says:

    Frank, it sounds like you are having a lot of fun down there. We are getting ready for Hurricane Gustav, it is Cat. 3 and will hits us in the morning (Mon. 9/1/08,Labor Day) I have my boat tied in the back of a canal at the Port of Iberia which is about 5 miles inland from Vermillion Bay. I used about 800 ft. of line and have her secured in the middle of the canal, I hope she survives with no damage. Lafayette will be hit hard by this storm, but it is not the first time.

    Good Luck and Fair Weather: Don

  2. frank says:

    Hi Donald,

    Hope your boat is safe, at least you have tried your best.

    Hope everyone in Lafayette and New Orleans will get through Gustav without any major damages or injuries.

    Tried to read a few reports, it sounds better than Katrina and Rita, hope it stays that way.



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