How to take cold showers

Once the cold water is running, remind yourself of two things: 1) This is ambient temperature water, not really ‘cold’, and 2) It’s not going to get warmer. You see, in the first world, we turn on the water and wait for it to warm up before stepping in. Here, turn on the water and let it run over your legs, then over your forearms. When the first chill is off your arms and legs, then stick in your head and let the water run through your hair, but not yet over your whole head and shoulders. This cools you down a bit. Then just step in and start the suds. It’s not going to get warmer. But in a bit, you get cooler and it feels great – taking the tropical heat out of your bones.

We left Nuku’alofa, Tongatapu, on Thursday morning to head north, up the west side of the chain of island groups that make up the Kingdom of Tonga. Our goal was the town of Neiafu in the Vava’u group of islands, the second-largest town in the country after the capitol, Nuku’alofa. We were in the Vava’u group last season and looked forward to revisiting several special anchorages there before heading on toward Fiji in July.

As we left the anchorage at Nuku’alofa, a large schooner also left port, following us (gaining on us, actually). The AIS data told us it was the Robert C. Seamans. Radio contact and conversation added the information that they are a US sail training vessel and were, like us, heading north to the Vava’u group.

Robert C. Seamans sail training vessel.

We had originally planned on stopping to visit the Ha’apai group of islands, which lie between Tongatapu and Vava’u. The Ha’apai group are known for beautiful beaches and snorkeling. They are low lying islands with many coral reefs, and very few secure anchorages.  However, the weather forecast called for a low trough to pass over Tonga in a few days bringing winds that would back to the north and northwest. Changing our minds about finding a secure anchorage in the Ha’apai group, we carried on through the night and had good sailing for most of the passage. There were a few squalls around the horizon late in the day on Thursday but nothing severe. The moon at night was full enough to cast shadows on deck during the night; it was really beautiful.

This passage took us around 34 hours, about as long as the offshore passage from Astoria, Oregon up the length of the Washington coastline to the entrance of the Straits of Juan de Fuca. By the next afternoon, Friday, we were seeing the southernmost islands of the Vava’u group. The wind died away to nothing but a vesper for the last 10 hours or so. We motor sailed against a contrary current and – since we had to motor anyway – switched on the water maker to add fresh water to our tanks.

Approaching Vava’u from the south, late afternoon.


Moonrise over the Vava’u group as we passed Hunga Island on our way to the pass between Tu’ungasika and Laufatu islands leading into Port Maurelle, on Kapa Island.

Normally we avoid entering an anchorage after dark. But we were heading for the bay of Port Maurelle on Kapa Island: We had been here before and knew the entrance to be free of hazards and wide open. Also, remember the bright, full moon? With Randy on the foredeck conning and Ruth driving, we slowly motored into the quiet bay and set the anchor just before 20:00 (8:00 pm). Drinks and a hot pasta dinner followed, as we enjoyed the evening in one of our favorite Pacific anchorages.

Saturday morning began beautifully, but with the promised low trough and wind shift. So we moved to another anchorage in a lagoon that is protected from north and northwest winds. A few other boats had the same idea. By dinner time over 20 boats were anchored just off the beach at Vaka’eitu island. The promised wind arrived, and passed. A bit of a lumpy, noisy night, but nothing of concern as we were well protected.

We are back in Neiafu for a few days, enjoying restaurant lunches and freshwater showers. Showers are available from the Moorings charter base, advertised for TOP $5. Except that, like last season, there is still no hot water available, so the discounted price is TOP $3. Cleaned up and dressed in fresh clothes, we enjoyed a very good lunch at Mango Restaurant next door –

Cheeseburgers in Paradise at Mango Cafe. Great food, friendly staff, local beers.

Last season, the dinghy dock was showing some wear but was still intact, and level. The intervening months have been hard on it.

One of several dinghy docks. Some were in better condition, as this one had been last season. Some were in worse condition; we did not attempt to use those.

Stepping from shore to the gangway for the floating dock.

Almost all cruisers have inflatable (some slowly deflating) dinghies with outboards. We are among a minority who carry and use a hard dinghy that is rowed. Velic’s dinghy is seen in the background (with varnished seat), and another dinghy from the same design in the foreground. These are “Chameleon” dinghies, from the design of Danny Green. They are nesting dinghies, meaning they come apart such that the bow section “nests” under the stern section, saving space on deck. It’s rare to find another Chameleon. This one was built exactly as designed, whereas ours was somewhat modified when built by Randy, Bill, and Jerry. It serves us well. Presumably, so does this other one. We have not seen who rows/owns it.

Another Chameleon dinghy in the foreground, this one built exactly to plans. Our own dinghy is in the background.

Once the laundry has been retrieved, we’ll head out into the island anchorages around the Vava’u group. We have a bit longer than two weeks remaining on our Tongan visas and intend to spend the time enjoying the lovely anchorages of Vava’u.


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