Bula means “Cheers!”, “Hello!” Literally, it means “life” according to the Lonely Planet guide. It’s the greeting, offered with a big smile, you’ll receive and give whenever you meet someone, or just pass them by along the roadside, here in Fiji. It’s among the first Fijian words we heard on arrival, and the first one we learned. Continue reading

Moon Jellies

A couple of evenings ago, as Ruth was just preparing to turn in with her book in hand, Randy called out from the cockpit where he’d gone for a last look around: “come up here and see this!” Outside, peering over the edge of the boat was Randy, pointing to a mass of floating jellyfish slowly moving up on the incoming tide.They were moon jellies, thousands of them, perhaps millions for all we could tell. The water was milky white with their bodies. They surrounded Velic and as deep and as far as we could see in the dark, the water had this milky look. Twenty minutes later, they were gone and the water around the boat was a clear deep blue again. Moon jellyfish are common in the western Pacific. We had seen them before, sometimes several of them together. But we had never witnessed such a mass of them. It was eery, and beautiful. Continue reading

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.

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Welcome to Nuku’alofa

After a boisterous 13 day passage of 1286 nm we are enjoying hanging out at anchor in front of Big Mama’s Yacht Club.

Big Mama’s Yacht Club on Pangaimotu island, a Seven Seas Cruising Association recognized yacht club, has been welcoming cruisers for many years. Earle and his wife – “Big Mama” – run the restaurant and bar as well as ferry service to the mainland. They are very helpful and can provide advice and information as well as facilitating services like  laundry, fuel, potable water, as well as a cheeseburger and beer in paradise. The ferry runs regularly twice a day between Nuku’alofa and Pangaimotu Island, carrying passengers and goods. The island is home to a small permanent community, almost entirely composed of family members related to Earle and Big Mama. Continue reading

Passage to Tonga: Tongatapu

Day 13: Now anchored off ‘Big Mama’s’ in the lagoon of Tongatapu Island Group, just before sunset. Wow, the boat is safe, secure, flat and still.

It’s about a mile across the lagoon from the commercial port with the inbound clearance and fuel wharf. Wharf rats and roaches included. We tied up there for a few hours to clear in with Tonga Customs and Immigration. Maybe tomorrow we can launch the dinghy and have a burger in paradise at Big Mama’s cafe on the beach.

Passage to Tonga: Pyramids

After a warm and comfortable Saturday, early Sunday morning brought low grey skies and no wind. We had motored throughout the windless night with two reefs in the main to help minimize roll. Usually, my first task of the dawn watch is to download new weather forecasts and GRIB files. Often the SSB radio frequencies work much better after sunset or before dawn. On Sunday morning the low grey skies turned into thunder and lightening squalls all around, with heavy rains washing down. The lightening seemed to be all cloud-to-cloud. I saw no strikes to the water, just broad flashes in the clouds, so there was little threat to the boat. But with all that activity I was unable to get the morning weather report, even when drifting with the engine off. [Engine electrical systems can create a lot of ‘noise’ in the radio.]

By afternoon the wind had picked up from the SE. We sailed briskly along under reefed main and yankee jib. In the late afternoon a short and steep swell rolled in from the NE – the direction we were going – and joined the circus. So we had wind waves from the SE kicking up and crossing the NE swell. Pyramids of water were created at the crossing of the NE swell and building SE wind waves. Velic was sailing downwind into a chaotic head sea. Rolling and pitching, with sails and rigging banging about. Not Sweet. The boat would roll deeply one way on the approaching side of a pyramid, then roll deeply the other way on the back side as the pyramid passed under. It was mildly uncomfortable.

By morning conditions had moderated, then returned to calm. I got a weather report that gave some explanation to the chaos the day before, and the relative quiet today. A nice SW wind filled in this afternoon. After motoring again for some hours today we set sail on a broad reach, wind on the Port quarter, aimed directly at Tongatapu. Finally, a lovely evening and sunset. We could actually sit in the cockpit and enjoy the quiet, rhythmic “whoosh” of a fine sail for the first time on this passage. The yankee jib is back up, and poled out to leeward, with a reefed main. This is my favorite down wind sail configuration – fast, stable, quiet, and resilient to squalls – for quick to set, short term sailing. Short term being less than three days. Ironically, after 12 days on passage, we need to slow the boat down so as to approach Tongatapu in the morning light after dawn, not in the dark of night. It’s a different sort of travel planning.

Passage to Tonga: Barefoot

We are down to light shorts and bare feet. The cabin temperature is 25°C. The sea temperature is 26°C. Now motor sailing into a very light breeze coming from exactly the direction we want to go, and the boat is generally upright. What a change a day can make.

Forty eight hours ago we were close hauled in boisterous seas in Force 5 winds from the northeast, sailing under a deeply reefed main and the staysail into the wind. It had been eight days of close sailing in strong winds, with waves slamming against the boat, washing over the lifelines and down the side decks. Every on-deck venture meant layering up in complete foulies and harnesses, a ritual akin to donning vestments. Activity below was minimal. Basically, we could read, sleep, eat (out of mug or deep bowl), make log entries, talk. And keep a “prairie dog” lookout, dodging spray. Then yesterday the weather started to change. Cloud cover increased to a thick, grey batting overhead, and the wind lightened and became intermittent – dying away, then rising again. By afternoon we were wallowing in leftover waves, slowly, very slowly, sailing NW when the wind backed more to the North setting us more west. We don’t want to go west. It was time to tack. Even if that meant not sailing north towards Tonga, sailing due east was good. Eventually the SE trade winds, which are predominant, will show up. We want to be east of Tonga when that happens, with the winds behind us for the final run.

Today the wind has continued light. We sailed until it died completely, then motor sailed. We are watching the formation of a high over New Zealand slowly move eastward. It’s leading edge should bring southwest, then south winds, favorable for sailing north to Tonga.

It was settled enough onboard that Ruth made a batch of yogurt. The cabin sole and most hard surfaces got a good rinse with fresh water and a splash of bleach. This mops up the salt accumulated over the past week and keeps molds and mildew at bay. Life feels ever so much better aboard.