A Family Reunion in Tonga

For those readers who have followed my journey since the beginning, they will probably have noticed a decline in the quality of the journals sometime around March 2005. The reason for this decline was that the original writer, my brother Brian, decided to pursue a life ashore, including the opportunity to get paid for his excellent journalistic abilities. He is now living in Connecticut and writing content for TicketNetwork. Fortunately, he was recently able to once again join Audentes, albeit only for a short vacation. To take advantage of having a professional writer on board and since I am running out of inappropriate jokes, Brian agreed to write this week’s journal entry. Since he is familiar with the limited budget of the permanent crew of Audentes, he kindly agreed to charge only a small fee for his services. Six of one, half-a-dozen of the other Viewed through the lenses of Rogers and Hammerstein (“Bali Hai”) and World War II (Iwo Jima), the South Pacific appears to Americans as both playful and terrifying. The wild dogs on the island of Tonga support that characterization, though there is much else to recommend the archipelagos of Tonga and Fiji. Four worthy crewmembers joined Aaron and Anna on board Audentes for two weeks of island-hopping: Mike: sailor and repairman extraordinaire; Father and half of Shore Support Team Deb: counseling, bargaining, cooking and provisioning guru; Mother and other half of Shore Support Team Angelina: Student at UConn and in Brian’s opinion, the nicest person in the world Brian: Captain at Large; Aaron’s brother After convening at Los Angeles airport for dinner with the lovely Dias family, the four flew to Tonga via Fiji, their combined weight in luggage and person passing the half-ton mark and destined to put Audentes another inch lower in the water. Once there, they were whisked by taxi through the Tongan countryside, punctuated frequently by purple and black bunting, a sign of national grief over the death of the king’s nephew. The first couple of days were devoted to exploration of the town, including a Catholic mass held in Tongan and a trip into the capital of Nuku’alofa. Provisions were soon purchased and Audentes weighed anchor for an overnight sail to the Vava’u island group in the north of the country. Brisk winds on the beam and steady progress during the night brought sight of the Vava’u island group with the rising sun and left the morning to find a suitable anchorage. We dropped the hook astride a picturesque deserted island and soaked up the view. It was all there: the swaying palms, the white sand beach and the electric blue waters studded with reefs. Swimming, snorkeling and exploration passed the afternoon. We had truly arrived in paradise. Overnight, paradise was lost when the dinghy’s painter chafed through and parted. Our way ashore had drifted away during the night without anyone noticing. This was a very upsetting development, but lady luck smiled on us and using binoculars we found the dinghy on an island downwind from Audentes. Aaron and Brian were dispatched in the sea kayak and managed to retrieve the beached vessel. Blaming strong winds for the mishap, Audentes sought calmer conditions and parked in a quiet bay that afternoon. Our minds at ease, we piled in the dinghy for snorkeling and spear fishing and were rewarded with clear waters and the ethereal sounds of whale song as we alternately admired and shot at the colorful fishes. Over the next few days, we explored other isles in the area, including the town of Neiafu, the main city in the Vava’u island group. There, we were able to provision, arrange for spare parts, take care of travel plans and enjoy hamburgers. Tongan culture was also on show in the form of conservative dress, blaring pop music and at least one impromptu street fight. At a different island, we managed to take in a Tongan feast. The meal took hours to prepare, with a large portion being prepared in an oomu, or underground oven. Seasoned packets of fish, pork, chicken and vegetables are wrapped in lolo leaves and placed in a pit full of hot rocks. They are buried so that no heat can escape and left for an hour, then dug up and served. Long “tables” made of woven banana leaves were heaped with food and placed on the ground between two rows of people. Everyone promptly tucked in to a variety of strange dishes, many of which were very different from anything any of us had ever tasted. The feast also featured some dancing by young boys and girls as well as a kava circle. Another anchorage served as a launching point for an expedition to Mariner’s Cave, a cavern only accessible by swimming through an underwater tunnel. With the female crew not wishing to risk the dive, it was left to the male contingent to search out the cave. After spending considerable time scanning the cliffs for what the guidebook uselessly described as “a prodigious palm tree”, we finally found what we believed to be the entrance of the cave. Some brief underwater reconnoitering only confirmed the existence of a large underwater black hole. Finally, Dad took the plunge and disappeared into the darkness. After several moments of treading water, there was still no sign of him. Aaron and Brian decided that this was as good a sign as any and dove. Roughly a 10-second underwater swim later, all three were in the cave, bathed in the aqua green light that filtered in through the tunnel. A mysterious green fog would mysteriously appear then disappear immediately, lending an eerie quality to the room, which was slightly larger than a two-car garage. Pictures and videos of the cave can be seen in the gallery. In order to make it down to Nuku’alofa so that the United States-based travelers could catch flights home, we decided to explore the Ha’apai island group, where Captain James Cook once landed in the 18th century. The islands were also the site of the mutiny on the Bounty. That rich maritime history was appealing; sadly, the open anchorages we found there were not. Rolly anchorages and sailing amid dangerous reefs made things very uncomfortable for a few days. One night a strong storm came through about 3 AM and the wind changed direction 180 degrees. Instead of being comfortably in the lee of an island, we were now fully exposed to the wrath of the storm and being pushed dangerously towards a reef that was only about 40 feet from the stern of Audentes. Dad and Aaron spent the next four hours motoring Audentes against the wind – not too much throttle to move Audentes forward but enough to keep the anchor from dragging which would have allowed Audentes to be pushed onto the reef. We later heard that a 120 foot yacht with a professional captain was lost on a reef in Vava’u that same night when the wind shifted and its anchor dragged. However, we did manage to see some of the most beautiful scenery in Tonga, as sand, water and sunset combined for some of the most kaleidoscopic vistas we’d ever seen. We also managed to spot many humpback whales, a few snakes, much beautiful coral and what may or may not have been a flying fox. We also managed to catch a fish; the Dogtooth Tuna, described by some as “the Hitler of the Seas”, was hooked just as we were looking for an anchorage one evening. The fish was filleted and prepared in a variety of ways that including sushi, sashimi, fried and ceviche. It was delicious. A long day’s sail back in Nuku’alofa saw us arrive in near-darkness. We enjoyed the calm anchorage and spent the next morning picking up airplane tickets, taking care of last-minute shopping and enjoying breakfast at a pleasant café, where the likes of YMCA had once visited. Soon we were on a taxi to the airport, accompanied by Aaron, and left Tonga after a memorable two weeks. Special mention must be made of the galley. Our meals were outstanding, particularly all of delicious dishes prepared by Mom, to the parathas made by Angelina to the pirogues made by Anna. Special congratulations must be given to Dad, who once again demonstrated a startling amount of ability to fix the boat, plot our courses and make the trip enjoyable for everyone. Finally, special thanks must be given to Aaron for accommodating everyone. He was kind enough to give up his bed and share the rest of the boat with a minimum amount of fuss. Without him, this amazing trip could never have happened.

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