Posted by: Carol | May 17, 2009

Port of Refuge

2009 South Pacific

We’re safe and sound in Port of Refuge Harbor, Neiafu, Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga. Nothing exciting to report about our 750 mile passage – alternately reading, sleeping, and standing watch 24 hours a day for four days and nights. Good thing we picked up our extra diesel in Penrhyn because for two days the wind was non-existent and we’d probably still be floating around out there without our faithful engine to carry us onwards. En route we crossed the International Dateline so now it is the following Monday here instead of Sunday back home.

We arrived in Tonga in the wee hours of the morning so spent the rest of the night at anchor in a small cove, blissfully enjoying the luxury of a bed that was not on a 30 degree angle and bouncing up and down trying to pitch its occupant out onto the floor.

We had solicited the services of a Yacht Agent here in Tonga – something Rod had tried for the first time in Bora Bora with spectacular success and so we decided to repeat here. It is absolutely amazing how an agent can simplify one’s arrival. First off, arriving on a Saturday morning the customs office would have been closed until the following Monday, leaving us tied up to the quarantine dock without permission to go ashore. However our agent, a Kiwi named Gray Tinley, scheduled appointments with all required officials to meet us at the dock at 11 a.m. and clear us in. He also ordered some lettuce, tomatoes and limes to be flown up from Tongatapu (because the local market was closed and didn’t have any of those anyhow), booked airline tickets for Mike and I from Vava’u to Nukualofa to connect with our international flight next Tuesday, made an appointment for us at the fuel dock to fill up with diesel and water, booked a mooring for Raven’s stay here in Vava’u, and offered a lot of pertinent advice on things such as what time the big rugby game would play on TV, which were the best restaurants and which to avoid (and mentioned that he offered a private restaurant by appointment only in his own house, where he would cook us dinner one day next week!).

Dealing with officialdom is a bit different out here in the islands. They are courteous and efficient, but with a few quirks that seem unusual compared to what one would expect in the U.S. or New Zealand. The customs inspectors check out our incoming goods, looking for items (such as fresh fruit, excessive spirits, etc.) not allowed into the country. Upon discovering Rod’s stash of beer, one of them requested one for himself (at 11 a.m.) to chase the effects of his kava hangover from the night before! At the conclusion of the interview it was pointed out that he should really charge us overtime for the Saturday visit – but in lieu of that did we have something we could give him instead? We offered a Raven t-shirt and all was finalized. In the meanwhile, all charges (including 600 liters of diesel) go onto the Yacht Agent’s account for us to settle up at the end. The agents seem quite trusting and run up quite a big tab on our behalf with no security – no credit card numbers, etc.

This morning we’re headed into town to market for groceries and souvenirs, then taking Raven out to the anchorages for a few days of enjoyment. Tonga is very different from the tropical islands we have been visiting. The Vava’u Group of islands are solid limetone and in addition to coconut palms support a variety of hardwood trees and other foliage. Mike and I went walking yesterday to stretch our legs, passing along the roadside quite a few sows with their piglets, goats tied to trees for grazing, a couple of horses, lots of chickens, and dogs. The water temperature has dropped by 7 degrees so we’ll have to break out the wetsuits for diving. The air temperature is cooler and less humid as well – of course it is near the beginning of winter here.


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