Tonga: the friendly islands where time begins

We reached Vava’u, the most northerly group of Tongan islands, just before sunset on 18th September 2019. We were exhausted from our very difficult 16 day passage from French Polynesia and were very tempted to break our first golden rule: never enter an unfamiliar anchorage at night. However, we opted to round the northern point of Vava’u and seek shelter in Vaiutukakau Bay on the north-western side, taking three hourly watches to make sure we didn’t drift out into the current and rougher water.

At first light we sailed into the scenic waterways of Vava’u and passed a number of islands, heading for the main port, Neiafu, where we had to clear in. We tied up to the main dock and were informed by the friendly customs official that we had missed a day along the way. Tonga is the first country west of the International Dateline, which meant that we were now 11 hours ahead of our family and friends back home, instead of 11 hours behind.

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The anchorage at Neiafu.

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The Society Islands

From the Tuamotus it was a three day and night sail to the Society Islands, the last French Polynesian (FP) island group that we were to visit. As we didn’t have any business to do in Tahiti and my visa time for FP was soon coming to an end, we chose to sail past busy Papeete (the capital of FP) and head west for the quieter and less touristy Huahine.

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Tahaa and Raiatea are clearly visible from the west side of Huahine.

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Scenic Marquesas

Each of the French Polynesian archipelagos has its own unique character and we shall remember the Marquesas for their scenic beauty with majestic mountains, hiking routes, exquisite waterfalls, abundance of fruit and friendly Polynesians.  Of the six inhabited islands, just a spec in the Pacific Ocean halfway around the world from South Africa, we visited five: Fatu Hiva, Tahuatu, Hiva Oa, Nuka Hiva and Ua Pou.

Marquesas map

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The long haul to the Marquesa Islands

It took us 36 days, plenty of wind and sail power and just three litres of diesel to cover the 4 044 nm (7 300km) across the Pacific Ocean from Panama to the Marquesas. On weighing Moondust’s anchor at 06:15 on Easter Saturday at the southern end of the Panama Canal, the white full moon still hung in the sky to starboard while the sun peeped through warm orange cirrus clouds to port.

We had a pleasant start to the longest passage we will encounter in our circumnavigation (across this first stretch of the Pacific Ocean) with no seasickness on my part, light winds and a beautiful Mackerel on our fishing line!

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Fascinating Cuba!

We found Cuba to be absolutely fascinating and very different from any of the other Caribbean islands. It felt like we had taken a big step back in time, before the days of modern cars and a permanent connection to the virtual world.

 Cienfuegos

 After two weeks when we were finally ‘snorkeled out’ at Jardines de la Reina, aided by a good breeze, we sailed overnight for Cienfuegos, 160 km to the northwest and situated in an enclosed bay. We anchored off another government run Marina Marlin, where, after a lengthy but friendly check-in we were free to go ashore and enter the ‘time warp’.

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Walking down a wide, quiet double lane boulevard towards the town centre we were immediately struck by the beautiful old cars and how little traffic there was.

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Newbies on board

We asked Frank and Marijke, who visited us on Moondust recently, to share their impressions as newbies of what it entails to live on a yacht. Herewith their experience….

We gladly accepted Karin and Pete’s generous invitation to join them on board Moondust and loved their company and living at sea and virtually in the sea, as we did a lot of snorkeling! Being Duchies we stem from a sea faring nation, but personally we had no experience at all of life ‘adrift’, therefore Pete had to give us an induction.

He explained a set of necessary rules of conduct on board a ship. They were quite logic for living at sea and concentrated on aspects like safety, living together in a confined space, and the use of water.

Safety

For safety reasons one never walks on deck without a firm hold whilst sailing. It is extremely challenging to retrieve somebody who fell overboard because of currents and difficulties to keep track of the exact location of the man overboard.

When sailing, you have to make sure that all hatches and portholes are firmly closed, unless you like sleeping in a soaked bed.

A fire on a ship can be life threatening, so there are special safety measures for cooking with gas.

House rules

What struck us was the ‘war against salt’. Salt is everywhere around you, but you don’t want it in your living space because it inevitably attracts moisture. Preventing this is an ongoing battle. Clothing, shoes and towels soaked with salt water are NOT permitted beyond a certain point.

You even try to keep sweet water and damp out as much as possible. You shower in the open on the back sugarscoop, which is a sheer joy.

Sweet water has to be used very sparingly and for us Duchies this required a change in mindset. In Holland we have an abundance of sweet water but on a ship you have to find ways to economise without compromising on hygiene.

When the desalinator, which turns seawater into potable water, is in operation nobody is allowed to use the toilet!

Living on board

The catamaran has four cabins, but nevertheless you live in a confined space. Moondust has an inner and outer living space but we spent most of our time in the outside cockpit area, enjoying the wind, the sea and Cuba Libre sundowners.  As this space is covered, it offers shade as well as protection against rain and spray from the sea. This is the nicest spot on board with ample room for everybody.

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Frank and Marijke in the cockpit.

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Our first taste of the Caribbean ‘proper’

After we picked our Dutch friends Frank and Marijke up from St George, our first stop was the underwater sculpture gallery at Dragon Bay on the west coast of Grenada. A number of sculptures, created by UK sculptor, Jason deCaires Taylor, are placed around Molinére Reef in shallow, clear water.

Sadly some of the sculptures have been damaged by stormy sea conditions but there is still plenty to see.   The most impressive is Vicissitudes, a circle of figures, all joining hands. Another impressive figure is Christ of the Deep, which is a replica of the original that lies underwater off San Fruttuoso Bay in Italy. Other sculptures include a mermaid, a kneeling and praying figure and a woman sitting on a bench.

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Doing the ‘hard yards’ in Trinidad

Sailing is not all about exotic islands, beautiful sunsets and enjoying G&T’s. On top of doing at least one maintenance job daily, there comes a time when a boat owner really has to do the hard yards.

It was time for Moondust’s maintenance haul-out and, since we could not sail much further north in the Caribbean until the end of the hurricane season in November, being impressed with Power Boat’s  prompt e-mail responses and general interest shown, we decided to follow the good references that we got from fellow cruisers and have the work done in Trinidad. We could not have made a better choice!

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Dolphins playing on Moondust’s bow.

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