28 Oct – 06 Nov: Atata & Pangaimotu Is, Southern Tonga ~ 21 07S 175 09W
When we left Namuku Iti in the Ha’apai Group we imagined we would have a pleasant sail on the wind with a light breeze in flat water about 25 miles south to Kelafasi, the most southern anchorage of the Ha’apai’s.
Instead the wind picked up to over 20 knots, we had more salt water over Balvenie’s bow than we can remember in recent history, and we couldn’t even lay (point at) our destination. By the time we could tack and head for the island we were 8 miles due west of it and decided to maybe abandon Plan A and continue on south another 35 miles.
This promoted much discussion as it meant a night entry through a reef into the anchorage, not something we have ever done, but we were assured the charts were accurate, the reef pass was 1/2 a mile wide, depth was good and there were lead lights. On we carried, we had a better angle to the wind, conditions improved, seas flattened, full sails were raised and we had a ripper of a sail for the rest of the day, safely arriving to anchor on the western shores of Atata Island in the Tongatapu Group by 9pm, phew.
Big Mama’s 25th Anniversary Party
We heard next morning on our Cruisers Magellan Net that there was to be a party that evening at Big Mama’s Yacht Club on Pangaimotu Island. We motored the 9 miles around and settled into the anchorage amongst over 20 others yachts, it was party time!
Big Mama’s Yacht Club anchorage has become an oasis for yachts gathering in this southernmost group of Tonga. Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa is just a short dinghy or ferry ride away on Tongatapu Island, yet you can anchor here off this pocket sized island with a golden sandy beach and feel as if you are still truly in the tropics.
We had a great night, all the boats joined in so we had quite an international gathering. An excellent buffet was served and the Nuku’alofa Police Band played till late, (guess they doubled as security!!!)
Should We Stay or Should We Go Now?
The dominating topic of discussion here is THE WEATHER. A “weather forum” was arranged one afternoon for everyone to discuss possible departure dates, stopovers, tactics, routing etc. This trip to New Zealand has quite a reputation and everyone wants to try to get it right.
Several laptops were taken ashore and we were amazed at the different weather programmes we hadn’t seen before being used - technology has come a long way and possibly passed us by! Also some boats had paid weather forecasts provided by NZ Weather Guru Bob McDavitt and most listen to free professional forecasting offered daily by David at Gulf Harbour Radio in NZ . Add about 30 participants all with an opinion and it made for quite an interesting discussion and worthwhile outing!
But at the end of the day each boat makes their own decision and some have left directly to either Opua or Whangarei, others have chosen a stop in Minerva Reef. We, along with 17 others are still here at anchor, boats are coming and going each day, it is a very fluid and somewhat unsettling situation.
Skipper is working hard every day keeping the hull clean, he reports that it is now as clean as when we antifouled last in St Maarten – he has done a great job and we will blast through the water like a torpedo when we leave.
We have had outings ashore to downtown Nuku’alofa, our expectations weren’t high so we were pleasantly surprised by this functioning small capital city in the Kingdom of Tonga.
We found a good cafe for morning lattes, walked past the Royal Palace, filled our bags with fruit and vegetables at the bustling market then stopped at Friends Cafe for a tasty lunch. True to its name we ran into cruising friends on Jade, Enough, Babe and Crazy Daisy ~ good to see us cruisers contributing to the local economy.
We have completed our final paperwork, fuel and water tanks are full, fridge is topped up with fresh produce, the freezer is all but empty to comply with NZ quarantine regulations - just pre made passage meals remain, even the blog is now up to date.
Balvenie is sparkling inside and out, if only we could pick her up by helicopter and plop her down in the Bay of Islands, instead patience is the name of the game as we wait, and wait, for our weather window!
We Are Ready To Head Home