The Waiting Game

We’ve been down here anchored off a small beach just North of Tapana Island for over a good week and a half now. The plan was, and still is, to sail the sixty plus miles of open ocean down to the Ha’apais, Tonga’s central group of islands, and hopefully find an area of little more authentic population, less frequented by the cruiser’s curse then Vava’u. Up here we’re in high season by now and maybe close to a hundred yachts are cramped into Neiafu harbor and probably a good fifty more strewn about in the almost forty designated anchorage spots of the outlying islands. The Ha’apais are low laying atolls with little or no protection from high mountains like up here. Most all of the anchorages down there offer shelter only from certain wind direction and not from others, so when the wind shifts you have to move. I’m guessing that’s exactly why the crowds don’t go there. We’re hearing a lot of “Be careful down there, mate!” Alas, the descriptions of beautiful beaches and sleepy villages promise some good living. If we could only get some nice and settled weather to start the journey, we’re pretty confident we can handle the rest. But that seems to be the sticky point.

Ever since we escaped the hordes of fellow boaters in Neiafu and came down here to the very scenic anchorage just North of Tapana Island in a slow day sail, the trades have been blowing, if at all, always clearly South of South West. The course to our destination, the town of Pangai on Lifuka Island, lays about fifteen degrees East of South, so even a Southwesterly would still be a bit on the nose. Periods of flat calms are interspersed and days of miserable, but very soothing rain. The promise of good solid wind for a day or two (it should only be a quick overnight passage) seems to hang gingerly always at least a week out into the future. Just to be clear, all this is really no big deal. If we would be machos we would just go for it and within a day all the whining would be over. But since we’re not, we’re playing the waiting game.













We’re also not in a hurry, the official cyclone season does not start until November, by which time we will have to have made up our fickle minds and decide if we want to stay here in Vava’u for the summer with it’s many places to tuck in and hide, should a big one decide to come towards us. The alternatives to that are pretty much a threefold set of cards. For one we could decide like many a stern sailor around us to brave the stormy seas down South and head for the land of the Kiwi bird, where the summer seems to be nice and pleasant, albeit a little on the cool side, with plenty of sheltered sailing grounds, a fully developed economy, where with some luck we might fatten our cruising kitty a bit either with our work in the performing arts or selling ourselves to any odd job for the matter. There are a couple of hurdles we’d have to dash across for that option to turn into a feasible path. Beatriz’ Colombian passport is probably the highest of them all. The Kiwi’s immigration web site (and we’re talking of the human ones here, the birds most probably would have a slightly friendlier attitude) talks of the need for showing fattened up bank extracts, proof of costly medical exams, and a host of other most reasonable and no doubt very useful paperwork. The fact that we would have to find some sort of work almost immediately before our dwindling financial resources dwindle their final spin does not make that plan very tempting either.

Next in the line of logical downwind sailing reasoning would be to continue on to Fiji beginning of November, where we’d have again possible holes to hunker down during the event of a tropical revolving storm (another word for the same scary reality). The chances of encountering one of these meteorological monsters are apparently slightly higher there than here but with some luck we might find a place to take Aluna out of the water and have her on the hard for some peace of mind. Fiji is quite a sizable economy too and certainly a place to stay and explore for a year or two if not more. However the weary political situation with a self-appointed military government in charge of scooping the cream of the top puts a bit of a damper on that course of wandering action. Vanuatu, the Solomons and Papua New Guinea would be next in line from there.

The last and maybe most radical solution to the messy problem of the cyclone season would be to boldly bypass the entire Melanesian medley and sail Northwest through Tuvalu, the Gilbert Islands of Kiribati and head for Micronesia, where the promise of some last pockets of surviving star navigation lore and traditional boat building skills lures.

But we’re not just done yet with this mysteriously regal Tonga to seriously plan a runaway. Although I’m still having serious trouble figuring this place out with its stubborn reluctance to reveal itself, we feel we need to give it some more time so maybe it can come out of hiding soon enough for us to feel comfortable enough to swallow the bitter pill of being stuck here for an entire season. We’re hearing that the weather might actually be more benign during the summer month and warnings of approaching cyclones should be pretty reliable with ample time to cut a groove into a thicket of mangrove and batten down the hatches. Last year there was no cyclone at all here, statistically there’s about one for the whole Tongan chain per season.

Decision making seems always to be difficult for our grumpy human minds and we have had to learn that most of the time drifting a bit and letting all the various strains of anxiety settle moves us closer to being willing and able to throw the dice and accept its verdict. So we’re spending some quality time learning to catch the shiny, silvery, slithery and slender halfbeaks, also called ballyhoos in the literature describing the luring art of fishing. They are torpedo shaped surface dwellers, skimming the first couple inches of water under the sunlight in jumpy schools with over sized lower jaws that stick out a good inch and a half like a needle past their tiny upper lip. Here’s the recipe for a dinner’s catch: Mash a little slice of ripe Papaya into puree with your kitchen fork. Mix this with plenty flour and some oil into a paste thick enough to stick onto a fishhook. You do need the smallest hooks you can find. Those halfbeaks grow from slim, finger-sized darts to over a foot long hydro dynamically stretched sausages, but my experience is that the bigger ones don’t want to know anything of this bait at all and you usually end up with a dozen midsized smelly denizens of the watery world if luck is on your side. Use a length of thin line as much as you think you can throw through the air and tie your hook a foot or so below a float. The sticky part is quite obviously how to wrap a little junk of the bait onto the tiny hook. It helps to have a little butter knife with you to avoid getting the whole mess all over your fingers. Once you managed to get a hang on this you toss the float and baited hook as far from the boat as you can, ideally smack into the middle of a school of your target prey. As soon as the float hits the water you start reeling in slowly but steadily. You will quickly see a small group of dark blue silhouettes lustfully pursuing the float and start feeling tingling jiggles on the line as the frolicking munching starts at the other end. If you get a hit it’s like a miniature version of the marlin or swordfish chase of sport fishing fame. The poor little critter shoots back and forth with wild splashes desperately trying to shake a burning pain out of his or her tiny and not so stiff upper lip and you better pull that line in fast because some of them do get the ultimate reward for the thrashing and in a flash they dash away from their clear road to the cooking pan. If you do get the slithery creature within reach of the tactile end of your upper extremities, grab it firmly behind the gill flaps with one hand and yank the tiny hook out of the tender flesh with your other. Repeat the procedure to your heart content, or until you think your stomach’s capacity and that of whoever will join you in the feast will be reasonably covered.

It is all good fun for a day or two but just before you throw away your readiness to slave away from nine to five and head for the South Seas in the Tropics of your dreams, consider this important little fact of life at the sweet end of the stick: Most of the throws come back empty, only patience gets rewarded, and quite a good amount of it. It takes about at least an hour and a half to two to fill the dinner plate for two. Lunch might be free in some places we have yet to find, but for diner you clearly have to pay, no doubt about it, be it with copious amounts of your precious time, or, should you happen to live a little further away from direct contact with reality in the abstract comfort zone of civilization, with its stinky symbol and ruthless placeholder: mister money, dios dinero, or greedy grain of gross domestic product of the nation you decided to be a willing part of. That dark side of the equation will be however all but forgotten once you leisurely crunch the little bundle of white muscle fiber between your pounding molars. They have been slightly fried, marinated in a slender squirt of soy sauce and sprinkled with a hint of freshly squeezed limejuice shortly after landing on your plate.

We’ll be certainly checking the weather forecast again tomorrow morning and then most probably go for a long stroll along the beach of eroded limestone behind the spit of elevated land with groves of grey olive ironwood trees that provides our anchorage with generous protection from the wind and waves coming across the reef from the East. Once that wind has kindly decided to show clear and legible signs of backing and comfortably settling in somewhere in the quadrant between East and South East, we’ll be weighing anchor one late morning. Then with all your imaginary forces you can picture Aluna with her bright white crab claw sails sailing South between the many surreal islands that make up the feathering Southern end of Vava’u, avoiding carefully the many treacherous slabs of reef strewn amongst them, then by nightfall streaming out into the open ocean and under a dark night of star strewn heavens heading for the gleaming beaches of Ha’apai.

3 Responses to “The Waiting Game”

  1. Samuel Guia Says:

    hola navegates del Gran Oceano Pacifico;

    I was really really concern when I found out the the rogue NASA satellite that fell from the sky crashed somewhere in the waters of some uninhabited Pacific islands (according NASA they were probably scattered in the sea). So, after I read your last entry I knew those chunks of cosmic junk didn’t fell over your heads. Hey, if you find some of the nasty stuff it carryed SAVED IT FOR POSTERITY!!!

  2. allan aunapu Says:

    Are you sure you want to go near FIJI? With a “self-apponted” military government in charge like that it mite be “mobetta” to give them a wide birth. Please find out what other sailors are saying. It could be the only true word you can get. Or maybe I should lighten up, but some mistakes you can only make once.

  3. allan aunapu Says:

    Also, have you tied some sort of cast net for Ballyhoo?

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