Island Hoping, Part 2

The next morning saw us navigating the reefs. South of Ha’afeva lies a labyrinth of extensive reefs. Some are crowned by little islands with coconut trees huddled together timidly as if afraid they might get their toes wet. Other’s are awash, with only the breaking seas over them giving away their treacherous location. So I had laid out a zigzag course the night before on the chart that should bring us safely to the narrow exit about seven miles to the South. But I was counting on the wind to stay a bit to the North of East, as it had been for a day or two. Of course it did not. It had veered for about thirty degrees to the South. One of the legs of our jagged tiptoe path was now too close to the wind and we had to cut some corners to make it work. The early morning sun provided good light and we were able to spot the shallow patches of reef from quite a distance. Their light blue to greenish color has been connected in the visual cortex to the navigational imperative ‘Stay away!’, or ‘Leave me alone!’

The frayed nerve ends started to unwind once we were out of the maze, leaving the last little islet surrounded by foaming seas behind and bobbing over a gentle swell. This still was not open ocean. About seventy miles to the East of our track the charts on my computer screen depicted a chain of crescent shaped barrier reefs shielding us from the mightier swells of the South Pacific, rolling in from the tumultuous waters of the Roaring Forties and the Screeming Fifities, churned up by the relentless battering from powerful low pressure systems on an uncessant circumpolar race unobstructed by any significant landmass. The first three miles after the reefs did feel a bit more rolly than we had seen it for a while and another glance from God’s point of view down on the chart revealed that there was a sizeable gap in the barrier reef and a deep water channel running from there underneath our hulls twards the chain of active volcanoes to the West. Nomuka was our next sleepover stop and it was clearly visible ahead. A sizeable mountain with the astonishing altitude of one hundred meters made for that extended visibility. Inside the caldera of the extinct and partially submerged volcanic crater promised to lie a shallow lagoon with brackish water.

By noon we had reached the Northeast extremity of the island and saw white sheets of foam shoot up in the air at the foot of the dark brown cliffs jotting out into the sea. Quite a contrast to the yellow beaches we’ve had the priviledge to marvel at for the last couple weeks. South of Nomuka lies a little sister island, called fittingly Nomuka Iki, iki meaning small or little. The less than mile wide channel between them is partially closed off by a reef sticking out from the East side of Nomuka Iki and therefore makes for a relitivel protected anchorage just off the village on the South side of the main island. We anchored just off the 300m wide reef, nicely in sand with isolated coral heads, some distance from the two rusty posts that marked the entrance of the small boats channel that leads through the reef to the beach.

Once we had Alunita in the water and were certain our two anchors would hold Aluna safely in place we paddled through that channel to the beach, where a group of young boys was playing. As soon as they saw us paddling ashore they ran towards us and, of course, wanted to know our names. They decided to stick around and became our unofficial tour guide. The same kind of ramshackle houses lined the dusty road and soon other boys joined our exploring expedition. We learned the words for horse: hosee, when we saw a couple grazing on a little hill. A dugout canoe was rotting away under a tree on the beach. Its ama to iako connection was fabricated out of rusted rebar. The kids then lead us through some backroads to the rim of the lagoon. Piles of trash spoiled the beautiful sight just enough to feel uncomfortable with our invading roles. At the fringe of the village a group of boys jotted their marbles across the dirt, a common game for youngsters in most all the islands we have seen. They relieved us of our guides and now by ourselves we stumbled on a road that slowly diminished to a two-track path where fresh and round horse turds with swarms of flies revealed a more down to earthen means of transportation. A father carried his little boy and a jutte bag full of coconuts on the owner of more round turds to come. His smile was warm and sincere and the boy did not have any of the strange behavioural patterns of his peers who had been with us before. At certain intervals in our linguistically limited conversation they had motioned with their hands mimicking pistols, proudly shooting down those two white aliens that landed in their fiefdom from the cold outer space of televised reality. A longing for power to kill at a safe and comfortable distance had been transmitted to the new generation who absorbed it without the mitigation of awareness, as if it were all a game. And maybe it is, isn’t it! Let’s play the devil’s hand and we shall see who makes it to the promised land alife, too exhausted to remember the brothers and sister of his that fell to the wayside along the brutal journey from healthy tradition to wicked modernity.

The island again is a tiny spek of land, so limited to us who are used to burn thousands of miles over concrete strips of sun-scorched pavement. After a brisk walk of less than an hour we reached the North shore. A picturesque bay lay calmly inside of the reef, where foaming breakers spent their long-distance gist. Stalks in regular geometric patterns lined the shoreline in waist deep waters. To those the locals attach bundles of bark strips from the Fau trees, soaking them for a couple weeks in the sea water as part of a lengthy procedure to transform them from brittle and fragile to durable and pliable materials for weaving beautiful and practical mats, trademark of the Tongan artisan traditions. Later they will be boiled and the dried in the sun. It is always amazing to see how complex and labor intensive the procedures are for making natural materials usable for artistry and crafts. Refined techniques are passed on from generation to generation connecting them through local identity of custom and style.

The last leg of our accelerated journey was mostly free of obstacles and the distance of about 55 nautical miles made for a perfect overnighter. We spent the following day on board preparing the documents for the visa application. Towards the end of the afternoon we raised our two anchors, set sails and literally sailed into a beautiful sunset. Golden cumulus clouds hovered over the disc of life generating light. Its hues shifted towards orange and then red and its shape compressed vertically before being sucked into the horizon. A fleeting flash of green put an end to the direct illumination, while the indirect spectacle continued for quite some time, setting cloudsbands ablaze for short streches of precious time, then painting them in the most subtle shades of pinkn and finally spilling its spell with a careful brush stroke across the sky of pastel purple hues. Underneath it all the curled surface of the sea had all but lost the golden sheen and its blue had darkened towards a menacing black, sloshing reassuringly against Aluna’s hulls, which were ready to pierce the veil of nightfall and run under the web of starlight through the hours of tropical darkness towards our destination.

By the twilight of dawn the orange glow of civilization had emerged from below the horizon ahead. A giant cruisliner made its way around us towards the reefstrewn entrance of Nuku’alofa harbor. Through the static on the radio we heard its captain arrange for the boarding of the local pilot to lead it safely to the wharf, from where it was going to unload its cargo of unconscious human wanderers, let them loose for a day before herding them back in before the end of the day.

A radio call to the port authorties brought no response, as usual! Officials hardly ever care about sailing boats coming into commercial harbors, as long as we stay out of their way! A fellow sailor answered instead, advising us that the harbor itself was dirty and difficult due to the limited space and the fact that we would have to moor Meditarranean style, which means to drop anchor in the middle of the channel, then row lines out to the seawall between the other moored boats and finally pull your boat tight in between. He suggested anchoring off a little island about a mile away from the harbor entrance. I had seen the island he mentionned on the chart and had already considered it as an alternative to the tricky maneuvers in the harbor. It was an all but obvious choice and we spent the rest of the morning tacking in light winds towards Pangaimotu to the East of the outer harbor basin. We saw a good twenty other yachts anchored there reminding us that we’re back on the highway of the many cruising folks who never sway too far from the beaten tracks of ready made meals, full service laundry and well stocked bars. The cyclone season was about the start, officially at the beginning of November, so everybody is heading South to Kiwiland for the summer. For most of them that means filling up the bilges with humongous amounts of diesel to be able to motor across vast stretches of ocean should the winds be fickle, totally unconcerned about the destructive consequences of our arrogant claim to comfort and power. Fact is we shall be living without the sweet lonelynes of picturesque and remote anchorages for a time, while staring down officials paid to limit the free movement of people, and navigation treachereous regulations authored by some fat polititian with a set of good-looking secretaries with firm bras and loose stockings standing guard in his waiting room and and always giving proper dues to the powers of corporate greed.

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One Response to “Island Hoping, Part 2”

  1. kgw Says:

    B & B,
    Where do the charts you use to navigate the bathyscape come from?

    Life is full to those who are alive, eh?

    Best regards,
    Kim

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