We have finally left our lovely little island of Niuatoputapu and sailed for about 32 hours to Vava'u, another groups of islands in Tonga, about 160 miles south.
We left early on Tuesday morning, following two other yachts out of the pass. With 160-170 miles to run, we hoped to be in Vava'u before dark the next day. The passage was a rough one with 12 hours straight of rain and lightning that evening. The winds alternated between light and moderate as we passed in and out of squalls and was mostly in front of the beam. Then about 20 miles out the predicted very light tail winds materialized and we realized that we would not make it in before dark unless we motored. As we approached, the Vava'u group was hidden by squall after squall with one real whopper where the winds and rain whipped the ocean into a froth and we hurriedly covered the little tiller-autopilot with towels and a plastic bag to keep out the rain. Visibility was down to less than a quarter of a mile, making us quite nervous as we approached the obscured harbour entrance. A small fishing boat materialised out of the vapour. I was naked in the rain and yelled to Rani for a pair of briefs and shorts to avoid embarrassing the conservative Tongans.
The islands in Vava'u are lovely, even seen through the rain and mist of that first day. There are dozens of them, rising straight up from the ocean, ranging from tiny tea-cup shaped lumps to the main island, which has several bays and peninsulas and stretches for about 10 miles in all directions. The climate here is noticeably cooler and we finally feel like we are heading south and into a more temperate world.
Vava'u is a center for various charter fleets and Moorings publishes a guide to the area in which all their recommended anchorages are numbered. There is such a large yachting community here that they have their own morning radio net on VHF channel 26, which is also the de facto hailing frequency. Unfortunately it is also the chatting frequency for several of the ex-pats who make this their home and it has only taken me one day to get annoyed enough that I will probably keep the radio off or tuned to a different frequency.
For various reasons, most boats doing the passage to New Zealand will be leaving in or around early November. Because Tonga is a popular jumping off point, we are now back amongst a congregation of the cruising fleet, many of whom we have met in various other points along the coconut milk run. It will be fun to catch up with our friends and listen to their stories. We will likely stay in Vava'u for a couple of weeks moving between islands, exploring the caves, hiking, and snorkeling.