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The Two Captains



2C Update #136 - Vava'u, Tonga  Part 5  (September 15 - November 29, 2005)

The bonus weeks in Vava’u that we earned by deciding to leave the boat on a mooring here were especially relaxing…at least they were up until the last ten days when we brought Tackless II back into the Tapana anchorage and set about making her ready for cyclone season. 

Two Angles on the Tapana Anchorage

We did all the usual stuff we always do: cleaning and drying the dive gear and kayaks and stowing them below; removing and packing the sails;  running halyards out and disconnecting sheets and tackles; tying down the booms, dismantling and stowing the solar panels below; taking down antennas and disconnecting electronics; dismantling and bring down the wind generator; lugging in the life-raft, EPIRB and “useless bag” with all the life jackets; taking all the fuel jugs off and stowing them in a shore-side container; and generally making the topside as clean and “small” as we possibly could.   Inside we cleaned out the cupboards and fridge, vacuum-sealed any foodstuffs we thought might last, and gave away the rest.  We packed up all our clothes (too many!) and bedding in space bags, cleaned all surfaces and the overhead to fight against mildew, and closed unnecessary through-hulls. And of course toward the end we stowed the outboard on its mount and deflated the dinghy, tying it up into a neat package, and covered it with a tarp on the front deck. All these were things we would have done no differently if the boat were on the hard in boatyard.

The big difference was the mooring.  In preparation for leaving the boat we had decided on Larry Schneider’s mooring field that surrounds his wife Sheri’s floating Ark Gallery in the outer anchorage of Tapana, as opposed to any of the cyclone moorings available in Neiafu.  If disaster hit and the worst happened and T2 suffered some kind of damage, being in Tapana would mean she’d be along way from help, but we both were persuaded that a lot worse could happen by keeping her downtown where there would be so many other boats that could break free and so much more potential debris to fly around from all the buildings.

Larry’s mooring field is a grid constructed of big anchors and lots of chain crisscrossing in the relatively shallow water behind a bit of land that gives amazing protection from the prevailing winds. He has about eight moorings of which he considers three strong enough for cyclone conditions. He is always adding chain and anchors to them as he comes by them, and the mooring allotted to us on the NE corner was one of the strongest as he’d specifically built it for our friends Danseuse de la Mer last year.  But T2 is about twice the bulk of de la Mer, and we started to worry about our exposure to the North and West, the directions of the longest fetch.  In those directions Larry had two 150 lb fisherman anchors on about 100’ feet of heavy chain.  Fisherman anchors, for those not familiar with the term, are the ones that actually look like traditional Popeye shapes with a stock (or bar) at the top perpendicular to the flukes.  They generally hold a boat by hooking their weight into rock or coral.  Unfortunately, within the range of the rode, there wasn’t much coral around, and the flukes of Larry’s anchors were only buried about six inches into the sand.  Should a big blow come to visit with winds from those directions, we felt those anchors could drag.  We wanted some burying anchors and some big scope to back them up.

So we decided to add our own ground tackle to the grid.   This involved a lot of discussion over Larry’s homemade beer on the deck of the Ark.  Larry was of the opinion that we were over-cautious.  Maybe.  In fact, probably.  But our experiences in the Virgin Islands and later in Baja have sustained our philosophy that you can’t ever be too cautious with respect to hurricanes.  You can’t ever over-estimate what the worst might be.  It seemed foolish to leave our ground tackle in the chocks.

And so, in the end, we put down both our rodes:  the rope and chain combo with the Fortress 37 got laid out to the north alongside a crowned pair of fishermen, and the 300 feet of chain with our primary 60lb CQR got crowned onto the single fisherman to the west. Additionally, Don strung a spare rope rode from the mooring  to a chain around a coral block toward shore…just for the hell of it.
Sheri’s Ark Gallery and Larry’s charter Trimaran Orion

All this took several days of coordinated effort with Larry and his Tongan helper Noa in the work boat and one or the other of us on scuba on the bottom.

Then we started worrying about the pennants.  Larry has one big pennant that comes up from the buoyed swivel where all the connections to the mooring field hang at about 25 feet.  Heavy though it is, and protected with chafe gear as it is, we couldn’t stop thinking about how useless all that ground tackle would be if the pennant chafed through or, worse, if the swivel broke.  And so we added three more pennants, one of which was shackled with chain to the shackle below the swivel, all to be put on in the event of a storm.

Of course the most important element of the plan to leave Tackless in Vava’u had nothing to do with all this hardware.  It was the personalized care she would receive from Larry, Sheri and Noa who would open her up to air every day possible and from our friends Peter and Sandi who had pledged to look after the bottom in exchange for access to our dive compressor.

We took a break from all our departure preparations on Thursday the 24th of November to join twenty-four other American ex-pats and Tongans for a Thanksgiving feast at the Sovereign Residence.  The Sovereign Residence is in fact the home of the Princess when she is in town, but it is being converted into an upscale inn.  The stately home (for Tonga) sits overlooking the harbor, and the cloudy evening gave the harbor a moody cast.  We enjoyed cocktail on the patio with a circle of friends and listened to the harmonies of a terrific string band from the village of Pangai.  The meal was elegant if a bit unusual, reflecting a New Zealand chef’s earnest take on America’s most classic meal. 

It was a classic take on the important cruising adage:  don’t travel thousands of miles only to expect everything to be just like home. All and all, Don and I felt very thankful for our lifestyle.

America and Tonga meet in Thanksgiving dinner at the Sovereign Residence

Three days later Larry and Sheri carried us to the beach towing their second dinghy with our four heavy suitcases (relics of our season: things to be fixed and Samoa and Tongan crafts for gifts.)  Ben and Lisa picked us up in their van, and we all had Sunday brunch with Scott and Alicia of Pure Chance who were staying the season too.  Don and I repacked and napped in the luxury of our spacious waterfront hotel room in the Paradise Hotel (Tonga’s closest thing to “real” hotel) and watched the thunder and lightning of a summer storm crash outside our terrace.  In the wee hours we took the Paradise’s shuttle bus to the airport, way on the north end of the island, and, after paying a few fees for overweight luggage were soon in the air flying a neat pass over all the islands and anchorages of Vava’u that we’d come to know so well

Peace of mind is worth a lot, and as we flew over Tackless II on her mooring we felt both that we had done everything we could to protect our baby while we were gone and that we were leaving a place that felt like home.

Below: Aerial views of Vava’u


Tackless II on her mooring



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All text and photos on this site Copyright Gwen Hamlin 2006


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