Archive for September, 2010

Nomuka Iki

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

The village of Nomuka is a regional center of the southern Haapai islands, but it doesn’t have a great anchorage so most people anchor on the little adjacent island of Nomuka Iki. Some people don’t really anchor but end up there anyway.

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K likes “chart anchorages”, anchorages that look good on the chart but have not been recommended or even mentioned in any other way. About half the time there is a good reason why they are not mentioned, but sometimes we end up in fantastic hidden spots.  Getting into a chart anchorage can be a stressful business, with K at his vantage position up in the rigging calling out course changes to S (“Port 5, Port 10, Port 90! Port 90! All Stop! All Stop!”) as we maneuver around the coral. When we get to a sandy spot K zips down to the deck on a rappelling belay and rushes forward to plant the anchor in the sweet spot. It’s a system that we’ve had a lot of practice at by now, and we’re at the point where we can drop a multi-anchor spread in about 20 minutes with remarkable precision and no marital stress (when things go well). 


We looked at several chart anchorages around the Nomukas and took the boat into some very tight pools in the reef with big surf pounding around us. None of them felt good enough to spend the night so we (K) finally submitted to the guide book and anchored next to a vibrant reef in the channel between the Nomukas – one represented by a nice big anchor symbol on the chart. But the tragic wreck of the Takuo nearby was a good reminder (for K) that safety must remain in at least the top 5 at all times.  

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Nomuka Iki was once a prison island but is now inhabited by free flying things.

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After weeks of trying to take pictures of these huge flying foxes we finally met one crossing overhead on its way to Nomuka.  Nocturnal, black, erratically flying bats rate close to jumping whales at the top of the photo frustration list.

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This patient Halcyon Chloris was glad to just sit in the dark jungley shade.

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With a favorable breeze in the offing we made a batch of banana cinnamon rolls and  prepared to sail for Kelefesia.

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20°16.55’S 174°48.48’W   26-Sept-10 06:45 UTC

Uonukuhahaki Island

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

This trip has certainly provided us with many unusual opportunities – like being able to say, as K recently did, “Hey, for lunch – let’s have barracuda sandwiches!”

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We caught this bad boy on the way from Pangai to Uonukuhahaki, and cooked the fillets in a sand pit on the beach.

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We’re clean out of banana leaves so we wrapped them in foil with garlic and butter and baked them in a crypt of hot rocks under the sand.  The leftovers made a wicked good barracuda salad with garlic and chives. We’ve both recently been reading an Anthony Bourdain book and have become a little food obsessed.

The uninhabited island of Uonukuhahaki is joined to its sister island, Uonukuhihifo, by an intertidal sandbar.


At low tide the sandbar was very popular, crowded with scores of terns,

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a few noddies,

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and a couple of tourists celebrating their wedding anniversary.


While S took a few minutes to reflect on what it’s been like to be marooned with K for the past 13 years…

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K chased some wildlife around the island.

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Some things are universal regardless of one’s species.  We felt great empathy for this fellow traveller as he made progress ever so slowly on his journey…we know how it feels.


Later in the afternoon, K had just popped up into the cockpit after a shower to grab a sun-drying towel when two Finnish kayakers caught him in the buff. It was alarming because Tonga is a very conservative culture for clothes. There are things we don’t expect that surprise us every day and new on the list is: Finnish kayakers 20 nm from the nearest airstrip on a remote out-island in rural Tonga while one is looking for a towel. Had we known they were Finnish right off we might have invited them to strip down and join us for a steam and a dip in an icy pond.  Alf and Patrick, who are on a 10 day paddling trip, seemed like our kind of people so we invited them to join us on the beach for a celebratory BBQ.

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K passed around a couple liters of his latest batch of brew, and made flatbread on one pile of embers and grilled lamb ribs on another.  Patrick and Alf had boil-in-a-bag chicken teriyaki (we think).  Under the pressure of our wheelbarrow full of fast-ripening Lofanga bananas, S made bananas foster for all for dessert (alas, we had no ice cream!).

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Alf and Patrick were delightful, fascinating company.  With the conversation covering such topics as mountain climbing rescues in the Himalayas, diving in 300 meter visibility under Antarctic ice, growing up in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan, waste management in Greenland, and Russian contract aviation, we chatted late into the evening.

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19°57.95’S 174°29.56’W   21-Sept-10 6:30 UTC

Among the Tongans

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

We hadn’t planned on going to Lofanga, but after three hours of bashing upwind into the 25-knot breeze and short-chop seas (and covering only 10 miles), we put off our plans of returning to Pangai and took shelter instead behind Lofanga’s southeast reef, in spite of the poor review in the guide book.

After snorkeling on the spectacular reef (we’re really lamenting the loss of our camera!) while being serenaded by humpbacks, we took a stroll along the beach.  There we met a fisherman named Moana who suggested that we might like the bay on the other side of the island better.  He agreed to show us.

Though we opted to stay put where we were, we ended up with an invitation to join Moana and his family the next day for their Sunday umu feast and church service.  We met him on the beach at 0700 Sunday morning and he led us down the main drag to his family’s home.

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Moana lives in a small traditional Tongan hut behind his parents’ house, and his brother lives a few houses down, so they share nearly every meal together.

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When we arrived, preparations were already in progress.  Moana’s mom Alofa and his sister-in-law Leialofi were sitting under a magnificent mango tree, assembling chicken lu (taro leaves stuffed with chicken, onions, and coconut cream).  An audience of the family dogs sat in rapt attention.

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The dogs were repeatedly shooed away if they got too close, but one little pup was especially insistent on keeping watch on the process.  He had the advantage of being a less conspicuous size than his elders.

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As we sat and watched the women, other family members brought us various appetizers, including fresh fruit and samplings of grilled pork and conch.

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Meanwhile, Moana worked to scrape the meat from 10 coconuts and made the coconut cream for the lu,

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and his father Onesi and brother Koaneti prepared the tubers.

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The pups didn’t hesitate to cash in on the spent coconut.

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There were a couple twists on last week’s umu feast on Matuku Island: Alofa used banana leaves instead of tin foil to wrap the lu in neat little packages, and tied them with fiber from the spines of the banana leaf.  Then she prepared one of our new favorite dishes – papaya filled with coconut milk.  The peeled papaya was nestled into a coconut shell and joined the rest of the feast to bake in the umu.

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While the dinner was left to cook, we changed into our “goin’ to meetin’” clothes and followed the family to their church.   Actually, Moana’s sister Eleanor lent S a church-going skirt and shirt after the ones she brought from the boat apparently didn’t pass muster. It turns out Moana’s family are the only active Mormons on the island.  Koaneti led the service and the family filled the well-maintained chapel with heartfelt prayers and hymns.  In typical island style they produced a joyful noise that belied their small gathering.

After the service,  Koaneti’s daughter Tomafa escorted S back home beneath the protection of a parasol. Tongans like to avoid the sun, we’ve read.

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Moana showed K the small hut where he lives.  S is pretty sure K secretly wishes he had such a ‘man cave.’

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In a short while the family reassembled for dinner inside Leialofi’s detached dog-pig-and-chicken-proof kitchen and dining shed.

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All the dogs were banished, the chickens were busy with spent coconut shavings, and the little piggy was tied to a shed, but the one cat made it in.

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The feast was scrumptuous and we ate til we could eat no more.

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The next day we came back to the family to see if K could help get their generator working.  Koaneti and his son Taofa helped as much as they could but then sat back while  K worked to diagnose the problem.

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Koaneti didn’t seem to hold out much hope.

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Unfortunately, while he did get the motor working, the 240 volt generator could only squeeze out a paltry 4 volts with the venerable Tecumsah 10 hp in overdrive. It was frustrating not to get the gennie humming but it was actually just a spare. The other one was running great, used mostly to power the SkyTV satellite dish for the all important NZ-Australia rugby match.

The pups lost no sleep over it, either way.

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Leialofi insisted we join the family for lunch.  They treated us to coconut fish stew and “Tongan chicken.”  S was very pleased to finally get to taste one of these home-grown birds.

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Before we left the family loaded us up with more fresh fruit than we could carry – oranges, papayas, bananas, lemons, and mangoes! And a SIM card for our cell phone.   Taufa gave S a lollipop from his stash (it was shaped like a foot).

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In fact, there was an escalating competitive gift exchange under way by the time we left. Eleanor won, hands down, when she gave S a huge Triton shell.

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Leialofi was keeping this little haymaker in reserve in case we came up with our own ringer gift. S was heartbroken to have to leave her new little dirt colored puppy in Lofanga.

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Truth is, we really couldn’t compete well with Tongan hospitality, but the family seemed to enjoy our gift of printouts of family pictures we took each day.

It’s hard to believe how fast people in this culture will adopt (or “familify,” per K) visitors.  It’s even more amazing when you consider the language gap and completely divergent lifestyles we have. This was our second Tongan foster family in about a week, and just as on Mutuku, they take their hospitality seriously. The most heartbreaking part is that the ladies always cry when it’s time for us to say goodbye (K is used to this but it’s new for S).

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When we were getting battered by choppy seas and head winds with no good anchorage in sight we suspected that our plans were about to change, and that we could be in for a serendipitous “experience”. What a shame it would have been to miss Lofanga!

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19°49.87’S 174°32.85’W   14-Sept-10 02:45 UTC

Sunday Dinner

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Kauniata invited us to dinner and church on Sunday. She wanted us there at 0800 for a Tongan cooking lesson before church at 1000. Turns out church was postponed to 1400 so we got in a good 5 hours of cooking, chatting, and eating.

The whole system revolves around the traditional oven, called an “umu” – in this case, an old refrigerator filled with sand and half a 55 gallon drum buried in one end. First you start a fire with old coconut shells.

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Kuniata is an educator at heart and is committed to having her palangi (foreign) guests learn the ancient techniques.

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A pile of coral rocks go on top of the fire and these will make the heat for cooking after the fire burns down. It’s a really smokey business and ideally one would prefer to change into their Sunday best some time after all the cooking.

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Peter didn’t seem to mind even though his spot by the leaky rainwater cistern was directly downwind.

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There were coconuts to process while the fire burned down. First you have to husk them on a sharp stake in the ground.

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Then you tap around the coconutty equator with the back of a machete and they spilt into perfect hemispheres.

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At this point the slick visiting Colombian arms dealer is called upon to shred out the coconut with a grater nailed to the end of the old gratin’ stool.

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Then Peter pours some hot water on the coconut and squeezes out the cream (the spent coconut is later fed to the chickens).

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In the meantime Kuniata made “Lu” – taro leaves filled with corned beef and lamb ribs topped with onions.

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Next the tapa leaves are folded up into a package and in goes a cup of the coconut cream. S amazed everyone with her good leaf binding technique which is very similar to packing sediment samples. The whole leaf ball gets wrapped in tin foil and is ready for the umu.

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Next comes the peeling of the manioc roots…

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By the time that’s done the umu fire is burned down to an acceptable level.

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In go the hefty tubers. Then comes a layer of chicken wire to keep the steam circulating between the layers.

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Next comes the Lu, the taro leaves stuffed with meat in coconut cream.

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Then there’s a layer of parrot fish.

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and a final sprinkling of lamb ribs.

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The whole business gets covered in banana leaves and rags.

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Finally the umu gets put to bed with a colorful blankie and some weights to keep the dogs out.

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Then it’s time to go back to the cooking fire and fry fish and hotdogs (!?) in the lard pan that is kept on the roof of the kitchen shed.

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After about an hour the umu was disinterred. Small boys were called up to run hefty portions off to the elderly, family friends, and the visiting Wesleyan pastor. We were too busy eating to take any pics of the final spread. This Sunday lunch seems like a huge effort to us but Peter and Kauniata told us they do this every Sunday to exercise their traditional cuisine (to the chagrin of the youngsters) and then they take a big nap.

This Sunday the schedule was rearranged by the late church service dealing with the special annual collection of tithes, which Peter presided over as the finance officer, and by the visiting senior pastor. The church had seats for about 40 and even with half occupancy, and fifty percent of those under the age of 10, we heard the loudest, most projective hymn singing, ever. By the end of the service the tiny community of believers (comprising only three families) had put up $3,000 USD toward all church projects for the year, including the school.  The congregation was proud and the pastor was delighted.

The next day we had Peter, Kauniata and their two children, Mary and David, out to Khamseen for pizza during the school’s lunch break.  It was a choppy day and Peter got soaked to the bone on the ride out from the beach. We passed off a load of school supplies, books, Nigerian necklaces, color prints of the pics we took that weekend, and a harmonica.  Kauniata gave S a set of earrings, hair combs, and a necklace she had made with rare seashells from her home island of Niua in the far north of Tonga.

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It was sad to say goodbye.  We’ll always remember these wonderful generous people who welcomed us so warmly and did such an excellent job of promoting the image of the Friendly Isles.

19°57.40’S 174°44.80’W   04-Sept-10 03:45 UTC

To Matuku Island

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

A change in the weather prompted us to leave our idyllic reef at Meama and seek a bit more shelter from the building east-southeast winds.  As we made our way from Meama to Ha’afeva, we caught a nice Mahi – the first in nearly a year.

The anchorage on the west side of Ha’afeva island was perfect for the forecasted weather.  S settled in and started on the courtesy flags for Fiji and New Zealand.  She also gained a new appreciation for the skills of Betsy Ross (who didn’t even have a sewing machine!) by making a replacement for our tattered old flag – which, in addition to sporting several holes (much like Old Glory) was, as a Tongan flag salesman in a canoe recently pointed out to us, “very small.”  K dubbed the new flag Young Glory.


The weather calmed a bit after a couple days so we left Ha’afeva to check out tiny Patupatua Island, only about 2 miles to the northwest.  As a turtle swam by, we thought the reefs around this uninhabited island promised some fantastic snorkeling.  Unfortunately the bottom had only a thin veneer of sand over rock and our anchor wouldn’t hold.  So we continued on another few miles to the south, to Matuku island.

Matuku has one of the warmest welcoming committees we’ve ever seen. 

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Even before the dinghy touched the beach, half a dozen children came running out to help us land.  They were soon joined by a woman who introduced herself as Kauniata, the wife of the principal of the island’s school.   Kauniata must be Matuku’s unofficial guide to Tongan culture.  She took us to meet her husband, Peter, who not only is the principal, but the only teacher at the school.  He teaches 15 children covering six primary school levels.

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Kauniata then took us to her home to show us her weaving.  She had a huge floor mat that she’s been working on for nearly a year, but her real purpose in bringing us there was to show us how to wear a traditional Tongan ta’ovala , the woven mat worn by all well-dressed Tongans.  Apparently, they’re unisex (K made sure to check).

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We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking around the village escorted by half a dozen kids.  We bought them some cookies and were impressed with the equitable cookie disbursement by the older kids to the little ones.   As we were finding out, generosity and sharing among neighbors is part of the Tongan way.

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19°57.40’S 174°44.65’W   04-Sept-10 03:45 UTC