"Arctracer" Letters

Vava'u Group of Islands in Tonga, July 1999

We're at a remote anchorage enjoying peace and quiet. We're hoping to receive mail that has been forwarded soon so that we can sail to Apia, Western Samoa. I've been reading Margaret Mead's book "Coming of Age in Samoa" although it is about American Samoa. Then I want to read some of Robert Louis Stevenson's works before seeing the place that he lived last in Western Samoa. From Western Samoa we'll stop at Wallis Island if the weather allows us to enter the lagoon there. Then we'll sail to Fiji for the rest of this cruising season. Presently we plan to return to New Zealand for the Pacific cyclone season, but plans are always subject to change. We do need to return there at some point to do some sailing and see their wonderful cruising area of islands around the North Island.

On June 30th we arrived in the Vava'u Group and anchored in a very nice lagoon at Hunga, next to a junk-rigged schooner belonging to Roger, an Englishman we met in Papeete, Tahiti about a year ago. He also spent the cyclone season in New Zealand, but he sailed amongst the islands of the North Island all season. We had a good time sharing sea stories with him and shared some other experiences during our week in Hunga with him too. A local named Vaha brought us a tuna for dinner. It sure was delicious! We hadn't had fish for a while. We baked some kumala (sweet potatoes) to go with it. We made him lemonade and he asked if Jerry could meet him the next morning near the village to help epoxy the bottom of his old wooden boat that had been drying out under a tarp. My eye was still quite black from hitting it on the trip to Hunga. The boat gave a lurch when I wasn't expecting it and I hit my eyebrow on the cabin wall. It ended up being black for a few days and was quite tender. That was a first for me. Usually I'm much more careful about not having that happen. We brought a bunch of green bananas inside after Vaha told us that they would ripen better out of the sun. We hadn't heard that before, but the boys in Oua had told us to put a shirt or something over them, so we had an idea that we should keep them out of the direct sun.

While in the lagoon for about a week we watched the flying foxes, frigate birds, blue herons, and white egrets. We learned that the edible root manioc doesn't keep very well. Yams keep for a much longer period of time. The manioc that we were given (in trade) in Oua had started to get moldy on the outside and was very discolored on the inside so I had to discard it. We rowed to Club Hunga with Roger for happy hour. We drank some wine there and talked with Hapi from Hunga and her New Zealand husband Pete. They have had a business there for about 5 years. The following night we went, again with Roger and with Kevin on a South African boat, to Hapi's "Taste of Tonga" meal cooked in an umu. She invited us to join her at 4 p.m. to watch her prepare the meal. I learned a lot about ingredients used with food cooked in the earth oven. It was well worthwhile to watch her. Everything seemed to have coconut cream in it and we watched her taking the coconut meat out of the coconuts and making it into the cream. What a lot of work! She grated the coconuts on the end of a wooden 'horse,' pointed with iron. She sat on one end of it to have good leverage. Hapi's mother had collected banana leaves and what they call sea leaves to wrap the food in before putting it in the umu. They didn't have any fresh fish, and Pete likes palangi (foreign) food, so we had a combination of Tongan and palangi food that evening. Hapi prepared roast beef, elili (a kind of shellfish, "turban shells"), kumala leaves for a green vegetable (sweet potato leaves), octopus in edible taro leaves, chicken, manioc roots, banana pudding and breadfruit pudding.

The following day, Sunday, we heard the church bells at 9:30 announcing that church would begin soon. We sailed the dinghy to the town to attend Vaha's church, "The Church of Tonga." Seven families belong to the church we attended and there are two other churches of the same branch in the fairly small village. Vaha met us, Roger, a family from Hawaii and a family from Auckland, New Zealand at the dock to walk to the church with us. Outside the church we noticed two different sized propane tanks hung in a tree. These were the church bells. The church was a building made of several odd sheets of tin with a few hand-hewn beams and a lot of small poles for supports. There were many holes in the tin that made up the walls and a few holes in the tin that the roof was constructed with. We sat on mats on the floor after taking our shoes off at the door. We observed discolored silk flowers in sand in old mayonnaise jars, one Coleman lamp, one glass kerosene lamp with no globe, and brightly colored yarn for fringe on their pandanus mats. The minister wore a black suit with a white collar; the men wore lavalavas and jackets, but were barefoot when they arrived. The women wore hats and one kept her hat on with a knitting needle stuck through it and her hair. We saw children wearing waist mats here for the first time. A man led the singing and was on key sometimes. Loudness seemed more important than being on key. The children sat in the front, the women were next and the men sat in the back.

After church we all went to Vaha's house for a Tongan meal. His wife, Finau, did not attend church as she spent the whole time preparing the meal. We didn't know this was allowed in Tonga, but... A mat was placed on the floor with the food on it. They had plates and some glasses and enough forks for everyone. Finau cooked the meal and Vaha placed the food on the mat for us to eat. We ate breadfruit, yams, cooked papaya, fresh tuna, and corned beef with taro leaves and coconut cream. Finau wasn't as good a cook as Hapi, but it was truly a Tongan meal and we enjoyed ourselves very much. Finally we met Finau when she came out of the cooking house as we were about finished eating. We've never had the Tongans eat with us at a meal they've prepared for us. Vaha and Finau have a 2-year old boy named Daniel and they have three older children in their twenties who have moved away from Hunga. I took a couple of outfits for Daniel and they seemed to appreciate them.

On Monday we sailed the dinghy back to Club Hunga to share an article we had read about them in "Ocean Navigator" magazine published in Maine. We also traded 9 of our books for 9 of theirs and gave them an old U.S. flag for their collection of flags hanging from the ceiling. Jerry had thrown the flag away in New Zealand, as it was torn and quite faded. I rescued it and mended it for just such an occasion. They had lots of flags, but not one from the U.S. Jerry also helped Vaha put epoxy resin on his boat again. Three single handers joined us on "Arctracer" for dinner that evening. One was from Britain, one from South Africa and one from Australia. We had calzones and fried plantain that needed to be cooked. We discovered that Philip from Australia is a biologist. He volunteered to walk in Hapi's plantation the following day and discuss transplanting various plants so we asked if we could join them. Hapi didn't mind at all so we went along to see what we could learn.

While walking through the plantation Hapi gave us small mandarins for juice and some passion fruit. We learned a lot about all kinds of trees that we hadn't heard of before and learned to identify more leaves, etc. She had kola trees (produce lime-oranges), papayas, causarinas (used to make war clubs with this wood), kumala (root for vegetable and leaves for greens), young kauri trees, sandalwood trees (used for incense), Tongan spinach (relative of hibiscus), chili peppers, tobacco that started growing from birds bringing the seeds (the locals wrap it in banana leaves to smoke it), kava, kape (like taro root), yams, nono plants used for various illnesses, and other trees used for burns, constipation, cancer, arthritis, mouth ulcers, and more. The Tongans grow lots of food for their pigs and they cook breadfruit for them when it is in season. Raising pigs is a lot of work here. Hapi was interested in when to plant various foods. Philip agreed with her that it was fine to follow the Polynesian way and plant on the new moon. That way the plants grow with the moon. Later he mentioned that he didn't really believe it was necessary to do this, but it is fine to keep with their tradition. We also learned from Hapi that the seeds of the green papaya are good for diarrhea, the papaya sap is good for pimples, and the macadamia grows wild there. Basil is a good mosquito repellant and grows wild (you can crush the leaves in your hands and wipe on your body) and the plant similar to pineapple leaves is like aloe vera and is good if one already has mosquito bites but it stinks. When children have worms (pono) you can boil coconut cream until it becomes clear oil. The white seeds of the young fruit of the papaya is good for intestinal worms too. They grow maize for the animals. Kava is good quality in Tonga. It takes 3 years for it to mature. You can chew the leaves of the fiti tree for an upset stomach. A mulberry tree needs one year before it can be cut and used to make tapa. Kape takes 1 year. They dry and grind the motoo tree to use in a fish smoker. In New Zealand they use the tea tree ash in fish smokers.

Later in the afternoon we sailed out the narrow pass to do some snorkeling. We'd heard that it was one of the best places to snorkel in the Vava'u group. When we got outside there was quite a surge and the water was quite deep to anchor the dinghy, so we decided to forget it and sail back to "Arctracer." However, the current going out the pass was strong, and so was the wind in our face, so we couldn't make it back into the lagoon. We hadn't taken any oars, which might have helped, so we decided that we'd have to wait for a couple of hours until the current slackened. Meanwhile Philip and Roger had seen us tacking back and forth outside the pass, so came out in Philip's rubber dinghy with a motor to tow us through the pass. We generally don't accept tows, but it was nice to get one this time. Vaha then came out to visit us in his dugout canoe. He had used all the petrol for his engine in one of his other boats, so he was paddling until he could get more money for petrol. He had necklaces made out of cow bone and Pen shells for sale, so I bought a couple. Then he gave me one as a gift. He really likes coffee and bread with marmalade, so I served him some while he was visiting. From our boat he went to Roger's and succeeded in selling him a couple of necklaces too. We imagine that gave him enough money to buy some petrol, as we saw him doing that a couple of days later in Neiafu.

The following day we snorkeled at a different place in the Hunga lagoon and saw several fish and a Pen shell. We still haven't eaten the meat of the Pen shells, but we hear that it is quite good. One needs gloves or a tool to get them out of the sand, so we've never attempted to get any. One of these days we'll have to try. Vaha visited again. I mentioned that I would like some grapefruit to make marmalade, so he brought some molitonga (grapefruit) to me. After coffee and a snack he went with his net to get some small fish for their dinner. He also went away with an old towel and an old sheet that he had asked for (providing we had any extras). I think he got quite a good deal for three grapefruit, especially since most grapefruit rot on the ground. The Tongans don't care for them very much. Jerry sailed the dinghy to try to get some fish too. When I asked him if he had any luck he handed some flowers for my small vase. What a thoughtful husband! I love fresh flowers on the table when at anchor.

I was really interested in seeing the paper mulberry tree that they make their tapa cloth from, so I asked Vaha about seeing them. He invited us to walk with him through his plantation the following day. While in the village we watched women weaving a huge pandanus mat for the 81-year-old king of Tonga. The mat is for when he dies. Upon his death each island presents the family with a mat. The number of mats a family has is an indication of their wealth here. Mats are presented at births, marriages, and deaths. At Vaha's house we gave Daniel a book of American farm animals and then Vaha showed us some mulberry that had been prepared to beat into tapa, some tapa that had been pounded, and his blanket made of tapa and decorated with dye from the bark of a tree on his plantation. He said that Finau didn't have any extra tapa but that we could order some and she would make some for us. I am thinking of buying some tapa, but I haven't seen enough to know what I want, so we told him that we'd rather see it first. If Finau decided to make some we would look at it and then decide. I doubt that she will make any as she is quite busy with her 2-year old and the Tongans don't think too much about the distant future and having things available for sale. They seem to make things when they need money for something.

On Vaha's plantation we saw Tongan apples that had gone by, mandarin oranges, grapefruit, the koka tree whose bark is used for painting reddish- brown colors on the tapa cloth, and the nono tree that is good for the stomach and the brain. Tongans drink the juice a couple of times a week to keep healthy. They also sell the leaves to Germany for 75 cents a kilo and the fruit to Germany for 45 pa'anga for 5 gallons. Also on the plantation he showed us the "sleep leaf" that shuts when touched; he tied his horse in a different location so that it would have more food; collected coconuts from recently sprouted nuts for his pigs; and showed us his kape plants, yams and tapioca. He mentioned that he plants taro where yams were growing and plants tapioca there after the taro, so they do rotate their crops. We learned that kumala are ready to eat in 5 months, while yams and taro take a year in the ground before they are ready to eat. He had 4 acres of vanilla plants. We later bought a dozen vanilla beans for one pa'anga. In French Polynesia they cost more than that for just one bean. The only thing I know to use them for is to make kalua, so perhaps if I find some vodka I'll attempt making it again. It has been about 20 years since I made any. Presently the Tongans get 20 pa'anga for 1 kilo of vanilla beans. Five years ago they got 75 pa'anga for a kilo. Consequently, most people are taking out their vanilla plants and planting other things now. Growing vanilla is a lot of work, since they have to hand pollinate all the flowers. Vaha had a palm leaf shelf up in a tree, storing several small yams to be planted at some future date. He had pineapple plants that will produce in November or December. Other Tongans have them now as Jerry bought some very ripe ones at the market. We learned that Vaha feeds his pigs morning and night. The pigs eat cooked breadfruit when it is in season instead of the root crops. At the end of the tour he gave us another breadfruit to take back to the boat for dinner. We like it quite well. I've made it liked mashed potatoes, fried it as thin chips, and fried it in thicker pieces. The Tongans generally cook it in huge chunks in their earth ovens and serve it dry. Most Tongans still eat with their fingers so it is easy for them to eat when cooked in this manner.

(view Hunga Island photos)

We decided that we needed a change of scenery so we untangled our anchor from a piece of dead coral, and headed out the pass to the 2nd largest town in Tonga - Neiafu. It took us a couple of hours of sailing in light winds. The raised coral islands were quite beautiful as we passed them. We saw many charter boats from the Moorings and Sunsail companies. We eventually found a place to anchor. The water is quite deep in the harbor. There are a lot of moorings to rent, but they are near town and subjected to loud music from the disco until late on Friday nights.

By 9 am the next morning we had a hard-sell type Tongan pull up to our boat. We did end up buying some beautiful Tongan baskets from him, but found out later that they cost less at the shops in town. He wanted to sell us a large piece of tapa, but it needed repair and wasn't a pattern that we liked very much. Another day the same gentleman came by with lobsters for sale. We didn't hesitate to say "No, thank you" after he'd overcharged us for the baskets. We didn't even ask what price he wanted. Since we were quite far from the town we rigged up our dinghy for sailing and went to town. We got Tongan money at the bank, visited the tourist bureau, called home to have mail forwarded, and got some fresh fruits and vegetables at the open market. We also bought John Martin's book about William Mariner's experience in Tonga in the early 1800's and Pat Ledyard's book "Utulei, My Tongan Home." We returned to the boat exhausted after all our running around and fixed Tongan vegetables using Tongan recipes.

The next morning we noticed that we had anchored where we could watch a local woman preparing pandanus for weaving. She soaked it in the sea for many days and went into the water (always fully dressed) on several occasions for several hours for some reason. This is the day that we met a wonderful young couple. Aaron is from the Cornwall area of England and Natascha is from Holland. They sailed by us in their gaff sloop with tanbark sails and topsail. They then anchored near us and took a nap. They had anchored near town on Friday night and slept very little because of the loud music. Jerry had taken pictures of their boat "Maizey" with his digital camera. He printed out a picture for them and we visited their boat for an hour or so. It was then that we realized what an amazing couple they are. Aaron had sailed a small boat across the English channel to Holland to build a boat that he'd bought the plans for. He discovered that it would be too expensive to build there, but met Natascha. They decided to fly to New Zealand to build the boat. Natascha taught sculpture and other art forms at a technical school while Aaron worked full time on the boat. When Natascha wasn't teaching she was working a lot on the boat too. They not only constructed a steel boat, but they made everything for it. They made the mast from a New Zealand tree, the blocks from New Zealand wood, and the sails from special material that is not sensitive to UV rays. They bought an old building in New Zealand for $100 U.S., tore it down, took the old paint off the boards, sanded them and used the wood for the interior. Their boat is beautiful! Not only did they do all of the above, they completed the boat from start to finish in 18 months. This is practically unheard of even when people have money to construct any boat they want. They seem to really like the cruising life so far. They don't spend any money to speak of. They don't use their engine, don't buy Tongan baskets, don't buy a beer or eat out, are vegetarians, don't eat margarine or butter, etc. The only money they spend is on basic foods. Needless to say they are in very good shape and quite strong.

We could have stayed and talked much longer with them, but we had signed up to go to a Tongan feast. A Peace Corps volunteer, Kirby, from Westchester County, NY, working with the youth of one village got them to put on a feast for palangis to raise money. Everyone in the village agreed to help. A couple of people in the village had access to trucks so they came to Neiafu to get about 20 of us. After about 20 minutes jouncing through the countryside we were in the village at the community center. They had never had so many "white" people in their village before, and we were watched and commented upon by all the villagers for the entire time. We were escorted inside to a kava party. Usually only the men participate in such an event, but Kirby convinced the men to let the palangi women also take part this time. Kirby has been in the area for a year and a half and speaks Tongan quite fluently. In traditional times, the Polynesians drank kava with much ceremony. It is made from the roots of an indigenous pepper plant, ground up and diluted with water. Kava is more of a narcotic than an intoxicant, and was also used as a medicine for kidney and bladder ailments. However, the old-time custom has mostly died out since the introduction of Christianity and alcohol. We sat on huge mats, and the village chief was the only Tongan who joined us. We each had three bowls full, from the one coconut shell cup which everyone used in turn. It had a somewhat muddy taste, and we could not see that it had any effects on our senses or coordination. After the kava ceremony, we moved to other mats on the floor for the feast. They provided plates and silverware and even straws for the drinking nuts. We ate the traditional foods with the chief, while the whole village watched. Then the locals sang and danced for us. It was spectacular and the first time we'd seen Tongans dance. Since the missionaries arrived, Tongans dance mostly with their hands and the girls are well covered. This is very different from Polynesians further east. One of their most famous dances was performed sitting down! One of their traditions is for spectators to stick paper money to the oiled shoulders and arms of the dancers, so we made more contributions that way, while the townsfolk cheered and laughed. It was an absolutely wonderful experience - the best Tongan feast we've been to.

From 1:30 p.m. until 12:30 am the next day Natascha and Aaron visited us on "Arctracer." I had just finished making bread when they arrived. For the first time ever, we ate two loaves of bread in an afternoon. They don't have an oven on their boat so they don't eat loaf bread. We had a great time talking with them. The following day they invited us to lunch and then we all went on a hike up Mt. Talau. We saw flying foxes flying below us and saw the yellow band around their necks for the first time. After the hike we treated them to a bottle of the local Tongan beer, "Ikale," and some smoked fish pate on toast.

While still in Neiafu we read the books we'd bought recently, met other cruisers at a local hangout called "Ana's Cafe" and talked sailing with them for quite a few hours at a time. We bought very expensive epoxy since we had given all of our epoxy to Vaha for his boat. We got a good supply of eggs, flour, mediocre cheese, and terrible wine. We finally found Hilary at home and learned that she is enjoying her new job at the Disney Channel in NYC. I had a chance to use my math skills when a cruising friend needed to know a trigonometric formula. I didn't know the formula, but was able to derive it with some help from Jerry. I made grapefruit marmalade and we spent quite a bit of time with another cruiser we'd met in the Tuamotus last year. It was great to see John on the boat "Mary Ann II" again. He's from California now, but originally from Florida. I learned that our hand coffee grinder will grind the grains that I bought in New Zealand to use in my bread. I got another bad cold, my third in a year, and slept for a couple of days. We ate at a local restaurant where the locals eat. We had a huge meal of curried chicken and curried lamb for about $2 U.S. each. Then it was time to change scenery again. Jerry sailed the dinghy to get about 10 gallons of water, then we left Neiafu to visit several of the small islands in the Vava'u group. Should any of you have detailed maps of Tonga, we visited Vaka'eitu, Kapa, Kenutu, and Olo'ua. None of them had villages near the anchorages, so we didn't see many Tongans. We saw other cruisers at both Vaka'eitu and Kapa.

On the island of Kenutu we walked on the reef at low tide to look for elili shellfish. We found a few, but saw two Tongan women collecting them too. They had two burlap bags full and gave us ten of theirs, so we had elili cooked in garlic butter for dinner. The next day we found a few more, so had them again with two snappers that Jerry caught under the boat. He first caught a lizardfish with a tiny flying fish that had landed in our dinghy. Then he used hunks of the lizardfish for bait to get the others.

On these islands we also read a lot, played backgammon and cribbage, went beachcombing, snorkeled around nice coral and saw a number of colorful fish. We saw many bright blue sea stars, some brittle stars, small eels, and a small octopus that shot out black ink before it ventured into a hole in the coral. We also saw several chitons on the rocks. We went for short walks, visited Swallows Cave and generally relaxed. Jerry got bothered by jellyfish again and had a string of welts down his chest for a few days. He sure is allergic to those things! At one anchorage we socialized with John on "Mary Ann II" and some new friends from Wellington, New Zealand. They were interested in seeing Mariner's Cave and swimming with whales. One day we took "Arctracer" to the cave and everyone except me dove down 6 feet and through the underwater entrance about 12 feet to get into the cave. I kept the boat away from the cliffs while they did this. It was too deep to anchor there. I'm glad Jerry had a chance to go into this cave with other people. I'd heard about people trying to come up for air too soon and bumping their heads. Once Jerry came back out of the cave and snorkeled for a while along the cliffs he swam back to the boat so that I could do some snorkeling. I peeked into the underwater cave, but still had no desire to enter. There were a number of fish and quite a bit of coral to see in front of the cliffs.

As we headed back to the anchorage we saw whales a couple of times and everyone except Jerry and me swam with the whales. They were so big that they intimidated me, but I think I would get in the water with them the next time I encountered them and had the opportunity. The humpbacks are starting to arrive here to mate and give birth. (A few days later we learned that 7 whales have now arrived here. As the season progresses there will be more.) We had also been in John's dinghy following them around one day and he had a spectacular experience watching a mother and her year- old baby under water. Jerry and I stayed in the dinghy and enjoyed watching them when they were on the surface. There were two other whale-watching boats out during this trip to see whales and John discovered that he was snorkeling with two professional photographers. John had forgotten his camera, but Art Wolf (perhaps some of you have heard the name?) had the same kind of underwater camera to take pictures. At about 4pm the boat that Art Wolf was in approached us to ask John if he had any extra batteries. Art was planning to take pictures the next day too, but he wasn't sure if his batteries would last. He said something to the effect, "You might not believe it, but I'm a professional photographer and I didn't bring extra batteries for this camera to Vava'u." He doubted he could get these weird batteries here in Vava'u. Anyway, John did have a battery for him back on his boat, so in trade Art will be sending him some underwater shots. Apparently they saw a one year old baby whale continually dive under its mother. They all thought it was spectacular!

The day before my birthday, Vaha found us at an anchorage away from his island. He gave us taro leaves for greens and papaya. We enjoyed having the usual coffee and bread with marmalade with him. After giving him some marmalade from the grapefruit he gave me and giving him some line used for long line fishing he gave us some small baitfish called ulukau to use for bait. Then he used one of our hand lines to fish while Jerry used his small fishing rod. Vaha caught a good-sized grouper and Jerry caught two snapper for dinner. For breakfast on my birthday Jerry caught a small jack and a small grouper. What a nice way to start the day! It was quite windy for snorkeling on my birthday so we took a walk in the afternoon. In the evening we ate dinner at the "Lighthouse Cafe." It is run by an Austrian who must have the restaurant with the most spectacular view in these islands. We walked up a fairly steep hill to get to the restaurant, and the view out over the bay on the other side was absolutely wonderful. He also has the best vantage point to see the whales when they cruise up the large channel. His menu on my birthday was grilled tuna, yam mash, vegetables in coconut cream and chocolate cake.

On one of our walks we discovered "Barnacle Beach" where they have a Tongan feast on Thursday evenings with Tongan dancing and music after the meal. We thought we had attended enough feasts, but the proprietors Naida and Tali with their 7-year-old son Sione (John) discussed the feast with us and soon had us signed up for the following evening. We enjoyed this particular feast for all the normal Tongan food that we'd been served at other feasts, plus they served otai ika (poisson cru in French Polynesia and raw fish in coconut milk in English) and lobster salad too. They also were the first ones to give us pieces of banana stalks for plates and told us that we must eat with our fingers. We saw the roasted pig on the spit, but they cut it up before putting it on the table. After the meal they provided a finger bowl of water and halved orange/limes to wash our hands. This was also done at the feast put on by the village where the Peace Corps worker is living. I read in "Coming of Age in Samoa" that when soap could not be obtained that the wild orange provided a frothy substitute. An attractive twenty-one year old girl performed two dances for us too. At the end of the evening Tali invited us back Saturday to attend another feast that his church, The Church of Tonga, was putting on to raise money. They asked a donation to the church for attending. It sounded like a fine idea, but we have since decided to perhaps attend a different church on Sunday here in Neiafu and go to the big outdoor market on Saturday instead.

Finally it was time to go back to Neiafu on July 30th. We had enough water for coffee in the morning, but our water tanks had been empty for several days and we'd been very careful with the five one-gallon jugs we had so that we could try to do all the things we wanted to do on the outer islands before returning to wait for mail. Before we anchored the boat in the harbor we pulled up to a dock to buy water and diesel. With all of our buckets filled we were able to do laundry. What a luxury! We arrived at the dock just before their lunch break, so they let us stay tied up there until they returned from lunch. During this time we were able to get more pa'angas at the bank, get rid of our trash, and check "Moorings" for mail.

(view Vava'u photos)

A few other tidbits of information: We saw a partial eclipse of the moon on July 29th. Tonga became part of the United Nations during the last week of July. The King of Tonga is in ill health and the people are all worried about millenium celebrations. If he dies they will be in mourning for about a year and festivities cannot take place. Many Tongans work for the government and get paid every fortnight. In Neiafu all the homemade bread is sold by about 7 a.m. at the Saturday market on the weeks they get paid, otherwise there is still bread for sale up until the bakery closes at noon. We visited with other cruisers at Ana's Cafe on the 30th. The electricity was out the entire evening. Luckily the cafe was doing a barbecue so they didn't need electricity. They had candles everywhere. While one of our friends was cooking his chicken on the grill a local came and took a piece. He took it before it was completely cooked, but we bet he ate it anyway.

We have been looking for a boat called "Jakaranda" which is usually based here in Neiafu. The people on board are friends of the previous owners of "Arctracer." Apparently they have moorings for rent here in the harbor too. We've looked for them every time we've entered the harbor. We didn't know anything else about them until we read the book "The Happy Isles of Oceania" by Paul Theroux that was published in 1992. We thought you might be interested in the following quote on pages 317-318. Theroux mentioned to a yachtie in Neiafu harbor that he needed one of his canvas boat bags mended. (Paul was paddling his kayak around the Vava'u Group of islands in Tonga at the time.)

The yachtie said, "I know just the man who can fix that. Andy on the "Jakaranda" has got an industrial sewing machine."

The "Jakaranda" was a sleek green schooner at a mooring some distance from the dock. Andy and his companion Sandy had been coming to Tonga since the mid-eighties. Andy said they had become somewhat disenchanted by the Virgin Islands - the selfishness and rapacity of the locals, the numerous yachts. They liked the pace of life in Vava'u, they liked the people too. "Where is your home port?" I asked. Andy said, "This is. "Jakaranda" is our home. We've been living in this boat for the past twelve years." It was a beautiful boat, made twenty years before in Holland, lying deep in the water because Andy said- of the stuff they had accumulated: artifacts from around the world, the sewing machine, a big tiki from the Marquesas. Even so, there was plenty of room to ramble around in. "I just got a Tongan work permit," Andy said. And he explained that he would be making and mending sails and doing all kinds of sewing. "In the season this harbor will be full of boats." I showed him my boat bag. "I can fix that," he said. He tore out all the stitches and mended it expertly in fifteen minutes. It was a brilliant stitching job, and his willingness and his skill made it an even greater act of kindness. We had coffee and chocolate cookies that had been sent to Tonga by Sandy's mother in Pennsylvania. Sandy was mellow, pleasant, good- tempered, and like many yachties easygoing because she was on her own boat. That was also a yachtie temperament. You spent years and years in a confined space in all sorts of weather and you either coped and developed a cheery positive outlook, or else you headed home. Andy and Sandy expressed a genuine liking for the Tongans, and echoed other yachties in saying they had no immediate plans. "In a way, this is the best place to be," Sandy said. "I mean, with the war on. If the worst happens, we could just settle down and plant taro." As someone who needed space, I marveled at their capacity for living at such close quarters - and the marriages and friendships that prevailed over these conditions seemed to be as solid as it was possible for a human relationship to be, totally interdependent. I remarked on this to Sandy, who said, "This is the way I want to live." "Going from one strange hotel room to another can be traumatic," Andy said. "But in this boat we can go anywhere and still have our own bed, our own food." He thought a moment. "Our own toilet." But it also meant years on the water, years making crossings, long periods in terrible harbors, always sleeping in a narrow berth, often banging your head, a whole life in which the world was elsewhere. To live such a life you needed a companion who was handy and healthy and optimistic and who didn't get seasick, and who was willing to renounce his or her country; and then you went where the wind took you. You had to live in a certain way in these island harbors. Yachties could not live too intensely among the local people or they would be destroyed. It was the reason for their watchfulness. It is why they spoke to me only after I had been in the area for more than a week. They bobbed offshore, making the odd foray into town. Who in marine history, or in the history of oceanic exploration, ever lived like this? Either they went ashore and conquered, claimed the island, and left; or they stayed ashore, anthropologizing, botanizing, evangelizing, and being a complete nuisance to the locals, whom they wished to subvert. The yachties at their moorings had the equivalent of a gypsy camp at the edge of town, slightly exotic, occasionally insinuating themselves into the life of the place. The tourists do as they like - they wear bikinis, but they leave in a few days, one of the yachties had told me. We have to keep to the rules, because we're staying. They had to acknowledge the fact that they existed there for months or years because of the hospitality of the Tongans. They did not abuse that hospitality. They didn't litter, they wore modest clothes when they were in town, and they endured the Tongan Sabbath. The yachties' generally compassionate attitude made me look harder at my own opinion of the Tongans.

We still can't believe that Theroux didn't have a very high opinion of the Tongans. We've found them very friendly, helpful, and sociable. In "The Happy Isles of Oceania" he mentioned that he paddled his kayak past the islands of Euakafa, Kapa, Utungake where he saw women extracting a long orange organ and put it into buckets (from lemas or sea slugs). The book "The South Seas Dream" by New Zealander John Dyson describes a feast including sea slug eggs. "Long tables groaned with food. Heaps of coconut, crab, lobster, steamed fish, roast pork, and all the starchy things that Polynesians find so delectable, like yam, taro, sweet potato, and arrowroot puddings. Women behind us swatted vigorously with palm fronds to keep the flies away. Apart from the magnificent crabs, the liveliest taste, moist and sharp, like consomme, was that of what looked like slivers of slimy fried onion. I ate a lot of it, scooping it up in my fingers. It proved to be eggs squeezed from the big black sea slugs that littered the lagoon like sunken driftwood." We certainly have seen lots of sea slugs (sea cucumbers) here in Tonga. We wonder if we've eaten any of this stuff. We don't think so, but one never knows.