Running on Vapours in Vava’u 

Wednesday 14th September 2016

I’m sitting on the boat waiting for Rick to return from town and contemplating our rowing skills. There is a severe petrol shortage in Vava’u and following the arrival of a ferry last night, rumour has it that they may have bought a few barrels in with them. Like the rest of the island our supplies for the dingy are very low. The whale watch operations have been forced to stop, the local fisherman are stuck on land and only diesel engine cars are on the roads. Despite the whole place gradually grinding to a halt, the government in Nuku’alofa, the capital 160nm to the south, seems reluctant to do anything with any urgency. As far as we can tell the normal boat that delivers fuel broke down a few months ago, it was finally replaced with another boat but this was too big to enter the pass, passenger ferries for safety reasons cannot officially carry petrol. Rick returned empty handed, if any did come in during the night, it was squirrelled away in the small hours by locals in the know. He said the petrol station reminded him of our last few weeks in Iran, many moons ago just before the revolution, hundreds of frustrated people milling around cans in hand, trying to pick up even a few litres of fuel.

No luck at the petrol station

Our dilemma revolves around our departure to the Ha’apai group of islands, we have already missed one weather window waiting for petrol, the radio chatter this morning is of a delivery coming in Monday but who knows. We have plenty of deisel for the yacht but the longer we stay in Neiafu the more petrol we use getting in and out of the harbour in the dingy. The Ha’apai are a string of remote coral atolls and small volcanic islands. Most are uninhabited and the capital Pangai is tiny, will it have petrol?

Neiafu is a strange place, the water front and all the marine businesses are completely dominated by expatriates, the grocery stores are owned almost exclusively by the Chineese community. The Tongans appear to have surrendered large portions of thier town to outsiders. Yachties and tourists are cocooned in this world of foreigners that run everything we need from the VHF channel 26 net, to the laundry, to 100% of the restaurants but not the petrol stations.

The fruit and veg market is however a local enterprise and full to bursting with the familiar – tomatoes, peppers, carrots and cabbages, papaya, melons and bananas and the less familiar – Tarrow roots and leaves, yams and strange unnamed fruits. Today they even had broccoli. It is a good job the market is full because with the lack of ferries means not only is petrol in short supply, the shelves of the stores are almost completely empty also.

Neiafu Market

One group of people that did have fuel are the sports fisherman that gathered in Neiafu for the 25th International Bill Fish Tounament at the weekend. The action was played out on the radio, with the boats reporting in each fish they hooked up and then landed throughout the day. At five each afternoon they arrived back in town to have thier catch weighed. Yellow Fin Tuna and Maui Maui suddenly appeared on the menu of all the restaurants. Bill fish apparently are not that great to eat so the points favour a tag and release system but on the last day a particularly large Blue Marlin was caught and bought into be weighed. It was hooked up by one of the smaller boats and at about ten foot long and 200 kilos it completely filled the deck, it is difficult to imagine how they landed it.

Huge Blue Marlin wieghing in at nearly 200 kg

This afternoons weather forecast is looking good for a departure on Sunday/Monday. As we are sailing south we need the wind to be as far around to the east as possible and by Sunday the prevailing SE winds are backing slightly so we have decided to go and just keep our fingers crossed that Ha’apai will have some petrol. Otherwise it will be out with the oars!

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