Saturday 1st October 2016
Early Friday morning I wrote sitting anchored off two picture perfect islands, we were the only yacht for miles around. There was no wind and as I waited for the sun to rise higher in the sky, a misty damp haze hung low and thick in the stillness. The sea was very calm, a slight swell undulated across its glassy surface and with no breeze to hold her, Raya drifted beam on and rocked to and fro. Seven meters below us the sea floor was so clear I could easily see the bright yellow and black angel fish swimming around a patch of coral.
I was distracted by the sound of splashing, a dozen small silver fish that leapt from the water quickly followed by four or five eighteen inch tuna. I put out a fishing hook, more in hope than expectation, our rod and lure are designed for ocean trawling. As I returned to the cockpit I hear a whale blow, I grab the camera but no close encounters or acrobatics today, he just cruises by about 200m away. When I finally return to my scribbling the moment I described above had gone. The sun was beginning to burn off the mist, the smallest breeze was rippling the water, it was going to be a fine day.
In this beautifully settled weather Ha’apai is turning out to be the South Pacific we dreamed of before we left, clear azure seas, white beaches and palm trees but paradise is not without its challenges. Each anchorage has, as always, to be assessed for protection from the wind for the length of our stay, entry and exit must be timed to coincide with a high sun, preferably behind you and in a cloudless sky.
Last Sunday we arrived in Ha’afeva to discover a rather uncomfortable anchorage, the island had been described as a good place to sit out west winds and the main attraction was the village ashore. We have discovered that we are naturalists rather than anthropologists, we are much more interested in the wildlife and the geology of the islands than the human inhabitants, another Tongan village didn’t overly excite us. We decided to back track, the anchorage at Luangahu was calmer and equally protected from the westerlies and with the wind now on the beam gave us the added bonus of a great sail. Again there were whales all around, one of which, made us jump as he appeared to check us out just twenty meters away.
Luangahu is an amazingly beautiful spot and it was easy to while away the time until the wind returned to the east and we could move on to our next spot. Leaving the island however turned out to be as difficult as our original arrival. The first task was to unwind our anchor chain that had with the 180 degree change in wind direction wound itself around a small coral bommie. We very slowly eased around it and the anchor came up fine, but as we threaded our way out to deeper. water the engine stuttered and choked, we took our eyes off the road and instantly clunk we had banged into some coral. We returned to the anchorage, Rick check the fuel filters and dived in to check the keel, all seemed well. With the engine running normally we slowly, very slowly tried again.
Just as we breathed a sigh of relief at clearing the shallows, in front of us we spotted two sleeping whales, a small boat sat on the reef, it took no notice of us, we assumed he was fishing, until a moment later when we spotted just in time there were swimmers in with the whales. We turned north, another whale appeared in front of us, we turned south, finally with nerves by now rather frayed, we extracted ourselves from Luangahu’s grip and set off for the twin islands of Uonukuhahaki and Uonukuhihifo, or Lobster Island East and Lobster Island West.
After our thankfully straight forward arrival, we went to explore ashore. The two pretty islands are long and thin and linked by a bar of white coral sand, on the far side is a rocky lagoon which is where the lobsters can be found. A brief search produced no signs, luckily, as after an equally brief discussion we realise we have no clue how to catch one, we have visions of large snapping claws and lost fingers.
The early misty morning did turn into a spectacular day. We decided to take advantage of the calm water to put on our scuba gear and clean the hull fittings and propeller. We need a clean hull to enter New Zealand, hopefully we can find a diver to give it a good going over in Nuku’alofa as we didn’t have enough air in our tanks to do more than the essentials. We have to admit we did waste some air by diving a small bommie just off the boat. Yesterday I had snorkelled the area to check the anchor and the depth of the coral patches close by. I came accross one bommie that was just delightful but a little deep to appreciate from the surface. It was great to be back down at eye level with the fish, it’s been a while since we have dived. This small clump of coral just twenty foot in diameter was bursting with fish of all shape and sizes. The bright sun light shone through the clear, shallow water catching a rainbow of colours as the fish ducked and dived around the contours of the corals and made for perfect conditions for Rick, with our underwater camera that seems to be having a new lease of life, to capture a great video.
We move on again today back to spend a night at Ha’afeva the halfway point to our next and final island Numuka Iki.
N.B. I have just updated the last post with some pictures.