think it was circa 2011, but I can't be sure. Andrew and I had been racing aboard Heeling Art with Captain Shane since 2007, but our regular crew mates were dwindling due to a variety of odd circumstances. Bobby was out of commission with his back injury, a crew mate who recently realized sailboat motors were equipped with a propeller rather than a jet had mysteriously disappeared, Benedict Alan decided to race on a competitors' boat and the motley selection of randoms were not sufficiently reliable to man the boat on heavy wind days. So, Captain Shane reached out to two new sailors he met during the Nevada Yacht Club Sail Training Weekend.
C&B arrived at the dock with cheerful smiles and ready attitudes. They climbed aboard and were promptly assigned to be rail meat. The cycle of sailing life starts again. Coffee's spot-on impersonation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail won her immediate permeant crew status. They learned fast and were a cheerful addition to the boat. Soon, we were meeting them for dinners or cocktails away from Lake Mead, receiving invitations for random weekend projects like racing go carts or going camping, and bringing them along to listen to Henderson Symphony Concerts. New friends swiftly became old friends. When Sonrisa came into our lives, C&B volunteered not just to come visit her San Diego but to put in hours and hours of slave labor. They helped us reinstall new chain plates, re-bed various areas of Sonrisa's deck hardware, and take her out sailing. Having them aboard for this tour of Tonga is our pleasure.
After the Bacon Odyssey, our next project is to relocate to anchorages close enough that the scuba boat can pick us up. We have a couple days time to reach the close anchorages, so we have plenty of time to stop at a beach perfect for shelling, swing around in the hammock, snorkel the most colorful reef in Tonga, and stop by Swallows Cave for a tour.
Both the reef and swallows cave are a bit awkward to access. They are far away from any safe anchorage for Sonrisa and Grin is nervous about taking all four of us at once across the great expanse. So, instead we take shifts. We reach our destination, everyone piles out in Grin, while I hove-to in deep water. (Hoving-to is a storm/lunch break tactic in which I backwind the front sail, leave the main sail as is, and balance Sonrisa's rudder in the spot in which she wants to turn both right and left according to her opposite sails. This stops Sonrisa and allows her to scuttle very slowly sideways while we wait for the crew to finish their tour.) When the crew returns, we swap places, and I go explore while Andrew and Sonrisa wait. I strap Grin to my waist and drag him behind me.
This worked great at the reef where Grin escorted everyone closer to shore. But, at swallow's cave, we were so close we figured we could easily swim from Sonrisa to the cave. One by one, Andrew jumps in, Brian jumps in, and then Coffee jumps in. Suddenly, Coffee lets out a sharp screams/wail indicating both fear and pain. "What's the matter?!" I call back. I begin to untwist my sail plan and use the motor to circle back. "Are you okay?"
She is shaking her head "no, no, no", but she is still swimming away from Sonrisa toward the cave. Andrew and Brian turn back and reach her. The three of them head to the cave and they huddle where the cave meets the coral reef. As I watch them, I wonder what could be wrong. Did she cut her foot on something as she jumped? Did something in the water bite her? Jellyfish? We haven't seen a single shark while we have been in Tonga, so I doubt it was anything like that. I circle, but Andrew waves me off. So, Sonrisa and I shrug and circle away again.
When they emerge out of the cave again, we circle toward them. I instruct them to swim together in the mouth of a cave and I will take a picture. Instead, I get a resounding chorus of "NOs!" What the heck is going on? As they climb aboard Sonrisa, they explain that Coffee did not appreciate the deep, deep blue of 200+ feet below her when she jumped in. I guess I have to come back to cave to get pictures later.
We anchor at Port Maurelle and we enjoy beers and olives on the silky soft white sand beach.
Pork chops, freshly made refried beans, mole and peppers for dinner.
Riki and the Tin Can picked us up bright and early the next morning for our first round of scuba diving. Coffee got her Open Water Certification to be ready to dive in Tonga, so this is going to be her first dive somewhere exotic. Remembering my nerves the first time I dove out here (Link to Manihi Dive), I volunteered to be her buddy and hold her hand. Everyone gets dressed up in their gear, over the side we go.
Suddenly, her regulator fails-safe open and is blowing air all over the water. With regulator hose wiggling around like an excited snake, she looks up at Riki panic-eyed. Cool as a cumber, he tells her to smack it a couple times; then he smacks it a couple times. Then he resigns himself to replacing it with a different regulator. We undress Coffee in the water, and she floats while he swaps the regulator on her tank. Then, we get her dressed again - heavy tank, bcd, weight belt, etc. etc. - in the water. This first time is going rather smoothly I would say�
"Oh sure, give the chickeny-one the crappy regulator." Coffee says, laughing through gritted teeth. Riki swims over to help her get dressed, then takes her hand. I know Coffee will be ok with Riki.
Down we all go. Brian struggles with clearing his mask and his buoyancy throughout the dive. Several times, he floats up to the surface with Andrew and I trying to help but not knowing exactly what to do. Riki hands Coffee to Andrew or me, heads up to the surface, fetches Brian and brings him back down. Brian was certified ten years ago, but hasn't had the chance to dive since. So, this is his first vacation dive ever, too.
As we rise to the surface, both C&B are a little frustrated about their dive. Riki, in the sensitive New Zealander fashion, tells Brian that his ears won't clear because his "schnozz is too big." "You have to look out for people with big noses or narrow heads." Riki explains. He gets Brian a different mask, which should help. I explain to Coffee that the first dive is always like this. It takes a bit of getting used to, and the next dive will be much better.
We enjoy our surface interval, make new friends with our dive boat buddies - newlyweds Mosh & Jo, move spots, and repeat the process. This time, both Coffee and Brian had a much better time. Everybody remained happily at the bottom, Coffee let go of Riki's hand, and she even did a swim through.
We top off the night by moving Sonrisa to an anchorage just outside the Tongan Beach Resort. Grin takes us ashore for post-scuba cocktails where we enjoy watching the Tongan world go by. A crazy spider with many eyes, a beautiful sunset, sailboats silently drifting along, the resident "restaurant pig," and water taxis moving from Neiafu to the outer villages. We hit the hay early, and ready ourselves for a second day of diving.