With our decision about Cyclone season made, we are free to settle into six weeks of exploration of the Kingdom of Tonga. Tonga is made up of more than 170 islands all clustered close together. Verdant with palm tree jungles and lined by white sand beaches, it is the quintessential South Pacific experience without any waves or discomfort. In a word, it is beautiful.
We join our clump of sailing friends we gathered from Galapagos forward to start our explorations. First, as part of the Blue Water Festival, we are treated to a show put on by a local preschool. We are greeted in the street by a large brass marching band, whereupon we were escorted through town to the school grounds for the show. Little babies singing and dancing their little hearts out. We were instructed to donate to the school by tucking money into the little performers costumes. Andrew came armed with many $2 and $5 bills to spread around.
I was nominated as official photographer for our friend Russell’s 70th! Birthday “Do”. Russell and Jane have been married for 35 years, have a couple of grown up kids, have been sailing and cruising around the world for the last 10 years, and are all around awesome. We have enjoyed their company for a few dinners, beach parties and sundowners. The have imparted valuable cruising lessons like "Next time, buy a cat." Sonrisa respectfully disagrees.
We enjoyed end of season sundowners on a beach:
And, we attended a Tongan Feast under a full moon, complete with hand roasted pig.
Then, it was time for everyone to go. Slowly, the anchorages became more quiet, and the mooring field near Nieafu thinned out. Since everyone’s plans are always in flux with weather and other factors, sometimes we get to say “catch you later” in person and other times we are forced to send tidings over the VHF. This South Pacific sailing season is drawing to a close and it feels awfully weird.
On our own, we explored a little village called Hounga. We squeeze through a tiny opening in tall cliffs that face the open ocean. Inside, there is a beautiful lagoon with colorful soft corals, mooring balls and a couple from Canada who have build themselves a little retreat. They give us the lay of the land and an internet passcode. We snorkel, and hike an over grown grass road to Hounga Village. We meet three little boys who don’t speak very much English, but tote the trademark beautiful Tongan smile. They guide us along on our hike through the “bush” where we meet an older gentlemen carrying his vegetables and fruit home from the farmland kept just outside of town. He speaks English, and he walks along with us asking us questions about where we are from and about Sonrisa.
The village is small, and tied together with whatever building materials people could find for their homes. There are five churches, and a one room school. Their water is collected from rain in giant tanks made of hand-built cement or green plastic displaying stickers reading “US-Aid”. There is no real road, and I didn’t see any cars. But there is a paved sidewalk through the center of town. Pigs wander through town with a trail of babies behind them; there are as many pigs as there are people.
Back on Sonrisa, we are resting in the afternoon sun when a distress call comes out over the VHF. Our host’s aluminum boat has lost its engine, leaving the four people stranded and floating out to sea. We look across the way. Our boat neighbor’s dinghy doesn’t have an engine installed at all.
Water sloshes around Grin as he bobs up and down. “Let’s go! Let’s go, Andrew! We have to go save them!”
Andrew looks back at Kitty and Grin skeptically. The aluminum boat is pretty big and filled with four large men. Kitty is only a five horse power engine. But, looking out at the anchorage, it seemed Kitty was anyone’s only choice. “Go! Get!” I say, throwing Andrew the VHF radio so he can hail me if necessary. “I’ll come get you in Sonrisa if I have to.” I grab the binoculars (and my camera) and peek out. The little boat is rather swiftly moving away from us, and toward the opening to sea.
Andrew scuttles around for his T-shirt, pulls it over his head and hops into Grin. Kitty fires right up and the three of them zoom over to the aluminum boat. I watch as two of the men climb into Grin. Grin then takes a 90 degree turn and painfully slowly starts heading toward a beach that was these men’s original intended destination. Grin leaves the aluminum boat adrift! His rate of speed is just barely more than the drifting motorboat itself. This doesn’t seem like a sensible strategy, but I guess being rid of two large Tongan men may help Kitty tow the aluminum boat back to shore.
Our stranded friends throw a bucket overboard and into the water to slow their drift. Grin eventually makes it to the beach, drops off his passengers, then turns back around to make his final rescue.
Soon, a third man is placed into Grin and instructed to hold the tow rope while Andrew mans Kitty's helm. Kitty kicks into gear and Grin is even moving fast enough to throw a bow wake. “Grin and his sidekick Kitty to the rescue!” I hear Grin call out over the water. Then a few seconds later, “No! Kitty and her sidekick Grin to the rescue!”
The team delivers our host back to shore, much to the relief of both his wife and dog. As Andrew putters back to Sonrisa, the debate rages on: “I’m the one that keeps everyone afloat!”
“Yeah, but what are you going to do, make Andrew row the boat back to shore? You couldn’t rescue someone without pro-pul-sion.” Kitty points out.
Hoping to settle the matter, Andrew proclaims it’s “Andrew and his sidekicks Grin and Kitty,” but this is met with much grousing. I still don’t think the matter is settled, but I’m staying out of it.