Chickens? What Chickens? – Neiafu, Vava’u, Tonga

070604-chickens_170Everywhere you look in Neiafu there are chickens. In front yards, running across the road, in backs of trucks. And where there’s chickens, there’s eggs. Lots of ‘em. So we have to be very careful to avert our eyes in case we surreptiously start counting them. No sir, not us, we’re not counting chickens….or eggs…or anything remotely poultry-related. Continue reading “Chickens? What Chickens? – Neiafu, Vava’u, Tonga”

What a Difference a Day Makes – Ha’apai, Tionga

“Twenty four little hours” – isn’t that how the song goes?? Life is fickle out here in the cruising world, and there are no guarantees that things will go according to plan. Yesterday our happy Ha’apai world was turned upside down when George the autopilot failed again, with that bleak message “No Pilot” blinking at us maliciously.

Seathan from Rehua, who’s a savvy chappie in all things electronic and mechanical came over to help us troubleshoot the problem. He cleaned up all the connections again and made some improvements and bingo, we were back up and running. Hallelujah! But we were anxious that this was an intermittent fault, so yesterday we did another test, motoring 3 hours south with Rehua and Phileas to give George another chance. And he didn’t skip a beat, performing flawlessly…..until we got to the anchorage when he went AWOL again. Shit, damn, bugger! We had our hopes up that finally all was well and we’d be able to sail south with our buddies. But that bubble has well and truly burst.

This morning Seathan and Bruce had a last-ditch attempt to re-work the problem, trying a few new strategies, but none worked. It’s just not feasible for the two of us to hand-steer all the way to New Zealand in what may be a very gnarly passage, so we’ve sadly had to accept the inevitable – that we can’t continue on without getting the autopilot fixed. Both Rehua and Phileas need to get going to meet their deadlines in New Zealand, so last night we had a very lovely, if rather sad, farewell barbecue on the beach with them. We feel gutted, and it’s hard not to be doing this last leg with our friends, but we wish them fair winds and safe sail, knowing we’ll catch up with them in the not too distant future.

So our only option now is to sail back to Vava’u, where we hope we can get some assistance from Alan at the boatyard. Other wonderful cruising friends, Marce and Jack from “Escape Velocity” have been relaying our problem to Alan, and he’s willing to look at it early next week. Tonight we’re anchored back in Ha’ano, our initial anchorage in the Ha’apai group, and tomorrow we’ll do the rather lonely sail back to Vava’u. Providing we can get parts sent quickly, we’re still hopeful that we can get back out within the next week to ten days. At least we’ll have internet again so we’ll be back on the grid. Here’s hoping for a quick turnaround.

Happy Days – Ha’apai, Tonga

Toucan anchored off Nukupule Island, Ha'apai
Toucan anchored off Nukupule Island, Ha’apai

Well, the good news is that George, our autopilot, is back on duty after downing tools for a while. Maybe he just needed a rest after working hard for the last 10,000NM. The other good news is that we’re having the best time in these wonderful remote islands.

our own uninhabited castaway island - Nukupule
our own uninhabited castaway island – Nukupule

The only slight cloud hovering over us is that we don’t know exactly what the problem was with George, and whether it’ll occur again. We were motoring between islands when the message “No Pilot” popped up on the control unit. And indeed, just like that, he’d gone AWOL. Searching through the manuals the only scrap of information we could find indicated it could be a problem with the course computer. So Bruce checked the fuse – no problem there, unplugged the connections and checked them – all OK. checked the voltage to the unit, all OK. Re-connected the wires….and hey presto he was back! We’ve taken him out on a test run and he behaved impeccably. Without knowing exactly what caused the problem, it’s pointless trying to get spare parts. So we hope and pray that he can stay on duty and get us safely to New Zealand.

Meanwhile we’ve become a herd of cats, enjoying the company of Phileas and Rehua, and spending our days diving, snorkelling and beach-combing. It’s going to be hard to tear ourselves away from these magic islands but we can hear the clock ticking and we’re checking the weather gribs daily. There’s an opportunity coming up this weekend that may give us a weather window to NZ, and we’re waiting for confirmation from the weather guru, Bob McDavitt, who we’ve engaged to do a passage plan for us. In the meantime we’ll make the most of our time here in this special paradise, and who knows, we may even get to catch ourselves some lobster for the barbecue. Life is good.

Three cats in the neighbourhood
Three cats in the neighbourhood

the active volcano in the distance
the active volcano in the distance

Ha'apai sunset
Ha’apai sunset




Off The Grid – Ha’apai, Tonga

The anchorage at Ha'ano, Ha'apai
The anchorage at Ha’ano, Ha’apai

As you probably know by now, we like getting off the grid, exploring those more remote parts of the world, and the Ha’apai group of islands just south of Vava’u (still part of Tonga) are beckoning to us, holding the promise of beautiful uninhabited islands with sandy beaches and plentiful reefs for snorkelling and diving. A bit like the Tuamotus, historically they’ve been avoided by cruising sailors because of the navigational hazards, but with the advent of GPS and more accurate charting, they’re becoming an increasingly popular destination for cruisers enroute to New Zealand. Continue reading “Off The Grid – Ha’apai, Tonga”