Dear Fleet 23,
The days were getting longer and fewer new arrivals were making their way into Vava'u from the east. Business was slowing down for the bars and shops that cater mostly to the yachties. We were still having more fun each day and making closer friends but the signs could not be ignored - the cyclone season was fast approaching. We said our tearful goodbyes to our Spanish friends at Tapana, had countless one last dinners with lots of cruiser friends, I had one last beer at the Bounty Bar & Grill and we pointed the bow south for the Ha'apai islands of Tonga. Our parting gesture from Vava'u was a large grey whale crossing our bow on our way out the pass.
Just when we thought life couldn't get any more laid back, we found the Ha'apai islands. These islands are the middle of Tonga's three main island groups. They are not much more than a collection of reef encircled palm covered sand bars in the middle of the ocean. Not quite as many cruiseres call here because the reefs are numerous and require very careful navigation combined with fair weather to make them safe. We had three weeks of beautiful weather to enjoy the incredible snorkling and seemingly endless powdery sand beaches. As always there were plenty of beach parties and interesting people. I lost my favorite fishing lure to a big one that broke the three hundred pound test line. It was just as well since we were fishing from the Zodiac at the time and probably couldn't have landed it anyway. Still, time passed and we had to make our way to Tongatapu, the souhternmost of Tonga's island groups.
Sue Hufton, a good friend of ours that we met last year in New Zealand, flew up to Tongatapu to sail with us back to New Zealand. We stayed in Tongatapu about a week longer to let Sue get used to the boat and work on her tan and get Vela Dare ready for sea. We left Tonga November 8th and had a very fast two day sail to a wild and lonely place known as Minerva Reef. This is an extinct volcano, the rim of which forms a circle about three miles in diameter right at sea level. There is a pass about 100 yards wide that allows a boat to enter the inside of the lagoon. The rim is about 200 yards wide and is completely covered with water at high tide. At high tide it appears that you are anchored in the middle of the ocean. At low tide, the rim is about three feet above water and you can walk on it. This place is 200 miles from the nearest land. The feelings we had as we entered the pass were that we were entering a very wild and beautiful part of the world that not very many men have had the privilage to experience. The passage from Tonga had been very rough and none of us had gotten much sleep for three days so we slept like the dead our first night at anchorage inside the lagoon. The next day I teamed up with a friend or ours from another yacht and we went hunting for lobster. I had my scuba gear on and Tom was snorkleing on the surface with a bag to hold all the lobster that I was going to catch. After about twenty minutes of the most fantastic reef scenery I have ever experienced I saw one enormous lobster that would have easily fed all of us on both yachts but it got away when it's antenna broke off in my hand. At least it inspired me to continue the hunt. As we progressed along the rim, I noticed a very large shark swiming away from me. The other sharks that I have encountered were always very shy of man and would dart away as soon as they saw a person. This one wasn't exactly darting away, more of a slow amble, but I still assumed he was yielding to my presence. NOT!!! A couple of minutes later I looked up from the lobster search to see this shark, all ten feet and 300 pounds of him, coming straight back at me, thankfully still at the same slow amble. Obviously, he was king of this underwater jungle and my presence wasn't about to change that fact. I don't think I have ever had as big of an adrennalin rush as this one. I scrambled up onto the rim where Tom had been hanging out and we waited until the shark cleared the area before making our way back to the dingy. All of that trouble and excitment and still no lobster for dinner. I had to depend on the girls to provide the protien. They were bottom fishing off of Vela Dare around dusk and pulled up seven nice sized snapper type fish. We had a fish feast for breakfast the next morning before heading back to sea.
There is nothing between Minerva Reef and New Zealand but ocean and we had a good sail until the last two days when we were hit by a frontal passage that left us with very strong winds that were coming from exactly where we wanted to go. The closer we got to New Zealand the harder the wind tried to keep us away. It took us 20 hours to make the last 34 miles. It was very frustrating but we finally made it in to Opua in New Zealand's spectacular Bay of Islands.
Sue's husband and two children were there to greet us and we had a great couple of days visiting with them. Sue was a great crew for the trip and Trude and I were both very glad to have her with us. She and her husband, Brian, are working very hard on their boat to get it ready to sail to Tonga next May. They were our next door neighbors at Gulf Harbor Marina last year and I just phoned the marina today and confirmed that we will have the same spot this year.
Speaking of Gulf Harbor, we plan to be back there around the first of December While we are at Gulf Harbor please send any mail directly to us there at:
S/V "Vela Dare"
Gulf Harbor Marina
FAX: 011 64 9 424 0703
By the way, please do not send any parcels to us via our mail forwarding service. Unless you are sending diamonds it will not be worth the cost to us of having it forwarded. I have already paid several times the value of what we have thus far received in forwarding charges. For example, a well meaning soul sent us a few jars of their homemade preserves via the forwarding service - it costs us $160 for the freight.
There is a big Thanksgiving party here in Opua and we plan to stick around for that and then set sail for Gulf Harbor Marina. Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, but there are enough "yanks" here that we are expecting about 250 people to show up for the party. It will be a real treat to have the traditional turkey and potato and gravey and pumpkin pie dinner.
Once we are back in the marina we will have about 2 months of hard work to do on the boat, getting all of the maintenance things done after six months in the tropics. We hope to see more of New Zealand this season than we did last year. Come next April or May we plan to head back to the tropics, probably to Fiji.
If anyone would like to come and visit us you are more than welcome. As a matter of fact, we are really bummed that we haven't had more visitors. We will be in New Zealand until late April or early May. New Zealand is a great place and I highly recommend it. If you want something more tropical, wail until after next May and join us whever we are in the tropical South Pacific. Actually, the best weather in the tropical south Pacific is in the months of August, September and October. June can be very windy and wet and it starts to improve in July. In Vava'u this year, we didn't see the sun for the first three weeks of July and it rained almost every one of those days. We felt sorry for those folks who chose that time for their vacations. In any case, it is imperitive that you let us know your plans by fax because the international mail is just too slow. Be sure to include a return fax number with any correspondence. It would be a bummer if Vela Dare was harbor bound by some major project when you decided to show up.
That's about all the news from the good ship "Vela Dare" here in the southern hemisphere. We hope everyone has a very happy and not too cold holiday season and new year.
All our love,
Micheal & Trude