Tower Island

In the main entrance channel to the Vava’u group is a small islet, Lotuma Island, about 150m across with a clearing in the middle and buildings just visible from the water. A tower, flagpole, and wharf were marked on the chart. We anchored nearby and explored – was it a resort? Government buildings? Private residences?

The clues:

  • The dilapitated wharf has deep water at the end, required for big ships.
  • The generator building contained one very large rugged diesel genset given the number of buildings.
  • Each of the 7 buildings were different. Most windows were broken and roofs rusted to pieces, but not much vandalism or graffiti. Some buildings were clearly personal living areas with large windows overlooking the water.
  • Some buildings had welded security wire in the opening between rooms.
  • The mango trees had bricks surrounding their base.
  • Besides the odd coconut, there were no trees or seedlings in the clearing. Possibly poisoned. No flat sections for gardening.
  • The tower was excellently maintained (pressure treated lumber) and gave us our likely answer – this could have been an observation outpost in WWII, built by NZ or Oz or USA, to watch for ships approaching the Tongan group.
  • The was corroborated by finding “279th Engineering Detail” engraved on a concrete step.
  • We were excited by finding a grenade near a tree, but it turned out to be a toilet float.

Tonga pictures: Cruising Vava’u

Sticking to the Plans

We made it to NZ! 1000 miles in 7 days. The eagle-eyed followers may have noticed I scheduled old blog posts after we were out at sea. I will put up some interesting photos from our brief three weeks in Tonga – one could easily spend months or a year exploring the island groups.

We cleared in and out of the capital on Tuesday night after seeing the weather warning to “Leave now! Or wait 7-10 days for the next window.” We dodged the reefs before sunset and close reached overnight at 9 knots. This last leg to New Zealand was fast, wet, and became colder and colder. Living on Piggy means you’re essentially living outside, and we’re quite happy in tropical weather. Less than 20 degrees is now miserable! Sorry to all the Canadians enduring frost and snow.

Crossing from 20 S to 30 S reversed the changes in the ocean we saw between Canada and Hawaii – the ocean lost its “tropical blue” hue, Velella and other jellyfish were prominent, and dolphins joined us. No floating rubbish this time.

We dodged a rather wicked storm with 6-7 metre waves (those would peak halfway up the mast, and be steep and break over the boat)… we only encountered 2-3 metre swells. We spent Monday night drifting and becalmed 70 miles away, waiting for the next system to build so we could reach Opua on Tuesday night. One day later there’s a gale blowing with gusts to 40 knots (70 km/hr); the weather systems move incredibly fast down here.

And then we had the best greeting of this trip with an old friend meeting us on the wharf with beer, rum and good cheers. Thanks John! What an introduction to Kiwi friendliness. Amazing.

For now, we will trip around the Bay of Islands area and then head to Whangarei to seek out a river pile mooring for long-term.

It is special to be back in New Zealand, same captain and same boat, exactly 40 years later. The customs official was baffled.

In 1974, Tom and Don’s original “shakedown” cruise to New Zealand in 1974 ended with somewhat of a shipwreck on the Northland coast (arguably, a catamaran can’t wreck on a sandy beach). Tom wrote a short story, “Stick the Plans,” which details how straying from the design details during construction meant the beams started separating from the hulls during a stormy crossing from Fiji to New Zealand. And of course in the days without EPIRBs, sat phones, GPS, VHF radios…

The short story is a much more exciting account than the writings on this blog. It’s worth your time!

Stick to the Plans eBook download


Hi everyone, just a quick note while we are in the middle of no-internet-land, thank you all very much for the comments and notes. It is a highlight to read every one of them on the boat.

We are especially grateful to all the predeparture support from family and friends and especially the folks at the Ladysmith Maritime Society and in Dogpatch.

Crossing to Vava’u

We itched to get back on the high seas and into some interesting cruising grounds and left “New Potatoes” after lunch, 3 days after arrival. We sailed off our anchor and headed back out the narrow channel in the reef with no problem. As with our approach and entry, Tom was giving directions, I was standing ready to drop a sail or tack, and Marchena bore all the stress and responsibility of steering. We cleared the reefs and headed downwind to the west, parallel to the island, and sailed close enough to watch ocean swells break across the reef. Never have I seen so many shades of blue!

We caught a rather large and fearsome barracuda but agreed to release it from the risk of ciguatera toxin, which is found in reef fish and bioaccumulates in predators. “You’re welcome,” to my medically-inclined brother and mother. Soon after that, we blew apart another seam on the genoa. Just a message from King Neptune to be using the working sails instead!

We got to “test” Piggy’s upwind abilities! The next Tongan island group, Vava’u, was 165 nm directly upwind of us and we actually sailed 270 nm. After a night close on the wind heading West, we tweaked a few things tacked back and forth and found we sailed around 50-60 degrees to the wind – pretty awful compared to monohulls, but that’s the price we pay for Piggy’s 4 feet of draft and no complicated daggerboard mechanisms.

In our tweaks we found that heading East was much slower and rougher – there’s an ocean current here! We caught a monster mahi-mahi but lost it while trying to land it (we must invest in a gaff or hook of some kind). Maybe as punishment for not landing the fish, that ocean current made a very bumpy and uncomfortable night. It seems my seasickness is mitigated if the boat is anchored/moored in swells, like the anchorage in Maui. I had no seasickness for the three weeks to Samoa, but after the protected harbours of Samoa and Nuiatoputapu I had a rough time in the crossings. And even the non-drowsy drugs are not really non-drowsy.

I can’t complain about any portion of our trip but that night was terrible. Lying awake until 4 in the morning, letting everyone else sleep while we bashed through lumpy seas, unable to sleep, eat, read, listen to music, etc. Just waiting alone with one’s thoughts and listening for any change in the wind or damage to the boat. But that’s all part of the experience.

We sailed through a flock of birds in the morning and hooked a small tuna, which unfortunately jumped off the hook near the boat. 7 tacks later, we entered the island group and headed for the island’s capital, Neiafu. The narrow protected channels seem more like a winding river through sparsely-inhabited jungle. We were forced to launch the dinghy and motor our way the last mile into the harbour and so burned our first fossil fuel after purely sailing 2800 nm (over 5000 km) since Hawai’i. Bummer!

Rounding the corner, we saw a cruise ship, something of a shock to see in a “river jungle,” and entering the harbour we saw boats. Many, many boats. Never have we seen so many cruising boats! Everyone is spending cyclone season here or preparing to cross to New Zealand like us. Neiafu feels odd with the cruiser-dominated services and so many businesses run by expats, and I’m sure it’s a very different vibe in the “off-season” during the summer.

Something of a summary:
We’re getting better at fishing but we’ve still only eaten 1. Catching and not eating a fish seems to bring bad luck that day.
Seasickness is terrible.
The genoa sail is old and will probably keep breaking.
We’re getting some second-nature skills of navigation, handling the boat and trimming the sails. We smoothly transition into the offshore groove.
We break fewer things on the boat now, but the more serious things can’t be fixed until we finish the shakedown in NZ.
We’re becoming connoisseurs of local fruit. Essential for provisioning from local markets. Fun and delicious.
The goal of making sourdough has ended with multiple messy failures. Maybe boats aren’t the best place for fermenting.