CATCHING UP ON BLOGGING

Now that we have internet that doesn’t cost a boat buck a gig, I can get some posts I have written up on the blog.

SAYING GOODBYE TO TONGA…

How do you say goodbye to a place where you spent 9 months and became locals. It was with trepidation that we hauled our boat out into the protected rock quarry of Boatyard Vava’u to spend 6 months living on land. It had been 10 years since we had been dirt dwellers and we were worried that the flatness and solidity of the dirt would drive us mad…and it did. But the great people we met and became friends with in Vava’u were worth every bit of it.

As cruisers, you eventually get used to being detached from long term friendships. You always seem to be saying goodbye to someone who you wish you could hang out with forever. But this is the way of sailors, and a way we have gotten used to. But during our 9 months in Tonga we developed relationships with people that we have not had in a long time and when we went to leave…it was hard. However, after the boat went back in the water, we felt the sea calling us to discover new waters and we had to say goodbye. There were several departures….and reappearances…as Palarran shook out her rustiness and let us know a few things needed attention. But as we sailed away from the Vava’u group one evening, it was with tears in our eyes. We know we will return some day, but it was like leaving home a little.

Thanks to all who became our friends and shared their lives with us. You all will forever be in our memories.

Here are some memorable moments of our time in Tonga.

1

The sunsets were amazing and got better each day as we progressed into the austral summer. The top one to the right was the view from our apartment…about the only thing that was good about it :-)

2

The Tongans are a deeply religious people and most of their social structure is based around the Church and Church activities. On Sunday the local island boats are packed full of people coming from the outer islands to attend Church and the family feast that follows. Lots of the original culture such as hand woven mats (as seen in the funeral procession above) have been blended with western religion. Men dress in Tuvelu or a lavalava with grass woven Ta’ovala over the top and women wear conservative dresses with either a Ta’ovala or KeiKei (a lighter belt version of the woven mat). No amount of extravagance or money is spared when it comes to funerals, weddings or baptisms…which sometimes is a burden on the family monetarily while they try to one up their neighbors. The Church has its positives and negatives on the Tongan way of life. On one hand, they are an extremely tight knit peoples with good morals, family values and dignity. But on the other hand, the Church has a very strong influence on government and the decision making process as a whole, which ends up hurting tourism, progress and in the end it is the individual families that suffer.

3

Long hot summer days were filled with Ladies Lunches (an event organized by the amazing Sandy, getting women from all over the town together to socialize and have a rip roarin’ good time), floating off the dock to keep cool and of course…dragging the famous swan around the harbor behind our dinghy. Above are photos of a few of the friends we made while in Tonga. Julie, Nikki and Charles….we had some damn good times eh?

4

Aside from working on the boat, flying home for work and hiding from the sun, we also managed to relax a little :-) Summer time is off season, and the locals both expat and Tongan let loose after a season of hectic tourism. Local bands play at bars filled with towns people cooling off from the hot summer days with a few Fosters or Papaus. And every now and again a little culture from distant lands appear…like the whale pinata my friend Nikki made (probably the first and only pinata that anyone had ever seen on the island). We also found time for a new pastime of making hooch!

5

The Tongan lifestyle is slow and relaxed, although it may seem a little tough from the outside. Fish is the main protein source and long fish fences are set up to trap fish at high tide while the villagers go out and pick out the keepers. For those living outside of town…or in the bush…hot walks down red dirt trails are often the only way to get supplies from town. Tonga is in the middle of beyond and all food imported must arrive on The Big Red Boat or the sporadic freighter from New Zealand. If weather is bad or a ferry breaks down, the town will run out of food. Which happens more than you would think. While we were there we witnessed the great potato famine of Christmas 2015, a sugar embargo crisis lending to shaky sugar addicts begging for even a spoonful of sugar and the weekly egg, bottled water and chicken shortages. But over all, Tongans are prideful happy people, who may not seem rich in wealth, but are rich in life quality. You will never meet a stronger family unit or a more welcoming people.

6

Dogs and pigs rule the streets and you should not be surprised to see pigs wandering through town or dogs making off with a fish bit every now and then. The water is clear and teeming with sea life among its brilliant reefs. And of course….the never ending hermit crab…that has been prevalent since we left the states…these little guys are very prolific!

7

The Vava’u group is a series of protected islands with a large outer reef that protects the inland waters from swell. The highest point in Tonga is in Vava’u and one of the reasons it is a natural cyclone hole. The lower right photo is of the boatyard where we stored our boat. You can see the high hills surrounding the masts. The shallow flat waters are perfect for kite boarding and where we both got up on our kite board for the first time…albeit for a very brief moment.

8

The island group just south of Vava’u is Ha’apai which is more exposed, but sports long white sand beaches and bommie filled waters that are great for snorkeling, diving and spear fishing. We spent our last month here and enjoyed every minute of it…as well as making some new friends at the Ovalau Yacht Club. But for us, the Vava’u group was where it was at and our favorite place during our time in Tonga.

As you can see, Tonga has everything that goes into the perfect recipe for paradise. We will forever remember the aqua blue water, flat calm anchorages and friendly people. We left a little bit of ourselves in Tonga and will someday be back to find them again.

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Some video of a pleasant hike to the beach.

We took this video last year while we are on the island of Niue.

Niue is here:

Yeah, I know it don’t fit. Whatever. Zoom out….get a feel for just how deep in the middle of nowhere that island is.

Anyway….Watch this movie:

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Trevor Meredith, the owner/operator of Apia Marina in Apia Samoa can eat a bag of dicks.

I know, I know. We have not posted a blog post in a month or so.

What is it that made me want to post now? Was it yet another idyllic sunset, or miles long deserted white sand beach or whales and dolphins frolicing on the bow of our boat as we glide downwind to the next island paradise?….Nope…sorry, it’s irritation, nay….RED RAGE! I had a run in with a local marina owner here in Apia, Samoa.

The title of this post probably gives you some idea of where my rage is coming from or directed at.

The main reason for this post is informational. In hopes that any other Yachties thinking of going to Apia, Samoa have a heads up about Trevor Meredith and his ways. And by extension to screw him out of even more money because he is a dickhead that pissed me off.

The story!

We left Pago Pago, American Samoa after spending an awesome two weeks there. Had a blast. And the people of Samoa and Apia Samoa are completely awesome and ridiculously friendly and welcoming….But not Trevor….Trevor is a bit of a thief.

After an easy overnight sail, we arrived on Sunday Morning July 31st, 2016. We called Port Control on VHF CH16, but never received an answer. Since we could see it was clear to enter, we proceeded in and dropped anchor in the charted small boat anchorage just off the marina entrance with three other boats already there. Great anchorage, great holding. Twenty feet of water in sand and mud. As it was Sunday we knew Customs and all the official offices would be closed, so we just chilled on the boat the rest of the day.

Monday morning we got a call on CH16 to come into the marina to begin the check in process. We thought it was Port Control.

We dinghied in and were met by a marina employee who told us that we should bring Palarran in. We told him we had no need of the marina’s services and were happy at anchor. He said Port Control did not allow anchoring unless the marina did not have enough room, or if you drew more than 2.5 meters. That it was the law.

Hrrrmmmmmmm?? We had heard these rumors before we left Pago Pago, and researched online to find out if this was in fact the law here.

We disagreed with him and told him that we had issues with our cutlass bearing and transmission when going in reverse. So we would rather not have to maneuver in tight quarters until we haul out in Fiji next month to fix the issue. He said that since we were not staying at the marina, we had to contact Port Control ourselves to handle getting Health, Quarantine, And Customs to come down and check us in to the country.

Oooookaaaay.

We headed back out to the boat and called Port Control. Not a problem they said. They would arrange it as soon as they could.

Three hours pass. We decided we could not wait any longer since it was getting past noon and we did not want to be stuck on the boat another day. I looked up the phone number for the Ministry of Health online and called them. They were a bit surprised, but said, not to worry they would send someone down right away. In fact, the guy was down at the docks right now, but busy with a commercial boat at the moment.

An hour and a half later we called again. He sounded surprised to hear from me. He said the guy had gone to the marina, but was sent away? We said we had not heard from anyone at all. He put me on hold for a second, then said the inspector would be there in two minutes. And for us to meet him at the docks.

We met the Health inspector and took him out to our boat and the two other boats in the anchorage. Inspection done, Q flags down, back to the marina to find customs, then on to immigration downtown. All very painless and easy.

The next day we went into the marina office to pay the advertised $50 Tala ($20usd) weekly fee for the use of the dinghy dock.

This is when the trouble began.

The marina employee said the fee was now,….as of today $200 tala($100 usd) a week for use of the dinghy dock!!

The employee looked sheepish and shrugged. He also apologized for being so rude to us the day we had arrived, he was just acting on orders from his boss. We understood. We also told him we understood this was a penalty price for us for not using the marina. We thanked him (all smiles) said we would just use the beach and left the office.

The next afternoon we went into the marina with some friends to go to dinner and have a bunch of beers. On the dock we were approached by a guy who asked if we had paid our dinghy fees yet. I said that we had tried, but the fees had gone up 400% overnight and we wanted find out for sure if this was true before we paid anything.

Dude absolutely popped his cork and threatened to steal/damage our dinghy if he ever saw it in the marina again, then stomped off after a bunch more yelling. By both him and me. :) I’m not completely innocent in all of this.

At first we all looked at each other like….WTF mate?? Then one of our friends had the presence of mind to ask who he was as he stormed away. Turns out this was Trevor Meredith, the owner/operator of Apia Marina. We caught up with him on the ramp and argued for a bit about the legality of his business methods, I ask him to show me the rules/regulations that proved that it was in fact illegal to anchor out. Because, if so….despite me being an asshole, I would of course follow the actual laws of the country I was visiting. He could not come up with anything, at all, nothing. I was even allowing him the use of my phone to look that shit up. He could only say that that was the law and we did not know Samoan law. We kept calling bullshit and he kept spewing it.

Homeboy is just running a scam and the Port Control seems to either not care or is in on it. Most Yachties will fold when confronted with these sorts of situations, and Trevor knows it. You are, after all, in a foreign country and most time are not sure of the rules. We just were not having it this time around. He did sorta calmed down a bit, and we were able to talk to him a little more rationally, but he still stood his ground where his scam was concerned.

Two days later we were walking down the sidewalk along the harbor in town and saw a strange boat tied alongside our boat out in the anchorage. We could tell it was the marina’s runabout. They left before we got back. But they did come back out once we got back on the boat. They wanted to give us an envelope with some paperwork in it from what seemed to be a lawyer. Not sure why? But we declined it and they left.

And by declined, I mean I laughed like I thought they were all very retarded and tossed the envelope, unopened back into their boat.

We decided to pay a visit to the Ministry of Tourism and filed a complaint against Trevor and the Apia Marina. They were most surprised and distressed to hear this and really took the complaint to heart.

After a week of checking out Samoa, we were growing tired of the harassment from the marina. The weather looked good for the 5 day crossing to Fiji, So we headed to immigration to check out of the country and get our passports stamped with our exit visas. The immigration official told us they could not allow us to leave and would not stamp our passport. We were surprised and they had us talk to a supervisor. He showed us some paperwork that was from a law firm(Kruse, Enari, & Barlow) , issued by the Supreme Court of Samoa, it was a Departure Prevention Order (DPO).

Yeah, you read that right. The dude that is leasing the marina from the Samoan Port Authority somehow has enough juice to hold people hostage till he gets his money.

We were not really sure what exactly to do, but thought, maybe the American Embassy could help out a bit.

At the embassy we talked to two very nice people. They made calls and went with us to the Port Authorities office and we had our above mentioned meeting. And while they were awesome, very helpful and more than accommodating. The bottom line was, the port captain decided that if we paid them the $100USD fee (with no real proof or reason) and $50 Tala bribe to Trevor, the owner/operator of the Apia Marina, the DPO against us would be lifted and we would be free to leave the country.

The next day we got up bright and early to start the bribe paying and clearing out process. First stop, the Port Authority. We went to pay the mythical $100USD fee. However, they had decided overnight it was now $247 Tala. I blew up. They backed down and we paid them $200. Then we went to the marina to pay Trevor his $50 Tala. Trevor saw us coming and jumped into his truck and ran. Left his employee to do his dirty work.

Next stop, immigration. However, they still would not stamp us out. They did not have any paperwork yet. We went back down to the Ministry of Tourism and the CEO there made a few, very angry phone calls and said it was all cleared up and we were to go back up to immigration and clear out. An hour later, they got an email from the marina’s lawyer, but would not accept it. It had to be a letter from the judge that issued the DPO.

So we waited in immigration for 4 more hours. 15 minutes before they closed, the paperwork showed up.

Customs was closing in 30 minutes, so I jumped in a taxi to deal with that.

Tawn went back down to Tourism office to let them know it was all done. The CEO was shocked we were still there. Could not believe this was actually happening.

As all this was going on, we had two British friends having almost the same issue with the marina, minus the DPO. They had their own meeting with their consulate/Embassy and the CEO of the SPA were able to get an official cost of anchoring. According to the documentation the cost for their 38 foot sailboat was $5.60 Tala.

Ours ended up being $7.10 Tala, due to being a heavier boat. At the last second, they tacked on $110 Tala fee for lights and buoys.

Despite the fact that we had the American Embassy involved and the CEO from the Ministry of Tourism in the meeting. The SPA would not refund the difference back to us. The CEO of Tourism actually cut us a check for the difference! She was very, very upset about the whole affair.

Bottom line, this Trevor guy is a scam artist and not to be trusted, unless you give him want he wants, which is your money.

The Port Authority after all of this tells us that we were free to us their dinghy dock, showers and toilets which are accessible inside the breakwall where the tugs are moored. Why they did not mention this on day one is annoying.

We spent over a year and a half in Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Ecuador. No bribes(none that were not expected at least) and no need for a trip to the American Embassy in order to get out of the country. Who saw that coming? Western Samoa…more corrupt than Central America! HUH? American Samoa was chill as hell. Completely opposite of what we expected.

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Playing the Cruiser Waiting Game

Wether you spend a month waiting for a weather window in New Zealand, like many of our friends, or a month waiting in Tonga…it always seems like the next cruising season starts with delays. We have been back in the water since May 14th and had plans to spend a week getting the boat back in shape and provisioned, then take off for the southern island group of Hapaai before heading north to the Samoan islands. However, Palarran has had other plans. The first delay was waiting for some winch parts we had ordered over 2 months ago to arrive… apparently there was a mix up? We finally got the parts through customs….another tale all together…and got the winches up and running. Then toward the end of May we were getting ready to head out for a little shake down motor whenI notice water dripping from the raw water pump. CB took a look and realized the lip seal had dried out on us. Great….how were we going to find parts for a 33 year old Yanmar in Tonga!

We called around to the few mechanics and no luck…they advised trying the auto part store….yeah right. But sure as shit…the only automotive store in this part of Tonga had the exact water pump in stock…whaaat? Since a special press was needed to put it all back together, we had the shop fix the pump and were only out 200 TOP…or 100 US dollars…sweet!

The next day we provisioned with the assistance of my friends Tonga ride…thank you Julie Goss…and we were ready to go. The weather was good, the swell was low and the wind would actually allow us to sail south. CB went to shore to check out of the Port and we were all set to leave….NOT! As he was walking away from the dinghy he heard a loud pop followed by a rush of air…the faces of the two guys in front of him told him all was not well. As he turned around he observed a delapidated dinghy with a large hole in its side. Shiiiiit…I was on the boat stowing all our recently purchased food stuffs when I hear a dinghy approach…not my dinghy mind u. I look outside and there is CB in our friends dink…his face said it all.

Luckly one of the guys at The Boatyard, Alan, is a hypalon master and had the very special and expensive glue needed to fix a seam…unluckily, he was off to Hapaai (yep…where we wanted to go) for the next week….shiiiit! So, we borrowed a dinghy from a friend, again thank you Julie Goss, and headed out to the anchorages. We were unsure if our dinghy could actually be fixed and hemmed and hawed over what we would do…swimming to shore just isn’t a viable way to go. After a week we returned…this is now 3 weeks after we wanted to leave. That Monday morning the dude and his magic glue appeared and he WAS able to fix it…for how long…we know not…but it was holding air. Great….now we can go!

NOPE…the same high pressure system that was keeping everyone in New Zealand was creating crap weather here and we were stuck between the high and a low pressure system to the north. The swell was up to 9 feet with little timing inbetween, not to mention 30 knot winds and wind waves. We only had 60 miles to go…but it would have been awful. As we really have no schedule, we waited again.

Cool thing was, some friends of ours were hosting the guys from a Fox Sports fishing show called Stoked on Fishing who were filming for an episode or two on Tonga. We went and hung out in the anchorages with them and watched some very talented dudes fish and spear fish. They caught a ton of fish and we all had a blast partying on the giant catamaran and party platform.

It is now Wednesday and another weather window has appeared and in a few short hours we will leave to head south. All in all, when you are in a tropical paradise…having to stick around for an extra month is really no big deal!

Posted in Adventures, Big trips, Tawn | 2 Comments