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2009 Logs

October 2009

Tsunami Update - Saturday 3 October 2009 

On the morning of Wednesday, 30 Sept - Tongan time, we experienced the Tsunami, that just now after getting back into the local town with internet access, are realizing the impact that it had on the surrounding area of Samoa and the northern island groups of Tonga. 

We are saddened to hear of the loss of life and devastation that occurred as a result.  We consider ourselves very fortunate, as our experience which had a fair share of drama, was far less powerful than what we are learning occured to others in areas further north of where we are in Vava'u.  All is well aboard Imagine - boat and crew, and fortunately, none of the yachts in the Vava'u island group of Tonga suffered any major damage - only 2 boats that we happened to be with got caught in the surging tidal waters and hit bottom and coral.  Acting quickly, they were able to cut their anchors free and had minimal scratches on their keels.  

October 5, 2009 – Nuku Beach, Vava’u Group, Kingdom of Tonga

South Pacific Tsunami

Attached is the satellite email message that we sent to our family members immediately following the tsunami.

“All is well aboard Imagine.  During our first cup of coffee this morning we experienced a small Tsunami here in Tonga.  We first felt a jerk on the anchor chain, and saw our friends on Monkey Feet & Cat Mousses getting sucked into a rushing tide.  I got into the dingy to try to offer assistance when I saw Imagine shifting on our anchor, quickly went back to pull up our anchor and head for deeper water.  After we pulled our anchor up, we saw Monkey Feet & Cat Mousses fighting the surge and we tried to get a line from our boat to help pull them out.  They were both able to cut the anchor free and move out of the danger zone after hitting bottom several times. 

All the boats in our anchorage were able to get to safe water and we listened to the morning report on the radio to hear that it was in fact a Tsunami resulting from a major earthquake somewhere near Samoa.  The water level at the beach we were anchored next to first dropped by about 10-15 feet exposing the surrounding reef, then the water switched direction and completely washed over the beach.  This process repeated around 10 times, and as I write, we still haven't reset the anchor.

We'll update more after things settle down here, but it has been an exciting morning for us here!  Hope all is well at home,”

After writing this email and returning to town we quickly learned about the devastation that the tsunami caused in the Samoas and the more northern groups of Tonga.  It’s interesting that even though we were much closer to the action here in Tonga, with so little news outlets all of you at home knew more about the devastation than we did.  Although our experience was awe-inspiring and scary, we feel so fortunate that we were in a relatively safe place during this event.  We feel so sorry for the people in the Samoas and northern groups of Tonga that have lost so much, as many of these people, had so little to start with. 

We have always heard been that the safest place to be in a tsunami is on a boat.  This seemed to be true in this situation.  Since the tsunami we have learned of many stories from the cruisers that were in the Samoas.  Although, many of them had some pretty horrific stories, including sitting in their boat as the boat was being washed up the middle of the street with cars floating by it and then safely being washed back to out to sea, everyone that we know of that was one their boat was ultimately safe.  The only death of a cruiser that we have learned of is a man who was on the dock untying his lines and was washed out to sea.  Although, we didn’t know the man, some of our friends knew him and we are all saddened by the news.

Thank you all so much for your thoughts, prayers, and emails of concern.  We are sorry that we worried many of you.  Please continue to keep the people who lost so much in your thoughts and prayers.


October 12, 2009 – Neiafu, Vava’u Group, Kingdom of Tonga

Over the last year, we have all become accustom to going without many of the conveniences of living in the Western world.  Many of which were immediate, such as; learning to survive without a dishwasher, conserving power, water, well actually everything, and living in a confined space.  But some sacrifices have been more gradual and we have basically just grown accustom to the changes.   One of these things have been grocery shopping.  Now, I know that I have written about grocery shopping in the past but that was more in the struggle in transporting large provisions from the store via walking, dinghy trip, and onto the boat.  But in Tonga, I began to really notice how our life has actually changed in selecting and acquiring groceries. 

The town of Neiafu is actually a nice size town with many conveniences (well in our new world).   There is a fantastic open air fruit and veggie market where we get all of our fresh produce.  It’s open everyday but Sunday and is full of Tongan farmers selling their products.  They have a wide selection including lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and even watermelons.  After some of the places that we have been, it’s like produce heaven.  But what’s funny is that it is the only place in town where you buy fresh produce.  There are also many tiny grocery stores in town and they all have different items which makes shopping more of an all day adventure than a quick stop at the supermarket. 

While the male cruisers talk about anchors, engines, and water makers, we females often talk about what foods are available and where to buy items like mince meet (our new word for ground beef), which store has flour, who has the best, cheapest chickens, etc. etc.   And then on grocery day we make the rounds.  What is really funny is that none of the stores have names or if they do we don’t know them or can’t pronounce them so the conversations go something like this…..”The best mince is at the Chinese grocery store behind the market”.  “Have you tried the hot dogs from the little Tongan market just up from the MBF Bank?  They are just like “US dogs” – well almost – and great buns, too.”  “Bacon – the Green grocery store in town has bacon just like Oscar Meyer” (Marc dished out $50 Tongan for 4 packs of bacon – desperate, huh?)  The best example of this is the Costco store….which we found out got the nickname because the store actually carries some Kirkland products.  So Caroline and I made the mile walk with some friends to check out the Tongan Costco.  Considering the size of the entire store was about the size of the candy isle in our Chicago store, it wasn’t quite Costco but I have to admit in our new world we weren’t disappointed.  We were able to buy Kirkland cranberry juice, Oreo cookies, Pringles, more bacon (sensing a trend), and genuine generic Apple Jacks and Honey Nut Cheerios.    Many of these items, we haven’t seen in months.

There are also some items that you just can not get here so our menus have changed – sliced turkey (any turkey or any sliced lunch meats actually), chicken breasts (we have to grill the full chickens and then use the meat for recipes), milk (other than powdered or UHT), diet coke (which you can get in restaurants but to buy for the boat is $2.00 a can), and many more items that I am so used to now I just can’t remember them anymore.  The town of Nieafu is supplied by cargo ship which comes fairly regularly.  But often the island runs out of items before the ship arrives or sometimes the ship just doesn’t bring anything.  So far, since we’ve been here there have shortages of eggs, flour, onions, coke, and now its cheese.  Oh well, we adapt and overcome.  So shopping, just like everything is now an adventure.  It has actually become a fun experience as you get to know the shop owners and it’s fun to get creative with recipes.  But now that we are used to this, we’ll leave Tonga and head for NZ.  I have a feeling the provisioning there will be a little more like home with a few differences….have you ever heard of “Vegemite”?

October 19, 2009 – Neiafu, Va’vau Group, Kingdom of Tonga


Today we are preparing to leave the Va’vau island group of Tonga.  We have been cruising these beautiful islands and have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in the Kingdom in Tonga.  As we have written about many of our experiences along the way, we have little new stories to record.  We have had many great memories in Vava’u such as; participating in the First Annual Vava’u Regatta; seeing whales, and whales, and more whales; playing on the beaches and participating in many beach BBQ’s; eating at traditional Tongan feasts; attending Tongan churches and visiting small villages; catching lobsters at midnight; starting a new school year and much more.

But some of the best times have been spending time with our cruising friends both the old friends and meeting the new ones, and spending time with Marc’s parents.  The cruising world is just like any world in that it’s the people that make it special.  We will remember Va’vau as the place to socialize with cruisers as almost everyone, despite their final destination spends some time in Tonga.  We enjoyed time with all of our cruiser friends that we have met throughout the Pacific.  We also have to mention the wonderful people who live here.  The local Tongans are just warm, friendly, religious people and we have enjoyed getting to know more about their culture and lifestyle.  It’s really been our pleasure.  We have also enjoyed getting to know the Palongis which is the local name for non-Tongans who live in Tonga.   There are a number of Americans, Canadians, Kiwis, and Aussies who live and work here in Tonga.  Many of them run the businesses that support the cruising community.   They have been kind and supportive and a lot of fun. 

From Va’vau, we will leave for the remote Tongan islands of the Ha’Apai.  We have heard that the islands have small villages, pretty beaches, and nice coral for snorkeling.  From there, we will start to watch the weather and wait for the right “window” to start the passage to New Zealand.   The passage to New Zealand can be one of the most difficult passages in the world or it can be a piece of cake and it all depends on the weather (the wind and waves).  We will be downloading weather daily and listening to the weather reports on our SSB (long range) radio and when the time is right, Imagine will start heading south for the land of the Long White Cloud.  But for a few more days, we will enjoy the beauty of Tonga. 


October 30, 2009 – Ha’afeva, Ha’Apai , Kingdom of Tonga

Happy Halloween!

Although our time in Ha’Apai was short, it has been memorable.  One thing that has continued to astound me throughout our time cruising is the differing experiences and opinions that cruisers have about destinations.  Five different boats and crew can all go to the same anchorage and everyone has a different opinion that can range from gorgeous and perfect to horrible.  It all depends on the desires of the crew, the weather, the people that you meet, and probably sometimes the mood that you are in.  Well, Ha’Apai is one of those places.  We had heard mixed reviews on Ha’Apai.  We had heard that it could be nice but had rolly anchorages with little protection from the wind.  So bad in fact, that often you had to leave the area because you couldn’t find a place to anchor.  Because of this, we made the decision to stay in Va’vau longer and spend a short amount of time in Ha’Apai waiting for the right weather to go to NZ.  Well, that is one decision that we regret because we loved Ha’Apai.

We anchored at an absolutely gorgeous beach at the King’s private island for three days, spending most of our time there by ourselves.  The water was crystal clear with fantastic snorkeling and the sand on the beach was so fine that your feet sunk down into it as you walked.  The coral heads provided the perfect opportunity for spear fishing.  So with some help from our friend Scott on Whisper, Marc finally initiated the spear gun with a large grouper.  Yummy! 

We left our little slice of paradise to meet our friends on the boat Gillaroo at the remote island of Ha’Afeva still in the Ha’Apai group.  Although, the anchorage at the island didn’t have a stellar beach, it was the tiny village on the island that made this experience so wonderful.  There are approximately 250 people that live on the entire island with the majority living in the same village.  The island is a three hour boat trip from the large town in the group so many people on the village stay there for months without going anywhere else.  The village has 5 churches, a couple of grocery stores - well, more like shacks that had a few food items, a telecommunications building, a school, many small homes, and that’s about it.   They have electricity for 3 hours a day in the evenings, so homes do not have refrigeration, running water, and most of the conveniences that we have on the boat.  What is so ironic is that they have incredible cellular phone service and they actually have one satellite TV on the island and it is in the shack where the men drink Kava (Kava is a special tree bark that is soaked & stirred for hours & makes your lips & head go numb if you drink enough - so we're told) .  A supply ship comes periodically which brings groceries, mail, packages, an occasional cow (the cows are brought in for funeral celebrations & it is common for the family to bring in a cow on the ship when someone is expected to die - not sure if the soon to be deceased knows the cow is brought in for them or not, but as soon as someone passes, the entire village gorges on cow). But since there is so little electricity the food does not include items that you need to refrigerate.  If you live on the island and need to get mail, you actually have to take a small boat out to the big supply ship in order to personally pick up your mail….sometimes in the middle of the night.  It is really amazing. 

One of the things, that I have really wanted the kids to experience while we were in Tonga was going to school.  Although, most of the children speak primarily Tongan, they also learn English so our kids could communicate.  Therefore, I thought that Tonga would be a great place to experience a remote island school.   Ha’Afeva proved to be the perfect spot for that.   We learned from Gillaroo that a young American couple lived in the village. Melanie and Eric from North Dakota are stationed in Ha’Afeva with the Peace Corps and they were just delightful.  Melanie teaches English at the school and Eric assists the village with engineering and construction projects.  We were excited when Melanie welcomed the kids to join her at school. 

The first day we went to school,  we heard all of the children screaming….Palangis, as we approached.   They were so excited to see us, especially our kids.  They sang traditional Tongan songs with the same perfect pitch that we had heard from the adults in the churches.   They were all excited to practice their English by asking us questions, such as, our favorite food and where we were from and telling us their names and favorite foods, which included things like bat, dog, horse, etc. etc.  Our kids joined them in playing tag, racing, and jumping rope and then each of our kids, even Noah,  read the entire school a book.  It was so sweet.  We also put together a video presentation of our experiences that we showed to the school.   They were most excited to see the pictures of the US cities, especially our home in Chicago and I think that the Tongan teachers were even more interested than the kids.

There were 35 students, ranging from 6 to 12 years old, at the school in two classrooms.  This is a primary school and there is no secondary school on the island.  When the children turn 12, they take a test to be placed at a secondary school.   Many of the secondary schools are tuition based and since they are on another island, the child must be sent away to live with relatives.  Although, it’s not easy many children do continue their education but unfortunately not everyone can. 

Caroline, Grant, and Noah were happy to have a couple of days off of “Adams School” to attend the Tongan school.   However, they learned a lot those days, maybe even more than they do in “real” school (did I say that).  They learned that you don’t need a lot of “stuff” to have fun and to learn; They learned that kids as far away as Tonga like to play the same simple games that they played in Chicago; They learned that kids are kids no matter if they look or speak very differently and; They learned that a smile is a smile, a laugh is a laugh no matter what language.  I’m not sure who enjoyed it more, the kids or Marc and I watching them but it was definitely a special experience. 

The other thing that we learned was how to celebrate Halloween on a boat in a country who has never heard of Halloween.  But we did it!  We had a great Halloween this year with Noah as a caveman,  Caroline as a vampire witch, and Grant as a headless man.  At first the kids at school were a little frightened but although they didn’t understand Halloween, they knew how to laugh at the costumes.  After our visit to the school, we took the dinghy trick or treating to the four other boats in the anchorage and the kids were amazed by the amount of candy that the adults had on board especially the homemade fudge from Paula on Long White Cloud.  After trick or treating the entire anchorage came back to Imagine for spooky desserts and to see all of the Halloween decorations that the kids had created.  Although, our Halloween was a little quieter than it used to be, fun was had by all.

After a fun and relaxing time in Tonga it’s time for the journey to New Zealand.  We are very excited to get to New Zealand with the majestic scenery and hiking, cities to explore, real supermarkets, fast internet, and all of the first world conveniences that we have missed.  However, we are also a little sad to leave our quiet island life that we have enjoyed since reaching the South Pacific in May.  Although, I think that NZ will be quite laid back compared to the US, I am sure that it will feel like going back to the hustle and bustle of city life to us now.  We also must endure the 8 day passage to New Zealand after the lack of any passages for the last two months.   But the groceries are stored, the internetting is done, the boat is fueled, and we are ready to go.  So Good bye Tonga and Hello New Zealand.