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We first arrived into Tonga via our sailboat, Starry Horizons, in the port of Neiafu. After clearing in and sorting out other new-country errands, we moved to a small anchorage called Port Muerelle, or anchorage number 7 It came to be our favorite anchorage in Vava’u.
We anchored on the north side of Port Muerelle, in 60′ of water. I hopped in to check our anchor, which was a little silly because with no sun and 60′ feet, I couldn’t see anything! But, I snorkeled our swing area to make sure we wouldn’t find any bommies if the wind shifted. The sides of Port Muerelle are cliffs, covered in vegetation. In the water I found coral, but after the small reef, there was an immediate drop to at least 7′ of depth – no problems.
I also snorkeled over to the moorings. When we arrived, a boat (S/V Privateer, Americans) was leaving and told us they had just replaced the line on one of the moorings. Sure enough, I checked out 2 of the 3 moorings and the lines looked good, with chains running down and around a huge concrete block.
I didn’t see too much that was interesting on the snorkel – starfish, sea cushions, usual small reef fish. I did see a jellyfish – not a box or blue bottle.
Friday was mostly a project day. We worked on things while we watched the anchorage fill up – from 7 boats to 14, including our friends Blowin Bubbles and Red Thread. Port Muerelle had a beach at the head of the bay, and Kyle suggested it would be perfect for a beach get together. Neil dinghied around to all the boats to invite them. Someone built a bonfire and by 5:30 dinghies were rolling onto the beach. About 25 people joined us for the bonfire and drinks. This even included a family from one of the Moorings charter boats, who were visiting from NZ and invited us to a party when we get there!
The crowd dwindled to about 10 and those of us that brought food (me, Jessie, and Jill from Romano) pulled out and shared. It worked out perfectly – pasta salad, rice salad, and sausage and cabbage. We retired at 8:30, a late night for cruisers!
The next morning we had Jessie and Neil from Red Thread over for brunch – French toast. Jessie and I had both gotten up early to bake bread and neither loaf rose! The flat, dense bread still made pretty great French toast, though.
Our next plans after Neil and Jessie left were to gather up Kyle and Shelley from Blowin Bubbles and head over to Swallow’s Cave. It was about a 1-mile dinghy ride, and we puttered our dinghy into the cave, tied up, and swam. Upon entrance, we spotted a very small Portuguese man o water in the water (David panicked). There is a small path going up the cave, and we spotted a sea snake slithering up the path (Shelley panicked). We all made Kyle get in first to scope things out.
The big attraction here is the school of fish that live in the cave. They swim in a very tight school, reminiscent of the school of fish in Finding Nemo that make the shapes! Unfortunately, visitors to the cave have painted graffiti and clouds hid the sun so our visibility was not great.
Shelley and I also climbed into the cave to see a large cavern where ceremonial meals were held, with the food being lowered into the cave via the hole in the roof. On the way back, there was a fish caught in a tide pool, and the fish was flipping out! In fact, he launched himself out of the water, only to get caught in a teeny tiny tide pool barely big enough for him. He was out of reach for us so we couldn’t rescue him, and hopefully he survived despite his stupidity – he should have just hung on waiting for the tide to rise!
During the dinghy ride back, the wind and swell had picked up, so we sat in LD shivering and debating our next move – Mariner’s Cave. A 3-mile dinghy ride with dive gear weighing us down didn’t sound so good. So we changed plans. Kyle and Shelley are dive instructors and carry 10 sets of gear on board. We loaded up four sets of gear on Starry Horizons. Neil and Jessie brought their own dive gear aboard and we upped our anchor and took off for Mariner’s cave.
We knew the approximate location for the underwater cave, which is in a sharp cliff, with nowhere to anchor or tie up. Kyle got his gear on and did an exploratory look. He found the entrance about 2 meters down, under some orange striping on the cliff that may have been graffiti. Neil and David dove in, while us ladies held down the fort on Starry Horizons. I was able to turn off our engines and let the current carry us slowly away.
The guys dove for about 40 minutes, then we switched off. Shelley led us ladies and we easily found the cave and went in. Once inside the cave, you can come up to a large, round cavern and pop the surface of the water. Enough light comes in from the entrance to create a soft blue glow – almost like lights in a pool.
The other crazy cool things about Mariner’s cave is that as the swell rolls in, the air in the cave pressurizes, popping our ears and creating a mist over the surface of the water. The mist instantly disappears as the swell rolls back. I loved it!
We came back out and continued our dive along the wall running southwest from Mariner’s cave. The coral and other cnidarians were really stunning, but the best part was that for the ENTIRE dive we could hear whale songs! It made me want to stop breathing so I could hear better!
It was David and I’s 10th dive, and our first time to dive separately other than our classes. We are so glad that we have such good friends here to have fun with. As a side note, it’s funny to find things you have onboard to give to others. We didn’t stop in the Cook Islands, but Blowing Bubbles did. They didn’t have a Cook Islands flag and wanted one for a keepsake so we gave them ours. Neil and Jessie were running dangerously low on peanut butter (if you didn’t know, peanut butter is probably the most American food ever, no one else eats it). We traded a jar of peanut butter for some sprouts that I’m going to attempt to grow!
That was a pretty awesome Saturday. We were all exhausted, and once we got Starry Horizons anchored on the south side of the bay in 20′ of water, it was 5:30 and everyone eagerly went home for an early bedtime.
The next morning, Sunday the 4th, we took off for our next stop; anchorage 16, Vaka Eitu island.
Weeks later, as we were waiting for a weather window to leave for Fiji, we returned to Port Maurelle. We’d been hanging out with our sub-40 group: six boats, 16 people, six languages, and everyone’s under the age of 40.
We anchored in Port Muerelle with Carthago and La Vagabond and quickly made new friends. Our friends Jordy and Julia on Ritme were there (we met them in Taha’a), and we met the boat My Dream, from Italy. The owners of My Dream were Claudio and Augusta with their 4-year old daughter Maeva. They have crew members onboard – Ina from Germany and Frazer from Scotland. Next, we met Roberto (Italian) and Ivon (Chilean) from S/V Hansen. These three boats (Hansen, My Dream, and Ritme) have been traveling together for a while. For three nights we were the only private boats in Port Muerelle.
As there is a fuel shortage, we have pretty much suspended our use of our outboard, preferring to either row LD or take our kayak, Aquila.
I filled the three days in Port Muerelle with snorkeling, kayaking and socializing. Almost every morning I took Aquila out to paddle over the crystal clear water in the lee of the island. Here are some of the highlights I saw in the water:
- Blue sea stars
- Cushion stars
- A large speckled moray eel
- Red slate-pencil urchin
- Green fish sea cucumber
- Spotted worm sea cucumber
- Lion fish (my first one in the Indo-pacific!)
- Two baby stingrays
- Golden guineafowl puffer
Nature is so fun!
Wednesday night after dinner David and I went ashore to try some night photography. It is interesting to compare these photos to the one we took in Dominica. In this case, there is hardly any light pollution, but that means we can’t really see the boats. It was hard to tell with the naked eye, but there were still clouds off to the west and they reflected the setting sun, creating an orange glow.
Thursday I took Aquilla out for a paddle, then Julia and Augusta swam over and I swam to shore with them. Augusta’s daughter was already onshore with Frazer, so Augusta and Maeva snorkeled around while Julia, Frazer and I walked to the “town”. Just parallel to the beach is a small road, and the town is a cluster of houses. We didn’t see a single person!
Some of the men had gone spearfishing and returned with two snapper – one about 7 lbs and the other closer to 15! That evening, we built a bonfire on the beach. Ina and Roberto found coconuts, husked, grated and squeezed them for milk. The men threw the fish on the bonfire, one in foil packets and the other just laid on a grate. When the fish was done, some of us picked the meat off and mixed it with coconut milk, rice, and curry. We had brought sides, dinner was delicious, and we played music on the beach.
Friday night we had everyone over to Starry Horizons for drinks – 15 people, including Maeva. She’s a little spitfire. She ran around our boat, exploring, causing no trouble. Occasionally an adult would stop and play with her, tickling or playing keep away with a balloon. At some point, we must have all tired her out, as she asked for a cartoon and I put on a Disney movie for her.
Saturday morning six of us got together on the beach and Ina led a yoga session. Later, we watched as our five friend boats filtered out to anchorage number 11 – Tapana. We would join them that afternoon but first, we hiked to the town together. This time, we saw people – school kids running around asking for lollipops or books and men working on installing a new water cistern. We walked all the way down to the dock and beach on the other side of the island.
Anchorage 11 was more populated. There are about 10 moorings here, managed by the Ark Gallery, a houseboat-cum-art galley. There isn’t much on shore.
We kept quiet Saturday night, but Sunday I paddled around our new anchorage for a few hours, then stopped by My Dream and picked up Maeva to come over to play. I stalked her around our boat keeping an eye on her as she climbed all over and ran around because I was worried she might get injured. It was so fun to watch; she is so comfortable, and was like having a monkey running around!
Sunday night Gina organized a ladies’ movie night on Carthago. All 7 ladies came and we shared popcorn and watched Chocolat (one of my favorite movies). The guys gathered on La Vagabond for a poker night.
Finally, we had some wind to take us to Fiji, so we returned to Neiafu.