June 3, 2012

Vavau south to Haapai

We set sail on Saturday the 18th of May for the Haapai Group just a short 60 mile sail south from Vavau.
We chose to exit the reef and sail the open ocean to the east rather than dodge the numerous islands and hazards that lie directly south of Vavau. On our way through the pass we encountered several schools of Skipjack Tuna’s feeding and landed our first fish on a green 4 inch Yoshuri minnow lure. The fish was only a few pounds but made a great lunch. The winds freshened and turned easterly providing good sailing conditions for going south. A few hours later we had a strike on a pink and blue squid, this fish was a nice size Sierra Mackerel . This has been our luckiest bait in this area a simple squid skirt over a 4 0unce lead egg sinker with a 1/0 treble hook and stainless braided leader.
A few hours later we had a double strike on pole rigged with cedar plugs. I knew these had to be tunas by the way they were stripping line off the reels. Daria worked the smaller of the two while I let the bigger fish take line. We hoped to land them both but the monster on my pole had other ideas and somehow chewed through the 200 pound leader!! Oh well, we were able to get one 25 pound yellow fin on the boat and fresh civechi was back on the menu.
We put the poles up after our mini-grand slam and were concerned if we would make the anchorage before dark. These are treacherous waters with reefs and sea mounds rising up from the 6000 foot deep ocean floor. Tonga is basically a ridge of volcanic islands and there are still new islands forming today. There is one area where an island has come up out of the water twice, but now lies just below the surface. We sailed past another tiny island that was no more than a 300 foot diameter beach in the middle of nowhere. It was tempting to stop, but the reef surrounding this little piece of paradise looked more than willing to chew Downtime to pieces.

As we approached Haano Island the winds died and we motored the last few miles to an anchorage where we had encountered whales in last season. We slowly wound our way through the coral strewn pass and had the anchor set just before dark. The weather lately had been unsettled with the seasons changing, this being fall made for squally conditions. We had over 30 knots of wind during the night and were glad to be in a safe anchorage. We spent the next two days watching it blow while working on boat and doing some cleaning. 

The winds finally let up and we went a few mile south to Lifuka to clear in. Lifuka is a small village and clearing in was no more than going to the customs office and telling them you were there. They told us to come see them before we left for clearance documents. As for the rest of the village, there are 3 or 4 small grocery shops and one small café. In the center of town is the local market where we bought fresh lettuce, tomatoes, eggplants, papaya, bananas, limes and watermelon all at the best prices we had seen in the islands.

The people here are really friendly and we enjoyed walking around the village. There were 4 other boats in the anchorage and that night we had a poker game aboard Downtime. Poker seems to be a fun way to get to know people at a new anchorage.

The following morning we arranged a dive with the local dive shop and went out to a sea mound a few miles off the coast. The dive gave Daria a chance to dive with a really good instructor and practice her skills. She feels much better about diving now and actually enjoyed the dive in her new super warm wet suit.

We were hoping to get decent weather while in the Haapai Group this year but Mother Nature had other ideas with yet another weather system heading our way. We were looking at being stuck here for a week with west winds blowing (Not Good) or sail the last of the east winds to Fiji. We chose to sail to Fiji the following morning. 

The winds were blowing 25 to 30 knots when we set sail and within 15 minutes of putting the poles out we had a nice Mahi Mahi hooked. It was quite a challenge to get Downtime to slow down enough to get the fish aboard in those winds, and we finally had turn the boat into the wind to get the fish aboard. Later Daria made some fresh tortillas and fish taco’s that were to die for!!
We made the 400 mile trip in just under 3 days and even had to motor for 10 hours when the wind took a breather. We arrived in Savu-Savu with 4 other boats at first light on may 30th.
We will be in Fiji for the next 2 months so stay tuned.

Peace!! Pete and Daria