Kicking Back at Avalau Island

We have spent the last three nights anchored in the lee of a gorgeous uninhabited island named Avalau. The anchor is set in 30 feet of turquoise water just off an extensive barrier reef. The island is fronted by a long stretch of very fine powdery white sand. The protection from the trades is adequate but the wind waves wrap around the island making the stay a bit bumpy and rolly. We have been enjoying it here and catching up on some r&r. The first night we met the couple on the other boat here named LUCI; a nice Kiwi couple from North Island. He built his 42ft boat with his bare hands and it was just launched in April. We had a great time visiting with them and we all went to the beach in the evening for a bonfire. It was a picturesque setting and a great evening visiting with new friends.

I have been meaning to do a dive on a large coral head near the boat but between the cold air temps (ok maybe we’re going soft - it’s 74 degrees outside) and our lazy demeanor, I haven’t jumped in yet. I did change the transmission fluid and repair a small leak on the heat exchanger, so a little productivity has been thrown in the mix.

The boat JACARA that was planning to take us swimming with the whales had to fly back home to Italy before we had a decent weather window. The trades have been howling and kicking up big chop in the channels. Not the most ideal conditions to go swimming in. We’re bummed and are now debating whether to pay the 350 Pa’anga (~$160 dollars) each to take a commercial boat out to do the same. After all the repairs lately we aren’t exactly swimming in cash. We are hopeful we’ll be able to sell a few things at the nautical swap meet this Saturday. If so, maybe we’ll be in a position to go swim with the humpbacks.

Today we are pulling anchor and raising the mainsail to beat 5-6 miles to windward. We plan to drop anchor in Tapuna, aka anchorage 11, a very protected bay on the southern tip of Pangiamotu Island. We plan to spend the weekend there. We’ll take a cab into Neiafu for the swap meet on Saturday.  We’ll also upload some pictures from our week of exploring. Then early next week we’ll continue our exploration of Vava’u and head to the far east side of the archipelago. Stay tuned.

‘Alu a,
Lewis & Alyssa

July 30, 2015

Avalau Island, Vava’u, Tonga

18 44.990 S
174 04.872 W

Anchored off Beautiful Nuku Island, Vava’u, Tonga

Malo e lelei ki he pongipongi ni, [good morning in Tongan]

Monday morning finds us at anchor in the lee of a steep, volcanic, lush, palm-studded high island named Nuku. Ellie is lying peacefully to her anchor in crystal clear turquoise water. I awoke to find Alyssa in the cockpit reading peacefully with a smile across her face. What an absolutely gorgeous spot to anchor [Google: Nuku Island Vava’u – to see a pic]. The trades are blowing hard around the corner but we have less than 5 knots across the bow – the island providing excellent protection. We dropped the hook in 25 feet and are lying in 40. The trades are forecast to remain steady so we stayed here overnight. It was a bit restless though since every sound I heard had me checking our position on the anchor watch – we’re only 75 feet from shore and swinging on 125 feet of chain. Steep drop-offs are typical of anchorages in Vava’u; the landscape is like deep fjords cut between islands. Given the precarious anchorage we will be sailing across the way to Sisla Island for lunch and whale watching and then on to Ovalu Island for an overnight berth off a stretch of fine white sand.

The past week has been spent dealing with our latest breakage, the autopilot. I have to admit that I am growing tired of fixing things after every passage, and the cruising kitty continues to be eroded away quicker than planned. We bought a brand new autopilot from ELYSIUM and I installed it on Saturday. We had to buy the entire system as both our wheel drives are broken beyond repair and the electronic control head was not functioning correctly. It was a long install but we are very happy with the end result. I took great care to do a professional-grade install and am satisfied that the new system should last for many years to come. We started the configuration during our sail yesterday and so far so good. There are a few more calibration steps to do during the next few sails to dial the new pilot in completely. I’m just relieved to have our third crew member back aboard and functioning. It will make transiting through the treacherous reefs of Fiji a much more calculated endeavor.

Neiafu is an interesting place. It’s been inundated with cruisers and as a result the people are more westernized than the rest of the Tonga. I likened the place to La Cruz in Mexico. Many cruisers show up there and don’t leave. There are restaurants, watering holes, laundry, a market and other conveniences to keep cruisers comfortable. So they stay, and tell the same stories to each other over and over. Our friend Ryan Harrison on CARMELO calls them the “tellers.” We like to think we fall more into the “doers” category and as such, after a couple days of visiting with the “tellers”, it was time to go exploring again. If we go back it will be to hit the excellent produce market or to to have our laundry done.

We’re off to go explore Vava’u. We’ll take a bunch of pictures and upload them next time we find internet. Hope all is well with everyone.

‘Alu a, [goodbye]
Lewis & Alyssa

Monday July 27, 2015 [GMT +13]

Nuku Island, Vava’u, Tonga

18 42.921 S
174 02.670 W

Vava’u, Tonga

I need to catch everyone up on the last few days, so allow me to back up.

After that wonderful sail, we made landfall in Vava’u in the early morning. It was raining hard with limited visibility. We had the engine on and were short-tacking into Vava’u. We had to alter course more than a few times for fishing vessels and humpback whales. We sailed into Neiafu harbor, which is a good 1.5 hours inland. We had to anchor on yet another lee shore [why is every official clearance point on a lee shore??]. The officials were friendly and after visiting four offices strewn across town, we officially cleared into the Kingdom of Tonga. After clearing in we caught a mooring (the water off town is over 100 feet deep), and went in for dinner and to send the previous blog.

After catching up on some rest we focused on a replacement for our autopilot. As you remember, the wheel drive broke exiting Samoa. Luckily, friends on ELYSIUM had another wheel unit to sell. After fitting the replacement we figured out it’s the fluxgate compass that is the real culprit (my two drives were also broken beyond repair). We’ll go by their boat tomorrow to see if they have a spare compass to sell us. If you’re keeping count, this will be the third wheel pilot we have replaced since leaving Hawaii. Our primary steerage remains to be the monitor windvane, but it will be nice to get the electronic autopilot functioning again. Stay tuned for the outcome of this witch hunt.

It’s freezing here. Maybe we’ve spent too much time near the equator, but we are both freezing. I’m wearing a sweater and socks as I type these words. That is just ridiculous at only 18 degrees south. There is a strong SE blow coming up from 55S to Tonga and I really hope it’s temporary because the air and water are very cold. 

Here are a few pics of the Mermaid scouring the awesome veggie market and a couple shots off Ellie moored amongst the plethora of international cruising boats. 

Stay tuned for adventures via scooter, swimming with humpbacks, and picturesque Tongan anchorages.



July 23, 2015

Vava’u, Tonga


Coming to You Live From the Aquarium Cafe, Neiafu, Tonga

We’re here. We’re elated to be in Vava’u. We’re freezing and wearing sweaters at 18 degrees south. We’ve cleared in. Ellie is on a mooring. Vava’u is breathtakingly beautiful. We just had fish and chips. We’re both ready to catch up on some sleep and then plan our itinerary for visiting the many dozens of anchorages in Vava’u. Goodnight and Godspeed. L&A

Samoa to Tonga – The Final (Peaceful) Night on Passage

When people dream of sailing the south pacific, this is what they must imagine. Full sail sheeted in tight, driving the yacht hard under a clear and star-studded night. As extraordinarily rare as these conditions are, these are the conditions we are enjoying tonight. We were both trying to remember the last time we had a passage this pleasant and we are both recollecting Mexico, when we sailed from Barra de Navidad to Ixtapa Island. The seas are calm, the wind 14 knots, 40 degrees off the starboard bow, the engine off, and Ellie driving at 6 knots towards Tonga. I have the southern cross off the port bow to steer by and a crescent moon for company. Tonight I feel lucky to be a sailor.

We are less than 60 miles from Vava’u Tonga and plan to enter Neiafu Harbor by noon. Vava’u is a cruising sailor’s paradise, with over 50 anchorages within a day’s sail of the capitol. There is lush green high-island contrasted with reef and palm-studded motus to explore. Every amenity to drain the kitty and the seclusion to recharge the batteries. We have yet to rule out the possibility of never leaving. Perhaps we won’t.

Salud from what seems the most peaceful place on earth tonight,

July 20, 2015

17 45 S
173 28 W
200 T
5.5 KTS

Samoa to Tonga – Day 2 – Glorious Sailing Coinditions

This passage is progressing as the most pleasant we have enjoyed to date. The wind has been light and forward of the beam but just enough to allow the monitor windvane to steer a perfect course. The swells are small and the wind waves less than 2 feet. We are sailing as hard on the wind as we can since it has become more southerly. If the wind stays southerly and doesn’t clock easterly tonight then we may not make Vava’u on this tack. We need about 30 more degrees of east in the wind by tonight or we may have to use the iron genoa (engine) to make Vava’u before the SE blow.

I tried to fix the autopilot yesterday but the damage is irreparable. That is the second wheel pilot we have broken since Hawaii. They are such pieces of plastic crap and do not belong on an ocean-going yacht. I have exhausted my spares inventory and do not have the parts onboard to fix it this time. The  plastic wheel that holds the stainless ball bearings snapped in half – this is the same way our other wheel pilot died. We will most likely be having a new unit sent to Tonga – an expensive proposition, but we are not fans of hand steering and we still have 2,000 miles to cover before we reach Australia.

Today we are making water, filling our tanks and taking much needed showers. We left Pago with only 10 gallons of water in our tanks. We didn’t want to run the watermaker in that dirty bay full of dirt and oil. As a result, the Princess’ shower schedule has been affected and from previous posts we know the dangers of messing with the ability to shower. Rest assured though, we should have full tanks and a happy First Mate by sunset.

Hopefully our next update is from a few miles off Vavau.

Lewis & Alyssa

July 19, 2015

220nm SW of Tutuila, Samoa
100nm NE of Vavau, Tonga

17 06.2 S
173 03.2 W
5.0 KTS
2-3 FT Seas
12 KTS Wind from 135T

Samoa to Tonga – Day 1

We made it out of Pago Pago yesterday as the sun was setting. On our way out of the harbor, the autopilot (that I just rebuilt) decided to lose its mind and was turning the opposite direction to the input from the control unit. We quickly disconnected it from the wheel and hand steered out of the bay into good sized seas. We cleared the green entrance buoy marking the off-lying reef and bashed out to sea. Once a few miles off the island we set the monitor windvane and Ellie caught her groove and started doing what she does best – tear away miles. We have made 100 miles towards Tonga since leaving yesterday evening. A favorable current and 15 knots on the beam are making for a fast and pleasant passage. We are expecting the winds to subside even more by tonight so I’ll need to try and fix the autopilot so we aren’t having to hand steer while motor-sailing. A somewhat difficult task on the first day out when the stomach has yet to acquire sea legs.

We’ll write again tomorrow. Have a great weekend!


July 18, 2015
15 38.9 S
171 49.9 W
6.0 KTS

Adios Samoa! We’re Putting to Sea! Next Stop Tonga!

The transmission only took one and a half (frustrating) days longer than we thought but we finally aligned it perfectly and it’s spinning smoothly as designed. We’ve cleared out and are working hard to pull our anchors and put away the dingy. We plan to leave the bay at 1700 this evening. The conditions are forecast to be excellent with 15 – 20 on the stern quarter tonight and then lightning up over the weekend. We should be sailing into Vava’u, Tonga Monday morning in a light SSE breeze just forward the beam. Tuesday through the rest of the week it is supposed to howl 30 knots so we have to be in before that. We expect to cover the 325 miles in two and a half days. We’ll write en route.

I was able to upload some pictures and two videos so check them out below. Cheers