Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Port of Refuge

Island time, they call it.  It meanders.  It ambles.  It passes from morning to night and back to morning again without great urgency.  What doesn’t happen today can happen tomorrow.  And it may. Vava’u is a small island, they tell you.  Slow down. Nothing’s going anywhere.

Main street Neiafu (and below)

VHF channel 26, which we belatedly discover is the party line on which communication between town and anchorage is broadcast, buzzes with plans made and plans un-made.

A trough engulfs Vava'u

 Thick rain hammers down, depositing nearly 170 mm in a 24 hour period, and then some. It slated the thirst of island vege patches and plantations, as well as washing away untethered bailers and dinghy seats, overflowing water tanks and muddying the clear waters around Neiafu.

The small boat harbour in Neiafu - before the rain

 The only boats leaving port are big recreational fishing trawlers, heading back to NZ on the back of the low.  Neiafu harbor, otherwise known as Port of Refuge, holds the rest of the Pacific fleet like a magnet in the uneasy weather conditions which prevail across west Polynesia. 

Cafe Tropicana - one of several Neiafu yachtie hangouts

The main attraction is fast wifi

Still getting weather on the boat via SSB radio

The anchorage is pretty full at Neiafu

We are moving no faster than anyone else.  Alex ‘s back has gone out in sympathy with Marce’s. It happens, sometimes just on the strength of a sneeze. On Sunday, when the island was quiet except for the sound of church bells and congregational harmonies, we wandered further from the boat than we’d managed in the previous six days, Alex wearing his back brace and hiking boots.  From the lookout on Mt Talau,  the topography of Vava’u waterways and anchorages was laid out below us.  Such a compact cruising ground. No wonder the charterers love it. And we will too when we get there.

The view down Neiafu harbour - Port of Refuge - from Mt Talau

Out there is where I want to be

There's a church every 500 m, it seems (Mt Talau radio tower in the background)

Sunday best (and below)

Pork growing for feast days

On the road to Mt Talau (and below)

Because Alex was not mobile, and the rain was torrential, we didn’t make it to the fund-raiser held at Aquarium café on Monday night for Tim, a single-hander friend who lost his boat Liberty Call late last week coming into Vava’u.

Tim left Bora Bora a couple of days before we did, bound for Tonga. He didn’t have a SSB radio on board, so he didn’t check into the net, but we often thought of him en route.  It’s tough enough making these long passages two-up, but how on earth does a single-hander do it?

Turns out sometimes they don’t.

This is the story, as he’s told me and others (notably Tongan officialdom, several times over).  He was doing fine, sleeping in snatches but keeping it all together, until three days out of Vava’u. Then he got sick and stopped eating.  His memory is vague, but it seems that he was on a lee shore (Vava’u’s west coast) when he hove-to, and because he was exhausted, and weak, and had taken a tablet for the nausea – or whatever it was –  he fell asleep. 

What woke him was something all mariners dread – the impact of hull hitting rock. It wasn’t a gentle nudge either. Liberty Call, which is a 32 ‘ fiberglass boat, was hurled onto the limestone by the ocean swell.  The surge pulled her back, and he started the engine, but then a second breaker picked her up and dumped her again onto the rocks. That was the end of her.  Seawater was up to his knees in the cockpit before he could think of launching his liferaft.

He grabbed his In-reach phone and American passport, (“nothing else I could see down below was worth dying for”), put on a yellow life vest and – smart guy - a pair of fins.  Then he abandoned ship and swam for shore. Five minutes later he watched as Liberty Call went down.

Liberty Call (boat on right) in Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva

Trapped by high cliffs, he couldn’t walk out. He waited for morning to come before using his phone to text his girlfriend in California.  He was just about to send an SOS text when a whale-watching boat spotted him, by chance, and brought him into Neiafu.

We saw him later that same evening. He looked 10 years older, drawn and stunned.  He was wearing a borrowed rugby jumper, the wet clothes he’d swum ashore in being all he had to call his own. He’d been well cared for by a kind local volunteer, who’d taken him where he needed to go, and after that scooped up by the good people on Rafiki who’ve given him a berth and as importantly, I reckon, regular doses of Irish humour.

Last I saw him he said he was feeling lucky.

Tim on Nuku Hiva - on a happier occasion (and below)

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