Sailing to The Kingdom of Tonga

After a few wonderful weeks at Palmerston Island, Beveridge Reef and Niue, we’re sailing 250 miles to the Vava’u island group in Tonga. Right now the wind is blowing gently on our backs at about 15 knots, we have the two headsails raised to catch the breeze that wafts past us, and the boat is rolling gently in the ocean swell.

After a year at sea, you’d think this sail to Tonga would feel like just another part of the journey, another jaunt from A to B. But this time, this passage, is different for three reasons:

1. At roughly 173 degrees of longitude, we’ll cross the International Dateline. Normally this line sits at the Prime Meridian, or 180 degrees of longitude, but Tonga decided to be different. The imaginary line has been dragged east of the island group, meaning that later today it will actually be tomorrow. We’ll move the clock forward by 24 hours, and shed a full day as easily as a snake sheds its skin.

2. We’ll sail over the Tonga Trench, which reaches depths of more than 30,000 feet, about the height of Mt. Everest. The southern islands of Tonga are perched steadily on the cliff sides that hover over this trench, like goats walking on the sheer faces of a mountain.

3. Tonga is the country we’ll live in for the next six to seven months, so in some ways we’re sailing home. We left Seattle on August 22, 2009 and we’ll arrive in Tonga on August 27, 2010. We’ll be living on a mooring ball, near the town of Neiafu, during hurricane season. This is one of the best “hurricane holes” in the South Pacific. When the weather is nice, we’ll have 40 anchorages just a few hours sail from Neiafu, and when the weather isn’t so nice, we’ll be tucked behind a mountain and secured to a mooring in a protected bay. I hear the hurricanes can get pretty bad here, so it doesn’t surprise me that many local residents look to compare home insurance in order to have their home protected as well as any assets inside, in case anything major does happen. During our visit though we needn’t consider this kind of protection, we’re going to need to be more concerned about protecting ourselves as we won’t really have a stable roof over our heads for the next six to seven months!

Before you begin to worry, we’ve thought of all the possible risks and made necessary contingencies for them. Yes, we may be protected from the worst of any storm, but a hurricane is a hurricane and still poses us and our boat danger. We may, therefore, not be able to have ready access to fresh produce and foodstuffs where and when we want them on the island, and we may even exhaust our own supplies – for this very situation, we have decided to stock up on freeze-dried emergency food pouches to keep us going through thick and thin. So worry not, dear reader.

We’re not sure what to expect in Tonga. I’ve heard good and bad things about the islanders and their attitude toward foreigners, but I haven’t heard anything to refute the lush beauty of the islands. We’ve studied the guidebooks and pored over blogs of
previous visitors, but there’s only so much you can read before you just have to experience a place for yourself. In just 24 hours we’ll be “home.” We can’t wait to get there.