Tag Archives: sailing around the world

6 weeks in Tonga: Part 2 – The Ha’apai group and Tongatapu September-October 2018

Okay okay I’m officially way over a year behind on my posts. Since leaving Tonga to do a travel nursing assignment and then moving to New Zealand to work full time and have the kids in school, I have to be honest, blogging hasn’t been at the top of my to do list.  And to be honest, the ease of using Instagram for posting current photos has taken over my usual blogging effort. That being said, I do understand that not everyone is on Instagram and I usually don’t write as much there either. My apologies.  But I persist none the less, so here it is, over a year later, the second part of our Tonga sailing adventures.  This one isn’t going to be too juicy, as I feel like we really didn’t do that much after leaving the Vava’u Group of Tonga. 

Tonga: Part 2.

Nothing like a little last minute, fly by the seat of your pants plan making… Nursing job in NZ offered, travel assignment in California accepted, confirmation from our friend Nic to fly out and help Christian sail… all to leading us to plan our sailing in Tonga to arrive in Tongatapu by Oct 10th in order for me (Josie) to fly out and Nic to fly in.

#teenytinyoptics

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From the Vava’u group, we headed south to the next group of islands called the Ha’apai Group. This group of islands are less inhabited and more pristine.  Supposedly there are more whales here as well, but while we were there the wind was steadily 20+kts , making the whale watching not so happening. We found ourselves anchored in front of a a cruiser friendly “resort” called “Sea Change Eco Retreat” off of the Uoleva Island.  They have a great beach bar with nice cold drinks, local Tongan beer and good french press coffee.  What more could you ask for on a remote island in Tonga.  Apparently, this was the area where the mutiny on the Bounty started.  We didn’t get any bad vibes from this place, even with that history.  And honestly, I think this Uoleva was one of the highlights of Tonga despite the constant wind and probably the one place we would want to go back to if we sail back there. I think we would have to learn to kite surf to really have a blast there.

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Time was closing in and groups of cruisers started to part ways as each one’s timeline for heading to New Zealand started to differ. We had a few “last” dinners with the last of the cruisers around us ( SV Caramor, Counting Stars, Blue Zulu, Dol Selene), taking turns having each boat over for dinner on our boat or us on theirs.  This starting feeling like the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

img_1830Taj, you have a friend on your shoulder.img_1827Took a sail to town aboard S/V Blue Zulu. Always nice to sail on another boat once in a while. img_1822Kid crew from SV Counting Stars, Blue Zulu and Shawnigan on our visit to town.

IMG_52111864ed0e-3c41-467d-85cd-405e766f9898IMG_3285IMG_3289S/V Counting Stars heading out just after us… also catching the whale sighting.

On our way out of Uoleva to the southern end of the Ha’apai group, we spotted some whales! What a lovely departure gift.  That day we sailed down to Lolofutu where we anchored for a night and met the caretaker aboard the catamaran Wildlife,  a whale watching charter adventure boat .  Not only were they cool, like minded people, but they happen to have kids eager to meet our kids. Always love a new “kid boat”.  They were planning to head to Tongatapu soon as well, so our parting farewell was easy knowing we would meet again soon.

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After a great passage down to Tongatapu, we found anchor room in front of Big Mama’s Yacht Club, a well known facility among the cruisers. It use to be a hopping spot, but after a hurricane a few years back that wiped it out, it hasn’t quite recovered, but its getting there.

We spent a few days wondering around the main part of the city.  A large part of one morning was spent trying to find the immigration/port captain to check out of the country.  We walked and walked which felt great. There were many churches, local schools,  clinics, restaurants. There was little to be desired as far as finding good food in Tongatapu though. We found it safest to stick with our own meals on the boat.  However, there was one pizza place though that was pretty good, thanks to S/V Wildlife crew’s recommendation.  The most important thing though…, we found coffee and wifi. A cruisers dream.

img_1941Tonga probably has as many churches as they have house… well, not really, but there are an aweful lot.  Here’s an old one that was just abandoned and fenced off. So beautiful. Its too bad they dont renovate it and keep it in use or make it into a museum of sorts. img_1942img_1944img_1943img_1893Another church…img_1872img_1886Tongans really hold high value on the deceased… especially the Royal Family. img_1887img_1878Nina getting her hair cut before heading down to New Zealand. img_1904October 9th, 2018: The Family taking me to the airport… a dinghy ride to shore, a taxi to the Nukualofa Airport.  I’ll be away for 3 months, working as a Travel Nurse in California, without seeing them again until I fly to New Zealand with Ellamae in tow. img_1903

img_1819An example of Taj’s homeschooling alphabet art. He attached the dinosaur to the flower.

 

How we make it work… as a long term sailing family.

I know its been a while since we’ve put out an actual sailing post. I think I’m almost a year behind!!!  Our last sailing post was  about Suwarrow.  Hopefully soon, a post about  sailing in Tonga (Sept-Oct, 2018) will explode from my brain and onto the blog.  It will come. For now, however, I do want to share a write up that I did for another blog/podcast.  Sometimes having someone give a prompt helps the writers block and motivation.  It is sailing related, but not limited to any particular location within our sailing journey.  Hope you enjoy.

That’s a great question, HOW DO WE WANT TO LIVE EVERY DAY?! And how do we make that possible?!

HOW DO WE STRATEGIZE? This question was brought up by a dear friend, Whitney Archibald, writer and podcast extraordinaire of  How She Moms  regarding how we strategize with parenting on the boat. (Click the link above to see our response and listen to the podcast with a few on my answers along with a few other Mum inputs). But this question wasn’t just about parenting style, when a fellow boat parent on S/V Mahi approached me with the question of how we manage to do this long term cruising thing from a financial standpoint for the Kids4sail June 2019 Newsletter, I realised that this “parenting strategizing”  extended beyond parenting on a day to day basis. The bigger picture was how do we strategize to live the life we want to offer our kids. How do we go cruising in order to raise our kids the way we would like them to be raised?  For most people, including us, the biggest challenge of cruising was figuring out how we would manage it financially.

 

When we first were thinking about sailing the world with our children, not necessarily around, we were faced with a few big questions. The biggest,  “HOW DO WE MAKE CRUISING WORK LONG TERM?” Many factors play into that, but the primary one people get caught up in when thinking about leaving their “current life” is figuring out how they can afford to do it financially.  There are some blogs that write about cruising budgets, but its hard to grasp the idea that cruising really is affordable when not many people are willing to share their financial information and the people that do might not have the same budget you would have.  Their are a few other topics are worthy of their own post, such as questions centred around education/boat-schooling, and how do you cruise and co-parent, with a blended his, hers, and ours like we have on our boat. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll leave those aspects out of this write-up and stick to finances. 

Along our journey, we have met many others who have shared their very different ways of making cruising work from a financial standpoint.  Like myself, there are a few nurses, but only a few.  There are some teachers, computer tech related fields and other various professions.  Most families out there cruising long term are still working in some way or form. Not many have been able to free themselves from the full work load completely. With an open mind to various possibilities, we, A FAMILY AFLOAT, have found ways to make it work up to this point and plan to continuing doing so.  I could not imagine our life any other way than as a cruising family.

Lets first start by defining what a “cruiser” is. Someone who has left their “home” to sail around afar (this could be in the same country or foreign) for an extended period of time. There are all sorts of different sub-species of cruisers. Those who sail seasonally, meaning they do a few months of sailing away from home, and the other months back at home. There are those who just take a year (or just a season) or two off and squeeze in what they can and then go back to “home”. Those who leave for longer periods, and those who leave with an open ended plan. We left with an open ended plan of “we’ll make it work along the way and keep going as long as it’s working”.  We left San Francisco in August, 2015 and slowly  (over 3.5 years) made our way to New Zealand so far.

When Christian and I got married in 2010, we had already agreed that we would one day go cruising with the kids. Originally we were thinking of leaving around 2019, but in 2014, when we  assessed our lives and our finances, we came to the conclusion that the opportunity to leave would open up for us for mid 2015.  I was the primary income source with my nursing career in San Francisco.  We were very fortunate to have a good steady income while Christian prepped the boat, raised the children and helped with schooling.  He is trained and skilled in carpentry (ground to finish work),  but when we blended our family and had another kid, it made the most sense for him to leave that job to take care of the “boatstead”.  I worked three 12 hour shifts a week and focused any extra money toward the cruising kitty.   We had already been living on our current boat  (S/V Shawnigan) since 2012 and paid it off by 2014, so it was just a matter of  putting enough savings into our “cruising kitty” account for at least one year’s worth of sailing.

Our costs were already relatively low, but there were a few changes we new we had to make in order to save enough in that next year. Six months prior to leaving, we pulled the kids out of private school to acclimate them to home-school life and in turn saved $$$. If you have the means to do this before you leave, we highly recommend it.  4 months prior to leaving, we moved Shawnigan out of the harbor we had been living in for the past 4.5 years and “anchored out” in the free anchorage.  This options isn’t for everybody, but worth it if you can.  Not only did we save quite a bit  of $ by being anchored out, it allowed us to get use to what life was like not being able to just step off onto the dock or dry land whenever one wanted to. It was hard work. I would wake up at 4:45 am, kayak to shore in clothes that could get wet, then ride my bike 13 miles to work to do a 12 hour shift at the hospital. I wouldn’t get home until 9:30pm at the earliest on those days.  But the hard work paid off.  Don’t forget, the extra little things add up. We ate out less and started getting rid of our extra stuff, including cars and bikes. By August, 2015 we had $20,000 in our cruising kitty and the same amount in an “emergency found”.  It allowed us to leave to go cruising with our kids and experience the world!

We kept a budget in mind while out cruising. Its easy to get into “vacation mode” and spend spend spend. Based on experience and hearing about it from others, we knew we wouldn’t be going out to dinner much and spending $ on extra sightseeing activities like some cruisers do.  A sacrifice worth making and was a challenge at time. We seemed to start out great, especially in Mexico. But as we met more people with an extended budget and as we sailed through more expensive countries it proved to be more of a challenge.  There were many times where we opted out of the group dinner out or the group sight seeing tour simply because we couldn’t afford to be spending money like that.  Trips like the Galapagos, I intentionally worked a few extra shifts on the previous travel nurse assignment in order for us to go there and enjoy a few dinners out and a tour or two their.

Assessing funds and making them along the way:  As our first year neared its marker, we knew it was time to refill the kitty.  As a nurse, I’ve always kept it a possibility to pick up travel nursing assignments throughout our sailing journey.  These are usually 13 week contracts that you agree upon with a travel nurse company. We figured hurricane season would be a good time for me to hop off the boat and work back in the U.S.. The family stayed on the boat a bit longer, but also took this time to come back to the States. As life tends to always change, just like the wind and the seas, that work stent ended up being 6 months, 4 of which we were all together in the States. Our boat was safe and secure during that time, in San Carlos, Mexico. The next year, was similar. We cruised for 9 months and then I  returned back up to the States for another Travel Nurse assignment. This one lasted 4 months, in which during that time the family stayed on the boat, explored the Sea of Cortez, and visited the States for 1 month. The next year, we made it 10 1/2 months before returning to work. The Shawnigan crew sailed from Mexico to Panama, to the Galapagos, and crossed the Pacific Ocean, explored French Polynesia, a blip in the Cook Islands, and 6 weeks in Tonga. From Tonga I flew out for my last Travel Nurse assignment… for now.

Upon arriving to Tonga, we assessed our kitty and decided that even though the plan was to work in New Zealand, I should fly back to the States for one more assignment. This was by far the hardest choice to make and to actually do. I would be away from the family to work for 13 weeks, but the payoff was great.  Sometime, mid Tonga, I had a phone interview with the hospital in Wellington. I was offered the job, given the info I needed for a work visa, and given permission to delay my start date until mid January while I waited for my work visa to go through and completed my travel assignment in the U.S.  In the meantime Christian and the kids sailed, with the help of our friend Nick, from Tonga down to New Zealand.  He then took the next few months, sailing solo with the kids,  down to Wellington, where we are all at now…on the boat, in a marina…schooling… working… refilling the kitty…. for the next leg of our sailing journey.

At this point we are uncertain how long we will stay in New Zealand… we just want to keep everyone on their toes.

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Group shot (minus Ellamae, who was already back in the US with her biological father) of the family taking me to airport in Tonga to fly out for a travel nursing assignment in California.

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Fun Facebook Video calls with the kids made it tolerable.

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And a few photos revisited from along the journey.

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Up, up, and away!

After our crossing from Mazatlan to La Paz, our time spent in La Paz was relatively short. It was time to start making our way up, up, and away from the hurricanes before the hurricane season (June – November).  We’d planned on staying there as long as it took for me to do all of the online and other required work for my next travel nursing assignment during the summer. A few days of wifi at the Big Sur coffee shop was all I really needed and a day to re-provision. We got a little waylaid with celebrating Mike’s (SV Easy) Birthday and meeting a new kid boat called SV Secret Water. There were a few other boats we wanted to visit with too (SV Tribe, Waponi Woo, Orion, Bertie, Adventurer, just to name a few).  Oh the sailing social  life and how it ALWAYS makes you change your “plans”.Taj fearlessly jumping off the piling.

“new kids on the dock” Umbrella movement in La Paz.

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By our 5th day in La Paz we felt the itch to continue on, but the pull to stay. I think this will be a common feeling as we continue to sail the world and meet amazing people in amazing places. Alas, we chose to leave with a “see ya later” instead of a “good-bye”.

The first week of making our way north, up the Sea of Cortez was faster than our journey up last season. Now that I had work lined up with pre-work classes and assessments schedule in San Diego for June 23, we had somewhat of a time schedule. Mike on SV Easy continued to buddy boat with us. He had already been up to Puerto Enscondido as well, so he was onboard with shorter stops up to that point. Our stops were indeed brief, depending on the wind and water conditions. If there were anchorages or animals we hadn’t seen, we’d take some time exploring, but otherwise we didn’t lag too much until we got up to Bahia de Conception.

First stop, Isla Espirito Santo/Isla Partida. We sailed all but an hour of our 10 hour day to Bahia Ensenada Grande. We got out the hammock  for a swing and dip in the water while we were becalmed, waiting for wind.

 S/V Easy

The anchorage at Ensenada Grande was spectacular! There we five boats after Easy and Shawnigan had anchored. The Mobula Rays, jumping everywhere, sounded like we were in the midst of a pirate ship battle field. The slaps and splashes from their jumping dance of courtship, feeding, or communication surrounded and echoed off the steep burnt red sandstone and sedimentary cliffs of the anchorage. This was the moment that  we felt the magic of the Sea of Cortez return.

After a relaxing morning aboard, with an abbreviated boat-school day, we took a fieldtrip to hike across the island to the other side. Along the way we explored the many different geological features the island had to offer. Various igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary formations all in one place! It was perfect timing for Ellamae’s science block of her curriculum.

Two nights at Ensenada Grande and we were off to Isla San Francisquito, but first a quick swim with the sea lions at Los Islotes before the wind picked up.

We anchored in the southwest side of the island in 58 feet of water with just enough scope for a few ohour “lunch stop”. SV Easy anchored just behind us. We new our window for swimming would be narrow before the wind picked up, so we made sure to be ready to play and ready to leave. The visibility was not the greatest and the sea lions were not in their most playful state, but we did get to swim and play around with them for a while. The kids had a blast! To watch their excitement and comfortable interaction with the sea lions was priceless. As we predicted, the wind filled in after 1.5 hours of being there. We quickly rowed back to the  boat and sailed off to Isla San Francisco (Francisquito).Screenshot (3)Screenshot (4)Me, Josie, bliss.Screenshot (7)Taj and the 3 Sea Lions.Screenshot (9)Nina looking down at me with camera in hand and the Sea Lion.Screenshot (11)Screenshot (12)Ellamae (9) about 8 feet down, looking for sea lions to swim with, relaxed and in her element.

Isla San Francisco was just as pristine as it was the previous year. The white sandy beach surrounded by crystal clear azure water makes this anchorage most picturesque. We stayed two nights here in order to hike to the top of the hill and to spear fish.  Taj caught some fish himself, just off the boat with a fishing pole. Mostly catch and release puffer fish, but he did manage to catch a trigger fish. Yummy GrouperMike, paddling to shore.Isla San Francisquito

Nina And Ellamae beat us to the top.

  Mike looking ahead at the steep incline toward to top. Christian with Taj on his shoulders not far behind.

From Isla San Francisco we sailed straight to Punta San Telmo (2519.866 N, -11057.684 W) . The anchorage more of your “roadside anchorage”, but it did offer enough protection from the south south westerly winds.  Mike did an awesome job setting his anchor under sail for the first time. This wasn’t the only “first time” among us, we finally busted out the flopper stopper for the first time. We were getting quite of a wrap around swell from the south. Mike already had his flopper stopper out within an hour of anchoring. He was rocking notably much less than we were. I somehow finally convinced Christian to set up the Magma flopper stopper. It came with our boat when we bought it in 2012, but we had never used it. As we sat anchored much more comfortably, we both laughed and agreed that we shouldn’t have waited so long.  We hiked on shore a bit and settled in for a nice evening in an empty anchorage.  Not too long after a lovely sunrise, we set sail for Bahia San Marte. S/V Easy sailing off the hook!

Bahia San Marte was pretty sweet. We sailed off and back on the hook, as did Mike.  The cliffs that surrounded us were majestic. The cliffs looked rock climbable (hint to anyone looking for new amazing places to climb). Mike took his paddle board and we rowed the dinghy over to them to check out a cave that was highly recommended in the Shawn and Heather Sea of Cortez: A Cruiser’s Guidebook.  It was pretty cool. This was just the beginning of Baja’s cave exploring for the crew aboard SV Shawnigan.              Mike making is way back from the very back of the cave.

The next day we sailed off and back on the hook again to Agua Verde. One of our favorite places so far, in large part due to the quaint village where you can restock on some provisions as well as purchase fresh goat milk (seasonal) and goat cheese directly out of the farmer’s house. The local tienda, or little store, offers fresh fruit and veggies and other essentials. They rearranged it since the last time we were there to hold more products. Everyone in the village was very welcoming. Side note, there are petroglyphs in the area that was visited last year, but we didn’t this time around. See our post from last year for details here.  As per usual with our anchorage visits, we swam around to cool down and discover the underwater ecosystem around us. We found a little underwater cave/arch with sea fans and beautiful light. Nina and I dove through first and with time, Ellamae dove through her first underwater tunnel! The same day, Taj dove down to 10 feet! Our kids are turning in to fish!Shopping at the local tienda in Agua Verde.

Hammock life

 

 

Screenshot (16)Taj on his 10 foot dive.Screenshot (19)Relaxing in the cockpit after a swim.Screenshot (18)Taj on his kayak in Agua Verde.

Isla Monserrate was calling our name. We hadn’t been there before, the wind at the time wasn’t unfavorable, so why not? The sail there was great. We were in the swing of anchoring under sail, so we did it whenever we could. Mike was getting in the groove of it as well. We settled into the anchorage in time for lunch. Christian was having a bout of low energy, crummy feeling from his Lyme disease, so I took Ellamae and Taj to shore to explore along with Mike while Nina stayed onboard with Christian.  The wind picked up more than we were hoping for that evening. It was offshore, but it put a damper on exploring the underwater realm.Screenshot (20)Our 2 boats, Easy and Shawnigan, sitting pretty in the deserted anchorage.

Thankfully the next morning, Christian woke up feeling better. We set for a 10 mile sail for Bahia Candeleros. Another great day of sailing off and back on to the hook. We found ourselves anchoring in Candeleros with only a few with other boats, one of which was our friend John on SV Summer. Candeleros is known for its beachfront resort with day passes and wifi access. Word on the street says that they have gotten progressively uptight about letting cruisers come in and use the facilities. We chose to bypass these amenities this year. Truth be told, even if we wanted to partake in the resort luxuries, the wind was howling out of the west and straight into the anchorage. Needless to say, we were not leaving the boat for any reason, except to swim when there was not any wind during the early daytime hours.  In the morning, we did snorkel. The water was quite chilly, about 68F. The visibility was about 20 feet, so not optimal either, but we still enjoyed swimming with a huge group of the fasinating Mobula rays. 2 nights in Candeleros was enough for us this time around. Next stop… Loreto!Overnight anchorages overview map: From top left to right: Ensenada Grande, Isla San Francisco. Bottom row left to right: Punta San Telmo, San Marte, Monserrate (picture above), then Candeleros.

More Photos:Screenshot (13)Ellamae and Taj up close and personal.Screenshot (15)Hawlkfish

 

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