Monday morning we got up early (6 am!) and sailed back to Tapana / Ano Beach (anchorage #11) to do some work diving for Larry & Sheri at the Ark Gallery.  They needed to do some seasonal maintenance and make some modifications to their moorings, and they aren’t divers, so Lauren and I wanted to help out and try work diving.  Larry’s system of moorings uses heavy anchors (up to 150 lbs) and chain, with 4-6 connections per mooring instead of a heavy concrete block and short scope of rope.  Most of the work involved moving anchors, connecting new pieces of chain between anchors and the mooring, and changing out the risers (rope connections with floats between the mooring swivel or ring and the surface).  We had only planned on one day of work, but there was more than enough work for a second day, which worked out with our plans, so we worked Tuesday as well.  Most of the work was in 30-50 feet of water, and we did the deeper stuff on the first day, carefully keeping track of our bottom time and surface intervals with our dive tables.

Overall, it was fun, but pretty exhausting.  Removing and adding the well-greased shackles was generally pretty straightforward, but some of the work (dragging anchors, straightening & moving chain, etc.) involved a little exertion.  Things are definitely lighter underwater, and I think our backs are in better shape than Larry’s, as he had to load and then slowly lower the chains from the work dinghy.  After two weeks of beautiful, sunny weather, we’ve had two days of overcast skies and frequent light rains. Even though we followed all the rules for bottom time and ascending, spending a lot of time underwater for two days left me feeling exhausted and with some minor cold symptoms.  Luckily, it doesn’t seem to be anything that can’t be remedied by a good night’s sleep.

Larry and Sheri turned out to be incredibly nice and very generous hosts.  They are living proof that Americans can in fact have a humble existence without the need for credit cards, automobiles, internet access, etc. after living in their two-room “Ark” on the water for the last 10 years.  In addition to trading some of Sheri’s art for our diving, Sheri fixed incredibly tasty and creative meals for us, and Larry even broke out his cold homemade beer.  Although he insisted it was not as good as usual, we found it to be pretty tasty.  I think the meals, beer, and conversation would have been payment enough.  There was another long-time cruiser there named Brian who has sailed around the world and has his base in Fiji (keeps his boat there most of the time).  They all have years and years of sailing experience, with some great stories about passages and interesting locales that they visited in more primitive times (Ua Pou had no roads when Larry and Sheri were there last).  Their soft-spoken, humble demeanor about some truly impressive sailing resumes was pretty refreshing.  It’s such a stark contrast with some of the types you meet in the waterfront restaurants and bars who are talking up the adventure and bravery involved in their passages.  I think we’re somewhere in the middle – still a little impressed that we’re actually managing to do this while also starting to get used to passage making and beautiful “exotic” locales.

Tuesday night we headed for Port Maurelle (#8), a well-protected little bay where a Spanish captain named Maurelle became the first European to discover and land at Vava’u (Captain Cook stopped farther south in Tonga, but the visiting chief of Vava’u lied and told him there were no anchorages or harbors in Vava’u so he’d best not visit).  The occasion was yet another party in Vava’u, this time a birthday party for Paul on S/V Disa.  Yet again, the good aboard Disa was excellent – potato/onion soup, garlic bread, and fruit salad.  The gathering on the boat was intimate and low-key by recent established standards, and luckily there was an empty settee for me to crash out on while the others socialized. 

The anchorages here in Vava’u have been really nice in terms of how protected they are.  In the high islands of French Polynesia, when the wind was blowing 20 knots, it would mean gusts of 30-40 knots or more coming down off of the mountains.  Here the hills and cliffs actually provide considerable protection from the wind.  The anchorages are so calm that I suspect we’re not going to be feeling too good when we finally leave here and head out into the open ocean with wind forward of the beam.

Our plans are to leave any day now for New Zealand.  Today was supposed to be clear, but it’s still raining, which may delay our departure for one more day.  We’re likely going to sail toward North Minerva Reef, which is a reef in the middle of the ocean very similar to Beveridge Reef.  It’s about 400 miles or 1/3 of the way from here, and if the weather from there to New Zealand isn’t looking good, we can stop, enter the lagoon, and anchor while we’re waiting for a better weather window.

Our preparations for the passage are almost complete.  We still have to check out, provision and stow things, but we’ve cleaned the bottom, changed the oil in both engines, practiced deploying the sea anchor, programmed emergency numbers into the sat phone, filled the fuel tanks, and found several weather sources in addition to the GRIB files to help us with planning.  It’s not easy to get excited about leaving such a relaxed place in the tropics to sail 1200 miles into the higher latitudes, but we have plans for work and flights and it will be nice to have the passage completed and be able to spend several months with only day sailing trips. 

Leo was remarking last night how time seems to stand still here.  Without all of the seasons, holidays, school events, and sports seasons that typically mark the calendar, months go by and it’s hard to fathom that you’ve just spent all winter (as well as much of the spring and fall) in the islands and are now about to sail south for the summer.