Logbook: Taunga (Vava’u, Tonga)


P1040176 (2)

P1040154We left Mounu for Taunga for a  few days of idyllic bliss on the windward side of the island. Anchored in a gorgeous sand half moon bay. We spent the first day walking around the uninhabited sections of the island.

Soft white sand beaches are going to feature prominently in my memories of Vava’u Tonga.

One day we walked across to the other side of the island and up to the village, for fun, and in search of anyone who might sell us some fruit and vegetables.

P1040177Tip: Our friends who live in Vava’u told us that this time of year is vegetable heavy for the local produce (when most cruisers are here) but in the summer (hurricane season) the local market is fruit heavy.

We found a woman who sold us some tasty veg from her own garden and made friends with the gang of children playing on the reef in front of the village. They saw that we were interested in shells and began running around finding anything shiny (or not) and bringing it to us to view.

We stopped paying obvious attention to anything living when we noticed that the children would variously crush or rip apart any invertebrates we were paying attention to, as children of that age are prone to do.


When the trade winds came up we kited at Taunga, and the windward anchorage became lumpy and uncomfortable. The anchorage is all sand, great holding, and relatively shallow and so it wasn’t a dangerous spot to hang out but it made our “apres kite” less fun. After two nights of that, after the third day of kiting, we moved on to Tapana for a quiet night and a group dinner on our friends huge Oyster 66.

Liquid Motivation: Tongan Beer

P1040289One of the joys of traveling for us is sampling the local beers. We have tried two very tasty beers (made by the same local brewery) with big thanks from two sources.

First, we want to thank Joe and Carla for buying us a fat sack of frosty Outrigger beers. If you look closely you can see that the person on the label is inside a traditional outrigger, fishing with a hand line. Thank you, thank you Joe and Carla. Let’s hope we can share some cold ones with you at some point on the water.

Second, one of the joys of having done the Interview With  A Cruiser Project is that as we have been cruising I have run into a number of my interviewees. Here in Tonga we met up with Kjell and family and he met us with a bag of PoPao (same company as Outrigger). Kjell is an awesome guy and if you are thinking of vacationing in Tonga, you should consider staying at Mystic Sands – a lovely resort owned by a former cruiser who fell in love with Tonga and never left.

Logbook: Avalau and Mounu (Vava’u, Tonga)



On some of our charts Avalau is spelled Ovalau but the map I picked up at the Neiafu tourist office spells it Avalau so I’ll stick with that for now. It is just West of Mounu which was one of the three places that friends had recommended we check out for kiteboarding.

P1040107This was our first disappointment with Sailingbird’s Guide to the Kingdom of Tonga. I won’t go into the gory detail but there are people who are comfortable anchoring overnight in places where they can’t swing 360 (if, for example, a squall changes the wind direction) and there are people who are uncomfortable with that. We are uncomfortable, and as far as we can tell, most of the anchoring directions in Sailingbirds in terms of depth assume you are comfortable pushing that boundary – either that or anchor without much scope I guess. Either way we’ve stopped relying on the book for that and other reasons. Bummer.

The anchorage described in the book was that type of anchorage and soP1040112 (2) we anchored instead just SSW of the island in all sand. It was bumpier there as there was no longer an island to break the fetch.

So, that sounds pretty negative but, in fact, we loved Avalau. Gorgeous deep squishy sand beach, clear water, uninhabited – a great place for a beach fire with friends which is exactly what we did.

The next day we went to Mounu for kiteboarding which we’ve described previously. The moorings at Mounu were pretty bumpy as well in these trade wind conditions and it was with some relief that the wind was dying the following day. We got a third kiting session in before the wind died and then moved to enjoy a few windless days at Taunga (next).


An Outside Perspective


One thing we love about Vava’u is that you are often sailing in the company of other boats. We love seeing other sails poking in and out between islands, and the general camaraderie (and light competition) of other boats out sailing at the same time. We have also been able to kite with a few people and so we’ve had company in two sports where we really enjoy having it.

A side benefit is that we’ve been passed USB sticks from a number of people with pictures of us on the water. I’ve included the boat type and websites of the people who took the photos when I know them.

Courtesy of Ben from Mandala Resort, Fetoko Island:

estrellita 3

Courtesy of Craig on SV Luckness, a Pacific Seacraft 37 – Estrellita sailing in Vava’u:


Courtesy of Liz on SV Cerulean, an Atlantic 57 – Carol kiting at Kenutu:


Courtesy of Leslie on SV True Blue, an Oyster 66 – Livia kiting at Mounu:


Courtesy of Steve on SV True Blue, an Oyster 66 – Estrellita at Ovalau and Carol and Livia at Mounu:


Courtesy of James on SV True Blue, an Oyster 66 – Carol posing and Livia kiting at Kenutu:


Cruiser Eyes



There was a time when I would have looked at this picture and only seen a vision of tropical paradise. It has the key elements, sandy beach, lovely water, palm trees, blue skies.

I still see that, but I catch myself immediately also cataloguing the negatives, from a cruiser perspective:

  • At low tide, that is a rocky landing beach, hard on the dinghy, feet and the outboard propeller.
  • If I’m coming into or leaving the beach at night there are reefs just off the beach to worry about.
  • That beach clearly disappears at high tide so I better not plan my beach fire for then.

Weird huh?

This is filed under cruiser problems a.k.a. high class problems…don’t worry, none of those stopped us from thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

Sailing with the Humpbacks


IMG_7880 (2)

IMG_7882 (2)One of the delights of sailing in Vava’u Tonga this time of year is that we have
seen whales about half of the time we are out sailing. Sometimes far away, sometimes close, sometimes just a few blows on the horizon, once a whale that came nearly alongside, very often breaching, tail flukes arching and fins slapping.

We run around exclaiming, trying not to run into any reefs, fall overboard or jibe/tack while we ogle the whales.
Mostly we just enjoy them with our own eyes, rather than staring at a camera screen, but one time I took a moment to grab the long lens camera and snapped a couple of shots.

We’ve had a lot of whale encounters in Canada, near California and off the tip of the Baja peninsula but never so regularly as we have had here.

The whales have come to Tonga to have babies and make babies at this time of year and so they are everywhere.

Liquid Motivation: More burgers and beer


Burgers in Tonga

I know, it is like we are obsessed right? The moment we get back to “town” we want burgers (or something similarly heavy and meaty) and beer. As you can see by Carol’s three burger coated fingers in this photo, we don’t even slow down for the social niceties ;)

These burgers and beers were wolfed down at the Aquarium Café in Neiafu, Vava’u, Tonga, after two weeks of excessive kiteboarding with great enjoyment courtesy of Karen.

Thank you, thank you Karen!

Video: Cruising Moments of Zen - Part 2


While I was making the first "Cruising Moments of Zen" video I decided I didn't want the video to be too long. I settled on about 5 minutes as a reasonable length and ended up with 10 minutes of video which I tried to distribute intelligently between two movies. I hope you enjoy.

If blogger's embedded player doesn't work, or you prefer different viewing settings, you can go here to watch this video directly on youtube.

The Best Sailing Gloves We’ve Owned Aren’t


Pictured above are three examples of sailing gloves we have thoroughly product tested* on a cruising boat.

Two pairs are a little over a year old and are our second sets of the same brands since we started cruising. One pair is almost 10 years old. All have been used for sailing and also for anything else in our cruising life that we would like gloves for. The oldest pair has been used the most, in the most varied conditions, including years on the rock wall. The only pair that hasn’t disintegrated under hard use is also the cheapest pair. Can you guess which?

Tip: Yep, as the title suggests, our favorite sailing gloves are not sailing gloves; they are Metolius rock climbing belay gloves.

Slightly less sensitive than a sailing glove, our climbing gloves are a gazillion times more durable. You can buy cheaper leather gloves (such as for construction) but these climbing gloves are made from great leather which (important in my mind) form fits to the shape of your hand over time, using high end construction with stitching that doesn’t fail, and made with extra leather right where ropes slide through your hands.

The sailing gloves we’ve owned have some durable leather in the high use areas but also have a lot of soft leather of some wimpy type which rots. There is enough of this soft leather that when it rots there is nothing holding the palm of the glove onto your hand, rendering the glove useless. As far as we can tell, this soft leather rots when subjected to salt water and abrasion…which is exactly what the gloves are supposed to be protecting our hands from.

I understand that as cruisers** we put many more hours on the water than most sailboat owners, that we no longer work for money, and for both reasons we care a lot more about durability and cost than aesthetic and a slight improvement in sensitivity. With that said, we’ve wasted enough money and we won’t be buying sailing gloves for cruising again. 

((Editors Note: See this subsequent post on contacting Gill to get replacement gloves!))

*We paid for all of these over the years out of our own pockets – not that we wouldn’t take freebies, we would be delighted to, but these weren’t.
**Well, there are cruisers and there are cruisers. So, I guess I should say “cruisers who are actively moving their boat around”.

3 Dreamy Kite Spots in Vava’u (Kingdom of Tonga)



In a stroke of luck we arrived in Vava'u with two weeks of on and off good kiting wind so we were able to kite at all three locations.

Background: We kited in August-September 2014 and were using 3mm wetsuits. On grey days when the wind was up we even brought a thermos of hot tea to the beach. Of course, we’ve been living in the tropics for years and are acclimated to more heat than when we left Canada! While we usually use Google’s cache of satellite imagery to pull from for offline use with SAS Planet, but we used SAS to pull from BIng here because the pictures were better and so that is where the following links will take you. All locations are the launch spot not the anchorage.

GOPR6301Sandbar near Kenutu (S18°42'35.04" W173°56'32.36"). This was by far our favorite kite spot in Vava’u for a number of reasons. A small sand island and bar covered at high tide but otherwise usable with a great, relatively obstacle free line in almost any wind directions and plenty of room to get blown downwind for learners. A little choppier near high tide if the winds are honking and if the ocean swell is up it can add a bit to the chop only at high tide. The sand bar is a mile from land and so has unobstructed wind from almost any direction. Plus, the anchorage at nearby Kenutu Island is excellent in strong trade conditions. It can be a little gusty but it stays fairly flat, no fetch can build, and the island has a great beach and a great hike to the ocean side views.

The only downside is that the kite island is about 1nm from the anchorage. Depending on your dinghy/outboard combination this could be a deal breaker. We found it wet but doable and well worth it. One day we saw a resort boat bring a kiter to this island for a downwinder somewhere so that might be an option for fly in visitors.

Taunga sandbar (S18°45'12.89" W174°00'37.19"). Taunga’s sandbar connects to the island south of it. If the wind is too far South there is a wind shadow at the launch spot which you have to fight out of but it is short and then you are in unobstructed wind even in SSE winds. P1040153In ESE conditions the upwind side of the bar is excellent – no shadow, no coral, good wind and a huge section of water to play in. It can be a bit lumpy here but wasn’t as lumpy as what we experienced at Mounu (below). We haven’t kited in solid E or ENE conditions which are what you would need for unobstructed wind on the flat water side. Looking forward to trying that because that side of the bar looks excellent.

The most beautiful anchorage in Taunga is on the windy side which is unfortunate because in non windy conditions it is idyllic. Great sand, great holding and nice depths for anchoring. During strong trades the fetch becomes quite uncomfortable (we can vouch for that) and if we go again for kiting wind we’ll try anchoring on the marked anchorage on the W side of the island.

Mounu Island  (S18°45'07.05" W174°04'06.69"). This is a resort so if you were flying into Tonga this would be an attractive option. It looked fancy, so pocket book dependent. P1040118The daughter of the owners is a kiteboarder but wasn’t at home when we were there. We introduced ourselves to the owners and asked permission to launch from the southwest side of their beach which they granted right away. There is some reef downwind of the launch spot but after that it is obstacle free and a good spot for learners as it starts shallow enough to stand in but eventually becomes deep and clear downwind of the main kite area.

Lots of good reasons to come here and we will probably stop by again if nearby but we found the spot to be quite choppy and the anchorage to also be in the line of the fetch and so can’t say that it is our favorite. The anchorage around the corner at Avalau (sometimes Ovalau depending on the chart) was gorgeous so you could move back around there for the evening and have a small beach fire below the high tide line (so they sea can wash away the traces of it).

We were first tipped off to these three kite spots by SV Starship.  Thanks guys!


Two Navionics Chart Issues We’ve Noticed


First, I want to say that we are viewing Navionics charts on iNavX on our iPad. I don’t know for certain whether the issues are with Navionics charts or with the software we are using to view them.

Problem #1: In some areas that we’ve visited that have not been hydrographically surveyed Navionics has depths marked. This sounds like a great thing, right? I assume (but can’t confirm) that Navionics is using satellite imagery to mark obvious shallow areas in those non-surveyed areas. I love the idea that they are using the satellite imagery to enhance their charts – this is fantastic – but what is odd to me is that in some of those places they have assigned a depth of 5m (16 feet) to all of those shallow spots.

Take this view of SE Tahanea in the Tuamotus – one of our favorite places. You can see that all of the blue dots are marked 16 feet. Having spear fished and snorkeled a number of those blue dots close to the anchorage and having sailed very close to some of the others, I can say with absolute certainty that many of those dots are shallower than 16 feet – in fact, some are at the surface. Why assign an arbitrary and unverified depth and worse, why assign a depth that is a safe depth for most cruising boats to transit over? I hope no one is naïve enough to sail blithely over these 16 foot marks in bad visibility, but still, the charts become actively misleading when they present specific (but inaccurate) depths.


Problem #2: The shallowest depth is not the depth that shows on the chart when zoomed out. The depth when zoomed out is the depth of the outer ring of a shallow spot (the deepest) rather than the inner ring (the shallowest).

Here is an example of three shallow spots from Taravai in Mangareva, Gambiers showing that at a fairly normal level of zoom, they are all marked at 32 feet.


At a closer level of zoom, one shallow is now shown at 19 feet and one now at 16. The third remains at 32 feet.


At an even closer level of zoom, the third shallow reveals a 26 foot depth.


Obviously in this example, we could sail over all three (if we trusted the charted depths) but in others we have found shallower marks hidden.

On a positive, several countries past French Polynesia we are still finding the Navionics charts to be the most accurate. Of course, not always as this screenshot from Tonga shows us sailing right over a reef (track in yellow dashes) which was in fact to port the entire time.

Logbook: First few weeks in Tonga



P1040082We had a wet and wild passage from Niue to Tonga. We knew that the seas would be relatively large when we left (3+m) but descending and we would have solid wind. The sailing was excellent but unfortunately we had showers most of the time which made for a wet cockpit. And let me tell you, after a few years of acclimation to the tropics we find the winter here down at 20S to be chilly!

We made landfall in the Ha’apai group in Tonga – a remote part of the country, relatively undeveloped. We had a fast and painless check in, with all of the normal published fees, and even found a currency exchange in the small village with quite good rates. Almost everyone we have talked to who checked into Vava’u this month was asked for “gifts*” from the officials and we didn’t have any of those shenanigans to deal with.

P1040085Unfortunately we ended up leaving the Ha’apai group after only seeing that first town and one other anchorage. The reason is that you need good weather to navigate visually in that region, into a lot of gorgeous (but tight) spots and we had a solid week of grey and rain, with more crappy weather forecast. We decided that we would make the 60nm sail up to the Vava’u group and at least have restaurants, cruiser company, and internet to go with our rainy week. We definitely feel we have unfinished business in the Ha’apai group because our short time there gave us the impression that we would love it.

P1040098Of course, after having made that decision and having a nice overnight sail to Vava’u our time in Neiafu, Vava’u, Tonga was full of sunshine. Neiafu is quite an interesting place and after some more time there I’ll write about it separately.

After 4 days in the main town, buying produce, filling our dive tanks, using the internet, meeting up with people, eating out, attending some happy hours and socializing with other cruisers, we headed into the outer islands to get a taste of what Vava’u is all about…and to check out 3 kite spots we had been tipped off to.

P1040161So far, the outer islands have been full of really picturesque sand beaches, a lot of uninhabited islands on which to have beach fires, and a few really nice kite spots. We love the fact that the distances are short and so we sail everywhere whether it involves short tacking or not.

It’s also fun to see other boats sailing between islands as well. Somehow, despite the fact that there are a fair amount of cruising boats here, there are so many anchorages that we haven’t felt crowded yet. We don’t have a full sense of the place yet and we haven’t found much underwater beauty (yet) – but of course we’re still in the initial impressions phase of a new landfall.

Weird fact: After over a week here we have seen at least 30 boats underway in between the islands. While more than half of the monohulls have been sailing, not a single catamaran we have seen so far has been sailing**. Isn’t that weird? And they aren’t charters… This hasn’t been our experience with cats normally so it is odd to see here.

*So far we’ve heard of boats being asked for alcohol, WD-40 and cookies among other things. Weird, huh? The boats that declined weren’t given any hassle about it.

**Between the time I wrote this and the time I posted it, I saw several catamarans sailing ;)


Click on the dollar and buy Livia and Carol a cold frosty one:


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