September 5, 2002
Port of Refuge, Neiafu, Vava'u Island Group, Tonga

Cruising Talk
By Lois Joy                  

We are sitting here in the rain, "hunkered down" again on Pacific Bliss, still moored in Port; it has been too wet to go out to the snorkeling anchorages. No matter. She is cozy and dry-no leak problems so far. We did leave our inside cockpit window open last night, and one of our paperbacks took up the drips; it is totally sopped, a dumper. But that's a small thing. We've had about 50% cloudy or rainy weather since mid-July, many times not having a drying spell for many days. The pervasive dampness is thankfully not invading the electronics: the two computers, the digital camera, and the remotes are all in working order. (I backed up my laptop this morning, just in case.) Keeping the mildew under control on such things as pillows, life preservers, foul weather gear, etc., and even on fiberglass surfaces in the heads, has become a daily challenge this season. The locals blame the weather pattern on El Nino. All we know is that this is not the typical South Seas cruising weather that the books rave about! Everyone is talking about the weather, and complaining.

When the weather turns ugly, all the sailors return to Port-appropriately named, in this case, the "Port of Refuge." Bars and cafes line the waterfront here. Most voyagers stop here in Tonga at some point before going on to Fiji and/or New Zealand. The Mermaid, part of the Moorings complex here, offers arriving yachties their first drink free. The cruising talk among new arrivals turns first to the recent passages-what the seas were really like "out there", then to what broke down, and finally, as the tongues are loosened, to a frank assessment of, "Why are we doing this, anyway?"

"I think cruising would be great if it weren't for the sailing and the anchoring," says Ed of Free Radical. Everyone at the bar, an old ship's bow with a carved wooden mermaid at the bowsprit, laughs in agreement.

We had gotten through our rough passages from Bora Bora to Aitutaki and from there to Palmerston by stoically going through the motions of passage making, and just not saying a lot. I wondered how it worked for those families with children on board. Did they discuss or hide their fear?

The grandparents of 7-year-old Oliver and 3-year-old Gillian on CheckMate just keep on sailing around the world, acting as if nothing bad is happening, and perhaps it isn't, from their very tight-lipped, determined British viewpoint. Perhaps this is all just very proper and normal.

But then, there are those American families who let it all out. "After we come in from a bad passage, and they have all been bad lately, my parents and my 16-year-old brother and I sit down on the deck and have coke and a debriefing," said Sarah, 14, from Windarra.

"What did you discuss this time?" I asked.

"We all agreed that we would never go out there again," she replied, screwing her face into a cute frown.

Somehow, Windarra has made it all the way from their former home in Seattle following this democratic procedure. They discussed one of their worst passages. When their vessel was new to them and unproven, and they were taking it home from Long Beach, crucial systems broke down at the worst possible place and time-going against the wind and the waves around California's Point Concepcion.

The rain is pounding on the salon roof; it is beyond raining "cats and dogs"-it is a torrential downpour now. Two yachts familiar to us from the Puddle Jump Net, Aventura and Mobisle, made it into the anchorage last night in the damp near-dark. Now the more yachts from that group are straggling in-their captains and crews too dog tired from the passage to care about venturing out-just thankful for a non-rolly anchorage after facing up to 40-knot winds. Familiar names are calling each other on the VHF: Final Straw, North Road, Silent Runner, Hallelujah, and Little Gem. One thing is certain: after they recover, there will be more cruising talk tonight.

It's like childbirth, says Leslie of North Road: One forgets what it was like after awhile, and then foolishly goes out and does it all again.

These yachties will go out and do it again, I am certain. I do not see any "For Sale" signs around. Tomorrow is always another day.




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