Vava‘u has a small fleet of Moorings boats and it is easy to see why. I thought it the most attractive cruising ground we’d visited since leaving San Blas. There are literally dozens of islands and some 3o decent anchorages in an area about 15 miles square. The chart and GPS aren’t in accord, so that one is apparently often ashore: this adds to the interest of the pilotage. It also adds immensely to my respect for Moorings in allowing their charterers loose in such an area, which also has very few aids to navigation. We spent a wonderful couple of weeks pottering around in this area and the Tongan people, who are so friendly, enhanced our enjoyment. Even the officials were helpful and polite. In the shops and market, everyone was obliging and full of good humour, the market was crowded with beautiful fruit and vegetables and I concluded that in the Pacific, west is best. An added attraction, at this time of the year, was female humpback whales with their babies. They breed in the Tropics and once the young ones are strong enough, head south for the cold, nutrient-rich waters of the Antarctic, where the mothers can feed again. Another Wylo was moored in Neiafu and immediately we became friends. Peter and Sandie had near-resident status: Sandie is working almost full time, on a voluntary basis in the hospital, helping them organize and upgrade their labs. Other friends had congregated here, one of the crossroads of the Pacific. With so many delightful people and so much of interest, it was hard to tear ourselves away.
Already, however, the first cyclone had reared its ugly head near the Solomons, so we left for Ha‘afeva in the Ha‘apai group. Once more, we enjoyed meeting friendly and hospitable people. We left for the island of Oua, but our bright sunny day turned overcast and sullen. I think that both of us were hankering for something other than palm trees, coral and sand; we had friends awaiting us in New Zealand, jobs to do, more voyages to plan. It didn’t take us long to decide that dodging coral in poorly charted waters, with overcast skies and a rising wind seemed a poor alternative to putting out to sea and heading off towards Opua. By sunset, we had cleared the last of the islands and were shaping our course towards one last anchorage – North Minerva Reef. At 23°39'S, 178° 54'W, this is about as far from any decent lump of land as you can reasonably expect to anchor. We had the best sail we’d had for ages and after the usual night hove-to, we got underway again at dawn.