Blue sea, blue sky, blue spirit

August–September 2016

Anchor by number
We said goodbye to David, Hika, their daughter, and their now-operational outboard and motored away from Vaka’eitu through the picturesque mosaic of islands that is Vava’u. The anchorages are known by numbers, rather than their Tongan names, probably to make it less laborious for westerners to make sense of the place, which irritates me. As guests in this nation, the least we can do to use the names given to the islands by the islanders themselves.

We were en route to Kenutu (Anchorage #30), the most easterly island in Vava’u. Near Lisa Beach (Anchorage #10), however, we stumbled on our friends, Mike and Gill aboard s/v Romano. After our many adventures in Rapa Nui, the Gambiers, Raivavae, and Niue, we were keen to spend more time with them and attempted to cajole them into weighing anchor and continuing on to Kenutu with us.

They were hesitant, as s/v Romano, a Najad 441, drafts 6 feet, whereas Red Thread only drafts 5 feet 2 inches. It may not seem like much, but even a few inches can make a world of difference when navigating shallow areas, which would be necessary to reach Kenutu. Few destinations are worth the risk of running aground, especially when cruising in a remote area where support services are limited or nonexistent. We promised to navigate ahead of s/v Romano, sounding out the depths and keeping in contact over VHF to assure their safe passage.

Apparently, they wanted more time with us, too, as they agreed to our proposition.

The bluest of blues
The anchorage at Kenutu is every shade of blue that tantalizes the imaginations of those who dream of the South Pacific. Kenutu is a long, narrow island, just three-quarters of a mile in length (1.2 km), and positioned almost perfectly north to south. With no substantive landmasses to slow the ocean’s flow for thousands of miles, water gushes through narrow channels that separate Kenutu from islands above and below it, sending frothing waves skyward and lathering the lagoon with seafoam.

The never-ending flush of ocean water ensures the anchorage is eternally pristine. The water was so clear that we could see a creature swimming around our anchor chain and were delighted to dip in and discover a rather curious foot-long squid!

Safely anchored, our quartet ventured ashore. The squiggly arms of blue sea stars bejeweled the sand and the warm sea breeze tickled our salty skin. Replete with unusual creatures, Kenutu’s tide pools were among the most interesting I had seen.

We found a tiny box crab, a new species for us, which we almost missed, as it so closely resembled a surf-tattered stone. Hermit crabs with hairy auburn bodies were unusually large and armored with pretty shells. Gill and I were spectators for a duel between two of these crabs. The smaller of the two was the aggressor, ramming its shell against its opponent then trying to wrench its dark, furry body from its shell! The whip-like arms of brittle stars poked from beneath craggy rocks, as if the creatures had been squashed.

Most interesting, was a pale worm-like creature that bore some resemblance to a nudibranch, but it stretched long like a ribbon. Pearl in color, the creature had chia-seed spots and its outer edges rippled ornamentally as it slithered in the shallows. I videoed the creature and cracked open our reef creature identification book the moment we returned to the boat. It was a flatworm, but I could not determine the species.

#Kenutu_Tide pools#Kenutu_Box crab#Kenutu_Brittle seastar#Kenutu_Mysterious flatworm

No one lives on Kenutu, so we wandered about as if the place was our own private paradise. Narrow as the island was, its two sides differed dramatically. We were anchored off a sloping beach on the leeward side of the Kenutu; conversely, the windward side was a craggy cliff face. We discovered a lookout fort built from driftwood and wondered who might have built it. For three days, the four of us explored the island beneath the sun and drank wine and played Mexican Train Dominoes when the moon rose.

#Kenutu_Jess & Neil#Kenutu_Windward cliffs#Kenutu_Lookout#Kenutu_Mike & Gill

Guilt in paradise
I was so taken by the unique shells strewn along Kenutu’s beach that I couldn’t resist selecting a few to add to my collection. I proudly laid my newfound treasures on a towel beneath the dodger in the cockpit. Hours later, I shocked to see that a number were no longer where I had left them. I had a longstanding love affair with hermit crabs and to my best to be diligent in determining which shells are inhabited versus empty, except this time I did not do a very good job. I had essentially kidnapped several poor creatures!. I felt badly and loaded the shells that were clearly tenanted onto the paddleboard and returned them to the beach. I still had a handful of shells and committed to myself to be more conscientious in the future.

Within an hour after dawn broke the following morning, the day was already warm. I climbed into the cockpit, steaming coffee in hand to breath in the beauty of Kenutu for a while before we readied for departure. My eyes grew wide when I saw two shells on the starboard cockpit cushion where no shells had when we retired to bed the night prior. As it turned out, two more of the remaining shells were not empty after all. My stomach twisted in guilt. Both of the little black crabs had crawled from their shells in their desperation to return to the ocean. One was barely clinging to life; the other was dead on the swimstep, just inches from the sea. I gingerly placed the frail, furry body of the surviving crab and the nearest of the two shells into a plastic container of seawater. And then I cried.

Neil teased me, but I could not feel an iota of humor. I felt wretched. Even after the surviving crab began to wiggle a few hours later and eventually tucked into her little home, my guilt remained. I vowed to be less greedy and more wary in my future beachcombing.

And so it was that we set sail from Kenutu.

Kenutu anchorage waypoint: 18°41’.517S  173°55’.427W

Bound for Hunga Lagoon
Romano trailed us out of Kenutu’s lagoon, just as we had entered, and we decided to continue on together. Our next stop was Hunga Lagoon (Anchorage #13), 20 nautical miles west. We poked along within sight of one another for several hours, trying our best to cover the distance under Gypsy, our asymmetrical spinnaker, even as the wind fizzled. The logbook entry documents our speed at a whopping 2.2 knots in 1.9 knots of wind, barely a zephyr. Every little while one or more whale spouts would burst in the distance, breaking the tranquility in the most beautiful of ways.

Eventually, we fired up the engine. Known for its tricky, narrow entrance, we needed to be sure we arrived at Hunga Lagoon with ample daylight to navigate into the channel and in concert with the rising tide. We agreed to go first once again, with s/v Romano following behind. The entrance is so narrow that if you did not know it was there, it would be easy to sail on by, completely missing it. As we approached, I stood watch on the bow, doing my best to scout for shallow areas or submerged rocks that might prove perilous.

Unfortunately, clouds had consumed the sky and the angle of the sun was now closer to the horizon than is ideal for acting as a lookout. My being perched on the bow offered Neil some reassurance, even though all I was really doing was holding my breath, as I could not see a damn thing. With less than a meter below our keel and large boulders to port and starboard (less than a boat length away!), we breathed a sigh of relief when we reached deeper water.

For a number of our cruising friends, Hunga lagoon was a special stop thanks to the opportunity to spend time with a couple of Canadians who have made the island their home. We, however, stayed on the boat for two rainy days and took advantage of unexpected Wi-Fi access. We continued canvassing the Internet for jobs in Australia and New Zealand. Time stops for no one, and we were both feeling the pressure of having no job prospects anywhere in Oceania. I was pleased to discover a Lecturer position in a university psychology department in Melbourne and worked frantically to ready my application to meet their submission deadline. All the while, I felt fraught with self-doubt, an emotion that had ballooned after my first “interview” had not gone as planned and had not abated in the intervening weeks. This was a different kind of blue than we had relished in Kenutu.

What would we do if we could not get jobs on this side of the world?

For whatever unforeseen future laid before us, we could not squander the now. When the rains relented, we weighed anchor and sailed out of Hunga Lagoon ready to make the most of our remaining days in Vava’u.

Hunga Lagoon anchorage waypoints: 18°41’.315S  174°07’.490W & 18°41’.823S  174°07’.649W

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