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Practicing Presence in Tonga

Stop by any of the nightly beach happy hours here in Tonga and you’ll hear the same conversations at each one: “When are you thinking of leaving for N-Zed?” and “Are you heading down to the Ha’apai’s first?” and “Stopping by Minerva?”

With our impending passages to New Zealand only weeks away, this seems to be the only thing on sailors’ minds here and it consumes nearly all of our happy hour talk. All the boats heading to Australia have left already and the ones remaining here are getting ready to head to New Zealand for the summer.

This passage can be knarly if it’s not played right as there are a number of weather challenges to contend with: the South Pacific Convergence Zone bobs around Tonga and Fiji and it’s best to avoid sailing in the convection (i.e. lightening), rain and squalls that live in it. Squash zones (i.e. tightly packed pressure gradients) form regularly between our latitude and NZ and they hold “surprise” strong winds not usually shown on the GRIB files. Finally, fronts bringing 30-40 knots of wind roll across the top of New Zealand from the west every three or four days and you have to time your arrival in Opua just right to avoid getting caught in one of those.

The good news is these fronts are less intense and frequent into November and so we wait out the month of October here in Tonga before we play our weather hand. But at the same time, since there’s nothing to do about it but “wait” it’s the perfect time to pick up an Eckhart Tolle book and practice enjoying the present moment.

We’re still in Tonga, after all, and this place is simply gorgeous. For the past week, we’ve been anchored off Vava’u’s easternmost island of Kenutu. It’s one in a chain of several small, narrow islands that are joined by a coral reef. Between the islands you can see the ocean swell crashing against the reef and even clear over the top of some of the smaller islands when it’s really running. Even though we can hear the thunderous roar of the surf from our cockpit, it’s like a tranquil lake in here as the swell doesn’t make it inside.

From the anchorage, we gaze at a classic palm-treed sandy beach but the ocean is tearing down the islands bit by bit on the rugged windward side. There are caves and blowholes and cliffs that the Kiwi’s insist on setting their climbing gear up on and sending their children on up. (My oldest too scrambled up in record time, in her Crocs and swimsuit no less. I think she’s going to do well in New Zealand). Which also means there have been lots of kids out here and the girls have both enjoying having loads of friend time, which can be very precious out here. Even though the calendar tells me Halloween is coming up, it’s spring here; the air and the water is warming up, we’re swimming and snorkeling every day, soaking up this tropical turquoise water and sun while we can.

Still, each morning we listen to Gulf Harbor Radio on the SSB for the current weather prognosis between us and NZ as well as reports from boats already heading that way. We’ve got a to-do list on a post-it note that we chip away on each day. But for most of the day, we try to forget all that and be present in the moment lazing around in tropical paradise.


  1. Kim says:

    Just found your blog! enjoyed the pictures, my children wonder if we could go there after seeing your pictures…. we have the travel bug too.

  2. While you’re in the moment, reflect on how far you’ve come from the days when no to-do list could ever fit on a Post-It. Michael

    1. Sara says:

      I admit, it’s a post-it note of a large size. But definitely not the notebook that held all my to-dos before we left Olympia and then Mexico!

  3. Stacy says:

    Thinking of you guys tonight – and so happy to see an update! I spent my childhood in the southern hemi.. and LOVED swimming on halloween and christmas etc. Oh how I wish we could transport ourselves and have an evening with you all. Hugs to the girls, cheers to Michael, and hugs to you my friend. Can’t wait to hear about the travels to NZ.

  4. Dani says:

    I have read an Eckhart Tolle book and found it simply amazing. It’s like we know these things all along but forget along the way.

    Sounds like a beautiful place. I hope you soak up the rest of your time there:D.

  5. Victoria says:

    We loved our time at Kenutu. It’s too bad that we didn’t stay in Tonga long enough to enjoy our time in the water. It was still chilly when we were there! I hope you all have a wonderful passage to New Zealand. We’re in Port Vila, also hanging out and waiting for our window to Australia. It’s hard to believe it’ll be the last one for a while.

  6. Livia says:

    I’m happy we got stuck in Raiatea because we also have our minds fixated on the end game (Apataki, haul out, flight) and we were not enjoying where we were as much as we should. We’re doing boat work in Cooks Bay but took some time out to take a walk to the Rotui factory and some cockpit cocktail time.