Nine Souls on Board

me and jenna

We made it south, got the Fells, returned to Va’Vau, cooked 2 pigs, saw a king and many breaching whales and then fought off a bug. Just another week or two in paradise.

Sophie is a big boat, with a lot of room for the four of us. But when we add our friends Steve and Elizabeth, plus their children MIchael, Emily and Julia, Sophie suddenly seems … smaller. Our space situation is nothing compared to our friends on Warskovi, with three grown men/pirates/vikings sailing from Sweden on an Albin Vega 27. waskovia

Or my own experience growing up, when my parents would cruise for 3 weeks in Maine and Canada’s Maritime Provinces with their nine children on a Columbia 43 named Aequanimitas. That boat had one head, one stateroom, and 4 bunks plus a dinette in the main salon. So I am not complaining at all about our space situation on Sophie right now. We’re just a little bit more snug. Or in the eyes of fellow cruisers out here, a little less palatial.


The trip south to Tongatapu a week ago Saturday was an uneventful motorsail in no air, and we covered the 160 miles in a single overnight passage.  We anchored off of Big Mama’s on the island of Pangaimotu in the afternoon. Big Mama’s is what everyone back home assumes a South Pacific cruising bar would look like — sand floors, palm frond ceiling, carved wooden bar, and a very relaxed vibe. Some members of Mama’s family were sitting  at a picnic table pulling minnows out of a throw net, all in front of a sand beach with a shipwreck right in front.  It was awesome.

After burgers and a beer, Big Mama had one of her boys take us over to town in her water taxi where her friend Big John would taxi us out to the airport. We greeted the Fells as they climbed off their Air New Zealand flight at 8:00 PM. Big John’s son in law (big) Henry then minivanned us back to the harbor.

I love the atmosphere of third world airports at night, with the open air concourses, crowds of family members waiting for planes, and the smell of wood smoke drifting in from neighboring fields. The Tongatapu airport has a second floor observation deck, and we loudly yelled hello to the Fells as they got off their plane. As a country, Tonga strictly observes the Sabbath, which means stores and vegetable stands are open until late on Saturday night to give everyone the opportunity to properly prepare for their Sunday Tongan feasts. For us this meant a lot of traffic in our ride back with Big Henry to Big Mama’s and then to Big Sophie. But we made it back safely with a slightly tired Fell family along with OUR NEW NESPRESSO MACHINE, a new toilet pump for Leo’s head, and a stack of People magazines. code zero

The trip north back to Va’vau on Sunday and Monday was perfect for a jet-lagged family traveling with 3 small children. There was no air and no swell Sunday night, so we motored the whole time. On Monday, a 10 knot southeasterly picked up and we sailed on a gentle broad reach with our full main and code zero, making Neifau by early afternoon.

s and j

We spent the next day clearing customs, eating pizza at the Aquarium Cafe, and restocking our supply of beer and diesel fuel. Our plan was to spend three weeks with the Fells cruising the Vavau group, which resemble the San Juan Islands except the water is 75 degrees with coral beaches and tropical trees along the shore.

So after our day in Neiafu, we then headed 5 miles south to Port Maurelle where we reunited with the Swedish Navy. The weather was beautiful, so out came the inflatable kayaks, inflatable water toys, paddleboards, snorkel gear, fishing gear, and ice machine as Sophie transitioned into full mothership mode. The kids were having a blast playing with each other while ignoring their parents. Steve and I went fishing in the dinghy every day and hit nothing. Jenna and Elizabeth went paddleboarding. Everyone went to the beach. We took turns wakeboarding using the pirates’ surfboard and Sophie’s dinghy (with the 20 HP Honda outboard).

steve board

One evening as Steve and I returned in the dinghy from another quick (and unsuccessful) trolling trip, we encountered a mother humpback and her calf 300 meters from Sophie. As we stopped to watch and take pictures, the calf decided to practice breaching. We spent the next 30 minutes filming this humpback whale calf splashing around the anchorage, all while it’s mom calmly watched and with Sophie in the background. Steve has informed me that I can contact his agent back in the states if I am interested in using any of his footage in this blog. baby whale

And then came Pigs 11 and 12 (in ’13).

Kidd, one of the Swedes, decided that the best way to celebrate his crewmate Rosalie’s 30th birthday was to host a pig roast on the beach. He ordered a 30 kilo pig from a local farmer, and everyone in the anchorage was extremely psyched at the prospect of a great party. Except for a could of minor problems. They wound up getting two small pigs instead of one big pig, had no place to store them the night before the party, and none of them had ever roasted a pig before.

Well, Jenna and I have held an annual pig roast every year for the last 10 years, and these two little pig gals (pigs affectionately named Caroline and Rosalie after two vegetarians in the anchorage) would make it Pigs 11 and 12 for us. We also had a cooler and ice machine and could store the pigs for the night. Most importantly, I welcomed the opportunity to pass along the thing or two I’ve learned about pig cooking, most of it from my father, to a new generation of sailors. pig sludge

The pig roast got off to a great start. I came into shore around 7:00 am with some cold beer and lawn chairs. Yes, Sophie sails with 4 lawn chairs  — items we had picked up at a cancer charity auction in Seattle.  I had grown to hate them. We hadn’t used them once during 6,000 miles of cruising, and I had to personally move them every time I needed something from our port forward lazarette. But they worked really well during a day-long beach pig roast party, and I can now live with them. Besides, the vikings approved of the lawn chairs, because they had beer holders sewn into an armrest. Apparently no one in Sweden buys lawn chairs without beer holders in them.

Anyway, I arrived to the shore to find the Swedes in full boys-on-beach-with machetes-and-fire mode. They had dug a pit, cut a 15 foot long spit, got a nice fire going, and were making trips into the jungle for wood. I provided some breakfast beer, and we all sat around reveling in our Lord-of-the-Flies morning beer drinking pig roast boyness. It was a beautiful and sunny and HOT day. We made several trips back to boats for supplies and pigs, but we eventually got everything sorted out and pigs onto the fire.

For preparation, we coated the pig cavities with olive oil and spices and covered the outside skin with a sludge of rum, coke, olive oil, soy sauce and spices.   We then wired the pigs to the homemade spit (including a crimped section of stainless steel leader wire in the center) and then covered the pigs in aluminum foil. We drilled holes through the wooden spit for the wire so the pigs wouldn’t slip on the spit as we turned it (a big pig roast killer). There were even a few jokes at Caroline’s and Rosie’s expense during the pig preparation process.  But overall the setup worked really well. The aluminum foil created a seal and no juice dripped into the fire during the entire cooking process. The spit broke once (it was wood) but we quickly wired 2 more spits to the outside of the pig and continued cooking. Overall we cooked the pigs for 10 hours, turning them on the fire every 20-30 minutes.

beach play

Meanwhile, the day got hotter, the breakfast beers and rum/cokes had their affect, and it wound up being a pretty quiet day on the beach. 6 hammocks were slung in the shade, and people took turns napping. To help beat the heat we towed kids, girls, and vikings around the harbor on inner tubes and surfboards while playing on the beach or hanging out in the water.

The only downside of the day is that Hazel picked up a stomach bug, and Jenna spent the day taking care of her on Sophie.  That bug spread to 6 other people on Sophie over the next week, but that is a story for my “Laundering sheets all day, every day in the rain” blog post I will write some day. The good news is that our little girl Hazel rallied late in the afternoon and was in full party mode by the time the feast began in earnest at sunset.

And man did it begin! Crews from 10 cruising boats showed up, each with some potluck food that we set up on a makeshift table created by flipping a surfboard over a couple of log benches. Everyone also seemed to bring a bottle or two of some sort.

Easily our favorite dish was the Spanish Omelette (eggs, cheese and potatoes) that was cooked up by the crew of Bora Bora, a Beneteau that hailed from Barcelona. Later in the evening, after a few bottles, I innocently asked this crew if Barcelona had a football club.  They looked at me as if I was insane, then looked at each other and grinned, and then broke out in a loud and robust Barcelona fight song. Apparently they closed out the party sitting around the fire in the wee hours of the morning singing Barcelona fight songs. I think they are a very good crew.

The pigs came off the fire at 7:45 and were cut open at 8:00. The skin didn’t caramelize the way I really like it to, but the meat was juicy and cooked to perfection. We laid both pigs on the ground next to the surfboard, cut them apart with the only two knives on the island, and watched the crowd devour them in 10 minutes. All of this was done by the light from flashlights and oil lanterns and a big bonfire in the background. The crew of Bora Bora handed me bottles of champagne to swig out of as I cut.


Rosalie had birthday wishes sung to her in 3 or 4 languages, and lots of cake was served.  There was Canadian dance music playing in the background. We are all on a beach. The stars were out. There was fire. It was a moment. We ferried the kids back to Sophie at 11:00. They were incredibly well-behaved during the party.

julia party

There must be something about ferile fire dance parties at night on the beach that make them realize there is no need to act up to get the attention of their parents. Steve and I returned with Sophie’s last bag of ice and were once again attacked by Swedish zombies mumbling “Ice, Ice, Ice”. Eventually everyone made it safely back to their boats, except for the folks who slept on shore in tents and hammocks.

It was a fun party.

We spent last Friday recovering and then on Saturday morning returned to Neiafu for provisioning. There was a big agricultural fair, and the King of Tonga arrived to inspect the exhibits. It surprised us how much the King of Tonga looks like Steven Fell. Perhaps that’s why he’s been treated so well by the locals.


On Sunday we left Neiafu and have spent the last 4 days in the anchorage of Vaka’eitu. The first part of the week was spent in full laundry-in-the-rain-while-kids-get-sick-one-at-a-time-on-a-boat mode. But it has turned sunny and HOT, and all of that is now forgotten. We were able to change the oil, oil filters and fuel filters on our Yanmars, and Johannes used his dive tank to help me change the zincs on our sail drives. We are now back at Neiafu for one last night with the Swedish Navy before they all depart for Fiji. We’ll hang out in Tonga with the Fells in full vacation mode for another couple of weeks.

Have I mentioned lately how blessed we are to be on this voyage?

fell kids

5 thoughts on “Nine Souls on Board

  1. Wonderful, wonderful! And to put it in Seattle perspective, tonight is the last race of this year’s Downtown Sailing Series. We would never begrudge you the great time you’re having, but we do miss Sophie.

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