(And Big Change of Plans! AND It's Been One Year!!!)

Things are winding down here in Vava’u. The whales have moved south and with them have gone most of the tourists. We, on the other hand, are still here. Plans change often for us, in small ways and large. In fact, it’s abnormal if our plans don’t change at this point. Over the past year there have been times when we’ve had to leave suddenly, pulling anchor in the early hours of the morning and reevaluating our next move only once we’re underway. We’ve made and broken loose plans with several friends, unable to lock down a date or place to have them on board, and as their week of vacation time draws closer and closer and logistics have still not been sorted, those plans fizzle out and we start looking at other options months down the line. We’ve had to skip entire countries, weather or timing not permitting us to follow our original route. It can be pretty annoying and bums us out when it means missed opportunities to see friends and family. But it also means that we may find ourselves in a place we never intended to visit, like Niue, or that we end up staying for a while in one place and really get to know it, like Makemo in the Tuamotus, and now, Vava’u.

In this case, our change of plans has surprised us. We’re so happy we’ve stayed in Tonga rather than hurrying off to pack in a quick couple of weeks in Fiji. It was a bit of a disconcerting start here with constant rain and wind and the ever-present throng of boats packed into Neiafu, Vava’u’s main harbor. But as the weeks went by the weather improved and we began to realize that most of those boats never leave the harbor. Which means we’ve had some incredible anchorages all to ourselves. We’ve also unexpectedly gained a more authentic experience here and, having met lots of different people who call Vava’u home, have had small glimpses of what Tongan life is like from the perspective of locals. We've had pig roasts and Tongan feasts, traded fish for fresh produce in one of the smaller villages, and learned about some of the traditional arts, ways of cooking, native species, and even early navigation tactics. It's not the first time we've felt lucky to have been able to be more than just tourists.

The middle of October is the beginning of the end of the season in Vava’u, and now the whole place has that empty but still animated feel. Things feel calmer. More quiet. Maybe it’s just my Northern hemisphere sensibility kicking in as November arrives, but it feels a bit like it does at home when fall settles in. One season lingers as long as it can until it is fully eclipsed by the overpowering presence of the next.

It’s in this climate that Matt and I have been spending lots of time out on the porch at Mounu Island, where we’ve become good friends with Kirsty, Allan, Lynn, Amber and her three adorable children, Ma'ata, Nati and the rest of the wonderful staff there, and the family pets: Otto the dog, Chicken and Charcoal the cats, and Brad the bat. Guests or no guests, it’s my favorite spot to get off the boat. What I love most is spending the late afternoon sitting around the long wooden table having a coffee or sipping on a beer with whoever’s around. The sound of the waves lapping at the sandy shore, the sight of the boat out on the mooring, the dog at your feet, the baitfish schooling up just offshore… Replace the coconut palms with ash trees and the chirping geckos with mourning doves and I’m back home. It’s the first time on this trip that I’ve missed home not because everything is so foreign but because everything is so strangely familiar.

We’re off in a few hours for the Ha’apai Group, a 70 mile overnight passage, so we won’t be popping into Mounu until next year. Which brings me to our biggest change of plans yet. Next year... We’ve decided not to make Australia our final destination in December. Instead we'll spend cyclone season in New Zealand and circle back East for another lap of the South Pacific next year. There has been so much we’ve had to skip over and we’ve really only scratched the surface with our six month stint sailing between French Polynesia and Tonga. It’s a fitting time to announce this, too, because today marks the one year anniversary of the beginning of the trip. Hard to believe that only one year ago we were sailing out of Narragansett Bay on a calm, crisp morning, full of anticipation and eagerness. Harder still to have imagined that we’d have been to all of the incredible places we’ve been to, met the number of people we’ve met, and discovered things to be marveled at and adventures to be had everywhere we’ve gone. It’s gone by in a flash and we’re thrilled to be able to continue on for another year.

In the meantime, we're celebrating Year One - where else? - at sea. Only a few more passages until we reach Opua, on the northern coast of New Zealand's North Island. Matt's enthusiasm level has dropped slightly in the past week after Australia lost the Rugby World Cup final to the Kiwis... But I'm pretty anxious to get there, where I'll be feasting on blueberries, sweet corn, oysters, cold water fish, good cheese, and crusty bread and washing it all down with (finally!) a nice glass of wine. Yew!