Tonga is part of my life since 1996, my home since 2002 and always took good care of me. Actually, if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be alive and kicking any more. Needless to say that I’ve got a very strong bond with my ship which certainly was one reason for me to choose “Tongabonds” as a name for this website. But it’s not the only one.
Tonga was launched in 1960, Longkeeler, Centrecockpit, Ketch (Wishbone-Rigg in the old days), Composite – Larch planks on Oak frames, Plywood-strips diagonal and Fiberglass on the outside from the beginning, Mercedes OM352 with 120 HP, 22 Tons, 14.52 m (before I re-built the stern section that is) by 3.45 m beam and 2.20 m draft.
We’ve done quite some sailing together and after taking care of me for so many years it’s now time for me to take care of her. What started as a “simple” repair turned into a complete re-build. It’s still a long way to go and as I’m doing that mainly on my own it takes even longer. Plus: I’m not a shipwright nor a naval architect. There is a lot of learning involved, manual skills I never needed and developed in my former life, and a lot of research (e.g. I’ve got 8 books on wooden boatbuilding by now and read them all). I’m super-lucky to have found the Wooden Boat Forum with people from all over the world restoring, building and repairing wooden boats and helping each other (http://forum.woodenboat.com/). And I have friends with whom I can exchange ideas or just ask about a technique or whatever. We will get there, I know. And we will sail the oceans together again to continue our voyage. But it’s not gonna happen tomorrow, nor the day after. 2 more years for sure!
My lovely companion Mr. Max, Mad Max or Max the cat. He turned up here one day in October 2015, maybe half a year old by then. He wouldn’t want to hear that life on a boat will be complicated for him and he couldn’t be convinced to find himself a better home.
On the third day it was raining. Pretty heavy actually. I was on my way up the ladder (Tonga on the Boatyard) and he was sitting on my mizzen-mast wet to the bones. We looked at each other and I thought no, you deserve better! Down the ladder, took him in my arms and carried him upstairs. Needless to say: within less than a minute I had a loudly purring Tiger in miniature-format in my bed, dripping wet of course!
Apart from being great company he turned out to be a pretty clever little lad. No problem with the nearly 4 m long Aluminium-ladder, whenever something escapes my notice he makes sure it doesn’t, whatever is going on outside when I’m asleep he wakes me up to find out if it’s okay, he plays the Building-Inspector with stuff I’m working at, he cheers me up when things go wrong … and yes, sometimes he’s got to remind me that it’s long past bedtime :-D!
He’s now Tonga’s first mate and super-proud when I put him in charge of the ship. In the boatyard that is.
And me? Nothing worthwhile, really! Born in 1962, studied and worked in an office. Got up, separated my husband and left my job and my country in 2002 when 9 of my 35 colleagues died within 1 year of a heart-attack, ages mid-40s, beginning 50s, none overweight or so. Correction: one died of cancer and one shot himself. I had left Tonga behind in Andalucia/Spain at the time. Chucked the only possessions I really wanted to keep in the tiny boot of my car, a ’94 Toyota MR2, and left for good, hoping to be able to recover, heal my wounds and get my strength back. Now I know it must have looked a bit like the girl going out to get a pack of cigarettes and disappears forever. Only that in my case survival-instinct took over, nothing I could do about it.
I’ve got a sister and 3 nephews, both parents in their mid 80s.
And the sailing-bit? The whole lot started on a remote Island in Thailand not far from the border to Vietnam in ’87. I didn’t want to go back but managed to convince myself with the promise of leaving my job early and from then on only go traveling at my own leisure without any time-pressure or commitments, stay when I want to stay and leave when I want to leave. 3 months later I was back in Thailand, this time on the west-coast. Tiny place, one could only get there through the underground-garage of a huge hotel (the King’s Yacht-Club). I had a little hut on stilts on the hillside between Palmtrees, overlooking part of the beach and the reef. The place was kind of a homebase for travelers. They would come from India, leave part of their luggage there and go to Indonesia, come back and head for Papua New Guinea, Tonga, the Philippines or wherever.
Two sailingboats were anchored in the bay, one American who had lost a leg in a Motorbike-accident, the other one British, both singlehanders (for non-sailors: that’s people who sail on their own). Whoa, that is the way to do it! I’ll have my own roof over my head, my bed, a cooker and space for some stuff. I don’t need to carry anything around with me and I even can be close to the sea!!! I instantly started to make a plan, stopped all birthday-presents which would not be eat- or drinkable, got serious about saving money for a ship, and started reading whatever I could get my hands on concerning sailing and living on a boat. Mainly to prepare myself for the skills I might need and understand the difficulties I would have to face. Coz, the beautiful beaches etc. I already knew where to find them :-D!
2 years later my neighbor asked if I would like to join them, he had chartered a boat for 2 weeks in the Baltic. Of course I wanted to! It was my first time on a sailing-boat. She turned out to be a replica of a fishing-boat from Hamburg/Germany, 25 m with bowsprit, gaff-rigged, woodburning-stove for heating etc. (I just checked, she still exists, Maria Af Van Hoff, but I lost all my pictures from before 2006). We would anchor close to small islands and row over to collect firewood, the weather was crap and ugly nearly all the time, my hips and ribs were black from the tiller kicking back, but I absolutely loved it! What, this is sailing? Why has no-one ever told me about it?
Guess you can imagine that from then on ships and sailing kind of took over my life, ending up chartering boats in Turkey and elsewhere, and short after my 34th birthday I bought Tonga. By this time I could have sailed any boat to the end of the world, but I didn’t have a clue about maintenance. It doesn’t work like this, you’ve got to be able to fix whatever comes along – and more. Learning never stops, which is beautiful!
Years later I found out that my Great Great Great Grandfather or so owned a fleet of 5 ships trading with China, has been to Fiji (my mum still has music-instruments and lots of stuff he brought back from his trips) and many other places. He and his ships were lost at sea and from that moment on the sea was off topic in my family. Seems they managed to keep it that way for generations till I came along. Well, never mind. I’m Dody by the way.
One more thing for those who had the patience to get this far down the page: This website is about stories, all of them true. Although the subject is somewhat different it’s still for fun, entertainment, whatever – like in medieval times when the storyteller came along, found a house where people would welcome him, the whole village would come over in the dark and cold winter-evening, a fire burning, and he would start talking. Talking of what happened in other parts of the country, stories of old times and and and. In these days there were no newspapers, no television and no smartphones either. People were just happy to listen. These storytellers had no such thing as a schedule, and the same is true for me. I will only write the moment I enjoy it.
I have no commercial interests whatsoever, so just relax and enjoy to hear (read) of something different from a 24/7 lifestyle. Although I will try, by accident I might use terms unknown to you. In this case please, don’t hesitate to ask, and, even better, to ask in a comment directly next to the article so other readers with the same problem can see the answer straight away. We’ve got to stick together with these things!
Ed · 29/04/2021 at 14:17
I will check out the places you mention and let you know when I may be in Nazare.
I am loving this blog. Saving the on the rocks saga for later.
Edward Hodgson · 28/04/2021 at 14:16
Ha, well done, congratulations to you!
My name is Ed. I hope you are well and dodging Covid happily.
I found your excellent comment on noonsite searching for any info on Nazare.
Having now read your about page, I see there are quit a few similarities in our histories as well.
I was born in 1967 in London. My ‘Maria Af Van Hoff,’ moment was aged 13 on a School sailing camp, a weeklong trip on the Falmouth Packet, 72ft ketch run by the Ocean Youth Association. We sailed from Plymouth to Fowey and out round the Eddystone Light. After A-levels I decided not to go to university but to go to sea to get a ‘captains licence’ (Yachtmaster Offshore 1991) instead of a degree.
These days I have a Bavaria 50 from 2002, that I bought in Rome in 2009. Having based Annette, mostly in Mahon since then she is now sadly neglected in Almerimar marina, Spain.
My crew are four nieces, a nephew, three older sisters and a first mate that I have know since school.
One of my ancestors was killed by pirates in the Straits of Malacca in about 1824. His sister had to take over running the Batavia office for the other brothers by the Thames in London.
Can I please ask,
Do you know if it is possible to get a snug berth for a 15m sloop for a year at the Club Navale, Nazare? Is the harbour really as protected as it looks, when the surfers are breaking records at the other end of the beach?
Thanks in advance. Hope all is well with you and Tonga
Dody · 28/04/2021 at 15:21
this is awsome, happy to hear from you and something of your own story :-D! And you know what? Almerimar was my homebase for 12 years, I left in 2008 but still got friends there.
Concerning Nazaré: don’t you worry, Nazaré is really safe. They were doing a clever job when they built this port beginning of the 80’s and even in the worst conditions you hardly notice anything. For the question about a berth it would be best to contact the Clube Naval da Nazaré (www.cnnazare.pt). In July 2019 they took over the Marina as well and are busy right now with a lot of modifications. I had asked a few weeks back for friends of mine and got told they can’t tell anything right now, once the building-works are completed they would first ask the people on the waiting-list and only then they might accept bookings. Although I’m here for quite a while yet there are still things I haven’t figured out how to deal with best. My idea in this case would be to talk with them and try to get your boat on the waiting-list.
Hope that helps!
Edward Hodgson · 29/04/2021 at 11:34
Thank you, that is lots of help. I didn’t think a berth would be easy to have in Nazare.
I will enquire by email to the Clube Naval today.
Covid permitting I hope to drive Cardiff to Almerimar via Portugal end of June.
It will just be a flyby really to the marinas that look likely possibilities?
Are there any hidden gems you would recommend ?
Some friends of mine have a new job in Lisbon and are moving there in Sept.
So it seemed like a good time to explore Portugal while the Covid and brexit dust settles.
I have been heading to the Greek islands, but that can wait another year.
I am really pleased to have made contact with you and am looking forward to reading more of your blog. The best stories are always from the sea.
Fair winds and thanks again
Dody · 29/04/2021 at 12:06
you’ve got to give us a shout when you’re here, please!
There is lots of wonderful places to explore and discover on this whole coastline. As far as prices are concerned it starts to get acceptable once you’re to the North of Lisbon (unless you want to haul her out on the boatyard, there is a few tiny options south too). As far as long-term-stay in the water is concerned I would try to avoid Leixoes. They seem to have a serious stray-current problem at the moment, I recently heard of several boats who had to replace their props, shafts and whatever. And while Povoa de Varzim is not the place to be in winter (in the water), Vila do Conde has a few pontoons upriver (you can only cross the bar at high-water!!!). Aveiro might be another option, but with your 50-footer you might get into trouble with your mast-height and the power-line going across. I also like Sines, but I don’t like the Marina there and it’s terrible in a southerly. And yes, I absolutely adore being in Nazaré :-D!
Fair winds, Dody