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Dear friends,

our last report ended like this:
>Now we had space to start our long planned building project with the first step, a bathroom done in ferrocement techniques. Werner made concrete poles which we put upright. Around them came some fencing material on which the cement was plastered. We are still in the process of determining the best method to do this, the bathroom is up by now, but maybe we need to make some adjustments for the next rooms. We'll tell you all about it in our next Christmas letter.<


Pictures of the house

And here we go:

Making the bathroom walls was very hard work and the walls came out fairly thick and coarse.
We had decided to build in concrete, because wood is very expensive and stones are difficult to transport. To make concrete we only have to buy and transport the cement, water and sand we have already here. Concrete will not be destroyed by termites, does not rot and is strong enough to withstand hurricanes and earthquakes.

So Werner had to invent another mode  of making the walls and came up with a clever idea,  which is by now copied by other people here.
He used thick sheets of special plywood and made two forms 122cm x 210 cm  (4 x 7')  with a 3 cm (about 1 ¼ inch) rim around it. The rim had some notches on both sides. On the other side of the plywood he screwed to wooden beams 2''x 4 '' giving it strength and also acting as feet. Two steel tubes were pushed through holes in the beams, sticking out about 40 cm (1' 4 '' ) on each side.
The concrete is poured into the lying form to a height of about 1 ½ cm (1/2 ''), then the reinforced steel mat comes on top, extending out  through the notches on each side for another 10 cm (4''). Then another layer of concrete is poured on top to make a wallplate about 3 cm thick.  For a wall with a window a wooden frame was put into the form, to keep the concrete out of the place for the window. 

First, like with the bathroom, we poured the posts, also in a special form, some reinforced steel bars sticking out at one end and we put in nails, head down, into the  still soft concrete on the topside.
Every two or three days Werner could pour two posts and in the meantime finish work on the bathroom, tiling and painting, putting in the basin and toilet and cutting out holes in the walls, where I put in blue and clear bottles. I also painted the shower to resemble a tropical underwater world where, to the delight of visiting kids, you can even find Nemo.

Then the deep holes for the poles of the house had to be dug out, a hard work and fortunately Andrew, a young man also working for our neighbor, helped sometimes. In these holes the poles were set in concrete with the nails facing the outside and all poles were connected with a concrete rim.
All this labour was done in the summer heat in December and January, but fortunately for the building progress it was very dry.

This unusual dryness had started already in October 2009 and lasted until July 2010 and the garden was suffering a lot. The mandarins, usually ripe in June, were ripe just now in December and finally we could make our mandarin juice syrup.


The building material we bought in Neiafu, about 9 nautical miles (17 km, 11 miles) away . We motored 1 ½ hours into town, ordered the material in the shop, which delivered it in a truck to the wharf, from where we loaded it into or on top of the boat. It was not unusual that we drove home with ten 40kg bags of cement in the boat, 20 wooden beams, some reinforced steel mats and  large sheets of  plywood on top and other shopping as well.

But the craziest of all transports was the day we picked up our new 5000 liter watertank, which we rolled from the truck on to the top of the boat,  transported it over the ocean to our lagoon, where we pushed it into the water and swam it to shore. That thing was huge and bulky, weighing 80 kilos .

Unfortunately we had ongoing problems with our boat and had to do a lot of expensive repairs, not to mention the time we could not use the boat, waiting for parts. Fortunately we could drive to town with our neighbours to go shopping.

Back to the house: On February 5th, we erected the first two walls with the help of two young men.
Each of us four grabbed one of the steel tubes sticking out of the sides of the form and we carried the wall to between two poles, where we put the lower end on the concrete rim, which was covered in fresh concrete and slowly lifted up the walls into a vertical position. The form was then taken off and the walls were secured to the poles with the overlapping reinforced steel mat held by the bent over nails in the poles. Very fast the first and then the second wall were up and the same day the forms were cleaned and two new walls poured.

On February 11. we could put in the next two walls, which nearly ended in a chaos, because a whole group of visiting Tongans all wanted to help where only four people were needed.

In the early morning two days later we could place the next two walls and then we started to clean up the place, because we had received a hurricane warning for Vava'u, Rene was approaching the islands.   
Then it got quite hectic. Neighbour Boris with wife Karyn and three small kids came back after being overseas for a few months and immediately started to make his half-finished house stormproof and to set up secure living quarters for the family.

Boat ramp in calm conditions
Boat after the hurricane

We wanted to pull our motorboat out of the water, which is even in calm conditions hard to do with only us two and Boris couldn't help us. But Andrew was still there and could operate the manual winch, so we were free to push the boat onto the trailer, position it there and also work the safety lines. Before starting we did warn Andrew to be very careful with the winch and never to try to stop it, should it start freewheeling, because we had the boat on the second safety line. Alas, exactly that happened and instinctively Andrew tried to grab the fast moving handle, which hurt his fingers badly.

Of course we took care of the injury first, not knowing if one or more fingers were broken. The upper part of the indexfinger looked like being sheared away and very bloody. Driving to the hospital in Neiafu was clearly not possible with the approaching storm, so we all four did our best to bandage the wound up. Helping either us or Boris's family with storm preparations was certainly not possible any more.

So only Werner and I had to pull the boat further up, put this time everything went wrong. First the strong webbing parted two times, where the eyes are sewn in and the webbing including a big shackle whipped violently round Werner's head and struck his arm hard. The winch was not working well and we just could not hold the boat in the middle of the ramp. The trailer slid sidewise and over the right side of the ramp and trailer and boat tilted precariously to the side. Because the tide was down, the boat was already out of the water, but not high enough to be safe during high water and still could have been badly damaged in the storm. We put stones and strong wooden boards under the wheel and I pulled with all my strength to one side while Werner furiously worked the winch. After many futile attempts and mobilizing all our powers we finally succeeded to pull the boat back on the ramp and up high enough to be secure for now. We both were totally exhausted, Werner had muscle cramps and my blood pressure was way down low, but all that mattered was, that the boat was safe.

The hurricane, or cyclone, as it is called here, came closer on the next day, which was Valentins Sunday. Rene was steadily increasing in strength and was forecasted to pass 90 nm (170km) to the East of us with 90 knots of sustained winds and 130 kn in gusts (170 / 240 km/h), nearly as strong as hurricane Waka in 2001 (German report) .

We pulled the boat up even higher and secured everything, putting valuable things into our proven old stone hut. The sky grew darker and the palm trees started swaying madly in the ever increasing wind. By nightfall the rain had started and the whole night the howling winds and torrents of rain battered hut. Coconuts and big branches crashed loudly onto the tin roof until the early morning light, which outside showed a dark and angry sky and huge grey foam topped waves breaking like thunder on the nearby reef and rolling mightily ashore.

At half past eight the screaming winds suddenly subsided to a mere whisper, but out of experience we knew, that this could not be the end of the storm. It could mean only one thing, the windless eye of the cyclone was much closer than predicted, which was confirmed by the next weather report we received. Rene had become a category 4 hurricane with 940 millibar in the centre, still deepening and getting stronger and was passing us very, very close to the north,
Indeed the wind strengthened again at nine o'clock and soon was back to full hurricane force. This was the first hurricane we experienced on shore, before we always had stayed on board our sailing boat to make sure it did come through the storms without damage. By selling the boat we did not have this responsibility anymore.

We witnessed mostly from a safe place how the palms bent in the wind, the trees being stripped bare of leaves, our banana plantation long ago devastated. Our soursop tree succumbed to the onslaught and fell over, the olive tree barely escaping the same fate, because we could secure it with ropes just in time.

Hour after hour we watched mother nature lashing out with all her strength, too fascinated to be afraid. Just as it went on and on and even the huge tree, which hang precariously over the boat on the ramp, started bending over more and more  with every gust, threatening to topple over the boat, I was concerned and hoped it would be over soon.

Late in the afternoon the wind grew weaker and weaker, but long into the night occasional strong gusts still shook the hut violently.

The next day it was all over and we could take stock. We didn't have any big damages, the soursop tree we could trim and put upright again, held up by several ropes. The banana-trees were all down and wouldn't bear fruit for a long time, the trees were nearly stripped of leaves and everywhere was debris, tree branches , coconuts, palm fronds which had to cleared away. In the whole of the Vava'u islands the crops were destroyed, but otherwise the damages were by far less severe than from hurricane Waka.

The same day we launched the boat again and the next day motored into town with Andrew, His injury still hurt, but the fingers were probably not broken and healed quite well in the time coming. Andrew pencilled for us a wonderful picture of us before he left.


We fetched the water tank and bought more building materials and the building commenced, every second day two more walls being added to the house.

Only two weeks after the hurricane desaster nearly struck again. A force 8.8 earthquake near Santiago de Chile in South America had triggered a huge tsunami that was spreading rapidly across the Pacific, having killed people on shore already. Remembering the terrible consequences of the tsunami last year in September (see:Report 2009-Tsunami), all around the Pacific Ocean islands and countries were on high alert. Around noon time the first signs showed here in the lagoon. The whole reef fell dry several times, the water level in the lagoon was even lower than during the last tsunami, I think our boat even touched the ground for a moment. The kids went out to collect some little fish that had been left stranded while the water receded, then the water came up again to around the normal high water mark. The water movement and the strength of the current was by far not as strong as in the last tsunami., so there was no real danger for us. After about two hours of up and downs the change in the water level was not so dramatic anymore, but distinct water movements could be felt until the evening. Tonga had been far enough away from the source to have sustained no damage this time.

End of March all walls were up and Werner could make the upper concrete bar connecting all walls with the poles. He bent the iron, which stuck out of the top of the poles, to the sides, so everything was securely connected together. He also plastered the outsides of the posts, where the nails held the overlapping steelmats, to produce one uninterrupted wall.

Then he fabricated the woodwork of the roof, the roof sitting on top of the walls on the side of the old hut, lifting up towards the other end at the bathroom to allow windows in the top part for better air movement. Outside he nailed plywood to the uplifted part. On top of the roofing timbers came chicken wire and a special silver foil to keep heat and moisture out. Then over all the roofing iron was nailed into place.

In the rooms we strung several hundred meters of electric cables for 12 V and 240 Volt receptacles, lights, fans, amateur-  and VHF radios, inverters, solarpanels and so on. We put in water pipes for clear water from the tank into Werner's room, which also had to serve as kitchen for the time being, and waste water out to the sewage hole.
Then we could finish the floors with concrete and smoothing the walls inside. The inside of the roof and the raised section we covered with plasterboard.

Kres, a young man from Denmark, visited us middle of May and helped for bed and food for two weeks with the building and garden work. We prepared and planted some vegetable patches.
We painted the walls and ceilings inside the house and tiled the floors. The outside walls were very smooth and only needed little preparation before we painted them also.
Werner fabricated the doors and window frames and a floor to ceiling shelf for the corridor, which also houses the electrical installations, like batteries and inverter. On the ceiling we put some nice timber panels and the louvre windows were installed.

June saw the first friends arriving on their yachts from New Zealand and by the end of the months the first yachts of the Trans-Ocean Cruising Club, of which we are the "Stützpunkt" or port captains in Tonga, arrived. Until middle of November, when the last TO yacht set sail for New Zealand, we had a steady stream of visitors here on our property called Analulu. We spent many nice and interesting hours in the company of sailors from all around the world here and also aboard their boats.

Middle of July we had finished the house to a state we could move in and 19 ½ years after our marriage Werner could carry me across our own doorstep.

Immediately he started to build more furniture and fabricated a large wardrobe, bookshelves with a computer table and drawers according to the drawings I had made. A working table and more drawers are still on the wishlist.

The kitchen furniture from the hut was freshly painted and above Werner's bed he made a nice shelf for his favorite music CD's and DVD's.
 The last big task was making a concrete terrace between bathroom and house which is partly covered by a roof.

A future project will be the extension of the house. The old hut will be demolished and we will build a kitchen and another terrace. Then Werner's room, which houses the kitchen now, can also be used as a guest room.

In the meantime we had a big political change here in Tonga. King Tupou the V. relinquished his powers. On November 25th , Tonga had the first democratic elections and in the 26 seat parliament the commoners now have the majority. This parliament now elects the ministers and the prime minister. The political power of the king and his nobles is history.

As you may have noticed, we didn't venture out more than 20 kilometers from our place this year, we did not sail the oceans, nor explore the world by car or on foot, nevertheless we had a lot of adventures and certainly never a dull moment.

But now the gipsy spirit in us has taken over again and end of January 2011 we'll fly via Nuku'alofa and Auckland to Brisbane/Redcliffe, where we'll visit our dear friend Anita for 10 days. Then, with a one night stop-over in Dubai, it's on to Cape Town in South Africa. There we'll rent a car and drive along the coast and then inland to Brits near Pretoria. We have good old friends there whom we had promised a visit long ago. On March 21th we fly from Johannesburg to Zürich and then go to my parents in Wurmlingen. We'll stay in Germany until August, then with a four day stop-over in Dubai we'll be in Auckland by August 9th  and probably back here by end of August next year.

So stayed tuned for tales Out of Africa next year, same time, same place.

For now we'll celebrate Christmas and New Year and wish you all a


We thank you all for your friendship, your emails, good wishes and all the goodwill we received. We hope to meet you again next year or at least hear from you once in a while.


With our best regards from the South Seas


Elke & Werner  


       and cat Minks   


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