Another two weeks!!

Sunday 22nd..overcast 20-25 E..Pangi is all about Ice cream, shopping, slow internet, phone cards and falling off the jagged rocks on the wall (that we moor the stern of ICE to) when getting out of or into the dingy…I did just that and scraped my leg up nicely while loading Bananas!..finally dropped our lines at 0800 headed to Hafeva again to pick up our friends..caught a nice Big Eye Yellow fin Tuna and a Dolphin fish that Woodie battled for about 15 minutes so nice lunch!!..arrived back at Blue Base around 1700hrs after a very rolly trip for the last two hours in 2-3mtr beam seas, very short because of a current..took one or two big rolls, as I did not have the flopper stoppers out, so things went flying…Looks like a bit of a blow coming for next few days?? Jian and Uwey said it had been windy for days.

Monday 23rd..Overcast 20-30kt E-NE rough anchorage…blowing straight into Blue base so not much happening..Team enjoying the other side of the island. Jane and I watching movies and doing paper work while keeping an eye on the anchor, as we are on a lee shore in these conditions, so it will be checks every three hours during the night.

Tuesday 24th..Overcast 15-25kt NE..still a bit rolly, but conditions dropping off occasionally. Blue Base team starting to do small packing jobs and enjoying fresh food. Weather should be OK tomorrow. Still have small jobs to do at shallow site but the focus now is on winding down unless we can get the GPS co-ordinates of another wreck, here but we have been waiting for that from the source for a few weeks now! Plan is to be packed up and gone by end of the month. The crew are doing some Epic snorkeling expeditions while we wait…and have been swimming with leopard sharks.

Wednesday 25th..Sunny 10-20kt E..conditions are moderating at last. I spent the afternoon working on Blue Base while Jian, Gregory and Uwey did a dive on one of the sites, followed by Woodie and Harriet, finishing up that site till next season, all the survey and mapping gear was brought to the surface…even today, Uwey made some interesting discoveries possibly finding the chain plates and rigging as a full set, so he and I will dive that to further investigate tomorrow. This may give a clue as to the size of the ship…we have found nothing to give us a name or age of the ship, which is disappointing. There is a roomer, that some “Palangi’s” may have dived this site two years ago and stole a Bell, which had the name “Black Rock” or something like that on it and probably a date too??..if this is true, it is very disappointing. All the crew are now focused on packing up and allowing a week (before we head to Ha’Anao to start work on the 6th October) to stand by for the right weather to get to TOFUA and climb up to see it’s active Volcano!.( also where Bligh spent three days after being ejected from the Bounty by Fletcher Christian after the mutiny).it is one of the wonders of the world, a truely amazing place, but very tricky to make a landing. It is nearly 40 miles from us here at Blue Base. On most days we see it clearly on the horizon, spewing steam high into the air. We made a visit there last year with Steve Frazer and everyone is now excited about the prospects. Jane and I know how challenging it is, even after you make the landing, as there is no anchorage, no landing beach and then a huge climb into the clouds, but it is definitely worth the effort!

Thursday 26th..Spent the morning working onshore again, sorting and organizing..at lunch Jian mentioned it was her birthday so I gave her a birthday wish.. to go dive the sercret bommie again . They saw plenty. A big friendly turtle accompanied them for most of the dive and took a liking to Harriet who was able to stroke and play with him..the late afternoon went to glass out, then that night it rained and blew as the wind swapped from the NE to SE.

Friday 27th…15-20kts SE overcast. Another day of packing/sorting onshore and working on ICE to prepare for the five new crew moving onboard. Greg has been camping on Blue Base. The plan for now is to vacate the island on Monday afternoon late. WE had finished all work dives and this afternoon the crew were off to dive the Lemon Shark Gulley when I received the phone call I had been awaiting for the past three weeks. GPS co-ordinates of another wreck. Weather was a bit average. The team had already left the beach in Big Red so I called them back to ICE cancelling the shark dive. I grabbed the GPS and we went to that new position instead for a search. We dropped the anchor right on top of it. The visibility was only about 8-10 mtrs because of the current and the waves. We could not see the bottom for manta towing . Uwey and Greg dropped in with instructions not to go below 33mtrs. We could not determine how deep it was but thought about 30 mtrs. They were to do a basic compass grid search on the bottom forward of the anchor, returning to the anchor and Big Red at the end of the dive. Then we would drop Harry and Woodie in to do the same dive behind the anchor. 40 minutes later to my great surprise, they surfaced about 200 mtrs from Big Red. Maybe their compass was not working ..LOL! We went over to pick them up. It was 24 mtrs deep and yes..they got lost. By then it was late in the day and we definitely needed to go over the search plan, so we headed back. WE will make a big effort tomorrow to find this site. Packing is on hold.

Saturday 28th 10-15kts SE Sunny…Had a good search for this “new” wreck lead today. Because we had the “Possible” GPS position, we decided to use a line search..a 75 meter rope with two divers on each end swimming a compass course and two divers in the middle 25mtrs from each end. This gave us a 100 mt. visible area, with all eyes overlapping. Jian, Uwey, Woodie and Harriet did the two dives on the rope! I waited for the pick up. We used the current to assist, the morning dive going one way, the afternoon dive the other way , both starting from the same position, so we covered an area 100mtrs by 750 meters. Average depth was 24mtrs and visibility about 24mtrs, but no ship. This too will now be a job for the Magnetometer next year. Jane cooked hot fruit buns on our return to cheer up the troops! Greg was laying low with a back pain. There is plenty of lifting around this operation. On every dive, all the gear has to be taken out to Big Red on the mooring and then at the end, back up the beach again to fill tanks etc. Tomorrow it is back to packing and the Blue Base team are going to try the swim to Nomuka!!

Sunday 29th..10-15kt SE..Morning started sorting the inflatables and swapping some of our 6 outboard motors around, then cleaning all the slime off the bottom. Harriet and Jian swam the 1 mile across to Nomuka finding a leopard shark on the way, Woodie and Uwey dived on the “Reef Check’ Line for one last video survey, then pulled in the 100 meter datum line. We will survey this same spot each year now to assess the health of the reef. The Blue Base desalinator was run for one last time, transferring water and gear to ICE, the fridge was packed up for storage, and things set up for the transfer to Nomuka tomorrow, but then it started to rain…NOT want we wanted, as we cannot pack wet tents !! so we will consider timelines and weather tomorrow.

Monday 30th..10-15 SE ..overcast ,rain..We cannot pack wet tents and it has been pouring. Continued loading equipment onto ICE including the Base desalinator, dredge, survey gear and dive gear for Hanao in the rain just to keep on top of the work. WE will now transferee the main gear to Nomuka tomorrow. Plenty of muscle aches and pains. The toilet on ICE needs servicing again before the troops move onboard. Jian has booked her flight out now from Pangi on Monday so we will hope to the right weather end of the week for Tofua. Getting off the island is as big a job as getting on.

Tuesday 1st October..10-20kt.SE..On this day in 1888 National Geographic published it’s first issue, it is international vegetarian day and we closed and moved BLUE BASE!! At sunrise there was a little rain but it disappeared to a sunny windy day so it was on..I hit the beach and it took a big effort to get the troops motivated. By 1300hrs we had most of the gear on the beach ready to go! Meta came across from Nomuka with two guys and another boat and we started the ferry runs to the beach on the other side. By 1630hrs we set off on the last boat run. Woodie and Harriet decided to leave their tent up on the island as the toilet on ICE is not working. The Blue base toilet will be the last thing standing!!..WE hired a local truck to transport everything the 500 mtrs to Meta’s house and after four trips it was all on his front yard ready to move into his son’s room, who is now living in the lounge room!!..We left Nomuka for a wet ride back to ICE just before dark and will have to return tomorrow morning to finish packing it away. Big dinner for all on ICE then I dropped woodie and harriet back to the island all to themselves.

Wednesday 2nd ..10-20kt SSE..Big day sorting ICE and last pack up..took about 2 hours to pack all the gear finally into the “room” of the house on Nomuka. Harriet and Woodie pulled down their tent and moved onto ICE, Greg and Jian filled the composting toilet, removed the seat and packed that tent..I serviced the toilet , desalinator and bits on ICE. WE were invited to Meta’s place for a HUGE feast in the evening which was amazing..the trip back to ICE at 2100hrs into the wind was WET!! All looking good for an early start tomorrow .

Thursday 3rd ..10-15kt SE loaded Big Red in the davits, brought the Blue Base Water tank onto ICE and up on the fly-bridge, secured everything. Jian and Greg said goodbye to Nomuka IKI for the last time and we set off to drop off the Zap kat on an island 35 miles away, where Mark keeps it. Conditions were dying all day and by the time we arrived late afternoon wind was around 10 kts. We put the dingy in a house ashore, then I decided we would leave at midnight for Tofua ..it was a big dinner then off to bed early with plenty of anticipation.

Friday 4th..10kt SE. anchor up at AROUND 0010HRS AND WE SET OFF. It is approx 40miles to Tofua. Woodie and Harriet took the first three hour watch, followed by Gregory and Uwey. I was on standby snoozing in the pilot house. Apart from the fact that Greg “forgot” to fill out the log each hour and they did not alter course to the top part of the island (so we had to travel an extra three miles) all went well and we dropped anchor at 0700hrs.There is no real anchorage. You just hook the bottom and ride the swell or waves but we picked the right day! I had the flopper-stoppers out to stop the roll. Quick breakfast then jane and I went ashore to jump from the dingy onto rocks between the swells, as there is no landing site. Greg took the dingy to ICE tied it up then swam back to the rocks. I gave a large bag of food and a big first-aid kit to Mana, one of only 8 people living on the island, who virtually never see resupply ships. We were the first visitors to the island this year! I also paid a $35 donation each ($250) to him for visiting the island. He would be our guide. WE did not need him, as I know the route up from last year, but we were happy to help. I decided to let the crew camp on the volcano as the weather would be good for two days, but amazingly they changed their mind when I radioed them from the island to tell them they had to pay an extra $15 each!

Then started a 60 minute climb 520mtrs straight up. Plenty of pain !!Gregory took off and left the group, even though I asked him not to for safety reasons and group bushwalking etiquette!(all travel at the slowest rate)Once on the ridge we headed for the Volcano and Lake 30 minutes further on, which really is beyond description. You would have to say it is really one of the wonders of the world. Took the group shot then moved into Mars or terrain from another planet, down a 400 meter dry wash away to get into the big crater of the old volcano, which would then give us access to the lake and the vent which was strangely quiet. It was a 45 minute climb down and quite scary for some! Then it was a long walk to the lake over a lava desert. Jane and I stayed for lunch on the volcano ash/lava, under the only tree that was struggling to survive. Felt like we had lunch on the moon..amazing. The others continued on for 15 minutes to the lake for lunch. Harriet and Greg went for a swim and then all shuddered at the thought of the long trip back up and home via the active Volcano vent. It was a hard slog.

WE all got to the edge of the vent..I felt really intimidated. All had various feelings. For me it was as if we were at a “special” place, trespassing and maybe we should not be there..it was somewhere more powerful than being alongside a superior being maybe? , like looking into the bowels of the earth…a cauldron of hell?? even simply scary!!..you lay on your stomach looking into a lava lake, sulphur fumes/smoke around you. Lava is bubbling and boiling, throwing up huge dollops of lava, while all around you is fresh cooled lava bits, sharp , sticking to you. We were there for an intense hour. There was not a huge Steam rush, or rumblings. The giant was asleep ..but believe me, the sense of power was everywhere…I would not be too surprised to see Dinosours??I was glad in a way to be off that vent!!.An hour later and one more scary climb , we were back on the ridge of the old crater ready to head down for ICE a little Blob below.

We arrived back at the landing rocks at 1815hrs and back on ICE after the mandatory scramble/dive into the dingy between swells/surf at 1900hrs, all totally exhausted, shattered to various degrees. We had only walked about 5 miles, but it was tough terrain and plenty of up/down. It had been a long 12 hour day. Only Woodie and Harriet thanked me for bringing them to such an amazing place. Greg just complained that it was too much effort for just one hour on the crater. He wanted to go back tomorrow for more. I explained that it was he who decided not to camp on the volcano, to see the night time display, all for the sake of $15, so he missed his once in a life time chance!! Silly boy, live and learn hey …we leave for Pangi tomorrow.

Saturday 9th..10kt ESE…Lazy start with many sore muscles. The five steps in the salon of ICE became a hard climb!! Most slept for the 8 hour trip back to Pangi..we lost two lures and two nice Dolphin fish, but as we were recovering our Flopper stoppers at 2kts boat speed, a BIG Dolphin Fish hit the lure and we got him onboard for dinner. I fear it may take a few days for all our muscles to recover and the emotions from yesterday are still on a high. On arrival it was straight to the shop to buy 2 ltrs of Ice-cream to go with the fish!!

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