Saturday 27th ..Great sunny day with light SE winds so may there be more of these!!!..arrived at the island to pick up Marks Zap Cat at 0900 after a two hour voyage..had some challenges getting out of the little house where it had been sitting for 8 years and then cleaning it up, fixing a few things and reassembling for the five hour tow to Blue Base. Passed quite a few whales and had a nice sail with main and genoa set, but NO fish? arriving “home” at 1700 where Richard, Harriet and Aimee were happy to see us and the new boat. There have been whales in the channel every day off Blue Base!!The 15HP engine is running strong, but the prop cavitates a little because the transom is too high, but all OK.
Sunday 28th..Wind back up to 25kts ESE..set up Manta board for towing an observer behind the Zap Cat looking for “things” under water..worked on the Desal..9.5amp electric motor and our 30amp 5.5KVA generator was not running it…manufacturer said not big enough..crazy and I knew that was wrong, as even the high start load is never more than 2.5 times the continuous current..LUCKILY Richard is an electrician so we started checking all the circuits everywhere and cross checking all leads, polarities etc..we blew up one Multi-meter, but in the end after about an hour, discovered the main factory supplied power lead “in” was faulty..240 volt going in, but only 100 volt coming out..weird?? so we hard wired a new lead and she fired up!!..wowowowo!! all happy about that!!..the tide was going out so could only run it for an hour but all good! Uwey set up our hospital and all the medical gear in the “Guest” tent and we all went through procedures. WE have one large and one small bottle of Oxygen only but pleanty of everything else..
Monday 29th..Rainy and overcast 15-20kt E!! 6 hours running the desalinator, plenty of water on the island at last..we need that to start diving as so much gear needs to be washed ..Alex caught 6 good fish today on the back of the island from the beach!! Big dinner tonight, sorted a few little issues with the petrol driven Dive compressor on Base today..was serviced nearly two years ago and not run since . WE have another on ICE and two new spares..Spent the afternoon training the crew how to have fun with the Manta board doing underwater barrel rolls etc…all big smiles after their first experiences!! Looks like we have a resident mother and calf Hump Back hanging around all day again..could be here for a few weeks now..the Calf is TINY!!
Tuesday 30th…15-20kt ESE but mostly sun..spent an hour with Harriet Manta towing over the possible wreck site this morning but no luck..really just a trial run for the future..we have portable GPS Chart Plotters that plot the area covered ..it is quite large and the reality may be a few days or more, just dragging observers “looking” for the wrecks..we know “roughly” where they are. At midday I dropped six divers from “Big Red” our main dive boat into the pass at the NW tip of Nomuka IKI for a fun “drift” Scuba dive…they were all SO HAPPY to finally be getting wet!! and impressed with visibility and coral..all future dives will now be work dives with a task set so now we need a wreck! In Nuku Alofa Joshua had a final meeting with HRH the Crown Prince to brief him on our situation. The District Officer from Nomuka , SAM, was also in attendance at that meeting. I had met him on Nomuka last week and this was the final approvals for our activities here with wrecks. Both Joshua and Sam are on the 6am ferry tomorrow headed for Nomuka where we will meet in the early afternoon. WE hope to brief the Nomuka locals on plans and get their final approvals. It has been a long road.
Wednesday 31st..Forecasting more northerly winds..now 15-25kt ENE overcast and rain..started securing tents again as it blows straight into Base from the North..our Petrol dive compressor has an oil smell..may have been damaged in transit, working to fix it, More Manta tows by Richard, Aimee and Harriet on site..no luck..Joshua not on ferry as now delayed 24 hours, needs to be in Nuku Alofa for Crown Law meeting on Friday. Went over to Nomuka to check for Bread and buy Chicken and Beef..Alex and Ewuy caught 9 good fish on the back of the island off the beach with lures, so big dinner and planning session for REFF CHECK surveys which will provide and indication of the health of the reefs in the area ..sun in and out all day.
Thursday 1st August…Sun Blue sky?? 10-20kt ENE Nice..Aimee went for check dive with Gregory..tried to sort petrol dive compressor but not so good…so will fill off ICE for now…ran desalinator for 7 hours making 700 ltrs of clear water. All happy about that..went to Nomuka for update meeting with District officer SAM, who just returned from Nuku Alofa. Very supportive. Met up with some locals who will help with directions to wreck sites. Met local Police officer Joe to update and he had some questions, but understood we were NOT like the “other” people over the years, who may have been here looking for wrecks and “maybe” stole things. He was happy for us to place a large Banner on the fence of Police station to again explain to locals what we are doing on Nomuka Iki. Also distributed more Tonga Language, Tonga Blue brochures to locals which explain everything about us and what we are trying to do to help . Back to Blue Base and the Team went to Lee side of the Island to practice the “Reef Check” survey system and were happy to listen to Whales songs while snorkeling for the hour or so!. The resident mother and calf are seen every day somewhere around the islands..At times they have come to within 30 mtrs of us while we have been in the boats doing things..
Then things got interesting..Joe the policeman rang and said we had to leave the Nomuka area..as “some” people on the island were not happy. He suggested I ring the Pangi police commissioner…I rang Joshua to sort it and he rang the Governor of Ha’Apai who then rang the Police commissioner to explain we were OK to be there. Joshua rang back to advise all was fine again and carry on. So we will….
Friday 2nd …met up with our friend on Nomuka as planned, to take us to the area of the two wrecks most people on the island are aware of.. Richard and Harriet were set up for diving if needed, but we planned to snorkel the surface only. WE were directed to the area which was the site as explained last year, so no real new information, but it was good to get the confirmation anyway. We headed back to drop our friend off and then it turned into quite a scene..we were followed by a local boat with four men and as they approached they were screaming and yelling in Tongan and waving ropes..we just smiled and waved, then kept heading to the beach…when we arrived Joe was there again and about 10 other men..turns out they were not happy about us being around their wrecks. I explained to Joe about the phone calls last night giving us the all clear… He went on to tell us that we were not wanted on the island…Hmm?? I was confused as to why SAM the district Officer was not there? Joe suggested “some” people did not want us on the wrecks and that we were diving in a “special fisheries zone” and we did not have a permit for that, so if we returned, we would be arrested along with the dive boat…it was not the time for me to suggest otherwise, but I knew we had cleared that issue with the Govt. in Nuku Alofa. Communications are sometimes slow in Tonga and these can be complicated subjects.
WE had previously been advised by the Govt. that the fisheries zone did not legally exist as yet, it had not been legislated in Parliament, so we could not get an “activity permit” for diving in it and beside that, when the Fisheries zone is legislated in Parliament, it will only restrict fishing activities, NOT anything else, so we would NOT need a permit anyway. We were given the all clear by the Tongan Government just weeks ago, to dive anywhere in that proposed future Nomuka fisheries zone. Sam the district officer was at that meeting in Nuku Alofa with the fisheries Dept. so it was strange he was not on the beach, as he could have explained that to Joe..Joe did say, that once we had our permits, then there was nothing the people could do..anyway we did not want to do the wrong thing, nor break any laws and apologized for any misunderstanding. I spoke with the Police commissioner in Pangi on Joe’s phone and he was very polite and said there was still some uncertainties. He asked who gave us permission to be on Nomuka Iki?..I said HRH the Crown Prince, then he asked if we found 10kg of gold would we keep it? I tried to explain our procedures and controls with the Government permits and that we are here working with Govt. and for the people of Tonga and the people of Nomuka, so NO, we do not get to keep it..the Gold ( if there ever is any? And I doubt it?) belongs to the people of Tonga. I also made it clear we were NOT doing anything with wrecks at the moment..just trying to locate them and not touch them till all the paperwork is available. I really feel that there may be an issue of trust here, because so many people in the past have been stealing from the wrecks, and those that have, may now be worried about losing that opportunity once we have surveyed them? Tonga Blue simply wants to make sure that all people benefit. Even after all our outreach efforts to inform people, I can see we still need to do more.
Joe suggested we pack up camp and leave the area…I suggested we would return to Blue Base and await the arrival next week of Joshua, who will advise the full Nomuka committee, Joe seemed OK with that, so we returned to Nomuka Iki .I also made it clear to Joe, that if the majority of the Nomuka People do not want us to help them finally take control of their own wrecks, for the benefit of the people of Nomuka, rather than see some individuals steal from their wrecks and return nothing to the community, then me and the Tonga Blue Team will happily leave and go to work with the other Tongan community groups that are eager for us to help them.
About an hour later I rang Joshua. He already was aware of the beach meeting. The Pangi Police commissioner had rang the Ha’apai governor to let him know. He was worried that a few vocal people may attempt to vandalize our equipment. Turns out that Sam knew nothing of the reception on the beach, as I suspected. There is now a meeting of the “official” Nomuka committee being planned for next week, including the outer island groups who are also represented. To me the people of Nomuka seem so friendly and happy…but maybe not so for a few families? There are about 500 people on the island.
Before we left Nomuka, the previously “screaming” Tongans were giving out cheeky friendly smiles, as were we, cause it was a strange scene that was for sure..they asked if we would take them diving..For now we are setting up 24hr infrared video surveillance on Blue Base..even though it is never left unattended. Strange thing to do on a tropical island, but as expected, the challenges on the surface will always be greater than those underwater..and fortunately Tonga has a good police force, effective laws and efficient legal system and the whales are always out there “Happy” with life!!.