Last two weeks!!!

Wednesday 7thSept. Headed out at about 1am after all the crew had finished last emails. Overcast and light rain so this was going to be 6 hours in the pilot house. Still plenty of whales about..last two hours wind picked up to 30kts plus with a lumpy sea and sometimes visibility down to a mile so all were happy to drop anchor at 1700hrs in quite a sloppy anchorage in front of Blue Base…it was raining but Woodie wanted the fresh veggies so came straight out and took the Blue Base crew too..Forecast is for more of the same tomorrow.

Thursday 8th.. Lazy start with plenty of wind , rain and swell around. Dropped off later in the day unexpectedly so set up a 3mtr x 3mtr grid for photographing the ballast pile and then Jian, Woodie and Ewuy went over to put it in position . Blue Base is enjoying the Fresh food!! Gregory and I went out for some Manta boarding looking for that mysterious third wreck but no luck, then went to the deep site to GPS position the Anchor but could not find the buoy as there was a 1 mtr sea running and strong current, so left it for later.

Friday 9th..W/SW wind and building swell from the south..overcast. The Govt. Ferry finally arrived at Nomuka at 0900hrs…I had been up since 0500 waiting for it to make sure we got our 4 packages of Dredge parts from Mark in Vavau…I left them with him last year. The first four packages off the ferry were for TCC the local phone company…the phones have been down on Nomuka for 6 days now!! So hopefully they will come online again soon…Uwey , Alex and I started making the Dredge . It took a few trips back to ICE to get all the various bits, but by mid afternoon it was done. Then I took off over to the wreck site with Jian and Gregory and John who were going to take all the final shots of the Ballast rocks.. John was driving over and he got us completely airborne at one point , Greg coming down hard on his back which he has broken some years ago!! There was quite a surf and rough sea running and as we were just outside the surf line, we did not want our anchor to cut adrift!, but it just made me imagine the last moments of the ship again..I can now imagine a way it got to where it is on the bottom and that just confirms that bits of the wreck could be quite spread out, even in a few completely different spots , so plenty of work for the future..especially if we can discover how old the ship is, or if we can make some discovery to indicate its significance..hopefully that clue may be buried in the sand!

How long to work this site ( in fact all sites) is a big decision, as everything we do costs money and while the story is worth chasing we all..the Govt. , Locals and Tonga Blue, together, hope it will lead to both the delivery of a piece of Tongan Maritime heritage, a special dive site and also items of significance for a display at the cultural center in Nuku Alofa (boosting tourism and the “Tonga” brand) A possible cargo of some kind that has value would be a bonus. I believe that may happen one day with one of the wrecks, as there are many. If at the end of a few years we document say 15 wrecks (or more?) and I believe we will, it will be big news for Tonga. For the first time, there will be a confirmed catalogue of wreck sites in the Kingdom. Right now it is just a bunch of roomers.

Most Tongans believe we will get tons of GOLD from every site and that is the only reason we are here…we know that is not the case, but all the stories we are told are incredulous to say the least…some have a small amount of fact with huge amounts of exaggeration and colour. We get a new story every few weeks! The latest information we were given was while in Pangi on Tuesday. We were told a group from England were here just a few months ago and they removed 10 Tonnes of gold and that the now non- operating local ferry, Pula-Paki charged $500,000 to carry the gold ashore!!..Hmm!! We have no doubt that over the last 50 years things have been found, lifted and smuggled out of Tonga, but now that everyone is aware of that and communications are a “little” better, it is not that easy to do today, without “people” knowing! Certainly we hope we do make a significant find, as that would be good for everyone! But I treat every day in Tonga as I do every other day in my life…live your dreams and have no regrets…this is a great place in the world to be, the people, the islands, the Blue Lagoons and crystal water. There is a sense of excitement as to what lies ahead every day…sure there are booring moments, frustrating moments, cold , wet dull moments, when maybe it would be better to be somewhere else. Yes, set backs and delays are inevitable, but hey, every adventure has an unknown outcome which is the very attraction and the reason we all signed on, without any guarantees!!, so none of us can really complain…if it was easy, or we knew exactly what was happening tomorrow..then that would be truly mundane! It takes time, but the future looks exciting!

John had to stop diving as soon as he entered the water with a pain behind one eye, so I took his gear and went to help finish the job. Jian has become our main Photographer and is always smiling…We now need good weather to start the dredging for clues!

Saturday 8th..W/SW wind 15/20 building 1.5mtr SDW swell…too rough to work the wreck site, so headed to the harbor in Nomuka with the dredge to start digging the anchor out that they moved there in 1960’s. We need a good look at the head ( now buried) and to measure it up properly…the water pump is very powerful with a 60mtr head of pressure. Uwey and Woodie were operating underwater with Jian taking pictures. Alex and I were in the boat . When we started the pump it was very funny, cause we were both expecting a major blow out…the delivery hose had so much pressure it stretched bar tight and looked as if the end fitting would blow off..which meant the full force of water would bounce off the side of the boat and cause mayhem, so Alex sat with his hand on the kill switch and me on the throttle ( just incase!) laughing and wondering “when” but after about 15 minutes we started to relax!..the dredge worked perfect and the boys had fun playing with their new toy..turned out to be a very spectacular anchor with an Iron stock 2.6mtrs long, so there is no doubt the site we are working on is from a reasonable size ship. The shape looks really old, but that is an objective guess??

We returned to ICE and the smell of Pizzas …AWSOME! It was quite cold…with the weather/swell building we had the rest of the afternoon off. Tomorrow the troops plan to swim the 1.1 miles to Nomuka?? We are also setting plans for our exit from here. Aimie is leaving this Wednesday by ferry, Alex is out a week later on the 18th and Harriet and Woodie are off on the 23rd. The rest are staying till we pack up end of Sept. and hopefully head to the island of Tofua on our way to Ha’Anao for another three wrecks? After Ha ‘ Anao we head to Vavau for a few weeks and then ICE heads for Fiji about mid Nov. Mark hopes to have the fast dive boat completed soon and then we will look at a work plan over the new year.

Sunday 8th..S 15/20 SUN!! BIG SW swell…Blue Base is like a resort today..spectacular..with surf 30 meters off the beach!..People were out exploring, fishing, free diving, and Harriet organized a picnic lunch for all and a volley ball game but after eating no one had the energy for the game!…Jane and I walked around the island..only one word to describe it..”CLASSIC!”..if there were good lines of communication/transport here it is easy to see it as a resort destination, so we are happy to have it to ourselves for now! Saw many small reef sharks and all sorts of fish large and small in the shallows, such a healthy eco system!! And white sand!! Found some copper sheet jambed in rocks in line with where the mysterious wreck on the west of Iki is supposed to be, so maybe it washed in 100’s of years ago? Phones came back on today for the first time in seven days and we heard that the only operational ferry for all of Tonga now is off to pick up the Tongan National sports team at the Pacific Games in Wallis and Fatuna again, so Aimie will have to leave tomorrow midnight when it arrives on its way north. The ferry will not be back again till the 20th…Alex is now trapped too, so we will take him to Pangi on the 18th and he will have to fly back to Nuku Alofa….

Monday 9th..SE 10-20kts,SUN big SW swell…Busy day on the site..Me, Harriet and Woodie did the first dive and then at 11am Gregory, Alex and Uwey went over and did another one…after lunch I went back with Woodie for a third which was the first time we have managed three dives on site in one day…it is 1.5miles each way in the boat…not too far, but it all adds up…getting all the cylinders and gear back up and down the beach also takes time..not quite like a dive holiday boat where you can get five dives in a day…three dive teams in a day is the max …When running the boat, if you have more than four divers with all their gear, plus a driver, you do not go fast, ( you can take max 6 divers)so the trip over and back takes time too…

WE took “the” group photo on BLUE BASE as Aimie leaves tonight. John has also decided to leave and head to New Zealand in a couple of weeks. His sinuses have stopped him diving for now, so some will miss his cooking!…After dinner Aimie came onboard ICE to wait…we think the ferry will arrive about 0230 in the morning, so I told her she has to make sure she sees it coming around the corner of Nomuka iki to wake us up!! Then we all went to bed…except her…LOL..I got up at 0200 to wait with her…Joshua had rung and advised our fuel may have been offloaded as the ferry was packed and had turned away people on the dock and some freight! arrived at 0245 so he we headed over in Big Red to meet it. This is the first resupply ferry to visit Nomuka in about three weeks and there will be no other for another two weeks…so it was FULL…when we pulled alongside in the dark, the first thing they said was NO MORE ROOM, no passengers, sorry!!…we had to convince them it was a confirmed ticket…they let Aimie on..WOW!!..then after waiting off for about 90 minutes while they moved all the cargo and people by small boat ashore…we asked about our drum of fuel we desperately needed which Joshua had loaded in Nuku Alofa the day before…they check and NO FUEL…AGGH!!/..we pulled away headed for ICE, then unexpectedly they called us back just in time…there was some confusion, but eventually we got it!!…arrived back at ICE at 0530.

Tuesday 10th ..SE 10-15..overcast..NO SWELL! 0800 start taking the drum of fuel ashore to decant into our fuel containers, then Alex and Uwey took off at 0930 for the early morning dive after Alex tried to catch some Calamari for breakfast! Just after 1115hrs Woodie and I set off for a session on site which was very interesting. After lunch Greg and I headed out for another session and as we came out, Jian and Uwey had arrived in the Zap Cat then, dropped in to work, so we actually managed four dive sessions in one day!! Amazing..Fresh Banana cake waiting on our return!!..Movie night !!

Wednesday 11th SE 20-25 gusting higher!!, Overcast..this morning we headed out at 0945 with Jian, Uwey, Greg Alex and me all our gear in Big Red and a very wet sea…WE split the dive work into two sessions and then the trip home was simply totally funny…there was a 1 mtrs head sea with wind against tide so very close and steap, 25/30 knots of wind on the beam and sometimes more water in the boat than out…we had to wear goggles to see and those in the front actually used snorkels to breath…very funny look!!..we cancelled diving for the rest of the day. Alex went fishing and the others relaxed, or caught up on paper work! Virtually every day this week we have come across whales heading over to the dive one calf was breaching multiple times right next to us and the mother and Auntie headed straight over to the boat when we stopped..still plenty around! John Tried to dive again today, but still has pains in the head? Following her underwater experience doing some archeological drawings of the winch, Harriet cannot now stop drawing and has pages of fish, island scenes and more , the fruits of her new passion!!

Thursday 12th E/SE 20-25..I start every day at 0600 listening to the BBC world news, then the local weather forecast at 0615..Today we had to set up some special gear in Big Red, so I was on the beach with Alex sorting that at 0800..then at 0915 Woodie, Uwey, Harriet and Jian set off in that boat and Jane , Alex and I set of in the Zap cat. Half way across to the dive site our engine died! so Big Red returned to tow us to the site…there was quite a surf running, but all four divers took off from Big Red…we waited to assist topside..It was a satisfying operation and we returned to Blue Base all happy with the mornings efforts . Wind picked up again in the afternoon so it was more R&R..very frustrating but the sun was out.

Friday 13th. E10-20kts sunny!…just realized it is BLACK FRIDAY!..maybe that is why we have burst a fresh water hose somewhere on ICE which keeps filling the bilge..another job..I fixed the engine on the Zap Cat this morning early. All dives today 4 x teams of two , (Alex and John, Gregory and Jian, Uwey and Alex, Me and Jane)dredging in 15mtrs went well ,though we are still learning about the best way to use the dredge which can be challenging at times. We are using a three meter x three meter frame with 1mtr squares making a grid to control the search, with everything logged back to datum points. Nothing of significance found as yet…John is up on the fly-bridge now smoking a very expensive cigar and sipping on his $600 bottle of rum to celebrate getting back in the water…when he is thirsty, he drinks from a $25 bottle of rum! We are having a big feast on Sunday /..bit of a party as Alex is leaving so I just bought a live pig from Nomuka..pick it up tomorrow. We have been talking about a Pig roast since we arrived on the island .John has always wanted to do the Island feast thing, so he will be busy killing and preparing him then roasting him on an open fire turning by hand for two hours!! Sunday..Harriet will not be happy as she and Woodie are vegetarians!! All the action will take place on the other side of the island and then the pig on a stick will be brought to the fire on Base.

Saturday 14th E10-15kts clear sky..Brilliant sunrise ..Harriet and Woodie sam over to Ice early to let us know they were not so happy about the idea of us bringing a PIG to the island and killing it, as Harriet is a committed life long vegetarian..she was pretty upset..I explained we all have different opinions on politics, religion, food , alcohol and cigarettes, that tolerance of others attitudes is important, and that my personal opinion is, that any person who eats meat should be prepared to kill clean and cook a live animal, or they are hypocritical….meat does not come from supermarkets in plastic…so this was also something new for Uwey, Jian and Gregory, who have never killed anything, then eaten it. I have been hunting killing animals for food on and off all my life…I explained it wil all happen away from Ble Base and “our Beach” so she will hear and see nothing. Went over to Nomuka to meet up with Meta and Joshua’s sister to pick up a guide, who has seen the wreck west of Nomuka IKI while diving for Sea Cucumber in the past week…we had been looking for that, but no luck to date…He led us to the spot and WOW!..we have a new wreck, with plenty of exposed metal and bronze, but it will have it’s challenges to work it. Our search had taken us to within 25mtrs of the spot!!..AGGH!..We know a bit about this wreck which was believed to have gone up in the Mid 1800’s.and sat on top of a reef for some time before it was smashed by heavy seas. We know nothing of what happened to the people? A bell from this ship, before it was wrecked, is in the local school (see blogs for August 2012, picture earlier this year?)…there is pleanty of investigation to be done here now. John < Jian and Gregory went over to pick up the PIG! And bring him back to Nomuka Iki ready for tomorrow morning…he will be killed early then prepared for cooking around 11am. This afternoon I took Hariet and Woodie , Alex and Uwey out to the deep wreck site we are still looking for..there were some formations we wanted to investigate, so they took off in two different directions for the search…nothing found! When Alex rolled in off Big Red( Now Anchored) for the dive, he was surprised to find a whale swimming past under the boat. I am convinced they are coming over to check us out..this whale was never on the surface at any time..we did not know he was under the boat and even after Alex saw him the whale never surfaced!..he just came by to see what we were up to. Late in the day Greg was just out swimming off the beach solo, minding his own business,..and yes another two big whales came over to him…we just sat watching the action from the beach…amazing! Wind went calm as the sun set to a classic clear sky and smooth sea with whales on the horizon blowing…Place to be! #0 minutes after dark, Woodie, harriet, Alex, Jian and John went for a Night dive on our “Reef Check” survey line in front of Blue Base .

Sunday 15th..5-10kts blue everything!!..Harriet, Woodie, Alex, Jian and Huey went for a fun deep dive out on our secret bommie. John prepared the Pig with Greg, Jane cooked a veggie lasagna and a meat Lasagna, a big potato salad and an Apple pie while I worked onshore on a “special” project. I picked up our Guests( Joshua’s sister , husband and son) from Nomuka at 1300hrs and we had a fun feast..Jian made a big salad, flat bread and the spit roast pig was UNREAL…he had been fed only on coconuts and bananas for his whole life…you have no idea!! Meta told us that a new pile of Ballast rocks had been seen from the wreck we visited yesterday. We found out the Ferry is coming early on Tue morning now, so we may now try to get Alex onboard that back to Nuku’Alofa so we do not have to go to Pangi for a few days..( fresh food is getting low but this is island!! can always live on rice, potatoes, onions and chocolate cake or tinned fruit!! The weather is good for now, so I am keen to keep everyone working…rather than leave for Pangi if we can. Just after sunset John who was ashore cooking, called us on the radio advising he had burnt the soles of his feet badly on the open fire..stepping on hot coals..I picked him up at the beach to return him to ICE in a bit of pain..he had two cans of cold beer on them! He has a couple of blisters on two toes and on the sole of one foot..just wanted drugs!! sympathy and movies on his computer to forget the ‘Pig Revenge”!!!

Monday 16th5-10Kts E clear sunny! BLUE!!..0600hr. forecast all good for next two days..0830hr. off to the west wreck site with Jane and Alex. It is only three to four meters deep and has been scattered over the years in heavy surf..The metal detector is giving multiple hits and there is pleanty of metal about, copper sheet and Bronze but the chances of a concentrated wreck site are low. Amazing coral, fish and snorkeling site though in VERY clear water and some strong currents..this will be a site to check next year. At 1100hr. Uwey, and Jian did a dredge session over on the other site with Alex running the pump topside. Then Woodie , Me and Greg did a big Manta search looking for the deep wreck so it was a late lunch at 1430hr. At 1530hr. Uwey and I did a back to Back dredge session so by the time I came out of the water the sun was only 40 minutes from setting so it was a big day for all…Jane and Woodie had gone over to Nomuka to find our guide to another wreck on another island about 15miles from here. Unfortunately he had left for that island a few days ago to hunt Sea Cucumber…the plan now is to leave at 0730hr. tomorrow and try to find him on that island?? When they returned from Nomuka, whales were breaching beside the boat! At 2345hr. the govt. ferry arrived, so I was able to run Alex over…we will miss him as he is a real worker!! It is a 5 hour ferry ride to Nuku Alofa. Hopefully we will see him back here again for a few weeks next year..Gregory also went on the ferry for a few days in Nuku Alofa to do internet and get some veggies..he should be back in 48 hours by ferry!…I was happy to get to bed at 0045hr..will be up at 0530hr!! Busy as the end of Sept gets closer…

Tuesday 17th. 10-20kt E Sunny..up before the sun..load all dive gear of the crew and some water..Drop John Ashore and start to pull anchor up when the Chain striker on the winch broke! Making it difficult if not impossible to lift the anchor in some situation…there is no protected anchorage at the island we were going to, so we need to rely on anchoring deep and on a lee shore. I decided to cancel the adds to the risk with a poor anchor winch…spent the rest of the day cutting steel and fabricating a temporary replacement, then welding it fitted and worked ! Happy about that. We will leave at 0730hr. tomorrow now. Margie in Hobart has organized a new part and sent it off to Joshua in Nuku Alofa. Huey went photo diving and I did a 2.5 hour dive on the bottom of ICE..I did not realize how much growth, (slime, little goose neck barnacles etc), was on the hull, so now my arms are aching!! But we should be a bit faster and use less fuel. Woodie and Harriet went across to Nomuka to buy some Chocolate milk! And were stopped by some whales again who played around the dingy for about 90 minute! John Broke his toe blisters, so will leave a little earlier than planned on tomorrow nights Ferry. He is eating and drinking through his secret stash as fast as possible now and dreaming of company in Asia!!

Wednesday 18th..10kt E sun and cloud…Take two!! Up before the sun and organized..Anchor up, then over to pick up Meta who will take us to the island where we hope to pick up our Guide..two hours later we arrive and go shore. His the guys boat is by his camp but no one is there so head off to other side of the island and find him..he agrees to take us to the spot telling us various stories along the way…Uwey and Woodie take off with him while I wait on ICE in a very precarious anchorage…they check out the area shown but no luck and return to ICE…At least we now know the general area…we drop our guide back then have lunch and continue the search by Manta boarding and Jian and Harriet snorkeling but after a few hours decide this will be a job for next year with the Magnetometer and head back to Blue Base arriving around 1700hrs. John has decided not to go now and will see a doctor in Pangi tomorrow. Gregory arrived on the ferry at 2345hrs with the shopping but did not get any bread!!! Cause it was not on the list from Blue base?? AGGH!! The only thing I was looking forward to ..but he did get about 70 capsicum that will go off before they can all be eaten!! BUT!!..Forgot the cheese that all were craving and could not be bought in Pangi last trip!! To bed at 0130…getting up 0530…FUN!!

Thursday 19th …total overcast 10kt E..picked up Joshua’s sister and husband at 0715 from Nomuka, then set off for Pangi ,with a diversion to Hafeva, another island 20 miles north, to drop our guests. We arrived at Pangi at 1530 and John headed to the hospital..There is Petrol for sale….as much as we want!!!!..John returned with the bad news that his toe is showing first signs of infection, so he is not allowed to get it wet in Salt water…Game over for him, as you get wet when you go ashore, so he is now leaving from here on the 0500hr morning Ferry! To Nuku Alofa and then New Zealand. Fresh bread and vegemite with ice cream for dinner!