21st August.Sun/overcast..15/20kt SE wind…Finally the fuel arrived and then we waited some more while they used a bucket to load it all into their main fuel tank at the service station, then pulled the front of the pump apart as the electronics was playing up..then after about another few hours we filled up, loaded up and left by 2pm..arriving at Nomuka Iki around 8.30pm after having to alter course many times during the day for whales…Alex, Huey and Jian where very happy to see us in front of BLUE BASE and so were we. They had been kept busy searching one of the back reefs and generally living the deserted island life so all was fine with them even though gas and fuel was getting low!!
Thursday 22nd..Total overcast 10-20kt E/SE..early start sorting immigration letters and other agreements with various community groups for Joshua to take back to Nuku Alofa on the ferry today..we had a meeting on the beach waiting for the ferry. The Monday community/govt. meeting went well with 85% voting to support Tonga Blue and our efforts , which pleased the Nomuka Development committee no doubt, as they have been supporting us for a long time!!and gave us the initial invitations to come to Nomuka earlier this year. It was obvious that the Fisheries and Agriculture rep on the island was confused about the status of the fisheries zone, which was the root cause of all the problems..there were a few Island people very disappointed about this and a few of the previous people objecting to our presence have now apologized as they did not understand the fact.. The delays have cost us a lot of money and frustrations, but at least now we are clear to follow the leads in relation to the possible wrecks, so the hunt begins again!! In the afternoon we had 6 of the team snorkeling, trying to pinpoint the shallow wreck and John may have located an anchor/mysterious object and photographed it, but need to check that tomorrow with a metal detector, as it is heavily coral encrusted. Huey , Jian and I did a few hours towing behind the boat on a Manta board trying to find the deep wreck, which is the focus of our real interest. The stories about this particular wreck go up and down quite literally, with plenty of intrigue and a huge “back story” for later…so we shall keep at it…but I will believe it when we see it!! With the strong tides and currents, things became challenging with visibility…we know this one is deep…maybe 25-30mtrs “Plus”. We use a portable waterproof chart plotter to show our tracks over the bottom…underwater visibility closed in and we had to return around 3.30pm with total overcast and a little rain not helping contrast in the water …Meanwhile back at Blue Base, Woody is trying to sort another problem with one of the compressors…forecast if for another dull overcast drizzely day tomorrow??
A frustrating point here, is that we are not really meant to be searching for wrecks yet..these sites are all supposed to be known by locals…I have plans to deploy a Magnetometer with Marks new 26ft FRP dive boat later for searches in Eua, but construction of that boat has been delayed..originally it was meant to be in the water by mid June. We have so much gear here now that I decided not to bring the Mag. Into Tonga yet, as it requires another whole program and level of expertise/training for operation…it will come later..but it would help now?? ..Hmm??..maybe sooner??
Friday 23rd..10-15NE..Dropped four snorkelers in shallow to check again for that wreck and then me, Greg and Woodie did some Manta tows looking for the deep site…after about 90 minutes of towing, I was running out of areas to check and feeling that we would have to call it off till next Tuesday when we are due to be shown the deep site by a local…Huey called from BIG Red to say we better come over…may have found something…NOT Johns anchor/mysterious object from yesterday, still lost?? but they went in real shallow and found something!!…we tied up along side and he said they seem to have found a winch, ballast rocks and a CANNON!!!…wowow…I dropped in following Huey and was amazed at how spectacular the reef was and there on the surface the team were very excited…sure enough it was a small pile of ballast rocks and the remnants of a winch …it was about 15 mtrs deep. Alex had his scuba gear on so I took his second reg, buddied up and went down together and yep…we had our first wreck!!…all smiles and yahoooo!! High Fives on the surface..at last we have a site to work on…!!!
Strangely it was over 300 mtrs from where we had been shown the position of the shallow wreck? And no one had ever mentioned some aspects of the site, the most obvious things? So plenty of time and $$ had been wasted…by the size of the ballast heap and the horizontal winch, my first impression is that it may be from a ship about 25mtrs maybe 150tonne…not that big..and the winch suggests it may be from about 1850?? ..the cannon could have been just part of the ballast?? Something not worth much in those days?? Or it could have been important and just stowed in the lower part of the ship…How did the ship sink?? ..Plenty of questions for later.
WE all headed back to base very happy and to get diving gear for the afternoon, when all 10 of us hit the water..not to do any meaning full work..just to enjoy the moment..Alex and I did some initial metal detector scans and there is plenty of “stuff” under the sand….it was a fun exciting afternoon and added a new lease of life to us all…the past six weeks have not been without their challenges!!! so this is now what we came here to do..the sun came out a little too just to top off a great day!!!
Saturday 23rd..0830 briefing for all the team on the beach to start work…wind 5kts from SW and sun..Glass out with a little swell..perfect! Started the pre-disturbance surveys with Jian doing all the corals and fish, Huey doing some preliminary photos..and Alex and Woodie establishing the Datum points around the site…John and Greg took off hunting the lost anchor and I did a GPS Mapping profile of all the area surrounding the wreck and then another search with the girls of the general area looking for anything unusual. We established a dingy mooring close to the site.!!
John and Greg got caught in some strong currents coming back, so we had to be pick them up..John looking a little white over the whole affair, as he also got caught in the surf!! I ground proofed the new “big” metal detectors, so we now have two ready to go. Unfortunately one of my “Flash Strobes” for the camera flooded. This afternoon four divers went back and measured up the datum points, finished off some photos, so a good day in perfect weather. Long may it last!!
Had a celebration Barbie ashore on Base with 12 steaks, 10 sausages and a packet of bacon , quite an event when only two of the 6 Blue base team members eat meat!! A couple from a visiting yacht came too and we finally judged our first photo competition !Harriet won both categories to take home first prize, a watch!! The moon rose over the water topping a great day!
Sunday 25th..5kts wind!! SE..Lazy start with a large POD of Dolphins coming into the bay just a few hundred meters off the Base, so at 9.30 am I had to use Ice’s fog horn to wake everyone up. Had five takers to go swim with them. They swarmed around the zodiac as soon as they heard us coming doing back flips into the air ready to play and porposing on the boats bow…the crew slipped in and they were swimming in formation..Greg used to be a guide for dolphin swimming in NZ..and everyone was soon squeaking and clicking in their snorkels under his instruction to keep all interested!!..you could hear whale songs quite loud and then, as if on que, about 20 minutes later, along comes two whales that swam directly up to then under the Zodiac about 6 mtrs below, looking up to check out what we were up to, then kept cruising on their way…amazing. Big breakfast all round…no work today so two teams of four went for a dive in the afternoon on the Back of Nomuka Iki along the outer reef wall..the sun shone all day!
Monday 26th..10-15kts S…sun..swell still down. I know when the seas build up it will be impossible to work..everyone busy with surveys, mapping positions of items on the site. Harriet has started underwater drawing of the winch to archeology standards..her first time using grid frames and results were OK.I found the first bronze rivet head today and expect lots more under the sand. This site will ultimately have to be dredged and we may be ready to do that next week. With all the logistics of getting organized and on site, we manage two teams of divers in the water each day..one morning and one afternoon. We return to base for lunch. Everyone seems happy with progress, but in the back of our mind is the anticipation of finding the “deep” wreck later..we are still discovering new items onsite.
Tuesday 27th.. 10-20kts SE.. Managed to get GPS positions on all datum points by surface marker and swimming around , then also bearing lines to ground proof the site. Woodie has been compiling the various layers of information we are all getting onto a master drawing and Greg did a continuous site swim through video today. I was completing another snorkel search of outer areas and came across something away from the main site that looked very exciting, but it was too deep for me. After lunch I came back with scuba and was able to increase my curiosity on this “thing”?? Hmm>> not sure what it is ?? but it will be an area to do another grid search with metal detectors later. Went to the main site and found a huge stone fish sitting on a Bronze bolt. I thought he was a sponge or something amongst the rubble, so without gloves started to move him, till I thought OPPS!! Not a good idea, so we will all have to be very careful onsite!! Part of the purpose of doing all the surveys , photos, mapping etc is so that other “experts” will be shown the info and give an opinion of the various items. This helps build the story of what type of ship this was, where from, age etc. We are not touching anything for now , just looking…and one of the spin offs is that we are finding some truly world class dive sites!!…I am forming the opinion that the wreck site may be quite large. Two cruising yachts turned up today, so we had a huge fire on the beach chatting to our new friends.. 6 Spaniards and some Kiwis!
Wednesday 28th..Waiting to get shown the Deep site today by one of the locals?? But the plan is slipping into ‘Tonga Time” so maybe that will be tomorrow..All on standby waiting. More logging of data collected. Jian has just about finished the Biodiversity survey and most components of our pre-disturbance survey of the “main site” are just about complete. We all want the “Deep Wreck” now..time is also moving on with the original plan to close Blue Base end of Sept. Fresh food is running low and we are down to the last 100 ltrs of petrol. We use 1 ltr of petrol to fill one cylinder and 10 ltrs to make 600 ltrs of water with the desalinator and we use plenty of both, then there are the outboards and generator..so we will head to Pangi early next week to top up and do emails. Mark is organizing to send another 200 ltr drum to us by ferry. This will mean we can store about 390 ltrs in total. With no guide for the deep wreck I decided to go across to the small boat Harbor in Nomuka to measure up the anchor there. It was removed from the wreck site in the early 60’s and repositioned to act as a cyclone mooring for local boats and I was really surprised..it is big and VERY impressive shape ..2.6mtrs long..I wish it was still at the wreck site, as it could give some good clues as to what may have happened to cause the demise of this ship!!…It is not for me to try to date this ship yet, but we are all keen to work out the age of the wreck. Again after we have all the Anchor info we will get some expert opinions…unfortunately the head of the shank that holds the stock was buried and I was unable to dig it out on this occasion..that will tell us whether it used to have a timber stock or iron. It is only in three mtrs of water. Another job for later.
There are various feelings about this wreck within all the team. Personally I am getting more excited about it as we get more into it..it is a ‘site” that has been well known by locals for maybe a hundred years or more?? but no one has ever done a survey of it… items of importance may have been lost, but there is still a story to be told and I believe that there may well be items trapped in the sands waiting?? There could also be more guns and more anchors hidden somewhere, as they always had more than one??..so a magnetometer search later may reveal a bigger picture..for now we are busy!
Thursday 29th..10kts E/NE…Took the call at 0800 that our guides would be ready at 0900…and they would be in their own boat…we also heard that some sea cucumber divers yesterday pulled up a bit of wreck from the western reef…which we have not yet been able to locate…so we are looking into that again…we gave our guides 20ltrs of our petrol and then Alex Huey and I followed them in the “Big RED”…our guide went past all the areas we had manta towed and stopped after checking bearings from shore..we started a snorkeling search and after about 15 minutes, Huey saw something strange..geared up in Scuba and reported back that he found a big metal thing!…good start, so we then kept snorkeling looking for other features within about 150mtrs of the original site…it is all about 25mtrs deep ..found some interesting spots so Alex and Huey dived down to check, but with nothing obvious, we decided this could be another long search..at least we had a new area to look !!..
After lunch I returned with Jian and Huey for photos and a survey of the metal object that turned out to be a BIG anchor, with a very old shape…really cool as we are probably the first people ever to see this. Our guide knew nothing about it… then we did some random metal detector searches of the area with one solid hit for later investigation..at the end of the dive we concluded this was not part of a wreck..just a lost anchor..Maybe from Capt. Cook??..LOL…so tomorrow we have more work!! Woodie, John and Greg went to the shallow site and did some more surveys and investigations there. On their way back to Base they had 20 dolphins all over their boat, jumping and bow riding..crazy stuff and no camera!!…As the sun was setting in the rain , ICE was under a perfect double rainbow and as if it was an omen the phone rang. We received a big lead on another wreck I had not known before…and it would be about where the end of the rainbow was!!..wow..interesting times ahead!
Friday 30th…Sun and calm..glass-out! Blue lagoon day..stunning..spent the morning with the team going over all our maps, drawings dive reports and artifact register etc to make sure it is all being collated for future reference..we already have quite a bit of info, but it is amazing how long it all takes, or should I say how little you get done on one dive. Still waiting for a bit more info in the “Big Lead” on the new wreck, so waiting again??Then six of us took off in Big Red to manta search the deep site and drop to another two divers on the Big Deep Anchor and two divers onto a suspicious deep site further out, so as we were about to start that process we were visited by Mother Humpback and maybe ‘IKI” really interested in what we were doing..so!!!…yes!!! it was a lot of fun and the work program was slightly delayed for about 90 minutes!!..then as we were searching deep water, we came across a coral bommie shooting up out of 50 mtrs and topping at 15 mtrs loaded with sharks, turtles, all manner of BIG fish and crystal clear water…truly amazing..Harriet was snorkeling it and recon she had about 6 sharks come straight to her….it was glass calm and all agreed we would come back for a dive on that site later…but all have been working hard so I suggested we do it now and we will postpone the work program..they were in gear and down asap..and returned to report it as one of the best ever dives they have ever done anywhere in the past three years…or even ever!!..John was happy as he got to 32 mtrs for the first time…the locals must not know the position of this bommie as it is LOADED with fish…mackerel, tuna, snaper, groupers etc….a truly amazing dive site for the future!! .returning at 2pm for lunch we decided to do base work and relax for the afternoon and go buy some fuel from Nomuka which we had been told is available?…we are very low!!..unfortunately they are out and to make matters worse, apparently the Govt. has grounded the Ferry as not seaworthy until they fix something and the other Govt. ferry is not back for about a week, so we will head back to Pangi on Monday hoping they have fuel( down to 40ltrs petrol)..Veggies( eating out of tins now!) and a faster internet…well we know it will be a slow internet!!…caught another big fish tonight and cleaning it brought 5 black-tip reef sharks to the boat!!..a good sign for a healthy reef!..happens every time..
Saturday 31st .. “ Iki” and his mum were doing a tail slapping duet just off ICE at 8am this morning then Iki decided to practice breaching with about 10 in a row..Blue Base was asleep and fair enough, as it is 100% overcast, cool and drizzle rain with heavier rain forecast. Decided to give them the fog horn to watch the show and within about 10 minutes, they were up and in Big Red heading out for a closer view. He put on quite a show, but we were only out for about 30 minutes and it was back for breakfast and preparations for the big rain later today. Jane backed fruit buns again which I delivered ashore in that rain then all were watching movies and collecting water and hiding to stay dry. The wind blew and the rain fell! Greg and John moved back onboard ICE to avoid all that on Blue Base. John has been in his Hammock under some trees on the beach for the past few days.
Sunday 1st September ….OK, so now I need to tell you that for security and “other” reasons some parts of this blog have been censored or altered and some aspects we cannot talk about for now…but one day you will hear the whole story.
Day of rest..I woke Greg up for his 0700 swim ( a few are training to swim to Nomuka)and while he was out there alone, another mother and calf turned up very inquisitive and swam/played with him for about 30 minutes, the calf coming right up to within one meter on many occasions…it was to happen again later in the day on two more occasions when we were all out checking/photographing the Reef Check survey line..it was totally amazing as the whales seem to want to come into shallow water and play…it was glass out conditions as the rain finally stopped..of course it was very distracting and work ceased as they definitely wanted to swim with us and it went on for nearly an hour…not every day you have whales come up to you and want to play!!!…totally awesome…incredible videos and photos..everyone is on a huge High!!!!We are headed to Pangi tomorrow for emails, fresh food and fuel. WOW..only four weeks to go and then we plan to shut Blue Base…So much to do