In July, we were celebrating our big win at the Nuka’alofa Game Club International Billfish Tournament, (seriously, we won the whole lot with only 2 Wahoo–it was embarrassing), we cottoned on to the idea of visiting Tonga’s newest volcanic island the following day. We were on our way north from Tangatapu to Va’vau to following day, and we were looking for a distraction along the way.
We met a young South African couple who ran a local spear fishing and whale watching outfit and over a couple of beers, they told us how they had recently camped on the island. They swore to us it was safe, despite Geologic and Government warnings to give the island a wide berth. They described a safe anchorage, drew us a map on a cocktail napkin, showed us where we could fish for dog-tooth tuna, and shared their experiences of their climb to the top of the volcano. As far as we knew, only a handful of scientist had set foot on the island since it was formed by volcanic eruption only 6 months prior. Rumor (and the internet) told us that the island was expected to wash away within a year or two, due to oceanic erosion. That was all the prodding we needed.
The next afternoon, we reached the island. The first thing we noticed, other than the completely barren landscaped, was there was a large amount of silt and ash run off, severely clouding the waters around the base of the island. Our charts were essential useless and outdated due to the large amount of recent volcanic activity and we were uneasy about the risk of grounding. Garry relied heavily on the depth sounder and forward facing sonar to bring close to the shore. We found a large bay on one side of the island and decided that coincided with our cocktail napkin chart. Anchor down, dingy deployed.. we were going to shore to walk on new land! Garry and I decided to do a recon mission, while Arnie stayed aboard and assembled his drone.
As we approached the shore, it quickly became apparent that it was going to be a difficult landing. The shore was steep, and the waves were slamming the beach pretty hard. Garry was concerned that if we misjudged the wave sets, our dingy would be flipped over, and our engine swamped. After several false starts, we hit the beach quick and hard, and both of us jumped over the sides to haul the dingy up the beach. We had misjudged the depth of the water, and in an instant, we were both in over our heads in the water, only 1 meter from the shoreline. Somehow, we managed to scramble up, pull in the dingy, losing our Jandels (Flip Flops) in the surf. The ground was composed of small pea-sized volcanic gravel, and our feet would sink into the ground 6 inches with every step. A short walk up 100 meters of beach and we decided that we better return to Arnie and November Rain. Now we were battling the surf on the way out, even harder as we were trying to quick start the dingy motor in all the action. Once back aboard November Rain, Arnie was disappointed to learn that we had aborted the landing party. We quickly pulled up anchor and set off for the other side of the island, less hopeful for another landing spot.
Obviously, we needed some remedial training in cocktail napkin chart reading, because as soon as we came around the lee side of the island, we found our beautiful anchorage and our perfect landing site.
If you are wondering what happened to the drone footage, well the drone had a bit of a crash landing which ended its use that day.