Another day in Tonga

Yesterday was a fantastic first day out on the water. Within half an hour of leaving the dock, I was floating above two juvenile humpback whales. The rest of the day presented us with no less than five breaches close to the boat; unfortunately, all of them were single breaches, making it very difficult to get a good shot (Tony got one). Tony keeps saying that Tonga is a place where chaos reigns in various degrees -- and today, I finally believe him. Nearly all of the whales we saw today ended up out in the rough water (where we were unable to follow in our little boat). In the late afternoon, we finally found a mother and calf just sort of hanging around, but just as we decided to slip into the water, we ran out of fuel. Yep. The operators hadn't refueled the boat overnight. Tony quickly grabbed the 20-liter reserve tank and dumped it into the fuel reservoir... and the engine refused to start. So we watched as the mother and calf drifted away slowly, which was pretty frustrating.

Ten minutes later, the engine still wouldn't start, and quickly forgot about the whales when we discovered that we were being blown toward an island -- and its surrounding reef. Tony and I quickly got in the water, each with a rope tied to the stern of the boat. We finned backwards with all our might, hoping that it might delay the inevitable grounding of our boat onto the reef.

it's hard to pull a boat by kicking

After twenty minutes or so, I spotted the ocean floor creeping upward below us, and not long after the boat hit bottom. Our captain, 'Aunofo, jumped off of the bow and tried to push the boat away from shore while Tony and I pulled from behind, but it was all pretty futile. We decided to turn the boat around and held her in a few inches of water as wave after wave threatened to push her all the way up onto the reef.

eric asks tony, "why are you still wearing your mask?"

"in case i fall," tony replies!

After twenty more minutes, a rescue boat arrived from the same tour company. By then, we had managed to collect all of the ropes on the boat and tie them together. Tony swam one end of the rope out over the shallow reef toward the other boat while I slowly dragged our boat into deeper water. Yet another rope was flung out over the railing of the rescue boat, and one square knot later, we were being towed slowly out to sea!

'Aunofo radios for help

There was just one problem. Only Emiko was actually on our boat when the towing started. I urged 'Aunofo to get on the boat before it was too late, but she yelled, "It's ok. I'll swim!"

No problem. But then, she followed up with, "I'm not a strong swimmer, so I'll just hold on to you."


I wasn't sure what had just happened. But I guess it's fortunate that I'm a strong swimmer!

In the end, we made it back to the dock in one piece. Before we leave tomorrow, I'm expecting the boat to contain a full fuel tank, a charged battery, an anchor, lots of rope, and an oar.

All photos by Emiko Miyazaki.