Day 25 January 29 (Nuku'alofa, Tonga)

Up early for the dive. We were supposed to dock in Nuku'alofa but the waves and wind teamed up to make that unsafe so we anchored and started a tender operation. I was on the second one. My buddies had left on the first. We were waiting all together until they delayed so much that I decided I had time for a quick pottie brake. I returned to find that my friends had made the first tender but they stopped the line two in front of me despite the fact that I had a #1 boarding ticket. Apparently they felt that they couldn't fully load the tenders for safety reasons. (Do I need to say that I was ok with that?) I'm getting used to being left behind so I didn't panic.

As we were boarding the tender I noticed it was going up and down quite a bit (approx. 2-3 ft!). I'm used to boats and pretty comfortable about getting on and off but many of our passengers are octagenerians and not so spry anymore. There were two ship personnel on the tender (one on each side of the door) and the same on the adjacent gangplank platform. Because of the considerable up and down motion they stopped boarding tenders on our side (after I got on a tender) and switched to the opposite side of the ship. There the ship probably blocked some of the wave action. I hope it was better on that side but I was on my way and don't know for sure. As expected, my buddies were waiting for me. The dive shop was a very short walk.

There was some doubt about the dive conditions due to the wind and waves but we were there and the dive shop certainly wanted to earn our money so we got onboard and took off. We found this to be rather different from the previous dives. I'm not sure how long they have been doing this. They did ask me to put some comments in a book (sort of a composition notebook like you used to use in school) after the dives and I noticed a number of pages already filled in but on the other hand the most recent comments were from January 8th. No wonder they wanted our business. We were first impressed by the price. It was the most expensive of all our dives, $200 per person - we had 4 divers. Then we noticed they didn't ask us to fill out any paperwork. They said something about having us do it on the boat but we never did. How were they to know who got eaten by the sharks??? There was some discussion about the divemaster. I heard one of my buddies saying he was almost finished with his certification...but that he was a diver in the Tongan navy. That sort of meshes with my observation of his "manners" underwater. He was the only divemaster I saw who stood on the coral a number of times. Yes he broke a little of it in the process. Otherwise he was fine.

We went way out for our first dive because all the turbulence in the harbor would have raised a lot of silt, etc. We must have gone for an hour and a half or so. I asked which direction Tonga was and the crewman pointed to the horizon where there was no land in sight! Clearly we were not going to swim to shore if we had some problem. Oh, the boat was amazing and unique as dive boats go. It appeared to be an old shrimp or fishing boat. They had two attachments which they were able to lower (sort of fold down) to the sides with heavy things on the end of a chain (about 20 ft underwater) which acted as stabilizers. Picture an airplane shape sort of. These did really help keep the pitching and tossing down some. Some, not completely. It was not a smooth ride to the dive site. The combination of occasional diesel fumes from the engine and the wave action had me wondering if maybe I could get seasick. Fortunately, everybody kept their breakfast in their tummies but it was interesting. I was getting pretty sure I didn't need to be concerned about mal d'mere. I'm not so cocky anymore.

Our dive site was an area between two arcs of reef (separated by about 50 yds). We went in along one reef and swam along it for some time then across the trough between and back along the other reef. Yes I ran out of air too soon. This time the divemaster and I surfaced and got the boat's attention and the boat manuevered near me and threw a life preserver on a rope to haul me in. That was less fun than it might sound because they needed to move out of the trough area to avoid being pushed against one of the reefs so they towed me a bit before they could pull me in. Altogether not bad but definitely not on the list of things I like to do enough to pay for them. The deepest part of the dive was 70 ft. I used my air up in 27 minutes. The coral was beautiful and there was an adequate number and variety of fish. Visibility was pretty good too.

When the others returned we were served lunch onboard (I had been given water-could have had coconut-while waiting) and we moved much closer to Nuku'alova for our second dive. The sea had settled down quite a bit by then and we needed to be back to the ship before 5:30. We didn't start our first dive until after 12 PM. Lunch was pretty good. Sandwiches made on fresh unsliced bread along with coconut, bananas and papaya. Coconut milk or water to drink.

Dive 2 was not bad. They gave me a tank with more air (if I was still a student they would put me on the short bus I suppose) - 24 bar instead of the 20 which the others had. I took some photos but the visibility was not near as good. At times less than 10 feet. I have a photo (well, I think I do) of an unusual fish and an old tire. We were in close enough to shore that there was a little trash on the bottom. I even saw a rusted old channel marker sign on the bottom. Not pretty but the overall dive was pretty despite the occasional trash. Oh, the extra air helped but I still was the first one out. The others were only 5 or 10 minutes behind me.

We got back early enough to do a little shopping near the tender docking location. There was a wood carving shop with a sign out front which said it was open but it wasn't! Island priorities I guess. Either forgot to put the sign away or went off for a break. One of the merchants offered me a sporting chance on the price for one article. I offered a lower price than she asked and she said we could flip a coin and if I won it would be my price and if not hers. I thought that was interesting but with my math background I declined. I wasn't willing to pay her price. In retrospect, I suppose she could have reneged on the deal if I had won the toss. But these people were very nice so I hope not. I found something else I liked for a reasonable price so I didn't leave empty handed. Had a beer from Tonga. Don't have a can (bottled beer) or a label as a souvenir so I don't remember the name. One of my sons can research this. The name of the beer began with Ik.... and might have had a te on the end (might have been Ikane or Ikate or something similar). It was not bad.
[research reveals that the name is probably IKALE ]

The evening show was a comedic magician (is that a real entertainer category?). He was pretty good. His name is Bernard Reid.

No comments: