Getting to the new volcanic
island was not a simple task. First, I had to wait in New Zealand
for Tropical Storm Lin to pass by Tonga. The storm brought high
winds and rain to the islands and knocked out power. Gettinjg
to the volcano during the tropical storm would've been impossible.
Once I arrived in Nuku'Alofa
(at 2 AM), I headed directly to the boat that had been chartered.
It's a good thing that I was exhausted or else I probably wouldn't
have gone on board due to its general lack of sea worthiness.
The trip out to the volcano was supposed to take about 4 hours
but since the boat only had 1 of 2 engines working, the trip
took more than 10 hours in rough seas. At one point, I was lying
on a bench and a large swell came along and tipped the bench
over, slamming my face into the corner of a table, giving me
a bloody gash on one eyebrow and a nasty black eye.
Things would not improve.
We were towing a small aluminum
boat with an outboard motor behind us. This boat was going to
be used as our landing craft and also doubled as our emergency
lifeboat. Less than halfway to the volcano, it came loose and
started drifting away. We circled back to retrieve it and a crew
member ended up having to remain in the small boat for the rest
of the journey to make sure we didn't lose it again. He was out
there for hours in the baking sun, with nothing but a piece of
plywood held over his head as sun protection.
We finally arrived at Hunga
Ha'apai at around 4 in the afternoon, with only a few hours of
daylight left to get ashore, explore and film the volcano and
get back to the boat before it got dark. Myself, cameraman Peter
Rowe and two crew members climbed aboard the smaller boat and
tried to make it ashore but the seas were too rough and the shoreline
was too rocky. We tried using a kayak but it proved too unstable
to transport our camera gear. We finally decided to put everything
into dry bags and swim ashore. I stuffed my shirt and pants,
along with my cameras into one of the bags and gave it to Peter.
I jumped in with the other bag and swam the 40 meters to shore.
It was a great relief to feel the loose gravel under my feet.
Peter was well behind me and
there seemed to be a problem. When he eventually made it to shore,
the drybag with all my equipment and clothes was not with him.
It had flooded with sea water and had to be left back on the
boat. My 2 cameras inside were now ruined by the water and I
had no clothes to put on. It was getting late so we preceded
to film with his cameras, but now here I was, standing on the
newest island on Earth, getting ready to tell the world about
it on camera and all I had on was my sandals, underwear and my
bright orange life jacket... Oh well, I had no options so we
continued exploring the new island.
The most interesting part was
the steaming hot crater lake that had formed. The island was
only a few weeks old and the ground was still warm to the touch
and had the potential to erupt again at any time with absolutely
no warning at all. The ground itself was also very unstable and
was little more than a large pile of loose rock that was jutting
above the sea. It could've collapsed and slid into the Pacific
taking us with it.
As the light began to fade,
we headed back to the shoreline to catch the small boat back
but they were not there to greet us. They had returned to the
main boat and were dealing with still more problems. This time
the outboard motor was having trouble starting. We waited and
waved and shouted for almost an hour before they finally came
within swimming range. We dashed out into the sea and swam to
the boat. I wasted no time, especially since it was dusk which
is prime feeding time for sharks and the cut on my eyebrow was
not healed yet. They threw me a rope and pulled me in but Peter
was nowhere to be seen. He had drifted off and now it was totally
dark out. Luckily, his life jacket had an emergency flashing
beacon that we were able to spot. It took a while to get the
motor started, but we eventually caught up to him and hauled
Back at the main boat, we were
all glad that the mission had been accomplished.. But the drama
was not over yet...
We began the painfully slow
journey back to port but all did not go well. In the middle of
the night another problem in the engine room caused a hose for
the cooling system to come loose and was filling the engine room
with water. The crew were desperately bailing it out with buckets.
The one remaining engine could've easily overheated or the electrical
system could've shorted out or, if it had gone completely unnoticed,
the boat could've even filled up and sank. To make matters worse,
the small aluminum lifeboat that we were towing had come loose
again and was totally lost at sea. We had no emergency lifeboat
at all now.
Needless to say, I was very
thankful to be be back on dry, solid land the next day. Sometimes
adventure comes not from the destination, but from the journey.