The Unexpected

Well, this is our last night of passage before we arrive in Tonga. I guess technically we are already in Tongan waters but we’ve still got a little over 60 NM to go to our anchorage. We’re looking forward to seeing Ana and Earle, the owners of Big Mama Yacht Club, and having some of their delicious fish and chips.

It was a beautiful day on the water with sunshine and blue skies. It feels so nice to be back in the routine of sailing. Land life just isn’t nearly as homey for us. Yes, the weather, sleepless nights and bruises from bouncing off the walls, stairs and whatever else is nearby is home for us! This is what we love to do and it’s this that makes us truly happy. It’s so good to be back.

You never know what you’re going to see out here either. Today, after almost eight days without seeing a ship or land or anything of the sort, we came across an island. About 100 NM south of Nuku’alofa is a small island called ‘Ata. We’d seen it on the chart but didn’t know just what to expect. I was down below when Dan called out… “Hey, there’s an island in front of us.” Of course when you’ve seen nothing but water for days on end this is sort of exciting so I immediately ran up to check it out. It was still about 20 miles away so I took a quick glance and told him to call me when we got closer. Then I went back below to continue practicing my tin whistle.

A couple of hours later we were nearly on top of it. It’s less than a mile square but stands quite tall above the ice blue waters of the Pacific. It’s covered in lush green foliage and has sheer brownish colored rock faces hundreds of feet above the ocean. There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of beach here….just a huge rock rising up from the water.

Dan decided to put some hand lines in to see if we could catch a fish. After all, a place like this where the water comes up to 200 feet should be a good spot to catch something. We haven’t had much luck fishing from the boat in the South Pacific so when we see a good spot we have to at least try.
As we neared ‘Ata Island we were surrounded by birds. There were Boobies and Frigates and Gulls of all kinds. I was on the foredeck taking pictures and video. This spectacular place reminded me of Isla Isabel in México with all the birds flying about and the large pinnacle rock guarding the shore. It was so beautiful and was a wonderful interruption to our day.

After about an hour of fishing Dan looked back and said he had something on the hook. He looked again and said it was a bird. “What? A bird?” I exclaimed! “Oh no! You have to save it.” Dan slowed the boat down and began to pull in the line. I was holding my breath every time I saw the little guy’s head come out of the water as he gasped for air. I just knew he was going to be drowned before Dan got him to the boat. It seemed like time was in slow motion and I kept yelling at Dan to hurry. Finally he got him to the boat. He was still alive! Thank God!

Apparently he dove on our lure and it hooked on his wing so Dan pulled him up to the side of the boat. He grabbed his little head and wrestled the hook from his wing then dropped him back in the water. I watched as he floated away. He was visibly shaken and exhausted. Just before he got out of sight I saw him fly up from the water. Hooray! Captain Save-A-Hoe rescues another soul! He’s my hero!

We soon passed by the island and it was nearing time for the Pacific Seafarers Net. We check in with them when we are on passage. I started working on dinner and Dan began gathering the information he needed for our report. He went up to the cockpit and within a minute or two he yelled below that we had something on the line again.

I came up with my camera ready to film our big catch. Oh no! Not another one! Yep, another bird had hooked itself on our lure. How, is beyond us as this was a deep diving lure unlike the floating one the other bird had latched onto. As Dan got him closer to the boat we could see that this Boobie wasn’t going to be as lucky as the last. He was bloated and full of water. We didn’t see it in time and the poor fellow drowned.

Dan removed the hook and dropped the lost soul back into the water and headed below to check in on the Net. I watched with tears streaming down my face as he floated away. Almost instantly five other birds swooped down and landed in the water around the drowned bird. They floated with him until I could see them no longer. It was as if they were mourning the loss of their friend. I sat in the cockpit for a while looking back toward the island with such sadness. I said a prayer for the little guy and finally went below.

We ate dinner and Dan could see I was still very upset. He hugged me and apologized for not being able to save the bird. Of course he also reminded me that sometimes things like this happen and there’s nothing we can do about it. He made some jokes and did his best to make me smile again. Then we both went up into the cockpit and watched a beautiful sunset where we saw two Albatross fly by. On this trip I saw my first Albatross a few days ago and now two more. These were Dan’s first. They are truly magnificent creatures and hopefully as lucky as they say.

Like I said in the beginning, you just don’t know what you will see or what will happen out here. Sometimes there’s beauty beyond your wildest imagination and sometimes you encounter some of the harsher realities of life but even when the bad stuff happens, there’s still something magical about it all.
Until next time,

Author: Dan & Jilly

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