My digital Timex watch startled me as Tuesday turned to Wednesday and the 15th advanced to the 16th. I scanned attentively from the bowsprit for any boats or land masses lurking in the dark, partially aided by the sparkling lights scattered along the island walls astern. The yellow moon edged above the island of Eua and assisted my vision. I soon handed off lookout to a peer and scurried back to the quarterdeck to report to my watch officer.
The wind gently herded the Seamans and its crew from a classroom and, to one crew member, a home. On the moonlit starboard quarterdeck Pen, our Tongan observer, and I sat soberly as we recalled our undertakings on the sprawling islands in the Kingdom of Tonga. I reminded him of the overwhelming gratitude felt by the crew and myself for his family’s Umu in Vava’u. I gobbled up enough food to feed a small family. Our minds then swam to our experiences on Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai where a sea turtle and a blacktip shark swam below us on the dawning hours of our final day on the young landmass. Finally, Nuku’alofa came into discussion as it ducked over the horizon. There, we wandered through markets, shops, bars, streets and, on a Sunday morning, into the church that the King attended.
That previous morning I got coffee with Pen and his co-workers from the Tonga Geological Service and, unfortunately, soon made our farewells. There, I made the uncertain promise that I will be back, but the extended an invitation that they can always visit me on my island covered in concrete a couple thousand kilometers away. As I walk back to the the dock I wondered, will I be back?
At every port stop, my crewmates and I burn our budgets on hand-carved black and white shell earings, mocha lattes, Tongan ginger beer, banana smoothies, and Tongan snapbacks. Our energies are expended wandering through the streets, getting up early to get to the fish markets, and finding a place to go out to eat on Sundays. With the depletion of energy and money, we all know that these will soon recover; let it be sleeping on a 12-hour off shift while underway to Suva or working as a barista in December.
As I find myself saying goodbye new friends that will soon become strangers, memories that can only be explained to others in JPEG format, and hidden environment only described and never seen, time becomes the glaring valuable resource while on the islands. Meandering through thevolcanic rocks on Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai or through the markets in Nuku’alofa, the seconds ticked slowly away from places that I might never see again. With that comes intense immersion in this wonderful experience, let it be chatting with craftsmen and craftwomen abiout their art, dashing through the streets with pigs, chickens, and dogs, or wandering through a island younger than you in the middle of the pacific. To Suva, where anotherexperience awaits.
Sailing Note: This will be our longest leg of the trip and it has not been very thus far windy. Today there were scattered clouds that stretched over the horizon. There were no land in sight. C-watch was challenged by putting up and taking down sails multiple times and the first use of the Course sail on this voyage which is the lowest and largest square sail on the forward mast. We witnessed a cytobacteria bloom that left the scattered dirty brown patches across the ocean. Science lab groups collected these bacteria and painfully sifted through them. Around 1700 it started to rain, and showered lightly on and off for a few hours. Lastly, Allison Taylor had a birthday today. To another year with SEA and hopefully many more!
Michael Tirone, C-Watch, Bowdoin College