It was devastating to see the news coverage of the underwater volcano eruption on Nuku’alofa. Twenty two years ago, I was sailing as a crew member on one of the thirty-six sailboats of the Millennium Odyssee around-the-world rally in celebration of the approaching 21st Century. Tonga was touted as one of the most beautiful sailing areas in the world.
“Magellan, the first European to cross the Pacific, never made it back to Spain (he was killed in the Philippines), but his crew under Captain Elcano and the boat, Victoria, made it to become the first circum-navigators. Unbeknownst to them, they crossed the dateline along the way, and by the time they returned to Spain, found that they were celebrating meatless Friday on Thurs day. They were so distressed by their grievous sin that a special papal decree absolved them of their sin. No such problems on Hornblower, as I calmly lost a day on the way to Tonga with plenty of coffee, PB&J sandwiches, and granola bars.
Our first contact with the Kingdom was under quarantine conditions. Hornblower and Distant Drum arrived last and on a weekend when customs was off duty. We were told to stay on the boat. No one could visit us and we were not allowed on the other boats in the anchorage that already cleared into the Kingdom. We were “unclean.” Now I know what a dog feels like in a quarantine kennel.
When five customs officials finally came aboard, the first thing they asked for was a round of Cokes.
Nuku’alofa, the capitol of Tonga, and the King’s residence, is another town on another rock in the Pacific. There was nothing special on this rather flat undistinguished island. Gone were the dramatic mountain scenes of French Polynesia. The most exciting things on my first day’s walk was locating a friendly coffee shop run by a New Zealander and finding the Internet facility run by the Army. The coffee was good, but at the well-equipped Internet office, with six modern computers, the phone connection was down, and I heard that all too familiar, ‘Come back tomorrow.’
During my walk through town, I noticed several tourist hotels promoting Tonga being the first country to greet the new millennium. I also saw an unusual number of posters for gynecological clinics. I guess Tongans are serious about encouraging expectant mothers to have their babies in a country that will be first to celebrate January 1, 2000.
A business sign that read ‘Headstone Engraving and Engine Repairs’ also amused me. Another sign proclaimed ’20 Years of Kitchen Cabinetmaking Experience in America.’ Coca Cola, Marlboro, and kitchen cabinets. Is America great, or what?
Near the harbor, they were building an authentic 100-foot, ocean-going, outrigger sailing canoe, with tappa cloth sails. The King will sail into the sunrise to be the first of the first to greet the new millennium.
I introduced myself to the foreman of the construction project. He showed me the model of the catamaran canoe and explained that most of the workers used hand tools in keeping with tradition. He let me have a small chip of wood hacked out of the tree trunk forming one of the hulls. Fortunately, the king had lost weight since his days of being the world’s heaviest monarch. In 1976, he weighed 460 pounds. By 1998, he had dropped to 286 pounds. It looked like the canoe would have no trouble carrying the monarch and sailing into the sunrise.”
From the book “Endless Summer” by Michael L. Frankel
The first 60 pages:
My heartfelt sympathy goes to the people of Tonga including the crops, livestock, fisheries, and the whole economic structure suffering under a cloud of ash. To make matters worse, the country’s sole link to the outside world, the underwater cable was damaged. I truly feel that the people of Tonga can make it again, “The most beautful sailing areas in the world.”
Sometimes I feel glad to be so old. I have lived a life full of joys and adventures. “The Times They Are A-Changin’ ” by Bob Dylan keeps coming to mind.