For our second day of diving, we are going to dive the Clan Mac Wreck. My first wreck dive! Riki arrives with our regular dive crew - Jo and Mosh, and Makke the Tongan dive assistant. Riki explains the history of the wreck as we gear up at the site.
The Clan Mack was a freighter traveling the Pacific in 1927. It was scheduled to collect and carry copra (the coconut meat used for extracting coconut oil) from the islands. They failed to add false floors to keep the coconut meat in nice layers, so as they piled up more and more copra, the weight of the coconut on top started pressing down on the bottom layers. Coconut oil began to weep into the bilges and eventually, the coal fired engine lit the coconut oil on fire.
The Clan Mack was in transit from Fiji when the fire started. They shut all the hatches and smothered the flames. This worked until they reached Nieafu, but after they had anchored in the harbor and brought the ship along side Nieafu's wooden wharf, they opened the hatches and the smoldering hot oil burst into flames again. The crew all abandoned ship leaving the captain and the engineer aboard to fend for themselves. Nieafu's Port Captain gave them clear orders to get the ship away from the wharf before it burns down the entire village. So, the Captain attempted to drive the ship into the middle of the harbor and anchor it on a shallow coral ledge safely in the middle until they could contain the fire.
Unfortunately, the huge anchor and chain caught on something and wouldn't come up. Tongan lore has it that the captain and the engineer could be heard fighting with each other as the Clan Mac went down. They are still down there, fighting to this day. Sometimes you can see the bubbles rising from their watery graves.
Everyone gears up and we drop down toward the wreck. It's about 90 feet down, so you can't see it from the surface. As we descend, the wreck appears like an apparition gaining strength. By the time we reach the deck, the water clarity is perfect. We can see from the stern all the way to the center of the 400 foot ship. The deck is decorated with all sorts of soft corals, tiny fish, and translucent shrimp. An eagle ray flies by in the distance.
We make our way from stern to midship, breathing with a steady rhythm and beating a flipper only when necessary to create a steady movement. Coffee and Brian are doing great, each flanking Riki. We see a school of five giant travali being cleaned by cleaner fish. A huge sea snake rests at the bottom of a ladder. I look down the tunnel of a covered side deck and a school of about fifty fish the size of a yellow and black dinner plate weave toward me swimming right, then left, then right again through the narrow hallway. When we are almost nose to nose, they all turn in formation and squeeze through the rusting metal bars just like ghosts filtering through a wall.
We float over the engine room, and we can see bubbles slowly rising out of metal rubble that has been under water just shy of 100 years. Where would that air be coming from? That must be the Captain yelling at the engineer.
We circle back to the stern, then ascend.
By the time we reach the surface everyone is completely jazzed by the dive. We are all chittering with excitement and reliving this or that thing we saw. Riki pulls out an old wine bottle he found on the wreck. Still corked, you could smell the sweetness of wine inside. "Whaaaaaaooooowwwww!" We all exclaim. What an amazing dive! Andrew and I immediately schedule another day to do it again. We want to go deeper and see the giant propeller.
After basking in the sun on the dock, drinking tea and reloading our tanks, we head out to sea to dive another dive with crystal clear water, colorful fish and a number of tight swim throughs. At this point, C&B are feeling quite comfortable and everyone is having a great time. We all get together for a group shot. It's not awkward to try to float all together, now is it?
With the healthy coral, awesome underwater variety, and $45US per dive, Tonga is being added to my list of favorite diving destinations. But then again, there doesn't seem to be any bad diving spots in the South Pacific. Back at Sonrisa, we clean up and head back to Neiafu. C&B have only one more day left in town before they fly out. We need to get back so they can shop for trinkets.
C&B's last day is "cruise ship day" in Neiafu - the perfect shopping day. All the Tongans have built their little tents and arrived with their wares to sell to the cruise ship patrons. We join the mix with its jovial brass band, chicken roasting on a rotisserie made out of an old truck bed, and trinkets everywhere! Coffee settles on some hair pins and a couple shell necklaces. Brian acquires a Tongan license plate. We head over to find the famous ice cream shop we have heard repeatedly about. It's supposed to be tasty ice cream for a screaming deal.
"Cappuccino Ice Cream in the waffle cone, please." I request; Coffee and Andrew line up behind me with the same order. The lady scoops and scoops and scoops. When the waffle cone is mounded with a huge order of ice cream, she begins to outstretch her arm toward me.
"$4.00 Pa'anga, please," she says, but in saying the words, she pulls her arm back. She looks at the ice cream, judges it to be insufficient, then adds two scoops more! $4.00 Pa'anga equates to approximately $2.00US. She hands me my mountain of ice cream, which has already started melting in the tropic heat. Now, this is an ice cream cone my grandfather would be proud of.
Coffee and Andrew receive their cones, equally as generous in size and content. Brian laughs and takes pictures of us trying to eat them fast enough to avoid the melting ice berg.
We relax on Sonrisa for a spell, clean up and head to dinner for C&B's last night in town. We go to Bella Vista Cafe, where a beautiful and fabulous Fakaletti serves us lobster for only $25US.
And that's a vacation for the record books. The next morning, Grin & Kitty delivered C&B ashore and they flew away for their 36 hours of travel back to the US. Sonrisa feels spacious and quiet again; she misses C&B already.