YACHT WITNESSES BIRTH OF NEW TONGA ISLAND

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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Nov. 8) – A yacht sailing out of Vava'u motored into a strange "sea of stone" on August 12, and the following day its crew became possibly the first people to witness the birth of a new volcanic island that has been forming in Tonga.

The crew of the yacht "Maiken" has recorded their observations on a web blog along with photos of the pumice rafts that they came across a day out of Neiafu while sailing towards Fiji.

[PIR editor’s note: The Tongan island of Vava’u is north of the country’s main island of Tongatapu. Neiafu is the main town on Vava’u. ]

After passing Tonga's Late island, Maiken crew member Haken reported seeing streaks of pumice floating in the water.

"We sailed into a vast, many miles wide, belt of densely packed pumice," he said. "We were going by motor due to lack of wind and within seconds 'Maiken' slowed down from seven to one knot. We were so fascinated and busy taking pictures that we plowed a couple of hundred meters into this surreal floating stone field before we realized that we had to turn back."

He said the pumice blocked their engine cooling system and they had to clean it out. They thought it must have come from a volcano and since they didn't know the extent of the eruption and it was getting dark they decided to anchor in Vaiutukakau bay outside Vava'u for the night.

The following day they identified the active volcano as the one close to Home Reef, and they sailed within two miles from it where they could see the volcano clearly.

"One mile in diameter and with four peaks and a central crater smoking with steam and once in a while an outburst high in the sky with lava and ashes. I think we're the first ones out here," he reported.

Frederik Fransson, the skipper, reported, "You might have heard about the sailor's superstition that you should never leave on a Friday. Well, we did and the sea turned to stone; it is hard to get a stronger sign than that. It sounds like a bad joke, but just wait until you see the pictures. Floating stones none-the-less. When you pick them up, it is easy to see that they are really just volcanic ash that is compressed into pumice stone. This experience mixed with a close encounter of three whales makes you understand that the ocean is full of surprises," he wrote in his blog.

Meanwhile, the pumice rafts from the Tongan volcano have swept past Fiji in the last three months.

[PIR editor’s note: According to the Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program, at least eight submerged volcanoes are currently being monitored among the highly volcanic islands of Tonga.]

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