The Kingdom of Tonga is full of shipwrecks. The country is such a reef-filled place that this is no surprise! It takes quite a bit of skill to safely navigate the reefs and approach many of these islands.
When we were anchored at Ha'afeva, we saw marked on the charts that there was a shipwreck across the lagoon. About a mile away, the tip of an the old ship poked out of the water. The tip was visible at low tide, but completely disappeared at high tide. So choosing our time carefully, Uncle Kurt and I rowed over to explore.
A giant Korean fishing vessel lay on an angle in the water. Its stern (rear) was lodged on the reef. Its giant metal body stretched out behind this, and the prow (nose) was lying on the sandy bottom between the jungle of coral heads. At low tide, most of the ship was only about a meter below the surface, so I was able to snorkel and explore. You could still see the letters faintly painted on the metal hull, and the giant structure was an imposing form below the surface. I swam along just above the ship's deck to examine it. Then I pulled myself head-first through two of the several hatches that opened on the deck and led into it's dark belly below. Brightly coloured fish and weird shapes hung motionless in the mirk below, but I didn't dare go down into the hold. Visions of human-hungry octapuses, skeletons, and other horrors filled my mind. An old, tiled bathroom stall was shattered open on the deck, and the remains of the engine could be seen. The ship also attracted the most brilliant fish life, which hovered about the deck. The forward cabin jutted up above the rest of the main deck, so if you swam in front, you were in direct eye-level with the empty cabin as well as all the bright fish the circled about it. Pretty quickly, I stopped feeling terrified and felt instead what a little goldfish must feel when it first sees an underwater palace: tiny and in awe! I think that this wreck was perhaps most stunning experience of the whole sea adventure.
Later, in Tongatapu we saw many more shipwrecks. They weren't pretty, though, but big hulking bits of metal and wooden mess. Wrecks abound in this part of the world because no one has the money or wants to be bothered to get rid of them. The only exception was before the new king's coronation when the city towed big wrecks away to the far side of the bay where they were less visible.
Near the capital, the tip of a wrecked Chinese fishing vessel stuck out of the water. It was not too far from where we were anchored, so one afternoon I took the kayak over to explore. What looked like the whole bow of the boat jutted like a big, white tooth above the water. When I got closer, what looked like the "bow" turned out to be just the point on the actual prow of a massive white boat that disappeared into the depths below. A mast of some kind also stretched out into the blackness. The size of the ship and depth of the water was enough to keep me comfortably paddling about in the kayak and not diving down to explore. It was downright creepy!
Still, there is something fascinating about these shipwrecks. It's like a piece of history has gotten frozen where the ship went aground (a-reef, I should say). You can see exactly where time stopped for this boat. Also, how many stories and conversations and emotions and dramas were enacted in what was once a great ship?! The Ha'afeva ship was still full of life: taken over by schools of fish and strange whiskered underwater creatures and colourful coral sprouting in patches on the deck. However, all the human stories were hidden by time and water and only visited and vaguely imagined by the occasional snorkeler like myself.
(On a side-note, hopefully no one died; the local people are quick to help out sailors who are floundering on a reef).