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Tonga volcanic eruption seen by yacht crew

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Eruption near Vava'u on August 12-13. Frederik Fransson 'Maiken'.

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' have 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.

After passing Tonga's Late island 'Maiken' crew member Haken reported seeing streaks of pumice floating in the water, then, "We sailed into a vast, many miles wide, belt of densely packed pumice. 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."

A massive pumice raft off Vava'u. Frederik Fransson, 'Maiken'.

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. Maiken blog

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

Seen from Mounu

Allan Bowe, at the Mounu Island Resort, reported seeing an eruption on Late Iki that could be seen from Mounu Island between August 9-11, "We could hear what sounded like continuous thunder rumbling to the south and there was a huge plume of smoke and cloud rising up into the sky," he said.

Allan said that at the time they rang the tower at the airport in Vava'u and asked if the pilots could have a look.