An unlikely rescue

Warner02 1229x1536
Warner02 1229x1536
Above, Peter Warner with the six young Tongans he rescued from the island of Ata.

The following sounds like a fairy tale, but it isn’t. 

Peter Warner wasn’t happy. He’d cruised more than 2,000 nautical miles from Australia to ask the king of the nation of Tonga for permission and the necessary permits to fish for the highly prized spiny lobster that thrived in those waters. The king had refused his request, and now Warner and his crew, aboard the fishing trawler Just David, were returning home.

Passing a small island in an archipelago of 169 islands that make up the nation of Tonga, they passed the small uninhabited island of Ata. Scanning the shore with the binoculars, Warner noticed a burnt patch of ground that struck him worthy of investigation. It was odd, he thought, that there should be burned ground on an island where no one lived. As the vessel got closer, a young man swam toward the boat.  

The swimmer, a young man, came alongside and exclaimed in perfect English, “I am one of the six castaways; we think we have been here for one year.”

Skeptical but willing to help, Warner invited the boy to board and called Tonga radio to affirm this fantastic story. Twenty minutes later, the tearful operator from Tonga confirmed that the boys had been given up for dead months ago. 

The six young men had, on a lark, taken a boat from Tonga for a midnight sail in June of 1965. As in some mariner’s nightmare, the wind came up, the sail ripped, the mast broke, and the rudder was lost. They drifted for eight days before reaching Ata, and over the next months they used their skills to form a community based on cooperation. Although they thought they would never get home again.

Using skills that they had learned from their elders, they learned to fish, thatched a shelter to keep them from the elements, planted gardens, and made fire. They never let the fire go out.

Warner returned the boys to Tonga, where he was treated as a hero. The Tongan king was so happy he gave Warner the permission to fish for the spiny lobster.

Warner was so impressed that he moved to Tonga and lived there for the next 30 years. Warner had long been wedded to adventure and the sea. He was a sailor through and through, winning the Sydney to Hobart race three times on a Fife-designed 86-foot schooner. 

Warner recently died at age 90 sailing on his boat. 

Let’s join Warner, aboard Just David on November 18, sailing the islands of Tonga. We will use the 2021 Nautical Almanac. The DR is 25° 21’ S by 175° 05’ W. We are doing a noon sight, lower limb. The height of eye is 20 feet, and the Hs is 83° 54.5’. n

A. Calculate the time of meridian passage.

B. Calculate Ho.

C. Find the latitude. 



By Ocean Navigator