Suwarrow Atoll – the underwater playground!

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We sailed west from Bora Bora on a Wednesday morning. Our last night in French Polynesia was spent at the local Karaoke restaurant, listening to the local crowd busting out love song after love song – surprisingly entertaining!! Our initial plan was to sail to Maupihaa Atoll, followed by Palmerston island in the Central Cook islands. I looked at the weather and all signs were pointing at us changing plans and pointing Squander at the Northern Cook island of Suwarrow. It’s a destination that was 150 Nautical miles out of our way, but one that I had read about years earlier and was really excited to visit one day – I crossed my fingers and hoped it was the right decision.

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Our first two nights at sea were tough. The seas were in the 3m+ range and confused at best, Andy and I hadn’t had a good shakedown since sailing from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus back in May, whereas Dad was fresh off  a plane and Scott was still coming to terms with his sea legs not wanting to co-operate. IMG_1977

But by Day 3 the seas had calmed down, the sea legs kicked in and Scotty reeled in his first Tuna – things were looking up. IMG_1980

Dad took his watches very seriously, and was always up on deck on time – checking for light leaks??. IMG_1983

Scotty was getting involved in every aspect of sailing, fishing, and day to day life onboard. Seen here wrestling a BIG fish at sunset. IMG_1985

We had a couple of good days and the evening of Day 3 we realised there was a slim chance we could make it to Suwarrow by Sunset of Day 4 – not a bad run for a 660 mile trip.

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By Sunrise the Spinnaker was set, and Andy and I took turns hand steering aiming for a 180 mile run in 24 hrs.  IMG_1994
Yeeooow….the target is in our sights – Andy can taste that arrival rum already!
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Everyone was eager to arrive before sunset as our charts of the pass weren’t ideal. Pappa G getting involved with some keen eyeball naviguess-tion. IMG_2000
Glad to be here… inside the Atoll heading for the anchorage as the sun begins to set. IMG_2003

Squander was the 36th yacht to visit Suwarrow in 2011 – not a whole lot of traffic around these parts. IMG_2007

Anchorage island – population = 2 IMG_2018
With a cracker sunset, we enjoyed a quiet rum and an early night followed by a well deserved night’s rest.
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The next morning Andy had a fun time launching the dinghy amongst our welcoming committee IMG_2028
Scotty stoked to be back on terra firma…

Map of Suwarrow Atoll and reefs
We had aspiration to explore more of the Atoll, but solid trade winds and the resulting chop inside the lagoon confined us to the area around Anchorage island.
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Scotty and Andy stretching their legs – a walk around Anchorage island takes approx 30 minutes.
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Pappa G appreciating the local sights.
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Squander hanging out with some new friends. You begin to understand why the hermit, Tom Neale chose to live here for 17 years.

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Everywhere you turn, there seems to be a conveniently placed Hammock to stretch out on – Andy testing the eastern side of the island.IMG_2061

the path to the “office”

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Going through customs, Quarantine and immigration at Suwarrow – why can’t Sydney airport be this relaxed??

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With all of the formalities out of the way, it was time to start exploring the underwater world. For the first time since being the in the Pacific, we were told the words we wanted to hear – “there’s no threat of Ciguatera poisoning here, you can eat whatever you catch!”

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James, one of the two rangers that live on the island for 6-7 months a year, told us of a giant grouper that had been spotted near whale island the previous season – that’s all we needed as incentive to head that way as a starting spot for exploring.

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No giant grouper in sight, but plenty of interesting fish and coral. IMG_2078

ahmmm… speaking of interesting fish – The black-saddled grouper became our main target with the spear gun. Most were between 30-60cms with Andy being the leading marksman teaching Scotty and I his skills. IMG_2086

Scott happy with just one flipper IMG_2095

A small grey shark comes for a closer look. IMG_2104
Hey boys, I might check out the sharks from up here for now. IMG_2105
More interesting fish that we have never seen before… a Bird Wrasse on the bottom right amongst them. IMG_2119
the trumpet fish.
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Getting involved in the “food chain game” is interesting business… Scotty spotting Andy in the early days as we tried to work out how aggressive the local sharks are.

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The black tips are generally first to show up…

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Being a born king of diplomacy, Scotty brokered a deal with Mr Sharky.

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Thumbs up, we kill one and keep it… and then we shoot one and leave it for the sharks to eat – that’s the deal!

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The Lion fish – a pest in the southern Caribbean, seems to be at home here.
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Despite the deal we brokered, the black tip gang kept up its patrol and was never far away. IMG_2164

Andy  decided to take matters into his own hands with a less diplomatic approach. Squander was suddenly thrown into a kidnapping ring.
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Now listen here pal – you go tell ya mates, that if they don’t let me shoot three grouper per day, there will be serious trouble!

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The wild animal and his shark!

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One morning James and John asked if we could all come and help rebuild the jetty after one of the ladies caused a minor land slide upon entering her dinghy. Scott and Andy took up positions of Foreman and leading hand, while Gav & Matthew, also known as the “Blisters”, decided to show up after all the hard work was done.   IMG_2197

Following all the hard work on the Jetty, Scotty volunteered to use the over ripened bananas to bake a banana bread. There may have been some confusion with the ingredients or maybe it was Masterchef at his best?? either way an egg got replaced by chocolate and a good dose of rum, extra bananas were added and the baking time was extended by a solid 100% – the results were very “surprising”  to all of us – one word of warning – this is for professionals only -don’t try it at home kids!

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With the day drawing to a close, we munched on banana bread and reflected on the To Do list which needed attention. A storm was brewing on the horizon so I squeezed in one last snorkel before tackling the jobs the following day. IMG_2224
The elusive “Moorish Idol”
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As I swam back to Squander, Dad had launched a search and recovery mission – I guess I hadn’t realised I was back to being the kid and had to tell dad where I was going and what time I would be back… funny in retrospect!

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REALITY CORNER -  A NEW CONCEPT

We recently had a dinner conversation discussing the contrast of the images represented in the blog, with the reality of sailing and living aboard. There were a number of statements put forward as potential descriptions of the blog ranging from “highlights package”, to “false advertising” to “it doesn’t show the motion of the ocean” and a few others that escape me. It made me laugh but also made me wonder if I should start a “reality corner” aspect of the blog where we discuss the less glamorous aspects of our existence. I’m fairly certain, you, our audience is not interested, however I will give it a try…. here’s this month’s  top 5 of things that “weren’t in the brochure” .

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5. learning to cook lunch and dinner for 4 people and cleaning up in a small cabin, that has been attached to the latest rollercoaster ride at sea world and happens to have a perfect temperature for bikram yoga. Not to mention the inspiration that comes from the taste of the breakfast that refuses to stop crawling up your esophagus.

4. Not using fresh water – we do most of our showering, shampooing, washing  dishes in salt water. It really is no problem once you get used to it.

3. Oil filter vibrated loose on generator and caused masses of black oil to spill through the bilges mixing with the salt water from the leaky foot pump. Today activity – on your hands and knees with toilet paper scooping up black diesel oil for hours – fun for everyone.

2.  One of the toilets backwashed whilst we were sailing in some bumpy conditions, spilling you know what into the intricate shower floor (rock, scissors, paper for who get to clean it up)

1. Sailing up wind for 36 hours in big swells, Squally winds 20-35 knots and pouring rain – did I mention we actually had to put a jacket on – almost unheard of!

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Now back to what we really get up to….

With the sharks still not honouring their end of the deal, we decided to get more tricky with spear fishing – the idea is you pretend you’re just snorkeling, check out the sites, and when the sharks get bored and swim away you shoot the grouper you’ve being eyeing off for the past 15 minutes.

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Three species in one shot. From left to right  the White tip (top), the Black tip and the Grey shark.

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Up close with the menacing-looking white tip
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With the message loud and clear, we focused on the snorkeling for a while…

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This Giant Moray was looking hungry. IMG_2273
The smaller fish teasing the hungry eel.IMG_2289

Flutemouth fish IMG_2300

Starry Puffer – Winner of strangest looking fish in Suwarrow IMG_2306
They could be brothers.

With the sharks distracted, we quietly slipped the spear gun back in the water and went in search of lunch.

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Ooops… obviously not quietly enough – The white tip showing his stealth as Gav realises he has company – change of shorts please!

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Not having much luck, I decided to hand over the gun to Andy.

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It didn’t take long for Andy to spot his target in about 15 m of water.IMG_2339

and seconds later The white tip and the Grey shark were also coming in for the kill IMG_2340

The race is on to get it into the dinghy before the sharks eat your fish or…. you. IMG_2347

Unlucky mate, no fish for you, go find your own IMG_2379

Scottys target. IMG_2382

It’s best to get a kill shot through the head so the sharks don’t get into a frenzy and mistakenly eat you. Scotty with a solid kill.

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Andy with the day’s catch. heading up to the filleting board. We ate fresh Black-saddled grouper, peacock hind grouper and marbled grouper on a daily basis. Just a few of the creations – Fish soup, fish Thai red curry, pan fried in Garlic, Butter, Chili. The best.

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With the fishing out of the way, it was time to take care of some washing. So the women were sent to shore to the laundromat.

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The shark feeding area used to be around the other side of the island where the boats are anchored. But that all changed when one of the rangers got nipped on his ribs by a black tip.

Following the sunset shark feeding session, John and James (the rangers)  organised a “potluck” dinner for the yachties in the anchorage. Everyone  brings a plate and let the feast begin.

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Dinner time = Happy Andy IMG_2321

One of our neighbours plays the trump card. Baked apple pie. IMG_2323

Best immigration guy, AKA John the legend, in the world – now have a beer bro!  IMG_2327

It wasn’t long before some Rum was fetched from the boat and Scotty Sax came out for a one off show. IMG_2331

Ranger John, Corey from Rutea, and Lars from twister. IMG_2336

Papa G giving some solid life advice.. after a bottle of wine and a few rums. John seems to be taking it seriously.

One of the many great aspects of visiting places like Suwarrow, is that you tend to live life according to Nature’s will – you rise when the sun rises and once it sets, there’s no electricity to keep you awake (unless the full moon is out), so you tend to go to sleep early – if it rains you read a book, when the wind blows you kite, when it’s still you snorkel… most people are tired by 10pm and any attempt to bend nature’s laws tend to fail…. so despite a great evening being had by all, we were all back on our boats by 10:00pm ready for the next day’s activities.

Andy, the owner/skipper of Savannah told Andy and Scott there were big Manta Rays at a nearby reef. I’ve dreamt of swimming with these gentle giants for years. The tanks were prepped and we went off in search…
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No sign of the Mantas yet, Andy in the distance and Scott in the foreground.
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Cruising through the rugged terrain. 15 minutes and still no sign of any rays.

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And then – out of the blue, the first of three Manta Rays that we saw within half an hour.

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The Manta Ray is the largest species of the rays. They can grow up to 8m wide and weigh in at a solid 2300kgs. The biggest we saw were about 4 meters across.

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they are incredibly playful and not in the slightest bit shy.

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Follow me…like this….!

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Andy “flying like a manta” ,getting in close and personal, at one point just a few inches away.

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Blow some bubbles for me!! go on… IMG_2418

haaaaa…..Enjoying the Spa bath!

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Scotty exchanging fighter pilot tricks with our new friend.

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….And the Manta reciprocating with an evasive bank to the left.

Our white bellied friend decided it was time to leave us for now – the show ended all too soon and we hoped we had enough air left to see on more Ray before having to surface.
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We didn’t have to wait long, out of nowhere this black one almost blindsided Gav

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Hello human… I turned around and there it was – wow! IMG_2441
Seen with a 4 foot shark following it. IMG_2444

Like us they are curious and love to play

Speaking of playing, we definitely met our match in terms of a boat with the most toys onboard – in fact we were well and truly trumped by Pete and Daria from Downtime who have the best floating play pen we have seen to date. Kites, scuba gear, fishing gear, snorkeling, the best tender in town – Pete knows how to have fun – and so it was no surprise that they kindly decided to host a number of poker, dinner and drinks nights aboard Downtime – Thank you guys – good times and look forward to catching up again soon!

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Pete AKA “Gary Busey”  and the lovely Daria hosted a number of great poker and drinks nights aboard “Downtime”

Pete came over one morning and suggested we go kiting – he had devised a way of launching a kite of the back of his boat – it sounded great – Scott and Andy were out spearfishing, So Dad and I jumped in to Pete’s dinghy and headed over to setup.

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Imagine our surprise finding a movie star in the middle of the pacific. Jack Nicholson in Suwarrow.   IMG_2457
before long we were hooting up and down the bay in near perfect conditions – yet another tick for Suwarrow!

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With a fun afternoon of kiting and a couple of celebratory beers under our belts, we went and  got cleaned up before returning to Downtime for a night of poker.  IMG_2465
Most of the people in the anchorage took up the invite – the stern of Downtime still had room for a few more dinghies!
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The winner – ANDY from Savannah in the centre of the photo.

It was Day 8 in Suwarrow, time had flown and like it or not we had to start thinking about moving on to Tonga. A 720 Mile crossing. The weather was looking tentative at best, but we had little choice as it looked like it was now or not for another week. before leaving we took Dad for a snorkel in the hope of showing him a Manta Ray.

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Pappa G searching the depths.

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Blowing bubbles to try and attract the Mantas.

We had almost given up when  a Black bellied Manta Ray flew in for a look accompanied by a bunch of Remora sucker fish.

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It didn’t feel like sticking around for too long….

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Until Scotty went and grabbed its ‘hand’…

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And it was soon back for another fly by!

And so on that note we all signed out from Suwarrow in our own way….
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Scotty saying goodbye to the underwater world. IMG_2491
Until next time black tip.    IMG_2502
Floating in the blue Abyss – Thanks Suwarrow!

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Pappa G kicking back in the Dinghy – satisfied with his efforts!
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on the morning of leaving Gav went up the mast to have a look at some strange noises coming from the Staysail Furler – nice view from up here!    IMG_2531

With all said and done we went ashore to say goodbye to James and John – Andy sacrificed his Squander T-shirt, left behind as a memento.

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John and James soon stapled it to a leg of their house

And so we sailed off on a Monday morning – bound for Tonga – it was an interesting trip, we caught 2 Wahoo and a decent Mahi Mahi, lost a number of lures to BIG fish and ended up getting both lines spooled arriving in Tonga with no fishing lines left. there are some serious fish in these waters!!!

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Sailing with Dad – over 4 weeks onboard Squander – we’ll miss you Pappa G! IMG_2543
Stoked with Wahoo numero uno!

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Smiles all around as we catch dinner!
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Pappa G has been awesome – cooking dinner, washing up and generally helping around the boat wherever he could!
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Scotty getting some driving under his belt!

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resting – the calm before the storm!

We had a hard final 36 hrs – upwind in 25-35kn apparent at 30 to 45 degrees –short, steep swells – Huey decided to give us a good old pounding – we were struggling to keep on course. with some of the most serious conditions we have had to sail in.

We all had a good laugh at it in the end though – Scotty and Dad got a comprehensive intro to sailing in the last month – sailing over 1500 Nautical miles in a big variety of conditions, Squander held her own and we’re all here in Tonga, safe and sound and enjoying the local attractions!

Until next time!


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