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A short stay in Vava’u, Northern Tonga

Writing this blog can be a real challenge sometimes… so much goes on, that it takes some serious effort to travel back in time and try and recall the multitude of experiences, emotions and events that took place in a different country, time zone and environment. One of the techniques I use, aside from the actual photos, is to look at emails that I sent to people when we’re at sea. The below excerpt of an email I sent to Rob summarizes our final 48 hours of the 720 Nautical mile trip from Suwarrow to Tonga

Calm before the storm, Wahoo Sashimi – powering along in a gentle breeze and calm seas.

From: vjn3469
Subject: laughing
Date: 2011/08/14 21:28:10

Thanks mate.

Had a look at the GRIB and decided to slow down to hopefully let the majority of the front pass North, before we plough straight through it. 216 to go – calm seas, and a gentle breeze on the beam – calm before the storm???

THAT WAS YESTERDAY – I GOT INTERRUPTED as I was writing this last night we piled straight into the Sou-Wester.

Hard 24 hrs – 25-35kn apparent at 30 to 45 degreees – getting an absolute pounding and struggling to keep on course. pretty full on out here, cracking up though as we’re really taking Scotty and Dad though their intro to sailing course (and some!)


yep, some of the toughest conditions we have experienced since sailing from Bermuda to the Azores in the northern Atlantic some 18 months ago.

Psyching up to take on the night watch in pouring rain and big seas.

Andy and I took turns hand steering – trying to minimise the pounding as we sailed into short, steep seas. Pappa G strapped in and having ‘FUN’.
Another decent wave rolls through under Squander.

the worse of the storm is over, wind swings 30 degrees and we look like being able to make it to Tonga.

Every storm has to end, as a new day dawns we spot Tonga on the horizon… and….

… we land a Mahi Mahi at long last IMG_2596
Scotty holding up the final piece of the fishing puzzle!

Smiles all around – Pappa G responds to the news that Tonga is in our sights!  IMG_2600
Squander looking a little battered down below – the table went flying and tried to join Andy in his bunk as we fell off one of the waves the night before.
Well done Dad…!! a proud sense of achievement as we cover the final miles of a 1400+ Nautical mile journey from Bora Bora to Tonga via Suwarrow!
Still plenty of Breeze as we sail into Vava’u in Northern Tonga!

Neiafu Harbour in Tonga – a welcome shelter.

We were all tired but with some encouragement from Rob, Hanne and the Ashes – we had a celebratory arrival Rum or two… at 11:00 am… and continued well into the afternoon and the evening. Incidentally, recent studies of sailors, have concluded that drinking large quantities of rum upon arrival in a port is an evolutionary phenomenon that erases the bad memories, and swells the stories to such proportion that they in turn drive the sailors to continue on their adventures with little or no  ‘liability’ from the previous discomfort experienced…. really!!!!
a couple of stowaways in the sail bag!


The next day we did all the usual chores associated with arriving in a new country… customs, immigration, quarantine and a fresh food shop!! Still looking a bit tired after the pre and post arrival battering!

We quickly got Squander back in shape and rejoined our friends on Backbeat, MAD and Sequel – we all headed off for Blue Lagoon… a small anchorage South West of the main island of Vava’u.

Leaving town behind. IMG_2664

As it turned out there were three other boats already there – two from OZ and Mike, a solo sailor from the states on "Flyer"


We were really hoping to find waves… but it wasn’t looking promising.


With the sun setting, and nature putting on yet another unique show for us, we decided to check out the local bar.

Backbeat with golden fingers of sunshine in the background.

The crooked pontoon – based on an average trajectory of a drunk sailor – apparently since removing the straight Pontoon, incidents of drunken sailors falling in the water has diminished by 30%!…. I love the initial sweeping bend to the right, followed by the sharp correction to the left.. they’re onto something!
despite the potential of this place, we didn’t feel all that at home and a plan was formulated to organise a BBQ on the beach instead.

Andy playing support for Rob on the BBQ

Dinner is served!  IMG_2694
Freya putting on the after dinner fire show!

The next day we explored the outer reef, free diving whilst being entertained by the sounds of Whales ‘singing’ nearby… at first we literally thought it was someone playing a  joke on us, as the whale songs were so clear it sounded as if they were right next to us.

Scotty hunting the depths in search of whales
IMG_2698   IMG_2707 IMG_2720

We ended up circumnavigating the small island, pappa G was having so much fun he didn’t want to get back in the dinghy and swam around almost all the way back to the anchorage!   IMG_2726

That evening, everyone was in good spirits and a jam session was called on BackBeat… Scotty, Raffa and Ash lead the charge interchanging the three guitars onboard, where as Andy played solid support keeping the beat.   IMG_2732 IMG_2735

Ash threw me a harmonica, and I think I got one note out that was vaguely in tune… Scotty trying to work out the magic that was spilling from my mouth! IMG_2741
As the main band took a break, the support act surprised everyone!
Moji encouraging an unplugged session after hearing the efforts of the support band!

after 2 nights in Blue Lagoon, and still no sign of waves, we started seeking out other activities… First on the list was Mariner’s cave, possibly the most famous of the many caves in Tonga, and also one of the more challenging to find.


searching for Mariner’s cave

We eventually found the entrance, and took a leap of faith swimming inside

Here comes Scotty. once inside there’s a significant pocket of air where you can come up for a breather.

Hanging out on the surface inside the cave as the light beams in from the outside world via the underwater world tinting it a fluorescent blue.


Scotty comes up from the depths as Andy hangs on the surface inside the cave.

Every time the swell rolls in the air becomes crystal clear, and the minute it drains away a dense fog surrounds the cave…


eerie at first, but you soon get used to the sudden fog.

time to go… we’ll be back when Brent arrives!         IMG_2800

Dad stood by on Squander as we played in the cave… before long Pappa g had us enroute to our next destination.  IMG_2826
We were in the mood for caves so decided to check out Swallow’s cave

This time I stood by on Squander, as Andy, Dad and Scotty took the dinghy for a run  inside the cave. IMG_2840  IMG_2847

We proceeded to search for a deep underwater cave that is supposed to be home to many lobsters. We got the scuba gear ready, briefed Pappa G who was going to be our surface support aboard Squander and prepped our expedition.  IMG_2853
The dive compressor has been getting a lot of use lately.

We dived an amazing spot and found a number of caves, but no sign of lobsters. Unfortunately I didn’t take down my camera, so you’ll have to take my word for it!!

With all the fun we were having, time was ticking and Sequel got on the radio that the weather window was looking good to get moving – tonight!! This was likely to be the last place we were going to see them before a big reunion in Australia!

Team Sequel, Angus, 6 years old, first sailed on Sequel before he was 1 years old sailing from England to Norway and then to the Caribbean.  Freya 4, basically born on Sequel and Mum Hanne on her 2nd circumnavigation. IMG_2868
We’ve sailed with Sequel since first meeting in Panama over 5 months ago, in these 5 months there has been one or two occasions where our mutual departures have been mutually interrupted by an impromptu goodbye drink that tasted too good to stop at one….


and so it was that Sequel came to say goodbye and stayed overnight tied up next to Squander for a final farewell!


We woke up the next morning feeling a little hazy, Sequel was motoring out of the harbour and heading for Fiji. For us it was Super Saturday – the local Rugby derby was on and we were told it should be a good day with two big games planned.


Despite the wet conditions, we braved the muddy tracks and made it to the local footy ground.

A solid turn out!

the local Chinese $2 shop was making a fortune – Rebecca, Moji and gAsh (girl Ash) sport the latest in football fashion accessories.

before long the local boys ran on to great roars and cheers form the crowd.
that was until the opposition fielded their side…IMG_2891
the local Gatorade sponsored VIP box.
Ash and gAsh.
The local boys try to get on the board with an attempted 3 pointer.
Despite all of the fun and fanfare of the Rugby, we bailed out at half time and headed back to the boats for an afternoon of slow cruising down to Lape island, where the local villagers were putting on a fundraiser to help build a small wharf.
there was no wind, so we motored all the way there – I came up with an idea to Skurf behind Squander and try and ride the dinghy’s wake.
Andy imagining a 6 foot barrel behind him…
before long we were anchored off Lape island and headed ashore to the small village of 20 or so inhabitants.
we got there just in time, as the chief said a few words of thanks, and the village choir sang a song or two.
The local feast was impressive, Rebecca jumping the line again as Moji protests and poor old Simon hopes there’s enough food left to go around!
the local kids looked well fed!
and we soon understood why – yum!!

Scotty, Andy and Dad.

The next day was yet again flat, and we felt for Scotty who was dying to get one more wave session in before returning to reality back in Sydney, we were all a bit frustrated as we had had high expectations for surfing Tonga….

Just as our frustrations were threatening to hit boiling point, Pappa G yelled out WHALE!! and we ended up spending the rest of the afternoon Whale watching, forgetting the lack of waves. IMG_2942 IMG_2967
there she blows!
Mum and baby!
We tried to turn off our engines, and depth sounders in a hope that the whales will stick around Squander for a while.

but they had other ideas, diving for the depths in search of a quiet spot to rest for the night.

but just as one pod disappeared another one popped up on our bow… my ‘brilliant’ camera decided to create an artistic focused version of the stitching in my furler with blurred whale in the background – magic! IMG_2984
these guys were a little more curious….
popping their head out for a look…

The sun was setting and we still had a way to go to our anchorage for the night, so it was time to say goodbye to the whales…


The next day we motored to town and i jumped in a cab to meet Brent TR at the airport. He arrived in great spirits to spend 3 weeks with us aboard Squander in Tonga.


We picked up some more supplies and were soon underway again, this time to a remote anchorage near Kenutu island.


We didn’t waste any time and soon threw Brent into the great blue abyss of snorkeling and free diving.

Welcome to Tonga…!. IMG_2990

Unidentified 4-5 foot shark of sorts?! IMG_2991   IMG_3001
Scotty making the most of his last days of a 7 week stay aboard Squander – wow that flew!

Brent’s first day comes to an end!
It’s not always paradise out here… in fact Tonga hadn’t been delivering the best in terms of weather or swell and so we decided to call an early end to our stay and head for Fiji….but not before changing a few logistics around…. I emailed Sofi (our newest crew member from Argentina) who was due to arrive in 4 days time from NZ and explained what was going on – she understood and rebooked her flight direct to Fiji with no fuss, the next step was to discuss an unplanned ocean crossing with Brent who had a return ticket to Sydney from Tonga – he was equally flexible and agreed to sail with us from Tonga to Fiji!

Dad and Scott’s last night in Tonga – we took over one of the local waterfront restaurants.  IMG_3023
BACK ROW: Brent, Scotty, Andy, Moji, Pappa G, Simon and Scott (from MAD)
FRONT ROW: Rebecca, gAsh, Ash and Gavin

Dad looking tanned and relaxed….!

The next morning Dad and Scott took off for the two flights back to Sydney via Tongatapu. For us it was time to visit a few of the sights with Brent, check out  of Tonga and look for a weather window to Fiji.
Friday night at the local park… roasting a couple of pigs and a few chooks!

The weather was looking good for a Saturday morning departure, so we got everything out of the way and saved the afternoon to show Brent Mariner’s cave.

Squander docked at the local container terminal, where a Diesel Truck comes to fill us up with Duty Free Fuel…

On the way we came across a couple of sleeping whales… I broke one or two of the guidelines and jumped in the water in an attempt to try and swim with them.
Chasing giant whales with a mask and flippers is not as easy as it seems…. I got within 20 metres before they reached for the depths.

The water was unusually murky…. I was so close, yet so far
Andy stood by on Squander as Brent and I explored mariner’s cave again.


A perfect day for a sail – waking up early on Saturday morning for the trip to Fiji.

Despite only being onboard for 3 days, Brent acclimatized very quickly to life at sea. We had a dream run with strong winds and mostly clear skies.

Sailing West as the sun sets on the first day at sea!

And so here we are in Fiji – country number 20 for Squander in as many months. Fiji so far as been everything we imagined and a lot more. we still have at least 2 weeks left and it’s already looking like a bumper issue in the making with new crew, surfing, diving, guests from OZ, local villages and the occasional goodbye party as our floating caravan starts to disperse and head to their varied final destinations for this sailing season!

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Mel C

    Bula Bula! Love the blog Gav, even with bad weather and we can’t wait to hear about magical Fiji which is still fresh in our memories from April. We would’ve loved to time our stay with yours had baby not been in the way but will settle for swapping stories later on… Somehow I think you’ll be doing most talking. 🙂 Mel Carter.

  2. Carol & Paul Cook

    Please reserve an autographed copy of the book (with pictures) that you are going to write!
    We watched Hurricane Irene from CO. Odysseus safe on the hard and house and beach fine. Whew!
    Off to Paris in 10 days. Should be back on Odysseus late Oct. and head south mid Nov. FL and 3rd and last time to Bahamas. Hugs to you and Simon.

  3. Rick Tara

    As usual, an amazing photo journal of your trip. I wish I could have spent more time with you guys.(Ash’s dad)

  4. Piero

    Gavinooooo!!!!! awesome shots… the ones on the caves are totally out of control! and the wales? dude!

  5. Michael

    Love the sailor theories, they make perfect sense …
    Great pis of Matthew too; special times!
    Speak soon – M

  6. Sambo

    Gav those shots in the cave are psycho. Your gonna have quite the reel at the end of all this.

  7. Les Dunn

    Friend of Rob, Hanne and the kids, did the same thing with Rob 20 years ago and still bumping into him on different boats and oceans still, always a welcome sight. Great blog and excellent photo’s, may bump into you on day.

    Les Dunn

  8. Richard from SV Moksha

    Hi Gav

    Asha tells me it is a Leopard Shark. She dived with one in Thailand a few years ago.

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