Before coming to Tonga I didn’t really know what a ‘yachtie’ was; a strange breed of person I’d not discovered before, travelling the world aboard their yacht. Tonga – remotely and beautifully situated in the middle of the South Pacific – attracts so many yachties to its waters and in meeting quite a few, I’ve found they come in all shapes and sizes. Retired couples living a dream, young people adventuring across the seas and hitching rides, families travelling the world and homeschooling their ‘rigging rats’ aboard. We’d hear them arriving into Vava’u on the VHF – the main channel of communication for us all – used by yachties and land lubbers alike. The VHF in Vava’u is used like a local radio service and telephone with local news, adverts, buy, sell or give away posts every morning, and callers asking to go to another channel, say 1.4, for a more ‘private’ chat. We got our own call sign once we moved to fofoa cabin (“Fofoa cabin” of course) but rarely braved the radio other than calling Happy Api to make a plan, a regular occurrence, or once to broadcast a slightly tiddly Christmas ‘Queens speech’!
News of a yacht with an unusually high amount of children aboard came long before we heard or met ‘L’il Explorers.’ Mostly based in Niafu Harbour to sit out the hurricane season we grew to know their voices as we heard them call in on the radio regularly; the deeper voice of Courage, the dad, and the high pitched lilt of his son Intrepid. They are a remarkable family with 7 kids ranging in age from 2 to 16 who’d just crossed the Pacific. People had mixed reactions – ‘wow they must be nuts’, or ‘how amazing’ or a combination of both. We bumped into them a few times on shopping trips in town and made friends, and, excited they had a girl Maisie’s age, arranged the odd play together on our neighbouring goat island. Bumping into Courage at a New Years eve party we finally hatch a plan to spend time together on new years day; a great and memorable way to start the year.
Such an experience to be out on their huge catamaran and get a glimpse of their life. They have been sailing for 2 years so far.We soon put aside our slight suspicions that they were part of some exotic cult and realized they are simply warm Californians with a bunch of kids with whacky names. The mum Shannon and eldest daughter are away in America (we met them before in Blue lagoon) and the amazing dad, appropriately called Courage, is coping with 5 kids and boat alone.
There is Interpid, 9 years old, skinny and freckled with a mad high pitched voice but incredibly capable, driving the yacht and the dinghy and always rushing to the kids rescue. Then there is Integrity aged 7 about to be 8, a tougher but sweet kid holding Kian’s hand to show him around, then Innocence, 6, a girlfriend for Maisie at last, Vitality, such a cutie with a shaved head as she hacked at her hair with scissors is 4, and lastly Valiant, a sweet and fearless toddler of 2 yrs.
They all live aboard a surprisingly big and comfy boat. We were blown away by the amount of space; a big open cockpit with dining area, a large living room space inside complete with huge tv and normal kitchen – big oven and units – and plenty of beds. It’s a practical family home that Courage built from just an outer shell, not a swanky flashy yacht, and it’s delightful.
We all ate together around the big family table, not squeezed in or juggling for spaces as I’m more used to in boats. Kian and I slept in a really nice double bed spare room complete with fan and fairy lights, and Marlon and Maisie had their own bunks.
The best thing of all was out on deck; they had nets between the hulls that the kids could bounce on, and huge swings that flew right across the boat. So much fun! It kept us all amused for hours.
We went on to moor at Nuku island and spent time snorkelling and watching the strange garden eels. Like characters in a Moomins story they stick their long heads out of the sand, quickly hide as we approach, then slowly reappear and begin their silent swaying again.
and at fishing, climbed the mast, and continued swinging into the evening, then enjoyed a spectacular sunset, a velvet starry night and a good long sleep being gently rocked in the bowss
It was a truly special experience, one of the highlights of our trip. I found it inspiring to see what’s possible – education, life and adventure on the high seas! We would like to see them again somewhere and hopefully we will as we all continue our journeys on this wonderful planet.