July 5 - 22, 2005

Suwarrow is known to the cruising community as where Tom Neale chose to isolate himself for 25 years – from 1952 till 1977.  He left the island a few times during that span of years, and he published a book titled An Island to Oneself in 1966 in which he chronicles his life on Suwarrow.  He welcomed visiting cruisers to ‘his’ island, and that tradition continues.

Anchorage Island, Suwarrow

Suwarrow consists of many small islets on a barrier reef enclosing a large lagoon.  Although the lagoon is large, there is only one small anchorage off the aptly named Anchorage Island.

Suwarrow is uninhabited other than two caretakers whom are there for six months out of the year – during cruising season.  In recent years, one of those caretakers was Papa John, and he earned a reputation as a warm and friendly host.  We were told that Papa John would not return this year, and a new pair of caretakers – John and Vero – would be there.  We were disappointed that we would not get to meet Papa John, but the welcome we experienced from John and Vero eliminated any prior disappointment.

John and Vero live above an open-air structure in which they regularly have barbecues for arriving and departing boats.  The usual fare is coconut crabs, lagoon-caught fish, coconut pancakes, rice, and drinking coconuts.  Guests may or may not contribute food.  Some of the fish is fried, and some is baked over a fire of coconut husks.  It is always delicious.

Suwarrow is a bird sanctuary, and John and Vero took us to one of the islands (Gull Island) where the frigates and sooty terns nest.  It was an amazing sight!  Countless thousands of birds were nesting on any open space.  Many eggs were in nests, and many more were on the ground.  The air was thick with birds.

They also took us to Eighth Island to hunt coconut crabs.  Small crabs were easy to find, but the larger ones that we took to eat were a bit more stealth.  But we found plenty of them over an hour or two of hunting.

As we were crossing the lagoon to return to Anchorage Island, Vero threw out a small fishing lure.  Within about two minutes, she landed an 18″ rainbow runner.  Within the next ten minutes, she landed another four of that size.  She caught another two that made it to the boat but got away.  Then we saw a blacktip shark – probably about 6′ – hit one that was on the line.  Although we enjoy watching sharks, we are respectful of their potential ferocity when feeding, and it was an awesome sight to see this one hit the rainbow runner.  Extremely powerful animals!

John and Vero

Birds everywhere!

The south side of the lagoon has more sharks than any other area, and the sharks are known to be a bit more aggressive there. John tells all visitors of that, and he advises against diving or spear fishing there, so we were surprised to hear that a french couple went spear fishing on the south reef.  They had a fish speared, and they had an unwanted close encounter with a big shark there.  Fortunately they got away with just a big scare.

With our combined awe and respect for sharks, we felt comfortable diving in the lagoon, but we did not dive the south reef.  Also, our idea of shooting fish is with our cameras rather than spears.  Although we saw a few sharks, they were not interested in us.

Bud shot primarily fish shots.  We saw many familiar fish, and we also found a few that we had not previously seen.  He got some nice shots of a few of them.  Nita shot clams. The reef is nearly covered with giant clams (which are not necessarily giant in size), and their mantles are of amazing colors – colors that are more vibrant than one would expect in nature.  Nice diving.


When we arrived Suwarrow, there was one boat in the lagoon.  During our stay, there were as many as ten boats at one time!  This was cause for many “welcome” and “good bye” barbecues, and we did lots of socializing.

We met two brothers, Mark and Dan, traveling on a three-year-old 47′ Nordhaven that was really quite beautiful.  Neither of us had ever been aboard a boat like that, so we enjoyed seeing their boat.  We also enjoyed their pleasant company, and we hope to cross their path again later this year in Tonga.

Coconut crab

A beautiful butterfly fish

We also met Randy Repass – the founder of West Marine – and his lovely family.  Randy recently built a 66′ cat-rigged boat designed by Tom Wylie that Randy describes as a “concept boat”.  The boat is the culmination of many concepts from many people, so he named it Convergence.  Touring Convergence was a real treat – a boat outfitted with a seemingly unlimited budget.  We both left there with gear envy.  There are a few pages devoted to Convergence in the West Marine catalog, and you can also read more about her at www.westmarine.com/convergence.

Suwarrow is also where we met our friends Don and Gwen on Tackless II.  They too are divers, and we discovered that we have a lot in common.  We made fast and good friends, and we look forward to spending lots more time together this season.

But after a few weeks, it was time to move on.  We had been almost five months without a grocery store, and we were running out of many basics.  And we ran out of home brew.  We looked forward to American Samoa where we could get our accumulated mail, brew a batch of beer, and provisions would be available in abundance.  Don and Gwen on Tackless II were also headed for American Samoa, so we left within a few hours of each other with plans to stay in contact during the passage and see each other again in Pago Pago.

Read about our sail to American Samoa.

Giant clam