Friends and Whales

During our weeks in Niue we first met Stuart and Charmane, an Australian and South African cruising couple, during our check in at customs. While waiting for the customs official to arrive we found out that they had sailed the Southern Ocean for four years, including two trips to Antarctica, while raising their daughter, who now attends an Australian university. Since he works as a doctor and she a nurse, they sometimes get six-month work contracts all around the world, helping support their wonderful cruising life. It wasn’t until later though, that we found about their personalities. Stuart will go off spouting a story that’s utter balderdash, like I sometimes do. Charmane seems serious at first but is just as much of a jokester as he is! We met them several more times and really struck it off. We left Niue a week before them hoping, if not expecting, to see them again.
We arrived in Tonga on a Friday, so we didn’t finish checking in and were told to come back Monday. When we came back to get the health certificate we saw, to our delighted surprise, Vlakvark (Charmane and Stuart’s boat – it means warthog in Afrikaans)! We dinghied to them and discovered that they had arrived Sunday, having left Niue earlier than planned. Having some grocery shopping to do, we said our good byes and continued ashore. On our way back they were just finishing with customs, so Anson invited them to his birthday party (he turned 19 on September 4th). They joined us at an anchorage and we had a wonderful time listening to their fascinating stories and eating cake. Unfortunately, we had to leave them the next day because, fortunately, a kite boarding wind had come up!
Four days of exhausting kite boarding later, Mark recognized their signature warthog on their jib as they sailed past. We organized a meeting place and went to a couple of anchorages together, where they invited us over for a delicious dinner and cards. The next morning Stuart rowed over in their wooden dinghy and invited me to come and stay with them for a few days! I immediately accepted and got my things ready.
We had left the anchorage an hour after I boarded Vlakvark and now were ghosting through the water at a speed of 2 to 3 knots. The wind was light, only 5 or 6 knots, with a small swell gently rocking us. An exclamation of “whale” reached my ears. Three hundred yards away, a dark back rose from the water with a loud exhale, three others following shortly. With a flurry of movement, Stuart brought out camera gear, and Charmane and I drifted behind the boat, holding onto the sugar scoop stern. We worked our way up the hull until we could see the whales. Two of them slapped the water with their fins, which we believe was a confrontation, as it soon stopped and only three whales were sighted after. The whales continued to get nearer without any more drama until they were just a hundred feet off our bow. When they were directly in front of us I ducked my head under water and glimpsed a large, dark shape with a white underbelly slowly making its way forward. It was awe inspiring to see the huge mammal swim in the same paths its ancestors had traveled millennia ago. They surfaced farther away and continued their leisurely pace. We swung back around to our original course and continued onwards.
An hour later we reached our destination and dropped the hook. Immediately all three of us jumped into the water. As soon as my head was under water I could hear a haunting whale song! I instantly lifted my head and saw Charmane had done the same. “Do you hear the whales, Devon?” she asked, treading water. I nodded, then dove deeper down as it was easier to hear the melody. Each time I submerged myself I heard a short snippet of a longer verse. Looking back on it, it might have even been the song of the beaten male. Ten minutes later we continued the snorkel and took a short walk around the island before leaving to go to a safer anchorage for the night. After barely avoiding uncharted shallow reefs, we reached the anchorage and dropped the hook. Devon
Vava’u group of islands, Tonga

2 thoughts on “Friends and Whales

  1. Well written Devon! What great adventures you are having sailing, kite boarding and diving in the South Seas. Lots of love to you and the rest of the crew- Peter and Harry and Mary

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    • What a marvelous writer you are Devon- I could almost see the whales below the boat as you described your experience so well. Fantastic that you had the opportunity to spend a few days with new friends (and away from the berth in Anthea). We hope you are able to meet more new people. One of the joys of sailing is the diverse folks out there! Love Nana and Papa

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