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Friday, April 28, 2023

Castaway - no, not the one with Tom Hanks!

Click on 'Watch on YouTube' to watch this full-length movie.
"Castaway" is a 1983 autobiographical book by Lucy Irvine about her year on the Australian tropical Torres Strait island of Tuin, having answered a want ad from writer Gerald Kingsland seeking a "wife" for a year in 1982. Her book was the basis of the 1986 film "Castaway", starring Oliver Reed as Gerald Kingsland and Amanda Donohoe as Irvine.


An infinity of sea and sky bluer and more brilliant than in any dream. Our wake made a white streak across the blue so struck with glittering points of light it smarted the eye. We passed islands to our left and to our right; bottle green bosomy mounds frilled about with white sand rising out of that electric world of blue."

Lucy Irvine and her "husband" Gerald Kingsland spent a year in 1982 on the tiny uninhabited island of Tuin in the Torres Strait, some five years after I had lived and worked on nearby Thursday Island.


Read the book online at


Lucy Irvine was born on 1 February 1956 in Whitton, Middlesex. She ran away from school and had no full-time education after the age of thirteen. She was employed as a charlady, monkey-keeper, waitress, stonemason's mate, life model, pastry-cook, and concierge, and also worked with disabled people and as a clerk at the Inland Revenue.

She has written "One is One"; an account of her early years, aptly named "Runaway"; "Castaway"; and - which is where our paths crosssed again - "Faraway" about her year spent on remote Pigeon Island in the then British Solomon Islands where I almost took a job myself in late 1969.


Location maps of Tuin Island


Forget Tom Hanks! Read about real castaways, and watch the movie!

Where is Steve Gates now?

To read more about Telekivava'u, click here


I first heard about Steve Gates and Telekivava'u Island during my visit to Tonga in 2006. Steve arrived on Telekivava'u in November 2003 aboard his own Searunner 37 trimaran "Manu-O-Ku".




Steve became the island's longest-serving caretaker, staying there for three years. As wrote on his website: "I sailed to Tonga in 2003 for a unique job to be caretaker of a very remote 40 acre private island in the already remote central group of Tonga, Ha’apai. It was rather idyllic, pristine island, Manu-O-Ku anchored in the lagoon, spending weeks at a time totally alone on the island. I did that for 3 years ..."


Steve's boat 'Manu-O-Ku'


Afterwards he ran a charter business for some 4-1/2 years in Vava'u and finally left Tonga in June 2011 (after category-4 cyclone Rene in February 2010) for Fiji (July 2011), Vanuatu (September 2011), Solomons (November 2011), and Palau (February 2012). He arrived at Port Barton in the Philippines on New Year's Eve 2012 where he then lived to continue his charter business "Manu-O-Ku Sailing Adventures". His website has since gone "off air" and so I quote from it here:

"Originally, I created this website in 2008 for the business I began in Vava’u Tonga, taking couples on 3-7 day sailing trips. I singlehandedly operated the business until June of 2011, when I sailed out of Tonga, returning to a nomadic lifestyle, and headed west: Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Palau, Philippines. During this period of cruising I had the pleasure of sharing it with a few different old and new guests.

Manu-O-Ku is a Searunner 37' trimaran designed by Jim Brown. I have owned her 30 years, have sailed her over 35,000 nautical miles, and is my only home. This lifestyle works for me ... a nomadic self-reliant lifestyle, on the oceans, among islands ... sailing your home, wandering the world yet sleeping in your own bed."


Steve's 'Manu-O-Ku' somewhere in the Philippines


On another page of his now defunct website, he wrote: "I have always tried to live one day at a time.  I lived in Tonga for nearly eight years, but it took me only the first six months for me to 'upgrade' that life philosophy to 'one moment at a time'.  The Tongans truly live this way, and the western world could learn a lot from them. Plans? Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."

His latest YouTube clip in 2021 was from the Philippines which suggests that Steve is still "wandering the world yet sleeping in [his] own bed":



To watch the clip, click here.



Episode 32 Sailing to "Faraway" uploaded in January 2020: "We set sail from the island of Santa Cruz after completing the entry formalities of clearing into The Solomon Islands. We had heard about a fascinating group of islands about 30 miles away. The Reef Islands also known as Swallow Islands and Matema Islands are a group of 16 islands with a population of just over 5000 people. We were particularly interested in one of the small islands, where an English couple settled in the 1950's, obtained a lease, traded and raised a family."


I first heard about Pigeon Island and the Hepworth family when I tried to find work in the islands back in 1969. Tom Hepworth had written a very enticing letter in response to my classified advertisement in the backpage of the PACIFIC ISLANDS MONTHLY, offering me a job as 'book-keeper' in his growing enterprise, Pigeon Island Traders.

He described to me in vivid colours the sort of life I would lead if I were to join him and his family on Pigeon Island. He wouldn't be able to pay me much but, as he put it, neither would I need much money and I would have plenty of time to pursue my own interests and continue my accountancy studies.

I was sorely tempted but I was also concerned about my professional career and what "career" would there be with something called "Pigeon Island Traders" located on one of the remotest islands in the South Pacific? Instead, I accepted another offer from a firm of chartered accountants in the then Territory of Papua & New Guinea - and I have never looked back!

It was only in retirement that I began to recall my many wanderings throughout the South Pacific and around the world which led me to ponder what might have happened had I opted for one and not another of the many choices that had come my way. And so I also thought again about Pigeon Island and on the spur of the moment wrote a letter to "Tom Hepworth, care of Pigeon Island Traders, Pigeon Island, Reef Islands, Solomon Islands."

Some months went by and I thought no more of it until one day I received an envelope covered in a lot of colourful Solomon Islands stamps. In it was a letter from Ben Hepworth, the now grown-up son of Tom Hepworth, who told me that his father had passed away some years ago but that he and his twin brother Ross and his mother Diana were still living on the island. He had enclosed some photographs and told me a good deal about the island and invited me to visit them.

Ben, who was some five years old when I had been offered a job on the island by his father, was now in his late 30s and, apart from his secondary schooling in New Zeland and a short-lived attempt at a career with the Mendana Hotel in Honiara, had never lived away from the island. I was amazed at how this family had clung to their dream of living on a small South Pacific island for so long! From the time they set sail from England in November 1947, times had not been easy: their daughter Tasha, born 1958, was mentally retarded and is living today in an institution in New Zealand; they have had several fall-outs with their two sons, Ross and Ben; there has been continued trouble with traditional land-owners over their 2-pound-a-year lease of the island (signed Christmas 1958) which officially runs out in 2052; then there was the destruction caused by Cyclone Nina 1993 and again by Cyclon Danny in 1999 ... the list goes on and the words 'CAN'T GO ON MUCH LONGER' and 'SEEM TO HAVE RUN OUT OF STEAM' appear in Tom's diary more than once.

They tried to attract caretakers to the island but failed repeatedly (the Austrian Wien family in 1964 was a particularly dismal failure; the Pearce family family ran off at the beginning of 1980 leaving the message 'JUST COULDN'T GO ON' hung in a bag on the cargo-shed door); they tried to sell the island in the mid-80s for five hundred thousand US dollars but 'the chains of Pigeon' kept Tom until his death in 1994 at the age of 84. 'Blue skies, fair winds, hot sun and beaches by the miles,' Tom once wrote about Pigeon, but 36 years was a long time for a man with cultural leanings to spend on an isolated island. We all have our fantasies but for most of us reality intervenes - but not so for the Hepworths!


Imagine living on a South Sea Island,
far from civilisation's worries,
and MAKING MONEY from it!

Ngarando-Faraway is For Sale!

This small resort on beautiful Pigeon Island only needs capital to become a money spinner.
Uniquely, Pigeon is leased until 2052; Tourism will take off when an airfield only 3 miles away is completed in 1988, and NOW is the time to invest.

US$500,000 will purchase everything on the island, including a profitable store, bar one acre to be used in their retirement by Tom and Diana Hepworth.

Tom's advertisement in the mid-1980s
Click here for a GOOGLE-view of Pigeon Island


Thankfully, they were now in contact with the world through the Internet and we began to send each other emails. Ben's mother, Diana, emailed me to suggest that I should come and 'house-sit' the island while she and Ben would go on what she felt may be her last chance of a 'round-the-world trip, planned for the year 2003. Again, reality intervened for me but I did offer to put up a webpage for them to try to attract some other suitable 'house-sitters'. She mentioned that in early 1998 a Lucy Irvine had come to Pigeon Island and during her year-long stay on Pigeon Island written the book "FARAWAY".


In 1999, Lucy Irvine took her three children to the farthest corner of the Solomons to live for a year on remote Pigeon Island. The invitation came from an intrepid 80-year-old, Diana Hepworth, who set sail from England in search of a faraway paradise. This work tells of both their experiences. Read the book online at


Had I heard of Lucy Irvine? I had indeed! I myself had spent ten months on tiny Thursday Island in the Torres Strait to the north of Australia in 1977. Lucy had 'marooned' herself and her 'husband' on even tinier Tuin Island just north of Thursday Island, for over a year from May 1981 to June 1982 and written a book about it. I had read that book, "CASTAWAY", and also seen the movie. Now I rushed out to get her book "FARAWAY" to read about Pigeon Island. After having read the book, I was somewhat relieved that I hadn't gone to Pigeon all those many years ago because far from living in a 'tropical paradise', the Hepworth family seems to have had more than their fair share of troubles. I have since had an email from one of the Pearces mentioned in Lucy's book: Another Pigeon Island tale.

Since I heard from Ben in late 2001, I have been in regular contact with Pigeon Island. Diana was able to find some suitable 'house-sitters' and in June 2003, she and Ben and his daughter went on their overseas trip during which they contacted me from the U.K. and the US.

Then, while Padma and I were holidaying in Bundaberg in 2003, Ben called us from a motel in Brisbane before leaving on the next day's flight to Honiara. It came therefore as a complete shock to us when a few days later we received the following email:


Dear All,

My mother passed away at about 2.30pm on the 27th of August 2003. We were in a canoe, having left Lata about 15 minutes earlier, heading back to Pigeon Island after a 3 month around-the-world trip. We were still within the sheltered waters of Graciosa Bay when her spirit was taken. Mum and I had been talking 5 minutes earlier, but she left in a manner she had always wished for, suddenly. To me she appeared asleep, so it took a minute or so to realise what had happened. I felt her presence close by me as the others in the boat and myself tried to find her pulse.

She was buried next to Dad on Pigeon Island, according to her wish, in a funeral which reflected her long standing in the Reef Island community, with an overflowing of grief. Ross took quite a lot of video tape of the event.

Many of us have known the death of a loved one, like a hole that cannot quite be filled, a loss that cannot quite be redeemed, a reminder of man's mortality and God's omnipotence. Those of us who have a hope in eternal life can nonetheless put our trust in that some day, these tears will be wiped away forever.

It has been several days since Mum passed away, but I have not been able to inform anyone but our closest relatives until now.

To end on a bright note, Mum was able to see many of her friends, and her sisters, on the three month trip before departing this earth. It is a pity she did not get back to Pigeon Island before leaving this world, but our choice to leave is rarely left up to us.

God bless,
Ben Hepworth


With Tom and Diana gone, that should have been the end of Pigeon Island, but according to the above YouTube clip which was uploaded in January 2020, one of the Hepworth twins, Ross, still lives on Pigeon Island. Perhaps I should write another letter, this time addressed to "Ross Hepworth, care of Pigeon Island Traders, Pigeon Island, Reef Islands, Solomon Islands."


Drumming up business for Ben? Why not! He could use it! Click here
(if is hard to reach; try
(for a brochure, click here)


Dedicated to Paul Erling Johnson and all the wandering souls out there

Click on FULL SCREEN and enjoy!
This is a cautionary tale. By the time this movie was made, Paul Eling Johnson had become a bit of a sad sack who still lived on his boat alone, had nobody and no-one and his boat was in a barely floating condition, and he didn't sail anymore. He had found an accepting and non-judgemental community who treated him lovingly and with respect, despite his addiction and often wandering about in an enebriated state. A story of freedom bounded by alcohol and poverty. As the filmmakers stated, "This film is a contemplation about his choices after a lifetime of freedom before he embarked on his final journey of no return."


You know, when you go to's front page to search for something and you see a whole list of their latest "suggestions" which you normally ignore and move on from? ("This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put", I hear you whisper.)

This morning I was going to type in "Yuval Noah Harari" to see if I could find something about his latest book "Unstoppable Us - How Humans Took Over the World", when I was facing their latest "suggestion" of "The Sailor | Full Movie - What is the price of freedom? Paul Johnson sailed the world all his life. He loved, drank, and lived foolish, never truly living on land. Now he is turning eighty. What is at the end of such a journey? Is there loneliness?", uploaded as recently as Oct 18, 2022. I hope YouTube won't delete it because, while this world-renowned sailor and builder of boats died in June 2021, aged 83, his legend lives on.

My own sailing-days are well and truly over! The nearest I ever got to casting off completely was in 1974 when I worked for AIR NIUGINI in Port Moresby and saw a wooden yacht, "Spirit of Barbary", advertised for sale at Popondetta on the north coast of New Guinea. An old mate from my Bougainville days, Brian Herde, was also interested, and we flew across to spend a couple of days sailing and living aboard it, after which our minds seemed made up. I had just enough saved up to pay for my half of the boat, but Brian was notoriously reluctant to spend money and to sell even a tiny fraction of his many SANTOS shares, and so the deal was off.

I've had a variety of small sailing boats ever since: in Port Moresby, in Lae, in Honiara - I even owned a small LASER on Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra! - and until recenly sailed my small motor-sailer, the "Lady Anne", up and down the Clyde River, but now my sailing-days are over!

But I can dream, can't I? And so I keep a large library of sailing books, from Joshua Slocum's "Sailing Alone Around the World" and Francis Chichester's "Gipsy Moth Circles The World" to "The Long Way" by Bernard Moitessier and Robin Knox-Johnston's "A World of My Own".

However, even that library is thinning out as I pass on the books before they become my funeral pyre. One of the lifeguards at the Aquatic Centre, Sam, owns a yacht with her partner, and they plan to head north again in May, and I've been feeding them with Alan Lucas's sailing instructions and "Fitting Out Below Decks" and "Fitting Out Above Decks".

No more fitting out for me, but there's still time to watch this most poignant, beautiful film of this amazing sailor whose motto in life was "Never be afraid to be terrified."



P.S. And here's the documentary of the making of the movie:


Friday, March 10, 2023

My sailing days are over


It's already been more than five years since I gave away most of my sailing books to a passing yachtie - click here - including the most treasured ones, three books by Bernard Moitessier, one of which I recently discovered at Vennies again: "The Long Way".

I brought it home with me, and have just spent several hours sitting in the tree-house high above the Clyde River, in the company of this amazing Frenchman by reading "The Long Way" from cover to cover.



My sailing days are over but I can dream - and so can you: click here!



I would live to read his memoirs next, "Tamata and the Alliance", which is online at, but there's no wifi in the treehouse.


Saturday, February 25, 2023

An Island to Oneself


In a small op-shop, long since gone, on the shores of Burrill Lake I found a book. Places like this seem to attract abandoned dreams; yet, for a mere dollar I held in my hand the South Pacific dream, not abandoned, but lived out in 255 pages and 17 colour plates.

People, and sometimes nations, fasten themselves to these rare books. "An Island to Oneself" was just such a book. Published in the sixties, with scant advertising support and authored by a man who had no literary reputation, this book has worked its way into the heart of South Pacific legend. The eccentric author was a humble 51-year-old New Zealander, Tom Neale, former navyman, storeman, and world-famous hermit.

Although Tom was an avid reader he had never published anything until he wrote "An Island to Oneself", nor after, for that matter. This was a singular work of a lifetime. The voice of the author was stark and simple, concentrating on facts of a solo existence on Suvarov Atoll in the Cook Islands. The landscape was a remote, long-forgotten part of the South Pacific. None of this would have been at all popular at the time, nevertheless people discovered this book; they found it on their own, in musty second-hand bookstores and boat book swaps, without the benefit of marketing hype or midnight sales.

For years I kept a copy on my boat. Every so often I would take it off the shelf, slide into my bunk and go back with Tom to his shack perched on Anchorage Island, half a mile long and three hundred yards wide, to the coconut palms and the boom of the surf on the reef and the time he steps ashore for the first time. His story is sketched out in stark sentences and dry chapter headings, beneath which burns a simple dream.

Tom was gloriously out of step with his time, however, he managed to capture a collective revelation in his readers. Not long after "An Island to Oneself" went to print, society was ripe for change. Long-range cruising was beginning to gain popularity and was no longer the realm of a few courageous souls. Amongst these cruising folk Tom and his book found a following.

Getting to Suvarov took thirty years of dreaming, patience and planning by Tom, fueled by a chance meeting with another South Seas legend, Robert Dean Frisbie. Frisbie had inhabited the island in the forties accompanied by his four young children. His experiences of Suvarov produced the classic South Seas adventure "Island of Desire". More important than his book was the fact that Frisbie had shown Tom a glimpse of the possible.

In 1942 Frisbie had been almost wiped off the island by a cyclone, literally lashing himself and his children to a tree to survive the inundation of the sea. It was through this experience and other lesser storms that both these men were to come to know Suvarov intimately, savouring the fragility of the tiny island as both a blessing and a curse. At a maximum ten feet above sea level, existence on Suvarov became more akin to being at sea than on land. With the onset of inclement weather Tom would bury his tools and other items deemed necessary for survival; this was his only form of insurance.

More than the weather it was the fragility of his own existence, which terrified Tom the most. Near the end of Tom's first stint on Suvarov, while on a planting expedition to a nearby island, the simple act of throwing out his dinghy's anchor dislocated his back rendering him near paralyzed and alone. The chance discovery of an emaciated Tom by an American yachtie named Rockefeller who nursed him back to health and spared him a lonely death could only be described as miraculous. This kind of fragility gave Tom a clarity to his existence and to his book.

Trying to describe "An Island to Oneself" to the unread can be difficult. Tom's story is not just a book about living on a desert island. Its essence is larger than that. It's a book about a passion for simplicity; it's about being alone and doing alone. It tells us that life is incomplete without dreams and risk. It teaches the important and hard-to-appreciate truths that the ocean is beautiful and violent, that soil is precious and that there is a use for a bicycle pump on a desert island. It's a book about how to dream and how to live. It is a book that has become a place.

"An Island to Oneself" leaves us in 1963 with Tom quitting the island. As Tom put it "the time had come to wake up from an exquisite dream before it turned into a nightmare". Tom's dream never quite released its powerful grip and in 1967 he returned to Suvarov for his final stint of ten years. The place and the man had become fused.

For a man who lived so well, the obvious question is how did he go? It wasn't loneliness or even a cyclone that drove Tom from Suvarov; it was the cold grip of cancer that saw him on his way. Returning to Rarotonga he was treated by the notorious Dr Milan Brych, died and was buried in the RSA cemetery next to the airport. Tom's end could almost have been written by himself, with only the stark facts to console us.

In a dark twist Suvarov's own future moved into darkness, with the atoll marked as the head quarters for a black pearl fishery. Tom's hut was going to be removed to make way for up to one hundred workers and the associated complexity of satellite TV and steak dinners.

At the eleventh hour, just before the black pearl fishers turned up, something changed the view of the Cook Island's government on the value of Suvarov. Perhaps it was the political clout of his yachtie friends, or perhaps Tom's old book? For whatever reason, the atoll now remains as Tom found it, as the only National Park in the Cook Islands.

We should all be so lucky to love our place in the world so much.

Now sit back and read the book: click here or here.



P.S. My German yachting hero Rollo Gebhard visited Tom Neale twice. Read about it here.


Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The true story of a lone genius who solved the greatest scientific problem of his time


Anyone alive in the eighteenth century would have known the "the longitude problem" was the thorniest scientific dilemma of the day - and had been for centuries. Lacking the ability to measure their longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea as soon as they lost sight of land. Thousands of lives, and the increasing fortunes of nations, hung on a resolution.

The quest for a solution had occupied scientists and their patrons for the better part of two centuries when, in 1714, Parliament upped the ante by offering a king's ransom (£20,000) to anyone whose method or device proved successful. Countless quacks weighed in with preposterous suggestions. The scientific establishment throughout Europe - from Galileo to Sir Isaac Newton - had mapped the heavens in both hemispheres in its certain pursuit of a celestial answer. In stark contrast, one man, John Harrison, dared to imagine a mechanical solution - a clock that would keep precise time at sea, something no clock had ever been able to do on land.

"Longitude" is the dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest, and of Harrison's forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper, known today as the chronometer. Full of heroism and chicanery, brilliance and the absurd, it is also a fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation, and clockmaking.


Longitude is the measurement east or west of the prime meridian that runs through Greenwich, England. Half of the world, the Eastern Hemisphere, is measured in degrees east of the prime meridian. The other half, the Western Hemisphere, in degrees west of the prime meridian. Degrees of longitude are divided into 60 minutes. Each minute of longitude can be further divided into 60 seconds. For example, the longitude of Paris, France, is 2° 29' E (2 degrees, 29 minutes east). The longitude for Brasilia, Brazil, is 47° 55' W (47 degrees, 55 minutes west). A degree of longitude is about 111 kilometers (69 miles) at its widest. The widest areas of longitude are near the Equator, where Earth bulges out. Because of Earth's curvature, the actual distance of a degrees, minutes, and seconds of longitude depends on its distance from the Equator. The greater the distance, the shorter the length between meridians. All meridians meet at the North and South Poles.


I picked up this beautifully turned-out hardcover edition of Dava Sobel's book at my favourite op-shop for a mere gold coin. I already have one copy, and this one is not for myself but for one of the lifeguards at the Aquatic Centre who with her partner will go a-sailing again in May on their yacht presently moored at Yorkey's Knob just north of Cairns.

Of course, they have a Global Positioning Sydney (GPS) on board which gives them their position on the ocean within metres at the press of a button. For all I know, they may not even know the meaning of latitude and longitude but they will after they've read "Longitude".



And so will you after you've read this book online at