Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga, Pacific Islands: Avid anglers Rick and Lesley Longdon felt like excited children awaiting Christmas as they waited for the weather to clear before embarking on an adventure of a lifetime – 2400 nautical miles from Auckland, New Zealand to Tonga in the Pacific Islands and return on board their 75 Enclosed Flybridge, The Godfather, which was the first 75 Enclosed Flybridge built by Riviera.
With The Godfather packed and fuelled ready to go, the Godparents (Rick and Lesley) departed Auckland Harbour on June 12 bound for their first stop, Opua in the Bay of Islands, some 350 nautical miles north of Auckland. Joining them for the journey was their friend Alan Melody, Dean Horgan (skipper) and Steve Domigan from R Marine JDC, and deckhands, Hayden Wright and Russ Briars.
Lesley said that poor weather delayed their departure by nine days but as soon as they had the ‘thumbs up’ to leave Auckland they headed north to Opua where they planned to stay overnight to test all the electronics before leaving New Zealand waters.
“We were finally underway at 1.30pm and the conditions were ideal for the run up to Opua, making it worth the wait,” Lesley said.
However, upon arrival in Opua, the crew learned more bad weather was on its way with 40-knot winds predicted for Friday, delaying their trip by a day.
“On Saturday, June 14, we filled up the fuel tanks and cleared customs at Opua before heading out of New Zealand waters and into the deep blue ocean for the 750 nautical mile journey to Minerva Reef. The strong northeast wind should have died out by Wednesday and gone around to the west, dropping to about 15 knots – perfect.
“The seas were about 2.5 metres but as we got further out the swell became larger and wider apart. The captain assigned everyone two four-hour watches a day so Rick’s roster was 6 to 10am and 6 to 10pm. Alan has said ‘are we there yet’ at least five times already – it’s going to be a long trip.”
After two days at sea, the crew was only 275 nautical miles off the coast of New Zealand, not quite half way, but they expected to arrive at Minerva Reef on Tuesday morning where they would spend a few days fishing before moving on to Vava’u.
It was dusk by the time they arrived in the South Minerva Reef but as predicted, they arrived on Tuesday June 17. After being bounced around for four days, the reef offered a calm anchorage which the crew embraced.
“The weather has been sunny with light 10-knot winds. The sea is still about 2 metres but with the light wind we are getting just a long slow roll over the top of the peaks. The guys have seen a couple of whales and I saw a flying fish, but apart from that, it has been blue skies and seas,” Lesley recorded in her blog.
On Wednesday they enjoyed a spot of angling, catching an assortment of fish before anchoring in North Minerva reef with a couple of other boats. On Thursday morning, Lesley and Rick tagged their first sailfish for the trip before setting off for the final leg of the voyage, 400 nautical miles to Vava’u.
Arriving at daybreak on Saturday morning and exactly seven days from when they left Opua in the Bay of Islands, the crew was in awe of the turquoise waters and white sandy beaches surrounding the Vava’u Islands.
Vava’u Island group in the Kingdom of Tonga consists of 61 islands located in the Pacific Ocean. Vava’u is renowned for its beautiful harbour, hidden coves and atolls, marine life and is a prime fishing destination.
The crew spent the first few days recharging their batteries and familiarising themselves with the local area, and in particular, the waterfront bars. On Tuesday, they embarked on their first fishing adventure in Vava’u, which proved extremely successful with a treble hookup of yellowfin tuna. They also raised four blue marlin, hooked two and tagged and released one, making for an adrenalin pumping day of fishing.
Dean and Steve returned to New Zealand the next day with Alan following the day after leaving the Godparents (Rick and Lesley) and their two deckhands on board.
On Thursday Rick and Lesley explored the inner islands with their deckhands, Hayden and Russ, who pointed out the nice sandy beaches and best snorkelling spots.
“These beaches are amazingly beautiful so hopefully we can take the grand kiddies there when they are over in the next week or so,” Lesley exclaimed.
On Friday, June 26 they fished in an area called the South Bank, which was just a short run from the outer island where the contour drops straight off from 60m to 700m.
“The morning started off slow. I think Hayden thought he might have picked the wrong spot but there were a couple of other Kiwi boats around us and one had hooked up on a marlin earlier so we stayed put, running up and down the drop-off which paid off as we had a strike right on midday and after a short fight of eight minutes a tag was put in a small blue marlin.
“The afternoon proved more exciting than the morning with a double hook-up of yellowfin tuna. I grabbed one rod and jumped in the chair while Russ brought his fish in first on stand up. Once his tuna was in the ice bin I started to play mine and after about 30 minutes we finally got the leader to the boat so the boys could haul it in, weighing it on the scales at 60kg. Shortly after we had another double hook-up on tuna but released them – what an exhilarating afternoon.”
After a successful day fishing, the crew spent the night in one of the outer island bays and enjoyed dinner with the crew from the Immigrant, a Riviera 63 Enclosed Flybridge from New Zealand.
On Saturday (June 27) they headed back into the Harbour for a couple of days. In Tonga fishing is frowned upon on Sunday so they met other Riviera owners (from North Star and the Immigrant) for lunch at an island-style restaurant perched amongst the coconut trees on Mounu Island. This was the first of many Sunday lunches at this idyllic restaurant during their five-month stay in Tonga.
Rick and Lesley relished the time they spent in Tonga and have achieved some wonderful milestones, including fishing in the 23rd International Tongan Billfish Tournament. Lesley caught her first blue marlin on 15kg line as well as her first black marlin weighing 300kg on their trip back to New Zealand. Their daughter, Kelly, caught her first marlin and their ganddaughter, Charlotte, celebrated her 8th birthday on board.
“There have been so many memorable moments on this trip, including having family and friends visit and giving them the chance to catch their first game fish. We have enjoyed lots of card games in the evenings, wonderful meals cooked from the sea and in particular, Russ’s mahi mahi curry,” Lesley said.
“For me, one of the true highlights has been learning to use the light line gear to catch billfish. Thanks to my two coaches, Hayden and Russ. They have got me out of the game chair and into stand-up gear on the light tackle. It is such a buzz bringing the fish to the boat on 15kg or 24kg line or especially the Stella rod. I find it strange now if the marlin grabs the lure on the 37kg bent rod and I have to climb into the game chair to reel it in – but it all makes for exciting fishing.
“Hayden is the master of the GoPro and we have enjoyed some great evenings re-living the day’s fishing on the TV screen. His underwater shots of the marlin taking the lures and being released are pretty impressive.
“Vava’u has been a true experience in many ways. When Rick and I arrived, it took us back in time to our years in Papua New Guinea. The place is still very much on island time, the locals are very welcoming and nothing is too much trouble. Our daughter, Kelly, her husband, Chris and the girls visited a local school while they were here and they took books, pens and rubber bands to make bracelets. Our friends Debbie and Steve brought bags of toothbrushes and other oral hygience products which were received with big smiles from the children and teachers.”
As the sun rose on September 30, it was time for the crew on board The Godfather to weigh anchor and leave the tranquil Port Maurelle for the long journey back to New Zealand with a crew consisting of the Godparents (Lesley and Rick), Evan Barclay as skipper, deckhands Hayden and Russ, and Alan flew back to join them for the return trip to New Zealand.
And of course, in true fishing spirit, the crew set their marlin lures and began trolling down the South Bank for the last time in the hope of landing one more marlin.
Russ said they all felt a little gutted by the time they reached the end of the bank because they hadn’t seen any fish but they kept their spirits high in the hope of landing one more big one.
“It wasn’t long before we had a nice blue of around 150kg on the line but unfortunately it ran out a bit of line and jumped itself off. Nevertheless, we reset our lines ready for another one and crack, off goes the rigger. Les jumped in the chair but due to the amount of fuel on board we couldn’t back up hard so instead we did a circle on the small blue and soon had him up, tagged and on his way again, making him the 40th billfish of the trip.”
The glassy weather conditions remained over the next two days as they trolled towards Minerva reef where they enjoyed a couple of days fishing. On their way from North Minerva to South Minerva, the Godfather (Rick) tagged and released his first blue marlin for the trip, weighing 160kg.
“With smiles all round we headed in towards the reef, catching a couple of yellowfin tuna on the way in to our evening anchorage.
“With the weather still not quite right for the last leg to New Zealand, we had to wait another day in South Minerva before finally getting underway on Sunday (September 28) morning.
“Of course as we are travelling, we still run our usual four lure spread because you never know what you might catch.”
And they certainly were not disappointed when Lesley landed her first black marlin weighing 300kg about 80 miles south of Minerva. This was Lesley’s biggest fish to date and she was absolutely beaming with pride.
As the crew got closer to New Zealand, the water and air temperature dropped to 15 and 16 degrees respectively, and they reflected on their amazing journey and the beautiful tropical life in Tonga.
“All round Tonga has been an epic trip with a lot of fun days and I thank the Godparents for inviting us to join them on board their palace of the sea,” Russ said.
For the Godparents, Rick and Lesley, this has been yet another exciting adventure on board their beautiful Riviera 75 Enclosed Flybridge with the whole family as they continue to live the Riviera dream.