Yesterday we made an afternoon trip in Ladybug to Swallows and Mariner's caves with friends on Picara and a Moorings charter catamaran that is sharing the anchorage with us us. Mariner's cave has been on my to-visit list for more than a decade - since I read about it in the book, "Trekka Round the World", by John Guzzwell. Guzzwell sailed a tiny wooden sailboat that he had built himself around the world in the early 1950's. He had visited Vava'u and Mariner's cave on that voyage and his description of his trip to the cave makes great reading.
Things were a little different here when Guzzwell arrived. Because the cave entrance is under water and impossible to find without local knowledge, he approached the cave across the island of Nuapapu with about 50 locals and a fisherman guide named Benny. We had a GPS waypoint, which allowed us to approach from the sea. His guide, Benny, had lost his arm when the dynamite he was fishing with blew up in his hand. Judging by the quality of the corals here, dynamite is no longer used for that purpose in the islands. The Tongans who accompanied Guzzwell had also never seen snorkeling flippers before and were delighted by how much easier it made it to swim.
Some things have not changed, however. You still have to swim down into a huge dark opening with no clear idea of how deep or far you need to go because the cave is completely sealed from the outside world and hence unlit. It was quite rough off the cliffs that run along this coast, with the waves reflecting pushing up a two foot chop. The friends we had on board Ladybug were reluctant to try the entrance. However, Falcon, our athletic friend off 'Beau Soleil' had paddled over in his outrigger canoe and he pointed out where the entrance was and encouraged us to give it a try (he had swum into the cave a couple of weeks ago). I made the first attempt, taking several deep breathes before following Falcon into the black depths, while the others kept Ladybug hove to off the cliffs. You swim down about 8 feet and along maybe 12 or 15 feet into the cave - no problem if you are used to shallow free dives while snorkeling, but still intimidating the first time.
Once inside the cave it was exactly as described by Guzzwell - a lovely blue light from the entrance lit the cave once your eyes became adjusted. The cave is quite large - about as big as a small church with a 30 foot ceiling from which hang ranks of small stalactites. Because there is no land exit, when the swell rises, your ears pop from the pressure change and as the pressure oscillates, water vapour condenses and clears periodically creating a mist that makes it feel like you are losing your vision. Leaving the cave is easier because the tunnel is backlit by the outside light. The best time to visit is in the afternoon when the sun brightens the entrance. I swam out upside down admiring the roof of the entrance tunnel.
Once outside I had to swim back to the boat to convince our friends to join us. Mike from Picara and Dan and Monica from a Moorings charter catamaran eventually swam over and I entered the cave with them a second time. They had no problems entering either and we floated around inside together marvelling at the quiet and unusual beauty of the place.
We sailed Ladybug back to Port Maurelle picking up a mooring under sail (thanks to the able assistance of Mike and Marny on Picara). A delightful ending to a trip I have looked forward to for so many years.