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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Wandering the world yet sleeping in your own bed

Steve arriving at Gizo in the Solomons in November 2011. Note the "PT 109 Gizo Yacht Club", named after the torpedo boat skippered by JF Kennedy which sank off Gizo during WWII


I first heard of Steve Gates, owner and captain of the Searunner 37 trimaran Manu-O-Ku, when I became involved with Villa Mamana on the tiny island of Telekivava'u in Tonga through its previous owners Joe Altenhein and Matt Muirhead - see here.

Steve had lived in Hawaii for 31 years, raised two children, and been building one-off epoxy composite boats in his own Tradewind Island Boatworks (a long name for a small company), before sailing to Tonga in late 2003 to become the paid caretaker of the very remote 40-acre private island of Telekivava'u in the remote island group of Ha’apai.

Sunset over the lagoon on Telekivava'u, August 2005

Steve's trimaran Manu-O-Ku anchored off Telekivava'u

Think of spending whole weeks at a time totally alone on an idyllic, pristine island with your yacht anchored in the lagoon ... no wonder, Steve sat it out for a whole three years. It was a wonderful lifestyle but, as he said, "security is overrated, and the nomadic lifestyle was calling ...", and so he sailed north to the Vava’u Group where he ran a charter business for the next 4½ years.

Steve Gates made this video clip on Telekivava'u in Tonga in 2005. As the island's previous owner, Matt Muirhead, wrote, "It was bittersweet to watch the video, knowing each tree intimately, but I'm a changed and better man for having had the experience."

For nearly eight years Tonga gave him an incredibly comfortable life which he lived "one moment at a time" and which he found very hard to leave. However, he did so finally in June 2011, first sailing back to the Ha’apai Group for a week to revisit the remote island he had lived on for three years, and then singlehandedly to Savusavu in Fiji where he arrived on July 1, 2011. On to Vanuatu in September, then the Solomon Islands in November. In February 2012 he made the 2000 nm passage to Palau in western Micronesia before finally arriving in the Philippines on New Year’s Eve 2012.

His trimaran is his only home. As he writes, "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."

He's been in the Philippines ever since, running his charter business Manu-O-Ku Sailing Adventures out of Port Barton, one of the last few untouched gems of the Philippines. It's a 45-minute flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa, and from there an easy ride to Port Barton, a sleepy fishing village, unspoiled and authentic, where life goes at its own pace and which Steve is in no hurry to leave.

Joe Altenhein, the creator of Villa Mamana on Telekivava'u, described Steve as "a nice man, doing what I wish I could do" --- and so think all of us. The nearest I ever got to Palawan was Boracay and, oh boy, am I itching to go again!