Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Voyage from Hell through the Islands of Paradise: Pacific Expeditions and SV Discovery

The intrepid travellers on the SV Discovery, May 2011. (Photo courtesy our crew member)

I have reposted this post (initially written in June 2011)  as I was contacted yesterday by a concerned previous client of Pacific Expeditions, from Maui, who advised that my TripAdvisor comment on Suwarrow National Park and Pacific Expeditions  had been removed...

It is a good story...reminding us all to be aware of internet descriptions...and deceptions.

SV Discovery.  Sitting low in the water May 2011 (photo the author)

The minute we saw the boat at the dock in Rarotonga, Cook Islands,  we knew that things were not as we had envisaged by reading about and booking our voyage  at the Pacific Expedition’s website.

When I introduced myself to the person I had been told was the captain he acknowledged me, didn’t give his name and pointed towards a young woman who was inventoring freight at it was put abroad the boat. She advised us that the departure date was more likely to be before sunset than 12 noon…”it’s island time, and the freight is late”…”you can look around town for a while”…she suggested as we left our passports with the as yet unnamed captain to be processed through the Cook Islands immigration office.

After 7 hours of wandering the two main streets of Rarotonga, enjoying a beer at Trader Jack’s and some internet time at the Telecom office we staggered under the heat back to the boat.  At 5 we were allowed to view our cabin.  What a shock!  The same cabin, or double berth, displayed on the website was ours… reached from the main deck by a greasy, engine oil covered ladder down a depth of about 2 metres.  The heavily enclosed atmosphere, with four bunks, which would be occupied,  outside our non-private entrance, was complemented by the rancid air from the nearby engine room . I hung a sarong over the entrance to our cabin for a semblance of privacy...for us all.
A "nest"?  (Photo the author) 

The cabin bore no resemblance to the glossy photo on the Pacific Expeditions site detailing the standards on board the SV Discovery. My companion, Damien, was horrified but I assured him we could manage and I would try to make a little “nest”for us to call home for 14 nights.  My optimism would be sorely tested.

Shortly after we were joined on the main deck by our fellow passengers.  We were a mixed bunch, representing Australia,  New Zealand, England, Canada, Japan , America and Switzerland. Our ages,we would learn, ranged from almost 70 to 29.  We were to  bond together as intrepid travellers, united in our anger and disappointment at the condition of the boat and the arrogant and non-communicative approach of our captain, Graham Wragg.  Later we would also be united in the fear of danger presented by a vessel which was at the very least hazardous, if not obviously unseaworthy.

We all knew something was amiss when the captain “addressed”us on the main deck, advising us, randomly, of the safety equipment on board the vessel.  He then told us of the water shortages which could occur and informed us of the ritual of a “naval shower”and the preferred option for the male passengers to pee over the side of the boat.  The one toilet/shower room, about the size of an aircraft toilet, was for the use of the 12 people on board.

Under a beautiful sunset we departed Rarotonga for the isolation of two and a half days at sea before we would reach the island of Palmerston.  The sea initially seemed quite calm but the Discovery, being a badly weighted catamaran tossed up and down and side to side.  Seasickness was shortly an unwelcome cloud of darkness for most of us.
Eating that evening was out of the question for most of us.  Fortunately as it turned out.  The “rations”that the captain had supplied were meagre we were to learn.  In the fresh food department there were two cabbages, 6 or so tomatoes, 6 carrots, about 5 papaya, some bananas, potatoes, oranges and onions.  Otherwise, it was 6 packets of  frozen vegetables, 2 kgs of frozen minced beef (the expiration date was June 2010), 6 kgs of frozen chicken pieces, some frozen loaves of bread, some soft drink, cans of vegetables, numerous cans of tinned meat and some Asian dried noodles, rice and pasta.  For 12 people for 14 days.

The wonderful people of Palmerston giving us a beach seafood "barbecue" (Photo the author)

But we survived.  On arrival on 30 May in Apia, Western Samoa our vessel was boarded by the customs, immigration and health authorities.  After initial inquiries, the vessel was declared unfit for passengers and senior authorities were called by the various officers to the wharf.  After giving our various statements, we were able to go ashore, many of us wishing to kiss the ground.  We were safe, but exhausted and some of us wounded by gashes, grazes and bruises from the never ending swell as our boat was tossed like a cork in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean for 14 days.

 Suwarrow,  May 2011,( photo a crew member)

As a group we were indeed intrepid travellers and we became great friends, bonded in our resolve to stop Pacific Expeditions ever operating another passenger voyage. And my 14 days with these wonderful people was a testament to the Confucian saying…”All people are the same; it is their habits which are different…”

The beauty of Suwarrow 

Not only did I have the opportunity to see selfless consideration and manners among my fellow passengers and our one crew member each day, but the generosity of the island people  I met was a joy I will never forget.


  1. Fantastic website and Photos. I sailed on RV Discovery but under its previous name the RV Bounty Bay! Always wanted to go to Palmerston! Incredible!

    1. Hi Felix, Ivan here, were are running regular trips to Palmerston Island, Suwarrow, Island, also the Northern and Southern Island groups.We will also be taking trips to the Phoenix Islands. Let us know if you plan to head that way would be glad to have you along. Our yacht is a recently refitted and surveyed Formosa 51 (extremely sea kindly) packed with creature comforts and safety equipment appropriate for the longer Pacific voyages. Our website is We look forward to talking with you. Regards, Capt. Ivan

  2. Thank you for your comment Felix. I hope you are able to get to Palmerston eventually...with any organization other than Pacific Expeditions!

    1. Hi there, my wife and I have taken over the management of Sail Rarotonga and will be doing regular trips to Palmerston, Suwarrow, Atiu, Mouke, Puka Pkua and expeditions to the Phoenix Island also. We operate out of Rarotonga. Our new yacht will be launched in a couple of weeks. our website is
      We will have nothing to do with Graham he is despicable.

      Cheers, Ivan

  3. Thought you'd like to know - although you've probably moved on from your bad experience with this operator - google 'Graham Wragg SRV Discovery' and go to search result that says court report (Rarotonga)
    A group of 5 Russians took him to court to sue him - I don't know the outcome of that but do know his boat SRV Discovery AKA Bounty Bay was struck off the Cook Islands Ships Register and it is now for sale (pity anyone that buys it) He was also Taken off the Accredited Tourist Operators list in the Cook Islands and was asked to take the Accreditation logo off his website - he hasn't complied.
    He has now reverted to advertising SV Southern Cross as the vessel Pacific Expeditions uses - he owes a lot of people an awful lot of money from broken promises from what I read among the horror stories that he managed to get taken down from travel sites etc

  4. Thank you for your comment and news...yes I have moved on but after all our efforts to get him deregistered etc I am furious that he is still operating...

  5. Hi Louise,

    I stumbled across your blog when recently looking on the net to see what has happened to Graham Wragg, and I too am furious to see he is still operating, albeit on the SV Southern Cross.
    In May last year I was one of 6 passengers on another trip from Hell on the MV Discovery from Raro to Apia (the ship was hell, the people and islands were heaven). Reading your experience brings back vivid and very familiar memories.
    In fact 3 of us wrote strong letters of complaint to Cook Islands authorities and I'm pleased that our collective efforts (together with some Russians that I hadn't heard about!)resulted in his boat being struck off the register. See

    Still very disappointing he's managed to keep going - the gall of it. Yes, I agree we should move on but I feel that people should know about this rogue. One day there will be a serious accident I'm sure, or worse, a fatality.

    All the best. Jim

    1. Hi Jim

      Thanks for your comment. So he went the year later on the same trip! Did you go to Palmerston, Nassau. Pukapuka etc as well as Suwarrow? I have written a recent post on Pukapuka and the seeds I sent to be planted.I have read the Russians' account, and we as a group from 2011, with the help of a fellow traveller who was a lawyer from NZ, thought we had had him struck off! I look forward to hearing further about your experiences...and while I know we should move on, I still keep in touch with some of my fellow passengers and we would like to see him finally out of business...and as you say responsible for possible fatalities. Regards, Louise

    2. Yes unfortunately he is still operating out of Fiji as he is not allowed a commercial yacht in Cook Island waters. We have just taken over Sail Rarotonga and were considering to do some expeditions for him but there is no way we will ever. We will be doing regular trips to Palmerston, Suwarrow, Atiu, Mouke Puka Puka and the Phoenix islands if anyone is interested please get in touch at
      Cheers, Ivan

  6. Hi Louise,

    We sailed on RV Discovery but under its previous name the RV Bounty Bay in 2009 to Pitcairn. In that time it was already in a horrible state and Graham offered us a 50% discount, as compensation for our horrors, if we would take a new trip with his company.
    One of us did on board of his "new" boat SV Southern Cross and only suffered even more hardship and horror just bobbing around the Pacific, because the engine failed, without even reaching the promised Islands.
    You can find our hardships on my blog at numbers 33 untill 40 or Google: Pitcairn Island Adventure - garfield around the world

  7. Hello everyone,
    In June 2013 I met this canadian fellow named Ron Borstel who was taking Mr Graham Wragg to court, in Apia, Samoa, he wasn't a passenger but a crew member, he first performed some carpentry work on the boat (which he said was not in proper condition to sail, even after all the work he did on it) and then, he was the vessel deckhand, sailing out of Rarotonga.
    Mr Wragg owed him money for his services and for material Ron had to buy himself in order to perform the repairs, and not only that, but Mr Wragg was illegally using the vessel to provide charting services to passengers without the proper license/permit.
    Ron was originally a lawyer, so he knew what he was doing when he took Mr Wragg to court. I had to leave Samoa before the 1rst audience but, by the time I left, he had an strong case. I was wondering if anyone knew of the outcome and the whereabouts of Ron -he was running out of money-.

    Has anybody heard anything from this or know Ron and can provide his contact details?
    Thank you very much.

    Santiago from Argentina (

  8. Hi Louise, i'm very intereste on you report, because i'm looking also for a trip into central Pacific, and Grahm seem the only one do this.
    In your trip have you take some contact to other charter ?? let me know


  9. Goodness. I must say it's amazing that it's still continuing after so long.
    These two films were made about trips made with him, but a lot of what actually happened was edited can sense it under the surface though.
    and this one