Sinking(s) of the Tonga

16 Jan

Tonga, I believe, was the island near which Fletcher Christian launched his now-infamous Mutiny on the Bounty.   BUT, this tab is dedicated not to that Tonga, but rather to the 72-ft sailing vessel that Errol is believed to have (rather mysteriously) sailed through the Caribbean, perhaps mostly around pre-Castro Cuba.  Information, and especially hard evidence, is hard to come by.  I am in St, Petersburg, Florida, investigating the final demise of the Tonga, where it reportedly burned and visited Davy Jones’ Locker off the coast of the town’s preeminent neighborhood, Snell Isle, in 1985, as a result of Hurricane Elena.

But, first, before that sinking, there was this “sinking”!

Here She Descended Into Her Watery Grave:


Very Near the St. Petersburg Pier (in background below), where (Marlon Brando’s) HMS Bounty was simultaneously located. … Which, decades later, also sank during a hurricane/superstorm – Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy!





— Tim


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  1. Tim

    January 17, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Ahoy all those with nautical knowledge, from the information, imagery and description provided in the article below, can the (two-masted, gaff-rigged) Tonga be defined as a particular type of vessel? For example, can it be properly be said to be a schooner? — Or are more details needed?…

    Errol’s Tonga was reportedly also owned by prominent author Sloan Wilson (Summer Place, et al), broadcaster Robert Trout, and Rent-a-car man John Hertz. I’ve read that Wilson was quite an accomplished yachtsman, and even wrote “biographies” of yachts – so, perphaps, there is good detail available regarding the Tonga (under multiple names, perhaps) in some of his writings or personal papers?


    • Tina

      March 18, 2014 at 1:58 am

      Hi Tim;
      I have not been on the blog for health reasons but on the way back. I read your article today with interest about the Tonga. Is there any proof that Errol really owned her? We all know that for one reason or another – good or bad – people like to shove all kinds of things into poor Errol’s shoes. But what ever the case it would be great to know if he owned her.
      In regards to your question a two or three masted, gaff-rigged yacht is a schooner so was the Zaca. I have somewhere another nice article about the Zaca. Have to find it as on top of everything my computer crushed too.
      When I find it I will post it due to two-masted, gaff-rigged.
      Take care!

      • David DeWitt

        March 18, 2014 at 3:25 am

        Tina! So glad to see you here! :-)

      • Tim

        March 18, 2014 at 11:10 pm

        So nice to see you back, Tina!!!

        This mystery of the Tonga is quite intriguing. At the time of its sinking in St. Petersburg, it was certainly believed by locals to be Errol’s yacht, at least by all I knew then and have spoken with since. We used to see it moored in the exquisite lagoon of Coffee Pot Bayou, and sailing off and around the famous “Million Dollar Pier”, often very nearby “The Bounty” (from Marlon Brando’s version), which was also home-ported in St. Pete. But, as with so many things Errol, there’s a ketch.

        Making matters even more confusing, the third most renowned boat in St. Pete, in addition to the Tonga & Bounty, was also named Tonga! (I guess it takes two to Tonga.)

        After Hurricane Elena blew through Tampa Bay in 1985 and sunk the Tonga, a major controversy arose regarding its pedigree. It appears that “Errol’s Tonga” had already been lost, sunk at sea in the Carribean several years or so previously. But, as investigation ensued, it became apparent the first “sinking of the Tonga” was actually just “an insurance job”. The owners collected and made off with the boat to St. Pete, again chartering it as Errol Flynn’s yacht”. (Much easier to do before the internet!)

        After the second, “real” sinking (who really knows, though, that, too, could have been a “job”!), the fraudulent first sinking became known, and the owners convicted. As a consequence, the owners very assertion that this was EF’s boat at all, was discredited – though it appears to have been mostly an ad hominen attack.

        In truth, this may have been Errol’s yacht at one point in the late 50’s. He may not have sailed it much, but he may have taken ownership of it. Certainly, as your independent excellent research in November 2011 indicates, yachtsmen, banks, and boatyards, in the Northeast thought so, and that’s significant because the boat’s prior famous owners were either all or mostly famous Northeasterners. The Tonga was a major yacht, apparently well known among the elite sailing set.

        I’m still working to determine the accuracy of the 1960 news account you found- no easy task yet because of difficulties in obtaining relevant legal records.

        One thing for sure, Tina, Errol really kept things interesting!!! In fact, he put St. Pete back on the map, though he may never have even there!! That’s how big he was/is!!!

        Last Home of the Tonga:…


  2. Tim

    January 17, 2014 at 8:12 pm

    I have found this photo on a hurricane history website documenting damage during Hurricane Elena. it may or may not be the Tonga that caught fire and sank. I am not sure it is. I do know, however, that a color photo was said to be taken of the vessel ablaze, and that it may be in an official Coast Guard file. I plan to also visit the St. Petersburg Times photographic archives for photos of the Tonga, both before and during the storm.


  3. Tim

    January 17, 2014 at 8:21 pm

    Here is a brief but very helpful summary of the Tonga’s sinking off of Snell Isle in St. Pete during Hurricane Elena – compiled apparently from multiple sources, including official data:…

    I visited and photo-ed the said location of the shipwreck earlier this week . Plans are being made for a search, depending on further research with local authorities, and positive determination that this was definitely Errol’s ship.

    • Inga

      January 18, 2014 at 7:01 am

      We had the Tonga in our ship tab some time ago:…

      • Tim

        January 18, 2014 at 5:31 pm

        Thanks to all who helped with that excellent tab endeavoring to identify all of Errol’s marine craft through his entire life, Inga. It’s hard for me to determine exactly who provided information on theTonga, but please do accept my thanks and encouragement to join in on this new tab, which is focused solely and more intently on the Tonga, a vessel I used to see on occasion back in the early Eighties, sailing off downtown St. Pete – sometimes within a hundred yards or so of the ship used to film Mutiny on the Bounty!

        Hopefully we can together investigate & definitively determine the answers to remaining questions and mysteries concerning the Tonga.

        • Inga

          January 19, 2014 at 12:12 pm

          That will difficult, I believe, unless one finds more infrmation in some archive. What we could find online back then was posted and the information you added was already great, Tim.

          • Tim

            January 20, 2014 at 3:38 am

            Thank you, Inga. Based on interviews of local mariners and evaluation of maritime resources, inter alia, more information forthcoming. Have spoken with several yachtmen and historians that knew the Tonga and its local owners, as well as with locals who recall its local history and sinking. Much more to the story. Also working in getting photos prior to and during the sinking.

      • MzSuzie49

        January 19, 2014 at 2:24 pm

        Inga…leave it to you to recall facts. You could teach all of us a lot ;) . Love your comments !! Keep ’em coming. Errol was a sailor at heart apparently. For those of us who love the sea and all that “negative ionization” which brings us “calm” it is no wonder.

        • Inga

          January 19, 2014 at 5:05 pm

          I just tried to re-attribute most of the comments. If any of you feel that he did not say what I attributed to him/her, let me know, please.

          • Tim

            January 20, 2014 at 3:48 am

            Thank you for now identifying those anonymous sources, Inga, and to all those who participated in those Tonga discussions. Tina’s citation of the 1960 Sunday Herald article is particularly important, in that it ties the Tonga to Errol, which is a pivotal part of its significance, and whether further research is warranted. Any further info on that is VERY welcome and encouraged!

  4. timerider

    January 17, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    I was not aware of the “Tonga”. Rumor has it that Errol had 20 man made creatures of the sea! When I see the Zaca I get goosebumps. I could live the rest of my days on her.
    However I’m such a loner at times I’d need a crew for that lady. oh well…..
    does anyone know if the island Tonga has also been known as Raratonga?? I can’t seem to find the answer.

    • Tim

      January 18, 2014 at 4:38 am

      Wouldn’t that be something, timerider – living on the Zaca, sailing the seas and seeing the world like Errol Flynn! I think it broke Errol’s heart to contemplate selling the Zaca.

      The Kingdom of Tonga includes 176 islands I just read, whereas Raratonga is apparently one of the Cook Islands, a different chain of islands, I believe. I thought and said above that Tonga was an island near which the Bounty mutiny took place, but now I’m not certain if Tonga in that context is a reference to the entire region of the kingdom, or a particular island or area in the kingdom. Any Bounty experts out there know?

      • timerider

        January 21, 2014 at 3:26 am

        Oh Now I see that they don’t use the old names on the maps.
        Rarotonga is the main Island of the Cook’s. The old acquaintance of mine, back in 86 Tucson AZ, Mathew said he was near Tahiti and that is known as French Polynesia on the map. All this talk of ships and the sea is making me very lonesome for the ocean the smell of salt water, gulls, fog etc etc etc! Tell us more of theTonga Tim!

        • Tim

          January 21, 2014 at 6:53 am

          Thanks for the great interest and participation, timerider! I’ve been fortunate to assemble a team of Top mariners in the area to help with this search & research. One is an attorney who is a world expert on Gulf Coast waters, who twice chaired State of Florida marine commissions and now works with federal lawmakers and agencies to protect Gulf waterways & fisheries.. Another is a major figure in this region’s nautical world. Tomorrow I meet with the Coast Guard & US Geological confirm the Tonga’s location & status.

          A couple of key facts were determined today. First, that the Tonga was bought by Charlie & Paul Allison in 1970, who homeported it in local waters. Second, that an even larger yacht, also named Tonga!, was homeported here, was owned by local legend, Dick Misener, of Misener Marine. This has been a source of some confusion.

          I plan to post links & images regarding all this in the very near future, timerider. …

          Btw, the Allisons who bought the boat in 1970, apparently believed it to be Errol’s right from their initial purchase, thus likely adding further credibility that it may have been. .. We need to get that District Court Order file from 1960!!!

  5. Tim

    January 21, 2014 at 1:21 am

    Have confirmed now that the photo above is in fact a photo of the Tonga immediately preceding its sinking in Snell Isle Harbor, on Labor Day Weekend, 1985. Visited the site of the sinking, photos of which I will post in the near future.

    Government offices and businesses closed today for MLK Day, precluding intended retrieval today of some archival info and imagery, but did find a great photo of, and great info regarding, the Tonga on pages 75 & 76 of Ticonderoga: Tales of an Enchanted Yacht. …

  6. Tim

    January 22, 2014 at 5:41 am

    Visited today and spoke with officials at NOAA, USGS, and USF-St. Petersburg, a leading marine sciences school. Also visited the Tampa Bay Times, to review their records, as well as with three (more) local historians. We have largely unraveled the local mysteries & misunderstandings regarding the Tonga(s). Tomorrow I have a meeting at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, which was internationally famous for its races to (pre-Castro) Havana – something Errol would have known very well.

    Still very much in information gathering mode. Will likely post some new info and imagery by and during the weekend.

    Thanks to all those participating, following, and/or encouraging this investigation into the Tonga!

  7. Tim

    January 22, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Here’s a brief account of the Tonga when it belonged to John Hertz Jr. – after he was married to the wondrously elegant & talented Myrna Loy, before he bought the wondrously sleek & fast Ticonderoga:… (Be sure to see photo of Tonga)


  8. Tim

    March 16, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    Here is where the Tonga was moored when I used to see her – in a magificent lagoon known as Coffee Pot Bayou. The yellow home in the background belonged to Billy de Beck, the famous Barney Google cartoonist. I was just there last Sunday afternoon with Babe Ruth’s daughter, Julia, who was in town to help celebrate her father’s baseball centennial and very close connection to the city, his long time winter home. Babe was a great friend of de Beck’s, and of the great songwriter, Peter de Rose, who with his legendary ukelele-playing wife, May Singh Breen, also visited this area back in the day. The Tonga was in prime territory! If Flynn ever visited St. Pete, this neighborhood very likely would have been one of his stops.


  9. Tim

    March 16, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    After extensive research, this body of water has been determined to be the site of the Tonga’s demise (the harbor not the pool):


    • David DeWitt

      March 17, 2014 at 7:13 am

      What a great read all this Tonga research has been, thanks so much!

  10. Tim

    March 19, 2014 at 9:47 pm

    Owner & Skipper of the Tonga: Accomplished yachtman & famous writer, Sloan Wilson:…


  11. Tim

    March 19, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    John Hertz Jr.: Tonga Owner

    Very interestingly, and perhaps a clue in this Tonga mystery, Errol knew John Jr. well, seeing him last perhaps in the late 50s in Palma de Majorca, but also earlier in Hollywood, Miami, and Jamaica, inter alia. And they were known to make big wagers. Could one of these wagers involved the Tonga?

    Club Nautico is where Errol would most often meet with John Jr. in Mallorca, aboard the legendary Ticonderoga, one of history’s greatest yachts, which Hertz purchased subsequent to the Tonga:…

    With His Lovely Wife, Myrna Loy, at the Stork Club:


  12. Tim

    March 19, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    Robert Trout: Legendary CBS Broadcaster. Tonga Owner.…


  13. Gentleman Tim

    May 13, 2014 at 6:10 am

    While you’re here, Tina!! Recognizing your great interest & expertise in matters involving Errol’s boats!, I’ve found some evidence that the Tonga MAY have been the yacht Errol gave to John Carrol, which Carrol sailed the Caribbean with, and ultimately kept in Florida. This is by no means definite – info is sketchy – but, at least superficially, pieces seem to fit. Do you (or any other of our distinguised colleagues) have any info on the yacht Errol reportedly gave to Carrol?!

  14. Gentleman Tim

    May 21, 2014 at 9:49 pm

    Here’s some information I recently uncovered concerning the possible connection between the Tonga & Errol’s buddy, John Carrol:

    John Carroll Rides (The Tonga?) Again!


  15. Gentleman Tim

    January 6, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    The plot thickens with this account of the 1981(!) sinking of Tonga, “in the Gulf Stream, six miles southeast of Miami, in view of Fowey Rock Light” according to Yachting Magazine: This report cannot be true, unless the Tonga sunk in 1985 – in St. Petersburg was a different boat (with the same owner) altogether. it appears the alleged Miami “sinking” may have been fabricated for a fraudulent insurance claim.…