Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Beveridge Reef, by Brian

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On our third day in Beveridge reef the weather keeping us pinned inside finally broke, dropping from a blustery 30 knots to a tranquil 15.  With a good outlook for the next few days we decided to launch the dinghy and do some exploring.

Ramone, our trusty 15HP outboard, had other plans and decided to take the day off.  He spattered to life for a few seconds before dying.  After a few hours of troubleshooting we gave up and dusted off Pepe, our 2HP backup.  Pepe hadn’t been used since Mexico but cranked right up on the first pull.  Unfortunately 2HP with a heavy dinghy and 3 passengers barely cuts it, being just slightly better than rowing.  Forget about getting anywhere loaded with dive gear. With even a moderate current or wind you’d go backwards.  We settled for a short excursion in the reef taking the dinghy as close as possible to the coral edge, setting our hook in a sandy patch.  We enjoyed a cold beer while watching in awe as the waves kicked up by the last few days of wind relentlessly pounded the reef.  The photo doesn’t do it justice but that is a 12 foot wave breaking in a perfect barrel.  Too bad it breaks in 6 inches of water!

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Our broken outboard turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  Instead of feeling compelled to dive and explore everything in sight we were forced to relax on the boat, making the most of our time by reading, sleeping, and concocting creative meals with what provisions we had left from Bora Bora.  I personally worked my way through two Twilight novels, alternating between reading and staring at the waves from the comfort of our sun-shaded cockpit.  It seems all three of us were ready for a week of idle relaxation.  Without land to explore we didn’t feel guilty about what we may be missing.  Delos is a large enough boat so the three of us can spread out and have some personal space.  We spent an entire day lounging in hammocks hung from our downwind poles over the beautiful blue water while sipping Erin’s famous margaritas.

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We did bum a ride with Imagine and Jackstay for some snorkeling and to explore the wreck of a steel fishing boat that had been tossed like a toy completely over the reef into the lagoon.  That must have been one heck of a storm. 

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The snorkeling was good but not incredible, or maybe we’re just spoiled by all that we've seen so far.  The visibility was amazing though, easily in the 100+ foot range, and there were some huge reef and pelagic fish just outside of the pass.  There was a constant 2-3 knot outflow of water threatening to push you into the ocean if you didn't hold your position by swiftly kicking.  Unlike other atolls we've visited there is no ebb and flood here, it's always ebbing (flowing out) as the waves crashing into the reef constantly fill it up looking for a way to escape through the only pass.

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The wreck was very cool to explore since it was the first above water wreck we've seen.  We felt like proper pillagers by stripping some copper wire and heavy monofilament for use on our boats.

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We were the last boat of our group to leave Beveridge, sticking it out another day before making the 200NM passage to Niue.  It was a strange feeling to be all alone with nothing in sight but the blue water, something you wouldn’t give a second thought under sail.  Being anchored is a bit different.  The experience and peace we enjoyed in Beverage was well worth what we weathered to get there.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Palmerston Atoll, by Erin

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The sun warmed our backs as we sailed around the north side of Palmerston atoll. It had been 36 hours since we began the 200-mile passage from Aitutaki to Palmerston, the easternmost of the Southern Cook Islands. As we got closer, we were surprised to see that it looked like we’d sailed back to the Tuamotu Archipelago. A wide barrier reef enclosed a peaceful green lagoon, and protected the interior from the hungry, pounding surf. Six tiny islands dotted the reef, each one covered with coconut palms and white sand, and all of them solitary and uninhabited except one: Palmerston Island.

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As we adjusted the sails and made our turn down the western side of the triangular atoll, a woman’s voice came over the VHF radio. “Yacht on the north side of Palmerston, come in. Over.” Her thick Polynesian dialect was fused with sharp New Zealand vowels, and it took me a minute or two to realize she was hailing us. Just as I was about to respond, a male voice came over the radio. “Yacht on the north side of Palmerston, this is Alpha-Sierra. Come in. Over.”

Palmerston is home to 62 descendants of William Marsters, a Lancashireman who settled here with his Polynesian wife and her two cousins. He soon married all three women and by the time he died in 1899, at 78 years old, he’d sired 21 children. Thousands of his descendents are scattered around the Cook Islands and New Zealand, but 34 adults and 28 children remain on Palmerston today. The three families cannot intermarry within their own group and the land is divided into sections between the clans. There is one school and one church, and each family shares the responsibilities of running the island by appointing an individual to a task (e.g., teacher, police officer, customs official, administration).

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I picked up the VHF radio. “Station hailing the yacht on the north side of Palmerston, this is Delos. Over.”

“Good morning, Delos. This is Alpha-Sierra. We’ll send a boat out to the anchorage to show you where to drop your anchor. Just circle around until we come out to you.”

We looked toward the three boats that were gently rocking in the anchorage. All of the boats were tied to mooring balls, and there were two other mooring balls available. We pulled up beside one of them as an aluminum skiff came racing out through the shallow passage in the coral reef. The driver and two passengers pulled up alongside our boat. “I’m Edward, “ he said. “This is my son Jon, and my brother Simon. Follow us and we’ll show you where to drop your anchor.”

I’d read in the guidebook that the coral heads in the anchorage could foul chain and make it difficult to pick up an anchor. When we left Aitutaki, it took us two hours and two dive tanks to extricate our anchor chain from the rocky seabed, and our windlass winced the entire time. None of us wanted a repeat performance.

“We’re actually having trouble with our windlass and we’d rather not drop our anchor in coral. Any chance we can use one of these moorings?” Brian asked.

Edward shook his head and blinked hard three or four times. “No—they aren’t strong enough to hold your boat.” We glanced over at the three boats. All of them were roughly the same length and weight as our boat; one was an Amel exactly like ours. The skiff sped away and stopped a few hundred feet in front of us. “Pull up here and drop your anchor,” Edward yelled.

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Delos and other boats in the distance

In Aitutaki we met a man called Neil, whose wife is a Marsters. He told us about the tension between the families on Palmerston, and said that the feuding is constant. We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were thrust into one of those feuds as soon as we approached the atoll. The female voice that we heard on the radio was trying to contact us first, before Alpha-Sierra, in order to “win” us. The prize: the right to host us for the duration of our stay and obtain all of the supplies and food that we brought for the islanders. Because we didn’t respond, Alpha-Sierra got to us instead. The two available moorings belonged to the other families, Alpha-Golf and Alpha-Yankee, and if we’d tied up to one, Alpha-Sierra would’ve lost the turf war.

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A few hours later Delos tugged gently at her anchor chain while Edward, Simon, and Jon drank cold beer and juice in the cockpit. Terry, the head of the Alpha-Yankee clan and the customs official for the island, was there too, authoritatively looking over our passports, filling out paperwork, and collecting the NZ $5/person check-in fee. Edward stared silently at the horizon and Simon fumbled his way through small talk—a bad stutter making it difficult to follow his questions. “Did you st-sto-stop in Rarotonga on th-th-the way here?” he asked, his scraggy beard blowing gently in the breeze.

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Brady and Simon before a nighttime fishing excursion

“No, just Aitutaki.” Brian said.

“Did you like it there? In Aitutaki?” Terry asked with a nearly flawless British accent betraying his formal education abroad.

“Yeah, we liked it very much. Friendly people, beautiful island.”

Terry scrunched his nose and slowly shook his head. “Too touristy,” he said.

To us, Aitutaki seemed relatively untouched by tourism, with just a few hotels and small stores. But Palmerston is absolutely untouched. There are no flights to Palmerston and the supply ship arrives just once every four to six months. The people on the island are isolated, save for cruisers like us who visit them each year. Last year they saw more than 50 yachts between May and October, each boat carrying produce and supplies that the islanders need. In Aitutaki we packed our bilges with 250 pounds of flour, rice, sugar, salt, biscuits, pumpkins, and tomatoes—all given to us by Neil, whose brother-in-law had requested the items.

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Brady loading up the food from Neil

Terry packed up his paperwork and handed us back our passports. “Ready for lunch?” Edward asked. We piled into his skiff and he brought the 40-horsepower outboard engine to life. We dashed through the narrow passage and into the clear water of the lagoon. A plethora of colors shimmered on the horizon: bubblegum blue and avocado green water surrounded us, and we passed schools of emerald parrotfish feasting on huge, brown coral heads.

Edward landed the skiff on the white beach that frames Palmerston Island and we walked down a sandy path toward his house. This section of island belongs solely to the Alpha-Sierra clan, and we never saw a member of another family visiting this property or walking along these trails. Less than a quarter of a mile inland, we arrived at a modest three-room brick house. Two teenage boys prepared lunch and the smell of marinated fish wafted through the chain-link fence that enclosed the tiny, outdoor kitchen.

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Edward led us to an elderly woman who sat at the head of a long wooden table, slouching comfortably in her plastic chair. “This is my mother, Tuaini. She raised 11 children.”

“Wow, 11 kids,” I mused.

Tuaini flashed a toothless grin and cavernous wrinkles framed her proud, dark eyes. “Yes,” she lisped. “Five girls and six boys. Simon is my eldest and Edward is my youngest.” Simon raised his shoulders, leaned back and let out a hearty laugh. He looked at me and smiled broadly, his white teeth shining in the sunlight, his eyes both amused and bewildered—as if he didn’t understand the punch line to a joke.

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Simon, Tuaini, and Edward Marsters

Edward turned to us and said that Jon would take us on a tour of the island before lunch. We followed the bright-eyed 10-year old down a sandy trail edged by coconut trunks and lights that are on whenever the generator is on, even when the sun is shining brightly overhead. We walked past the two-classroom schoolhouse, sugarcane fields, and a few more small, brick homes.

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the schoolhouse

After about 10 minutes we arrived at Main Street—a sandy lane that runs down the center of the island. But rather than a bank or store, there stood a modest Christian church, the original wood-plank home that William Marsters built, the family cemetery in which every gravestone bears the Marsters name, and a defunct yacht club.

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On our way back, Jon showed us the administration office, the satellite dish used for phone, Internet, and fax, the 35 KW diesel generator that powers the island from 6 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 12 a.m., and the only telephone on the island (whoever is walking past when it rings must answer it).

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When we arrived back at the house, the long wooden table was set for lunch. Bowls of white rice and coleslaw sat next to big trays of baked parrotfish and Wahoo. We sat on benches beside the Marsters clan (Tuaini, Simon, Edward, Jon, Edward’s nephews Jon, Simon, and Alfred, and his wife Shirley), and six other cruisers who were hosted by Alpha-Sierra. During lunch we chatted about life on the island, and the politics of the small community. Edward is the sole police officer on the island, so I asked him what his duties include. “Mostly breaking up bloody fights,” he said, his eyes blinking hard. “There’s hardly any theft, not a lot of drinking, but the bloody fighting can get bad.” He pulled a pack of loose tobacco from his pocket and expertly rolled a cigarette.

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Brady asked Edward if he could roll himself one and Edward lazily passed him the plastic pouch of tobacco. “How much does this stuff cost you, anyway?” Brady asked.

“We get it from Rarotonga, on the supply ship. We pay NZ $50 for each pack.”

Edward’s nephews cleared our plates and covered the leftover food to keep it warm for the next meal. We shuffled around the Alpha-Sierra property and watched the chickens and pigs eat their lunch, admired the two four-wheel ATVs that sat beside the tool shed, and tinkered with a spare 40-horsepower outboard engine that had seized up.

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I chatted idly with Mike on Hourglass about weather and route planning. “We’re leaving tomorrow to go to Beveridge Reef,” Mike said.

“Oh, we’re heading there too, but not for a few days,” I told him. “Maybe we’ll see you there.” Simon slapped his knee hard and laughed wildly, this time confusing not just himself but Mike and me, too.

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During our three-day stay at Palmerston, we were never allowed to walk around the island without a chaperone, nor encouraged to mingle outside our host family. We spoke with Terry only when we arrived and we never spoke with Bob or his family. Each morning Edward would pick us up from our boats at around 11 a.m., and at 3 p.m. he would apathetically snuff out a cigarette and announce it was time to take us back. We’d pile into his skiff, along with Simon and Jon, and he’d escort us back to the anchorage.

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Jon and David Marsters

When I’d first heard about Palmerston, and how remote and untouched this island is, I’d assumed the islanders were lacking not only company but also food and goods that they needed. But it turns out quite the opposite is true: these people aren’t poor, nor do they seem to really lack anything. Each person on the island with a job gets a salary paid by the Cook Islands government (who is receiving money from the New Zealand government). They supply parrotfish to Rarotonga twice per year at NZ $40/kilo. And they survive on the land, eating the ubiquitous coconut, sugarcane, lobster, parrotfish, Wahoo, Dorado, pig, chicken, and tropical bird. They have so much that fields of indigenous pineapples go untouched because they are “too difficult” to harvest, Jon told us.

Most of the homes on the island are meek and small, with outdoor beds, toilets and kitchens. But Terry, the customs official, lives in a beautiful two-level, wood planked home with indoor plumbing and a well-stocked library, a covered patio, tool shed, garage, and guesthouse.

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At church on Sunday, Terry donned a three-piece suit and tie and his blonde wife, Yvonne (born and raised in New Zealand), wore a red silk dress and white hat and gloves. Rather than a lack of resources, it seems that the islanders are simply reluctant to conform to a Western standard of living. One of the ongoing feuds on the island revolves around the airport: Terry wants to build one, Edward and Bob don’t. The airstrip would run through all three properties, so every family must approve the plan. Perhaps Terry is requesting the airport so that more tourism will be brought to the remote island, or maybe it’s so that his kids won’t have to decide whether or not to emigrate to Rarotonga or New Zealand when they turn 21—they can have it both ways: a Western life, with its education and jobs, and an island life.

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After three days at Palmerston we decided to move on, leaving early on Tuesday morning. Edward, Simon and Jon came out to say goodbye and return a flashlight we’d let them borrow.

“Come back in a few years, on your next tour of the Pacific Ocean,” Edward said, blinking a few times as he powered up his outboard engine.

“How different will this small island be then?” I wondered to myself and watched Simon chuckle raucously as they dashed away in the aluminum skiff.

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the original Marsters home

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Friday, August 27, 2010

In Tonga, by Erin

Yesterday we arrived in Neiafu, the main city in the Vava'u (vah-vow) island group in the northern part of Tonga.

There are an amazing amount of islands here -- I think I read somewhere around 30, of which just over half are inhabited. It feels a lot like being back in the Puget Sound and sailing around the San Juan and Gulf Islands. The mountainous terrain is covered with lush, green foliage and there are more than 40 protected bays tucked in behind majestic cliff sides. The only difference is that it's warm here -- some might even say hot. And it's wintertime. I might melt in the heat and humidity of summer... We'll definitely be testing the stamina of the air conditioner on the boat.

We checked in with customs yesterday afternoon, a four-hour long process that involved various officials boarding our boat -- Customs, Immigration, Health, and Quarantine/Agriculture. For some reason, one official can't leave the boat before the next arrives, so we chatted idly and drank a few beers to pass the time while while we waited.

Last night we were invited to a Kava party hosted by one of the officials -- George, I think. It's a fundraiser that they throw each Friday night to raise money for the next week's allotment of fuel for the school bus. At nearly $3/liter here, it's too much to ask one person to supply the fuel, so the entire village comes together for the party and helps raise the funds. Unfortunately, there was a death on the island yesterday evening so the villagers are in mourning for 10 days, during which time no Kava parties can be thrown. I'm not sure how the kids will get to school next week... Everywhere on this small island is deemed "too far to walk."

With no Kava to drink, we caught up with our friends on Oso Blanco and Totem, and had a great dinner at a Swiss-Tongan fusion restaurant with a view of the bay and the boats gently tugging at their moorings. There are more than 50 boats in the bay right now, all tied to one of the mooring balls because it's too deep to anchor. Right now, there's barely a ripple on the water and the breeze is just a whisper.

Tonight we'll have dinner at one of the many charming restaurants that sit on the hill above the bay. We've been promised a local string band and more good food. On Sunday we'll leave our peaceful bay and explore one of the 40 anchorages that are just a few hours away from town... It might be too soon to say this, but we're loving our new home.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sailing to The Kingdom of Tonga

After a few wonderful weeks at Palmerston Island, Beveridge Reef and Niue, we're sailing 250 miles to the Vava'u island group in Tonga. Right now the wind is blowing gently on our backs at about 15 knots, we have the two headsails raised to catch the
breeze that wafts past us, and the boat is rolling gently in the ocean swell.

After a year at sea, you'd think this sail to Tonga would feel like just another part of the journey, another jaunt from A to B. But this time, this passage, is different for three reasons:

1. At roughly 173 degrees of longitude, we'll cross the International Dateline. Normally this line sits at the Prime Meridian, or 180 degrees of longitude, but Tonga decided to be different. The imaginary line has been dragged east of the island group, meaning that later today it will actually be tomorrow. We'll move the clock forward by 24 hours, and shed a full day as easily as a snake sheds its skin.

2. We'll sail over the Tonga Trench, which reaches depths of more than 30,000 feet, about the height of Mt. Everest. The southern islands of Tonga are perched steadily on the cliff sides that hover over this trench, like goats walking on the sheer faces of a mountain.

3. Tonga is the country we'll live in for the next six to seven months, so in some ways we're sailing home. We left Seattle on August 22, 2009 and we'll arrive in Tonga on August 27, 2010. We'll be living on a mooring ball, near the town of Neiafu, during hurricane season. This is one of the best "hurricane holes" in the South Pacific. When the weather is nice, we'll have 40 anchorages just a few hours sail from Neiafu, and when the weather isn't so nice, we'll be tucked behind a mountain and secured to a mooring in a protected bay.

We're not sure what to expect in Tonga. I've heard good and bad things about the islanders and their attitude toward foreigners, but I haven't heard anything to refute the lush beauty of the islands. We've studied the guidebooks and pored over blogs of
previous visitors, but there's only so much you can read before you just have to experience a place for yourself. In just 24 hours we'll be "home." We can't wait to get there.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Auitaki, Cook Islands by Brian

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Seriously, I think they put something in the water here.  After a week in Auitaki our faces ache from smiling, our voices are weak from saying hello to everyone passing by on a scooter.  It doesn’t seem forced either- from the giggly girl at the tourist info office to the kind gentleman that rented us our scooters everybody seems truly content with their little slice of paradise.

A few nights ago we went to a local bar, the Fisherman’s Club, which is nothing more than a concrete slab with a roof and a few picnic tables.  Drinks are served out of an old metal cargo container left long ago by the monthly supply ship, with a rectangular hole cut out of one side as the bar.  It’s a very local scene and everything is $4 (New Zealand) whether it’s a beer, rum and coke, etc.  These are by far the best drink prices we’ve seen in a long time.  In French Polynesia it was 2-3 times as expensive.

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After last call we were invited to watch the New Zealand vs. Australia rugby match at another local bar that was staying open late especially for the midnight start.  Our new friend Tony offered us a ride to the other end of the island on his 4-wheel ATV, a dual purpose vehicle he used for his landscaping job at a resort and commuting around the island.  We piled 6 people on the ATV- two on the front rack, two on the seat, and two on the rear rack.  Another two jumped on a scooter.  Not to worry Tony said, we just had to make it to his work where he had a trailer that would easily accommodate us all.  Tony wasted no time shouting “Anyone want a roadie???” He didn’t wait for our answer before he was elbow deep in his rack cooler handing out cold beers to everyone.  Tony was our new hero.  Who else would keep a cooler full of cold beer on his ATV.  When in Rome right? 

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Heavily loaded down and with beers in hand the ATV crept along the paved road of the town’s main street that also circled the island- right past a cop parked on the side of the road.  Cops are kind of hard to recognize here.  His truck had no lights, no sirens, one working head light, one working tail light, and only a partial homemade police sign on the drivers door.  He pulled us over by sticking his head out the window and yelling while waving his arms.  The cop greeted Tony by name (small town style) and asked why he had so many people piled on his ATV.  Tony simply replied that we were heading to The Boat Shed to watch the rugby match.  The cop shrugged and said it wasn’t safe to have 6 people on an ATV.  We could easily fall off and hurt ourselves making us easy targets for the scooters racing back and forth through the night.  Before we even had time to ponder our fate he motioned to the back of his truck and told us to jump in.  He’d give us a ride that was much safer.  No mention of open beers and being on the road.

We zoomed off again with me in the cab and everyone else in the pickup bed.  He had a 3 year old in a car seat in the passenger side, who’s parents had gotten in a drunken domestic dispute.  He was taking the toddler to his grandparents house down the road.  I suppose domestic disturbances happen even in small island communities.  I learned there are just over 2,000 people on the island, only two police, and no jail.  The police take Saturday and Sunday off (weekend crowds at the bars fully reflect this) and aside from the occasional domestic dispute nothing serious ever happens.  He said no jail was necessary, the people would take care of any would be inmates should the need arise. 

When I asked directly about the drinking and driving laws here he said that people shouldn’t drink and drive, or drive and drink but didn’t say whether there was any legal limit or punishment.  He said because there were very few cars not many accidents ever happened.  If someone was dumb enough to have too much to drink and then try to drive they’d probably end up wrecking their scooter but he thought this had only happened twice.  The fastest anyone ever goes is 20-25 MPH.  He said he’d been a cop all over the Cook Islands and he was basically bored to death.  The cop dropped us off at Tony’s work then zoomed off in a cloud of dust.  We carried on in the obviously much safer landscaping trailer towed behind Tony’s ATV.

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Tourism in Auitaki is sharply down since the cyclone hit last February and hasn’t come back yet.  One of the only two airlines servicing the island are no longer around and the resorts have a very empty feel.  The remaining flights into and out of Auitaki go through Rarotonga.  There are no options.  There is a strong religious sentiment against flights on Sunday, hence the signs.

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No matter where we went people knew we were from a yacht that arrived a few days ago, and that we were anchored outside the lagoon because our 6’7” keel is too deep for the 5’ deep channel.  Everyone profusely apologized for this, saying that this season the channel was going to be dredged so larger boats could come into the calm and protected lagoon waters.  We heard these plans had been in progress since the mid 1980’s.  Island time……..  Below is a picture of Delos outside the protective reef in calm conditions.

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As a front from the South Pacific Convergence Zone moved in the weather deteriorated rapidly.  We’d been watching the weather sources for days now in anticipation of what the front might bring.  Since we were basically anchored in the ocean outside the reef any inclement weather was a major concern.  For 3 days the wind howled, reaching 35 knots (40 MPH) at times.  The seas were large, confused, and rocking us uncomfortably.  The rain kept us pinned inside and the lightening was scary close.  We watched movies to keep us entertained and ran the AC to keep the humidity at bay.  Thank goodness for our awesome generator or we would have surely lost our sanity.  At even the slightest hint of a westerly wind we’d need to pick up our anchor and head to sea, otherwise we’d risk being blown onto the unforgiving reef.

  The winds clocked from south to east to north then back, luckily never heading westerly at all.  The weather finally cleared and the boat dried off.  Our only damage was a chafed stern anchor line from an unexpected wind shift and serious lack of sleep from anchor watches during the night.  When we got back into town people recognized us and asked how we were, asking if the lightning was as scary on a boat as on land.  Apparently they were watching us rocking and rolling from shore.  It was nice to know they were thinking of us.

Later on at the Fisherman’s Club the Customs and Immigration Officer (the only one) wished us well on our travels and asked if we were still leaving next week.   We' checked out on Friday just in case we needed to leave unexpectedly during the storm over the weekend.  With a cheers and clink of his beer he welcomed us back anytime, and said we were welcome to stay for as long as we wanted.

We spent our remaining time on Auitaki exploring the island by land and sea.  We had dinner with other cruiser friends from Fidelis and Julini at a local character’s house named Richard.   He’d married a local women and never left.  That was back in the 1960’s.  At his neighbor’s house we had a chance to get close and personal with some baby goats and pigs.  Nearly every house on the island has them tied up in their yard.

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We rented scooters for $20 NZ a day (They were $60 US in French Polynesia) and explored the back roads of the island, including the highest point on the island that provided a great viewpoint.  At one point the road actually went straight through a gigantic banyan tree.

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At night by the airport was saw a plane take off.  With only a few flights per weak they save electricity by only illuminating the runway when in action.  The rear wheels were barely off the runway when the lights snapped off again.  The next day we visited the empty airport and found the light controls simply bolted to the outside wall of the building, no lock or protection of any kind.  Obviously no need for Homeland Security measures here.  We were there on a weekday in the early afternoon and it was totally deserted of passengers and employees.

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We did quite a lot of diving on our stay.  Not realizing it at the time we anchored very close to the edge of the reef, so while we dropped our hook in 45 feet Delos floated right on the edge of a 200 ft coral drop off.  This made for incredible wall diving right from the boat.  In fact the mooring for a local dive company was only a few hundred feet away.  We could here their bubbles hitting the bottom of Delos as they explored the drop off below.  Our stern anchor happened to grab onto a piece of coral right on the edge of the drop off.  It finally set on the third try.

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A spectacular swim through cavern just a few hundred feet from Delos at about 75 feet of depth.

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We caught some Crown of Thorns starfish in the act- one of the major culprits blamed for the dead coral we’ve seen so far.  Apparently they have no natural predators and are capable of destroying (eating) 1 square meter of coral per day.  We saw dozens and dozens on every dive.  The shot below shows the before and after effects of one of these guys.   The white is eaten, dead coral and the live colored coral is about to be devoured.  They are really beautiful up close though.

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When word got out  that our next stop was Palmerston Atoll we were hailed on the radio by Neil, one of the dive operators here.  His wife still has family on the remote island and since they hadn’t seen a supply ship in over 5 months they were in desperate need of some groceries.  He asked if we were willing to play cargo ship for the 200 NM passage.  We filled our port cockpit locker with 250 lbs of flour, sugar, rice, salt, and a few other important goodies like tomatoes and biscuits (cookies).  We’re excited to see what Palmerston is all about and meet the interesting group that are all descendants of William Marsters and his 3 Polynesian wives from the late 1800’s.

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Groceries destined for Palmerston Atoll.