Heavenly Suwarrow: September 4 2007
August 18 we headed back to Bora Bora to wait for a good weather window...unfortunately, not good spinnaker wind so the trial run will have to wait. This time we anchored behind a motu just inside the pass. Spectacular...another aquarium anchorage with crystal clear water, sandy bottom and a fabulous 14 foot depth (beats the 75 ft depth at Bloody Mary's). Took a quick sunset swim and then headed to s/v Seafari for sundowners...with Chris's pizza in-hand. We have not seen Seafari since the Marquesas and it was nice to catch up. Looks like we have a weather window so we got organized; early morning farewell kayak then Erin got cooking meals for the passage (Jambalaya and Shepherd's Pie). We have again consulted with Commander's Weather because the patch ahead can be a bit squally when fronts pass through the area...and friends have had some pretty rough passages lately so we are playing it very conservatively.
The weather window is a tough one because it is only "open" approx five days (that only gets us half way to Tonga)...mostly with light wind...closing with a passing front that will cause big seas and strong winds. Half way to Tonga...with nowhere to fill with diesel...hhhmmm. That said, it looks like the front cycles best suggests the half-way stop at Suwarrow in the Cook Islands to wait out the front then continue again at the next weather window the rest of the way. We took off August 19 and arrived in Suwarrow August 24...five days of lumpy, low wind motor sailing AND we used more diesel than we would have liked...because we still have approx 700 miles to go when we get going again. We checked in twice per day with the Southern Cross Net on the SSB (8137 at 0400 and 1800 zulu) and Erin was net controller for a couple of days. The spinnaker was flown and we admired it heartily. Just before pulling it down from the inaugural use...POP...the head broke free and the spinnaker promptly slid under Barefeet. Yikes - we stared in amazed disbelief but quickly turned off the engine and pulled the spinnaker on deck. Phew, got it aboard and all is intact. Sail maker Chris repaired the offending bolt and we were back in business...flew for two days and worked great! Fishing was pretty good with several hits and a beautiful 3 foot Mahi Mahi caught the day before landfall. We did not see a single boat the entire passage...we are definitely off the beaten path.
So many variables but, happily, we made it into the anchorage before the front...and what a magical place it is. Suwarrow (originally named Suvarov after the first European boat, of the same name, that visited it in 1814 with Russian explorer Lazarev) is a Nature Reserve composed of an atoll 11 miles across and located in the Northern Cook Islands. For as long as written history has records, Suwarrow has been "the dream of those seeking a remote island on which to escape the clutches of civilization." Tom Neale is the most famous of the atoll's residents, living on it for many years starting in 1950. Tom chronicled his time on the island in the book An Island to Oneself...an interesting "how to" book about living alone on an island. Today, a single family lives on the largest island, Anchorage Island, April through October and function as caretakers. The family is from Rarotonga (Southern Cook Islands) and could not be more welcoming or gracious...mom and dad Veronica and John with their four boys, one set of twins (ages 6-11). If you have not yet guessed, this is one remote spot; minimum 4 day sail from anything with no supply ship visits...John and his family are dropped off in April and picked up in October. Two years ago the ship said they could not make the pick up trip due to low fuel...what?! A cruiser generously took the whole family back to Rarotonga.
m/v Special Blend (m/v stands for motor vessel...a Nordhaven they have motored all the way from Florida...yes, including the Galapagos to Marquesas passage) arrived earlier in the day and Jim came by for a fish filleting lesson for Erin...wow...very helpful and, boy, do the fillets look great! We tried to gather any non-fillet bits (for disposal far from the boat) but some bits did slip overboard...and within the blink of an eye there were five black tip sharks shooting around in an agitated manner under the boat. Chris dipped a bucket into the water for additional cleaning and the sharks went after it, too...just bumps but they are not bashful. We suppose swimming is off the list in this place. The sun went down and we gathered ashore for a fish BBQ and pot luck joined by the caretaker family. We are only three boats at the moment but within the next few days the count will get into double digits as passages are completed. Between all the cruisers we have caught loads of fish...so many that Erin took home grilled leftovers to make a dip for tomorrow's potluck beach BBQ...2 cups flaked cooked fish, 16 oz melted Velveeta cheese, 1/2 cup milk, 4oz green chilies (chopped), 1/2 cup chopped onion, cilantro for garnish...mixed together and placed in a casserole...microwaved 5-6 minutes until heated through and topped with chopped cilantro.
The anchorage has filled up and now totals sixteen boats...that is quite a big number since total boat count year to date to Suwarrow is 72. The days continued wonderfully with exploration above and below the water topped off with a beach BBQ dinner. We snorkeled with m/v Special Blend and were awed by the jewel colored velvet that edged the giant clams; deep, lustrous blues, greens and purples. A few reef sharks investigated us but scampered off when no fish were in evidence. Caretaker John and his family led a dinghy parade within the atoll...first, to Gull Island so that we could see the frigates, terns and their offspring...with the occasional tropic bird and booby thrown in for variety. It was amazing. The baby frigates are white, down covered critters that are a bit gawky and awkward...but let us get up close for photos. The terns are indifferent nest builders and quite literally deposit their eggs anywhere...no nest in evidence. It looks more like an Easter morning than an aviary. Second, was a stop at Seven Islands for a picnic lunch and a bit of trash clean-up on the beach...oh, and lots of great shells, too. John and Veronica used a machete and made quick work of coconuts for a refreshing drink. The dinghy back was good fishing along the reef and the makings of another fish fry were at hand. The evening BBQ potlucks were a fun time to chat and tell stories. Caretaker John amused us all by describing the novelty and status symbol of a corned beef dinner in the Cooks. John is from a family of eight on another of the Cook Islands...plenty of fish but not much beef or chicken. Canned corn beef was served as a special treat...one 20 ounce can for eight...more like rice with a condiment of corned beef. After the meal John and his siblings rarely washed their hands and often smoothed some of the grease into their hair...this eau de corned beef made them the envy of all their classmates when they returned to school. Anything can be a status symbol, tee, hee, hee!
We really hate to think about leaving Suwarrow but we want to go all the way to Tonga on our next passage (rather than stop along the way in Samoa). It looks like another window is open and off we went August 28. The farewells were heartfelt and we happily left our mark...the Hingham Club burgee...proudly pinned to the family gathering room. Check it out the next time you swing through the place. The swells were big exiting the pass and they continued around the atoll. Once on our final course we flew the spinnaker in 20-25 knots wind and zipped along at 8 knots. The 4.5 day passage was a bit of a sail changing exercise due to passing squalls and the final 36 hours of making our way through a stationary front...uugghhh...30-35 knots, big seas and grey skies. The movement was enough that sleeping was kept to a minimum and eating was not much more than cheese and crackers or cereal. By the way, you know the passage is challenging when the cereal flies off the spoon as you try to eat it...hhhmmmm...that is a bit of wind. We crossed the dateline and arrived in Vava'u, Kingdom of Tonga on September 2 (September 1 for us). We worked hard the last several hours in order to get in before the sun went down...otherwise, it would have been another bumpy night doing laps in front of the harbor entrance waiting for daylight. Mother Nature was not too accommodating and cranked the wind up to 30-35 knots the whole way through the islets and into the harbor. Luckily, s/v Serai and s/v Silene were already there and Ems was in the dinghy and directed us to a mooring ball...literally as the sun made its final slide behind the mountains. Phew! Showers and beers all around. An initial catching up with our friends then a great spaghetti dinner with feta a deux...our first real meal in too long. We slept like rocks and are thrilled to have this leg behind us. This year, all of the cruisers have been having at least one rough patch between Bora Bora and Tonga; ripped sails, torn out stanchions, waves pulling things off decks, unintentional jibes causing lots of havoc and generally uncomfortable conditions in all ways possible. Tomorrow will be checking in and then we will be free to enjoy this gorgeous spot...but that is tomorrow.