A warm welcome from Palmerston

After a very rolly downwind sail from Rarotonga with my all too familiar sea-sickness making its usual appearance, Palmerston was an extremely welcomed sight. We had heard through the grapevine that mooring buoys were available for cruising yachts and we were happy to find that the rumours were indeed true. Although only 49 people live on this atoll, their reputation for being a friendly and welcoming community seems to have made its way to the cruising world and annual visits from yachts are on a steady increase. The moorings are owned by the locals and are charged out at a meagre NZ$10 per day. Having said that, if you get in touch with the locals beforehand and bring with you some pre-ordered supplies from more built-up islands in the Cooks then this fee is usually waived. What’s more is that the usual fees charged by the other Cook Islands seems to be vastly reduced here and contrary to many online sources, it is in fact possible to clear into the Cook Islands in Palmerston even though it’s not an official ‘port of entry’.

A very rolly sail to Palmerston – the photo doesn’t do it justice!

Whatever charges are made to cruisers visiting this atoll are more than made up for by the experience you get at this incredibly exceptional place. Each cruising boat is hosted by one of the three families who live on the atoll. A family member will come and collect you from the mooring each day and return you at a mutually agreed time (NB the locals are very laid back and ‘Palmerston time’ often ended up being an hour or two later than prior arrangement). The pass to get into the atoll can very treacherous. It’s not exactly a straight line and with strong currents and a shallow depth creating sizable chop, it was definitely best to leave our fate in the hands of the locals and their strong aluminium runabouts rather than our own dinghy of questionable stability.

This is our host, Edward, taking us through the pass in his aluminium motor boat

The host families are just amazing. As well as giving us dinghy rides to and from our boats every day, they really made us feel like we were part of the family. Each day we were invited to eat with them and enjoy the local cuisine. They showed us around their island and seemed to take great pleasure in explaining their history and their way of life. We were introduced to the entire community and I’m pretty sure we had met every person living on Palmerston by the end of our visit, including the pets – although remembering all their names was another matter! We were invited to a continuous stream of activities and celebrations so that even in a place as small and isolated as this, there was always something fun to do. In the short time we were there we found ourselves involved with school parties, craft making, volleyball games, family reunions and even a funeral. We met some awesome people here. The locals are all wonderful characters and we thoroughly enjoyed their company. We also met a number of migrants from the US, New Zealand and South Africa who were staying long term on the island either to work or on an extended holiday. It was great to meet people from similar cultures and backgrounds to me who don’t have a sailing background. Not that I have anything against sailors of course (I am one after all) but it’s nice to be able to talk about things other than boats from time to time.

This is Boogie – the pet boobie of our host family

Seth teaching us how to make stylish hats out of coconut palm leaves

The group modelling our hats

Enjoying one of the many feasts with the family and other cruisers

Washing up in the kitchen after dinner

The end of term school party involved team-working games on the beach where each team had to pass water via coconut shells through a line of people to fill a bucket at the end. The team with the most water at the end wins

Some action shots of the boys playing volleyball – good fun

Anyway, back to Palmerston. The history of this place is very interesting and the locals are very proud to tell the story. The atoll had no human population until 1863, when a promiscuous Englishman called William Marsters arrived with his three Polynesian wives. He divided the island into three areas and gave each of his wives one of these areas to live and create a home. He produced 21 children during his time on Palmerston and lived to a ripe old age of 78, not quite seeing in the 20th century. In the present day, each of the three families on Palmerston is descended from one of the three wives and, of course, William himself – everyone living on this idyllic island is a Marsters. Each respective family will tell you that it is their family who are descended from the ‘main’ wife and that the other two families are descended from concubines. I guess William was very good at making each wife feel ‘special’.

This is the first house that William Marsters built when he arrived on the atoll. It’s built from large wooden planks of old ships

William Marsters grave. He lived to a healthy age of 78 – not bad for the 19th century. He left behind good genes as well as a beautiful island home for his descendents

Our visit happened to coincide with a visit from about 30 Marsters family members who live in New Zealand and other places outside of Palmerston. They had come together to visit Palmerston as a family and it was the first time they had all been together on the atoll in about 30 years, so it was a big honour for us to be part of this momentous reunion. Their visit was a bitter sweet event as although they were able to enjoy this paradise island as a family, they were also there to scatter the ashes of a deceased loved one who wanted to be laid to rest in his place of origin. In the usual fashion we were invited to attend all the events held by the family during their stay, including the funeral itself. Funerals are usually sad occasions but as the death of the elder was some years previously, the day was more about celebrating his life rather than to mourn. We learned that his name was Sunny and heard many wonderful stories about him throughout the day. We felt like we had a better insight into the person this day was dedicated to and we got to know even more of the family who, just like the residents of Palmeston, are just as friendly and welcoming as ever. Of course we also made new cruising friends and ran into old ones. Our friends from a gorgeous, modern and very shiny catamaran called Cheeky Monkey arrived with a freshly caught tuna and cold beers on our second night – we gladly helped to consume them. The boat is currently crewed by three very interesting men: an Israeli hipster who is an ex-second commander of a missile ship and has vowed to not shave his beard until he reaches the end of his Pacific crossing, an optimistic American extravert who also happens to be a very fine male specimen* and the owner – an astute, opinionated Englishman who also happens to be one of the most good natured and motivational people I’ve met on this trip. Part of his voyage is to film a documentary about all the interesting and remote islands he’s visited during his voyage. He apparently already has a very popular YouTube channel with blogs of his journey prior to his current crew which, unfortunately, we’ve not had the pleasure of viewing due to very slow internet – but given his reputation I’m sure he’ll produce a documentary well worth watching. Look up Cheek Monkey on YouTube and check it out if you’re interested.

The Israeli sailing hipster wearing a t-shirt that couldn’t be more appropriate

After an amazing week in Palmerston we set sail once again for the most remote place we’ve visited yet – Beveridge Reef…

Here are a few more pics from this wonderful atoll 

Inside the lagoon

The beach

One of the recent boats that was wrecked just by the reef reused as a small shelter

Some of the local residents

Alex modelling his new hat although I’m not sure if he’s trying to impersonate Columbus or Hilter.

Main Street

Me and Ned. He’s one of he local kids who designed and made these servings to sell to cruising visitors. This was kindly given to us in exchange for some polarised sunglasses 🙂

Me and the adorable Joy. She is so cute I could have scooped her up and taken her with us

The school ‘bus’ delivering the kids home at the end of the day. British health and safety legislation would have a field day with

Street lights – a rather surprising thing to find in the forests of this isolated low-lying atoll

 

*As pointed out by Alex

Back to the developed world – Tahiti and Rarotonga

I appear to have had a complete lack of discipline and motivation when it comes to keeping my blog posts up-to-date over the past few months, for this I apologise. Upon arriving in Tahiti back in May I spent most of my time totally overcome by all the development and I was very pre-occupied enjoying all the supermarkets, fast food joints, restaurants, shops and bars. It had been 14 months since I had been in a city and I think I went a little stir crazy from the metropolis.

Sooooo many cars!

Soooo much food!

Mmmmm McDonalds!

Cool beers in the sunset

As built-up as it was, Tahiti certainly had its own natural beauty and the island had wonderful snorkelling, trekking and points of interest to visit. If you’re a cruising sailor thinking of bypassing Tahiti because it’s ‘too developed’ I think you would be missing out.

This was our evening view of Moorea from Bob where we were anchored at Taina Mariner in Tahiti

After a few rigging problems we had to sort out in our final weeks in French Polynesia, we finally made it to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands and have been enjoying a fabulous week in this bustling, scenic, ENGLISH-speaking island! As communication is no longer a problem, we’ve managed to get more done in one week here than in one month in French Polynesia. We managed to get a temporary driving licence and rent a scooter; do a circuit of the island; play mini golf; do a cross-island trek; visit the whale & wildlife centre; find our favourite bars across the island and get a whole host of boat jobs done. We even helped with a mountain rescue!

I say a ‘mountain rescue’ but it wasn’t quite that dramatic, although it was close to being a very serious event for the lady involved. Towards the end of our hike across we caught up with a lady and her husband. They were obviously making slow progress and the lady was frequently falling over and said she felt very weak in her legs. They asked if we had any snacks we could give them in the hope that some sugar would give her some energy. Unfortunately we didn’t, but we knew there were a number of people also doing the trek who weren’t far behind them and who might be able to help. Despite their predicament they seemed in good spirits so we bid them farewell and moved on.  Further down the path we came across some coconut trees, so being a Good Samaritan Alex decided to run back to the couple with some coconut in the hope that it might help. It turned out that other people had passed them and had also given various fruits and energy bars to the lady, but unfortunately it didn’t seem to be helping. Now, the lady had almost lost the use of her legs entirely and was going completely hysterical – it was starting to get dark, the track was very difficult in places and she was, understandably, very scared.

Alex offered to get help and immediately came running back to the car park where I was waiting with the scooter. The couple were only 20 minutes from the end of the trek, but in her condition it was just impossible for her to make any progress. Moreover, the car park itself was still some way up the mountain and there was no phone signal there and they didn’t have any transport waiting for them even if they could get back to the car park. So we sped down the road on our little scooter to an area with more people and found a lovely local gentleman who called the police and mountain rescue service for us. Alex and I waited at the entrance for the various teams to show up. It took a nail-biting 45 minutes before the police eventually showed up and we made our way back up to the car park and to the entrance of the trek, but we were still waiting for the extraction team. By now it was well over an hour since Alex had left the couple and it was almost dark. Just then, we heard voices coming from the darkness of the trail and the police went to investigate. Thankfully it turned out to be the lady and her husband reaching the end of the trek. She was covered in mud and seemed a little ‘off’ – almost like she was drunk and not thinking clearly, but at least she appeared to have regained the use of her legs. It turned out that 5 minutes after Alex had left them she started to go delirious, speaking incomprehensible German and Latin and foaming at the mouth before going completely unconscious for a further 50 minutes! Her husband must have been going out of his mind with worry. Then, out of nowhere, she suddenly regained consciousness and had an unexpected burst of energy and was able to finish the trek in not much time at all.

She was obviously feeling much better and it’s wonderful that she could make it down the mountain without help from an extraction team. Perhaps it was a mineral deficiency, or perhaps extreme exhaustion, but she was on the up and that’s what was important. Despite the extreme events that had just happened to her, despite the fact that she still didn’t seem completely coherent and despite everybody’s strong recommendations the couple refused to go to the hospital to get checked out. We waved them goodbye as the police drove them back to their hotel where I sincerely hope she was able to eat something, get a nice hot bath and a long restful sleep. Hopefully she is now happy and healthy and was back to her normal self the following day, although I would have felt much better if she had been checkout out by a medical professional at the hospital.

Alex was absolutely amazing throughout this whole ordeal. He was calm, efficient and very professional. He clearly still remembers all of his medical first responder training and it gives me a lot of confidence to know that I am in the best possible hands if we ever have an emergency (which fingers crossed we never will).

So, after an exciting week we are now ready to leave Rarotonga for Palmerston (a secluded atoll with only 50 or so inhabitants). We’ll be leaving today with the hope of arriving in 2 days time and will update you on our adventures as soon as we can.

The view from a beach bar in Rarotonga

At the whale and wildlife centre

Also at the whale and wildlife centre. Alex looks completely swamped by this old fashioned diving helmet.

This is a giant fern. This species covered the trail on our cross-island trek. Just amazing! And I thought bracken could grow to a good height!

The view from The Needle on the cross-island trek

More of the view from The Needle on the cross-island trek

Looking down on the Tropic Bird nests from above

Our friend – some of you might recognise him from Alex’s recent Facebook video. He kept us company while we ate our lunch.

Polynesian Spirit

We’ve made it to Rarotonga!

Our arrival here is a bit of a milestone. It marks our exit from French Polynesia, where we have been exclusively sailing for about a year. That means not only a change in language, but a change in cultural influences (New Zealand rather than French), food supplies (imported from New Zealand instead of France) and weather. It’s a very chilly 26 degrees Celsius as I write this, so we’re decked out in woolly jumpers and long trousers. Most importantly for me, however, it marks the furthest West that I have ever sailed. In 2003 I ended a 5-month voyage aboard the sail training ship Picton Castle here in Rarotonga in order to return to the UK and begin my enrolment at university in London. That journey, however, planted the seed that was to eventually become the driving force that has inspired this voyage which we are currently undertaking. It was here, 14 years ago, at the age of 19, that I vowed to myself that one day I would own my own boat and sail back here to the Pacific on my own terms. Onward from here, therefore, is entirely unknown territory. We have very little idea of what Customs and cultures we can expect in the island groups to our West, but I have no doubt that the indomitable Polynesian spirit which drove me to make that vow to myself all those years ago will pervade. That incredible spirit of generosity is ubiquitous here, and is demonstrated quintessentially by the little old lady featured in the following account:

Our final day in Raiatea was spent preparing for sea, and then in the evening we headed into town to watch some of the dancing at the Heiva. The dancing really is phenomenal in Polynesia – in this case about 40 men and women spinning, stamping and wiggling, each adorned in the most fantastical costumes. The music is strongly percussion-based but some tunes also feature ukulele or some other local instrument to carry a tune. There was also a beer tent, a pool hall and candy floss too. A thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an evening.

In order to get around the island we have been becoming more and more accustomed to hitch-hiking as a means of transport, and have met some truly lovely people in doing so. As we travelled back from the shops on our final day, our driver was a chatty older lady who beamed in a perpetual toothy smile and didn’t seem in the least bit phased by the fact that I could only understand every 5th word at best. We had a good chat, she went out of her way to drop us off right where our dinghy was tied up and we bid farewell. We soon discovered that we had left our two baguettes in her car once we arrived back on board Bob, but it was no big deal. Sarah made some bread and we enjoyed our last dinner in French Polynesia; fresh-baked bread and garlic-roasted Camembert.

The next morning we awoke a little earlier than usual and I began to prepare Bob for leaving the mooring and motoring the 9 miles to the South end of the island, where we hoped to pick up a light breeze that would waft us along to the reef pass and out to sea in the general direction of Rarotonga. But there was a figure on the shoreline shouting something at me. Close inspection revealed, to my horror, a little old lady shouting and waving a package that looked ominously baguette-shaped. I should have known. The Polynesians are just such incredibly kind people. It turned out that she had come back to the fishing port the previous evening upon her discovery that our baguettes were in her car, but we’d already left for the Heiva. So, she came again the following morning and would not hear of keeping them for herself but insisted on us taking them from her. I’m pretty sure that if we had attempted once more to respectfully and apologetically refuse her baguette-delivery services she would have plopped into the water and swum them out to us. Such is the kindness and hospitality of the Polynesian people. Needless to say we felt horribly guilty for having put this little old lady so far out of her way for the sake of two (now stale) baguettes. We could hardly ask her to throw them in the bin either (she claimed she didn’t like them and didn’t want them!) after all the trouble she’d been through to return them to us. We manoeuvred Bob right in to the little dock by the shore to effect the transfer, thanked her profusely and waved exuberantly as she climbed back into her car with a big smile on her face. The funny thing is, I know from the look on her face that she got just as much enjoyment out of doing that for us as we felt for her having done it. It’s the way the world should be!

So, we were on our way (with plenty of bread). The winds on-passage were better than expected and we made excellent time for the first three days, reaching on a port tack. On the fourth day the wind died, as expected, and we decided to motor rather than bob in Bob because the forecast looked incredibly light for the next three days and we were only 120 miles from our destination. 6 hours of wind during the night gave us a bit of respite from the droning, as well as an opportunity to test, for the first (and hopefully last) time the temporary repairs done to the starboard lower shroud. They held without any more drama, and the following afternoon saw us arrive in Rarotonga, the first English-speaking country either of us have seen since Pitcairn one year ago, and the first English-speaking port since I left St. Martin in February last year. Words cannot express (see what I’m doing here? Har har har!) how wonderful it is to have the freedom to have a conversation with ANYONE! We can eavesdrop on other people’s conversations, laugh over their arguments, and listen to the children swearing profusely as they insult and abuse one another as only children can do. It’s bliss.

We’ve rented a scooter and spent the day yesterday driving around the island and stopping at a few spots that looked interesting. Today we’re going to go to a golf course and I, the golf expert (not) am going to try to ‘teach’ Sarah how one of the most silly games ever invented (search YouTube for Robin Williams on golf) is played. Tomorrow might be rained out, but it’ll give me an opportunity to remove the alternator (oh yes, that’s been the most recent thing to break) for testing and possible replacement. Right now, Sarah is eating a bowl of cereal with real, non-UHT milk for the first time since Panama, and I’m about to follow suit.

 

Below is a photo of the kinds of costumes and the dancing that is typical of a Polynesian Heiva. Sarah actually took this photo in Tahiti but it’s the same idea. A large part of the Heiva, which is a festival that lasts for a month, consists of dancing competitions between the various local and invited dance troops. All of them are of a high standard and feature dances by children, teenagers, young adults and ‘mamas’ – ladies of more mature years.

 

 

 

Update later in the day: The golf course was closed. Fortunately a proxy was found in short order which was more to Sarah’s liking. Our roles were reversed, and she had the opportunity to teach me how to play ‘real’ golf.

 

On a completely different note, we think we have deduced a bit of Disney trivia from our very (VERY!) limited knowledge of the various languages of the French Polynesian island groups we have visited so far. The island below is Huahine, and it is apparently the one that the latest Disney film, Moana (or ‘Vaiana’ as it is called in Tahiti), was based on. ‘Huahine’ apparently means ‘sleeping woman’ and inspired the character of Tefiti. Can you see it in this picture that Sarah snapped as we were leaving to sail to Raiatea?

Moana’ is a very common word that one sees all over the place in French Polynesia. My tattoo artist in Nuku Hiva is named Moana. In both Tahitian and Marquesan it means ‘water’. You may also have noticed our use of the word ‘motu’ in previous posts, and as part of the name of the group of islands called the Tuamotus. A motu is simply an island. Nui means ‘big’ or ‘grand’. Hence, the ocean is ‘Moana Nui’. The name of our friend’s boat (also mentioned in a previous post), ‘Mana O Te Moana Nui’ means, loosely, ‘Power of the Ocean’. The name of the island that the Disney character Moana is from is ‘Motu Nui’, which simply means ‘big island’. I’m sure there are many, many more subtle linguistic tidbits in the film that we have missed. If you can think of any, let us know. We have watched it several times now and will most likely watch it several more 🙂

Broken Bits-of-Bob Development

Well, this is what the guys at Alu-Inox in Raiatea have come up with. Unfortunately they couldn’t fabricate a brand new piece but I think it’s not a bad effort.

 

 

With luck this will get us to somewhere that we can more easily do a proper fix. In the meantime I’ll back it up with a piece of fancy rope (dyneema) so that if it breaks again we hopefully won’t lose the whole mast. I’ll also slather it in grease so that it doesn’t corrode in the no-time-at-all in which thing seem to turn into piles of mush in this environment. It would be decidedly inconvenient if the mast came crashing down in the middle of the South Pacific. Or………. anywhere for that matter!

I really should have been true to my tallship roots and tarred the whole rig. Ah well. Wish us luck for the next leg. We have our port clearance papers in order and the weather forecast is for stable trade winds following a trough later this week. We will see…………….. I’m not a fan of that crack that you can see in the picture across the top of the ‘U’.

Update, July 1st: Sta-lock USA are apparently ‘horrified’ by this failure. Apparently it’s the first occurrence of such a thing. They have apologised profusely and are shipping a new fitting to Rarotonga ahead of us at our request (we didn’t want it sent here because getting stuff imported into French Polynesia is very expensive and bureaucratic). Their response has encouraged me considerably regarding the strength and reliability of the rest of the rig.

Still Stuck

The gods are becoming more and more inventive in their bid to prevent us from leaving French Polynesia. I hope there isn’t some underlying omen behind all this. We are making progress to the West, but slowly. The winds over the past month or so have been terrible for making any sort of long-distance crossing. Periods of good winds for three days at the most have been forecast but these have been invariably followed by long periods of calm, or strong winds from the South – a phenomenon known locally as a Maramu which occurs normally at this time of year. So, we have been island hopping during the good periods and have made it as far as the island of Raiatea, which is almost as far West as it is possible to go in French Polynesia before one must make the 4-5 day hop (in good winds) to the Cook Islands. Finally, last week, the forecast looked great for a run to Rarotonga, but there was something I wanted to check first. During the sail from Huahine to Raiatea (just 22 miles) I heard an unusual ‘pop!’ from somewhere in the rigging, so I went aloft yesterday to double check all the fixtures and fittings and quickly discovered the source of the sound. This toggle fitting has failed in a very worrying way.

 

Like the rest of the rigging it is only 2 1/2 years old, so there really is no excuse for this. I’ve spent the best part of the last 24 hours mulling it over in my mind and can come to no other conclusion than it being a manufacturing defect – the result of poor quality materials and/or poor manufacturing processes. But if this one has failed, what about the rest of the rig? The wire at the base of the terminals is showing disturbing signs of rust despite being rinsed down with fresh water after every dousing with salt. It’s supposed to be top-quality 316-grade stainless steel. We’re not the only ones with these problems either – our friends Mark (s/v Pilas) and Mario (s/v Ann Cailleach (or something like that!)) have both found that their new rigging, only a few years old, looks to be in a similar condition to the old rigging that they removed and replaced, and which had been in service for more than a decade. Mark has even kept his old rigging and it is clear to see that the quality of the steel that his old rigging was made from is superior to what he has now. And he didn’t skimp on price when he purchased his new rigging.

Not only are we going to miss out on our weather window, but fixing our problem might not be an easy one. Our fitting is imperial, not metric, so it’s unlikely that one will be found in Tahiti, never mind here in Raiatea. We could order one in, but to get it here in any kind of decent time we’d have to FedEX it, and French customs charge a percentage of the freight cost as well as the value of the item. A $100 item such as this, plus a $200 FedEX charge from the States ends up costing $400 after customs duties are paid. To make matters worse, this fitting (a sta-lock terminal fitting for 3/8″ wire and a 5/8″ pin, which should be overkill for our boat) is not as simple as it appears. The whole thing from the toggle to the wire terminal is a single unit, with the threads welded in place at the factory so that it cannot be disassembled. Well, we’ll see about that. I’ll be taking it in to a local machine shop first thing on Monday morning. With luck the guys here can come up with something that will be strong enough to get us to somewhere with better access to a replacement fitting. We’ve got a couple of ideas that we think should get us there. Fortunately, the next leg should see us on a port tack the whole way. If we can’t get something sent to Rarotonga maybe I’ll switch the shrouds from side to side for the next leg to Palmerston, back again to Beveridge, back again to Niue and we might just be able to make it all the way to Tonga without ever putting too much pressure on the ‘bad’ side 🙂

It’s not all bad though. We had the most amazing experience as we were hitch-hiking into town yesterday to try to find somewhere with internet so that we could email some friends in Tahiti and ask them to try to source this part for us. We were picked up by a young local couple, Marjorie and Loik. First, they insisted on stopping at a shop and buying us a beer. They then drove us into town, but, on discovering that everywhere including the cafes was closed due to it being a Saturday, they took us on to their house on the other side of the island where we met their family and were able to send our emails. It turned out that the lady of the house had served us pizza the previous night at a fast-food takeaway at an event ground, and although she spoke no English we managed to have a good laugh over this serendipity. The next thing we knew we were having dinner, more beer and were driven back to Bob feeling very, very welcome indeed. I sincerely hope we can get Marjorie and Loik out to Bob at some point before we leave, in order to reciprocate their generosity in some small way. Maybe we’ll have ample time to do so. Fortunately it is possible to FedEX stuff to Raiatea……………. but it still takes 2 weeks.