Saturday, July 16, 2011

Suwarrow Atoll

Suwarrow Atoll, 15 July 2011.
As I write this, I’m anchored along with 4 other boats in the lee of Anchorage Island inside the lagoon of Suwarrow Atoll. On the passage from Bora Bora, I read Tom Neale’s An Island To Oneself which describes his solitary years on Suwarrow. An enjoyable read, you can download the pdf here.  Now it’s a Cook Islands national park and only two rangers live here and only for half the year (this half, the not-cyclone season).
I anchored yesterday morning after another sphincter clenching entrance through the relatively narrow reef pass. There was 3 to 4 knots of current going out of the pass adding to my stress (I don’t mean to say that it’s very difficult or dangerous, it’s just new to me, and running aground in Bora Bora left me a little gun-shy).  Last night there was a pot luck dinner ashore with all the sailors (I prefer that term to yachties) and the two rangers (James and John from Raritonga. Very friendly and laid-back guys). I made lentil curry. Among the highlights were lobster, parrot fish, and tuna (all caught here in Suwarrow) which was prepared as poisson crue, except here they call it ika mata. The underwater scenery is wonderful and the parrotfish (for example) are noticeably bigger here than anywhere else I’ve been (I guess because there are fewer folks around here to eat them). I have read that Cook Islanders are very friendly, and if John and James are representative, I agree 100%. In addition to Twister, there are two American boats, one from New Zealand, and one Swiss (I asked them how they sailed from Switzerland, but I think my humor escaped them).
In Bora Bora I reconnected with a couple of boats I had met previously—Gary and Rory on La Cueca,  Paul on Rebellion (he’s also a solo sailor—did I mention that he sailed into the Pacific through the Beagle Channel (at the southern tip of South America)? No small feat in a 27 foot Albin Vega sailboat), and Chris and Terry, Aussies on Double Diamond (they had an American couple—Jason and Polly (when I first heard her name pronounced, I thought it was Paulie and had visions of a fat Italian mobster) and Terry’s wife along for the Society Islands portion of their journey). I also made some new friends. Roland on Connivence is a Swiss singlehander. Wattie (short for Watson—though it’s the same number of letters and syllables) and Di (Dianna) on Cariad are on their way to New Zealand, thus completing Wattie’s leisurely-paced 14-year circumnavigation. La Cueca and I departed Bora Bora together, but they set a course for Raritonga. Rebellion is probably still en route to Tonga. Connivence has probably reached Niue by now and Cariad and Double Diamond are still in Bora Bora as far as I know.
Thoughts on French Polynesia.

I was ready to move on when I left Bora Bora July 7. It took me 7 days to cover the ca 680 miles to Suwarrow, though I did a bit more than that because I ended up about 30 miles farther north than I wanted to be. I only got a short and superficial look at French Polynesia. I had been looking forward to seeing Tahiti and Bora Bora as their names were synonymous with south seas paradises in my head. I enjoyed Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas and Rangiroa in the Tuamotus.  They are visually stunning, but otherwise I was less impressed by the three Socity Islands I visited (Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora—of the three I like Moorea the best).  Of course the language barrier did not help, and if I return to French Polynesia, I vow to learn some French beforehand. The extremely unhelpful and hostile immigration officer I dealt with in Papeete also left a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth.  

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