Our ~600nm sail from Bora Bora to Penrhyn, the northernmost of the Cook Islands, was bumpy, but fast. We enjoyed a week with the local Cook Islanders ... trading, dancing, trading, sipping coconut water, trading and eating local fare. Trading was their forte and we did lots of it … not necessarily to our benefit. Let’s just say that the boat’s waterline was improved greatly when we left and we had little to show for it. Check out more about our visit to the Cook Islands here.
Hard to figure out exactly where all these places are? Check our Oceania map here.
Click the pics above to enlarge them!
Heading south to Manihiki was a fine sail and we had company most of the way, but the weather turned lumpy once we were anchored, making for a less than comfortable night. Most of the islanders were out fishing or unloading supplies leaving little opportunity to meet them.
Believe it or not, though crossing the South Pacific seems like it should always be idyllic, it has its good days and its bad. The weather can be unpredictable with local squalls, big wind bursts and heavy downpours. According to several weather forecasts, this would be a good weather window to head southwest to legendary Suwarrow Atoll and off we went. Contrary to all forecasts, we weathered one of the worst passages of our sailing career. Gale force winds and heavy seas pounded and pummeled us. Though triple-reefed, we managed to blow out our mainsail. We hanked on our storm trisail and hove-to for several hours. Finally, exhausted and weary, we limped into the calmer waters of Suwarrow Atoll, carefully picking our way through the narrow entrance channel midst the continuing, blinding rain.
Suwarrow is the Cook Islands’ only national park and it’s knock-your-socks-off gorgeous. After two more days of howling winds, the weather calmed and the day dawned bright and sunny as if none of the bad weather had ever happened. Taking stock of our condition the next morning was disheartening. Our battered mainsail was in a poor state, the starboard turning block had pulled out of the deck, the wind gen wasn’t working and that was just the beginning of the list. We spent nearly three weeks in the atoll, repairing, fixing and jury-rigging.
Despite all the boat work, our time at Suwarrow was fantastic. We still found time to explore the many islets of the atoll and mingle with the local Cook Island caretakers as well as other visiting cruisers ... proving that even the worst day in paradise is a good one! Serving up more Suwarrow here.
With a repaired, but jury-rigged, triple-reefed mainsail, we headed west to Niue (New-ay), the smallest independent nation in the world by population and one of the largest raised coral atolls on the planet.
We had been in contact with an ex-pat Kiwi living there and when we arrived, Keith was there to greet us in traditional Niuean fashion. Several friends were also moored in Niue and we made good use of our time and island hosts seeing the sights and enjoying Niue’s distinctive, but diminishing, Polynesian culture.
I mean, where else in the world can you meet with the President of the country on short notice for a photo opp?
An early morning tsunami warning raised everyone’s attention levels to new heights and within minutes, the cruising population had departed their moorings, heading for the open sea to Tonga. In deep water, tsunamis are barely noticeable, but as the ocean floor shallows near shore, the wave energy builds to monumental levels. None of the boats with whom we were traveling, nor any Niueans suffered as a result of this tsunami, but we later learned of the devastation caused in northern Tonga and sadly, that a cruising friend of ours, caught in a massive wave, was killed in American Samoa.
We're working on the updated Niue website, but check out the old one here.
After a hasty departure from Niue, several boats sailed in company to Tonga. Our repaired, triple-reefed main held well, but limited our speed. We chugged along at 4-5 knots and arrived last of the herd at Neiafu’s quarantine dock in Tonga’s Vava’u island group.
If you've ever watched the 1950s TV series Adventures in Paradise or wondered what a traditional South Pacific port would look like, Neiafu is it. Tonga’s second largest town is a well-protected, hurricane hole with a large mooring field and anchorage. Life is slow and easy and good. The market is plentiful and vibrant. Tongans are reserved, but friendly and, as we were to learn, their culture is very unique. So unique, in fact, that we’ll continue our ongoing saga next week because Tonga deserves a blog of its own.