Thursday, July 31, 2008

Our Sojourn In Suwarrow National Park, Cook Islands

We had a wonderful time in Suwarrow. It was the idyllic South Pacific Island. It is a Cook Island National park with only the caretaker and his family that are permanent residents. They live there from May to Oct. and then they return to their home in Roratonga. The main island which we anchored behind has their home on it and all the cruisers were welcome to come ashore and visit anytime they wanted. We had 2 gatherings while we were there, one to celebrate our safe arrival after that wicked storm and the other to celebrate Virginia's (the female park warden)birthday. Virginia and John have 4 boys, twins who were 7 years old, a nine year old and a 13 year old. The wardens and their family are dropped off with supplies in May and are not resupplied again. The cruisers are all encouraged to give them any extra food staples that we have on hand.
For the birthday celebration, John and family had caught a large tuna. One of the cruisers cleaned it and kept it in their fridge as there is no refrigeration on the island. The cruisers had kept the remains of the fish after they had cleaned and filleted it and before dinner we all trooped off to side of the island that is open to the ocean and we threw the scraps in the ocean. First the black tip sharks showed up to scavenge what they could, the smell of blood an immediate attraction. Then the white tipped variety made an appearance. The white tip proceeded to chase off most of the black tips and hog the remainder of the meal we had provided. It was a real treat to watch this take place. The sharks were not large only about 3 feet long and the water was extremely shallow. They would swarm along the edge of the reef and scarf down whatever they could find.

The next day the warden's family led an expedition to Gull Island; named by the kids, not a gull insight. There were all sorts of nesting frigate birds, as well as red tailed tropic birds, blue beaked boobies (I think they are red footed boobies) and very large masked boobies. I really wanted to see the masked boobies because I had never seen one and was quite surprised at their size, they are huge, close to a meter tall when they stand up. There was a biologist that was staying in Suwarrow, from New Zealand that was conducting a bird count on all the motus in the atoll, he was very interesting to talk to. Baby Frigate Birds

That evening Eric from Ariel and I went out tuna fishing, Barry claimed he really didn't want to go and I figure his hip must have been bothering him from hiking around Gull Island. The technique when you are tuna fishing is to troll along in your dinghy about 5nm per hour, in other words pretty fast for a dinghy. We each had a line out to the back with a hoochie on it. I had a hit but he got off and then Eric caught something. We had been told to bring our lines in really fast or the sharks would take some of your catch. He hauled the fish in and just as he was to bring it on board it shook the hook free. So off we went zooming around the pass again. The upshot of it all was Eric caught a 12 pound tuna and lost one lure, I lost 2 lures and did not catch a thing. The first lure I lost was when I had the first hit, the fish just bent back the hooky thing that hold your hook on, after that we just tied another leader and hook on , no little metal hooky thing. The next fish just bit off my nylon leader. By the time we had put my last hoochie on with a metal leader it was getting dark and they were no longer biting. (I was just as glad not to have caught anything because Barry was threatening to make me clean it, I must confess in all my fishing endeavors I have always managed to avoid it.) We all had a nice snack of sushi when we got back to the boat, and we ate some on our passage and still have another piece in the freezer. There was lots to go around and Eric was very generous in sharing.

We got a chance to have a look at the boat whose mast was twisted when they rolled on the passage from Bora Bora to Suwarrow. It was amazing that they didn't sustain further damage. All the cruisers where lending a hand doing what they could for them. They were busy cutting up donated spinnaker and whisker poles to reinforce their mast for the trip to American Samoa when we stopped by. They have since safely made it here as well. They had their genoa poled out in 35 plus knots of wind, need I say more!! Apparently when they rolled the captain was completed covered in water and it came up to the first mate's waist, the boat rolled about 100 degrees and then righted itself. Thankfully the boat was a good sturdy design and was able to recover from the experience and the crew came out shaken but with no major injuries.

We had a wonderful passage from Suwarrow to American Samoa. The winds were 10 to 20 knots for 3 days and on the third day we had to slow down because we were going to arrive before daylight. The wind had picked up to 25 knots and we put up our storm staysail, the first time it has been out of the bag and put to use. We put it up one other time just to see how small it really was. It was great, but there was so much wind we were still going 4.5 to 5 knots. In the middle of the night although we were sailing downwind we sheeted it up tight to slow the boat even further and we just sat back and watched the windvane do her thing. We got in at 0700 local time put the boat in order and went into town to catch the last days of the Pacific Arts Festival.