Cook Islands

Next stop after French Polynesia is the Cook Islands, which is an independant nation under the umbrella of New Zealand (sort of).

The dinghy ride from the post office in Bora Bora back to the boat came with a few problems. I had forgotten to bring a paddle (which I noticed just before I arrived at the dock) and on the way back the outboard’s stream of cooling water stopped. Without a paddle I didn’t have too many options: try to limp in on the outboard. This was done at idling speed, with occosional stops (during which I was slowly drifting backwards) to let the engine cool off. Good thing is, there is a spare impeller on the boat. Well, that is what I thought back then. Now, more than two weeks and many hours of searching later, I still have not found the impeller. very frustrating. I remember occasionally running into it and always wondering what the logical place would be to store it. I either did decide on such a place (and now can’t find it) or it got lost somewhere along the way. Either way, no good outlook a fixed outboard any time soon.

The sail to Rarotonga had its struggles as well. First day there was a very light wind, right on the nose. But, that was supposed to shift towards the south (more favorable) and increase. Well, neither of that happeded the way it was forecast. It took an extra day before it increased, and another day before slightly starting to shift. Before that happened the wind had increased to over 20 knots and when I had put in the second reef I looked up and noticed the main sail’s leech had ripped in two places. That could only get worse, so had to take it down and put up the try-sail. That it is very small, it is a storm sail really, and thus the boat became unbalanced and the sailing was sluggish. Finally when the wind did start turning, and increased a little more, things got better again.

During the transit I had been past by a number of sail boats, which I overheard on the VHF radio. I had talked to them, so they were aware of me, which can only help to avoid running into each other. The arrived in Rarotonga ahead of me, which was nice, because now I knew what arrangements to expect. I was to put out the bow anchor, and than back in between two yachts (one of them a mega yacht). They were nice enough to come meet me with the dinghy, and Dennis (from S/Y Shilling) took the wheel, while I did the windlass. On the dock there were people waiting for the lines, it was all a great effort, at times it felt like I wasn’t doing anything at all (since operating the windlass was only a part time task). Dennis did a great job backing the boat, to be honest, I admit I think I would have done a lot worse.

The docks are in a pretty large port, not as well protected from the seas. Something we were going to find out in the coming days. More boats came in, and the boats were rocking and surging all the time.

Friday afternoon there was a parade in town celebrating the beginning of Constitution Week. Somehow the yachties were invited into improvising a float for the parade. Thus. we got dressed up in grass skirts and with polynesian flowers, with a flag bearer for every nation represented in port. Being the only Dutch vessel, I was promoted/volunteered to represent the Netherlands, with a nice new Dutch flag on a broom stick. It was a lot of fun being in the parade, the people along the route (about 1 mile long at best, that is the longest street they must have found on the island) were all surpised by our presence. The only disandvantage was that I didn’t get to see much of the parade myself. We were lucky that day, I think it was the dryest of my one week stay in Rarotonga.

On Saturday I carted my sail (borrowed a cart from S/V Meridian) across town to the upholstery shop. Only to find it closed. With Monday also being a holiday, my stay in Rarotonga was going to last a few extra days. The weather stayed unreliable for the rest of the stay on Rarotonga: in the morning I would have hope that the sun would stay for the rest of the day, but within a few hours that hope would be gone. Walked around town a little bit, but never really got to see much of the island, plans to go for a hike of a long bike ride were always put of by the rain.

In celebration of constitution week there were dance and singing events in the auditorium. Groups from all of the Cook Islands and even from Auckland, New Zealand competed in these. Went one night when it was a choir singing competition. Well, not the sort of the choir singing I know from church. These were real animated events, on stage the women would sit in front in the middle, and the men on the outside behind them. The singing than was like a dialogue between the men and the women, energized by incidental dances and fist shaking. All in maori. It really was fun to watch, the people got really into it, and people from the audience would walk up in front of the stage and do some dancing of their own.

The couple from S/V The Dorothie Mary volunteered to help me with the sail repair. They had an indistrial sewing machine on board, and I had some old sail cloth for repair use. We spent one morning working on it, tried to help as much as I could, and I think it came out very nice. Basically, we ended up doubling up around the leech of the sail in three different places: two where it had already ripped and one place which looked like the next repair to come. Having sailed quite a few miles since then it is still holding up well.

The harbor fees in Rarotonga were quite steep, and once the wind was back, for a few days the wind disappeared while a front passed south of us, it was time to get going. The island of Aitutaki wasn’t that far away, after talking to the harbor master it sounded that it would be possible to get in there: the channel has a depth of 1.5 meters, same as Morning Light’s draught. But, with the high tide there should be an extra 70cm of water. Left on Thursday morning and arrived near Aitutaki about 14:30 the next day. This should be near high tide. Had trouble finding the entrance, this is one of the first places where the GPS positions and the charts were not agreeing. I almost ran up the reef following the charted entrance when the depths ran up scarily quickly, not seeing any bouys or markers made me decide to turn back to sea. Luckily, because a little later a boat came out the channel, from which I learned that it was about 0.2 NM further north. Went into the channel, only marked on one side with markers put on top of rocks. There were a pretty strong current coming out, but, according to the pilot there is always an outflow out of the atol (which fills up continuously from waves breaking over the reef). This channel was nerve wrecking, no indication of the width, and lots of coral heads everywhere. After running aground for the third time, in the middle of the supposed channel, I had enough of this adventure. Turning around was tricky too, not knowing how wide the channel was, but somehow I managed and got out without running aground again. Supposedly the outgoing current creates sand ripples over the coral heads shoaling the channel.

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One Response to Cook Islands

  1. rlegeai says:

    Hey Frank! Can’t believe you’re all the way on the other side of the planet now. Don’t you love it when the channel markers are on the rocks instead of inside of them? We chewed up a couple of big brass props once in Florida that way, and then afterward the locals said, “well, everyone knows the channel is 100 yards inside of the markers!” We’ve had our first little tropical storm on the Gulf Coast, but by the time it got to the New Orleans area it was mostly just a soggy day of rain and some unusual winds. One of our local sailors was in the Olympics this year, but of course I never saw any coverage of the sailing events. Perhaps if the crews were women-only and they all wore bikinis like the beach volleyball…… I remember having impeller problems too. The rubber blades would break off and get caught downstream in a metal screen, blocking the flow completely. This was on a big V-8, too, so when it overheated, it REALLY overheated! Just a few more races this year, although some of us may be riding the Six Gap Century at the end of September.

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