FROM THE LOG #34

From Polynesia to Cook Islands and Samoa
August & September 2006

Navigate the Reports

 

map
We cose the northern route (red track)
(Click on any photo or map for a blow up)  
When we returned to the yard in Raiatea, called Chantier Naval des Iles, we found that our brand new Yamaha 15 hp outboard was stolen. It had been locked to the stern rail by heavy chain and a pad lock. With Scorpio on the hard the distance from the ground to the rail was 5 metres and the yacht was located in the centre of the yard, only 15 metres from the office building in an area that is illuminated at night. Therefore I find it very strange that nobody had noticed anything. In typical French manner (sorry all wonderful French cruising friends - you are the exceptions) the yard owner Jaques did not express any sympathy, actually he completely ignored me.

Scorpio's location at the time of the
theft was where the car is in the photo.
Repairing sails before taking of from Raiatea.

Because we thought it impossible to visit the areas where we were heading without a good outboard for the dinghy, we tried to find a replacement, but the only 15 hp machine we could find in the whole French Polynesia was a 4 stroke one. These are great things, but because of the new and complicated technology (particularly the carburetor) you would not choose one for cruising in remote areas where you have to be self sufficient with respect to repairs. However, we did not now have a choice - and bought a new fancy outboard in one of the most expensive parts of the world ...

Sunset at Maupiti, seen from Bora Bora.
A few seconds later we saw the "green flash".

Our new outboard, with Bora Bora behind.
We are under way to the Cook Islands.

After provisioning in Uturoa, the town at Raiatea, we sailed over to Bora Bora, where we had made a brief visit in May, before our trip to Finland. Bora Bora is one of the most beautiful places we have visited, with great views, clear waters and good anchorages. The rumor that the island would be a "shit hole" completely ruined by tourism could not be more wrong - at least if you are there in your own yacht!

Some days later we set sail due west for a destination in the Cook Islands. All my cruising life I had wanted to sail to the uninhabited atoll of Suwarow. This island became famous because of the hermit Tom Neale, who spent 17 years there in solitude between 1952 and 1977. His book, "An Island to Oneself", which I read as a teenager in the 1960's may well be one of the sources responsible for my desire to visit remote, exotic places and for our present lifestyle.

 John, the warden of Suwarow
John's wife Veronica with 2 of their boys.

John, Veronica, Jeremiah, Jonathan and the Twins

However, the world is changing rapidly (because of increased wealth and GPS navigation few places are remote anymore) and on the SSB radio (which most blue water cruisers now have aboard) we had heard that several yachts now stop at Suwarow. Also the Cook Islands government has declared the area a national park and placed a warden there to collect park fees. Thinking that it might be sort of an anti climax for me to arrive there in the Tom Neal spirit we initially decided to head for the Palmerston atoll (with an equally interesting history) instead. However, the winds where very light at that route and we soon decided to sail for Suwarow after all, because that would take us on a more northerly course with hope for stronger winds.

The winds improved somewhat and we covered the 690 nautical miles from Bora Bora to Suwarow in 5 days and 6 hours, with an average speed of 5,8 knots.

Because it's reef is submerged at high tide - leaving only a line of writhing white foam to warn the navigator of its perils - Suwarow is clearly marked on all maps. Yet Suwarow is not the name of an island, but of an atoll, streching nearly 50 miles in circumference, and the small islets inside the lagoon each have their own names. The islets vary in size from Anchorage, the largest, which is half a mile long, to One Tree Island, the smallest, which is merely a mushroom of coral. The atoll lies almost in the centre of the Pacific, five hundred miles north of Rarotonga, and the nearest inhabited island is Manihiki, two hundred miles to the north.

(source unknown)

There were already 7 yachts anchored at Anchorage Island in Suwarow lagoon, when we arrived - so much for isolation. The warden John with his wife Veronica and their 4 boys live there during the cyclone free season from May through October. They are very friendly and welcoming and arranged a barbecue on the beach. John grilled the fish "catch of the day" and we cruisers participated with the usual pot luck stuff. The next day John took us to some good snorkelling areas.

There are a lot of sharks in the lagoon and even in the anchorage you can see them swimming around the yachts. These are black tip reef sharks and regarded as harmless (unless there is blood in the water from spearing or cleaning fish), but it is quite difficult for me not to feel a little bit concerned when swimming with them around (even though I am a lawyer; yes we hear that joke here sometimes).

 Malla with Tom Neale
Scorpio in the lagoon with Tom in the foreground

In the pass leading into the atoll there are several grey sharks, which are considered aggressive (so Scuba diving is prohibited here), but they do not appear to venture far inside the lagoon. At least this is what John says ...

Suwarow has a fascinating, although cruel history, which, however, goes beyond the scope of this narrative. For anybody interested I would think that you could find lots of interesting stuff on the Web using the appropriate search words, such as Tom Neale, (the American author) Robert Dean Frisbie (who came here in the late 1930's) and the name of the island itself (after a Russian general), which I've seen spelled also as Suwarov, Suvarov, Suwarrow, Suvarow and even Souwaroff. If you find Tom Neale particularly interesting, try to find a copy of his book at a library or a second-hand book store. "Suwarow is the most beautiful place on earth, and no man has really lived until he has lived there" (Frisbe).

Also the above mentioned Palmerston atoll has an interesting, if not as dramatic, history. It is settled by the descendants of William Masters, who arrived at the island in 1863 accompanied by his three Polynesian wives (all sisters).

After a week at Suwarow we sailed the 500 nautical miles to Western Samoa. The weather was very unstable and, short of a cyclone, we had all weather possible: rain, sunshine, calm days and days with sustained winds of 30-35 knots with long lasting gusts up to 55! After 4 days we anchored in the harbour of the capital Apia. Entering was interesting because the clutch of our autopilot jammed and we had some difficulties to manoeuvre, but all vent well, and I managed to fix the problem the next day.

We walked up to Stevenson's tomb
with fellow cruisers Jan and Christina.
Rest in peace

The Western Samoan islands are high, fertile and luxuriant. Despite a century of colonial interference the Samoans have retained their ancient customs as nowhere else in Polynesia. The nature and society has attracted some notable poets, of which Robert Louis Stevenson is the best known. The people are probably the friendliest we have ever met.

A typical Samoan kitchen
Our lunch is cooking

In 1889 Stevenson built a house in Vailima, a few kilometers outside of Apia and he lived here for the last 5 years of his life. He died only 44 years old and was buried on the summit of Mt. Vaea, 500 meters above the sea level, overlooking his mansion. Today the plantation estate is a nicely restored museum.

Lunch with a local family in their fale
Click the image to view what is on the "plate"

From Samoa we plan to sail south to Niuatoputapu, the most northern island of Tonga. We do not expect to find any internet there, so the next update will be posted from Vavau around mid October.

Stay tuned ....


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