Friday, August 11, 2017

Passage to Suwarrow

[Kyle]A frontal system was soon to pass, which had replaced the southeast trades with a wind from the north. This was good for leaving Maupiti, since the pass is dangerous in wind from most other directions, but bad for heading WNW to the northern Cook Islands. Our plan was to head southwest until the front passed and then turn northwest in the south winds behind it.

We had really fast sailing, although the confused seas driven by the two wind directions made the ocean a bit of a washing machine. The front passed in the middle of the night and we were finally able to start heading where we were trying to go.

My first night watch was a horrible, wet one. Almost as soon as I sat down, I got drenched by a wave. Just as I was finally starting to feel dry, it started raining hard. Well, at least it will rinse the salt off, I thought. Then another wave hit me. It did this over and over again all night until Maryanne got up to relieve me. I was so tired, I opted to skip breakfast to allow me a little more sleep.

Her watch was less bad. As the days passed, conditions improved. The wind and waves shifted more aft and the rain all but stopped. It wasn't until the fourth day that the clouds started to break, allowing us glimpses of the sun and stars.

On the fifth night, we finally got close enough to our destination at Suwarrow atoll to need to slow way down. We spent the three hours before sunrise with no sail up at all. As the time passed, the weather got worse. The sky clouded up and it started raining heavily.

This was not good. Suwarrow is very isolated and has no lights or navigational marks of any kind. Navigation through the pass has to be done visually without aids, which would not be possible in rain and poor light.

We decided to get close enough to actually see the pass to try to gauge the conditions. As we approached, another squall came through and obscured the island completely. We pulled down all sail again and waited it out while trying to radio the ranger station for advice. They didn't answer.

Aw, hell! The wind forecast for the next few days was not the best for proceeding to our next destination, so we really weren't keen on continuing. Our best option would be to sail over to the leeward side of the atoll and heave to there until the weather cleared in a day or two. It would still be windy, but at least the seas would be flat. We had both really been looking forward to being anchored in a nice flat lagoon.

On about our fifth call to the rangers, one of the two boats anchored inside the lagoon answered our call. He said the charts for the area were accurate and that the few real hazards were easy to see even in the poor light. We decided to give it a go.

He was right. The pass was big and wide and the current wasn't too bad. We found our way in without any trouble and then dropped anchor close enough to them that they probably wished they hadn't been so encouraging. The other boat in the anchorage was Capistrano, who we had met briefly in Bora Bora.

The minute the engines were shut off, we were met by the rangers, Harry and Katu. They explained their VHF was out of order and then went about alternating duties as Customs, Immigration, Wildlife Department and Environmental Control. They were friendly and efficient and had us cleared in after a quick fumigation and a few minutes of form-filling and passport stamping. When Harry got out the cash box to collect our fee, he called it the Bank of Suwarrow. He's got a new audience every time he tells that one. It never gets old. Since the weather was still pretty miserable, we didn't feel so guilty spending the rest of the day putting the boat back in order and catching up on needed rest.

{Maryanne: Suwarrow was long called Suvarov after the Russian vessel that first spent time there. Suwarrow is a modern but more native friendly name for the island. It is part of the Cook islands.}

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