We arrived in the Cook Island’s National Park on 25 Aug after a somewhat challenging six day passage from Maupiti.
The increasingly inclement weather cleared long enough to allow us to safely enter the pass, anchor and check in with Harry, the Suwarrow Ranger. Harry and his wife, Vaine, the customs agent, are the sole, permanent residents of Suwarrow from April until November each year.
The other 3 boats in the anchorage left on 26 Aug given the weather forecasts and time schedules.
We decided to stick it out in hopes of enjoying Suwarrow’s promise once the system passed. We lifted anchor to move to a more sheltered part of the anchorage and were able to re anchor after several failed attempts resulting from the plethora of coral coupled with a fast current, a bit of wind, and a First Mate who, even after 24,000 + sea miles, apparently still has a lot to learn.
Another boat, SY Anke-Sophie, came into the anchorage the afternoon of 26 Aug, and anchored a bit too close to Amandla for The Captain’s comfort. The crew attempted to raise the anchor in order to relocate, but the chain was so seriously wrapped around coral heads that it had to be released and a second anchor and chain deployed. The Captain assisted in the second attempt, lending a spare Danforth and advising the use of fenders with every 10 meters of chain to keep the it from wrapping on coral heads.
We then enjoyed five days and nights of sustained 25+ knots wind and rain with 3 ft fetch. The nights were worse than the days, and we did manage to get ashore twice during a lulls for a short walk.
We spent a great deal of our time watching SY Amiable, a 47 foot AMEL that had beached on a reef when their anchor chain sadly broke in early August, start to list on the reef and slowly get swallowed by the sea, a constant reminder of what was possible in Suwarrow in bad weather. (We later found out that our friends on SY Zenna were entering Suwarrow the same evening that SY Amiable’s anchor chain broke and the winds were so the strong that they shredded Zenna’s headsail).
A second boat, Interlude, came through the pass on 28 August but aborted attempts to anchor given the weather, heading instead to Samoa.
Finally on the 31st, the wind (though unfortunately not the torrential rain) abated. On the bright side, we were able to replenish our 150 liter tank with fresh rain water.
Two new boats arrived, SY Salamander of Hamble and Viandante. Both are operated by relatively young crew. Unlike the Captain’s experience of the Caribbean, the predominance of adult crew we have met in the South Pacific are typically under 50, often under 40 and sometimes under 30 making the Captain and I seem like the wise sages of the sea, or possibly just ‘those old folks over there’. Funny, I don’t feel old. And steering clear of mirrors helps me maintain my youthful image in my mind.
After dropping buckets of rain, the winds kicked in again the evening of the 31st returning to 25+ knots overnight dropping to 15+ knots on September 1st. The rain ceased and breaks in the clouds started to appear offering hope that the weather system was ending. It did!
But there were limitations to what we could enjoy of Suwarrow. Since new rules were passed in the 2014 season, boaters can now only anchor at and walk upon Anchorage Island. Other anchorages are off limits due to 7 shipwrecks. A rat eradication program has made walks upon other islands off limits.
So we circumnavigated Anchorage Island on foot seeing lots of cool hermit and coconut crabs, birds, and sharks (black tips, white tips and greys). We played Bocce, and surprisingly, I won. We joined our new friends Thomas and Annette aboard their sailboat, Anke-Sophie, for a Sundowner. And we enjoyed a pot-luck on-shore with Ranger Harry, Vaine, and the other 3 boats in the anchorage.
On Sept 3, we had planned to take the dinghies to Seven Islands to enjoy the best snorkeling Suwarrow has to offer. Unfortunately, the rain returned, so we instead spent another day on board reading, cleaning, fixing things and watching it rain. Michael from SV Salamander is an electrical engineer by trade and was invaluable in helping the Captain with some repairs.
On September 4, the sun shone in the morning so we set out with Michael and Charlotte of SY Salamander of Hamble for a snorkel with the Mantas. As we approached to snorkel spot, the storm clouds began to move in again, so the Captain and I returned to Amandla (as the anchor needed another adjustment). Michael and Charlotte remained but did not find any Mantas. It then proceeded to rain buckets. In the late morning, The Captain and Michael assisted the crew of Anke-Sophie lift anchor who were headed to Samoa in advance of us. And then we watched in rain some more.
Given the continued rain the morning of September 5 and the weather forecast, we decided to lift anchor and head to Samoa (formerly Western Samoa). Salamander and Viandante also lifted anchor and headed toward Niue. We hope to run into them in Tonga.
The sun came out and the winds subsided the afternoon of our departure on September 5th. It would have been a good afternoon for a snorkel.
I confirmed from my time in Suwarrow that I am no Tom Neale. Tom, originally from New Zealand, lived alone in Suwarrow at three different times between 1952 and 1977, being visited occasionally by small sailing vessels making Westward passages through The Cooks (and once by a helicopter). He documented his experience in his autobiography An Island To Oneself.
I too love being alone, but only when there are lots and lots of people around which is why I called NYC home for 13 years and Chicago home for 17 years before that. While I felt incredibly blessed to visit remote Suwarrow, I was ready to move on to Samoa.
As an interesting side note, Suwarrow is expecting its first cruise ship with 2000 passengers the week after our departure. I wonder how Tom Neale would have felt with 2000 people showing up on his doorstep. It’s nearly impossible to find total seclusion these days.