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tahiti to tonga

Aug 13 - 1722 S - 15131 W

Yesterday we motored past the airport one last time to the marina, to top off fuel tanks, then headed for the open sea. The wind came up nicely, and soon we were reaching west past the south end of Moorea, toward Mopelia, a tiny remote island at the western edge of French Polynesia. We had considered stopping, but during the night the seas and winds built, so we will pass by to take advantage of fast conditions. This afternoon the grib shows winds lightening, then dropping to 15 knots tomorrow, and dying entirely about the time we make our destination 4 days away at Aitutaki, where we will clear in to the Cook Islands.

This morning the winds built to the high 20s, and the vane was having a hard time steering with an unbalanced boat, so we put the second reef in the main, first time we have done that on Baraka. Now the ride is more comfortable and the boat is not working as hard. We took one green wave over the side with a couple open hatches before we reefed.

Dave checked emails and there are welcome ones from Cindy, Malinda, Joel, all reporting that Opal survived the journey home. We are grateful to them - she would not have enjoyed this boisterous passage! Dave talked to folks on a catamaran at the dock, who happily took our remaining cat food and litter. The boat feels a little emptier without ship's cat Opal.

Aug 14 - 1806 S - 15408 W

The winds have settled down into the mid teens and we are wing on wing with full main and reefed gib, rolling along. Our first day out of this passage was a little rough - big seas with breaking crests, and a lot of motion. Last week we heard a boat on the radio on this passage to the Cooks, describing similar rough conditions. They called it a "Dockwise Day".

Dockwise Transport picks up cruising boats when the reach the bottom of downwind passages. Their big ships sink down, then open a back hatch. Yachts motor in, then are welded into cradles by underwater divers. Then the ship closes its aft door and pumps dry. Owners are allowed to accompany their boats on the ship. It is very expensive.

When we were at the town quai in Papeete, a huge Dockwise ship pulled in next to us, early on my birthday. Dave was quick to inform me that shipping Baraka home was NOT my present. We got to watch them load, and that night Dave saw the flashes from the underwater welders. This ship picked up boats in New Zealand, Tahiti, and is headed for Ensenada, Mexico.

Aug 15 - 1828 S - 15622 W

Motoring in fairly calm seas. Where are the forecasted trade winds? A few squalls came by and rinsed the salty boat. We have not seen anything on the horizon for 3 days. By this time, we have settled in to a routine and are getting enough sleep. We are enjoying audio books, and are doing small boat chores. Dave rebuilt the boom brake shackle which exploded, and we see that the jib sheet is chaffing where it runs through the pole. We patrol the decks during the day looking for wear points, to fix things before they break. One flying fish on deck.

Aug 16 - 1840 S - 15734 W

The trades filled back in, and we are sailing wing-on-wing is small seas, windvane steering nicely. The pole broke again, despite the nth rebuild with new parts from Rolfe. Dave has jury rigged the extension, so we can use it, but it may be time to invest in a new pole.

Nothing out here except the occasional bird. Most of the rest of this year's fleet is a week or two ahead of us. Dave is checking in to the Pacific Seafarers Net, and listens to a couple informal nets so we can hear where everyone is. Tomorrow we will make Aitutaki, and find out whether customs and immigration will clear us in on a Sunday.

From here we hope to take smaller stepping stones across to Tonga, each no more than a 2 or 3 day passage.

Aug 19 - Landfall Aitutaki, Cook Islands

After 5 days at sea, we sailed around the north end of Aitutaki yesterday morning and approached the reef entrance. The manmade pass has been dredged to 5 or 6 feet, too shallow for us to enter with our 6+ foot draft. So we motored around just outside trying to find a spot on the shelf, shallow enough, not too close to either the dropoff or reef. Tricky. We dropped the hook in 40 feet, but are now in almost 70. The bottom is uneven, and growly with coral. Last week the reef ate another boat's anchor, so we are hoping we will be able to retrieve ours from the hungry coral. We tied a buoyed retrieval line to the head of the anchor. A huge sea turtle came up to greet us. Small seas wrap around the island to give us a somewhat rolly anchorage, but we are happy to stop and rest.

Dave went ashore and cleared in to the Cook Islands, and we took the yellow quarantine flag down. No entry fees, but it will cost us $110 NZ to leave. Two other sailboats arrived and anchored near us. We picked up the Australian couple from New Address II and motored in through the reef to explore Aitutaki. This is part of New Zealand, so language is English, the currency is NZ dollar, and they drive on the opposite side of the road. People were welcoming and friendly, and prices in the stores were very reasonable after expensive French Polynesia. We found a small restaurant and enjoyed the afternoon swapping travel stories with the interesting Aussie couple.

Dave checked the grib files and we have 2 days of calm, picking up again later today. We will probably leave then for our 2-night hop to Palmerston, assuming the coral gives our anchor back.

Dave and Colin (New Address II) in Aitutaki lagoon.

Aitutaki church and graveyard. This is the oldest church in the Cooks.

Dave is eaten by a banyan tree.

Aitutaki is lovely, neat yards, lots of flowers. We hiked around exploring. And no dogs!

We dinghied to an uninhabited motu.

A half hour walk took us back to the dinghy.

On the beach hermit crabs were feasting on coconuts.

Some were fighting for a better shell.

Aug 20 - 1844 S - 16017 W

Night passage, and it doesn't get better than this. Wind dead astern at 15 knots, steady, with low slow seas. We are once again wing-on-wing with full gib poled-out to port, windvane steering, making 6+ effortless knots. The boat is quiet except for the rush of water gurgling against the hull. We have most of a full moon, and visibility is good. The breeze is lovely and refreshingly cool after the heat of the day. Dave is offwatch, sleeping. I am snacking on tangy NZ cheddar and a crisp apple, and listening to an ebook. If only every passage were this good!

For our last day at Aitutaki, we hiked around town to explore, finding a huge (like house-big) outdoor oven that makes the island's bread. Yards are tidy, full of flowers, and often contain an ancestor's grave.

We dinghied south inside the reef to a beautiful motu, and beachcombed, finding some interesting nesting birds, and cannibalistic hermit crabs having a feeding frenzy. A tour group was having lunch at shaded tables set in the water. The serving dishes were giant clam shells! They offered us a welcome cool beer.

Back in town, we met the sanitation officer on his motorbike (he'd been looking for us). Dave filled out an interesting questionaire (has anyone died aboard except by accident?). After a little paperwork and $20 NZ changed hands, he told us about how the majority of Cook Islanders live in NZ, why this island has no dogs (several hundred years ago the king was bitten by a dog), and how the whitewash being applied to the town walls is made from baked coral (the baking in the ground releases the lyme). The ladies who promised bananas for the people at Palmerston didn't show. We stopped at the Blue Nun (a nun is a bird) for fish and chips, and the cook made a call to a farm. The farmer agreed to meet Dave at the restaurant at 6 pm with a stalk of bananas. Success! A fine green stalk is hanging on our stern. The coral reluctantly gave us back our anchor just as the sun went down. Baraka is headed west to Palmerston, 2 days and 200 miles away.

Aug 21 - Landfall Palmerston Atoll

We have arrived at Palmerston Atoll, a string of palm treed motus on a necklace of coral reef. Again, the reef has no passage deep enough for us, so we must bob around outside. We were met a mile offshore by Edward and his son John, who, having tagged us, will be our host family. Edward took us to a mooring, and assured us it is strong, new this year, chain tied around coral. He has gone to fetch the island officials to check our papers from Aitutaki, then we will head ashore. The anchorage is a little rolly but not bad, and we are glad to rest. Once the hook was down, we were greeted by a huge humpback whale!

Palmerston landfall.

We rounded the corner, carrying our stalk of bananas, a gift to pur host family. Edward Marsters came out in a skiff to greet us and secure us to a mooring. He will be our host here at Palmerston.

Aug 22 - Palmerston Atoll

Dave and I slept around the clock, recovering from the passage. Mid-morning, Edward arrived to take us inside the reef to Home Island, where the 40 occupants of Palmerston live. The three families are descendants of William Marsters who arrived here in the 1860s from Penryn with 3 wives. He begat 22 or 26 children (not counting the 4th wife and her child left behind on Penryn), and divided the motus among the three families, with strict rules against intramarriage within the family. Our host, Edward, and his brother Simon, are of the Tepou family. Edward's wife Shirley, is from Rarotonga. Outsiders can marry a Palmerston islander, but otherwise cannot come here, so the bulk of the islanders are direct descendants of Marsters. Some 40 to 60 people live here now, many off-island at times for visits to relatives elsewhere, or for medical care or jobs. We met Yvonne, the school principal, a New Zealander who married into the Tepou family. Everyone we talked to shared their stories of the island's history and politics. Everyone has multiple jobs, administrative, energy (running the island's generator), police, and governance. Palmerston is independent, and incredibly isolated, with a supply ship coming only every few months, on no set schedule. Some 40 cruising boats stop here each year, and the yachties try to bring goods needed by the islanders.

Shirley cooked us a great lunch of beef chops (imported and a luxury) and delicious fried wahoo with homemade bread. Dave tossed a rugby ball with her two sons, and then split coconuts to feed the pigs. We visited the school, and Yvonne told us how they kids are thriving, working from a home schooling system.

We got some insight into how the families compete for scarce goods, and of the tensions among them. There is also a lot of cooperation. Tomorrow is a special day - the island men will go to their family's uninhabited motus and gather juvenile bosun birds, catching them by hand. They do this about once a month during winter (now). Then the women will pluck and cook them, and Sunday there will be a feast. This is an island tradition unique to Palmerston.

Our host family has huge freezers, kept cold by the generator, filled with parrot fish all filleted and ready for the Rarotonga market. When the supply ship arrives, the entire freezer is loaded onto their aluminum boat, and taken through the reef to the supply ship. They receive $5-7 NZ a kilo for the fish, if the buyer on the other end doesn't default. Sometimes they send the fish, and have the bad luck of getting no payment, with no recourse. This is the primary money income for the island.

Shirley has a washing machine, and agreed to do our laundry, though they haven't had rain for several months. I tried to get her to tell me what supplies she needs, but she is not willing to ask for anything. I don't think she wants charity, but maybe after doing our laundry, she will tell me. I sent in a few chocolate bars and canned chicken with the laundry, and Edward was pleased to get some ginger, which he will use to make beer.

Yvonne addresses the Palmerston Lucky School.

The school building is 5 years old.

The village is on the north end of Home Island..

Dave and John chop coconuts to feed Yvonne's pig.

Tiger and Julia help Jan sign the school's guestbook.

The kids ham it up for the camera.

Aug 24 - Palmerston Atoll, Bird Feast

Yesterday morning the men of Palmerston visited the motus across the lagoon to harvest juvenile bosun birds. These were brought back alive, corralled in a fishing net, and divvied up at 2pm among the islanders. Edward's family got an extra allotment since they were hosting 4 boatloads of cruising guests. Simon spent the rest of the afternoon hand-plucking the birds, then searing them in a fire to remove the down. Today they were baked in an underground oven 3 hours, then served in a Sunday afternoon feast. This is the last bird harvest of the year, as determined by a census taken during yesterday's harvest. The islanders are careful not to take too many, to ensure future bounty.

Edward picked us up at 9 am in the skiff, and took us through the tricky reef entrance. We wore our Sunday best, dresses and hats for the ladies, long pants and tropical shirts for men, and went to church. Men sat of the left of the main aisle, women on the right, the better to hear the harmonies of the singing, which took up most of the hour-long service. Afterwards we went to Shirley's for the bird feast. She had also cooked chicken in honey, chow mein, fresh bread, raw fish in coconut, and rice. We stuffed ourselves, then spent the afternoon visiting and learning more about the history and present administration of this island.

We feel like we have stepped back a few centuries. Although the fishermen have aluminum skiffs and outboards, and there is a satellite phone and even one computer with internet, the societal structure is that established by William Marsters in the mid 1800s. His home, built of shipwrecked timbers, still stands, and more importantly, his division of the island and establishment of its governance is very much how things are run today. There is a powerful respect for tradition and resistance to "progress" or change. A scheme to blow a deep water passage into the lagoon was thwarted. The passage would have meant an improvement in the standard of living, with more ships able to stop, delivering goods and hauling away fish, but the islanders wisely understood it would bring less welcome changes, and stopped the scheme. There is no tourism here, except for the 40 yachts that stop each year. Two supply ships had served the island, but one was wrecked in a storm a few months ago in Rarotonga. The other will come, maybe in 2 months, maybe 4, no one knows. Meanwhile, as the island runs low on diesel for the generator, they cut back hours and make do. The islanders are proud of their history and traditions, and their ability to subsist so independently.

Patriarch William Marsters is buried in the churchyard.

His house, built of massive shipwrcked timbers, still stands.

Juvenile bosun birds wait in the net to be divided among the islanders.

Simon and Goodley do the math to divide the birds fairly.

Goodley calls out how many each can take. The birds are loaded into wheelbarrows.

This little girl is more interested in her tasty coconut.

After the boys wring necks, Simon plucks the birds by hand.

The lagoon behind Edward's house.

Someone sweeps the path to school.

The path to Edward's beach.

Church bell came from the shipwrecked Thistle.

The guesthouse where Solace's owner stayed while Solace was rebuilt by the Palmerston islanders.

Dave and Glen check out the island generator.

Our hostess, Shirley Marsters, bakes awesome breads.

Edward fries up mahi-mahi and parrotfish.

Simon Marsters, Edward's older brother and Cook Island government representative.

Marilyn grabs the biggest lobster. "This one's mine!"

Edward hams it up.

Aug 26 - Farewell Palmerston Atoll

We left Palmerston today, in an appropriate grey drizzle, after a fond but sad goodbye to our host family and other islanders. During the 5 days we were at Palmerston, 9 other cruising yachts arrived, too many for the half dozen buoys, so Edward helped some anchor. Our host family continued to pick all of us up daily in their skiff, bringing us ashore for a midday meal and tours of the island. Last night Dave, along with several other yachties, led by Simon Marsters, went on a lobster hunt, walking the reef from one motu to another after dark. The 3 hour stumble in the moonless night yielded 10 lobsters. So today we had a feast on the beach - parrot fish, mahi mahi, lobster, spaghetti, salads, and Shirley's delicious bread, with some of the islanders and guests from 8 boats. Too soon it was time to say our goodbyes. We bought a book about the island's history and both Dave and I have stayed up late into the night reading it. This has got to be one of the most interesting places we have traveled. And the most hospitable - the islanders consider you family when you step onto their shore.

We are sad to leave. But we are facing strong winds and big seas by the end of the week, and need to make tracks toward Tonga. We are pointed at Nuie, and will continue to watch weather. If we can, we want to visit Niue, 2 1/2 days away, but it depends on the seas and winds. It's a case of too little wind these next few days, then too much, not dangerous but certainly uncomfortable.

Aug 27 - 1820 S - 16512 W

Motoring in 2 meter swells, but with an interval so long we barely feel them. The winds are too light to sail these next few days. Dave always prefers sailing - less maintenance and no $$$ fuel. Diesel will be over $7 a gallon in Tonga, when we can get it.

We are watching weather. The grib and buoyweather reports show strong winds and 5 meter seas, arriving Friday night, and heavy rain by Monday. We hope to make Niue Friday, in time to clear in. With luck, we can snag a mooring buoy on the lee side of the island, but we are competing with a half dozen other boats underway to the same destination.

One ship passed early this morning, 10 miles ahead of us. One boat reported having to divert to avoid a sleeping whale in front of their bow. But mostly there is only rolling blue sea, horizon to horizon, day after day.

Aug 28 - 1839 S - 16731 W

Motoring, motoring, nothing to report. Seas are glassy. Saw one plastic bottle float by.

At night the stars come all the way to the horizon, looking like distant ships, so I turn the radar on - but the sea is empty. Our phosphorescent wake looks like a scattering of brilliant diamonds.

I used my last potato in this morning's fritata. We are down to some tomatoes, a few bananas, the last papaya. I opened a Tillamook cheese from Puerto Vallarta Costco, bought in April. It was in the freezer all this time, though rarely frozen, and traveled perfectly - a treat.

2 pm, Woo hoo! The wind has returned, enough to sail, happy little whitecaps.

For a full day seas are glassy calm.

Then high streaky clouds hint of coming winds.

Aug 29 - Landfall Niue

Our happy little whitecaps turned into boisterous seas, as the winds built to 25 on the beam. Twice I had to wake Dave off-watch to roll the jib up. But the winds gave us a fast passage, and we arrived here midday, in time to tie up to a mooring belonging to the Niue Yacht Club. They have 20 moorings, but for some weeks all have been taken. Just the past few days a fleet of boats took off for Tonga, trying to jump across before the forecasted weather turns ugly, so moorings are available. We are happy to be here, in the lee of Niue, where we will wait out the next week.

Niue is known as "the rock of the Pacific". It is an unusual raised coral island, not an atoll. Nominally under New Zealand's protection, the island is currently independent, one of the world's tiniest nations. We have been reading up on it, and it sounds like a great place to be stuck for weather. We raised the Q flag, and Dave went ashore to clear in. Soon a customs official was aboard for a quick inspection. We then went ashore to the police station for immigration clearance, very straightforward, found the internet cafe, tourism office, grocery, and yacht club. Sounds like a lot to do and see here.

One unique feature of Niue is getting ashore. On the town quai, you land, then attach a giant hook to your dinghy harness. You operate a crane to lift the dinghy to the top, swing it over the quai, and dolly it to the dinghy parking lot. Works great, but may be intimidating in a big swell. Three more boats we know just pulled in. Everyone is tired from the rough passage, and equally happy to be in this safe place.

Niue grows on the horizon, a welcome sight.

Dave figures out the handy dinghy lift.

Sept 6 - Niue

A week has jetted by here at Niue. We have been busy, rented a car, did some great hikes, and enjoyed the social life. Several boats limped in with flooded engines, and one had a knock down in this week's big winds and seas. We have been happy to be secure here all week in the lee of Niue.

Niue is interesting - a tiny independent nation on this little rock, incredibly isolated. One flight arrives each week, and a supply ship shows up every other month. Dave calls it a "ghost island". The population continues to drop precipitously, by hundreds each year. It is currently down to about 1200, a mix of natives and kiwis. Land cannot be sold here, you have to be a native to own it. All Niueans hold dual citizenship with NZ, some speculate as the population continues to shrink, Niue may lose their independence. As people move off island, they leave their homes boarded up, to retain their property ownership. It doesn't hurt that their ancestors are buried in the yard. In fact, there are a lot more graves on Niue than people. And more boarded-up homes than occupied ones.

In 2004 a cyclone blew through. 70 foot waves washed over the island, high enough to wipe out all the homes along the shoreside clifftops. Incredibly, there were only 2 fatalities, as islanders evacuated in time to high ground in the island's center. Returning home, all they found was foundations. The main town, Alofi, has rebuilt, but there are still many empty foundations scattered through the town.

We joined the yacht club, and walked with the local Hash House Harriers, visited the market to buy baskets and produce, and explored. Whales come through the anchorage, and a black and grey sea krait (poisonous sea snake) swam around our dinghy. Here are lots of pictures to tell the story.

Sunset lights Orca III afire.

Jan finds a big sink for laundry day, yippee!

Niue anchorage - the yacht club has 20 secure moorings.

Niue has no beaches - just a rugged coral shelf.

Dave explores a tidal pool.

Hash House Harriers, the drinking club with a running problem.

We hike to caves cut along the cliffs by erosion.

Stalagtites join stalagmites.

Dave explores the cavern.

Beautiful Limu Pools beckon.

Jan climbs down to the pools.

And then gets to belay down a rope to the arches.

The sea has carved arches on the northwest corner of Niue.

More stalagtites near the arches.

More sea caves.

Locals store their outriggers in handy sea caves.

Ferns sprout from trees.

Graves line the clifftops.

Emma finds a calico kitten.

Cruising boys enjoy a game at the yacht club barbeque.

Singers enjoy the barbeque entertainment.

We hike out to Togo Chasm.

The east side of Niue is a forest of wicked spires.

Locals have built a trail through them.

Winds and seas have eroded the coral into fragile lacework.

Togo chasm opens up, looking like an oasis.

Dave tests out the ladder.

Big seas have brought sand inland to the chasm floor.

Jan adds some flotsom flip-flops to the shrine.

And hides a penny for Joel.

Jan's turn to climb the ladder.

The deceased person's possessions grace the gravesite - in this case two tricycles.

The dinghy parking lot at the town quai.

Glenn and Marilyn bike the island.

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