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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Rarotonga, Cook Islands

October 25, 2012
GPS Position: 21°12.2940' S 159°47.0923' W
Avatiu Harbor, Rarotonga, Cook Islands

We've been enjoying the Cook Islands since the minute we sailed into the Aitutaki lagoon. Meeting local NZ expats Ingrid and Greg on Aitutaki was a great springboard for getting to know Aitutaki and making lots of connections. We've joined the local fishing club and sailing club and it looks like Kathy will be coaching a kids soccer team soon. I've been asked to help out at the sailing club and this was just in a weeks time or so. After a few days on Aitutaki we started to wonder if we can work out staying for the cyclone season. The whole idea posed all sorts of logistical problems not the least a major immigration hurdle. We started the conversation with the Port Captain about the feasibility of lifting LightSpeed out of the water and inquired with a local masonry supplier about loading the boat onto his large trailer that he pulls with a farm tractor. The final element of where to park the boat still remains unresolved, but we have a few options. The boat needs to be far enough from the sea to be out of harms way if there is a major storm surge, yet hauling the 23' wide boat on the tiny local roads is problematic due to encroaching building, trees and power poles, so it needs to be pretty close to the wharf. After the considerable feasibility study that suggested we'd be able to haul the boat for the worst months of cyclone season we decided to go ahead with the visa extension application process. This part was a bit scary as we needed to mail our passports from Aitutaki to Rarotonga and then hope we'd be approved pretty quickly. You see, cyclone season officially starts in just five days and without permission to stay we'd really need to make a run for New Zealand and soon!

When the weather looked good for a sail to Rarotonga about 140nm to the south we jumped on the chance to check in with immigration and see if we were approved. Thankfully, we got the maximum possible visa extension so the decision was finalized and we're staying in the Cooks for cyclone season. Even with our haul out plan we are still pretty nervous about cyclones and once the boat is out of the water we'll be securing it to the ground so it can't be blown away. The goal is to have a nice view location from land where we'll be able to live aboard the boat and look out over the sparkling blue lagoon. We're also looking into renting a house so we could enjoy other amenities such as real showers and laundry facilities.

Aitutaki is small geographically and the shrinking population is now numbered around 1500, it is a very very remote place and in our minds the near perfect place for a cyclone season adventure. While we've been in Rarotonga we've been making lots of new friends and getting a better feel for the workings of the country. We had a great Friday night hanging out at the Rarotonga fishing club and are making new friends at every turn.

We've only had one bad experience in over five weeks, it has to do with anchoring in the beautiful lagoon on the East side of Rarotonga. We sailed over to the lagoon and being courteous well seasoned travelers we called a local fishing boat on the VHF radio and asked permission to use the harbor BEFORE pulling in and dropping the anchor. As it turns out the person we asked for permission was Captain Moko and apparently he is in charge of the lagoon and based on our conversation was having a bad day. Captain Moko was not so nice about telling us NO we could not use the lagoon because some other cruiser didn't pay the anchoring fee so now NO boats could use the lagoon. I could understand the frustration of not getting payed the fee, so I offered to pay the fee in advance and in cash. Surprisingly, this was not acceptable and I was told permission would NOT be granted. This was a big disappointment given there are zero other options for anchoring and we'd have to tie up at the commercial port. As visitors not familiar with local politics I didn't wanting to force the issue, so we sailed over to the commercial harbor to tie to the wharf.

The Rarotonga commercial port has recently been upgraded and looks great for huge commercial ship and has a new basin for local fishing boats. Yacht are med moored to the wharf and while we appreciate that yachts are welcome to share the harbor, serious ocean surge enters the harbor from the North and things can get extremely uncomfortable tossing tiny yachts around like a toy boats. As can be expected in a busy shipping port there is plenty of noise and dust from trucks hauling containers and little in the way of services for yachts such as water to wash off the grime. Don't get me wrong we are happy to be tied up, as our only other option is to not stop at Rarotonga at all.

As wind and seas are building from the North East it's starting to get downright dangerous as 2 meters seas toss the yacht in the harbor. Getting off the boat requires getting into the dinghy and then climbing from the dinghy onto a ladder on the face of the tall concrete wharf. It's a bit of challenge in calm conditions as one government official can attest as he fell in the water while attempting to board a yacht for inspection... on a calm day. With the current 1-2 meter seas any slip or slight hesitation could result in a serious injury.

We've approached the friendly harbor master Andre about championing our cause to gain permission to use the nice lagoon, but to no avail as of yet. It's so rough in the commercial port this morning that Kathy is feeling sea sick So, despite wanting to spend more time and money enjoying Rarotonga we're stuck on the boat with conditions too severe outside the harbor to leave and too rough inside the harbor to safely get on and off the boat. Locals tell us we should be permitted to use the lagoon and we are trying to figure out how to approach Captain Moko in such a way that he can save face and not get further entrenched in his previous policy of NO.

I hope I can soon revise this post with good news as the current policy might discourage more and more yachts form visiting Rarotonga. This is too bad as 99.99% of yacht crews are respectful, friendly and willing to pay a reasonable anchoring fee and would undoubtedly patronize Captain Moko's very own lagoon side restaurant. It's not our intention to dwell on the negative, but this is a big issue for visiting yachts.

Rarotonga is amazingly beautiful with tons of great hikes, good shopping and friendly locals. A visit to the Saturday market is not to be missed with lots of crafts, fresh vegetables, fresh sourdough bread and even a free dance performance. Motorbikes are around $20 a day and the 36km drive around the island is great fun with the wind in your face. Rarotonga is a great place to visit by plane.

That's it for now.

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