Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Going Slow on Penryhyn Atoll

January 27, 2013
Anchored near Omoka Village in 40' coral rubble at 08°58.718'S 158°03.101'W
Penrhyn Atoll, Northern Cook Islands, South Pacific Ocean

Shortly after arriving we took the dinghy to shore and within minutes the Agriculture and Health officer appeared. I forgot the guys name, but he was super nice and was ready to launch his boat to come inspect ours. We talked for a few minutes inquiring about the inspection process as we heard it might include spraying the interior of our boat with some sort of pesticide. I politely asked if we could skip the pesticide step as this was not required in either Rarotonga or Aitutaki. He asked me if I had the $20 for the fees and since we had the cash on hand we skipped the boat inspection and proceeded directly to his home for the paperwork and receipts.

Withing 10 minutes we were on our way toward the administrative center to track down Andrew, the Island Secretary. Andrew is in charge of Immigration and Customs and on such a small island it's easy to find anything by just wandering around for a few minutes. Since this was my second visit to Penrhyn we were probably setting a speed record. The rumor in the cruising community was that Andrew liked to hold your passport until you checked out, a collateral that would ensure you'd pay the outrageous Cook Island fees without skipping town.

Going into the check-in process I was hoping we could negotiate to keep our passports to eliminate the chance that they might get somehow lost or damaged within the grinding gears of bureaucracy. Attempting apply logic, I offered to pay Andrew the Custom, Immigration, Exit and Anchoring fees in advance in exchange for the privilege of holding on to our passports. It seemed simple he collects all the fees in advance and thus he no longer would need to keep out passports as collateral. Everybody's happy, right? Just broaching this idea probably ended up costing more time and confusion that apply for a lost passport. This was an idea WAY outside the box and the gears inside Andrew's head started to jamb. First, he said we'd have to come back on Friday. Then he sat there and tried to ink up one of his stamps for 5 minutes and then sat looking confused for a while until Kathy offered him a piece of paper so he'd have somewhere to press ink into paper. Don't get me wrong. Andrew was very nice. However, attempting to pay first was not the normal procedure.

All the while we filled out all the requisite check-in and check-out forms. Then Andrew took off towards home on his motorbike to get something. Then when he came back we sat in his office for a while before telling us it was not going to work to pay in advance. At this point I was regretting the whole idea, so I didn't even ask why. Anyway, after physically waving out passports around for 10 minutes strait, I asked if we could have them back and have about 5 more minutes of him thinking about it, I guess he decided that would work. He said we were 'checked in' and that we'd need to pay when we left and he'd need 24 hours notice of our departure. Presumably, he'd need the 24 hours to find the paperwork we'd already filled out? But, hey that's the process so in the interest of efficiency we'll just roll with it.

During the prolonged check-in with Andrew I met the Islands Finance guy who's office was next door. We asked about where we might find a local baker to place our order for a loaf of bread. He offered to relay the order. Cool.

On the way back to the boat I asked some local kids where the shop was located. They pointed the way to one of the bigger homes on the island. The shop hours are flexible, you just knock on the door and if someone is home then the shop can be opened. After, knocking and no answer, some curious and helpful kids that were following us helpfully found the shop keeper who was working in the back yard. She was sweet and took a few mintues to chat. Then she went off to find the key to the shop. When I say 'Shop' envision a closet built into the outside wall of your home. The hunt for the key went on for at least 5-10 minutes during which we offered to come back another day several times. Finally, the shop keeper conceded the shop key was lost, so we headed back to the boat to grab a nap.

On Friday we went on a mission to find the local Baker. Having placed our order by proxy, we weren't sure where the Bakery might be, but it's a small island so it couldn't take long. We found the Baker 'Alex' within a few minutes and ended up spending the whole day chatting with him and his wife. Super nice folks who married at 16 and have 11 children. They invited us to join them at the Catholic Church on Sunday.

Heading back to the boat I ran into a guy named David whom I'd met in 2006. He invited us into his Grandparents waterfront home and we spent an hour or more chatting. I had photo's from our last visit which was a real hit. Grandpa William asked if I could weld aluminum boats. Unfortunately, no. Then Grandpa William asked if I could fix outboard engines and I said I could give it a try.

So, on Saturday I spent the entire day taking bits and pieces of 3 broken 1970's vintage Johnson outboard motors and trying to piece together one working engine. None of the engines had run for years. Opening the covers on any of the three engines revealed a complete nightmare and in one case a mouse's nest. We took all 3 lower units off and found one that still had working gears so we swapped it on to the most likely looking powerhead. And after wrenching all day, guess what, the motor started on the first pull! So, after test drive number one we changed out a faulty spark plug wire and then on test drive number two disaster struck as the water pump went out. So, now the lower unit needs to come off again. The real problem is getting a replacement for the crusty old rubber water pump impeller. On an engine this old it might be tough to find in the USA, but out here forget about it. Maybe one of our readers would be interested in sourcing a rubber impeller for a 1970-80's Johnson 25 commercial engine with a white cowling? Mailing it to Penrhyn might take 3-6 months, but it would be simply HUGE to this family living on a remote South Pacific Atoll. They could then go fishing again for some nice fish instead of the crappy fish that they are catching from the shore. Email if you can help find, purchase and mail this $10-20 part.

On Sunday we attended Catholic mass with 10 other souls. All 140 other residents go to the Cook Islands Christian Church (CICC). And to our real surprise the Catechist was our Baker friend Alex! How he kept this secret from us after spending Friday afternoon together, I can not know. The congregation of 10 was made up of 8 of his family and one old guy and the school principal Tyrone. Needless to say the service was very personal and homily was custom made just for me! It was actually quite fun as those 10 devote Catholics really belted out the hymns with passion.

After Church I rode down to Tyrones house on the back of his motorbike. We checked out his beautiful beachfront home and had a beer and checked the weather. Then we headed over to Alex's house for lunch. The lunch spread was incredible and the stories entertained us until later afternoon. Around 5PM the wind kicked up from the NE and it was getting really rough in the anchorage and we were sitting on lee shore. Doing any kind of work or play on a Sunday is forbidden. Moving the boat is Tabu. Swimming is out of the question. We were loath to be disrespectful, but the situation on board was becoming uncomfortable with the building wind and potentially dangerous. So, we pulled anchor and motored in 25+ knots of wind to the North end of the Atoll. It was late in the day to be moving around the coral studded lagoon, but we're pretty good at visual navigation and quickly made our way to a nice calm anchorage.

The last two nights we've enjoyed blissful sleep in the protected waters behind the Northern motu. We've been beach combing and explored an abandon pearl farm. It's good to be cruising and exploring again.

That's it for now.

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