May 5, 2013 (2300UTC)
Underway Position: 13°10' S 166°37' W
Sailing from Suwarrow atoll toward Apia, Western Samoa
Writing blog posts is becoming difficult as my keyboard is failing with several keys stopped working. Namely it is the letter after w in and the letter after y in the alphabet. When you see 'these letters' appear it the result of some creative misspelling and the wonder of auto correct to deliver up the properly spelled word, from there I cut and paste the 'letters' as needed. I've also noticed that capital letter version of j,k, and l are non responsive. This year we've had 3 computers fail from the tropical malady of salty air and high humidity. Anyway, looking forward to a new laptop computer and wireless keyboard in the near future.
Our time at Suwarrow atoll was pleasant, but visiting Suwarrow on the heels of the exceptional experience at Maupihaa atoll took some sparkle out of this remote Cooks Island National Park ... too many rules. The rangers at Suwarrow are great, but the rules are pretty oppressive limiting anchorage to Anchorage island with all other motus off limits. No walking on the other motus, no beach fires, no fishing in the lagoon, no lobster hunting at night, no, no, no. On the yes side, one morning I went fishing at 6AM with the assistant ranger named Ngatupuna. He picked me up at the boat in a 16' aluminum skiff with a poorly running Yamaha 25 outboard. We set off to run the pass and fish outside in the ocean for Tuna and other pelagic's like Wahoo and Mahi Mahi. The 2 cylinder engine was only running on one cylinder and was hard to start, did not idle and had little power. Heading offshore to fish on the windward side of the atoll in the squally weather seemed an arms wide open invitation for disaster. Ngatupuna is a Cook Islander, but left the Cook Islands when he was 12 to live in Australia and only just returned to the Cooks last year. Ngatupuna was the designated boat man for Suwarrow atoll, but as we limped toward the pass I wondered how much time Ngatupuna had in boats while living in Australia.
Just before the pass I called a timeout to look at the engine. A nearly severed spark plug wire was readily apparent, so I shifted the broken wire a bit so, it might make the occasional delivery of a spark to the lower cylinder and we set out sputtering toward the open ocean. Ngatupuna had no concern for the maligned engine and seemed oblivious to the risks of open ocean fishing. Soon we had handlines of dubious construction and creative knot tying trailing behind the boat. In less than a minute Ngatupuna had a big bite, but lost the fish from the 40 foot handline. Next it was my turn to battle a nice Yellow fin tuna to the boat, but just before hauling the fish aboard a shark attacked and I yanked only the bloody remains of a tuna head aboard. We chased feeding birds as we trolled along the lee shore of Suwarrows treacherous wave pounded reef. Threatening dark black squalls built on the horizon, the faulty engine sputter along on one cylinder and my nerves were racked by all the potential ways I could die that morning. Would I be dashed to ribbons of bloody flesh on the reef, torn to bits by hungry sharks, marooned at sea as the boat drifted past the atoll into a dark lonely sea or simply drown in the confused seas when the boat flipped?
Around 4 miles from the pass we hadn't yet landed a fish and I reluctantly called uncle and asked Ngatupuna to head the boat back to the safety of the lagoon. A party was planned for the evening and our job was to catch the main entree, but I'd had enough of tempting fate in a small broken boat at sea for one day. On the return trip I landed a nice Yellow fin tuna, but with a party of 14 for the BBQ ashore one fish would never do. Ngatupuna suggested we try fishing again in the afternoon, to which I politely demurred. To his credit Ngatupuna did go fishing again that afternoon and not only returned alive, but with 7 Wahoo to boot. We had a delicious BBQ with the other cruisers and Ranger Harry played a few songs on his guitar accompanied by Ngatupuna who sang some traditional Cook Island songs.
On another day Kathy and I made a drift snorkel through the Suwarrow atoll pass. The quantity of fish was remarkable with huge schools of Parrot fish and plenty of sharks, the coral was not so impressive due to the high water flow that constantly scours the bottom. Outside the pass the coral was nice as was the visibility with lots of grey sharks patrolling the waters.
Yesterday, we decided to get underway for Samoa. The weather conditions and forecast for the first day of our passage were outside of our normal comfort parameters, but we were anxious to get going. Swell was forecast to be 3.4 meters and winds around 20 knots with squalls. We set our storm spinnaker and blasted down the foam topped waves at remarkable speeds into the teens. On one big surf we hit a solid 17.8 knots speed through water and 19 knots speed over ground. The overtaking breaking waves created a noisy under deck rumble and crash as they moved between the hulls. Squalls unleashed a furry of added wind and a solid deluge of pelting rain. Both Kathy and I were feeling a little seasick, but the forecast called for moderation. Overnight, the weather instead intensified with base winds a steady 25 and 30 plus in squalls. One hour we averaged 10.1 knots with just our tiny storm spinnaker of 300 square feet flying. Around 2:30AM a spinnaker sheet parted for unknown reasons and the sail flogged wildly. I rolled out the jib to cover the flogging sail for the takedown, it was a wet messy job in the howling wind, rain and spray. Afterwards I treated myself to a quick shower to rinse off the salt. The remainder of the night we flew a mostly furled jib and still averaged over 7 knots.
Today the wind is still steady around 22 knots and we're still flying the jib with good results. The seas have yet to abate and it looks like our entire ride to Samoa promises to be boisterous.
That's it for now.