07/23/2010, Beveridge Reef
Holy Reefs in the Middle of Nowhere, Batman! This is CRAZY! This place is seriously crazy. Words defy, cameras can't capture, the mind can't wrap around it even as you see it with your own eyes. A big, circular reef rising out of thousands of feet of deep, dark ocean, with no land. Just waves crashing on the submerged sharp teeth of the huge coral reef. I can only imagine the terror and surprise unsuspecting mariners must feel to be lolling along for days and days with nothing but nothing, and then see -- or worse, hear -- waves crashing. The wreck of a 90 foot trawler is lying in 1 foot of water to the east of us, jutting up out of the sea, one of those sober reminders that life, and the sea, are both immeasurably dangerous.
We were not sure we'd make it in, if the winds and waves were too much, but they eased off as we'd hoped, and the entrance through the reef was pretty simple. We had some GPS way points which we plugged into our E-120 electronic navigation thingy, and it's a good thing we had something accurate, because the whole reef was depicted about 2 miles farther west on the E-120 charts. It might be useful to note that the ancient paper charts we have on board have the reef in the correct position. Multiple sources are good, but only two makes it one against the other. And neither is always right, as we've learned through experience. Thankfully we had not only a third reference which served as a tie-breaker of sorts, but also Paikea Mist who went in ahead of us. Since they made it in using the waypoints we had, we were comfortable following.
It was very odd to look out across the sea and there, resting at anchor a few miles away, was Paikea Mist, settled in clear water the color of a pale sapphire. She looked almost like a skeleton, her sails put away, just the mast and rigging seen from the other side of the lagoon within this odd reef. Oh my, I can't quite find the words for any of this, it's just so unusual.
But, as life would seem to go, it's not all idyllic. Although we'd like to loll in this private lagoon and sip cold drinks and read books in the hammock as it swings gently from the davit, and plan our scuba diving for the next few days, we're instead dealing with yet another mechanical/equipment issue. Our generator has been intermittently shutting down within 5 minutes of starting for the last few days, so we suspected an overheat/water flow problem but while underway, had no way to determine the cause. As soon as we dropped anchor Allan was in the water for a swim, he can't help it -- but after that, he was delving into the generator issues. Feeling compassion for us, Michael and Gloria invited us over for blueberry pancakes with white chocolate raspberry ice cream and freshly roasted Cook Islands Coffee. Wisely, we didn't say no to that extravagant offer ("The best brunch in Beveridge Reef!" Gloria promised.) Then Michael accompanied Allan back to Fly Aweigh to assess the situation. The long and short, or maybe just the short, is that the sea water impeller was trashed. And it was trashed because the pump ran dry. Why the pump ran dry is still a mystery. Something could have blocked the intake, like a big leaf or a piece of plastic, or, or, or ... Allan and Michael are still speculating. (Personally, I find it odd that a huge diesel engine is installed in our boat with no gages - no temperature gage, no oil pressure gage, very odd, but apparently a normal and acceptable situation in boats.) Today we'll deal with this, and go explore the dive spot on the other side of 3-mile lagoon in our dinghy to make a plan for tomorrow's dives. I can only imagine what the diving must be like with no rivers to muck up the lagoon, no tourists to trash the coral with their clumsy errant flippers, no looters taking samples to sell in little booths in town. We're very excited to get in, but today we're all tired from the last 3 days at sea and will rest up before donning tanks and gear. I might get the kayak and paddle out to the edge of the reef just to get a close look at those spectacular breakers.
At the moment, it's just the two of us here, Fly Aweigh and Paikea Mist, and what a wonderful feeling to have this amazing spot to ourselves. Tomorrow the sailboat Mary Powell may arrive, she's a day behind us out of Rarotonga, and we know of a few others with Beveridge on their minds, but for now, we'll enjoy the utter privacy and beauty of this place.
07/23/2010, Rarotonga to Beveridge Reef
We're now 70 miles from Beveridge Reef, and should arrive at first light in the morning. We've been following Brian, Greg, Tiffany and Lushka on the trawler Furthur, who left a day before us, and in our radio conversation with them tonight we learned that they didn't like the looks of things at Beveridge and passed it by. Earlier today he said the winds were still blowing 20 knots and it looked rough both inside and outside the reef. So they're on their way directly to Nuie. We will continue, and hope the forecast for diminishing winds holds true. If things don't look good, we still have enough lettuce for another spectacular salad and can continue on to Nuie as well, arriving Saturday morning.
We've been making such good time that we had to take the jib sail down to slow our speed so as to arrive after sunrise. With Paikea Mist ahead of us, it's hard to resist that innate challenge to try and catch them, futile as that may be, and it feels odd to purposely slow down.
It's been a mellow day -- I caught up on my sleep and felt quite energetic, and Allan felt a lot better than the previous two days. I actually did a bit of on board exercising, and washed some carpets, organized my email list, wrote a bunch of notes to family, and cleaned the bathroom. So you see, I adapt to this motion pretty well, despite my whining. Oh, and by the way, we really do like sailing, most of the time. Last night on watch I was acutely aware of the uniqueness of our situation, one that only a handful of people on the planet can share with us: here we are, out in the middle of the ocean, alone, with nothing separating us from the sea but a layer of fiberglass, the stars and clouds stretching out forever, and the sea appearing to have no end. And on our little floating planet, we go about trying to live as normally as we can under the circumstances; writing letters, cooking meals, reading magazines, doing crossword puzzles. It's very odd, and very wonderful.
The sun has set, and we're getting ready for our night watch schedule, which starts with some dinner. Tonight, ramen noodles with veggies, our favorite meal on cool evening passages.
07/21/2010, Rarotonga to Beveridge Reef
We love cruising, all except the sailing part. Well, I'm being honest, here. Some of the time the sailing is a blast, and a lot of the time it's just annoying. It's ergonomically inconvenient. You want to go from the steps to the salon to get a book; the boat wants you to make a few side trips along the way, preferably side trips that cause you to slam into walls and tables. You want to open a cupboard and get out the peanut butter; the boat wants to expel the raisins, the walnuts, and the Hershey's chocolate sauce. You want to get lettuce from the fridge; as soon as the veggie box is out of it's spot on the tightly packed shelf the boat wants to rearrange the entire shelf. The pickles and the olives roll to the downwind side, the whipped cream leaps out, and the wine, which you can't drink because you're at sea and have a dry boat while underway, slams into the pickles, and you can't get anything back in unless you sit down on the floor in front of the fridge, painstakingly remove everything from the shelf with careful timing as the waves come and go, and replace them. Meanwhile, all the cold air escapes and the electrical system now has the additional burden of completely re-cooling the fridge.
Ah, but it builds character. It makes us stronger, better people. It inspires patience, strengthens relationships, and makes us vow to not take our land-based stable lives for granted when we get home. And it takes us to places we absolutely love, places we'd never see otherwise, and that makes the inconvenience and the discomfort all worth it, multiplied by 11.
So here we are, about halfway to Beveridge Reef, making fabulous time as a strong following wind shoves air into our 2 sails, elegantly set wing-on-wing to get the most of it. The boat lurches left and right as boats do when the sea and wind are following, but as I mentioned earlier, by Day 2 we're sort of getting used to it all. The sea is chasing us with big 10-12 foot breaking swells, and we've been surfing for the last 6 hours. At one point Allan saw 11 knots as we raced down the face of a particularly well-timed wave. It's fun, even if it is a bit irritating. We spend most of our time in the cockpit - fresh air, nice view - and try to minimize time below except to sleep and prepare meals. We're still experimenting with watch schedules, since we haven't done a lot of 2-man passages yet. So far, we switch every few hours during the day, and stretch watches to 4 or 5 hours during the long night.
The food on this passage has been easy so far, thanks to Dave and Grace back in Rarotonga who supplied us with leftovers from their BBQ, and their friends Janet and Neil who own the bakery and coffee house, and sent us off with delicious herbed Turkish bread. So we've been enjoying great toast, thick sandwiches with Edam cheese and organic lettuce and tomatoes, and for dinner, simple things like brown rice. Oh, and cookies. We always have cookies.
Paikea Mist left a few hours after us, and being a bigger, faster boat, they closed the 16 mile gap between us swiftly, passing us early this morning. They're now out of view, and will arrive ahead of us, although with these winds we'll all arrive a bit too early for the morning light to properly illuminate the reef entrance, so we'll likely hover outside until the sun is a bit higher before we go in. The timing doesn't always work out, but we'd rather be early than late and have a little wiggle room, fudge factor, room for the unexpected, et al.
Another report tomorrow!
By the way, we're closer now to Australia than home.
07/20/2010, Rarotonga to Beveridge Reef
The wind has launched us solidly on our way toward Beveridge Reef, 3 days sail from Rarotonga. We've been sailing on a nice beam reach for a few hours now, although the wind is slowly moving behind us, which makes for less comfortable sailing, a bit disappointing as evening draws near, but we knew the forecast was for a mostly lumpy run all the way to Beveridge.
It was a rather leisurely departure this morning, starting with coffee aboard Serenity to say farewell, for now, to Sherry and Gordon. Actually, Gordon was sleeping off some Nyquil while he copes with a stubborn cough and Allan doesn't drink coffee, so it was just Sherry and I taking in the morning action in the small harbor from their cockpit. She offered to give me a ride home from Budget Rentals after I returned our trusty scooter, so I went back to the boat to get the spare helmet, my wallet, and the scooter key, which I'd wisely left in the helmet to remind me to bring it along. As I stepped onto the stern step and reached for the rope to pull the dingy up, I heard a plop. Allan, standing a few feet away on the wharf, heard it too. "What just fell in the water?" he asked as I peered over the side, knowing full well that the scooter key was now settling comfortably on the bottom. We just looked at each other for a moment, smiling. Then Allan, Knight in Shining Dive Gear, climbed aboard the dingy, pulled himself over to the boat, changed into his swimsuit, donned fins and mask, took a deep breath, and jumped over the side into the murky harbor water. A few seconds later he surfaced, handed me the key, and swam off toward the bow to free up our knot meter wheel, which always jams when the boat sits for more than a few days.
We've become quite forgiving in this life we're leading, so many things can go wrong, so many things have, and it can just as easily be his fault as mine. Things happen, even when you're extra careful to prevent them from happening. Things slide, get launched, break, scratch, overheat, get wet. Things fall overboard. Some are recoverable, others are donations to Neptune. Since we left Mexico, we've irretrievably lost a mop, a beach towel, an expensive winch handle, and a hat; we've lost and then recovered Allan's Tilley hat, his windsurfer skeg, a spoon, and now this key. So it goes.
Armed with the key, I zoomed off to Budget with Sherry on my tail, stopping along the way to get a few last-minute photos of town. Scooter returned, I hopped on the back of Sherry's Hardly Davidson (as our new friend Dave calls his) and we returned to the harbor, where Allan had the boat ready to go. So we're on our way, after 6 lovely days and 1 not-so-lovely day in Rarotonga, leaving while we still want to stay and wondering if that's better than getting sick of a place. No matter, it is what it is, the adventure continues, off we go, and always -- fascinating places await.
07/20/2010, Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Leaving Rarotonga tomorrow will be hard, we have loved it and would love to have more time here. But weather is our main consideration when deciding when to stay and when to go, and in this case, there is a perfect weather window for our trip to, and time inside Beveridge Reef. We'll be there for a few days, and then on to the island nation of Niue. If we don't go now, we may miss our chance for another 7-10 days.
So we're spending today preparing to put out to sea again tomorrow, as are Gloria and Michael a few boats down. Shopping, updating the provisions inventory, making meals, doing laundry, baking bread, chopping veggies, labeling containers, putting things away, dumping trash, fixing inop lights, checking weather, oil and transmission quantities, etc.
But Rarotonga has really treated us right, save the previously mentioned issues in the harbor. And for those of you behind us in boats, we have a wonderful guy for you to meet here in Avatiu Harbor: Dave Pratt, an engineer and mechanic. Dave runs a business right by the harbor in a small blue shipping container that serves as his workshop. From New Zealand, he and his delightful wife Grace have been in the Cooks for 3 years. He can help you with virtually anything, from repairs to arranging for fuel, to finding parts, to picking a hairdresser. Wonderful guy, Dave, and if you see him tell him we said so.
We've had the usual amount of fun and adventure the last few days, including a spectacular hike up a rich, luscious valley terraced with well-tended taro gardens and mowed lawns. A little farther up the path narrowed, the landscape got rougher and more tropical, and the climb steepened, until at one point we came to a rope, knotted every meter or so, to aid in climbing a portion of the path. That was fun, pretty nice of someone, we thought, to put that handy rope there. A bit farther along we found another rope that stretched up a wet, muddy and very steep bank as far as the eye could see. Knowing how well anchored the first rope was, we ventured to try this one. One at time we carefully ascended, hand over hand, relying on upper body strength (which is notably waning) until we reached the top. I was hoping for a pot of gold up there, or at least a bowl of Lucky Charms, but no. Just a nice view over the top of a ridge. Michael and Gloria, the studs in our group, opted to continue on up the path, and Allan and I turned around to join Gordon and Sherry who waited at he bottom of the rope. We later learned that we had passed on an additional 9 ropes leading ultimately to the top. If we had more time, I'd do that hike again, and climb all 11.
We tried another snorkeling trip at the same beach where we had such good luck with the other day, but it was murky and not as nice.
Dave invited us over for a BBQ last night and we had a wonderful time being treated like royalty in his adorable home near the beach around the other side of the island. Grace and Dave laid out a feast, and we had the opportunity to meet Neil and Janet who own a great cafe, bakery and restaurant in town. When it was time to go, Grace insisted we "make a plate" to take with us, "It's the Cook Islands way," she told us. She provided plastic plates, wrap, foil and bags to encourage our pilferage, and after piling our plates high, we expressed our gratitude, since now I don't have to do nearly as much cooking for the upcoming passage.
Our greatest challenge in the last week here in Avatiu Harbor has been the crazy dinghy setup between boat and wharf. Since the stern of each of the 6-8 boats moored here is about 15 feet from the wall, we need a way to get to the ladders that scale to the wharf. And back again. So we've all conceived various methods of hooking up our dinghies so they can be pulled back and forth, rather like a ski lift, on circular ropes strung from boat to shore, with pulleys on either end. Overall it works well, except when there is significant swell in the harbor , which is what we've had for at least half the time. In that case, timing your entrance into the bobbing dinghy from the bobbing boat, especially with anything in your hands, is precarious. Even more so is the transition from dinghy to rusty metal ladder. Along the way, you're ducking the lines that anchor the stern of the boat to the wharf, sometimes your own and the boat next to you as well. The lines sit in the mucky water in between shuttle trips, so the whole event is wet and salty, and can be quite damaging to a nice outfit. Never cruise with white clothes, no matter what the ads for Calvin Klein and Nautica imply.
So we've managed to survive all the challenges of Rarotonga, and have had a splendid time. Now we're off to Beveridge for the opposite sort of experience -- anchoring in a reef that is fully submerged most of the time, in the middle of the South Pacific, with no land, no Internet, no baguettes, no dangerous rusty ladders.
Again, I'll be posting a blurb daily until we reach Niue in about a week.
So much has happened in a few days. Remember a few blurbs ago I said that every place we go is our favorite? Every place we go is so amazing, and we think, "This is the best." Then, we get to the next place and it's got something else spectacular about it, something new we've never experienced, and we think, "No, this is the best." After awhile, you start collecting bests, unable to rate one above the other. And now Rarotonga is up there with the bests.
We didn't really think we'd like it. We didn't really even know what to expect except we knew it had a crummy harbor that we were not looking forward to, and we knew we sort of had to stop here because there aren't many choices between Bora Bora and Tonga, which is about 1300nm. So we planned maybe a few days here, get some gas, restock on produce, and rent scooters. As I read about Rarotonga in the guide book on the crossing, I started to to get excited, but we still had no concept of what it would be like. Well, finally yesterday we had a chance to get out and explore the island on our scooter, and it's just delightful. Charming. Beautiful. Comfortable. Not too humid. No bugs. (Well, a few mostquitos evening and morning.) Nice roads. Gorgeous beaches. And it has this odd air of sophistication to it that I still can't quite pinpoint. Now, if I wanted to get into the politics of the situation, I could speculate that the aura of the place is affected by the fact that the Cook Islands are a South Pacific money laundering haven, and that a lot of money is held here in tiny little invisible banks. I could, but I choose, rather, to be a bit of an ostrich with maybe half an eye out of the sand. TMI can ruin an experience, as we all know.
We arrived in the morning on Tuesday, and spent the day trying to recoup from the crossing, which is always a bit debilitating. We napped, and washed the boat, and took a short walk into town. Then, Tuesday night we had a bit of an adventure, so here I digress while I relate that, and then I'll get back to my expose on the island:
The wind was coming from the NE, exposing the harbor to wind and swells, and building as the night wore on. The boat was rocking and straining on it's lines, the lines making a horrible noise as they reached their ultimate limit, the water splashing and crashing on the stern, the boat rising up and slamming back down on the swells, both incoming, and then again outgoing as they hit the cement wall and rebounded from behind us. It was like being at sea. We were exhausted and sleeping fitfully, worried about the boat. At 2am we heard a dreadful noise and lept from our bed. It turned out to be the large Coast Guard boat next to us rubbing heavily on the rubber tires on the dock, but once up, we realized we had a situation: to make it short, the starboard stern line had stretched and rubbed to the point of abrading it's protective sheath away from the central core and was in danger of failing, the boat was straining on that one weakened line as the increasing wind was pushing the boat west toward the Coast Guard cutter, the bow anchor appeared to be dragging (we're still not sure it actually was) and the stern was bouncing furiously up and down in the waves, moving dangerously close to the cement wall.
We jumped into action and got the boat untied, which required cutting the line with all the tension on it since there was no way we could release it from the cleat on deck, and with the Med moor setup we couldn't get on shore to release the lines from the dock. So we left the lines attached to the giant metal cleats onshore, pulled the anchor, moved a few hundred feet forward into the middle of the tiny harbor, and dropped anchor in 20 feet of water. Of course, any number of irritating things happened along the way and it would take pages to relate the whole story, but suffice it say we got away mostly undamaged, although we did have an encounter between a large cement pole jutting out from the wall and our tough plastic swim step. We then sat anchor watch for the remainder of the night until we saw Michael onshore getting ready for his morning run. Gloria said she peeked out from her boat and thought, "What's Fly Aweigh doing in the middle of the harbor?" so she called us on the radio. Michael grabbed the hand held radio and informed us that we needed to pull anchor and clear the harbor while the huge cargo ship that had been in port readied to leave; it needed the entire harbor to maneuver. So we moved into a small corner of the harbor and hovered (called "station-keeping") in the stiff wind between a row of moored fishing boats and a shallow, rocky shoal. Once the huge ship was on it's way, we returned to the dock and re-moored, with the help of Michael on his hand held, Gloria, and Steve from Mary Powell. This time we left a bit more distance between us and the cement wall, and put an additional line on the upwind side. Later, we were able to buy a few super-extra heavy-duty 3-stranded dock lines from a wonderful Kiwi guy named Dave. And we spent the day reviewing the could-haves, should-haves and good-thing-we-did and didn'ts of the whole event, wiser overall and glad nothing worse happened.
We decided we wouldn't leave the boat unattended that day, since the winds were forecast to reach up to 25 knots out of the north, the worst situation for this harbor as I've mentioned previously. So one or the other of us was on board all day in the rough, rocking harbor keeping an eye on our situation, ready to call the other on the radio and head out if things got dicey. All went fine, and we learned a few things. Topping my list: Cut my hair or put a hat on. Man, was that irritating to be in a critical situation and have my hair trying to blind and suffocate me in the wind.
So it was that finally yesterday we had a chance to get out and explore, and to realize happily how cool this place really is. We went to Budget and rented a keen silver-blue scooter, then went to the police department and got our own personal Cooks Island drivers licenses. I think the government makes a LOT of money on these things, because people love them. Great souvenir, $20NZ, quick and easy to get. Hundred of scooters per week are rented to tourists, and everyone is required to have the CI license. Good revenue for the season.
Michael, Gloria, Allan and I set out on our scooters on a round-the-island tour, the only 4 people on the island wearing helmets, and had a perfect day. Lunch at the little Coco-putt miniature golf course with fresh mint all around and a delicious Club sandwich with mango chutney, a few stops along the way to buy hand-painted pareos, and look at this or that view, and finally, a swim in the clear water by the Rarotongan Resort.
At first the snorkeling was dull, and we almost gave up, but we moved a bit farther out and all of a sudden it became one of the most interesting snorkeling trips so far. Just weird things we kept seeing, almost out-of-context, like huge colorful and yummy-looking fish swimming in an area where there were no other big fish, they looked sort of lost; tons of spotted eels lurking in their hidey-holes looking nervous and threatening; a number of beautiful lion fish snugged up tight under rocks, their beautiful poisonous spines peeking out like lacy feathertips; lots of short-spined sea urchin, who like to decorate themselves with various items from the sea floor; and strange behaviors that we've never seen before, like one of those big fish chasing, or tailing, or maybe just hanging out with a very large flounder, swimming just above the flat fish as he scooted along the sandy bottom, almost riding him like a skateboard.
The water is cooler here, I guess since we're moving farther south, and after awhile we were chilled and had to call an end to the fun. We rinsed and dried off and remounted our Hogs and headed back to the harbor to await the arrival of Serenity, inbound from Bora Bora, and assist her in mooring. Then, off to a party on Furthur to bid farewell to a few of her crew, who are returning to Seattle and Sydney respectively.
Today, more exploring, maybe tonight an Island Show. But first, this morning, I'm getting a haircut.