25 August 2018
Photo: Black Manta Ray
Our last night in Bora Bora we saw the elusive green flash, or as Tracey calls it “the green smudge”, at sunset. The guys on the charter boat nearby all cheered.
Saturday 28th July we lifted the anchor and sailed out through the Bora Bora pass with Pelizeno, Raftkin and Barefeet headed for Suwarrow, Northern Cook Islands, 700nm away. We planned on the passage being 5 days and the departure day and destination looked good as there was a trough predicted to go through the lower Cook Islands and Niue later in the week. Going north avoided the predicted 40 + knot winds. We texted Keeley and Josh, Kuan Yin, who had headed for Niue and they had changed their plans and were on their way to American Samoa, after stopping at Palmerston Atoll. The weather on passage was a real mixed grill with several days of heavy rain and squalls with the final 36 hours motoring in glassy seas, brilliant sunshine and no wind. We again kept in touch with everyone with twice daily position reports and news. We also spoke with 2 yachts on the radio, one a solo sailor who had lost his auto pilot and was hand steering.
We arrived in the anchorage at Suwarrow on Thursday 2 August at 10:00, exactly 5 days after leaving Bora Bora. It took some time to find an anchoring spot as the bottom is coral sand and bombies. We eventually anchored in 18m and floated the anchor chain with 2 buoys to keep it off the bombies. Brian saw several sharks while snorkeling the anchor, looks like it will be an interesting place.
Suwarrow is one of the northern Cook Islands and is a National Park. John and Harry, the 2 park rangers came on board to clear us in and give us some information on Suwarrow and to collect our US$50 park fee. The island is only open to visiting boats from 1 June till 1 November, outside this time it is deemed to be inside the cyclone belt and not safe. The environment is pristine and they work to keep it that way, we could see the bottom as clear as anything under Dol. The rangers asked us not to throw food scraps into the water or clean fish as this attracts the more aggressive grey sharks into the lagoon from the pass, not good with everyone enjoying the snorkeling. Anchorage Island is the only island in the atoll that it is permitted to land on, the rangers have made it very cruiser friendly with hammocks, a large table, oil drum bbq and swings for the kids. They regularly rake the sand and pick up any debris, there is also a book exchange room next to the Suwarrow hut.
It was then a quiet afternoon, with an early dinner and sleep.
09:00 the following morning we were off to swim with the manta rays. This is the clearest water we have seen manta rays in, normally it is murky with plankton as they feed, but this was crystal clear and we swam with 2 of them for about 30mins, awesome. They are so graceful.
After coffee on Pelizeno with Peter and Lisa, it was back to the Dol for Brian to continue the generator investigation and Gail went ashore for a yoga class. Raftkin and Barefeet arrived in the anchorage and with Rob, Carli and Adrian, Yonder, already here it will be a social evening with drinks on Pelizeno.
The nice thing about cruising in remote places is the friendliness of fellow cruisers and the activities that are soon arranged. Gail joined the daily yoga on the beach with usually a minimum of 10 other cruisers. The guys got together and helped each other with boat repairs and maintenance, a pot luck lunch ashore was arranged, a music night on Muskoko and many snorkeling trips. One of the snorkel locations was off Bird Island where the Sooty Terns colony resides.
After another great snorkel with the manta rays, the black mantas this time, which, talking with John the ranger are not found in many places, we headed ashore with David, Tracey, Hayley and Megan for some geo-caching. We set off with the instructions and worked our way through various clues and gps co-ordinates until we found the hidden treasure. After adding our names and the boat names, we replaced it for the next hunters. As we worked our way around the island we saw the cairn marking Tom Neale, the guy who lived alone here for many years, the Suwarrow hut where the rangers live and many coconut crabs.
We thought we had seen some fairly large coconut crabs, but the following evening after pizzas ashore, Harry and John, the park rangers, showed us George, a 40 year old coconut crab, he was huge. They then showed us more in the bushes, all quite large, you would not want to cross one of these.
Yonder left for American Samoa on Wednesday morning and on Thursday afternoon, after a night of changing winds, most boats checked their anchors and if they were caught around a bombie or two, started the motor and freed them. We did the same, unfortunately being anchored in 19m it was difficult to see which way the anchor chain was wrapped and after an hour of trying unsuccessfully to free the anchor, with Chris Barefeet in the water, Brian put his scuba gear on and went down to manually do it. With the anchor up we decided to try and find a shallower patch of water to anchor in sand and minimal bombies. The problem with Suwarrow is no matter where you anchor there are lots of coral heads and it is the luck of the draw if you catch your chain. After another hour we finally managed to get the anchor in sand and in slightly shallower water. Time for a drink and pot luck dinner of Raftkin.
Friday 10th August, Brian tried the Northern Lights generator one more time, and decided it was a no go, shut the generator down and declared we are using the Honda till we get back to New Zealand. Chris and Elissa, Barefeet also decided Friday was time to leave, hopefully we will see them again in Tonga before they head further west to Australia. Later in the afternoon we went ashore for a walk and drinks. On the windward side of the island it was amazing to see about 15 black tip, white tip and grey sharks in the shallows, literally in a couple of centimeters of water. During drinks, the guys of Kudo got out their musical instruments and happily played for us all, including Harry and John the rangers who had joined us.
Sunday turned into a busy, social day. After doing laundry early, it was off with Dave, Tracey, Hayley and Megan, Raftkin and Lisa, Peter and Zenon, Pelizeno, 4 miles across the atoll in our dinghy to snorkel Seven Islands. The coral was interesting but there was not as much fish life as we expected and with fishing nets lying on the bottom our guess was in the off season the atoll is fished. After leaving Seven Islands we stopped at the manta ray spot for a great snorkel with 2 mantas, a white bellied one and a black one. Back to the Dol, sort the laundry, reposition the anchor, shower and then off for coffee and banana cake on Maia. Lauren and Dick are just starting out on their circumnavigation and wanted to chat about our experiences. A couple of hours later, back to Dol, cooked a chicken pasta and off to Pelizeno for a pot luck dinner and drinks for the evening.
Monday was check out day in preparation for our departure to Niue, 530nm away, on Tuesday. Brian also had a look at the dinghy motor which had started playing up on our way back from the mantas, it seemed more terminal than he thought. Luckily Peter, Pelizeno has a 2HP spare which he will lend us until we can get ours looked at, hopefully in Tonga.