A brief stop on our way to Tonga
31 August 2007 | Palmerston Atoll, coord: 18 03 S, 163 13 W
Friday Aug. 31st
Hope everyone is well.
We arrived at Palmerston atoll last night (Thurs.) around midnight. We normally don't make landfall at night, but our friends aboard Tuscany were already moored here and they were guiding us in via radio. We could see each others lights as soon as we rounded the northern tip of the atoll. In addition to Tuscany, another boat stayed up waiting for us and also two local men in a dinghy, who escorted us to an exact location for dropping anchor. That was necessary because all the mooring balls were already taken and there is only a very narrow ledge shallow enough for anchoring, before it drops off to thousands of feet. Hm...pretty interesting arrival. Of course, we had no idea that we would be keeping all these people up so late. Lucky for us our friends and local hosts were so accommodating. This morning, our friend Ciel from Tuscany said they really didn't mind waiting up; they had fun dinghying around at midnight with their spotlight and VHF radio.
I, for one, am glad to be at anchor, and even though it's an unprotected anchorage and the swells are rocking the boat all over the place, I'm still glad to be here. I normally don't mind passages, but this one from Bora Bora to here was not that pleasant; we were sailing directly downwind and the boat was tossed back and forth by steep swells for five days, making my already-queasy stomach that much queasier. I spent most of the passage lying down, sleeping, or in the cockpit reading John Grisham and Robert Ludlow. (Not my typical fare, but easy reading and a great distraction.)
Palmerston Atoll itself: now there's a story. It's got one of those names that evokes murky memories of some dramatic history or some sketchy beginning, (sketchy at least to the Victorian mind). Background info: Palmerston is technically part of the Cook Island chain, a chain of fifteen islands scattered north to south along the longitude of 160 degrees west, an area of over 750,000 square miles of ocean, although the actual land mass off all the islands put together is only 93 square miles. Most of the islands, as well as much of the South Pacific, were discovered by Captain James Cook. (A biography of Captain Cook would be a great read, although we don't have one on board.) "The Cook Islands are a self-governing democratic commonwealth affiliated with New Zealand. New Zealand handles foreign affairs, defense, and subsidizes finances. The Islanders have New Zealand citizenship and speak Cook Island Maori as well as English with a strong New Zealand accent."1
Anyway, there are only 50 people living on Palmerston Atoll. "They are descendants of a patriarchal figure, William Marsters, a Lancashireman who settled here with three Penryn Island wives in 1862. He fathered 26 children, divided the (main) island... into sections for each of the three 'families' and established strict rules regarding intermarriage. The original home was built using massive beams salvaged from shipwrecks washed ashore. Although it still stands, it bears the scars of many hurricanes. Some of the descendants control the island while the rest live in New Zealand and elsewhere in the Cook islands."2
I have to cut this short because the 'Custom's agent' is coming out to the boat to check us in and then we will be dingy'd ashore for lunch and a visit. (Apparently, every cruising boat that comes here is hosted by one of the 3 branches of local 'Marsters' families, headed by either Edward, Cory. or Bob.) The host family serves a free lunch every weekday and sort of adopts the crews while they are here, showing them around the island, ferrying them to and from shore, (through an extremely shallow and coral-filled lagoon), and explaining the local history and lore. Anyway, it should be an interesting visit and we expect to be here for two or three days.
We'll keep you informed.
take care all, Angela