Thursday, August 6, 2015

Palmerston Atoll (Cook Islands)

Mark and Conrad with "Bacon". There are no dogs on Palmerston
but Bacon is the next best things. He loves being petted.

Coming into an unfamiliar anchorage at night is one of the top three "don'ts" if you like keeping your boat in one piece (not certain what the other two are, but probably something like "don't sail into a hurricane while repairing leaking propane lines using a match as a light source" or something similar). So as we approached Palmerston at 11:30 p.m. we considered drifting in the lee of the island until daylight. After talking to our friends on Seabbatical, who had arrived several hours earlier, we decided to try anchoring, especially since the moon was scheduled to be up as we arrived. After five days at sea, a relatively good night's rest was too tempting.

The dulcet tones of Edward and his son
The problem with Palmerston is that the water goes from 1000's of feet to about 35 feet almost instantaneously as you pass over the vertical drop off.  Then you get about 75 meters of 35 foot deep water until you hit the edge of the reef.  So the zone for getting your anchor down is somewhat narrow.  Especially since you want to be as far from the reef as possible in case the wind was to switch directions and start carrying you towards the reef. 

Luckily the winds were steady from the east and would blow us back into deep water if anything went awry--or so the plan went. Unfortunately the full moon, which was blindingly bright the night before, was now hidden behind an overcast sky.  However, we were able to use another boat's AIS signal as a waypoint to guide us into the anchorage and there was just enough light to see the nearby crashing surf. We slowly crept in and wondered when the depth sensor would start registering anything.  Finally we were over the shelf and got the anchor down. After the adrenaline from the experience wore off, we went to bed. We slept somewhat fitfully for a few hours, enduring some minor wind shifts that started putting us uncomfortably closer to the reef and surf. Sleeplessness notwithstanding, nothing bad happened and we were able to be checked in the following morning.
Roving gangs of cruisers invade

Palmerston's hook for cruisers, besides its colorful genesis and evolution, is its white-glove treatment of the sailors who stop there. Normally, each vessel that arrives is "adopted" a host family. The family ferries the cruisers to shore, shows them around, socializes with them, feeds them, and helps provide services such as laundry if needed. Although it is relatively expensive for the normal 3-day stay (for our family of 4 it was $140--there were no moorings available but had we taken one it would have been an additional $10 a day), it is much cheaper than elsewhere in the Cook Islands.
We found out that most of the residents of Palmerston had left to go to Rarotonga for the 50th celebration of Cook Island Independence ("free association with New Zealand"). The cruisers almost outnumbered the remaining residents. Edward, our host, had his hands full with six boats at one time. Since 65 of the approximately 85 residents were gone, we probably didn't get the full "feel" of the town. The residents who stayed behind seemed mostly to enjoy the peace and quiet.

For us, Palmerston was very worthwhile. The people were very warm and open. Our kids thought it was the best place in the world with all the "free" ice-cream and cake they were given. In return, cruisers give what they can of goods and useful skills. One of the passengers on a visiting boat was able to help fix a compressor and troubleshoot a motorbike.
We did cause a bit of a kerfuffle because we asked the local nurse whether she might be interested in an aloe vera plant we have aboard, since we won't be allowed to keep it when we arrive in New Zealand. Although we had understood requests and donations were to go through our host, Edward, we did not think he would care about a 3-inch plant. Boy were we wrong. Edward lectured Matt very sternly about our breach in protocol, making it clear that if all gifts were not given directly to the host family (even books for the cruiser book exchange), all hell would break loose. I gather that Matt did an admirable job of not rolling his eyes as he issued his mea culpas. As it turns out, the central quarantine office in Raratonga gave a no-go to bringing the aloe ashore anyway. Since the boys are horrified that we might have to "kill" the plant, we'll have to tell them that it got sent to live out its life happily at the aloe vera farm.

Regardless, we enjoyed the originality of the place and the people we met (both on the island and from other boats). The weather here is much cooler than we have gotten used to and we have been wearing jackets on a regular basis (we're talking mid to high 70's F here, so don't feel too bad for us). Next, we'll head  to Beveridge Reef, where you're anchored in the middle of an underwater reef. Hopefully the sun will come out so that we will feel like snorkeling.
Bacon photobombing the puppet show that Marie Claude
and Meg on Amelie IV put on for the kids.

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