We are still in Avatiu harbor awaiting our rebuilt injector
pump, which was arriving on a flight from New Zealand today…is arriving
tomorrow…or may arrive any day now. In the meantime, we have found things to
occupy our time including the usual hiking and snorkeling. However, we have
found that one of the focal points in Rarotonga is the harbor itself. Avatiu is
the chief commercial harbor for the Cook Islands, and historic, commercial, and
pleasure craft of interest can be found rubbing gunwales along the wharf at any
When we first arrived, this 28-feet gaff-rigged wooden
cutter caught our eye.
|Dolphin of Leith|
Dolphin of Leith is
108 year-old British flagged vessel, and her owners, a couple in their thirties,
have sailed her across two oceans with their two children under the age of five!
Their girl was a mere babe when they departed the United Kingdom. The skipper
of the Dolphin, Ian, grew up on the boat---his parents were
her former owners---so it is the second boat we have met that has seen three
generations of family on it.
The above photo shows Dolphin
with her trys’l on the main boom; her mains’l blew apart on a recent passage.
The guy in Rarotonga who is helping us shuttle our injector pump back and forth
to/from Auckland was looking for some used sails for the Dolphin but couldn’t find any that would fit the gaff rig.
Unperturbed, Dolphin of Leith’s crew headed offshore, intending to stitch
up their mainsail while underway. Their intended destination is New Zealand.
While those of us left in the anchorage admired the pluck of Dolphin of Leith’s crew, we all agreed
that there are risks that we would undertake ourselves that we wouldn’t subject
young children (who don’t have a choice) to.
|Dolphin of Leith gets underway|
The sail training ship PictonCastle docked several days after our arrival in Rarotonga.
|The Picton Castle|
Avatiu is Picton Castle’s home port in the South Pacific. (She also has a home port in North America.)
The Picton Castle was named after an actual castle in Pembrokeshire, Wales.
|Picton Castle Emblem|
She is a
converted steam operated fishing trawler that also worked as a mine sweeper during World War II. She also hauled freight for awhile after the war; thus, Picton Castle’s rebirth as a
sail training ship is her fourth incarnation.
Shortly after the secured its dock lines, the crew of Picton Castle were swarming all over the
ship in a frenzy of activity, cleaning her up after their two-month voyage.
|"When in doubt, swab!"|
Work continued on the ship in the days that followed.
|Rigging work on the Picton Castle|
|Rigger on Picton Castle|
This mega-yacht came in and anchored for a few days during
our stay in Rarotonga.
Its name is Plan
B. That makes us wonder what Plan A was?
|We have a helicopter on deck because we can|
Several Chinese and Cook Island flagged fishing vessels used
the port of Avatiu to offload their catches of gargantuan deep sea tuna.
|A Chinese fishing boat prepares to offload their catch|
Assisted by a push from a tug, huge freighters also tie up
to the wharf in order to offload
containers full of supplies and machinery for the island. I didn’t get a
picture of the container ship that offloaded during our visit.
There is also a small boat basin adjacent to the commercial
and visiting yacht wharves. There, local fishing and sailing charter boats,
whale watching tour boats, and inflatables used for actual whale research are
So what about those acrobatics? Many of the boats that are Med moored here
end up with two anchors deployed. If a large swell upon entering the harbor
does not inspire dropping a second anchor as insurance against dragging towards
the concrete wall at one’s stern, a second anchor is often set by a yacht after
discovering that their primary anchor has been fouled with the anchor of a
departing vessel. A second anchor is then deployed in order to reset the
Since our arrival in Avatiu, Patrick has spent part of
almost every day helping arriving vessels take their stern lines ashore or
helping departing vessels to disentangle their anchors from vessels remaining
behind (and helping the latter to reset theirs.)
|Just another day in Avatiu: Patrick and Dennis from SV Landfall help disentangle Dolphin of Leith's anchor from Landfall's|
|Patrick helps Dennis set a secondary anchor by taking some of the weight of the chain|
In unsettled weather, Avatiu harbor is also one of the most
uncomfortable anchorages we’ve been in. There are a limited number of access points
(sets of aluminum stairs) where cruising yachties may climb to the wharf. The
ease of reaching these staircases directly correlates to your distance from
them. In Silhouette’s case, we were directed to moor almost as far away from a
flight of stairs as you could get. When the anchorage is full and you cannot
row around the bows of the other boats, bringing the dinghy alongside a set of
stairs requires negotiating a maze of stern lines (rowing over them or pulling
the dinghy under them in a hand-over-hand style.) Then, once reaching the
stairs, you have to jostle all the other dinghies that are left blocking the
stairs out of the way. Instead of exiting a dinghy and then moving their bow
painter down a rung or two to tie up, people tended to leave their dinghies
right at the foot of the stairs, making it difficult for others to exit via the
steps. When the anchorage is choppy and rolly, or you are transferring fuel,
water, groceries, or laundry, all of this becomes a more awkward (and a wetter)
|Stern line maze in Avatiu|
There is only one water spigot located on the east end of
the dock; and again, depending on where you are moored, it would require three
to ten 100-ft. hoses strung end-to-end to fill your tanks using the spigot.
(Rumor has it that piped in water for each berth is coming as soon as they
finish piping in the rest of the island’s water supply.) The “Palace Takeaway
Restaurant” at the west end of the wharf has been generous about allowing
yachties to use their water spigot---they also make a decent burger and great
chips and are a favorite hangout for locals---however, the distance from a boat
to the spigot is still an issue. It is advisable to come in to Avatiu with full
water tanks if possible and only have to top off using jerry cans.
We have been lucky with the weather. At worst, the wind has
blown out of the northeast, making the anchorage very choppy and causing the
Med-moored boats to hobby-horse dramatically. If the wind had blown hard out of
the north at any time during our stay, we would have had to put to sea and
return for our injector pump later. I asked the harbormaster at what wind speed
(from the north) would he recommend that vessels leave the anchorage? He
replied that it is up to the comfort level of each vessel’s captain. However,
he continued, the point at which he himself asks people to leave the harbor is
when the waves are topping the sea wall at the vessels’ sterns.
Avatiu harbor is a vibrant and interesting harbor, but
anchoring here can be stressful if a quick exit is not on the agenda.