Friday, August 23, 2013

Raring to Go in Rarotonga


Kia Orana:   "Long life" or more formally, "May you live on" is a greeting that in the Cook Islands requires the same in response. It is unacceptable to let the greeting "Kia Orana!" hang in the air without its echo, said with equal enthusiasm:  "Kia Orana!"

As Patrick and I prepare to leave Rarotonga, we are looking forward to experiencing more of the Cook Island culture on some of the smaller islands in the group. 

Our injector pump finally arrived and Patrick reinstalled it. Silhouette's engine is once more functioning without engine oil contaminating the diesel. We sail in the morning for Palmerston atoll, where we will deliver a wheel and some other bits and pieces to some of the islanders there. 

This will be our last blog post with pictures for awhile, so I will leave you with some of the highlights of our visit to Rarotonga.

Early in our stay, I visited the Whale and Wildlife Center on Rarotonga. A woman named Nan Hauser started the museum. Nan does marine mammal research around Rarotonga and has an interesting backstory. It turns out that one of Nan's distant relatives, Mary Sherman, is buried on Rarotonga. Mary came to Rarotonga from New Bedford, Mass. as the wife of a whaler on a whaling ship. Thus, both women connected throughout history were associated with whales but in much different capacities. 

Rumor has it that Mary was the progeny of an affair between her father and his Irish maid (who eventually returned to Ireland.) Mary's father raised her but wanted to cover up her origins---to the point where he even created a fabricated death complete with tombstone back in New Bedford. It took Nan Hauser a long time and the help of many other people to trace out her relation to Mary Sherman. When she did, Nan honored that family history in the organization of the whale museum. The first part of the museum is dedicated to whaling artifacts and the process of whaling.

Harpoons and blubber knife

I had previously heard about ambergris from sperm whales being used to make perfume, but something I didn't know was that whale baleen was used as the stiffeners in corsets.

"Baleen was used as the stiffener in corsets."
 As you move through the whale museum, the focus turns to whale research. Audio and video of whales and whale sounds play continuously in various parts of the museum. One of the techniques documented for tracking humpback whales bears a spooky resemblance to the harpoons that once killed them:  satellite tags.

A satellite tag used in tracking whale migration

The difference between a satellite tag and a harpoon is that a satellite tag only penetrates the skin and blubber layer and does not penetrate the underlying muscle; theoretically, it does not harm the whale.  

I also learned some things I didn't want to know in the museum. I am aware of the impacts of plastic in the oceans:  Albatross chicks that can't absorb nourishment because their guts are full of plastic bits and therefore, starve to death; or marine mammals and reptiles that ingest plastic bags thinking they're a favorite food source---jellyfish. I didn't know that cigarette butts were also mistaken as food by sea turtles. When I think of all the fishermen I've known that flick cigarette butts into the water (because it's the safest place for them on a boat...), I can appreciate the magnitude of this problem.

Pile representing number of cigarette butts recovered from a sea turtle's gut
On a lighter note, there is some excellent hiking on the island of Rarotonga. I went on the Cross-Island walk, along with the crews from Landfall and Wild Fox

Gnarly hiking

Barb and Dennis from SV Landfall

Dennis with Wild Fox's Anthony

Trio climbing a rooty section

...with Kirsten following close behind (Photo courtesy of Barb McIsaac)

We scrambled partway up the rock formation known as "The Needle" but declined to do the vertical rock climb at the top. 

Dennis and Barb at the base of the summit climb

View from the Needle

K down-climbing from the base of the summit climb (Photo courtesy of Barb McIsaac)

We got some better views of the Needle from some distance away...

Rarotonga's Needle

Two fiesty women:  Barb and Kirsten (Photo courtesy of Dennis Ommen)

....and then descended into a valley with a stream running through it.

Infinity fiddlehead

A waterfall along the way

About five days later, I went on another hike by myself while Patrick reinstalled the injector pump. The Te Manga Track is a hike that few visitors to Rarotonga do, and it goes to the island's highest point. I should say that I thought I would have to do this hike alone, but as I set off from the houses near the base of the trail, I attracted one after another friendly dog interested in going for a walk. I hiked in the best of company with four dogs up this challenging track! 

The two eldest dogs were the best climbers:  They had obviously done the track many times, and I might have lost the track at points without their trail blazing abilities. (The Te Manga Track is not as well marked as the Cross-Island Walk, but it is marked with orange plastic triangles and red ribbons. ) We left the youngest dog (a pup of one or two years) behind at the first steep rock face:  He simply did not have the climbing ability of the other dogs. I intended to pick him up on the way back, but he sniffed his way home before that. 

The next youngest dog, a female, stuck by my side the entire way, until we left her, too, at a steep rock face just before the summit climb. Or thought we left her...on the way down with the other two dogs, I suddenly came across this female on the steepest section of the climb. She had somehow followed us up, but was stuck and too terrified to go down. I spent the next hour trying to coax this dog down from the mountain. I had given Patrick an approximate ETA of when I would return, and I needed to get moving. Finally, precipitously hanging by a questionable rope with one hand, I grabbed the dog by the scruff of her neck and dragged her down the scary stretch of slope with the other. As soon as she skidded to a stop at the bottom, she erupted into a series of wags---she was so happy to be down! If I didn't live on a boat, I would have adopted a dog that day. 

Ikurangi summit as seen from the Te Manga track

Avatiu (left) and Avarua (right) harbors from the Te Manga track


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Acrobatics in Avatiu

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 given moment.

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.) 
Home port

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 launched.  

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 primary.

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) proposition.  

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.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Anchored, Avatiu

Avatiu Harbor, Rarotonga

We have been anchored in Avatiu Harbor, Rarotonga in the Southern Cook Islands since just before noon on Wednesday, August 7. Internet access has been a bit sketchy though,* and although I logged on once, I didn’t make it as far as putting a safe arrival note on the blog. Patrick did post a position report, so at least the fact that we finally made it was noted somewhere.

*What? Sketchy? On a South Pacific island?! It’s amazing that there’s any internet access at all! :)

We were happy to arrive. It was a long passage, made longer by the two detours we took in order to avoid encountering strong headwinds in fronts surrounding lows. On a Great Circle route of 1,610 nm, we traveled 2,046 nm in 19.5 days.

After the last month in New Zealand midwinter, it is actually nice to be back in the tropics again. The climate in the Southern Cooks appears to be somewhat tempered by its proximity to the temperate zones (or perhaps it’s just an off year weather-wise), and it has been pleasantly warm without being uncomfortably hot.

Rarotonga reminds me of the Society Islands:  It is a high volcanic island with a fringing reef. After months in New Zealand, it is fun to re-discover sights that were complete novelties when we arrived in French Polynesia fourteen months ago, but are now indelibly associated with our memories of South Pacific Islands:  jungle fowl, taro fields, banana and breadfruit trees, drinking coconuts, cisterns, a passel of kids swimming off the dock, and immaculately kept gardens in brilliant greens, yellows, and magentas. 

Tropical vegetation against a Rarotongan peak

Taro field
But Rarotonga has a hustle and bustle all its own. It is a thriving tourist destination for fly-in tourists from Sydney and Auckland, as well as other parts of the world, and several ear-splitting flights make their entrance and exit over the harbor daily. This is where the people from “down under” take their vacations, and the Cook Islanders are experts at milking every last dollar out of tourists before they leave. As the MC at a cultural dance performance at the Saturday market said, “If you fall in the water with all those coins in your pocket, you will sink, so it’s better if you leave them here with us.” There is traffic here---lots of it---on the belt road going around the island, while the residential streets are quiet and peaceful. One unique thing about the Cook Islands is the prevalence of motor bikes in the traffic stream. People zip around on motor bikes carrying everything from boxes and bags of groceries to five-gallon water jugs.  

The harbor is also an ever-changing hub of activity, where container ships, commercial fishing boats, sail training ships, and pleasure craft---both historic and new---vie for spots along the crowded seawall. The harbor is a story unto itself though, so I will end this post here and leave you with some passage photos.

New Zealand to Rarotonga Passage Photos

"We're finally leaving New Zealand, skipper!"

Dramatic scenery as we depart Marsden Cove in Whangarei for the last time

Monterey cypress being loaded for export at Marsden Point

Just after crossing the International Dateline and re-entering the Western hemisphere

First albacore
The following series of photos illustrates why sailing yachts keep a watch. Patrick first contacted this container vessel, the Olga Maersk, by radio when it was still 12 nm away from us. He asked them if they saw us on their radar (no) and alerted them to our presence. The captain of the ship said he would give us “plenty of room.” Unfortunately, a mammoth container vessel is comfortable with less room than a tiny yacht, and the Olga Maersk never altered its course. In the end, Patrick altered our course to put more distance between us and the big ship, and we were still a little close for comfort. 

The Olga Maersk begins to cross our bow

Patrick putting some distance between us and the big container ship

Now you see her...

....Now you don't:  The effect of big swells at sea

Closest point of approach:  1.01 nautical miles

Patrick prepares a fitting to add freon to our refrigeration system

The two bookends of a day on passage...Sunrise over Silhouette

....and sunset

Landfall:  Approaching Rarotonga