L O G B O O K - by John Philp




SUVAROV ATOLL, COOK ISLANDS


MON 24th JULY - We sight Suvarov in the early afternoon and enter the reef pass into the square, five by five mile atoll. There are five yachts already here. We moor off Anchorage Island, made famous by a Kiwi - Tom Neale, who spent a total of fifteen years here, solo, living off the island and the lagoon, he later wrote a book about his experiences called ‘An Island to One Self’. An elegantly inscribed slab of rock marks Toms old house, “where Tom Neale lived his dream”.

At the beach is a picnic table and hammocks strung up between coconut trees. Someone used to come over from Rarotonga and cut the copra but these days the coconuts are left to sit where they fall. There’s a sign here asking that visitors put in an hour of work, cleaning up, in memory of Tom Neale. We spent two days doing this (it felt good to be doing manual work after the time at sea), and when we left the place was in good shape.

TUE 25th - The atoll is full of fish and Sefo and Lydia catch good sized snapper hand-lining off the stern though at least one is taken by a shark. The sharks seem to be the landlords in this bay - inquisitive buggers.

WED 26th - A beautiful day and we’re spear fishing on the ocean side of the island. The visibility is first rate. It’s like a supermarket here - so many fish! They say Suvarov has a problem with aggressive sharks so we put the fish into the shell of an old liferaft that we found on the beach and tow it on the surface behind us. Sure enough, every time a fish is shot eight or nine reef sharks materialise. After circling for a minute they go away, probably wondering where the fish went to.

Near a drop off onto the bottom of the passage at 50’ feet we see a giant manta ray appear out of the blue oblivion and glide majestically by us, like an alien prom queen swanning by a couple of disbelieving plebs. Then a large scarred and weathered leatherback turtle (so big we think it is another manta ray) comes soaring over. It spots us and veers away promptly.

It turns out to be a sleepless, and anxious, coffee fueled night for us all, especially Tony, as the wind suddenly picks up to 35 knots from the south near midnight and howls all night. Tau drags 30-40 meters when a series of larger waves rolls through the anchorage.

THUR 27th - The wind is still strong, whipping across the atoll. We lay the second anchor at 0245 hours to be sure we don't drift up onto the reef, steaming upwind and dropping it beyond the first anchor then letting out a couple hundred feet of heavy rope and chain. When daylight comes we realise just how close we got to the reef astern.

At 1300 there are no signs of the wind dropping and Tony’s considering hauling up the anchor and sailing for American Samoa while the breeze is good. At 1500 we do just this, fighting to bring both anchors and tackle aboard on a pitching foredeck with the reef dangerously close behind, and set sail for Pago in 20-25 knots.

FRI 28th - Wind 25-30 knots ESE. A large swell has developed, and breaking waves knock us sideways every so often, like a toy, sending us off course. There are whitecaps everywhere. Taking a shower is a lively occupation when the yacht is heaving all over the place - you get to do ‘face plants’ against the shower wall; and have to follow the stream of water around as the angles change!

The wind gusts up to 35 knots during the night then veers east and drops as low as 16 knots, roaring back at 30 knots a few minutes later. Strange that it should also be a clear, starry night out on deck.

SAT 29th - We come upon the high island of Tau (American Samoa) at lunchtime. Pretty cool hey - Tau Island! She’s a high volcanic island of 3,000 feet, dominated by steep ramparts and a rounded flat top with very little flat land down at sea level. A few miles north west are Ofu and Olosega islands, rugged, with sheer cliff faces rising from the sea in places to heights of over thousand feet.

We arrive into Pago at 2100, orange and white lights twinkling across the water, occasionally blanked out by the still substantial swell rolling across our view. The wind remains strong behind us and the confused swell tosses us about like a cork. We motor past the huge fish cannery, and the tuna boats at the wharfs, and into the sheltered end amongst thirty or so other yachts.

SUN 30th - We have generator and fridge problems which Tony and Sefo wrestle with for most of the day. The port officials won’t clear us today so it’s also an enforced day of rest on board, plus chores and cleaning, and curried lolo fish for lunch. (Yes, curry again).

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