Magellan has a lot to answer for! So far this vast ocean has not been true to its name apart from a few days where we enjoyed a flat sea. Our passage from Palmerston took 62 hours and was a real mix of weather: wind coming from various directions, changing wave patterns and even some rain. We knew the crossing would be rather windy so before taking off the kids and I took a seasick prevention tablet (for the first time ever on our trip). It worked wonders and nobody felt even the least bit queasy. It did knock us out though and I felt very sleepy on my first night time watch. Somehow I struggled through the night and it was such a relief not to feel any seasickness. Yesterday the weather calmed down and we enjoyed a quiet day at last and even cooked roasted chicken for dinner (on the BBQ) and the kids watched a movie before bedtime. But soon enough everything changed again and we had to put in two reefs. The wind kept building and there was an uncomfortable steep wave on our beam. It was too cloudy to sight land until we were only a few miles off and somehow this rather flat island wrapped in a cloudy mist reminded us of Scotland. It started raining as we tied onto a mooring. Toucan, who arrived here last week, welcomed us and brought a few cold beers over. Now the clouds are shifting and the sun is coming out and we ready to head ashore to clear in and find somewhere nice for lunch!
Thank you people of Palmerston for an amazing week! We have never felt so welcome anywhere. There is a good weather window for Niue so we are about to take off and should get there by Monday morning.
The other boat that was here for a few days (Florestan) left this morning. We were keen to get going too but couldn’t leave without saying goodbye. Today was also the end of term party at the school to which we were invited along. The kids were tasked with making an outfit or a useful item out of recycled goods. The results were impressive! A village feast followed with delicious food. We felt very privileged to take part.
Imagine a small atoll in the middle of the South Pacific inaccessible by plane or ferry. There is a stunning turquoise lagoon surrounded by numerous motus. Only one is inhabited: Palmerston or “Home Island”. Sixty-four people live on this tiny patch of coral and sand a mile and a half long. They are all descendants of William Marsters and his three wives, or married to one of the descendants. Islanders have to be self-sufficient: solar power provides energy, rainwater gets collected in huge tanks, the lagoon provides fish; the motu supplements with chickens, pigs and there are plenty of coconut trees interspersed between the magnificent mahogany trees that could only have been planted by Marsters the ship’s carpenter. Other food staples have to be imported from Rarotonga by supply ship, which stops by two or three times per year. In return the inhabitants export parrotfish once a year at a value of 15 NZD a kilo at point of sale, the islanders’ return is 2 NZD a kilo!
The only visitors are the occasional sailing yacht that stops here en route from French Polynesia to Tonga. Every time a yacht approaches the atoll, there’s a race between the islanders. Whoever gets to the yacht first has the right to host. Being a host means you bring the “yachties” ashore, feed them lunch, show them around the island and act as their main point of contact. There is no charge for any of this but in return yachties give bits of unused rope, anchor chain, alcohol and tobacco.
We approach Palmerston very early on Saturday morning. Goodley and his son Ned happen to be out fishing and they welcome us and help us tie onto a mooring. They don’t normally act as host so pass on the message to Goodley’s brother Edward who calls on the VHF a bit later and then comes out to meet us along with Arthur, the island administrative officer, who clears us in. They apologise for not getting to us straight away but as it happens we caught them on a busy day: the annual bosun bird (a local delicacy) picking day on a nearby motu.
We are brought ashore and shown around the island. We stop at the local school and meet Rose who is an English teacher on a 4-year visit here. She and Martha (who is from Fiji) are the only two “outsiders” who live here. They both love the island. We meet several other villagers and everyone is welcoming. We are offered lunch, coffee, cake, and ice cream. The kids play with the local kids and can’t be happier.
Back at the boat we are treated to a daily whale show. The atoll is home to a humpback whale colony and right now it is breeding season. Every evening just before sunset they put on a show with plenty of tail flapping, breaching, puffing and rolling around. It’s an amazing privilege to watch this from our cockpit. We also see pods of dolphins that are hunting for fish and several turtles that are looking for a mate.
The following days are busy. We go ashore in the morning and go to school. The kids are welcomed and after introductions the globe comes out and Tyrii explains about our trip and how far we have travelled. There are lots of questions and the boys stay in the junior classroom for the rest of the morning. School finishes at 12.30. The afternoon is spent playing while I chat to the women and Seathan gets stuck in helping fix things. The word gets around that Seathan is a handy guy who can fix things and knows something about electronics and soon there is a list of requests for him to have a look at: a failing washing machine, a faulty TV, a malfunctioning printer at the school, a jammed gas bottle, a broken water pump…
We are the only boat here and it is the most intriguing place we stopped at so far. A sociologist would have a feast here: descendants of Masters’ three wives and their families survive as entities in their own right; all on one small island with all the necessary drama and commotion. It’s fascinating and we don’t want to leave just yet. Tomorrow another boat is expected to arrive: Belgian yacht “Florestan” we met in Aitutaki. At least three Marsters are keen to act as a host so the race is on! Stay tuned for part two ☺
Our passage from Aitutaki to Palmerston was 200NM and we expected to arrive in 36 hours. The first 12 hours went perfectly according to plan: a gentle breeze just forward of the beam and average speeds of 7 knots. Then the wind dropped completely and, apart from a brief spell during the second day where we had the sails up for an hour or so, we had to motor the rest of the way. One night turned into two and in the end it took us 48 hours before we pulled up on a mooring just outside this beautiful atoll. We enjoyed the passage for what it was though and marvelled at a totally still Pacific, something we hadn’t experienced so far!
We arrived here at 8am this morning and Goodley and Ned where waiting for us in their fishing boat guiding us towards where the mooring buoys were. A bit later Edward called us on the radio and said he will come and pick us up to go ashore. Can’t wait to find out what it will be like. There are two other yachts here (one German and one American) but both are getting ready to leave this morning so we will be all on our own!