Friday, August 10, 2012

Atoll Life

Suwarrow Atoll is in the middle of the Cook Island group – and really in the middle of nowhere. Part of the "Northern" Cook Islands it is a National Park with two rangers who call this place home about eight months of the year. They close it down during the heart of the Southern Hemisphere's tropical cyclone season (December to March). The atoll is nine by eleven nautical miles with only about 100 acres of land area on the very low - lying islets. Much of the land area as well as the fringing reef is awash during heavy seas.

The two rangers here now are Harry and Anthony (who calls himself "Ant"). They really are two very different fellows. Harry is very serious and official; Ant is the more social and fun-loving one. They came aboard Astarte after our arrival and were very nice. The Cook Islands, like many of the island groups we've visited, love their paperwork and there were plenty of various forms to fill out and sign. After we handed over our $50 US, got a receipt (quite unusual), offered a beer to our ranger guests, we were completed with the clearance formalities. We will hopefully get to know the rangers better over the next few weeks here.

Anchoring here was almost more challenging than getting here! The anchorage is a small area, near one motu where you are allowed to anchor – called appropriately "Anchorage Islet." It is surrounded by a coral reef but quite deep in most areas and there are bommies everywhere. Some spots have coral heads in abundance. And in other deeper spots – they are either harder to see or there are fewer of them. There are already ten other boats at anchor, so finding the perfect spot took us some time. Because we are in the midst of coral heads, we deployed our anchor float system. We are in about 30 feet of water, lots of bommies and running about 150 feet of chain. We had to do the anchor dance twice in order to get settled where we wanted to be. Michael than dove the anchor and was greeted by five sharks when he got in the water (where is "anchor boy" when you need him?)

The water here is wonderfully clear. You can sit aboard and watch the sharks swim around. Once we were safely anchored we took the "after six days afloat" deep breathe and relaxed. This is a spot that you can do just that – relax. It is incredibly beautiful. We face a sandy beached island filled with palm trees. There is crystal clear water all around in varying hues of blue. The breeze makes the temperature comfortable. The crashing of waves over the reefs is a pleasant sound and adds to the ambiance. This is a spot many of our friends have said "is the highlight of our South Pacific cruising." There are snorkeling spots galore around the various reefs – including one spot nearby that the manta rays regularly visit. And here, because the water is much clearer than Bora Bora – it should be even better viewing if we're lucky enough to see them. So we'll look forward to exploring what's beneath the water a lot while here. We will also hope to get to go with the rangers on some of the trips they provide to other motus (you can't go by yourself).

The boat is getting put back in order after the passage. It was a good passage overall. We sailed the entire way once out of the Bora Bora pass. Of course motoring into the one narrow Suwarrow entrance. We caught our first Yellow Fin tuna which is mighty tasty, and only lost one lure (unfortunately the one that brought in the yellow fin!) Something just bit it off as we were coming towards Suwarrow. The windvane "Otis" did most of the steering (about 95%) and he wandered a bit as is his style, but overall did okay. Heavy seas seem to be a problem for the Astarte and Otis combination, we think because we get tossed around the stern quite a bit with the following steeper waves.

We are settled into a little piece of paradise – and after a really good night's sleep, some boat projects, and a bit of cooking, we'll enjoy the company of our "advance team" friend's from SV Chapter Two tonight.

Life is good – sharks and all!

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