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Suwarrow the Movie

Nod to Niue

As dawn cracks in Niue the resident dolphin pod has come to farewell us. They cruise through the anchorage in the unhurried manner of those who are truly at home. We leave with reluctance. We hoped for another week or more in this particular paradise but must leave this morning. The weather gods have decreed it. A random trough threatens to bring fresh westerlies to this exposed anchorage. When it does, life onboard will become extremely uncomfortable and landing impossible. Destination Vavau, northern Tonga. An hour behind and a day (in a chronological sense) ahead of Niue. Soon we will head ashore one last time, crane our dinghy onto the wharf with the public boat crane, explore one last chasm, surrender the rental, crane our dinghy back into the water, stow and set sail. With a small dollop of luck we will beat the westerlies to Nei’afu.


bye bye Beveridge

A brief cool-as visit it was. One other yacht on arrival. Six yesterday and three left behind today. We snorkelled on the various wrecks in the clear waters, incredible visibility and the best coral and fish we’ve seen so far. And It was cold! The water temperature was only 25 and at times the air was even colder.
We enjoyed sundowners and some spectacular sunsets with the other yachties, many of whom we will see again in Niue or Tonga. Dinah spotted some white water not long after our departure this morning to which we sang out “reef?…no. Fish? WHALE!” And watched on as a group of Humpback whales put on a brilliant show, breaching high into the air.

Niue is only 140 miles to the WNW so arrival tomorrow is definitely likely for sure. If there is fast internet available we will post some photos and maybe even some video.


Beveridge Reef

We arrived this morning to a rather grey day. Something big took our lure as we approached the reef so only one small mahi-mahi for the passage. The wind is from the south and it’s much colder than we have become accustomed to. The water is only 26 deg. Brrrrr! We share the lagoon with two other yachts. One from Brisbane, the other from France. We will all probably leave on Sunday to arrive in Niue on Monday. They don’t do Sunday clearances there. On arrival here we didn’t need to wait for the border control officials. Another strange feeling in an altogether strange place. As we look out over the anchorage all we see is the 360 deg line of surf on the reef and the sharks cruising the lagoon. They seem friendly. Maybe some swimming tomorrow. There is at least one old very broken up steel wreck here but no obvious sign of the catamaran that ran onto the reef last year. The steel wreck from long before GPS is understandable. The catamaran less so. However there is no official chart. The reef appears as a random out of position blob on the ocean charts. Visiting yachts rely on unofficial sources including Google Earth and waypoints reported by previous visitors. The reef pass is at exactly 20 deg south latitude and the line of approach is exactly east. Easy enough for most, if a little heart-in-mouth in poor light.


Goodbye to Suwarrow

Today we leave Suwarrow. At 10 we will raise anchor, wave goodbye to friends old and new and set sail for Beveridge Reef 500 miles and three days to the south east. In a week we will be in Niue. We leave behind an uninhabited atoll, a national park teeming with life. Ashore coconut crabs, hermit crabs and seabirds run riot. In the lagoon sharks, manta rays, turtles and a myriad of other fish cruise the crystal waters. We have had a great time but sadly it is time to go. Our fresh fruit and veg are down to a piece of pumpkin, three onions and a pair of wrinkly grape fruit so sadness is tempered by dreams of a crunchy salad in Niue. Other stores are also running low. The shopping list runs a full page. The good merchants of Niue have as much to took forward as we do.



Before GPS landfall had a delicious uncertainty about it. It was always a wonderful moment when land emerged from the sea more or less as anticipated. Now there is absolute certainty about your position. However in these remote parts of the Pacific the charts aren’t unerringly accurate. They can be up to three miles off. So the hopeful navigator becomes a cartographic critic and something is lost in the process.

Landfall still carries with it the hopes and fears of arrival whatever the mode of transport. This is our third visit to Suwarrow. The first was over thirty years ago when we found it with sextant and chronometer. Dinah still recalls spotting it after an exhausting stormy first trip. Just a tiny crewcut of coconut treetops on the horizon. The second was just 5 years ago on our return from French Polynesia. It holds its magic still. Here is a powerful romance evoked by the writings of Robert Frisbee, Tom Neale and others. Even Robert Louis Stephenson stopped here on his south seas wanderings. Then there is the treasure. Spanish gold was found on these isles and like all good treasure stories there is enough uncertainty for anyone to believe there is more to be found. An uninhabited south seas island with a Russian name. What more could a romantic sailor wish for?

Our greatest treasure so far has been the manta rays. About 1/2 a mile from the anchorage a large coral bommie seems to be a manta ray magnet. Each time we and our new friends have snorkelled there we have encountered three of these gentle giants. At least one is completely black. Others have varying amounts of white underneath. And the smallest have a wing span of 2 meters. They all fly serenely by ignoring the strange intruders in their watery domain.

As a new day arrives we debate our plans. Perhaps another snorkel with the mantas? A more adventurous dive amongst the sharks of South Reef? A reef walk at low tide to count the morays? A coconut crab hunt? Or a good book and a shaded hammock ashore? We will linger here a while yet. Of all the Cook Islands we have saved the best till last.



O’dark thirty this morning saw a sleepy eyed crew carefully manoeuvring in the blackness. Disengaging the anchor from the reef. Keeping space between Margarita and the uncompromising shore. Keeping a weather eye out for the unseen FAD. Course to Suwarrow set. And eating up the miles. Half way now. Tomorrow, mid morning we will be there. Who knows what old and new friends await us. Big day for Zoe tomorrow. Thank you to Jean-Marie Williams for the pork we wrapped ourselves around tonight. Tom Neale’s book “An Island to Oneself” about his time on Suwarrow is well worth reading.

D B & Z

Flying Fish

Each evening the men of Tauhunu village go fishing for flying fish. Two up in a 14’ tinny with a well used outboard. They zoom about, up to 10 boats at a time, in the pitch black just off the reef break. The fisher bow rides wearing a motorcycle helmet retrofitted with a bright-as LED spotlight. The helmet protects him from overly exuberant fish. He wields a long handled butterfly net and scoops up the fish drawn to the light. Down the stern the pilot nurses the outboard, flips the fish into a plastic bin and keeps just clear of the breakers. These people seem to have perfected techniques to collect all the available natural food resources with maximum ingenuity and minimum of effort while their cousins in Raro grow large on imported sugar, carbs and fat.

Dinah and friends oyster shucking

Pearl Oyster Au Naturel

The main, possibly the only, commercial activity here is pearl farming. Not your traditional white ones but prized black pearls. Today we dug out the Police/Immigration/Customs/Quarantine/Agriculture Officer. Once we told him we had cleared in Raro and come via Penrhyn he was finished. No forms to full out, no inspection of documents, vessel, crew, ships stores or cargo and no fees. Paradise found! Formalities over we invited ourselves to inspect his pearl farm. They were harvesting. We, actually mostly Bruce, asked a hundred ignorant questions and poked and prodded everything including oysters and pearls. It’s a surprisingly complex process which takes a lot of effort and patience. The island produces about 400kg of pearls per year. A lot of pearls but not enough to maintain their previously good standard of living in the current market.


Pearl harvest & seeding


Pearling sorted, the crew was desperate for an ice cream fix. Our new friends gave directions to the ice cream shop. Discovered but closed. Bugger! A good hours appetite improving walk later we returned. Choice! There was a scooter outside and the proprietor was in. A freezer packed full of 2L tubs of TipTop’s finest in every possible flavour was opened. Zoe took an age to choose. The whole freezer full nearly thawed while she hummed and hawed. The proprietor, recognising a true connoisseur, dropped the price from $13 to $10. Zoe, $20 note in hand, dived back in for another tub. So she wouldn’t confuse him with change she said. “Jelly tip” and “Neapolitan” in hand we retreated to Margarita and a late lunch of ice cream followed by ice cream with ice cream for desert.

Manihiki landing & anchorage

We have become more accustomed to our rolly and somewhat precarious anchorage about 100m off the breaking reef near the small dinghy pass. We have new confidence in the anchor but the wind still bothers. We need a long rode to stay attached. Long enough to swing us onto the reef if the wind changed. So far the trades are rock steady even with the occasional squall scudding by. However it can’t last forever. Before dawn on Wednesday we will prise the anchor free from its coral cleft and scoot 210nm south by west. The early start is imperative. We must arrive before 4pm on Thursday. In time to shoot the pass in good light and to celebrate a birthday on Suwarrow.

Once we leave Manihiki we will be off the grid for about three weeks. Until we make Niue. Just our trusty, slow and expensive Iridium Satellite connection between us and total e’solation.

Anchoring Off

Our expectation of making Manihiki in one sleep was slightly optimistic. The winds were as forecast – light and from directly astern. By dawn yesterday we had already run out of time to arrive before dusk. By sunset we had 37 miles to go and 13 hours to wait. We took down all sail and drifted slowly onwards. At 2.00am we saw lights, turned about and burned more time. Sunrise found us slowly rounding the northern tip of the island. Half an hour later we were off the Tauhunu Landing, a shallow narrow gap in the reef adequate for dinghys. A long southerly swell breaks on the reef while 100m off the water is over 100m deep. Zoe spots a mooring. It appears to be on the small side of sensible but we pick it up anyway and phone Jean-Claude, an old friend of Kim and Iona’s. Jean-Claude confirms our view of the mooring and directs us to the best anchoring spot, a small 10m deep coral rock shelf with breaking reef on one edge and fathomless depths on the other. The anchor holds. Soon we will snorkel over it in the crystal clear water and hopefully gain enough peace of mind to venture ashore when Sunday Service ends. The wind is offshore for now. If it turns we will be on the reef in moments so we must take it in turns to remain onboard. This is how it is for all 11 of the 15 Cook Islands without safe harbour. Once in Suwarrow we will have visited the other 4. Manihiki will definitely be our only “anchoring off” adventure and a short one at that.

But it’s not all anchoring off stress. Dolphins have greeted us as we wait and now we are listening to Sunday singing, courtesy of the offshore breeze.

Dinah, Zoe & Bruce

On to Manihiki

We left Penrhyn at 8am this morning for Manihiki and are rolling along on starboard jibe hoping for a fish. With a little more breeze we will arrive before sunset tomorrow. In time anchor off. There is no lagoon entrance.

All good. D, B & Z