The Siren of Palmerston

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Sun 19 Aug 2018 01:45
18:2.8S 163:11.6W

Best laid plans of mice and men, and all that, during the same satellite telephone session we used to send the last blog post ‘Missing the Cook Islands’, we downloaded a new weather forecast.

No wind for two days - ‘Harry flatters’.

The wind had died the night before and it hadn’t been much fun, and even less sleep, as Caramor rolled around in the swell, directionless, mast rattling.

Helmsman Aries was ordered “sharp turn to port” as we set a course for the moorings at Palmerston.

Palmerston Radio were not answering and we later found out they were busy unloading the supply ship, so we called Bonaire, a sailing yacht that overtook us a few nights ago on their way to Palmerston.

“Yes, there are three moorings left ... but you’ll have to make your own mind up.” Bonaire replied.

As we approached, Palmerston Radio called us. A man with an impeccable kiwi accent told us that Simon would meet us at the mooring and help us get settled.

Simon was waiting in an aluminium skiff at the end of a very long mooring line, buoyed by five or so floats. I steered Caramor, and Franco picked up the mooring. We seemed to be very close to the barely submerged reef, and neither of us were happy about it. Simon explained:

“You tie two lines through the mooring, leaving enough slack so that the bridle clears your anchor.” 

I noted that he didn’t sound as ‘kiwi’ as the guy on the radio, though I’m not sure he sounded ‘Gloucester’ either.

Franco asked “what happens when the wind shifts?”

“You end up on the reef.” Simon replied, honestly. “So I suggest you drop your anchor onto the bottom, that will slow the swing.” He added.

This didn’t sound good. In steady Trade winds from the east, the wind would hold you off but the forecast was for very light variables. In fact the weather pattern we have seen the last few days rather suggests that the South Pacific Convergence Zone, usually further west, has stretched down to the Cook Islands. Like in the doldrums (the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone), there is a risk of squalls, from any direction. This was Franco’s main concern.

A mooring with enough scope that you can end up on the rocks is not a safe mooring, and the suggestion of adding the anchor didn’t appeal to me at all. I had visions of tangled line and chain, just at the moment you needed to get away. It probably didn’t help that I’m reading a biography of Cook and in the last chapter, one of the sailors drowns, “tangled up in line and chain as he tries to retrieve the anchor”. It wasn’t at Palmerston, but still.

Simon told us: “Rest a bit and think about it.”

The thinking took all of thirty seconds. The log reads:

“1525 - Picked up a mooring at Palmerston Atoll.

1535 - Sailed away from Palmerston.”

Looking at the mooring field, the seven moorings are laid more or less in a straight north to south line. The reef, however, does not run parallel, it curves out from the fourth mooring. Our impression was that the four most northerly moorings are clear of the reef, but the last three aren’t.

As we sailed away, another yacht arrived. ‘The Siren of Palmerston’ on the American catamaran called them up. 

“You’ll be fine on the mooring, it’s misleading, the reef is a lot further away than you think.” It wasn’t what Simon had told us. 

Much later, we heard the skipper from the American catamaran call up the newcomer. We could only hear one side of the conversation.

“You need to drop your anchor, otherwise you’ll swing onto the reef.”

“ ...”

“Yes I know mate, but don’t worry, it’s what we’ve all done.” By then night had fallen. It sounded like the local guy who had assisted this yacht hadn’t been as candid as Simon.

The wind did die but so did the swell (mostly), Caramor is sailing ‘goose-wing’ and vaguely heading in the right direction at 1.7 knots.