Ever heard of Aitutaki?

Tue 1 Jul 2008 23:48
Not unless you have been out here, or maybe you are a pub quizz superexpert. Aitutaki is one of the Southern Cook Islands, shaped like a fish hook, and with an outstanding lagoon. We decided to put in here en route for Tonga because there seemed to be some unhelpful weather up ahead, from which a day or two's rest would be welcome, and not really deleterious in terms of lost time. We are both so pleased that we made this decision, as the little Island has been quite perfect, and it is a great change to be able to speak English with the locals and officials: Practising French and Spanish phrases is all very well, but to really have a conversation you need to understand a language in some depth. The cost of living here is about half that in French Polynesia, which is also a very welcome change!!
Two days ago, I was feeling rather differently about things: We had endured a tiring night slowed right down to avoid arriving before dawn, and were then confronted with a very narrow pass into the lagoon (about 12m wide and half a mile long, boardered by shallow coral) with a very powerful outflow: quite the most difficult yet. There was probably 5 knots of current and with the engine reving like mad we manage about 7kts: so we were doing about 2kts over the ground, and negotiating eddies of current which threatened to push us first onto one coral bank, and then to the other. The pass is also very shallow, and at two points there was only 0.4 metres under our keel. Once in we had to find somewhere to park: to try to keep out of the way of the main approach to the small dock, we managed to get into a tight little pool of 'deep' water to one side of the main channel, and dropped the hook. Full of relief we congratulated ourselves on a job well done and gave a little reverse thrust to 'set' the anchor: Mr S-- intervened, it didn't hold, and within seconds the current had swept us back onto the the shallow patch of coral behind us. It proved remarkably difficult to get off. The crews of the other two yachts in the anchorage came to help in their inflatables. The larger took our mainsail halyard, to pull from the top of our the mast and tilt the boat sideways to reduce her depth. We laid out an anchor to the side, and pulled this hard with the windlass, and we set the sails to heel the boat and drive us forwards. The second dinghy pushed like Thomas the tank engine, and our own engine found itself working overtime for the second time in an hour. After several sharp intakes of breath Fleck lifted over, and then forwards and off. Second time around we anchored in deeper water, to hell with the fairway, it was after all the weekend!
Later that day I swam down to inspect the damage. As before (I am an expert at this now!!) there was little to see: just some very superficial scrapes which are unlikely to require even filling in, and which can certainly be left until Australia, or whereever!
Yesteday we rented bikes: less than 2 pounds sterling each, the best bargain anywhere on the trip. As usual we cycled round the island stopping to climb the highest bit (only 125 metres, but it was very, very hot) also stopping to buy coconut cake from a little cafe halfway round: 'Where are you from', said the owner. 'Off a yacht' we said. 'Where is it' he asked. We explained. 'Oh', he said, 'is that the one that was aground yesterday?'  With a population of just 1,800 I don't suppose that there is much that you could get away with around here!!
Our cycle ride was a delight, we stopped for swimming and for refreshments, arriving back at dusk to take in a game of rugby: odd rules like rugby league with touch tackling: this seems to be the preferred local sport, in contrast to the canoe racing on all the previous Islands: It is the Kiwi influence, for the Cooks are still governed from there, and the coins, some of them triangular, bear the face of our dear Majesty! Supper back on board was planned but there was a fish and chip shop opposite the bike rental yard, and we succumbed to tuna fish in Japenese style (sweet) batter, excellent chips, and a really good tropical salad: usual salad ingredients plus fruit. Less than four pounds each, eat in the garden surrounded by flowers.
Today we awoke to discover the price: both bitten extensively, despite the Autan. But well worth it. We are off on the tide this afternoon, having cadged 50 litres of drinking water from the Port Captain this morning. Next stop Tonga.
Richard and Vicky