A New Landfall - Raratonga
There's something irresistably romantic about making a landfall at a remote
island in the middle of an ocean - and most of the Pacific islands are
pretty remote. Suddenly on that limitless blue horizon that hasn't changed
for days there apears a hazey outline. Slowly it
materialises into a distinct entity, a solid shape which grows and assumes
features and an identity, a unique part of Earth out in the middle of the
sea that has defined our lives for the previous days/weeks. And
on this isolated piece of land with its mountains, ridges,
valleys, woods, exists an entire society, completely separated
from the rest of the world, but for the ubiquitous aircraft, internet, etc.
; a handful of private citizens, a baker, a school teacher, a policeman, a
few fishermen, a
postman/mistress - and probably a few village drunks and a petty criminal or
two to boot. Every island is unique in its profile, its vegetation, its
people. It is still possible to feel some of the excitement of the early
explorers, and of being the first people to discover an island hitherto
unknown except to its indigenous inhabitants.
Raratonga is one such: a small ex-volcanic island of jagged peaks rising out
of water two miles deep, more than a hundred miles from its nearest
and that only a tiny atoll with a handful of inhabitants harvesting Copra.
Beyond that hundreds of miles of blue nothing. And here now are we. We
this afternoon at about 16.00 after a mildly frustrating passage from Bora
Bora. Our Swedish friend with the Jack Russell in Bora Bora was only
partially right in his forecast, but whatever his opinion on the weather and
the winds, the reality is that by hanging out for better he's now 500 miles
behind us. The first couple of days out from Bora Bora brought adequate if
not fresh winds, so we
rolled gently down the cobalt blue swells at about 120 miles per day, as
compared with the 170 we managed quite frequently crossing from the
Galapagos. Our third day was pretty quiet and we finished up motoring for
10 hours, but towards the end of it we raised the tiny island of Mitiaro,
135 miles NE of Raratonga, on the evening of 4 Jun.
Mitiaro has a population of a couple of hundred and it seemed to have a
discreet charm of its own, but it is gifted only with a landing place and no
viable anchorage, (the seabed rises from thousands of metres of depth to the
coral reef fringing the island). As the weather was completely quiet on the
evening we arrived, we came up with the wheeze of lying off the island all
night, drifting with no sails up, and going ashore in the dinghy next
morning while one of us looked after Ares. Great idea, but inevitably
during the night the wind returned, and Murphy's Law dictated that it should
be blowing onshore. By morning a landing was effectively out of the
question so we decided to cut our losses and move on for Raratonga. Sad,
but no real choice.
However by the time we'd finished breakfast the wind had already swung into
the west and soon after starting we entered a huge bank of heavy rain
squalls. Over the ensuing ten miles, in addition to the successive massive
dumps of rain, the wind went all over the place and when we finally broke
out of the squalls into clear weather, it had settled firmly in the south
west, precisely the direction we wanted to go. The rest of the day passed in
frustrating close hauled sailing in any direction but towards Raratonga.
Night drew on, and in the now failing wind Ares behaved abominably,
meandering waywardly about in the blackness like a common Glasgow drunk.
Midnight brought relief with a wind from a direction which would allow us to
steer directly for Raratonga at last, and this continued to a dramatic
sunrise (following the equally dramatic sunset of the night before). Sadly,
to get to Raratonga before dark necessitated motor sailing through 6 Jun,
though there was a lovely sailing breeze. And so we arrived in Avatui
The crew of a yacht already in the harbour reckon is the nicest island
they've been to yet. Certainly it looks lovely, and of course, we're back
in English speaking territory as the island is administered by New Zealand.
Tomorrow (Monday) is a holiday for the Queen's Birthday, so we may be here
for a few days, clearing Customs, etc.
Over the last week, Phillipe has settled in brilliantly and has cheerfully
taken a more than a fair share of leg pulling, On present indications we
have been lucky to find him. Does he feel so lucky to have found us, I
wonder? It would be fascinating to hear his unexpugated comments on the two
old crusts he has fallen in with, their perhaps rather inflexible ideas on
the running of a boat, and
their minimalist approach to the consumption of electricity, gas, water, and
most personally, food. Philliipe is evidently a man with a Gallic
appreciation for nosh.
So, the next few days will be taken up with exploring Raratonga, and after
that we plan to head west for 600 miles to Niue, an island about the size of
a Sainsbury's car park but with the status of an independent nation! It
will be fascinating to see.
Best wishes to all.