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Date: 11 Aug 2012 00:02:26
Title: Palmerston

Lat 18:02.82S
Lon 163:11.53W

Palmerston Island - looks similar to the Tuamotu atolls!


We arrived at Palmerston late on Sunday night. We radioed the village and were told to stay hove to offshore and call in the morning. Palmerston Atoll is very remote as you will see if you look up our position. It is surrounded by a barrier reef, with a lagoon in the middle, and several islets around the edge. Everyone lives on one island. The surrounding waters are very deep and the small amount of shallows off Palmerston Island are covered in coral, making anchoring problematic. The villagers have therefore set out 6 mooring lines for visiting yachts to tie on to, making visiting this island actually very easy. After shortening our sails and drifting along the west coast of the island during the night, we picked up a mooring early on Monday morning. We were quite surprised to find 3 other yachts there. We had a few hours to recover from our lack of sleep, but of course we didn't take advantage of that and jumped into the water for a snorkel on the reef under the boat. The visibility was amazing, and Mystic was moored directly over a 10m coral shelf that suddenly plunges vertically down into an abyss over 100m deep.

Palmerston island has an interesting history; William Marsters - an adventurous Brit arrived here in the 1860's with his wife and two of her cousins. He proceeded to marry both of the cousins too and between the 3 wives he fathered 21 children! All the inhabitants of the island are his descendants. There are rules about intermarriage between the 3 families (from the three wives) and villagers are encouraged to find wives/husbands from other islands in the cooks chain. They grow the usual coconuts, papaya, bananas etc, but their main source of income comes from exporting parrot fish to Rarotonga (the capital of Cook Islands). There are only about 60 people living on the island at the moment, of which half are children. They are well looked after by the Cook Islands government though, with a school, a new health centre, a telecoms centre that houses internet access and the only television on the island. There is a supply boat but it only comes every 4-5 months so they have huge freezers which they rely on to keep incoming food and outgoing parrot fish fresh. All the children attend the same school, whether they are 5 or 18 years old. Astonishingly, most women go to Rarotonga to give birth in a proper hospital, but because the supply ship only comes every 5 months, they basically jump on the first ship that arrives when they find out that they are pregnant, and don't return until the next supply ship returns after the baby is born. It's not uncommon for mother's to be away from the island and their family for a whole year while they give birth!!

We were welcomed by a man called Simon Marsters (all villagers have the same Marsters surname) who arranged for the customs and immigration men to come out to the boat so that we could clear in officially to the Cooks. Having not had to pay any fees to enter French Polynesia, we were a bit taken aback that it was going to cost us $85! We were only visiting for 2 days so it was quite an expensive stop! We had failed to get to banks in Bora Bora in time to get any New Zealand currency, but had thought we'd get it from the ATM in Aitutaki. Clearly we hadn't done that so we were now in a rather awkward position of having two officials on our boat with all the paperwork completed but not able to pay them! I swallowed my pride and asked the people on the neighboring boats if anyone could lend us $100 and we would pay them back in Niue. A very kind Dutch couple came to our rescue and we all got into the tinnie to be taken to the island. Yachties are not allowed to dinghy into the lagoon and have to be taken by Simon in his tinnie.

Our host, Simon


There was quite a lot of us as two boats had arrived late on Saturday and not been able to clear in until Monday morning, and one of them had a visiting family on board from the UK so all up we were 16 people! It was a bit strange to be surrounded by mostly Brits - felt more like a tour in a place we had expected to be with possibly one other boat! Still, it was really nice to meet some new people and they are all a good crowd who know some of the other boat crews we have met along the way. Simon took us ashore to his home, where a huge spread had been put on for lunch by the other members of his family. Lots of fish and rice and fresh coconut juice - typical delicious South Pacific fare. Simon told us about the island and answered all of our questions, and then his two sons took us on a tour of the island. At the school we met Rose, an English girl who is working there for 3 years teaching just one special needs student. It was amazing that the Cook Islands government could pay for such a position, just for one child. (and incredible that someone is willing to work in such an isolated place for so long after working in the UK!) We were also shown the Church, the grave of William Marsters and ended up in the lagoon for a swim before returning to the boat.

Simon's house and lunch


Palmerston Lucky School


Around the village


The idyllic lagoon


The next day the weather had completely changed and it was overcast with a few squalls around. We wanted to dive the wall under our boat, and on discovering that we had 2 full sets of scuba gear, Simon asked for Archie's help in replacing one of the mooring lines. Archie obliged and then we had another lunch at Simon's home, and I was able to drop off some colouring pencils for the school and some old magazines for Rose, as well as some tinned veg that she wanted that we were more than happy to get rid of! After lunch we went for our dive down the vertical coral wall, which was pretty cool - loads of parrot fish - they are all about 30% bigger here than anywhere else we have been, and a massive Maori wrasse which was bigger than me!

Archie helping Simon and his son David fix a new mooring line


We really enjoyed Palmerston - a completely different experience, it was great to eat and talk with Simon and his family, and understand their culture rather just enjoy the natural beauty of the island.

Next stop Niue in about 3 days time!

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