marooned on a desert island

Fri 30 May 2008 23:41
Position: 13.15 S  163.06W
Sue writes:
If you want to get away from everything, this is THE place. We arrived in Suworrow in the Northern Cook Islands Group on Tuesday, expecting to spend three days here, but an adverse weather report means we won't leave here until Monday Australia/NZ time. We're rather short of fuel, so we need good winds for the next leg of the journey. We'll actually bypass the next stop that the Rally makes, in Niue and go directly to the Vavau Group in the north of Tonga.
Suworrow is famous for being the island where Tom Neale, a New Zealander, lived for seven years in the fifties and sixties. Apart from his stay, it has been uninhabited, except for the Cook Island  warden and his family who live here for six months of the year--the cyclone-free months. During the Tom Neale years only one yacht would come here in a two -year period--and now a new yacht seems to arrive every day during the Pacific-crossing period--over 100 yachts in a season. 
We were somewhat apprehensive approaching the atoll, as there are lots of reefs and 'bombies' in passage into the anchorage, and we'd been told that the position of the island was actually a mile east of the position shown on the chart. Luckily several of the other yachts in the rally had arrived ahead of us and were able to reassure us that the electronic chart was accurate. Several yachts and fishing boats have been shipwrecked here, as we know all too well from reading Tom Neale's autobiography.
Nothing prepared us for the size of the lagoon. It's so large some of the islands in the atoll are over the horizon. There's absolutely nothing here except palm trees, thousands of sea birds and the very simple shack where John and Veronica and their four lively sons live. For the kids it's idyllic, swimming and fishing, absolutely undeterred by the many sharks cruising the lagoon. We usually have about six four-foot black-tipped sharks circling Storyteller, which means I'm not heart-broken that my leg hasn't quite healed enough for me to go swimming yet. I notice that John's swims off the boat are very short and fast!
The night we arrived, the Italian yachts in the fleet put on a wonderful pasta night on the beach, to which everyone was invited. As the only boat with lettuce on board, I contributed a huge green salad. We were very popular when we hooked our Nesspresso machine up to the island's generator and produced an espresso for nearly fifty people.  The Americans bought chocolate brownies, and Russians did something exotic with New Zealand lamb.That definitely would have been a first. It was a great night, made even better by the fact that John, the warden, pulled out his guitar, joined by two other good musicians in the fleet, one of them a young classical guitarist.  Listening to music  with the roar of the surf in the background, and the palm trees silhouetted by a brilliant star-lit sky, was an experience none of us will  ever forget. Being in this remote spot, all the nationalities have formed a really close-knit group--Cook Islanders, French, Italians, Spanish, Germans, as well as the numerically dominant Anglo Saxons. The language barriers seem to have fallen away in the four months since we all left the Caribbean. Everyone is short of supplies, but energised by their earlier culinary triumph, the Italians are collecting eggs and bacon for a gigantic Spaghetti Carbonara on the beach tonight. I'll use our last grotty banana to make Bill Granger's famous banana caramel pudding.
Next day, John, the warden, led a dinghy tour around the outer islands in the lagoon, pointingout the best snorkeling and diving spots. We all took giant rubbish bags to pick up the debris that had accumulated during the cyclone season. Two of the islands are home for hundreds of thousands of sooty terns. It is the breeding season and the ground is covered with fledglings waiting for their parents to return and feed them. Another island has coconut crabs in large numbers. The terns know this and they stay away as the crabs would eat their eggs.
Although we are in such a remote location, we feel very in touch with the rest of the world thanks to being able to receive Radio NZ and Radio Australia on the shortwave radio. It was heaven this morning to listen to Geraldine Doogue doing her Saturday morning program--makes us feel much closer to home.