We were surprised by the number of boats we met that crossed the Pacific and made French Polynesia their western-most destination, heading north through the Line Islands to Hawaii, and back to the west coast of the United States. Dominic has a pal he went to sailing school with who departed San Francisco in December and just left Maui to return home.
We can see the temptation: the Cook Islands are a tricky bunch. The islands are spread far and wide and are single islands as opposed to archipelagos. Aside from Rarotonga, the capital, and Penrhyn, the most northerly island, the anchorages are all a bit dicey. Generally speaking, they don’t offer great protection from anything but the prevailing tradewinds, so after sailing a few hundred miles to get there, one has to be ready to get underway at any moment, or risk a wind shift that sends the boat colliding with a reef. It’s not unheard of for New Zealand-bound boats to skip the nation all together and head straight to Tonga.
But, the weather forecast looks consistent for the foreseeable future (about 10 days), so we’re hoping to get lucky and have some time to explore this middle-of-nowhere nation. We’ve been blessed with excellent sailing conditions since leaving Bora Bora on Friday morning: 20-25 knot southeasterly winds, a moderate swell that has mellowed as we’ve been underway, and skies that have been sunny enough to keep us upbeat, but cloudy enough to keep the cockpit shady and cool. These have been the most consistent conditions we’ve seen since leaving San Francisco—we’ve trimmed the jib only a handful of times in four days—and we’ve been cruising at over 6.5 knots despite the minimal effort.
There have been a few small moments of excitement: on Saturday morning the swell tipped the boat 30 degrees, dumping me out of the windward settee and dousing me with a salty wave (the cushion I was sitting on came with me, through, so no harm done), and on Sunday afternoon we crossed paths with a pod of feeding dolphin. Dominic has been assembling our Jordan-series drogue, an emergency break for sail boats designed to slow the boat in foul conditions, which involves splicing a few hundred fabric cones into a 300 foot length of line. I’ve been delighting in endless reading time and experimenting with swell-friendly yoga poses, and the only affliction between the two us is a little bit of boredom. It’s odd the trimmings of our working lives that have yet to completely fade; the tedium of being underway that may grate us on Saturdays and Sundays seems like a decadent luxury once our watches read Monday morning.
The other excitement we’ve experienced is a change in destination. We had intended to visit Suwarrow, a small atoll in the north of the Cook Islands, but our friend Derek aboard Asmara Sky heard us check in on the SSB net and warned us against it. He was recently there with his family and told tales of relentless mosquitos, aggressive sharks, park rangers that had exchanged hosting cruiser barbecues for enforcing a slew of new regulations, and paperwork that rivaled visiting India by boat in the 1990s (he blogs about it with great humor at www.theseaissalt.com http://www.theseaissalt.com/). A little bummed to miss out on the nesting frigate and tropic birds Suwarrow has to offer, we rerouted towards Palmerston, a small atoll in the middle of the Cook Islands, in the wee hours of Saturday morning.
Though the winds are predicted to fade over the next few days, with any luck we should arrive in Palmerston around the middle of this week. The atoll has unique geography and population, and one of our buddy boats is headed there as well, so I’m sure we’ll be able to find an adventure or two along the way.