Posted by: Carol | April 24, 2009

Clearing In to Penrhyn Atoll

2009 South Pacific

cbparker-d700-20090424-penrhyn-058.jpgWhen I talk about our “other life” here’s an example. A recent morning started with Mike in his bathing suit balanced on Raven’s swim step while I gave him a haircut using Rod’s electric clippers. All the while some five or six baby reef sharks meandered lazily near the boat stern a few feet away in water more turquoise than any swimming pool!

We left Bora Bora last Tuesday morning at dawn for our 600 mile passage to Penrhyn Island in the Cook Islands. Allowing 200 nautical miles per day, our goal was to arrive mid morning when the sun was at a good angle to help us navigate through the narrow lagoon entrance and spot the multitude of bommies (coral heads) that make for treacherous navigation in this part of the world.

Our first night at sea was squally, mostly small storms but with a show of lightning illuminating the clouds and occasional rain showers accompanied by gusting winds. The squalls show up on the radar screen, giving us a heads up rather than being caught by surprise. The only real excitement was the squid that flew through the open hatch in the pilot house landing in Geraldine’s lap on Rod’s and her watch!

Second night out the wind was so light the sail and boom flapped about uselessly until we tied them down; we spent all that night motoring and wallowing uncomfortably with the wind dead behind us and a cross current of big swells. The third night was a mix of occasional squalls, lighter winds and flatter seas. We were a bit ahead of schedule, so slowed the pace in order to arrive at the right time. That last night a bit more excitement when the boom vang broke during one of the squalls, busting a 3“ x 1” weld. The loose boom and dangling vang could have punched a few holes in the deck, hatches, or pilot house – but fortunately didn’t cause even a scratch of damage. However that ended sailing pending jury rigging a repair for the rest of our trip.

cbparker-d700-20090425-tetautua-025.jpgFor those of you who didn’t pay attention in geography class, an atoll is a necklace of low islands created by coral growing over the centuries to build a reef on the rim of an ancient (hopefully) sunken volcanic crater. Within the circle is a peaceful lagoon, while the outer perimeter is pounded by the surf of the Pacific Ocean. Tides and sea water create one or two channels that cut through the perimeter reef allowing an exchange of sea water rushing like a river in and out of the lagoon according to the tides, circulating the water and providing an adrenalin-inducing entrance for visiting yachts! Penrhyn atoll’s lagoon measures some eight miles up, down and across, a bit longer on the diagonal.

Friday morning when we cleared Taruia Passage into Dudgeon Bay and anchored off nearby Omoka village, we radioed ashore for clearance, meanwhile flying the yellow quarantine flag. Clearing in took all morning and well into the afternoon – and was quite a time-consuming venture. We had three official visits before all our paperwork was in order, starting with the customs inspector who checked out our passports and paperwork and took a tour of the boat looking for items that might incur duty charges or confiscation. Of course this is a source of entertainment for the inspectors themselves as few yachts come this way (Raven is the 2nd yacht to arrive in 2009, and last year only a total of 7 yachts visited Penrhyn). He was friendly and courteous but curious to have a tour of the boat, and quite willing to sit around, enjoy a coke, and chat. We finally sent him on his way with a Raven T-shirt, a frozen leg of lamb, and a bagful of treats for his grandchildren; also the loan of some DVD movies to be returned when we clear out for our departure.

Our second inspector was from the Department of Agriculture, on the lookout for food items on the do-not-import list. Another round of Coke, tour of the boat, and gifts – we finally had the opportunity to dispense our only XXXL T-Shirt as it seemed to be about the right size for this guy. He also traded us 10 liters of gasoline (to fuel our dinghy) for a coil of nylon fishing line. The supply boat from Rarotonga only comes twice a year and was last here in February – gasoline supplies are running low and we couldn’t purchase fuel for any amount of money.

Meanwhile each inspector charged a modest fee, but could only accept New Zealand dollars. We weren’t prepared for that, having only US currency on board, so had to do a little brainstorming before finally figuring out we could have funds sent from Tucson via Western Union. After several satellite phone calls which will probably cost more than all the customs fees together, we finally worked it out for my sister Patty to wire us the money – once she got through the line at the Safeway grocery store it was only 3 minutes before our funds were available to us here in the Cooks.

Of course that wasn’t the end of the story. To collect the funds we had to hike down the village main road some 20 minutes to the combination Telecom/Western Union/Post Office shack (with a big satellite dish on the roof). We arrived only to find it locked shut as the gal in charge had gone into town for lunch. We started hiking back when someone came along on a scooter and gave Rod a lift back to town to track her down while I continued walking. Shortly thereafter Rod returned on the back of another scooter, this one piloted by the Western Union girl (her name is Marianne) and accompanied by the local substitute police woman (Gertrude) also on a scooter. So I hitched a ride on the police woman’s scooter and we all headed back to the shack to claim our Western Union funds.

Once the paperwork cleared by way of an email and a couple of telephone calls, I was informed that they didn’t keep that much cash at the Western Union office, so now we needed to lock up the shack and all scooter back together to the bank to claim our funds!

The quest for New Zealand currency overlapped our third inspection by a team of two health inspectors – one of which was the Western Union girl’s boyfriend. The other, more senior, inspector turned out to be key to our visit, as he is patriarch and head honcho at Penrhyn’s second village, Tetautua Village, on the far side of the lagoon, population 56. That was where we really wanted to anchor, both for protection from the wind and swell, and for the better scenery. When all the formalities were concluded, he and the village preschool teacher hitched a ride on Raven to sail home to Tetautua for the weekend. By the time we dropped them off at the village via dinghy (to “woo-hoos” and high fives from the rest of the villagers), we had been invited to an assortment of weekend activites.

More later!


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