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Suwarrow

The last time I wrote to anyone was from Bora Bora, in French Polynesia. We had a lovely time there, snorkeling, finding out the problems with collecting "live" shells (some of mine still aren’t cleaned out), met a lot of interesting people and enjoyed crystal clear water with fair climate. But all good things have to come to an end and we had to make Samoa before the start of hurricane season, so we weighed anchor on October 4 and headed west.

There’s an atoll in the Cook Islands that was almost across our path and a nice place to stop, so we made for Suwarrow, about the distance of 500 miles that took us a week to sail. Good winds then no winds then strong winds. Crazy!

Suwarrow National Park When we arrived there were four other boats in the lagoon and they had planned a pot-luck/fish fry, so we joined them. (Cruisers never go hungry!) The atoll is inhabited by one family placed there by the Cook Island government to stamp passports, keep people from cutting down the trees for heart of palm, and to maintain the "national park" made famous by a New Zealander named Tom Neale, who lived there alone from the fifties through the seventies. If you want to read a book that will let you know what it was like—and it has changed very little—read Neale’s "An Island to Oneself." I read it when I worked in the book swap in Gatun when we first moved to Panama, even before Bob began building the boat, and I had no idea we’d ever go there.

Anyway, the pot-luck (and the one we had just before leaving a week and a half later) was quite an affair. Fresh fish, lobster, and crab caught by the family and cooked over grills, native dishes and dishes-to-share from the yachties, fresh drinking coconuts. Polynesian music. Paradise! After we ate, the grandfather of the resident family, who had been fishing on the other side of the island, came to tell us about a turtle that had come ashore to lay her eggs. We all stumbled over the path in the dark ( less than ¼ mile) and watched as this huge turtle scrambled out of her hole and slid her monstrous body down the coral beach into the sea.

Suwarrow family We swam just about every day and snorkeled for spider conchs around the virtually untouched reefs. We saw Tom Neale’s house rebuilt because most of the original is gone, and picked our way around the main island where he made his home. We explored an island further around the atoll where birds nested, finding eggs by the hundreds (and leaving them untouched of course), huge frigate and tropic bird chicks in the trees and under bushes. Trying to look as inconspicuous as possible, we still sent thousands of birds into flight squawking and screaming and beating their wings just above our heads. At first we felt as if we were on the set of Hitchcock’s "The Birds," but when we realized there was no danger it really became exciting to watch. As soon as we left one area, whole groups would come back to roost on their eggs (so many eggs lying unprotected on the ground that we had to be careful where we stepped) and then the others would take flight. They almost seemed to spring from the ground. We waded in ankle deep water beside the island and were circled by two one-foot-long black tipped sharks! The only ones I have seen since we began sailing. They didn’t bother us, didn’t even try to take a toe (about the only thing they could have had), but we got out of the water fast! Turtles swam near our dinghy. Fascinating place! The most primitive we’ve visited. And nowhere to spend money so we saved a lot, too.

Suwarrow Atoll We left Suwarrow on October 22 and five days and 450 miles later arrived in Samoa. We had two good days of sailing (doing 130 miles each day) and three days of such calm we thought we’d never get anywhere. And then the last night we had so violent a storm we thought we’d gotten into the first hurricane of the season, but it was just a bad squall and later a good wind took us the last few miles into the harbor.

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