At anchor in Suvarov

It is now our third day in Suvarov Island in the Northern Cook
Islands. This atoll was discovered by the Russian ship
“Suvarov” in 1814. After the Cook Islands gained independence
in free association with New Zealand, the name was changed to
Suwarrow which is more in tune with the Cook Islands language.
The islands that make up the atoll have been mostly uninhabited
for hundreds of years. There is evidence of some limited
Polynesian settlement long ago, and the discovery of rusted
muskets and two chests of Spanish treasure suggest other
visitors. This place was made famous to sailors by Tom Neale, a
New Zealander, who lived here as a hermit from 1952 to his
death in 1978. Yachts camed to visit him during those years and
he wrote a book (An Island to Oneself) that was published in
many languages. We visited his simple shack on shore which now
serves as a book swap for sailors and an office for the
caretaker family that lives here six months a year.

Tom Neale

The island is a national park and nature reserve, and the
caretakers (park wardens) for the past three years are John and
Veronica and their four young boys ages 4 to 9. They come here
from Raratonga in April and leave about November 1. When they
are dropped off in April they are on their own until the
November pick-up.

John and Veronica

There are no facilities and the only way to
get here is on your own boat. This is now the peak of the
yachtie season as sail boats make their way west from French
Polynesia to Tonga and then eventually to New Zealand or
Australia for the typhoon season. Most boats take the southern
route through the Southern Cooks but the charms of Suvarov and
Samoa, plus the vagaries of the weather, lead an increasing
number to come through here. Most nights there is a fire on the
beach and a potluck in which John and Veronica participate.
Veronica makes wonderful coconut pancakes. The yachties also
give John and Veronica whatever fresh food and gasoline that
they can spare. We gave them frozen hamburger that they seemed
delighted to receive. John and Veronica go out of their way to
be helpful to their visitors, offering advice on places to
snorkel and best times to exit through the pass back to the sea,
leading trips to the other islands in the atoll, and just being
gracious hosts.

Laura and I are enjoying our stay here immensely. We swam
with the sharks yesterday — there is really no choice since
they are everywhere, we see them swimming around the boat.
There was this big black-tipped shark circling around us but he
never got closer than 20 feet. I have some great video of him
(with a nice toothy smile). Unless one has not just speared a
fish, these sharks have no interest in humans. Needless to say,
we are not spearfishing.

Black tipped shark

The water is crystal clear and the coral is beautiful and
healthy. That is what one should expect in an uninhabited atoll
with no other islands around for a few hundred miles, I suppose.
There are lots of grouper and other large fish in the lagoon,
not just the cute little tropical guys. We stayed up late to
watch the eclipse of the moon last night which was spectacular
here. The closest town (Pago-Pago) is about 500 miles away so
ambient light is not a problem. We are a bit closer to the
equator than Bora-Bora but it is still noticeably warmer than
anywhere since Panama. The water is like a bath. Fortunately,
it has been quite breezy so we are comfortable.


Tonight there is another potluck supper, plus those yachties
with musical talents are putting on a variety show. They just
finished a practice on “Fifth Season” and we are preparing to go
ashore for the show. There is always tons of fresh barbequed
fish and other delights. There are currently 12 boats at anchor
here (there were none last week when the weather was bad) and
many are planning to head west for Tonga and Samoa over the next
few days as the weather outlook for the coming week looks quite
good. Indeed, two boats left today — “Barefeet” with Erin and
Chris from our marina in Rhode Island, and “Ariel” a beautiful
gaff-rigged English boat. We had Ian and Cathy from Ariel over
to Sabbatical III for beers last night and heard some great
stories about crazy English sailors. They also offered
experienced advice about passage planning as they know these
waters and weather patterns very well.

We may leave in a few days and join “Rishu Maru” on a 520
nautical mile passage to Apia in Samoa. From there the plan is
to go to Niuatoputapu, the northern most Tongan island. Its
name is too hard to pronounce so the yachties just refer to it
as “New Potatoes”.