Saturday, 5 August 2017

Guest Blog - Peter and Sue

Guest blog by Sue and Peter Wood

27 August AITUTAKI (Charlie's Island)

Salon Calliope
Arriving late morning, we anchored on a deep narrow coral shelf, fringing the reef, outside the one "Arutunga Pass" on the west of the island. A huge shallow blue lagoon stretches south/southeast surrounded by eight or so motu
(tiny islands). This one pass, blasted by the US military in WW2, well-marked through the coral, allowed a draught of 5.5 ft - not for Calliope! Despite our flying the Q flag, officials seemed uninterested in our arrival so, anxious to secure scooters for the weekend, we went ashore regardless.

With Charles and Nicky "two-up" and Peter and I solo, mistrusting each
other's scooter skills, we enjoyed "sundowners" at the 5 star, beautifully manicured, Pacific Resort, at the NW tip of Aitutaki. Well equipped for exploration on Sunday, we could not help but be drawn to the Cook Islands Christian Community Church, belting out their Sunday morning
Cook Islands Christian Community
Halleluiahs, raising the rafters, causing "goose-bumps" and even a
tear of overwhelming emotion - a sound we will never forget.

With 50cc engines protesting, we climbed 400 feet to Peraki Lookout for a stunning 360 view of this gem and its motus. A circumnavigation revealed cultivation of bread fruit, pineapple and coco, a "golf course" next to the airstrip, many abandoned shacks, several rugby posts, a community of kite
suffers and, as we have seen on many of these Polynesian Islands, family burial sites in the back yard.

We were excited to find Charlie Wood's house ! "Mister Charlie" (Peter's son), spent six months living on Aitutaki as an 18 year old, teaching in a primary school and drove the local troupe of traditional dancers and fire eaters around in a minibus in the evenings. It is so much easier now to
imagine his life here and enjoy all the places as described by him 7 years ago. We had brought a photo of Charlie and five of his pupils and found a young boy who knew two of them.

More traditional singing awaited us that evening; not put on for the benefit
Aitutaki church singing competition
of tourists, of which there are few, but an island just getting together.  We dined at the Pacific Resort, celebrating Charles and Nicky's 34th wedding anniversary with delicious food and fine wines. Congratulations!

On Monday morning the wind shifted suddenly so it was time to go. We watched a small Swiss yacht fail to lift anchor, snagged on the coral, with much damage to windlass and bowsprit. With a masked signaller in the water (Charles) and Peter on helm, we eventually un-snagged our wrapped chain and were free - next stop, Palmerston 198 miles away to the West.


Measuring 6 miles by 4 miles, this atoll surrounded by lagoon and about 24 small motus (one of which is called Kiss Me Arse, was first inhabited by William Marsters, a Lancashire sea captain who settled here in 1862 with his three wives he had acquired in Penrhyn, one of the other Cook Islands. Over the years he fathered 26 children and divided the island into three segments, one for each family, with strict rules on marriage and inheritance rights. He was, and still is, referred to as "Father" and English was the decreed language. His original home, built from shipwrecked timbers
(destined for Australian goldmines), still stands. Coconut palms cover all the islands and a handful of mahogany trees in the centre stand majestically. Their timber is used for construction. Just 50 people live on
Bill Masters' grave and eight generation Henry and Matilda
the Island now and, thanks to a gift from Queen Victoria to the original William Marsters, they own the island outright. They claim to have recently turned down an offer of $30 million from a rich Brit.

On arrival, each yacht is greeted by one of the three families who act as water taxi, tour guide and host, in our case seventh generation Bob Marsters. They are very proud of their history and keen to share old stories about their forebears.
Parrot fish fillets are exported by refrigerated
ships, three or four times a year, earning as much as 27 NZD per kilo when sold to restaurants and hotels in Raratonga. Bob claimed that they export 10 tons of fillets per year which at 27 NZD equates to about £180,000 or £9000 per person on the island.

Bill Marsters' house built from shipwreck timbers
Martha, a qualified nurse from Fiji, is the only medical personnel on the island, dealing with newborn deliveries, dental extraction, diabetes, heart disease, defibrillation - you name it, she does it! We asked her how long she would have to wait for help in a serious emergency; nineteen hours, she replied without any hint of worry !! Supplies were plentiful, the drug
cupboard well stocked and a new delivery of 4 wheelchairs sat on her veranda. Martha also doubles as the Health Official and came aboard to spray our boat with insecticide from bow to stern.

The school, modern but roofed with plaited banana leaves, is well laid out and seems to have everything it needs including two young South African teachers. The 14 pupils, aged 5 to 19, follow a home-schooling programme, so they mostly work independently. We enjoyed spending time with Bob's youngest children, Henry 4 and Madinia 7.

Despite their laid back, almost comatose, attitude to life the Masters families seem exceptionally adept at getting money and gifts showered on them. Witness the brand new solar power station, brand new medical facility, street lights, broadband/telephone, brand new water storage and in particular two full-scale JCB-style diggers donated by China.

Regular hurricanes pass through Palmerston, most houses having large concrete blocks buried underground with shackles attached. The corrugated tin/timber houses are then lashed down by rope to these blocks, in an effort to keep it from being totally flattened by the 80-300 kn winds. Our
contribution, an old halyard, was gratefully received.

Bob Marsters and traditional boat
Despite Palmerston's completely isolated position, wifi is available to all, street lamps line the coco avenues, many examples of western packaged food are evident and the lunch served to us on both days included no local ingredients other than parrot fish fillets. This was particularly remarkable and in stark contrast to Mopelia where we saw the hardworking, totally self-sufficient people of Polynesia.

The snorkelling was amazing ! Fifty meters from Calliope we swam to the reef finding parrot fish 60-70 cms long, the iridescent blues and greens unreal, huge Napoleon fish, three different types of shark, immense Grouper (150cms) emerging like dinosaurs from the pass. At one point, alone in the water, only 20 m from the boat, Sue was surrounded by 5 or 6 six sharks and an enormous menacing "Barry Barracuda" - she admitted to being genuinely frightened for the first time this trip and shot up the swimming ladder in 1.2 seconds!!

We left feeling that this stunning gem of an atoll felt "strange". Incest is prevalent, marriage only banned to siblings, a lack of aim, and dare I
say, an eerie unhealthy and quite odd feel to it.

Much reading has been done on board - Peter is on his 10th book, which is more than he usually reads in a year. Sue and Nicky have been sewing,
creating a top out of a sarong and a dress out of material Bron brought back from Africa. A sewing machine would have been helpful, but we had time, so didn't mind backstitching. The finished creations were much admired by other yachties.

Food supplies on Calliope are holding up well (gin and wine less so, though we don't drink on passage). The fish we were given as a thank you for glasses in Maupiti has been made into fishcakes for lunch today. It will be good to find more greens (salad especially) in Niue, now less than 100NM
away; the market in Aitutaki was disappointing, though it did yield some tomatoes and carrots.
A new meaning to small government

Some great sailing and far less motoring than we feared would be necessary
-" altogether a right old romp" ( quote Peter) !

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