Farewell New Zealand, we fell in love …

We thought about this moment for so crazy long! Even with half her face hidden under a mask, and after nearly 3 years of absence, we SAW Maddi! A flooding of love was pretty evident in that small KeriKeri airport. Anyone with PDA issues must have fled the scene.
Travelin’ clothes.
After a protracted amount of clinging and crying in the airport, we drove a few miles to a cafe and continued with more of the same.
I pretty much always want to be an octopus, but would have especially liked more arms to wrap around Maddi on this joyous day!
We’d been watching the weather and had little time to get quite a lot of preparedness items checked off the list. Maddi jumped right in and sewed a tough sail repair.
Beautiful AND strong! (The repair AND Madison!)
Here we go! Foulies on, this is HAPPENING!

Passage to Fiji

Words we used to describe this passage upon arrival in Fiji when asked by the manager of Vuda Marina (pronounced Vunda): boisterous, lively, bumpy, rambunctious. Our passage was probably pretty typical, as good as you could reasonably expect from Opua to Vuda Point, Fiji. We left on the very day our fourth consecutive visitor’s visa finally expired! New Zealand took such good care of us throughout Covid, but the time comes when even the most charming guests need to be encouraged to abandon the couch and find some new friends. We departed on the end of a passing front, which meant strong (up to 42kts) SW winds kicking us on the tail. Diana posted these notes via Iridium to our tracker.

“You would have thought we were eager to leave NZ – the way Allora shot out of the gate and rode the tail end of a ‘low’ with 3+ meter waves and up to 42kts of wind! We’re now 24 hours and 175 nautical miles in, and the seas are showing a trend toward easing with the wind. Currently on a port tack paralleling our rhumb line. The guitars have just come out and “I Can See Clearly Now!” Highlights: bioluminescence, Albatross, slightly warmer temps and Maddi as crew (just one night watch each, woohoo!”)

Must have been strange for Maddi to have just flown in to NZ not a week before, and then to be sailing away? It was such a kindness on her part, to use her precious down time to help us get Allora to the tropics. As for us, this moment resonated somewhere deep inside and both Marcus and I processed this significant Aotearoa goodbye quietly. It was almost too big to put words around. New Zealand took dear care of us both.
Indeed, every time I looked at our chartplotter and saw the symbol of Allora inching away from NZ, and Haley and Liam, I felt a mini gut punch.
Conditions were big at the start since we left Opua on the tail of a system, taking advantage of the associated winds. When it’s like this, it’s time to connect with the rhythm of the ocean, not battle it. Maddi and Marcus tend to be able to handle just about anything the sea dishes up without needing meds. I was ‘patched’ up!
What a treat – hot cuppa tea, thanks Mad!

Passages are so good for the soul. Where else can we slow down quite like this? It’s almost a meditation retreat, with a little core workout thrown in!

Homemade Roti?! Oh, yes, we would, thank you!
Marcus rigging fishing lines since we were expecting a period of calm water.

We hoped for maybe a day of wind to push us along, but we were lucky as the winds held out for almost two. You hear about the occasional passage with wind the whole way, but the horse latitudes aren’t called the horse latitudes for nothing… well actually there seem to be a quite a few theories about why they’re called the horse latitudes, only a couple of them to do with the paucity of wind. The basic idea is that this is where the easterly trade winds peter out, but is also the normal limit of frontal systems and westerlies in the mid-latitudes. Makes sense if the wind is going to switch from West to East that there should be some dead space between. We motored for just under twenty-four hours (we thought it might be as much as two days) using our 80 horses to get us through. We’re not big on running the engine (the noise gets tiresome and makes guitar playing tough), but we did enjoy the calmer seas, and the increasingly warmer night watches.

Offsetting the sound of our engine with a little music on the deck.
Our Kevlar, light wind sail, the Code Zero.

Hard to get my fingers moving freely enough in the brrr, cold!
These two have always enjoyed conversation over early morning coffee.
Navasana – supported boat pose on a moving boat!
PhD thesis work in becalmed seas.
Nice to still be enjoying green crunchy things at this stage of the passage. One benefit of the cool temps!

On my watch, just after dawn, just as I was about to shut the engine off and rally the troops to hoist the code zero, the engine made a loud screech and shut down without any warning beeps or anything. What followed was a gorgeous day of sailing in light beam winds with the big sail out that was a bit sullied by time spent trying to figure out what was going on with the engine. We suspected a transmission problem as there have been signs of impending doom for a little while, but we didn’t want make things worse and break something further, by trying to start it up until we could eliminate the possibility of water in the cylinders. I exchanged a few texts with the Yanmar guy in Lyttelton, Brian, who by good fortune happened to be at his shop on a Sunday, and he talked me through what to look for. Our mechanically minded sailor friends Ian in England (previously mentioned in this blog as the man with a plan) and Mark from Starlet both responded promptly to our SAT phone email with gearbox advice that was invaluable. I’m sure anyone can imagine how good it feels when you’re hundreds of miles out to sea, to have friends like this to turn to. Later, the Fijian mechanic showed us pictures of the main bearing in the gearbox which had literally blown up (which more than explained the problem.) Why is a longer story, which I’m happy to share with anyone interested in the gory details. I promise not to take the fifth. Luckily, we didn’t need the engine until well inside the reef at Fiji. By some miracle it held together long enough to get us into the marina.

Not too fun to troubleshoot engine issues underway.

Such joy!
Maddi made an inventive, phenomenal curry tweaking an Ottolenghi recipe to adapt to what we actually had on hand. Memorable!

The rest of the sail, the wind was on the beam or just ahead of the beam, consitently over 20 knots with 3 to 4 meter very confused seas for the first day, which slowly moderated a little (though the wind did not) and became more regular.

Comatose, ear plugged and cocooned in pillows, Di utilizing the patented ‘foot hook on the lee cloth’ method, no pea would hinder this sleep! NEVER too many pillows!! There are no words to adequately describe the heaven that it is to be allowed your off watch slumber! Of course, with Maddi on this passage, our shifts were MUCH easier than our previous couple passages, so we felt seriously indulged.
Running the sheet for the code Zero from the bow back to the cockpit, Maddi’s also tethered to Allora along a ‘jackline.’
Music, music everywhere!
A splashy sunrise kind of morning.
I missed capturing the full wave over her head, but you can see the dousing on the cockpit floor. Mad’s coffee even got salted! Good Morning!

Maddi posted this note for Day 5:

“Poseidon has changed his mood, with boistrous seas catching us abeam and wind aplenty. With our course now set for Nadi, the Allora crew has spent the day either laying down or holding on tight. It’s incredible how tasks that were easy in the weekend calm have now become ludicrously challenging: making coffee, putting on pants… just want to take a pee in peace? Good luck! We keep thinking things are calming down, but perhaps it’s just our imaginations (and wishful thinking from unsettled tummies). Allora, for her part, seems to bounce joyfully over the boisterous seas, carrying us northward. The warm air, puffy trade wind clouds, and occasional flying fish among the leaping waves remind us that we’re back the tropics. We managed to brave the splashy cockpit for some music today, and only one of us took a full dousing! Heading into the night a salty crew, with gratitude for the wind and hopes for mellower seas tomorrow.”

Ok, this MAY be a re-enactment of the real scene, but it’s truly how we move about down below to avoid getting thrown from starboard to port!
Rigging the preventer so we don’t accidentally jibe!
Seconds later, I got swamped by a wave, but my inner super hero showed up and I saved the guitar!
We kept trying to sit on that side because it was easier, but time and time again, we’d get soaked! Time to get THERE – we’re getting punchy!
‘Land Ho!’ Always two mighty fine words!
Our track from A to B! We were hoping to make a stop at Minerva Reef (S), but the engine troubles made that a no go.

Though our speed through water was usually pretty stunning, it was all such a sloppy mess that our actual distance made good suffered. Still we logged a couple days over 170 miles, coming in at 7 days for the whole passage. After a rowdy, tumultuous, brisk and challenging ride, the calm water inside the lagoon felt surreal, the welcome song at the quarantine dock seriously touched our hearts and the Covid tests brought actual tears to our eyes!

Allora tied up at the Quarantine dock in Vuda Marina, Viti Levu, FIJI!!! It was here that about 25 crew came walking down to greet us, guitar and flower wreath in hand, singing their BULA welcome song! What a way to arrive in a new country! We had filed tons of paperwork before leaving NZ, then called when we were a ways offshore letting them know that we’d be actually arriving on this day, 7/7/22. We didn’t wait long at all before a series of lovely officials came and cleared us and Allora into the country. Quite a bit nicer than standing in those long airport lines!
We had to take a Covid test before we left NZ and upon arrival in Fiji. Once clear of that, we had biosecurity come and take any of the items I was silly enough to offer up (read: too many), we let go of some honey, nuts, grains and fresh vegetables … anything which could have pest issues. Being vegetarian helped, as they’d have confiscated our meat, too, if we had any. Customs and Immigration also made their stops and within about an hour, we were all cleared in, cruising permit in hand.
Miles and miles of smiles and memories – ta, Mad.
Vuda Marina (pronounced, ‘Vunda’). Lots more about this neat little marina in further posts. We ended up spending almost a month while waiting for our engine replacement parts to come from the States. During this time, we also secured a cyclone pit here for the upcoming season, from Nov. to April.

Maddi’s time in Fiji was already going to be pretty short, after waiting in Opua for weather, so we just couldn’t stand the idea of hanging out in the Marina, working engine or not, even though that would obviously be the prudent choice. We hadn’t seen the blown bearing yet, so blissfully ignorant, we decided that we would sail out to the reef for a couple of nights. We picked a spot that looked like we could sail onto anchor, and off, if we had to. Namo (our dinghy) was also standing by to push us along if all else failed. The wind cooperated (which is lucky because the engine quit again just after we got out of the marina and got our sail up), and though we didn’t have to sail onto anchor, we did have to manually drop it since the rough seas of passage had managed to drown a supposedly waterproof fuse box on the windlass. 

Our ‘Obi Wan Sknobi’ survived the passage!!!! She rocks! We had her in the gimbaled oven so she wouldn’t get tossed around quite as much as we did, since we heard they don’t like being ‘agitated!’ Who does?! Anyway, we are still able to have our daily Kombucha, yahoo!!! Scoby Doo!!!
We have 2 guitars, a uke and now a RAV VAST drum on Allora!
Another boat on a mooring off Namotu Island in the Mamanucas.
Namotu Island Resort has just 11 ‘bures’ and caters to surfers; the world famous ‘Cloudbreak’ is just offshore here. We watched some spectacular launches off these impressive waves and stuck to snorkeling with ‘not enough time,’ as our convenient excuse! This particular resort chooses to keep exclusive and they ask that ‘yachties’ don’t come ashore, while other places seem to welcome the extra company and business and go out of their way to be inclusive. Either way, we were free to enjoy the surrounding waters and just enjoy being on anchor in the fresh breeze.
Being on anchor at sunset is probably one of the most obvious things we missed while living in the marina in Lyttelton, NZ. It was sweet, too, but just not the same thing.
Maddi’s always keen to get on the paddleboard, making us glad we have it still.
Time to relax – after a lot of paying close attention to all things boat safety related. Thanks for being so mindful, Captain.
Thought she might go right on into the orange spot!

Maddi watched this Banded Sea Snake for awhile as it exhibited some strange behavior, almost trying to get aboard Allora. We learned later, they’re highly venomous, but generally don’t strike unless provoked. No temptation there.

The night before we had to take Maddi back for her flight, I woke up feeling pretty sick. Diana was feeling a bit off, too. She thought it was the rolly anchorage, I thought it might be bad food. By morning I was slammed. So Diana and Maddi brought Allora back without my help.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a scrap of wind, so they motored the whole way, with Diana in deep psychic communication with the Yanmar 4JH80, to keep it together until she could get all the way in the narrow marina entrance and tied up to the circular quay at Vuda. I watched from below – first the palms of the channel drifting by and then our neighbors’ masts as she wedged Allora into her spot, bumper to bumper with boats on either side. Flawlessly executed. We realize we really need to trade jobs now and then, just to practice for occasions like this. ~MS

The minute I pulled Allora in to the dock, I felt a flush of sickness and within minutes I realized I was actually quite sick, too. I kept thinking of that Rilke quote: “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going.” Maddi had to see her parents gravitationally challenged on her last day, and she was the only one who could ‘keep going.’ She tended to us with grace and positivity, then took a cab to the airport all by herself and was off, whoosh, back to Bozeman. Marcus tested negative for Covid and we both felt fine the next day so I didn’t even bother checking. Bizarre end to some sweet days. Go well, Mad. You are lit like bioluminescence and we miss you big already!

 

Abel Tasman to Waikawa Marina, Queen Charlotte Sound

Making our way from Bark Bay to Torrent Bay, Abel Tasman National Park.
The famous ‘Coast Track’ is along this route. Bark Bay has a hut and Torrent (also called Anchorage Cove) does as well. Took some adjustment to get used to other boats and civilization onshore!
And company on Allora!
We loved being greeted by the local birds! We thought about lowering Namo so we could hike a bit of the Coast Track, but found ourselves just being content as is.
In the channel at Nelson. We were appreciating our ‘soft entry’ back into the world of people, but the cool little town of Nelson drew us in. Marcus also walked a wheel barrow into town to fill up 3 jerry cans of diesel to be sure we had enough to get to Picton.
Nelson Marina. First time in a Marina since February when we left Lyttelton.
First order of business! EDIBLE GREEN THINGS!!!
Cool mushroom (need to ID all of these!) in the park on the walk into Nelson.
We’re not in Fiordland, anymore!
We only spent a quick couple of nights in Nelson – great town, but we were Picton bound with heaps of boat work on our minds.
The day we left Nelson the sea was insanely glassy and serene.

There I go again!

These fish farm buoys were in quite a few places in Croisilles Harbor, so we had to look around a bit before we found an anchorage without them. It was particularly noticeable, in contrast to Fiordland, the impact of human use on the environment, both land and sea.
Ended up in a spot called Whakitenga/Squally Cove, but it wasn’t!
Still the NZ bush just GETS me!
The smooth mud that came up off our anchor in Croisilles Harbor could be a wildly pricey spa treatment!
We had to poise ourselves the next morning to go through French Pass, the narrow gateway between D’Urville Island and Marlborough Sounds. It’s a tricky bit of water, known for its treacherous tides and currents; the pass has the fastest tidal flows in New Zealand, at up to 8 knots (4 m/s).
The lighthouse and lookout at French Pass. We actually arrived about a half hour early and went for it. This pic makes it look rather placid, but we did see 1.5 knots against us. Marcus ran 2400rpm’s on the engine with some serious concentration to stay out of the back eddies which have been known to spin boats in the wrong direction.
Nukuwaiata Island in Chetwode Nature Reserve sits at the entrance to Pelorous Sound. This was our last sweet stop before REALLY immersing in civilization and all the imminent boat projects.
It’s forbidden to step foot on the beach (the nature reserve is a predator free island), but I could kayak a loop around Middle Bay.
Cormorants and Fur Seals call this home.
The birdsong was spectacular here!

No lines to shore, just easily holding in 50′.
Read a really beautiful and important book recently called, ‘Islands of Abandonment,’ by Cal Flyn, about the resilience of landscapes when mankind’s impact on nature is forced to stop. It’s lovely, but also sobering.
Hard to see in this shot, but the morning we left, these two Little Blue Penguins swam right by and all the way around Allora!
On our way to Queen Charlotte Sound, we took a slow loop around Titi (Muttonbird) Island, another predator free Nature Reserve.

And still more Little Blue Penguini!
I watched Allora do her thing and felt so thankful for my life on the ocean…
… with this dear person.
After passing Cape Jackson, we gybed down into the opening of Queen Charlotte Sound.
Allora, resting at the temporary dock at Waikawa Marina, awaiting haul out. She’s worked so very hard to get here!
Waikawa’s just 4 kilometers from Picton, which is just 30 minutes from Haley and Liam!!!

The Kingdom of Tonga

Abstract taken at the wreck in Fonoifua.
The Te’ovala is worn by women and men and always by anyone who works a government job. This is the Customs and Immigration gal.

Woven belted mats, ta’ovala
worn over black missionary garb
maze of lifted islands pushed up by the Tongan trench
friendly islands, plotting Cook’s demise
faint volcano in the distance, a perfect cone
further south, the world’s newest island
space alien squid hovering by the swim step

The Bigfin Reef Squid are a short-lived species, with a maximum recorded lifespan of 315 days.

weekly troughs of rain and wind and gray
hard scrabble bottoms for the anchor
numbers for the anchorages keep sailors from learning the hard to pronounce names
everything at the Neiafu market is four dollars

In the Neiafu market/Vava’u. She dropped her corn cobb repeatedly and just kept munching on it – no issues about too little dirt in her diet.

fish and chips on a floating barge
God is Alive bar, blasting music across the still water
Ag festival for the King

©HRS
Ag festival finery

dead zebra sharks on display,
a temporary binge in the off limits fishing zones
people go crazy to show what they have

Mushroom Leather Coral.

soft coral, rocks and canyons, nudibranchs and filefish

Haley and Liam caught in a romantic snorkeling moment.

lobster, lobster, grab one if you dare

Longnose Filefish can alter their color and pattern to match their surroundings and deter predators.

outer islands, Ha’apai, people live simple lives

Fine mats are the most treasured possessions in Tongan households.

weaving, fishing, making babies

it’s a long boat ride to the nearest grocery store
power from a solar project paid for by Japan
kids play on the beach

This was fun till the tide came up to their faces!

leap from the trees into the sand
make toys of VHS tapes, decorating wood fences with shiny ribbon

sailing the flat water behind the lagoon
hove-to for humpbacks
whales sing as we dive

There goes Wyatt’s air!

high pitched songs, deep rumble in your chest
rolly anchorages, whale nursery anchorages, long beach anchorages

©WLS
Kelefesia as seen from Wyatt’s drone view = as sublime from the air as it was to be there!

coconut heart pancakes!

©MPS
Older, sprouting coconuts produce this rich flavored ‘heart.’ Not easy to extricate, but we make the most yummy pancakes using them!

Sleeping mom’s providing whale-sized nourishment using her Antarctic reserves
tail slapping to keep junior in line
rambunctious males, out for a good time
call mmmhhh mmwwwhmmm  whummmmmmh

©MPS

Cetacean society,
any whale who’s any whale is here

©MPS

Tonga’s the place to be, leviathan

©HRS
Well, Hello!

no predators, warm water, but no food either
what if humans vacationed the way humpbacks do

©HRS

on a diet
no Piña coladas, might just put cruise ships out of business
think of the savings in fuel!
~MS

©HRS
Nature’s bit of lovely!
Tidal flat art.
These beetles were around the size of a thumbnail and STUNNING!!!
The Hosea Primary School put on a cultural show as a fundraiser in conjunction with the Blue Water Festival in Vava’u.
©HRS
Astrophotography with an anchored (moving) Allora is a wee bit tricky – nice work, Haley!

We had all 3 kids (and Liam, too) visit over the course of our 3 months cruising around Tonga, so you’ll see some family faces among the locals:

Ghost Crabs are a hoot!

 

“Whales! One o’clock, Starboard bow! Not that far!”

There isn’t much about humpback’s that you can get “used” to
fin and back slipping above the waves
scale inspires awe
flukes waving goodbye, whispering into the drink
surge of whales on the move
juvenile males on a mission
shouldering water ahead of them as they porpoise on the surface
strange knobby heads rushing through the foam
in calmer water, a spy hop, slipping up to peak at YOU
soft blow of a sleeping whale
the sudden totally unexpected wild audacity of a breach
that always always comes out of nowhere
and again
young whale under the stand up paddle board
gripping the camera, ready to go under
calves in the anchorage, sleeping with Mom
arced above her head
curious little ones spy hopping by the stern
or practicing their breaches
flopping, silly half out
then the day they show everyone what they’ve got
~MS

(Rough camera moves, sorry, but the proximity had us sufficiently EXCITED!!!)

 

Suwarrow, A Nature Reserve

Mahi Mahi detail. Caught this Mahi-Mahi enroute from Suwarrow to Tonga.
LARGE coconut crabs are abundant in Suwarrow.

Our stop in Suwarrow was comprised mostly of hiding from 30 knots winds created by a squash zone from a gigantic 1044 high in the south with effects that had people digging in from the Gambier to Tonga. So we don’t have much to offer about what you might do there to enjoy yourself. What we found out was more what you can’t do, and after French Polynesia and the Tuamotos the list felt onerous. Here’s what the ranger who was running things in the winter of 2019 said:

No anchoring except at anchorage island by the ranger station. Period. 

No diving. Period. (Why?)

No fishing inside the lagoon. 

No going ashore on ANY motu in the park anywhere except the ranger island (supposedly because of their rat eradication program)

Technically the rules even dictate when you can leave through the pass (not before noon) though I have no idea how they think they would enforce that. 

There are more no no’s, mainly things you’d expect to be prohibited. At the bottom of the list, there’s a caveat that says the ranger can add anything he wants to the list, and the current Ranger took that to heart. 

That leaves snorkeling, pretty much, and nothing else.

Unfortunately, though this obviously feels excessive and extreme, the behavior of some yacht visitors has served to make the ranger feel more adamant about enforcing and expanding his rules. It doesn’t help that some people feel they have a right to harvest coconut crabs and even lament not having taken more when they found out they could sell them for big money in Niue. Or that some members of the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) showed up before the legal opening, trashed the place (according to the ranger) and left their flag planted on the beach. Suwarrow is a designated sanctuary and should be treated with the same respect as a national park anywhere. 

Because the forecast called for the possibility of SE winds over 50 knots we asked for permission to anchor in the better protected SE corner and were denied. Unwilling to test the ranger’s theory that the allowed anchorage would be safe (there is at least one yacht sunk on the NW corner of that tight anchorage with south exposure), we moved, despite his objections to the south east corner, invoking our right under international law to ‘safe haven.’ Our biggest concern was the 3 mile fetch that the allowed anchorage would be exposed to. The anchoring was very poor in the SE, with coral and bommies everywhere, but it was definitely a safer spot. If we did drag we had miles to react rather than the tight lee shore of the approved anchorage. This decision did not make us popular with the head ranger, but we felt we had no choice for the safety of our boats. In the end I don’t think we saw over 35 knots, but I personally would make the same decision again. 

We left as soon as it was over.
~MS

Underway.

9° south of the equator

“It’s hot here,” the Pastor’s lovely wife said with a smile, “it’s always hot. Sometimes you can see some flowers blooming and you know it’s Spring, but it’s always hot.” The village of TeTautua does not own enough cars to have much of a road so its houses tend to meander along foot trails, which double as scooter and motorcycle paths, a web centered on the imposing blue and white Cook Island church. Ungirded by streets, houses with deep porches, windows without glass, only tattered cloth curtains, lay scattered at random angles. You might forget to notice that there are no dogs (they have been disallowed by the island council, which makes everything its business). Their absence, as much as the haphazard city planning, creates the feeling of a ghost town, especially if the children are in school and the hot sun is broiling the gray coral gravel underfoot.

Hakono Saitu

The island is losing its population, slowly, people emigrating to bigger more populous islands, or New Zealand. Though there is an abundance of fish, there are few (maybe none) of the occupations that keep idle hands busy in even the smallest midwestern ghost town. In the big village on the other side of the atoll there is a nurse. There is a policeman, somewhere. There are teachers. But there are no stores. There are scant few gardens, a difficult enterprise in the hard limestone pavement that constitutes the earth of an atoll. There are thriving coconut groves, possibly the remnant of a copra operation, the kind that is still subsidized in French Polynesia. For a while there was a booming pearl farm business, which succumbed to cyclones and a disease among the oysters. Perhaps the mental, emotional, spiritual space that in North American suburbia is filled with cars and traffic lights, malls, donut shops, Home Depot and Costco, here is filled by the sea herself and the Cook Island Christian Church.

Takake Akatapuria
Tumukahu Marsters/Pastor

It’s no secret that missionaries did a number on the South Pacific. This is still one of the main places those white shirt and tie young scrubs in the Salt Lake airport are all headed. But it was news to me that God apparently doesn’t want you to fish on Sundays (I thought Jesus was a fisherman). No work, no play, no music, no swimming (sound familiar?). Like a friendly, island version of the Taliban, they take these injunctions seriously in Penrhyn and they made it their business to see that we anchored right by town to ensure that we weren’t off enjoying ourselves on Sundays doing the devil’s worst out of sight of the church’s two story pulpit.

Naturally, we were invited to church. Hats strictly required for women (strictly not allowed in Tonga) but definitely NOT permitted for men. Diana showed up with a beautiful head wreath from Rapa (made for church there) but here she was told she had to have a hat that covered the top part of her head (cuz God is looking down, I guess?). Long pants for men (in the tropics!), luckily Mike had a light pair I could borrow so I didn’t have to wear jeans. The Pastor’s white pants (God only knows how he kept them white) were unhemmed and about eight inches too long for him, so he walked on them, barefoot when he greeted us at his house and then under sandals for the service. He carried a bible, well worn with pieces of folded paper tucked among its pages, King James translated to Māori/Tongarevan, the language of the Cook Islands.

We arrived in the morning to find out that regular church had been cancelled because an elder woman, Mama Takulani, mother of 12, had died in her sleep early that morning. She had lived on Penrhyn her whole life, in this village of about fifty people, with barely one dirt road and about four cars to drive on it, no stores, no post office, nothing but a collection of very simple homes occupied by people who must know each other very, very well.

We gathered at her house, the palangi (foreigners) outside on plastic chairs to witness a three hour funeral, mostly singing, which seemed unscripted and improvised, arising spontaneously from the group of women seated on the patio floor. Men joined in, and the harmonies were unlike anything we’d ever heard, oddly discordant and complex, a fascinating mix of church hymns and Polynesian music, all the more intense as an expression of mourning. Speeches were given by men, long speeches, in the local language, with occasional acknowledgements in English to the visiting Palangi. The woman’s body was carried to the church, in through the left-hand door, briefly spoken over, then exited through the right-hand door. She was buried in a pre-built concrete crypt in a hole dug that morning by a backhoe outside her bedroom. She was covered with a tapestry and laid in the ground. It felt very odd to witness something so profoundly personal and significant for our hosts, though they went out of their way to make us feel welcome, and afterward there was a feast, with an insistence that visitors eat first.

The next Sunday (Father’s day!) respecting their local commandments and traditions, I did not fish. The first time that has happened since I became a father, 27 years ago. Instead, we went again to church to be harangued, mostly in Tongarevan, but also in English, by a series of men who (like the pastors of Rapa), utilized a hierarchically arranged pulpit (literally with stairs) to wield their authority. Maybe you need something organized like this on an island with nothing but turquoise water and sun and fish, to keep people from running amok, though it felt so out of place with the usual island vibe of very friendly, relaxed, open people. Singing provided some relief in the service, though the performance was more structured and a little more hymn-like than what we witnessed at the funeral. There’s a lot of this kind of singing in Penrhyn, all through the week, several times a day on Sunday. They grow up with this music, so they sing with passion and confidence and subtlety. The women often hold a hand to their face as they sing, and I wasn’t sure if it was to help them hear their voices (the way you might imagine Sting in a recording studio), or to hide their faces and wide open mouths. One young woman held a book that blocked most of her face. Afterward, there was another generous feast at the Pastor’s house, with pictures of the gathering of foreign visitors (representing several countries in Europe and North America) to be posted on Facebook.

When it seemed we would be on the island for another Sunday (waiting for a weather window to depart, and fishing) we decided we would skip church, but thought we’d better say something about our decision in advance. The Pastor seemed relieved (the unexpectedly large group of sailors must have been hard on his freezer, which would not be refilled until the next supply ship, months out). He did admonish us not to do anything on our boats, especially not swim, and seemed to joke (not sure here) that the sharks were in league with God and would enforce the no swimming on Sunday rule. Diana spent about five hours in the water cleaning our hull anyway, and lived to tell.

Though we chaffed at being required to observe the religious regulations of the island, presented to us as Law (which almost certainly cannot have been constitutional in a country governed by New Zealand) we were also overwhelmed by the generosity of their reception. Gift giving and hospitality is a pervasive and vibrant cultural practice throughout Polynesia, and they outdid themselves. We did our best to give back, too. And although the dogmatic Christianity was a tad stifling, we still managed to have some good connections. The Pastor was a bit of an odd duck in that way, at least for me, it was very hard to engage him in a regular conversation. His relationship to the visiting foreigners seemed mostly about the opportunity to give speeches and express the piety of his flock and the importance of his position as their spokesman.

We were the fourth boat to visit Penrhyn in 2019, but within two days there were eight more boats. Most of them part of a group of kid boats (that is, boats which have kids on them, who generally drive the social schedule), all loaded with school supplies to give to the children of Penrhyn. Liza, of the boat Liza Lu, is a teacher from New York whose class had started a pen pal relationship with Penryhn before coming. She had more postcards to deliver and spent time at the school helping the kids compose new post cards that she would mail back to her school. Our friends on Alondra, marine biologists with two girls, eleven and twelve, brought in microscopes and spent a day with the students peering at everything from fly eyes to butterfly wings and gecko toes. A huge hit. The boat ‘Panacea’ with Tuomo, Reka and their kids presented a slideshow about how they’d come to be there aboard a sailboat, and shared glimpses of all the countries they’d seen. The families aboard s/v’s Luminesce, Calle II, Itchy Foot and Caramba all participated, too, and Adagio’s crew were elemental helping with the mosaic. It was an unusually bustling ‘point in time’ on the sleepy eastern side of Penrhyn … ~MS