Due to light winds and a disabled spinnaker, our 5-6 day trip to Suwarrow turned into 7 ½ with an estimated arrival time at pitch black of night... 8pm to be exact. Goody - yet another round of night watches, bobbing outside the atoll waiting until the following morning for daylight to show us safely into the entrance.
Why Suwarrow? Well, Suwarrow is an Atoll National Park. The Cook Island Compendium tells of a fairytale-esque, uninhabited paradise that is compared to a "mid ocean Eden". "When cruisers die and go to heaven", one collaborator writes, "Suwarrow will be one of the destinations available to them." For us, it seemed like the perfect stopping place to rest up during the 1,150 mile leg from Bora Bora to American Samoa. And we couldn't resist the images conjured in our minds based on reports over the last 10 years. The impressive snorkeling and lovely sea creatures we would encounter, the delicious coconut crabs we would catch and devour over a roasting fire pit on the beach, the warm and friendly welcoming of the two rangers that are stationed there for 6 months of the year that would take us on fantastic tours of the area... the glowing reports of Suwarrow had us hooked!
Instead of flipping a coin (do we wait outside Swarrow for 11 hours or do we skip it altogether?), at 6pm and 12 miles away we called our friends on the SSB already anchored in Suwarrow for confirmation of availability and what they'd learned so far. (We had been staying in touch with each other same boat time, same boat channel since leaving Bora Bora same boat day.)
There was only one anchorage allowed for boats, our friends reported, and it was surprisingly small. Five boats were anchored already, but there was room (probably) for one more. The rangers are very firm - no longer are visitors allowed to explore the surrounding motus and islands, they told us. The rangers living there used to offer daily tours around the area, but do so no more. And so far, our friends told us, it cost them $50 for the privilege of dropping their anchor... a fee imposed on cruisers if they have not cleared from Rarotonga first... although many cruisers report being charged the fee even if they have... which, we understand, the rangers get to keep.
This disappointing dispatch - and knowing that just last week a beautiful sailboat (sv Amiable, with whom we were anchored in Bora Bora) dragged in Swarrow, hit a reef and is sadly a complete loss - was enough for us. We didn't blink an eyelash. The weather forecast was virtually the same for the next week. We would continue on to American Samoa without stopping.
Maybe Suwarrow used to be the touchstone of heaven. Maybe its unbelievable reputation has attracted too many cruisers over the last few years and the newer, younger rangers don't feel like putting much effort into playing host to so many visitors. Or maybe too many regulations and restrictions have lessened the empyrean experience. Who knows? Regardless, we are disappointed to have missed a taste of the Cook Islands. We should have chosen to visit Penrhyn instead – if nothing else, it certainly would have been a better point of sail... even without the spinnaker.
Meanwhile, a big "thank you very much" to the person who told Carolyne that there is a McDonald's AND Carl's Jr.AND KFC AND Pizza Hut in American Samoa. She chatters endlessly about what she plans to order and eat. She has monologued so much about it that even I am craving the taste of a salty, greasy Micky D french fry... except that I know I can't only eat just one. So much for the "cultural experience".
We arrived safely in American Samoa 8/18/2014 after 11 days from Bora Bora. We finally had to turn the engine on the last 24 hours. It was slow going as it was. And the Golden Arches beckoned from the anchorage.
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