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Our enthusiasm sparkles in the previous blogs. But occasionally, even in the Pacific, things can go against you and we end up in a place where it is less fun than we thought. To be fair, now also a report of a setback.
Suwarrow is an atoll in the Northern Cook Islands. On our way to New Zealand we traverse the Cook Islands area so it makes sense to visit at least one of these islands. You have to choose between the northern islands or the southern ones. Suwarrow as a special destination in the north OR Palmerston, Aitutaki and the Beveridge reef in the south. A difficult choice because both are interesting and special. We chose Suwarrow because of a number of very favorable descriptions of cruisers that have visited Suwarrow before. Suwarrow is an uninhabited atoll that has been granted national park status and the day-to-day business is overseen by two park rangers. Because Suwarrow is so remote, the two park rangers are dropped off with supplies at the beginning of the season to be picked up again after eight months. The park rangers are like jacks of all trades; they keep an eye on nature, clean up washed up mess, clear visiting sailing boats, and so on. Previous cruisers reported that the park rangers were super suitable happy people with whom you can have a lot of fun and who would also take you on an excursion, go fishing with you and in short ensure you have the most pleasant stay possible. What we unfortunately realized too late is that it is actually the park rangers who can make or break the stay at Suwarrow and that not every year the same park rangers are allowed to do the honors ...
If a crossing were an indication of what awaits us at the destination, we could have known: This was our most unpleasant crossing ever! There was too little wind to sail with conventional sails, the wind was too dull on the first day to sail with the Parasailor, our course was not a nice line but a strange zigzag course. Sometimes we had no wind, then again a big squal, the wind turned in all directions. It looked like a sailboat: Reven, unscrewed, sail there, pack the sail again, try Parasailor, the wind turns the other way, so back in the bag that Parasailor and the jib roll out again. Now the wind is turning again, so just jibe. This went on not only throughout the day, but also during the nights. Moonless nights that is, because somehow we are always just ready for a crossing during the new moon. Did I mention the waves? We had such rotten cruising seas that Ilona became seasick for the first time in her sailing career. The last two days of the crossing the wind "stabilized" in a light headwind of about 8 knots. Now we can cruise against the wind, but then there really has to be enough wind. But with a headwind of 8 knots you just don't get started. So exhausted and frustrated we gave up, put up the sails and continued on the engine. Now that sounds nice and relaxed, but sailing on the engine also brings certain inconveniences: Without sail pressure, the movements of the boat become much more intense because the movements of the mast (and therefore the boat) are no longer caused by the pressure in the sail. is slowed down. Diesel engine drone that rapes the silence of the ocean and the occasional diesel fumes that are blown back towards the boat by the wind do not really contribute to the sailing experience.
Tired but very happy to be there, we sail into the atoll of Suwarrow. "Hello park rangers, here sailboat Detour. We just came in, shall we come and do the paperwork?" Ilona calls cheerfully over the VHF. "We are coming to the boat later, you have to wait until we get there." is the answer. We are again a bit closer to the equator and the sun is burning mercifully on the boat and because there is no wind and we are still standing still the temperature is rising quickly. The clear blue water around the boat beckons. "Okay, park rangers, I understand that we are not allowed to go ashore yet. But can we swim around the boat in the meantime? We could use a little refresh!" "No, you have to stay on the boat until you are cleared" is the less pleasant answer. A long time later the park rangers come on board. Among other things, we have to make a list of all the alcoholic drinks we have on board. Until now we have never had authorities on board and filled out such a list somewhere at a counter, if necessary. Because the purpose of such a list is to combat gray imports, from countries without excise duty to countries with high excise duties. But cruisers do not usually import liquor: they use their supplies for themselves and what is left goes with them to the next destination. It would be a bit crazy if you had to pay excise duties again for a bottle of rum bought in the Carrieb in every country you subsequently visit. Everyone knows this and normally a statement of 1 bottle of wine and three cans of beer is accepted with a wink. At least until now. Because once the list is ready the park guards, Harry and Pae, find that they can search the boat for a while. We are not really beer drinkers and therefore have little beer on board. But when there are three more cans of beer than specified, they want to confiscate those cans! They also think three bottles of wine is too much. Admittedly, deep down in the hold there is a lot more contraband, but it is all about the principle, isn't it? We are also talking about an uninhabited atoll so why "import"? Ilona blinks her eyes and says laughing but urgently "that's a joke, isn't it?". It has an effect and we do not have to hand it in, but it is made clear that they now "have something credit". Ah, that's how the game works .. Other cruisers who arrived a few days ago turned out to be less successful, they had accidentally given up half a carton of cigarettes too little and they really had to hand them in. The next day they saw one of the rangers smoking that brand ...
When the screening is ready, the park rules are made clear to us. We are not allowed to independently go to the other motus because rat control is going on there. There is poison on those motus to combat the rats that do not belong in this area and that threaten the local ecosystem. I don't fully understand why we should not be allowed to come: "I don't smuggle rats in my swimming trunks and I pledge not to eat the poison" I explain but the park ranger doesn't see the humor in it. We are also prohibited from fishing, diving, or other types of water sports. Hmmm, so there is not much left to do here actually. We are allowed on the beach of the main island where the rangers live, which is right in front of our anchorage. It does look cozy with some seating furniture and two hammocks made of fishing nets. Because the stories about excursions to other islands are still fresh in our memory, we enthusiastically ask whether that is possible. They don't look back enthusiastically and the son, Pae, shouts "six pack beers!" and he keeps repeating that to other questions from us.
We are lucky, because the other boats (most of which we know) let us know that there is a "sundowner" on the beach at 5 pm. Everyone brings some drinks and some snacks. The time is a bit early for a sundowner because the sun doesn't set here until 7:00 pm according to "Cook time", but yes, there is not much to do here, right? It will be a pleasant evening but unfortunately all these boats leave for the next destination the next morning. We stay behind with the Flemish boat "Vaguebond" that arrived at Suwarrow at the same time as us and the boat "High flight" of an elderly German couple that is recovering here from pneumonia that the man contracted after an immune-weakening vaccination in a hospital in Tahiti. The German couple is quiet and they do not participate in the food on the beach because they prefer to eat at midday. The next day we are alone with Vaguebond and for the first time in a long time we talk (sort of) Dutch with others! It is going to be fun but at 10 pm Pae shows up to tell us that we have to get back to the boat. It is Sunday and that is a day of rest and ... Well, logic eludes us, but we are a guest here and if it is custom here that you are no longer allowed to have fun on Sunday evenings after 10 p.m. then we have to get on it so we go back to our boats without grumbling. How strange that we Westerners have forced them into the Christian faith and that they are now coming to tell us what the Sunday rules are ... ;-)
In the meantime it has become clear to us that some things have changed at Suwarrow. The acclaimed "Suwarrow Yacht Club", the lower floor of the service building, has been disbanded and turned into the personal space of Harry and Pae. Despite repeated requests for a tour, the park rangers do nothing as they say they are not "tour guides" and unfortunately they are far, far too busy. Whenever we see them they are either sitting or sweeping the grounds. We also suggest that we would like to help clean up plastic on the other island, which unfortunately is plentiful there, but they say they are too busy and seem to find it more important to rake leaves off the sand. It just depends on what your priorities are. Snorkeling in the water also turns out to be less fun than expected: we are constantly being stalked by sharks. Not only because of the harmless black tips, but also gray sharks and they can be dangerous. We are now used to the black tips that just swim by and pretend they don't see you and avoid any confrontation. But the gray sharks are different: they swim straight towards us, make exaggerated movements which indicates that they are irritated and as long as we climb back into the dinghy they will keep circling the dinghy for half an hour. The boat is also teeming with sharks: we often count as many as eight sharks that swim within two meters of Omweg and apparently have learned that cruisers sometimes throw food scraps overboard. Usually they are just harmless black tips, but that too can eventually become a bit too much.
The next day a new boat called "Donazita" arrives. The park rangers are immediately annoying and demand that the boat hoist the yellow flag that indicates that they have not yet been cleared. It is of course a measure that is especially useful in large ports where the overview would otherwise quickly be lost. There are only three other boats here and everyone knows who the new boat is. But the yellow flag is raised obediently and the boat is then cleared. To good practice we continue the tradition of the previous boats and we invite the crew of Donazita for a sundowner on the beach.
When we arrive at the beach it appears that the seating furniture has disappeared. Of course we are not dependent on seating furniture because on most of the islands we have seen there is nothing but a white beach and then we bring a blanket or something similar. But now we had counted on the seating furniture. It's a somewhat rainy day and maybe the park rangers have put the stuff inside? That would be thoughtful! We are going to check with the park rangers. Harry immediately reacts irritated and says that we are not allowed to be on the beach every day and that we have to ask permission for this every day over the radio. Well, that rule is unknown to anyone but we are nevertheless urged to return to our boats. Astonished we walk back to the beach to pack our things, but just when we are there a heavy downpour breaks loose. We take shelter under a palm tree, until a few minutes later Harry arrives, completely overwhelmed. We have to get back to our boats, NOW !!! We still try to argue that we are doing exactly that but that it seems normal to us that we can wait for the shower, but Harry only gets more angry, screams and names us, Pae comes over and eagerly joins in. They threaten physical violence and they are strong men! Because of all the intimidation we leave the beach in the pouring rain. This was the first time that Donazita was ashore and also the last time. We and the crew of Vaguebond also want nothing more to do with Suwarrow. Unfortunately the weather conditions are not suitable for departure so we will have to stay a few more days. We all make a good time together and we now keep the daily sundowners on each other's boats.
The whole event is somewhat reminiscent of (the filmed) psychological experiment in which a group of volunteers is divided into a part "prisoners" and a part "guards". Because the prisoners have nothing to say and the guards are not subject to control, the guards come up with different rules every time, just as it suits them. Things get so out of hand that the experiment has to be stopped prematurely. Harry and Pae have introduced so many rules that are nowhere described that the cruisers are actually not allowed anymore and we wonder if the authorities know what is going on here. Suwarrow is remote about 1,000 kilometers from the other Cook Islands and the park rangers are dropped here at the start of the season and picked up again after eight months. Here they can go about their business completely undisturbed and uncontrolled and apparently not everyone is equally capable of dealing with the power assigned to them.
It is time for a bit of opposition. Via the shortwave radio I report on the situation on Suwarrow on the daily radio. A boat already on its way to Suwarrow changes its destination and is now heading for Niue. The news spreads very quickly and anyone who was planning to go to Suwarrow will hear from someone that there are some strange things going on. Great, now Harry and Pae can keep the beach to themselves, but they will have to explain to their superiors why the number of visitors (and thus income) is suddenly falling so sharply. In the meantime, we are also writing a letter to the authorities. We forward the letter by shortwave connection to a fellow cruiser who has connections with the Cook authorities. Here too the ball starts rolling; the other boats receive an email from the Cook authorities with questions about the state of affairs at Suwarrow. Good!
We know that there have been a number of other cruisers who have had a pretty good time in Suwarrow this year, even though almost no one was wildly enthusiastic. we were probably unlucky to have arrived at the wrong time, there may have been problems at home that could explain the rangers' behavior but even if the rangers would have been great we don't know if we would have come here again. Our experiences in the Tuamotus were great and Suwarrow is exactly the same kind of atoll but with all kinds of restrictive rules and frankly the snorkeling in the Tuamotus was much better! In addition, Suwarrow is a lot longer sailing and we missed Palmerston and Aitutaki and the Beveridge reef because we chose Suwarrow.
As can be read from previous reports, we almost always have positive experiences in a country and are received with open arms everywhere. That things are going differently now, well, it is apparently part of the game and it makes it all the better to arrive at countries where you are welcome as a guest. After such a mishap, you have another experience richer and you have something else to say, and later on you can only laugh about it.
After two days, the weather conditions are suitable enough to set sail and Suwarrow empties. We are all leaving for Niue, the smallest country in the world!