Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Island

Last night after my tea, Bruce came back and invited me aboard his Tayana 37 for a drink and to play cards. Their friends Danny and Angela from another yacht were also there and we had Tang Orange drink with a dash of rum while playing a card game that none of us knew but for which Marcelle had received the rules from a friend. So we had a great time, and when I got back to Sapphire I slept for more than six hours without moving.

Today has been an almost perfect day here at Suwarrow Atoll : very light wind, almost no cloud and a pristine lagoon and Island, and scattered islets on the distant horizon. I rose as it got light and before it got hot pulled out the dinghy and pumped it up on the fordeck, launched it with the help of the spinnaker halyard and attached the Outboard. I then had my coffee and cereal and fruit - my standard breakfast - and then just after Nine the two custodians of the island came out in the tinny to clear me in. This was when I discovered the second thing I had forgotten to bring with me when I returned to Sapphire exactly two weeks ago ; the first was the Battery charger for my Camera. I discovered it missing in Raiatea- the only solution was to buy another camera, a far inferior one but a camera at least, in Uturoa. The other thing I left behind were all my "Ships Papers" which of course the wardens needed to see. "There has never been a yacht here with no papers before" I was told, and as I listened to myself trying to explain what had happened and why I had no papers, I thought "My story sounds dodgy even to me" - clearing from Bora Bora and getting halfway to Suwarrow and then going back, putting the boat on the market and going to work in Australia and then changing my mind after three weeks and coming back, no permanent address anywhere, planning to leave in 48 hours, a Kiwi but I work in Australia but no permanent job, no partner and on the stern you could see where the name had recently been erased.....Lucky I had my Passport with the stamps in it!

They werent happy. I was embarrassed and apologetic but there was nothing I could do about it. I paid my $60 and they took what details they could and said they would check with Bora Bora but it would take several days. Apparently they contact Head Office in Rarotonga with the information and it is their job to follow it up. "But I want to go on Friday" I said. And they replied that it was up to me but if I left I wouldnt have clearance and they would issue a Report to all Ports of Entry in the South Pacific that David MacFarlane and Sapphire have left without Customs Clearance from the Cook Islands. My God, I started to feel like a criminal on the run.. In one way, it all seemed absurd overkill - even way out here, the long sticky tentacles of Bureaucracy were unrelenting, but then again they had a job to do. And it was my fault for having stupidly forgotten to bring back the folder with all my papers in it. Normally I would leave all that sort of thing on the boat but I had taken everything off the boat when it was "For Sale" In the end instead of blowing a gasket I told myself "Its just Paperwork - what the Hell, it will get sorted eventually" So I shall sail on Friday if the weather is right, clearance or not and go through the whole embarrassing mess when I get to Niue. At least there I will have access to the Internet and can download my Australian Registration, and hopefully sort it all out without too much fuss!

After they departed I went ashore to explore the island, which is about a mile long and 200 yards wide. It is covered from shore to shore in coconut palms and dense undergrowh. I tied my dinghy to the "Jetty" which is a 10 yard finger of rocks with a narrow mostly broken concrete path along the top of it. I am not sure if Tom Neale built it but he certainly repaired it numerous times because it is often wrecked in the cyclone season. Its a very rudimentary structure. On the island, and invisibly hidden away a few meteres inland is a collection of huts and shacks, the newest of which looks quite recent, almost Chalet in style with an elevated second story and an open area underneath. Signed and fading Flags of many nations, along with T-Shirts and various other mementoes of yachts passing through are stapled to the beams supporting the floor above, and theres a large old table and an old bed and some shelving in this open plan sort of Office/ Living area for the custodians. They dont use the upstairs part because its too hot. The whole place looks like a ramshackle sort of camp site. The building said to be Tom Neales "Shack" is sadly run down but obviously also over the years has had various additions and alterations so its impossible to be sure whats original. In one of the rooms theres a Book Exchange - there were lots of paperbacks in German and other non-english languages, but of the many in English none caught my eye. Just outside, by the path from the beach to the shack a concrete statue representing Tom Neale and an engraved slab of concrete crudely recording his life and dreams for Suwarrow are the only obvious evidence or reference to his years here. When I asked one of the custodians about him he shrugged saying it was a "pakeha" (white fellas ) story, nothing to do with him or Rarotonga.

The custodians, Harry and Anthony ("Ants") had to cook on an open fire, had no electricity, and were more or less camped out in this semi derelict compound. I later heard that when they were dropped off here for their six month spell, which ends in December, most of their belongings had not been loaded, the gas for their cooker and various other basics were left in Rarotonga, and though promises were made to promptly resupply still nothing has happened. Apparently even the Satellite Phone is barely useable, so maybe my Criminal Behaviors wont be broadcast to the entire South Pacific after all!

I continued past the buildings and emerged on the other side of the island, the side facing the Pass into the lagoon that faces the prevailing wind. A jumble of broken coral sloped down to the reef and the ocean beyond, The tide was low so I walked out onto the reef and inspected marine life in the pools - it was fascinating to look at pristine wilderness, sea slugs everywhere, live coral, tiny fishes and coloured algae. But it was searingly hot in the bright sun so I steadily fossicked my way around the island till I got back to the are near the jetty. Several large hammocks were permanently erected between various coconut palms so I climbed inot one had my lunch and did some reading. There was no-one else on the beach but dinghies could be seen in the distance as yachties went diving and snorkelling and swimming at various recommended spots. It was quite wonderful resting in the shade there.


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