After lounging around in Bora Bora for a couple bonus days, re-stocking our ship’s stores and re-fueling Natural Mystic we were finally ready to depart French Polynesia, eight months, two visa extensions and 10 unique islands later. We were headed for the Cook Islands, but unfortunately for our readership I’m not inclined to say exactly which one, as the Internet makes it way too easy to search for surf spots, that deserve to stay off the radar.
It all started Thursday evening after a tasty little dinner of the cheapest lamb chops you could possibly purchase at 3 francs or 4 cents for a giant bag of about 30 of the eventually BBQ’ed tasty treats. Some wonderful employee forgot to weigh more than just the bag when packaging them up, they scanned at the register just fine and we all enjoyed what had to be the best meal deal ever in friggin expensive FP and couldn’t help, but think about how my good friend Pete back home would have been so proud, as previously, he as far as I knew, held the record for the best meat deal ever. When he fortuitously scored 10 pounds of grade “Prime” hamburger meat from Costco for a whopping 13 cents if I recall correctly. But there was still one problem that didn’t sit well with me, and it wasn’t my scrumptious dinner. Everything was ready for us to leave the next morning, but it was a Friday.
I’m not the most superstitious person in the world, but still there must be good reasons behind hundreds and hundreds of years of seafaring lore and superstition and one little bit of sailing superstition says, to never leave port for a voyage on a Friday. This superstition goes back for ages and thus far on our journey we have never left on a Friday and I just wasn’t feeling comfortable about bucking that trend and when Jessica said the Bora Bora Yacht Club kind of goes off on Friday, with live music and dancing, well my decision was easy knowing that seafarers of old must have reserved Friday for partying, reveling and all kinds of shindiggery, as there are no Fridays out on the high seas. So, prudently we hung out for one more day in Bora Bora and partied the night away, with Kahlil even borrowing a guitar and jamming with the band for a couple of crunchy tunes, that had the place rockin’ and rollin’! What a fun time and as the night wrapped up, we all said our good byes to Teiva and Jessica, the wondiferous proprietors and rested up or more aptly passed out, for the 700NM passage to the fabled Cook Islands.
Saturday dawned with gorgeous sunny weather and breezy trade winds in the low to mid 20’s from the South East, absolutely perfect sailing conditions. We cast off our mooring, headed out the pass, fully hoisting our main sail as we skittered along, then unfurling our screecher from the bowsprit and soon we were smoking along, on a perfect broad reach, with jamming reggae music pumping on the stereo, doing a steady 10-12 knots and surfing into the high teens constantly on the 6 to 8 foot trade wind swells. At those speeds it was only a matter of hours before the mountain peaks of Bora Bora, and then Maupiti disappeared below the horizon behind us and it was just ocean, ocean and more ocean once again for, as far as one’s eye could see.
It had been quite a while since any of us aboard Natural Mystic had undertaken a real open ocean passage of more than a few hundred miles and everyone seemed to feel a sense of refreshment blow over and wash through them, no doubt arising from salty breeze, the intense sound of water whooshing rapidly bye our two hulls and the feeling of unknown lands lurking just over the horizon growing closer. For me this passage somehow felt different from all the ones before it, even though the vistas of an endless ocean full of white caps and tropical puffy clouds reaching into the blue sky were identical to almost every other passage I have ever undertaken. I had a feeling like I knew this sea and our ocean with just a bit more familiarly than I use to, like I was visiting with an old friend once again and somehow anywhere in the world I could wish to go, seemed only just over the horizon, merely a short sail away with my friend. My life felt in rhythm with the sea and the wind, and joyfully I and all that is Natty M, blew on, downwind.
Well the good breeze kept up for a day and a half, and we busted out 250NM or so in 24 hours with barely any effort. Dom was now further away from any land then he had ever ventured in his life and feeling fine on his first ocean passage and just taking it all in. As time wore on and everyone’s watches went bye, the wind grew calmer and gradually it seemed the sea birds were changing, signaling just that. Darker Tahitian Boobies started to be replaced with new lighter colored Boobies and even white Boobies started to appear every now and then, rarely ever glimpsed in the Society Islands. And the further away we got from Tahiti the better and better the fishing got. Wahoo and Tuna started biting and finding their way aboard and into our stomachs. We were into the fishy waters once again and loving it.
By Monday morning the wind was now light, but still providing a good angle and we ghosted along making a steady 5 knots towards our destination until Tuesday dawned with no real wind to speak of and enthusiastically we throttled up both engines and charged the last 30 miles at full speed untill “Land Ho!” Was yelled. For, we were trying to make it to the pass by noon and by our calculations, estimated slack water at the reef pass.
Before noon on a blue skied, windless Tuesday we spotted the low-lying atoll from about 8 miles out. The highest point of land is maybe 8 feet above sea level on the entire island and the tallest thing anointing the sky are palm trees, so eight miles out is about as far as you can spot it due to the curvature of the earth. The atoll’s motus are completely surrounded by boat destroying reef and one such unlucky vessel even bestowed it’s namesake to the island.
Coming across the sight of land where it is suppose to be after three days at sea, while you never once saw another ship or any sign of human life even is always a welcome relief. Enthusiastically, birds flood the sky by the thousands, there are bait balls of fish boiling everywhere and as we approach the palm forested motus, the reef precipitously drops off to 6,000 feet deep, just feet from the barrier reef, crazy! Then Yellow Fin Tuna break the surface all around us, flying out of the water like stubby rockets, guided by their intense, high aspect golden fins. We try to capture them with our cameras and lines, but they prove almost elusive, however the joy of just seeing hundreds of 40 to 100 pound tuna jumping all around you is way better than even catching one.
As we cruised along the atoll’s pristine coastline, marveling at the beauty and unbridled nature all around us, we soon came upon the village and the pass into the lagoon beyond. Looking at the village from the sea, the village’s church is by far the most distinct man made feature of the island and a big clue the island is inhabited by some seriously devout Christians. I don’t think I will ever understand why these people so devoutly, even rigorously worship a religion, that was more or less forced upon them by a foreign culture, that tried to wipe out their own native culture and people and did so to an extent, but whatever they do and the result is a unique blend of ancient Cook Island Maori and Christian traditions the islanders keep fervently alive to this day.
There is very little swell running and the semi-narrow, shallow pass is found and navigated quite easily. We arrived with impeccable timing, just after slack water and with the sun high over head, illuminating the various bottom depths in their unique tell tail shades of blues and greens and the lethargically ebbing current just visible and distinctly marking the prominent coral features of the pass. Once in the lagoon we search for a suitable sandy spot to throw the hook near the pass, in the hopes of being closer to surf potential, but no such luck would have it. Coral and hundred foot depths everywhere around the pass and no nearby suitable anchorage. So, we embark on a self-guided lagoon tour that reveals just more of the same, absolutely no-good place to anchor. I spot a small fishing type open boat coming in the pass and it is sporting a big wooden cross mounted right in the middle of the boat. I can’t help, but wonder how crazy religious these people must be, but the boat guided by the power of god, weaves its way into the anchorage in front of the village, exactly what we were trying to avoid, but anyway we reluctantly trace the small boats holy path and chuck the hook in a more coral than sand bottom in 40 feet of water, after an exhausted Kahlil swimming down to the murky depths below multiple times proclaimed the bottom basically shitty anchoring everywhere.
So, with little fan fare from the island, I couldn’t even see a person and the small boat had long since disappeared, we were anchored in what I shall refer to warmly as Polynesian North Korea, for reasons I will explain later. I try channel 16 on the VHF and an English speaking voice with basically a strong Kiwi accent replied and said a friendly hello, whoo hoo no more French! The friendly voice proclaiming he would tell the immigration official we had arrived and in no time at all immigration was on the VHF, asking if we could pick them up in our boat, as theirs was out of commission. “Operation, go go engine dink mount,” was quickly executed by all able hands and soon we were on shore and I was meeting my first Cook Islander ever.
Ru was his name, not too dark a complexion, square features and solidly built, he was in charge of customs and immigration and was super friendly, happily smiling all the time and in no hurry to do his job what so ever. We ferried him out to our boat and we’re informed, we are the first boat of the season, they’ve had no visitors for the previous 6 months and are happy to finally see some fresh faces and what did those fresh faces have to offer? Questions of “Can I see your DVD’s and Fishing Lures?” and “Do you want to sell this or that were asked” and typically were replied with, “No, we need that.” So, with the cursory introductions, chit chat and promises to see “What we can do,” out of the way, it was on to the business of immigration paperwork.
This was the first time an immigration official ever processed the paperwork aboard Natural Mystic and it was basically standard. You fill the same shit out about you, everyone else aboard and the boat like four separate times, on forms that are basically the same, just formatted differently and BAM! The passports are stamped and fees paid, but wait no change for $100 New Zealand bills, so we’re informed we need to visit the island store to break the bill. Wait, your island has a store. What, your store sells beer, I think Kahlil, Dom, Dizzy and myself all deserve one of those for a job well done, so lets go!
And while Kahlil ardently stayed behind on anchor watch guarding our floating home from unseen peril, Dom, Dizzy and myself set off with Ru to explore and mingle with the island’s inhabitants for our first adventure ever in the Cook Islands. On a distinguished mission to buy a much-deserved beer. For the passage went smoothly, with no problems, no one sick or injured, never once having to reef or shorten sail, Dom popped his open ocean cherry and for the first time ever in the history of Natural Mystic we didn’t break a single thing during a passage, I knew there was something to that not leaving on a Friday thing. Cheers – Kyber