Monday, August 27, 2012

Update from Suwarrow

It must be a week or so since our last post and we are still anchored in Suwarrow - a remote atoll in the Cook Islands.

We have spent the last week snorkeling on reefs around the lagoon, swimming with the giant mantas, and visiting nesting bird colonies on the motus that lie around the edge of the reef. There is also an active social life here, with potlucks on the beach about once every three days. We organized a wine tasting a few days ago and have had some great musical sessions with the island care takers and cruisers from a couple of musical boats who have recently arrived.

The snorkeling has been amazing: visibility up to 30 meters, gigantic coral formations with fantastic shapes and colours, and many fish that are new to us because they are not found as far east as French Polynesia. The corals at 7 Islands rise like three story buildings out of 10 meters of crystal clear waters and you can swim through openings in the coral and weave your way between the buildings - a feeling much like flying through a Disney-created fantasy city. On 'Perfect Reef', we swam across the top of the reef in only a foot of water - a sandy coral plain strewn with bi-valves the shape of baseballs. On the edge of this plain, the reef plummets into an abyss providing a startlingly blue backdrop to large schools of greeny blue parrot fish. At a smaller reef between 7 Islands and Entrance Island we saw a Napoleon Wrasse as large as the one we swam with at Fakarava - over a meter in length.

The mantas have a 'cleaning station' on a reef close to the anchorage and we have visited them a couple of times. One of these is entirely black, without the usual white underbelly. It is also the largest we have seen at about 3 meters - a truly imposing sight. We will post some pictures of these that our friends have taken with their underwater cameras.

The bird colony we visited lies on the Gull islands near the entrance pass. The birds were not frightened by the arrival of a dozen people and we were able to view them without binoculars. We saw a variety of frigate bird, different from the 'Magnificent Frigates' of Mexico. The young birds develop a rather handsome russet head covering as they grow older. There were also tern colonies and a handful of red-beaked tropic birds.

We had a potluck to celebrate setting a new record with 21 boats in the anchorage. Harry and Ants (Anthony), the caretaker and his assistant, played and sang Cook Islands songs as well as popular tunes that we were more familiar with. It turns out that Harry was professional musician in New Zealand. He is an excellent guitar player and has a fine voice. Ants harmonized with Harry and became more and more creative in his vocalizations as the evening went on and the drinks continued to flow.

We organized a red wine tasting and a dozen boats and more than 20 people took part. Michael and Barbara on Astarte helped by printing out scoring sheets and bar-tending. The wines were mainly French and from the duty free shop in Papeete, but strangely, the highest rated wine was from California - a Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon. In second place was a Serame Cab from France, and in third place a Bordeaux.

We will probably be here until the middle of the week and then plan to sail for Apia in Samoa.

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