Written by Cathy Siegismund
We left Bora Bora on Monday, September 10 at about 0930. We followed Wendy
and Garth on Velella out of the pass and said farewell to French Polynesia. We
hoped to have a nicer passage than Drew and Vernita on Layla and Paul and
Suzette on Altair did. They had up to 40 knots of wind and a good bit of beating
into steep seas.
Our route of the 540 mile passage from Bora Bora to
We had good passage, although I was queasier than usual due to having some
ear problems following my last two dives in Bora Bora.
We had a real shock during our passage, when while listening to one of the
morning nets we heard of the four plane hijackings and terrorist attacks on the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We were able to tune into Voice of America
and BBC radio broadcasts and follow along during the day.
By the end of the fourth day, it looked like we wouldn't arrive in Rarotonga
until a few hours after dark on Friday night. By my morning watch on Friday, I
had all the sail up and the motor on and had Felicity going over 7 knots.
After pushing the boat very hard for the last 12 hours, we arrived just
before sunset at Avatiu Harbour on Friday, September 14.
Approaching Rarotonga, Southern Cook Islands
The Cook Islands are an independent country with a free association with New
Zealand. The Cook Islands have their own government responsible for internal
affairs, while its international relations and defense matters are handled by
NZ. There are 15 Cook Islands with a land area of 241 square kilometers. These
islands are spread across 2 million square kilometers of ocean. The islands are
broken up into the Northern and Southern group and are located between the
Society Islands of French Polynesia and US Samoa. The Cook Islands have a
population of 16,800 people, 90% of which are Polynesian. Another 55,000 Cook
Islanders live abroad, mostly in New Zealand and Australia as Cook Islanders
carry New Zealand passports. The Cook Islanders are most closely related to the
New Zealand Maori in heritage and language. English is the second language,
spoken with a Kiwi accent, which we found charming and a huge relief after 9
months of Spanish and French. Rarotonga (Raro for short), is the main island,
population center, and Avarua is the capital city.
Avatiu is the only usable bay on Rarotonga, the only other one was damaged
beyond use in a cyclone that hit the island a few years ago. There is a fringing
reef that surrounds part of the island, but not much of a lagoon. We pulled into
Avatiu just before sundown. It is a tiny bay that serves both commercial
shipping and cruisers. One long dock is for commercial ships.
Small Freighter tied to wharf in Avatiu Harbour
There is a short quay (pronounced as "key") that houses the visiting cruising
boats. The quay will hold 12 sailboats. Multi-hulls have to anchor and stern tie
in a very shallow corner of the bay and large power boats and mega yachts have
to tie up on the commercial pier or raft to commercial vessels. The center of
the small bay has to remain clear for freighters to maneuver.
Quay in Avatiu Harbour
Velella arrived about 30 minutes before we did and got the last empty spot on
the quay. However, as two boats were planning to leave the next day, and no
freighters were due in, we were allowed to anchor in the center of the bay with
a very long stern line tied to the quay.
Drew helping us with our stern line
We got a very warm welcome from the other three Seattle boats (Altair with
Paul and Suzette, Layla with Drew and Vernita, and Velella with Wendy and Garth)
in the tiny harbor. We secured the boat, and then Drew picked us up in his
dinghy and we all took off for dinner and beers at the Ronnies the local pub. It
was fantastic to order up some fish and chips and a VB (Australian beer) in
English. We had a great night enjoying a bit of a pub crawl and talking to the
locals and visiting Kiwis. There doesn't appear to be any animosity or
segregation between the Kiwis and Cook Islanders, which we noticed between the
French and the French Polynesians.
On a more somber note, much of the evenings discussion was around the
terrorist attacks on the US. Having been at sea, Wendy, Garth, Ken and I caught
up on events with Drew, Vernita, Paul and Suzette who had been in Rarotonga for
a week already and had been glued to the TV and reading the NZ papers.
We had a good night's sleep and got up early Saturday morning to check into
the country and move the boat. We had a very painless check-in process with Don
Silk the harbourmaster. He was very helpful and like everyone we'd met here made
us feel welcome. We then stopped by the Saturday market, a short walk from the
quay to cash some traveler's checks and have breakfast. We then returned to the
harbor to give Med-mooring our first try with Felicity. Med (short for
Mediterranean) mooring is a way to fit the maximum number of boats onto a strip
of dock space. You drop your bow anchor, then back down, usually between two
other boats, into basically a parking space and tie the stern of your boat to a
quay. Our boat having a full keel backs like a wet bale of straw, so we were
happy to have help from the people aboard Excalibur, a 48' X-boat from the UK,
and our neighbors on the quay.
Some of the European boats we've seen have permanently attached gangplanks on
their sterns so they can walk right off the back of their boats onto the quay.
Being a double-ended boat with a windvane hanging off the back this wouldn't be
possible for us. We, as most of the other boats, just put our dinghies in the
water and pulled ourselves to shore with the stern lines.
Felicity, Layla, Tigger (a SF boat) and Altair stern tied to
the quay in Avatiu Harbour
Being on the quay, you also have access to some facilities we hadn't seen in
a while. There were showers with all the hot water you could use, water on the
quay which we used to give Felicity a much needed wash down, and a laundry
service across the street where you could drop-off your clothes for one-day
service for less than you'd pay to do them yourself in a US laundromat. We're in
We really cannot say enough about the wonderful people of Rarotonga. They are
unbelievably friendly, and have been very supportive to the American's visiting.
We often had locals telling us how sorry they were for the attacks on the US.
There were memorials along the main street and a collection for the US Red Cross
at the Saturday market - we felt that was quite impressive that a poor island
country whose minimum wage is less than $2 USD/hour was giving money to US
Photo by Vernita Lytle
Roadside Memorial for the victims of the US terrorist attack
Photo by Vernita Lytle
Notes expressing sympathy
Red Cross collection for the US at the Saturday Farmer's
Sunday we set off for some much needed exercise and to enjoy a 4-hour
cross-island trek over the interior of Rarotonga past a high rock outcropping
413m high called Te Rua Manga (The Needle). Drew, Vernita, Ken and I set out
from the quay. Another group of cruisers left shortly after we did and joined us
about half way through the hike.
Ken on the cross-island trail on Rarotonga
See more pictures in the Rarotonga Cross-Island Hike Photo
After our hike, we quickly got cleaned up and set off for a candlelight
memorial service for the US victims the Rarotongan's were holding in their
cultural center. It was not something done for tourists, as we only saw a
handful of Americans there. There were probably 500-600 Rarotongan's there, and
the local religious leaders on the island and the Deputy Prime Minister gave
speeches, as the Prime Minister was out of the country.
US Memorial Service held at the Rarotongan Cultural Center
Candle lit prayers concluded the service
After the service, we all went to a dinner where our spirits couldn't help
being lifted by the locals and tourists having a great time.
On Monday, I was ecstatic to drop off my two huge bags of laundry. Ken and I
then went into town to rent a scooter. They are sort of a cross between a
scooter and a little motorcycle. Ken actually had to show his motorcycle license
to get insurance and a Cook Island drivers license. If you didn't have a
motorcycle license you had to take a driving test. We rented our scooter for a
week. We are really enjoying these Kiwi prices; we rented a scooter for a week
for less than we paid for an 8-hour rental in French Polynesia.
We then took off down to the Cultural Village where we met Altair, Layla and
Velella and enjoyed a half day of presentations and demonstrations of the Cook
Islanders' history, culture and crafts.
Presentation showing the methods used to make the elaborate
Glass fishing float
Presentation on traditional cooking
"Mama's" presentation on weaving, a very well developed and
famous Cook Island art form
Demonstration of how to crack a coconut with a small rock!
The day finished with a lunch and dance performance
No dance performance can be complete without a little audience participation.
Ken doing a great job of a little Polynesian dancing
Ken, Drew, Garth and Paul posing with the girls of the dance
Wendy, Garth, Vernita, Drew, Ken and I on our scooters
We spent the rest of the week enjoying the town, tourist activities and
socializing with the other boats in the harbor. We found a cafe that could be on
Queen Anne or in downtown San Francisco where you can get great food and lattes!
We also have been in heaven with the local English speaking movie theater where
we've caught five movies.
Ken and I circumnavigated the island on scooters twice exploring the island,
the shops and taking pictures.
Small farm in the shadow of the peaks of Rarotonga
Most of the houses are well maintained. All must be made of concrete blocks;
this was mandated after a cyclone did quite a bit of damage to the island a few
years back. There are some quite large and unique homes on the island as well as
the more modest ones.
One of the larger homes
One of the more unique homes
Large beautiful waterfront home
Almost all of the homes have a small garden growing something. The volcanic
soil is very rich, and produces a wide variety of produce, from green beans,
tomatoes, and broccoli to the tropical paw paw (papaya), taro, bananas, and of
A typical home with a small garden, and the family plot
One afternoon Garth, Wendy, Ken and I went to the local golf course. It's a
nine-hole built around a series of HF radio antennas.
Photo by Wendy Hinman
Ken teeing up
We played some pretty ugly golf, as Ken has only golfed once before, Garth
and Wendy have only done pitch-n-put and I haven't golfed in about 3 years.
However, this didn't stop us from having a great time. We happened to be there
on a night where they were having a local club tournament, the locals were very
tolerant of us, and had us introduce ourselves in the club house after our game.
We got a kick out of the prizes they were awarding to the tournament winners -
frozen chickens and cans of corned beef.
Ken and Garth also rented windsurfers one afternoon and enjoyed the South end
of the island which is enclosed by a small lagoon.
Photo by Wendy Hinman
Ken and Garth windsurfing in a protected lagoon
On Friday September 21, we bought tickets to a local dance performance, which
was a fundraiser for the local church. It was not the polished dancing we saw
during in Tahiti, but the music and singing was outstanding and the people
dancing were having a great time.
There were performance by groups of children as well, some of them as young
as four years old. We were amazed at how well some of these tiny kids could
Children at the dance performance
Saturday morning we again attended the morning farmers' market. Layla,
Velella and Altair were provisioning with fresh produce as they had checked out
and were planning on heading to Niue on Sunday. We're not planning to leave for
a few more days so we just enjoyed the market and its fair-like atmosphere.
Vendors set up along the street selling crafts and fresh
Some of the amazing produce for sale that is grown on
Park in which most of the market is held, with food stalls,
music and performances
Permanent buildings surrounding the park house craft and
Two large sculptures at the end of the park
Our 4-5 day planned stay has already grown to 12. Although we hate to leave,
we still have a lot of miles between us and New Zealand so we have to start
preparations to go. We are planning to check out on Monday, September 24 and do
all of our town errands - last minute shopping, post this web site update, go to
the bank, post office, etc and leave for Niue on Tuesday September 25.