Yacht Fathom - Setting off from England in May 2016 on a single-handed voyage somewhere a bit warmer

Cook Islands – Aitutaki

The 480nm sail from Bora Bora to Aitutaki took four days and despite being well reefed included a new record 24 hour run of 141 nautical miles, beating the previous record of 138nm set last year on the way to Madeira. The fresh south/south east wind allowed a broad reach the whole way and conditions became a little lively on the 2nd day when the gusts peaked at 30 knots. The same night I heard a thump in the cockpit so poked my head out the companionway to see a large bird attempting to land on the solar panel. Evidently it was tired and needed a rest and I spent the next half hour enjoying the performance as it tried to cling on to the edge of the panel as the boat rocked wildly from side to side and it would lose balance and slide off. The smile soon left my face when it started to crap all over the cockpit so I encouraged it to leave and then went back to my bunk. Disappointingly there was a lot of creaking and groaning coming from the mast step area so I will need to get a professional boat builder to have a good look at the whole thing once I get to New Zealand.  In the meantime I am not going to push the boat and will keep an eye on it. For sure the work done in Raiatea has prevented any further depression of the mast step and can only have added strength.

at anchor in the lagoon at Aitutaki

Landfall could not be made before dark on the 3rd day and I needed to arrive near high water so hove to overnight to slow the boat and by first light the next morning there was only 20 miles to Aitutaki. On the final approach a great big squall cloud began to creep up from astern and sure enough it hit just as I was negotiating the very narrow pass into the lagoon. Only boats with shallow draft (under 1.6m) can safely enter the pass at Aitutaki so it is quite a unique destination.  As I weaved Fathom along the line of white posts the depth sounder indicated 1.7m at the shallowest place, only 30cm or so of water beneath the keel. Since starting this voyage I think this was probably the most heart in mouth moment i’ve had as rain bursts and strong gusts added to the excitement. Carl from sv Muse and Dave from sv Kapai came out in their tenders to meet me and helped find a spot for Fathom to anchor in the lagoon. Only four other visiting yachts were in the harbour but as three were catamarans there was no room for little Fathom inside. While deploying the kedge anchor astern I managed to reverse over the rope and the rope cutter on the prop cut right through it. Doh! At least the water was only 2.5m deep so retrieving the anchor wasn’t a problem. At the same time a yacht anchored outside the reef had not been able to raise their anchor which had got stuck on some coral. The building swell out there meant their bow was pitching up and down 10 feet into the air and with a tight chain had destroyed their windlass and bow roller. Thankfully with the assistance of another yachts crew who had diving gear they managed to get free and head back to Raiatea to make repairs. Quite a dramatic arrival in Aitutaki!

Aitutaki has a population of less than 2,000 and the first European to weigh anchor here was Captain Bligh in the Bounty, just two weeks before the infamous mutiny. My arrival coincided with the ‘Te Maeva Nui’ festivities where there is singing, dancing and music over several evenings to celebrate the Cook Islands nationhood, self government and independence. Quite a show and a real cultural experience. With the Kapai and Muse crews I hiked to the highest point of the island one day and gave the legs a rare workout. I got to know the two dive instructors on the island and they gave me a lift to the east side one day where I got to see a breathtaking beach and small village that would have missed otherwise. The locals are probably the friendliest and warmest i’ve met anywhere. Everyone smiles and waves and because English is spoken by all it is easy to strike up conversation, a far cry from French Polynesia for me. Really happy I stopped here one of the most memorable places of my voyage so far.

Now that Fathom is west of French Polynesia the weather patterns are becoming much more important and impact passages and landfalls more significantly. The South east trade winds are regularly replaced with westerlies as a trough or front sweeps up from New Zealand. This coincides with a couple of days of increased squalls and rain. Not a good time to be at sea or in an exposed anchorage. I arrived in Aitutaki just in time and in the last couple of days the wind has again been coming out of the west. But the forecast looking forward shows south or south east winds for the next week, albeit fairly strong, so a window is there to head west. I’ve decided to leave early tomorrow for the Palmerston atoll about 200 miles away. That should be quite a place.

Posted on 06 Aug in: Cook Islands (2 Comments)

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