We were excited to spend a third day on the island of Palmerston. While we only had planned on staying a day or two, we were only too happy to extend our stay another day. Today was the third of a five day celebration on the island for the Cook Island independence day. It was a day full of activities from morning until night. This was however the first time in twenty years that the island has celebrated this holiday according to one of the senior ladies on the island.
Simon our island host came by our boat at 10 am to pick us all up. We were not quite ready but since we had forgotten to turn on our VHF radio he had been unable to reach us. He came by early because he wanted us to participate on his team (the South Island team) for the days competitions.
By the time we arrived on the island we had thirty minutes to hang the laundry that Simon had washed for us before it was time to go to the sports activities of the day. The entire village started descending on the sand volleyball court when we arrived. It was like the entire village was being gravitated toward some kind of magnetic force. The senior ladies (in their 80’s) were brought to the event on trailers that had been mounted to the back of ATV’s. They were already sitting down in the shade talking with one another and ready to do their part as the spectators. The rest of the islanders on this kilometre long island walked or took scooters to get to the games.
By 11am the 60 islanders and us visitors were all assembled and divided into our North verses South teams. There were some friendly rivalries amongst the participants but everyone was having fun. Youth and adults of all ages, shapes and sizes participated in a spectacular game of volleyball that saw the South islanders win the first two games. As it was the best two out of three, the younger kids and those of us who had not had a chance to play yet were invited to play in the third and simply for fun match.
The hour had gone by very quickly and so all of the islanders headed off for the second game of the day at the soccer field. Trailers were once again loaded up with the elderly ladies, men stacked and carried the plastic chairs and mothers gathered the babies and children as the village went to the main white sand street in town.
It was here between the ocean, a row of palm trees and the original Marsters home (made of salvaged shipwreck beams), that the soccer game took place for the next hour. It was a hot game for the players in the sun as spectators sat along the shady sidelines by the short palm trees. The players kicked the ball around as the occasional tuft of white sand cushioned those who fell down on the field. Jaeden really got into the game and had a great workout running back and forth on the small field. About 45 minutes into the game the South side team finally scored the only and deciding goal of the game. With the remaining 15 minutes the kids ages 7 to 12 all got on the field and had a game of their own. They had been watching the game from the sidelines and wanted to get into the action themselves. They were excited to be tusselling around with the ball and got a lot of pent up energy out as these 12 kids of all ages chased after the ball like the young little chicks running after their mother hen in the bushes nearby.
Following another day of drumming and string competitions and an island feast catered by the South Islanders, Simon brought us back to our boat by 6:30 in the evening.
Although it was getting late we wanted to head out on our way to Niue in the evening. We were attached to a mooring buoy but had dropped our anchor at the recommendation of the local residents of the island. They have seen too many shipwrecks on the island and didn’t want our boat to be another statistic or landmark on the shore. As we tried to pull up our anchor we noticed that it would only pull up to a certain point and then it would become too hard and trip the breaker. We tried motoring forward to slacken the chain and release the anchor but this did not help at all. For over an hour we moved around in an attempt to loosen our anchor from the coral below us but had no luck at all in freeing ourselves.
Another worry for us at this point was that the winds had shifted to come from the North East instead of the South East and so our boat was being pushed toward the reef rather than away from it. Our Charlie’s charts book advised us to get out of the anchorage with North or West winds as the moorings may be long enough to slide us into the reef while on them. Looking at how close the reef was to us we didn’t want to stick around with the wind direction… even though it would mean heading out again on a Friday. As much as we wanted to do this however, it was not in the cards because we were not able to get off of the reef as hard as we tried. We radioed over to the neighbouring supply and charter sailboat Southern Cross to see if they had any tips for us but after giving it a try we gave up. We decided that if we were stuck enough to not be able to unwedge ourselves from the coral, we should be safe even with the change in wind direction.
Through the night we kept an anchor watch. It was around 5am that Orin came into my to let me know it was time for me to be on a two hour watch and the winds had shifted to come from the North. This left us being blown directly toward the reef but our anchor held us strong.
After the sun came up Jaeden and Dailin snorkeled around the boat to see if they could determine the cause of our anchor not letting go of the coral. They could see the ocean floor thirty-five feet down but they were unable to see the anchor that was wedged into the side of the coral cliff at around 70 feet. I put on my scuba gear and joined Jaeden for a dive into the beautiful coral below us. It was incredible to see all of the fish that swarmed around the various types of coral in this deep water. While the colour were perhaps not as vibrant as those in Tahaa, Tahiti because of their depth, they were impressively beautiful. The purple and other colours of coral seemed to go on for miles. We dove toward the coral cliff and descended down to where we could see the anchor wedged into the side. The anchor was pulled up into the hole and the tension on the chain had wedged it firmly in place. Even with the tension being released I doubted that it would be able to come out.
We determined that I would dive down again with Dailin the next time with hammer in hand. Dailin watched from the surface as I went back to the anchor and gently chipped away at the rock around the anchor to create just enough wiggle room to get the anchor loose. It took a few minutes but soon the anchor was loose enough for me to wiggle it down and out. I placed the anchor on top of a nearby ledge so that the boat was free and clear and slowly surfaced. As soon as I told everyone on-board from a distance that they were clear I noticed that they had pulled themselves off of the mooring buoy and so they were definitely in a position to drift. With Jaeden at the helm they frantically motored forward and pulled up the anchor that chipped its way up the side of the coral cliff. They wanted to stay well clear of the current that was pushing them toward the coral reef. That’s when I frantically motioned for them to pick me up as they quickly motored by. I didn’t want to have to do a long swim with my scuba gear on and my oxygen tank was getting very low. That’s when Simon came motoring over to me in his little boat. He had just arrived to see if we needed help and along with another boy, they pulled my scuba gear off of me so that I could flop myself over the edge and into the boat.
Simon took me back to the boat as exhausted as ever. It was great to have someone else there in the water to give me a hand. With our boat being free and clear we said our last goodbye’s to our Palmerston Island host, Simon. While the winds were not in the standard trade-wind direction behind us we needed to get on our way. The forecast was for the winds to switch around in the next day so I felt that we may go slower for the first day but should be able to pick up speed in the subsequent days. Our voyage from Palmerston to Niue is about 370 miles and we estimate that it will take us about three days for this next part of our voyage. Goodbye Palmerston, we will never forget you!