2001 was our year of South Seas adventure on our Nordhavn 62, Rover, with our fine crew, Martin Bonham, a young man from New Zealand. It began in April when we left Dana Point, CA, crossing the Pacific Ocean, through French Polynesia, the Cook islands, Samoa and Tonga, arriving in New Zealand November 1st. The journey was a hands-on geography lesson. We toasted King Neptune as we crossed the Equator from the Northern to Southern hemispheres and went from the skies of the North Star to those of the Southern Cross. In addition to the challenge of the voyage, the entire trip was made meaningful by interesting cultures and friendly people everywhere.
For 17 days and nights we crossed 3,000 miles of the vast Pacific with not another boat in sight until we reached the initial landfall, the majestic Marquesas Islands, where we found 24 sailboats anchored in our destination harbor. Between March and May over 300 sailboats and fewer than a dozen powerboats made the voyage from the U.S., Mexico or the Panama Canal to the South Pacific. Cruisers from England, Ireland, France, Germany, South Africa, the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand - all of varying ages and backgrounds. Camaraderie is instantaneous among boaters far from home, and friendships deepened as our paths crisscrossed among island anchorages.
We visited three of French Polynesia's archipelagos. The rugged, volcanic Marquesas, with six main populated islands, remains forever famous as the home of French painter Paul Gauguin whose descendents still live and work there. Then there were the Tuamotus, the largest group of low, coconut palm-covered coral atolls in the world, where lagoons are sheltered from the ocean by reefs with narrow entrances through which cruising vessels cautiously pass and whose islands are world famous for their cultured black pearl industry. And finally, the Society Islands, which are a combination of volcanic and coral. We were joined by friends in Tahiti for several weeks for the Heiva festival of outrigger canoe races, traditional song and Tahitian dance competitions, and walk-on-fire ceremonies (which we all did!), which culminated with Bastille Day festivities. Twelve miles from Tahiti we anchored at beautiful Moorea Island - just as Capt. Cook did in 1777 - and visited with a more current inhabitant, one of the original founders of the Bali Hai hotel. We then cruised to the Iles Sous-le-Vent, the Leeward islands (including our favorite, Huahine) and Bora Bora.
Mid-August found us at the very remote Northern Cook island, the Suwarrow atoll, a spectacular white sand beach with huge coconut palms. It's a nature preserve maintained by two fascinating, friendly and unforgettable Cook Islander men. It was a memorable week with 12 other cruising boats spent fishing at dawn from the dinghy in open seas, enjoying potluck suppers of fish wrapped in coconut leaves grilled over coals, studying the clear lagoon waters dotted with several sharks swimming around the boats.
Three days and nights were spent west to the American Samoa, the only U.S. territory south of the Equator and the area where Margaret Mead did her research in 1925. Fjord-like Pago Pago harbor is the busy, crowded center of the tuna fishing industry but a popular re-provisioning town. About 75 miles further lies Western Samoa and the colorful, historical town of Apia, originally a German colony, which became the home of the Scottish author, Robert Louis Stevenson in 1889, who lived and died there and remains revered by the locals. The native police band in light blue uniforms and pith helmets marched along the harbor front at 7:45 a.m. daily, playing the national anthem and then raising the flag at the main government building. During the Teuila festival week, there were traditional song and dance performances and races of Samoan whaleboats - elongated boats with 50 men rowing, a drummer in the bow and a helmsman with a whistle in the stern. Cruisers at anchor in the harbor were surrounded daily at dawn and dusk by 8-10 huge whaleboats weaving in and out, drums beating while they practiced for the race events. It was an impressive sight.
September 11, 2001. We arrived in Tonga after three days at sea. Martin's parents - having not seen him in over two years - joined us from New Zealand. The trauma of the U.S. overwhelmed us; cruisers of all nationalities congregated together in stunned silence at the small local hotel with BBC on television. The Tongans were also affected… sad, sympathetic. It is a small world.
The next two months were spent among the beautiful islands of the Kingdom of Tonga, just west of the International Date Line. Tonga's motto is "where time begins", although time almost stands still in this remote, protected cruising area with kind, gentle, friendly people. We visited all four main areas: Niuatoputapu ("new potatoes" to cruisers) in the north; the Vava'u group's "Friendly Islands", where he escaped being the meal for the islands' cannibals, now quiet but poor; the Tongatapu group and the capital, Nukualofa. Our final passage from Tonga to New Zealand through often treacherous weather was uneventful and we moored safely at Opua, North Island, NZ on November 1st. Mission accomplished!
M/V Rover is currently in a marina in Auckland to which we will return from Colorado in mid-January 2002. We plan to tour New Zealand by land and sea, leave ther in May for Fiji, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands en route to Australia.