Sailing The World's Oceans

Dream ~ Discover ~ Explore

Friday September 30th, 2011- 13:54 Crossing from Palmerston to Niue

We left Palmerston immediately today when the winds shifted to the North and swung the boats around so that the reef was lying just off the stern.  If the moorings broke at this point it would be only seconds before ending up on the reef.  Our stay here wasn’t even 30 hours.  I’ll detail my time there and our early departure.

We arrived in Palmerston about midday Wednesday.  An islander in an aluminum boat floated next to the mooring and guided me towards the proper mooring and the correct protocol of landing here in Palmerston.

“You pick up this mooring, here,” he pointed to the float right next to him.  After I tied off the boy he told me that customs would be out shortly and zoomed off.

I wanted to snorkel the mooring immediately to make sure it looked good as there have been problems with moorings here lately but I was exhausted and hungry.  I needed to eat something before doing anything first.  I ate the left over baked chicken, mashed potatoes and peas from the night before.  It was delicious though it sounds more involved than it was.  The potatoes were instant and the peas were canned.  It still hit the spot.  As I ate I watched the movement of the boat.  Solstice lay with her stern to sea. A northeast breeze was blowing at near 20 knots and kept a hard constant pull on the mooring line.  Every now and again Solstice would swing from side to side.  Occasionally she would swing hard to starboard and if in that position the mooring line broke Solstice would be in danger of hitting the reef.

After hearing the nightmare about Ri Ri’s mooring line parting and being washed upon the reef as well as the story of two other mooring lines that had failed here near the same time, Jake, Jackie and I were apprehensive about being in Palmerston at all.  Fortunately, the other two boats drifted out to sea and didn’t hit the reef like Ri Ri.  There were three other boats here besides us.  Solstice and Hokule’a made the total 5.  One of the boats had planned to leave that afternoon.  The wind kept all the boats held away from the island… for now.  Which made me feel a better.

After eating I donned my snorkel gear and jumped in to do a quick inspection of the mooring line.  After all, everything I own is floating here with me.  I wasn’t about to rely on some mooring line I know nothing about to be the insurance for my home.


I jumped into the warm water and was greeted by unbelievable visibility.  Solstice was in 42 feet of water and I could see the bottom easily.  I swam forward to take a good look at the mooring line.  What I saw scared the crap out of me.  The mooring line was pieced together in about 5 different places.  There wasn’t one mooring line that went down to a chain and anchor but instead a bunch of short lines tied together to one another.  Some lines were nylon some looked like old hemp rope.  All had knots that were unrecognizable to me as big knotted messes and I noticed hose clamps tightened down around a couple of the splices. 


I couldn’t believe it.  The knots themselves were each such a tangled mess that it looked like they had been tied, untied and retied to one another a bunch of different times.  All in an effort to make one long mooring line.  Near the bottom the last section of rope attached to a shackle and a rusty piece of chain.  The chain was wrapped about 3 or 4 times around a large piece of coral.  As the wind blew and the boat swung from side to side the line creaked and pulled hard.  I didn’t trust this array of haphazardly assembled pieces of rope.  I needed to get back on the boat as soon as possible.

Jake had a plan to take his own line down and shackle it to the chain so if the mooring line broke they’d still be connected to the chain with their own line.  This sounded like a good idea but there was something about that rusty piece of chain that my mooring was tied to that didn’t bring much comfort to me.  I decided to drop my anchor instead and have it tied off.  I know my ground tackle.  It will hold.  I’ll sleep a lot better knowing that that’s there as my backup.

As soon as I got back to the boat I dropped the hook.  I felt better.  I took a quick freshwater shower on the aft deck and went below to change.

“Hello!  Hello!  Hello!” a far away high-pitched voice called out.

I looked out the salon ports and saw a small boy standing on the bow of an aluminum skiff.

“Is anybody home?” he called out.

I popped my head out from down below and saw the boy with the guy who showed me the mooring and another adult islander aboard.

“Hello, I am customs,” the new adult man said.

 “Put two fenders here and come aboard with your papers,” the man who showed me the mooring said.

The boy had a big genuine smile.  “I’m Andrew,” he said. 

“That’s easy.  I have a brother named Andrew,” I said.  “I’m Bill.”

“I am Bob,” the mooring ball pointer outer said.

“That’s easy too, my Dad’s name is Bob.  Nice to meet you, Bob.”  Bob was dark skinned, heavy set with skinny legs and he was missing his front two teeth.  A big belly fell over his belt and sat lethargically upon his lap.

“I’m Goody,” the other man said.  “I will handle your papers.”  Goody was much shorter than Bob.  He had a flat forehead, was short and wore round spectacles in the fashion of Benjamin Franklin.  He looked very administrative. 

“Here fill this out,” Goody handed me a sheet of paper.

Listed were spaces for crew names, nationality as well as spaces for the vessel’s name and registration details like the documentation number, gross tonnage, and the length and beam of the boat.  As well as a place for her home port.  I filled out the lines quickly and handed them back to Goody.

“Your passport and your papers from Rarotonga, please,” Goody asked.  I handed them over.

Goody looked over his glasses at the papers for about a second then handed them back to me.

“Okay.  You can go,” Bob said.

“That’s it?” I asked happily.

“Yes,” replied Goody.

“Wow.  That was easy.  That’s the easiest place I’ve ever cleared in.”

Goody again peered over his glasses and not through them as he looked at me.  I wonder if he really needs those glasses or if he just wears them to make himself look administrative, I thought.

“Things are easy here,” Goody explained.  “But sometimes, some people make it  difficult.  You are not difficult,” he waved at me the papers I gave him.

“You are easy.  You can tell the difficult ones.”

“Oh,” I replied.  It was nice to know I wasn’t being judged here for my long hair.  Andrew was still smiling politely at me.

“You want to go to the island?” Bob asked.

“Right now?”

“Not now, I take them back.  Then come for you.  Unless you are too tired and want to rest and come tomorrow.”

“No, I want to come today,” I assured him.  Besides nobody tells me I’m too tired to do something.  I accepted the challenge.

“Okay.  I go now.  I’ll be back.  1 hours time,” Bob had a way of showing no emotion on his face no matter what he said.

“Okay,” I’ll be ready.

I climbed back aboard and gave them a wave.

“You may wish to put your anchor down.  It may save you,” Bob said as he zoomed off.

I guess the islanders felt terrible too about what had happened here a few weeks ago.

An hour later Jake and I were being ferried to the island in Bob’s aluminum boat.  Palmerston has no passes for big boats and only three very small ones for little boats.  The biggest of the small passes is named “Big Pass”.  I thought that might not be so good on a chart to a guy with a big boat thinking he may get through there.  It’s only 5 feet deep. 

They tell cruisers when they arrive to not bring their dinghies to shore.  They don’t really explain why, they just tell them not to.  Because of the vague explanation some cruisers  are stubborn and want their dinghies with them.  One trip into the lagoon and you know why they say this.  It’s far too dangerous for an unfamiliar person to bring his dinghy into this lagoon.  A swift current zips out of the tiny pass and the pass itself is littered with coral heads sticking out as it zig zags it’s way into the lagoon.  Without local knowledge of how to traverse this pass you’d be in trouble quick.  Bob explained this to us on the way in.  When people are rude and insist on brining their own boat in they let them.  90% of the time they end up on the rocks with a popped dinghy.  I suspect the islanders get a chuckle out of that, though in the end they are the ones who have to go out and rescue them.  As goody said, some people are difficult.  I suppose they let the difficult ones try and bring their dinks ashore.

We pulled the boat up on the beach and walked the short distance to Bob’s home.  It was a small wooden building with a tin roof.  It looked like a homestead you’d see in cowboy movies, only no tack room or cowboy stuff around.  A picnic table under a low-ying roof seemed to be the main gathering place.  A lot of the roofs in Polynesia are low.  I’ve cracked my skull on a few already.  I did the same here.  I couldn’t quite figure out why it is that all these roofs are so low.  When you’re underneath them, you can’t see out.  It’s about shoulder height.  I cracked my head on this roof as well. 

“Watch your head,” the local islander said.

“I’m Bill,” I introduced myself. 

“I am Bill too.  Bill Clinton,” he replied.

“You look a lot different on TV”, I said.  He laughed.  I don’t know if that was his last name or not.  I thought everybody on the island was named Marsten because everybody was related to William Marsten.  The grave yard was filled with only Marstens.  Maybe this “Bill” was the President of the island so he called himself “Bill Clinton”.  I’m still unclear.

 Bill explained to me that all the houses have low roofs to protect from the wind.  That if the roof was higher the wind would “Take them away”.  That’s the first explanation I’ve been given.

Bob picked up a green coconut laying next to a metal spike that stuck out of the ground. 

Bob jammed the coconut down on the spike in one motion and tore a chunk of the husk off easily!


Two more thrusts and he revealed the nut inside.

He picked up a second green coconut and tore the husk of that one even quicker.  He grabbed a machete that was sticking into the side of a palm tree.


Three hits and a triangular piece was cut from the top.


He handed the opened coconuts to Jake and I.

“You drink, now.  Sit and drink.  When you are done, we walk.”  Bob spoke in short concise sentences. 


I went to sit down but it was the wrong chair he intended.

“No sit here,” Bob also liked telling you what to do.

“You’re not having any?” Jake asked.

Bob waved his hand and shook his head no.  I think he’s had enough coconuts in his time.

After we were done Bob took Jake and I on a tour around the island.  He showed us William Marsten’s home which was the first building ever built on the island.  The timbers used were taken from an old ship wreck.  We saw the grave yard and the church. 
The church bell was taken from another ship wreck.  The “Thistle”.  It’s the only thing that remains from that wreck.

Palmerston is a quaint island village with white coral crushed streets.  The white beaches are a stark contrast to the azure blues and greens of the lagoon and the lush green of the island flora.  The beach on the north side of the island is simply gorgeous.  A slice of paradise.

We walked along the beach and then came upon a sight that made me deeply sad.  “Ri Ri” up on the beach.  Pieces of the wreck were scattered about under the palm grove and along the beach.  The smashed remnants of the bulk of her hull lay on the beach.  The islanders used a loader and dragged the boat from the reef to this side of the island after the owner left.

Back at Bob’s house Bob explained pointed to where Ri Ri ended up on the reef.  Just there.  He pointed to a spot very close to where Hokule’a was moored. 

“It was a westerly wind?” Jake asked.

“No, just like today,” Bob, replied.

The wind was still blowing about 20 knots out of the northeast.

“Terrific,” I said.

“If it had broke when he swung here he would’ve gone out to sea.” Bob made a drawing  in the sand.  “But it broke when he swung here and he drifted to the reef.”

The story goes that Jeff was aboard Ri Ri at the time the mooring parted.  His crewmember Gail, (I don’t think they were in a relationship.  She was just hitching a ride to Australia.  He was single handing before she got aboard.) was asleep ashore as she wasn’t feeling well as the anchorage there is quite rolly.  He was in the cockpit on “anchor watch” when he fell asleep. He awoke to the boat hitting reef about 3 o’clock in the morning.

“He called on the radio and many islanders went to help,” Bob, explained.

The next day they tried to free Ri Ri from the reef but all their efforts were futile.  In a short time her hull had gapping holes in her sides and the ocean took claim to her.  Their efforts turned from one of rescue to one of salvage.

“Every morning Jeff would walk here by my home and go to the beach there. He was quiet and nobody spoke to him.  We felt we should leave him be.  If he wanted to talk he would.  He cried for two days,” Bob said.

I think I would cry for about 2 years.  After all the hard work one goes through to even go cruising and then to have it all taken away in an instant.  My heart broke for Jeff upon hearing this story.  Jake and I had met people in Bora Bora that knew Jeff and Gail.  They said what a kind man he was and that “Ri Ri” was named after his grandmother.  It’s a sad story all around.

Bob’s story was interrupted when another islander named Palmerston, I wanted to ask him if the island was named after him but I didn’t.  Palmerston told us that the catamaran named Mambo that was anchored a couple of boats from me had broke free from her mooring.

“It went to sea so it is okay.  See they are there pulling a new mooring,” he pointed to them taking the mooring just behind Hokule’a.

“I take you back to the boat now,” he said abruptly.

I was glad to hear that as I didn’t like not being aboard right now.

That night before I went to bed I set the anchor alarm on my chart plotter.  I’ve never used it before or have I ever felt the need for it but tonight I felt the need.  I put on some music opened a bottle of wine and made myself dinner.  The wind began to lay down a  bit and with it my nerves.  Solstice still swung towards sea but she still swung in that same direction on occasion as “Ri Ri” did on that dreadful night.  Eventually I relaxed enough to go to sleep.  I thought about sleeping in the cockpit but I felt with my anchor down and the anchor alarm on I’d be fine sleeping in the main salon.  About 1 am I awoke and moved to my bed in the aft cabin.  I was exhausted from the crossing and the salon just wasn’t as comfortable as my own bed.  I hit the pillow and slept hard.


The sound of the anchor alarm pierced my dreams like an arrow.  I leapt up with my heart in my throat and was out in the cockpit in a flash.  The sun had just come up and the wind had shifted causing Solstice to swing on her mooring more towards sea.  The radius of the swing on the alarm was set to the shortest possible setting .001 nautical miles or about 60 feet.  I knew it wasn’t a lot of swing room but I wanted to hear when there was a change.  And I heard it.  And it scared the shit out of me.

Over the next 10 minutes the alarm continued to go off as Solstice swung from side to side.  I changed the radius setting to .002 or about 120 feet.  The alarm stopped going off.

I’ve awoken abruptly before with fear in my heart from over sleeping an exam or being late for this or that but never before have I felt such panic upon awaking from a deep slumber. I made coffee and sat in the cockpit and tried to come back to some sense of normalcy. I sat there for a long while.  Breathed in the morning air and watched the day awaken.

Being in Palmerston was unsettling.  Mambo’s mooring parting only compounded the fear induced from the story and site of the wreck.  Bob planned to pick us up about 10AM to bring us to the island.  Jackie joined us.  The day before Bob had explained how they are lucky to get a supply ship every 3 months.   They are always short on rice, sugar and flour.

I have a lot of flour and rice aboard that I haven’t even touched.  So did Jake and Jackie.  We made up a big care package for them.  I also had a small bag of cookies and cream flavored Hershey chocolate covered eggs.  I gave that to Andrew.  I figured chocolate must be a treat here.

We took another walking tour which mostly was the same as the day before.  Only this time we met more islanders and Bob’s 8 year old daughter was our guide. 

We sat with Bill Clinton at his home and he told us of the “Palmerton Yacht Club” that he has been building “for the yachties that pass through”. Apparently it has been open in the past but it wasn’t now as there was no beer on the island.  I guess you need beer to be open.  It looked like it hadn’t been open for about 20 years or that it has been in the “being built” stage for about 20 years.  A dust covered bar area with an old sign and weather beaten yacht flags hung from the cob web strewn ceiling of the open air building.

Bob gave us instructions to meet back at his home for lunch at 1am and left us with his daughter to give us the rest of the walking tour.  A big dark cloud loomed as it approached the island.  Bob looked up to the palm trees and the easterly wind blowing.

“If the wind shifts, you know where to run?  My boat.  I will take you out to your boat then,” he said and left.

The sky opened up with a huge downpour.  The sound of the rain hitting the tin roof sounded like a thousand frying pans sizzling at the same time.  I paid little attention to the conversation at hand.  My focus was on the palm trees down the street and which way the wind was blowing them.  Any shift and I was ready to run.

Eventually the ran subsided and the wind stayed constant.  Bob’s daughter took us back again to Ri Ri.  I think Ri Ri has been the main attraction on the island lately.  The islanders had plundered her of her teak, her lead from the keel, her chain from the ground tackle, lines and anything else they felt was of use to them.  I imagine any wreck like this is sort of a small treasure chest washing ashore for the islanders.  The very first home on the island was built by William Marsters who got the wood from a ship wreck.  They’ve been pillaging wrecks since people first landed on the island.  They had Ri Ri’s engine under a palm tree in a coconut grove.  Bob was proud as they got it running. 

We visited the school and met teachers and school children.  All the children on the island go to school together and are taught in a home school type atmosphere.  Each student getting individual attention and works at their own pace.  Yvonee, the main teacher who has run the program for 8 years says it works best for the children and gives them the best opportunity to move on to a University education.  We also learned that it is fairly rare for anybody to move on to University from Palmerston.  Though a lot of the younger people seize the opportunity to leave if given the chance.

We had a wonderful lunch that Bob’s wife Tui (pronounced two-wee) made for us.  It consisted of fried parrot fish deep fried with a very light batter, rice, pasta with a tomato sauce and “coconut cakes” made from the “hearts of palm” stage of the coconut tree.  Hearts of palm, which I often have in a salad back home, comes from the stalk of a coconut tree just as it sprouts.  A coconut is actually a big seed for a coconut tree.  When left undisturbed it sprouts like any other plant.  In its infant state the sprout contains the sweet meat of hearts of palm.  That’s what the coconut cakes were made of.  They were dense like that of a hush puppy and the flavor was breaded hearts of palm mixed with coconut milk and then baked.  Delicious.

Bob mentioned to us if we had the ability to help him fix the mooring that Mambo was on.  He knew we were divers because he had seen our dive tanks on the boat.  We had heard that the islanders like to “put the yachties to work” to help “pay off” the mooring.  I’m not really sure why they think this as we “pay off” the mooring by paying for it.  $10/day was the fee.  We agreed, however.

After lunch we went on another short walk while Bob readied a new mooring line.  It was actually an old line that was also pieced together in parts.  This one was in better shape then what I had seen in the water.

We headed out to the boats and got our scuba gear, some tools and Bob took us to the site of the failed mooring.   We dove down to find where old chain and a small float was all that was left of the mooring.  I’m not sure where the failure was but it looked as if the mooring line chafed through on the chain itself or had eventually chafed through by rubbing on the jagged coral heads.  The one thing that was evident was that the old buoy used to lift up the line from the bottom was not much bigger than a softball.  It didn’t lift anything very high.  We put a new bigger buoy on the line and installed the new mooring line.

During the dive I was still preoccupied with Solstice’s well being.  In hindsight I know why now, but underwater there was just a nagging feeling, Get back to the boat.

When I surfaced I saw Solstice.  She had turned on her mooring.  At least that is how she appeared. 

“Did the wind shift?” I asked immediately.

There was no answer.  We pulled ourselves aboard and two minutes later I was back aboard Solstice.  The wind had shifted.  Solstice had swung around and the boat eating reef was directly astern.  If the mooring failed “And my anchor didn’t set” we’d be on the reef in about 30 seconds.

“Solstice, Solstice, Solstice.  This is Hokule’a do you copy?” Jake’s voice crackled over the radio.

“Hey Jake you want to go up one?”

“Going to one, seven.”

I switched to channel 17.  “Go ahead, Jake.”

“Hey Willie, I don’t feel comfortable staying here.  Hokule’a is in 11 feet of water.  We’ve got the engine started and we think we should leave.”

“Okay.  When do you want to leave?”

“We’ll be ready in about 20 minutes.”

“Alright.  I’m gonna need probably about 30 minutes.  Maybe a little longer but let me get busy.  But leave when you need to.  I’ll be right behind you.”

I realized then that my adrenaline had been up all day.  It now increased.  I hurried to get ready to “cut and run”.  There were certain things that I had not done upon arrival, like put the mainsail cover on, coil up jib sheets, etc.  I think I left them that way knowing that I may have to go at any time so leave Solstice read for sea.  Leaving Palmerston on short notice wasn’t like running back to the harbor from Catalina in a blow.  The next port for us was a 3 day sail.  Everything had to be ready for an extended time sea.
I worked hard and finally went to pull up the anchor.  To my amazement it was fouled.  Every few feet or so the chain caught on the coral below and tightened.  To compound the retrieval the wind had picked up to 20 knots plus and the mooring line pulled tight.

I had packed all my scuba gear away.  The last thing I wanted to do was to have to dive the anchor to free it.  I kept raising and lowering the chain.  Sometimes the chain would tighten and a swell would lift the bow and pull the chain from the gypsy and it would run away.  I’ve never had more difficulty raising the anchor.  Or when I had I had dove on it before this point.  I was determined to not leave the boat to retrieve the anchor.
I ran back and forth to the helm and was able to position Solstice in a way that allowed me to bring up a little more chain at a time.  Every now and again the chain wouldn’t tighten and then break free.  I knew it was wreaking havoc on the coral below but it was unavoidable.  My heart was pumping hard in my chest.  Finally I saw the blade of the anchor raising from the depths.  Solstice was now souly on the mooring.  I stowed the anchor and the wind kept a taught line on the mooring and the reef loomed large just astern.  I hurried back to the helm and drove the boat to help slacken the strain on the mooring line.  When I felt I had enough slack I ran forward, untied the bridal and hurried to pull it through the eye of the mooring line.  Finally the line pulled free and the wind grabbed Solstice.  My adrenaline was at full throttle as I hurried back to the cockpit and put the throttle full on Solstice.  We powered into the headwind and moved away from the mooring line and the reef.  My heart rate started to lower.  I was free and we were leaving.  I was surprised to find that Jake and Jackie were dropping their mooring right about the same time.  I guess I had been moving pretty fast to get out of there.

A couple hundred yards away from the reef I hoisted the mainsail and made sure to put in a single reef.  I didn’t want to do this out at sea later so I opted to do it now.  I didn’t want any more excitement the rest of the day.

A few minutes later we were sailing off putting Palmerston and the islanders astern.  We had not even been there 30 hours but I was never more happy and ready to leave a place.  It was nearing 5 o’clock and sun low on the horizon cast a soft golden hue over Palmerston and the green palm groves that line the shore.  It was beautiful but I happily had the thought that I will never see this place again.  There is something about the reef there that just says “boat eater”.   In my years of sailing, I’ve never been in an anchorage that I felt more uncomfortable with as far as the potential of what could happen.  I was glad to leave. 

I turned and looked to the western horizon and watched a gorgeous sunset.  Niue was ahead next for Solstice and I.  I knew Niue from being there years before.  I couldn’t wait to get back there.  But the sea right then offered an overwhelming feeling of being safe and secure.  I felt comfort and warmth as I headed out to sea.  I felt like I had just got home from a long trip away.  A trip to a place you really didn’t want to be.  The sea pulled me in and brought an ease and happiness of heart into my soul.  I was at sea again and I was home.

Much Aloha,

Wednesday September 28th, 2011- 08:37 Crossing from Rarotonga to Palmerston

We’re sailing along at 6 knots closing in on the atoll.  It’s been a frustrating crossing as the first 36 hours we had little to no wind and so I’ve been burning up precious fuel.  We had a 5 to 7 knot breeze for awhile and if I pointed Solstice close enough to the wind I could get close to 3 knots, of course I was 30 degrees off course.  I was tempted to sail that way but it would have added another day to the crossing.  Also trying to stick with Hokule’a presents another dynamic.  In the end the Solstice crew and the Hokule’a crew decided to motor.  I was concerned it would be a motor the whole way and there’s no good place to get fuel between here and Tonga.  That’s another 600 miles or more from here.  Fortunately in the late evening the wind picked up and by midnight the sails were set and we were once again sailing beautifully.  Hokule’a’s only about a mile behind in our wake.

I want to make a quick note here to those of you who may be wonder about the pronouns I use “we”, “us” and “our” when I’m the only one aboard Solstice.  Well, that’s because it’s me and Solstice.  Other boat owners will understand but for those that don’t know Solstice has a being all her own.  Taylor and Tony know, John and Tim know and of course Jake and Jackie know as well.  In fact, anybody who has spent some time aboard knows.  Solstice is brave, strong, and true.  She’s tough and will kick my ass in place when she needs to.  She’ll awaken me to get on deck when I’m needed.  She’s kind, funny, and stubborn.  At times she’s very demanding and it’s all about her.  Then she’ll flip in an instant and give herself completely and bring forth love and peace and she’ll protect those aboard with every ounce of her soul.  So I’m not alone out here.  It’s me and Solstice.  Of course I’m also surrounded by my guardian angels, King Neptune and the powers that be out here.  There’s also the other regulars, Yoda, Ganache and Alien Man.  But they are a whole other story.   Anyway, I’m not alone.

So we’ve got 11.94 nautical miles to go and there is no sign of Palmerston on the horizon.  Palmerston is an atoll.  An atoll is a series of islets or motus that are ring shaped and almost or completely surrounds a lagoon.  There is no elevation.  Only trees.  Imagine a sandbar with a bunch of palm trees in the middle of the ocean surrounding a shallow lagoon.  They are hard to see on approach.  It’s impossible from any distance.  What first appears is the tops of the trees.  For a while upon approach it will appear that you’re approaching a floating forest in the middle of the sea.  As you near, the beach will slowly reveal itself as stark white coral crushed sand.  On a calm day it’s beautiful next to the deep blue sea and easy to see.  At night or in a storm it’s suicide to approach.  The more I sail upon the sea the more I respect the sailors of the days of yore.  Especially those who ventured into uncharted waters.  Their sense of alertness had to be focused and pensive at all times.  Otherwise an atoll may suddenly be under your keel.

Palmerston has claimed many boats in its day.  About 6 weeks ago the cruising yacht Ri Ri (prounounced Ree Ree) ended up on the reef when her mooring line parted.  She was a total loss.  I don’t know if we’ll be able to see any remnants of the wreck.  We heard the reef and the sea claimed her within only a few days.

This tragic story brings an extra sense of cautiousness to me and will remain during my stay here.  I’ll be on the constant ready to drop the mooring line and leave if conditions suggest that is the best cause of action.

Mostly I’m excited to visit Palmerston and the people that live here.  So for now, with a little over 10 miles to go, I’m still scanning the horizon for that palm grove sticking out of the sea.

Much Aloha,


Tuesday September 27th, 2011- 09:45 Crossing from Rarotonga to Palmerston

There’s nothing like setting sail upon the sea to breath life back into your soul.  Humpback whales greeted Solstice and me as we left the harbor in and my soul soared.  They are magnificent majestic animals.  I’ve always had a particular kinship towards the humpies, as I call them.  They are powerful and all knowing.  I believe they know a lot more about this planet and our universe than we do.  I feel too that greeting them was a great sign of how everything is working out and for things to come.  After all, we’re headed for the humpie rich waters of Tonga.  We’ll be there in a couple of weeks.

For the first 17 hours there was no wind and we motored.  At about 0400 this morning the wind filled in to about 7-9 knots and I’ve been sailing ever since.  Hokule’a is about a mile and half off my port beam and her sails look lovely against the pale blue of the morning sky.  We’re slipping over a calm sea at about 4.3 knots.  Not fast as we need a little more wind but we’re “nicely making way” as they sing about in “Southern Cross”.  A one-meter swell out of the east makes for a lot calmer sea state than we had in the terribly rough harbor in Rarotonga.  Solstice and I are so happy to have left that place in our wake.

My spirits have changed and lifted over the last 36 hours.  The ordeal of waiting for the seal for the hydraulic ram and John having to leave prematurely had taken its toll.  As my frustration grew my attitude also plummeted.  It’s another one of life’s lessons of learning to “Go with the flow”.  I’m now out here upon the sea and once again I feel fully connected to the earth and alive.  I’m excited to get to Palmerston.  131.3 nautical miles  to go.

I’ve been reading a little about the history of the island from the cruising guide Charlie’s Charts of Polynesia.  So here is a history lesson about one of the remotest places on earth.  Everybody on the atoll, which in 2009 was about 50 people, 23 which are children, are all descendants of a guy named William Marsters.  He was a Lancashire sea captain who settled on Palmerston with three wives that he brought from the Cook Island atoll, Penrhyn.  “He divided the islands and reefs into sections for each of the three “families” and established strict rules regarding intermarriage.  The one-mile long island is divided into htree segments, with each occupid by the descendants of Marsters and respectively one of his three wives; the “middle” family is traditionally the dominant one.”

We’ve heard that each family vies for “sponsorship” of the yachts as they arrive.  Supposedly the three factions of the family don’t get along with one another very well. I’m very curious about all this and what this is really like.  It sounds like one big dysfunctional family trapped together on a remote piece of land in the middle of Pacific Ocean.  Sounds like a great idea for a reality show.

For now, I’m loving the sail, being out at sea again and breathing in the vibrancy that the beauty of life has to offer.  Oh, and searching the horizon for Humpies.

Much Aloha,


Monday September 26th, 2011 - 07:20 Local Rarotonga time

I wanted to send a quick note before leaving Rarotonga.  I’m setting sail in the next few hours headed for Palmerston.  Palmerston has one phone, no airport and no internet access.  So there won’t be a fresh update until we reach Niue.  That will probably be in about a 7 to 10 days.  Of course I’ll be writing all along and filling in the details so when I do get on-line there should be lots of new stuff.

I’m getting very excited for visiting Palmerston.  Of course I’m still sad John’s not here to share in our stop there and at Niue.  But Jake, Jackie and I are fortunate that we’re going to make it there.  Palmerston is a very remote atoll that is accessed only by boat.  These are always special places and our first such place since we left home.  I will learn more of the history as I get there but it’s my understanding that only three families live on the atoll.  They each adopt a boat when you arrive.  Supposedly the first family to touch the boat upon arrival takes claim to sponsoring that vessel.  Then nobody from the other families is allowed to interact with that boat and the boat’s crew can only interact with the family that touches their boat.  It sounds very dysfunctional and interesting.  Apparently the families don’t care for one another too much.  Of course you never know about a place until you visit there so that may all be wrong.  I’m hopeful that both Solstice and Hokule’a will end up in the same family or that they’ll understand that we’re traveling together and will allow us all to intereact.  They have a lot of weird ways and things they do there.  At least that’s what we’ve heard and read.  I will keep a good detail as I go.

Until then, I’m very excited to head back to sea and back to life.

Much Aloha,


Sunday September 25th, 2011- 07:25 Local Rarotonga time

Last night, well technically this morning, a few minutes after midnight a jet roared over the harbor right above Solstice and Hokule’a.  A great sadness filled my heart as I sat in the cockpit and watched.  The twinkling lights of the plane flashed brightly against the star speckled sky of the clear night air.  It banked to port and headed to the northeast and disappeared into the cloak of darkness and I listened to the roar slowly slip into silence.  I about wanted to cry.  John was aboard headed home.  An unfulfilled visit for all of us that ended with him heading home without ever setting of for a sail anywhere.

The entire week for me was filled with hope and then disappointment.  Every day we all waited to hear had the seal arrived for the hydraulic ram.  Supposedly two flights a day arrived from New Zealand carrying mail.  One in the morning and one late night.  It took the postal workers somewhere between noon and 2 to have sorted the mail.  I’ve phoned Keith so much that I know his number by heart now.  54-520.  There are only 5 numbers to dial here on the island.  If I wasn’t able to get a hold of him he’d inevitably arrive at the harbor on his scooter.  His 300 pound frame aboard a tiny scooter was unmistakeable and comical.  If I wasn’t here he’d leave a note taped to the rail.  Keith was great and diligent about checking on the mail.  He knew what it meant for us to get this fixed ASAP.  When I saw him pulling up in the parking lot, my eyes with widen with excitement.  Have good news, Keith, have good news.  I’d say to myself.  Upon seeing me I was usually greeted by two thick fleshy hands sticking out and thrusting the “thumbs-down” sign.  Every day that went by chopped travel time off our schedule and the ability to get John to Niue to make his flight on the 30th.  It also cut time away from visiting the other islands we wished to visit. 

We figured that the seals had to arrive by Thursday for us to still salvage John’s time here for something.  Thursday was also John’s 50th birthday.  What a wonderful present that would be.

Instead of moping around as we did Monday thru Wednesday awaiting the news we decided to spend the day celebrating John’s birthday.  We rented a car, drove around the island, went and had a nice brunch at the Rarotongan Hotel that sits on the Southeast corner of the island.  The lagoon there is wonderful to swim in and this tropical day was interrupted by brief hard down pours of rain.  We took refuge under the shelter or go take a dip in the pool while it rained.  I’ve always loved swimming in a pool during a hard rain.  By 2:30 I decided to call Keith to find out.  I was ready to turn John’s birthday into a bigger celebration.

“Keith here,” he answered the phone the same way every time.

“Hi Keith, it’s Bill.”  I used to say “Hi Keith it’s Bill from the boat in the harbor” when I called him in the beginning.  He knew which Bill by now.

“Well hello, Bill.”

“I was hoping for some good news to give John on his 50th birthday,” I said

“Oh right – Oh.  I left you a note at the harbah,” he said in his thick English accent that now has a mixture of Aussie and sprinkle of New Zealand in it from spending many years growing up in all three places.

“No I’m not at the harbor, we’re out and about all day celebrating John’s b-day,” I told him.  He must have forgotten my phone call to him earlier explaining that I’d be calling him later and wouldn’t be around the harbor this morning.

“Oh, well I thought too the note may still not be there,” Keith went on.

Keith had a way of not getting to the point.  Every call I made to him always went in this round about way of things and didn’t address the question.  All I wanted to know is are they seals here.  It always took about 2-3 minutes of chatting to get to that answer.  I’ve still not fallen into this “relaxed” attitude that most islanders have.  There’s no urgency to anything even when things are urgent.  There also is always a cheerfulness that is annoying when the news being delivered is nothing to be cheery about.

“Well the seals didn’t make it again today.  It’s just the way it is here in the islands.  If you weren’t in a hurry, Mate, they’d be here by now,” Keith would smile and give me his fleshy fist “thumbs-down” sign each day from the squashed seat of his scooter.  The tiny tires about to burst under his weight.

He continued.  “Well it’s been raining quite a bit here.  Perhaps the note got washed away, or you might not be able to read it. We need the rain here.  Water’s precious here you know.”

“Oh I know,” I’ve always tried to be a patient man.  Getting angry or pissed off doesn’t do any good to help the task at hand.  In fact, that makes things worse.  But I frustrate myself because sometimes I keep my mouth shut too long. 

“Keith,” I interrupted his water story, “What did the note say?  Did the seals arrive.”

“Well you don’t….Sccccuuurrrrrr…. New Zealnd,” the phone lines here often are interrupted by some weird static of interference.  And this time it stepped right on the part I needed to here.  It seemed like everything this week was frustrating.

“Sorry, Keith. I didn’t get that.  Could you say that again,” I asked as polite as I could.

“There are no mail deliveries on Thursday from New Zealand,” he said with a jovial chuckle.  “It’s just the way
it is here, Mate.”

My heart sank.  No mail today.  I hung up with a rage of emotions swelling inside me.  We’d have to wait until Friday now to hear if the seals were here or not.  And if they didn’t arrive Friday then Monday.  No post-offices are open over the weekend here.  How could Keith live here for 8 years and not know that the Post Office doesn’t receive mail from New Zealand on Thursday?  I found myself getting angry at Keith as I walked back to where Jake, Jackie and John were at the beach.

Unlike Keith I kept no suspense in telling them the news.  There question too was “How did he not tell us that before?”

“I don’t know,” was my sad reply.

We tried to salvage John’s birthday the best we could.  We went and had a wonderful dinner and then tried to find a great venue to watch some of the rugby world cup.  A game I’m still trying to figure out and one that is a far cry from American football.  There’s nothing like the NFL.  Nothing comes close.  I guess that’s just my cultural upbringing talking.

We found this little seaside place called “The Fish and Game Club”.  It was the four of us and a really drunk manager.  She kept slurring as she struggled to pour her wine.  It just made it into the glass each time she gave herself a refill.  The game was a big one for the USA.  It was against Australia.  If they US could win it’d most likely mean moving up to the next round.  We lost 67-5.  Rugby isn’t our game and our top athletes don’t play it.

Friday morning John had made his decision.  He’d take the late flight to L.A. Saturday at 11:50pm and go home.  He had to juggle a bunch of things to re-route his ticket and to cut everything short by 10 days.  In the end John hadn’t even been here three weeks.

Of course as John’s doing all this and changing things we all knew what would happen.  The seals would

I spent another suspense filled phone conversation with Keith about the note he left for me before he said,

“I think we should get the champagne flowing, Mate. They’ve arrived,” he said cheerfully even when the news was cheerful.

I was super excited.  I felt now my hands were not tied.  I could work towards getting the steering put back together.

John didn’t take the news like Jake, Jackie and I did.  For obvious reasons it was all a mute point to him.  The damage for waiting for these parts had been done and destroyed what had promised to be a wonderful 30 days together.  In 36 hours he’d be on a plane heading home and I’d be again facing some solo sailing.

I went back to the harbor immediately to meet Keith.  He wanted me to come to his shop to see how the seals went together.  He ordered an extra set for me that I could use and hoped that’d I’d be able to fix this myself it I had to so this type of thing wouldn’t happen again.  He was thoughtful and kind.

I arrived at the harbor to find him sitting on his scooter  waiting for me. 

“Hop on,” he said.

I thought  You take up the entire scooter.

Keith inched himself forward on the seat to reveal a small space for me. 

“What do I grab onto?” I asked.

“Anything you can, Mate.  Just don’t pull me hands off the handlbars.  Had a woman do that once and we crashed.  It wasn’t too bad though.  She landed on top of me.”
This story was being told to me as we zoomed off.  I wrapped one hand around his huge frame.  His butt took up the great space between my waist and chest.  I grabbed a hand grab on the back of the scooter and stayed focused so as not to be pushed off the back of the bike with each bump.

It was a short ride to Keith’s shed.  A big dilapidated farm house.  It looked like the Beverly Hillbillies truck had thrown up in there about 50 times.  And it looked like it had been sitting there since that show aired.  Old rusted out parts of machinery and farm equipment and drill presses and band saws littered the premises.  My focus was on the ram and seals.  Where were they?

On a table with dirty rags sat my taken apart ram.  Keith had assembled most of it all back together but wanted me to see the seal in question and how to put it back together.  My thought was how are we going to keep dirt of out it.  After a quick lesson we had the ram reassembled and ready to go back in the boat.  I hoped back aboard the scooter but my hand used to hold the grab rail was now occupied holding the hydraulic ram.  I wrapped my free arm the best I could around Keith’s girth.  I held my breath and held on tight.  Keith’s gray frizzy hair pulled back into a pony tail gently slapped at my nose in the breeze as we happily bounced down the road with my fixed boat part.

Jake, Jackie and I decided that we’d leave on Monday.  That would give me Saturday to get the ram back in and today (Sunday) to get Solstice all put back together.  After dropping the ram by the boat and saying goodbye to Keith, for now, he wanted to meet for a celebratory drink later, I spent the afternoon at immigration with John.  I had to get him removed from the crew list and he had to have a printed out plane ticket in hand.  It gets complicated when you enter and exit a country on a boat for some reason.
Saturday I put the ram back in the boat.  Jake came over and helped me bleed the system of air.  After it was all put back together my heart again sank as I noticed there was still a slight leak.  Good feelings would have to be put aside again.  I went and called Keith.  He was dumbfounded. 

“What you can do is this…” he went on to explain how I can get access to the seal as he had shown me, pull it out, cleaning it all off and the area that it sits in good.  “A small piece of dirt may just be the problem.”  I was now going into unfamiliar ground.  Taking apart this piece of gear for the first time.  After a painstaking hour I had the seal pulled out, cleaned and resealed.  A frustrating task but one that ended with the leak stopped.  I spent a long 10 minutes cranking the helm back and forth.  Over hard to port, over hard to starboard and then running below to investigate.  All is well.  No leaks.

So after that the four of us shared a last dinner together at a quaint little restaurant on the shore across from the airport.  There was a sadness about it all.  Especially with John and I.  John is one of my dearest, closest friends.  I had not looked so forward to somebody coming to visit and having it turn so disappointing I think ever.  The last couple of days John sort of removed himself emotionally.  He spent most of his time renting a motorcycle and cruising the other side of the harbor.  Trying to get something good out of being here.  I couldn’t feel more sad about how things turned out.  For many obvious reasons.  We had planned to shoot much footage with all the camera gear John lugged here.  Stuff for the website and for Island Earth.  The cameras where never really used.

John brought up several times how the trip could’ve been salvaged if I had discovered the problem sooner.  If I had looked through my checklist in the beginning when I first got here.  If I had maintained the boat a little better.  That sort of hit a bad cord inside as I maintain Solstice meticulously.  He is right.  If I had found the problem sooner then we could’ve got it fixed the first week he was here.  But because I maintain the boat I found the problem here in the harbor and not at sea where it could have turned to a disaster.  I take his words to heart, however, I will try and elevate my maintenance schedules and checks to a higher level.  So that the next time we will have a wonderfully fulfilled time together.

I will try and send another update but I don’t know if I’m going to be able to before we set sail.  The plan is to leave here tomorrow mid-morning after clearing out.  We’re off to Palmerston.  At least we’re going to be able to see that island now instead of heading straight to Niue.  I have two more solo sails now ahead.  Each about the same as the other, near 300 miles.  Two days and two nights if all goes well.

Palmerston is a small atoll with no airport and I doubt internet access.  My next entry will probably be sent from Niue and that won’t be for a week or more. 

I want to add here too that Jake and Jackie, have been wonderful through this whole ordeal.  I am so fortunate that they waited so that we can travel along together.  That brings an incredible peace to it all and an incredible amount of comfort and continued growing of love in our friendship.  Things are very different out here on the fringe of life.  Things are much more intense.  The senses of survival are keen and high.  Knowing too that they are always here to count on as I am for them is an incredible thing that truly can’t be expressed in words. The best word that comes to mind is love.

One quick note.  As I was finishing up this entry in the cockpit, Keith pulled up on his tiny scooter.  He had not heard from me since I called him last night with the news of it still leaking.  He stopped by here this Sunday morning early to see.  I didn’t keep him in suspense.  I thrust forward two-thumbs up.  He smiled raised his head and fist to the sky and shook them in glee.  How awesome for him to stop by on his Sunday afternoon.

“I can now go have my coffee in peace,” he said.  He offered well wishes and safe passages to us and was off.  It’s good to know there are people like Keith out here.  It may take awhile to get things done but they are done with care and wisdom and a wanting to help.  In the end Keith charged me only $200 NZ for his time and parts.  Money well spent so that my future passages will be with a safe steering system.

Much Love and Aloha,



Monday September 19th, 2011
- 17:39 Local Rarotonga time

(More pics added to the Rarotonga Photo Album)

As I mentioned earlier the harbor here in Rarotonga is under construction.  Its current state isn’t that different than it was when we were here 13 years ago.  A small harbor not much bigger than a football field.  The wharf is a dilapidated cement wall badly in need of repair.  One of the reasons it’s getting a big face lift.  The other and main reason is to coax cruise ships into mooring here.  It’s about money of course.

But there is something that happens here and it happened 13 years ago but I had forgotten about it until my return.  The islanders come down to the harbor and the sit and stare at the boats moored here.  We’re stern to the wharf wall.  I’ve awoke at 6am more than once to find a car or truck with its occupants peering in through my aft cabin ports.  Because of this its forced Jackie to put covers up over her aft ports.  There isn’t much to see aboard Solstice these days so I don’t really care.  But the behavior is what I find interesting.  I’ve not experienced this anywhere else.  The idea of coming down to the harbor and looking at the boats that are there.  Perhaps it offers a sense of nostalgia of far off lands and a different life.  I’ve stared that way many a time from the esplanade in Redondo Beach.  I had a routine there where I’d go to Starbucks, grab some coffee and head to the esplanade.  I’d greet the morning and look out to the horizon and what could be there on the distant shores.  Little did I know that there was somebody standing on that distant shore looking out to sea or at boats in transit with the same feelings of nostalgia for a different life.  Now here I am sitting in the harbor and Solstice is the focus of these people.  Eventually the sort of turn away and walk slowly back into the reality of what their life is.

The whole thing conjures up feelings of what life is all about.  Are we all longing for something different?  Can we not find a way to absorb the now and the world we live in and be happy with what’s happening in our lives in the moment at hand?  I’m here in this wonderful island in the middle of the South Pacific but I’m incredibly frustrated because we’re stuck here waiting for parts to arrive from New Zealand.  I wanted so much for this to be a memorable few weeks with John here and now John may be flying back to the States without ever leaving Rarotonga.  His choice to stay hinges on when these parts might arrive.  I think if it’s longer than two days he’ll be headed back to the States.

As I’m writing this a couple left the wharf and were soon replaced by a car that pulled up to look at the new boats in the harbor.  Soon after their arrival an older man with white hair pulled up on a motorcycle.  The international flags of the vessels and the strange names of ports of call on their hull no doubt call to them in some way.  It’s all a sign to me to realize where I am and the opportunity I have.  In only a few days time from now; I’ll be sailing off to another shore.  A shore with different people to meet, different beaches to walk upon, different cultures to experience and a different ideas of the world from different perspectives.  I have this all right here at my fingertips.  I am so very fortunate.  Regardless, if my parts show up tomorrow, the next day or the day after that, I’m a lucky man.

Much Aloha,


Friday September 16th, 2011 - 14:02 Local Rarotonga time

(Check out the new pics in the Rarotonga Photo Album)

Things don’t always work out like you’ve planned.  In fact, I’d venture to say that more often than not something happens to ensure that they don’t.  Sometimes things change for the better and sometimes for the worse but the one thing that is constant is change.

John arrived as planned the morning of Monday September 5th.  It’s been great having him here but things haven’t happened as we had hoped.  The first few days found us doing some touristy things like riding scooters around the island, going out on a dive boat and most evenings we found ourselves at a new restaurant.  Our original plan was to be in Rarotonga for a few days and then head to Aitutaki which is about 150 miles north.  We planned to spend another 3-4 days there and then head to Palmerston.  Another 120 miles west.  We’d stay there for 3 days and end up in Niue for about a week before John flew back home on the 30th.  We’re still in Rarotonga.

Our first shove off date got pushed three days for weather.  A 25-30 knot blow was forecast so we decided to wait it out and head to Aitutaki on Tuesday the 13th.  John wanted to go on Monday the 12th but there was still much to do with clearing out and last minute provisioning and everything was just too rushed.  Because Aitutaki was about a 24 to 28 hour journey we needed to leave early AM so that we’d insure a daylight arrival.  That was another reason to wait one more day.  We still had plenty of time to stick to the original plan if we left early Tuesday.  I spent most of Monday morning clearing out through customs and immigration, paying our harbor bill etc.  With the afternoon free I had the time to go through the checklist for the boat properly and make sure everything was ship-shape.  I had already checked oil, fuel, coolant, and other important things but sometimes when you’re hurried you tend to overlook, or not look at some routine checks that you never find a problem with.    One of these items that I never have a problem with was “check the hydraulic fluid reservoir” for the steering system.  I had checked it in Bora Bora before I left but hadn’t yet here.  I opened the engine room door, craned my neck and head around engine parts and looked upwards aft to get a good look at the reservoir that hangs on the ceiling in the back of the engine room.  The reservoir which should be full was missing ¾ of its supply.  Uh-Oh.  What the hell?

I looked in the engine room and saw nothing leaking from the reservoir or from the helm pump mounted directly under the steering pedestal in front of it.  There also was no hydraulic fluid laying in the oil pan under
the engine.

The lines for the hydraulic steering run aft from the helm pump in the engine room, under floor boards and to a hydraulic ram and the auto-pilot which are mounted under the aft bunk.

Great, the leak is somewhere between here and there.

I now had a task.  Search.  On a boat few things are as simple as just opening something up and looking at it.  It usually involves moving several things before you can even get at where you need to look.  The easiest thing instead of unmaking the bed, (yes I make my bed every morning) was to pull up the floor boards in the aft cabin to see if I notice anything.  That involved only removing the rug.  I pulled the rug out, grabbed a flashlight and looked under the floorboard.  I noticed what appeared to be a small shiny wet spot.  I dabbed it with my finger and looked at the substance on my fingertip.  Oil.  Specifically hydraulic oil.

Hmmm.  Maybe it’s just a tiny leak that’s been going on for some time and I hadn’t registered the loss of the fluid in the reservoir.

I then put my head down in hole where the floorboard came out and aimed my eyes back under the void that runs from there to under the bunk.  A puddle of oil about 6” round had collected in a high spot.  My heart sank.  I need to get under the bunk.

I unmade the bed, pulled the mattress off the bunk and took it forward to the main salon.  I pulled up the access boards and got the flood light out and set it up.  John was ashore running last minute errands.  I was glad about that as he was ready to leave Raro more than anybody and I wasn’t ready to give him bad news.  I needed somebody to turn the helm in the cockpit so I could check for leaks as the fluid moved through the lines.  Fortunately Jake was home.  He came over.

The hope was maybe just one of the fittings vibrated loose and needed tightening.  That would be “best case” right now.  It didn’t take long to rule out that as a problem.  Jake spun the wheel and I could see the drip coming from the hydraulic ram that pushed the rudder back and forth.  Jake came down and he too saw the problem.  A seal in the ram had failed.  This is a problem.  And one you need somebody familiar with hydraulic rams to fix.  I’m not that person.

Being moored in a construction zone sucks.  It’s also great.  Immediately I looked at the cranes, forklifts and dump trucks all over the harbor working.

All those things have hydraulics used on them,
I thought.  And things break.  And somebody has to fix them.

I went to the Port Captain and told him about my problem.  We had already cleared out so I had to tell him that I wasn’t leaving and why.

The best thing about Rarotonga is the people.  The islanders are wonderful.  There is a sense of oneness here that is lacking in French Polynesia.  The islanders embrace one another and in the same way they embrace the tourist too.  There is an understanding of survival and helping one another when there is a problem.  I think this must spawn from living on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific and the fact of knowing that at some point everybody needs help.  And everybody is eager to help one another.

The Port Captain told me that I needed to go back to Immigration and Customs in the morning and let them know we’re still here.  He then told me to go see Andre over at the office for the harbor construction.  He should be able to help me.

I explained my problem to Andre and like everybody else here he was eager to help.  He gave me the number of guy named Keith.

“Keith has solved many headaches for me.  He’s an engineer and he’s a seal man.  He specializes in fixing hydraulic leaks.  You can use the phone here to ring him,” Andre explained.

I phoned Keith and at 8:15am the next morning he was at Solstice to take a look at the problem.  Keith is originally from England but he lived in New Zealand for many years before a panic attack induced from stress caused him to move to Rarotonga to find a better lifestyle for himself.  The fact that he weighs about 300 lbs. doesn’t seem to be a root cause of any kind in his mind.  Keith is thick from head to toe and stands about 5’11”.  He’s built like a large hobbit.  His nature is also kind and gentle like a hobbit.  One that is not influenced by the curse of a ring. 

Keith told me that he needed the ram in his shop to pull it apart properly.  Jake and I spent an hour disassembling the ram and Keith picked it up soon after.  Our hope was that Keith would have the parts on hand to fix the problem.  Once apart he found that the seal that was the issue was really assembled incorrectly with O-rings instead of proper seals that should be used.  I’m hearing this from a guy in the middle of the South Pacific.  The frustrating thing for me at this point was that years before I left on this venture one of the things on my “must do” list was to send the hydraulic ram and the helm pump in to be serviced.  I couldn’t even find anybody LA to fix it.  Instead I shipped it to a guy in Oklahoma per the recommendation of the manufacturer of the pump.  That guy changed the seals and according to Keith put the wrong type back in.  And of course the correct seals Keith had to order from New Zealand. 

So we’re still here in Rarotonga  waiting for the proper seals to arrive.  I’m hopeful that they will be here soon so that we may salvage the back end of John’s trip here.

Much Aloha,


Sunday September 4th, 2011 - 21:24 Local Rarotonga time

I know my timing isn’t great but we’re here safe and sound in Rarotonga.  We arrived Friday morning about 0900 but were trapped aboard waiting for customs to show up.  So I spent the day cleaning the boat up while I waited.  They never showed up.  So we’ll have to deal with finalizing our clearing in process tomorrow (Monday) morning. 

On a much more exciting note, John arrives tomorrow AM.  His flight lands at 5:45AM so I’m planning on walking to the airport in the morning to greet him.  John is one of my dearest and closest friends.  Every time he comes to visit me a strange thing happens. 

John is a huge Rolling Stones fan.  He has been for years and he introduced me to the Stones music years ago.  Since then, I’ve also become a big fan.  They are not my “favorite of all time” but I’d venture to say they arguably the greatest rock ‘n roll band of all time.  On their “Tattoo You” album they have a song called “Waiting For a Friend”.  Whenever John is coming to town that song comes to me one way or another.  I may be at a grocery store and that song comes over the PA radio, or a car will drive by blaring that song or I may have the the iPod on random it comes on.  Over the years it’s come to represent John’s arrival for a visit.  The world works in mysterious ways.  Of course I heard it today as he’s arriving tomorrow morning.  I’m excited.

We arrived here Friday and we’ve already made some memories.  Some great, some not so great.  I spent 4 nights and 5 days sailing here.  I was completely exhausted upon arrival.  We pulled into this tiny harbor where there were only two other sailboats med-moored (stern to) to the concrete wharf.  The biggest thing I wanted to do upon tying up and waiting for customs was to just lay down for an hour or two with no worries about the boat moving and being underway.  Sleeping aboard the peace of a boat, especially in the quietude of a South Seas island is always peaceful and rest is welcomed.  I was excited for that.  It didn’t work out like that.

The harbor here in Rarotonga, Raro to the locals, is under construction.  Major construction.  The entire harbor is getting a face-lift which incorporates the use of heavy duty equipment.  Upon arrival we were greeted by an overwhelmingly chorus of skill saws, jack hammers, cranes swiveling about, dump trucks and concrete trucks driving about sending up plumes of white dust, and sledges being pounded.  All these sounds together were loud but they disappeared instantly when... 


The entire boat vibrated with each BANG!

About 25 meters from the boat they are driving steel pilings into the harbor floor.  A giant steel hammer is lifted and then with a tremendous force falls violently atop these huge steel pilings and drives them into the sea floor.


The CHUNK sound is the hammer being lifted back up only to come down forcefully again seconds later.

KA BANG!  The entire boat shook with each impact.

Terrific.  No rest for the weary.

It was so ridiculously loud that it was comical.

Jake has informed me that it is “Impact Pile Driving”.  I really don’t know what that means except that it’s very loud and Solstice, and myselfhate it.  As beautiful as this island is I think Solstice will be happy when we move to a much calmer peaceful place.

Needless to say as tired as we were the sounds of the construction has kept us off the boat.  A northerly swell has also filled in due to some rough weather and the boats also are rocking a lot.  These first couple of days here have also been the roughest anchorage we’ve experienced so far.  With the stern tied to the warf the boat sea-saws a lot pitching fore and aft.  It’s uncomfortable to say the least.

Jake, Jackie and I needed time out and needed to go somewhere…. Well somewhere that wasn’t a construction zone.  We found an “All You Can Eat” Indian food buffet.  It was delicious and I ate far too much.  Afterwards we walked about town to help move the food in our bellys around.  We came upon a small
bar just off the main drag through town.

While walking around town earlier in the day we saw a sign for a bus that could be rented for the night that cruised around to about 5 or 6 popular night spots. You could bring your own booze for the bus and the bus picked you up, drove you to all these places and then dropped you off at home afterwards.  We all thought
this was a great concept.

As we strolled about town that bus drove by us with screaming and partying people aboard.  The words “Going Troppo” was written on the side.  I’m not sure what that means but I’ll find out.  The bus pulled up and stopped by a small building snuggled just off a side street of the main drag.  The doors opened and about 20 girls all dolled up in short skirts, club dresses and high heels filed out and went into the bar.  Of course we had to see what was happening there so we followed after them.

The bar was a square pale red building that had been weathered by the tropical elements.  Once inside it I noticed there was no roof.  You looked right up through the tops of palms that stood around the side of the building and looked up to the stars.  It was wonderful.

All the girls were out dancing together on the dance floor.  Half of them were smashed.  All of them were laughing and screaming with one another.  I grabbed some beers for us and sat down with Jake and Jackie who were talking to an older heavyset woman.  She was one of three or four chaperons for the girls on the bus.  It was one of the girls 18th birthday.  In the Cook Islands it’s legal to drink when you turn 18.  So this girl’s friends and family had organized a big party with the bus for her.  Her father, Uncles, brothers and all the males in her life were all not invited.  This was strictly a thing for the girls.  It was fun to watch them.

Behind the girls on the dance floor I noticed a couple of people had walked behind the dance floor with some traditional Polynesian drums and they were quietly setting them up.  Other young men and women came in and carried pieces of traditional dance costumes and went behind closed doors in the back of the bar. 

Something was going on.

After only about two screaming and laughing turns on the dance floor the party of young girls filed back out the front door and went back to the bus and were on their way to the next bar.

More islanders came into the bar with different instruments and drum sets and began setting them up.  The three of us decided we’d get another beer and see what this was all about.

20 minutes later…..


A young Polynesian man bare chested and wearing a loin cloth, grass anklets and nothing more screamed at the top of his lungs.  The rhythmic pounding of Polynesian drums began and men and women adorned in traditional costumes filled the dance floor.  The women moved their hips from side to side in rapid succession that hit every beat of the drums.  The men dance by moving their thighs in and out in a way that almost kocks their knees together.  The use their arms to point to the sky or mimic the using of some tool.  Both men and women are telling stories with their bodies as they dance.  There are different movements that represent the sea, family, love, work, war, etc. etc.  Polynesian history was never recorded in the written word.  Everything was oral or stories were told through their music and dance.  Cook Islanders have always held onto these traditions.  And tonight this group from one of the Northern Cook Islands was here in Rarotonga sharing their dance.

The best part was that this was some local bar.  It wasn’t attached to any resort, hotel or restaurant.  It was a local place filled with local islanders.  And all the islanders that were spectators took pride and watching the dance of their ancestors.  When you attend one of these “Island Night” shows offered at resorts and restaurants they always end with people from the audience being pulled up to participate in the dance. 

Inevitably the dance floor gets filled with white people making fools of themselves trying to mimic the movements that these wonderful dancers perform.   People find themselves laughing as they fumble through the movements and all have a great time.  I was happy to see that at the crescendo of this show the dancers began to pull other islanders out of the audience.  To my surprise, the local islanders from the audience looked as uncomfortable and ridiculous trying to dance the traditional dancing as a tourist at the fancy resorts.  So much for the idea that all Polynesians are able to dance that way.  The audience participants laughed as well as they fumbled through the movements.


The lead male dancer howled again and barked out instructions.  He came forward and grabbed Jackie by the hand.  She resisted at first but he was persistent and pulled her up to the dance floor.  I was happily surprised too when the top woman dancer came and grabbed Jake by the hand.  Jake resisted more but the island woman also prevailed.  Other dancers and pulled other people to the floor and each took their turns in the spotlight dancing to the mirth and merriment of the crowd.  In the end their was a big crescendo and the male dancer with Jackie and the woman with Jake danced together for all of us.  It wish everybody that knew Jake and Jackie could have been there.  I have not laughed so hard in a very long time.  I stood up to get a better view and realized I had a camera in my pocket.  I quickly pulled it out and through tears of laughter I tried take pictures in the dark bar.  The pictures are a bit blurry but the smiles on Jake and Jackie’s face are priceless.


Jackie’s partner howled again and suddenly Jackie was surrounded by all the male dancers and Jake by all the female dancers.  Just when I thought I couldn’t laugh any harder I found myself with a stomach that hurt with mirth and struggling to breathe through gasps of joy.  I did my best to snap pictures but mostly I found myself doubled over with merriment.

The overwhelming joy came for many reasons for me that night.  It came from knowing that the five day crossing was now behind me, for knowing that Solstice and I were safe and sound in the harbor, that John was arriving in a couple of days, that we were on the wonderful Island of Rarotonga.  But mostly it came from watching Jake and Jackie trying to be Polynesian.

Much Love and Aloha,





Solstice Log