Palmerston Atoll, Cook Islands
Update #21 - Part 2
Our 193 nautical mile passage to Palmerston from Aitutaki took us 2 ½ days due to light winds. We motored the last two hours when the wind completely died and we knew it would be another night at sea if we didn't get the engine going. We so much prefer to sail but it sure is nice to have the option of motoring. All three boats that left Aitutaki the same day as us were in the anchorage. One boat had planned to go straight to Niue but decided they’d rather stop off at Palmerston than motor for an additional two days.
As we neared the atoll a local fishing boat came out to meet us. As the pass has a depth of less than four feet all four of us sailboats anchored just outside. Our soon-to-be host, Edward, directed us where to drop our anchor. He then came aboard to introduce himself. It is apparently somewhat of a race among the locals to come out first to the “yachties” and therefore be designated as the host family. Edward met up with each boat as it came in and therefore all nine of us had the same host family. Each morning Edward would call us on the radio and ask us what time we wanted to come in. Since the pass can get pretty hairy at times he provided transportation to and from the island for all of us. We usually went in between 9 and 10 o’clock in the morning and returned back to our boats around 7 pm. Tuesday and Wednesday Edward’s wife, Shirley, prepared a lunch at 2 pm for the nine yachties, her two sons, husband and brother-in-law. Once again the visitors were served first and only after us did the family help themselves. Our fist day we were introduced to parrotfish. Not only is it a beautiful fish but it's also a wonderfully tasty white fish. We also enjoyed lobster as Edward and Eric, one of the cruisers, went lobster hunting the night before and caught 6 lobsters. We also ate chicken which looked like it too had just been caught the night before or even possibly that morning. It was quite a wonderful feast!
The guys from the boats helped out with repairs around the island, mainly working on a motorcycle, multiple computers, VCR's, and generator. As supply ships are few and far between there we brought ashore fresh fruits and veggies from Aitutaki along with staples such as butter, soy sauce, toilet paper and canned goods.
Palmerston is a very unique island. It was made famous by Englishman William Marsters who settled there in 1863 with two Cook Islands “wives”. He later “married” a third Cook Islands woman (cousin to the other women) and raised a large family. Marsters’ modern day descendents are scattered all over the world. There are currently 67 of them living on the island, more than half of whom are children. I use quotes to refer to wives and marriage because the three families still exist and there is disagreement between them as to whether the second and third women were actually his wives or just girlfriends. You can imagine who thinks what!!! The people were so friendly and open, sharing their background and answering many curious questions. It was so interesting! The three families actually have designated areas on the motu as well as the other surrounding motus. They do however interact regularly and seem to really enjoy one another’s company, something we understand wasn't always the case in the past.
Our first day on the island we went over to meet a woman known as Mets. She and her husband built an area known as the yacht club. She invited the women over to see how she makes tye-dye pareos and shell jewelry. We brought some cloth and shells ashore. After making one pareo (wrap-around cloth used to clothe many of the pacific islanders) she showed us all the pareos she had made and insisted we each choose one we liked. We each found one that matched our bathing suits and mine has Palmerston written on it. After lunch with Edward and Shirley we met up with Mets and learned how to make shell jewelry. I brought some shells ashore I had found in the Tuamotus. We had so much fun. This was repeated the next day and I had some one-on-one time with Mets while everyone else was off playing volleyball. Mets is originally from Aitutaki and her husband, Bill, is a direct descendent to William Marsters and his original wife. They have three children ages 9 months, 2 and 4 years old. Bill and Mets were so generous. They actually have two washing machines brought in from New Zealand (the first we've seen since Mexico!) and invited us to bring any laundry ashore to wash. They also built new bathrooms which are very nice and include two hot showers!!! Both the machines and showers were built specifically to accommodate the yachties coming through. Talk about hospitality!!! I did end up bringing a load of California King sheets and a duvet cover ashore. Try getting those clean in a bucket! It's amazing the things you appreciate when you're cruising!
Met was also eager to have Sam and me over for lunch. We told her we’d love to but were unsure if we’d be able to depending on the weather situation. A system was coming through and the anchorage, with no protection, was itself like being in a washing machine! We loved the people so much our stay was extended despite the unappealing boat motion.
Our third day there a “School Day” was put together as a fundraiser. Most of the island is planning to go to New Zealand in November to tour different colleges. This is in an effort to encourage further education among the children. A New Zealand woman came to the island last year and acts as the teacher and principal. The remarkable thing is that her uncle is a Marster and her husband is from the Marster lineage as well! Fascinating!
Anyhow, I baked some American chocolate chip cookies for the occasion. Actually I made them and then baked them on a friend’s boat! All of the food there was sold to raise money. We also paid to participate in games which included ping-pong, darts and a card game called Euchre. Thanks to Mom and Dad Peterson I've had a bit of practice with darts and thanks to my sister Janet who came to visit in June, we both knew what the heck Euchre was and some idea of how to play. While the games were fun, the best part was getting to know the people. The whole village was there, taking place right after school let out. The games extended into three days because of the laid-back atmosphere. It was so neat. We’d walk up and immediately a bunch of kids would yell, “Hi Sam and Sally!” We stayed the longest of our group and really got to know the people there. We also stayed long enough to fall in love with a little girl named Julia and, given the option, probably would’ve adopted her in a heartbeat. Sam and I were actually talking about after the fact that we’d probably adopt any of those kids but thanks to the amazing close knit families there that would never be necessary. Julia is part of a family of six kids along with her parents, grandmother, great-grandmother and great-grandaunt. Mind you, everyone on the atoll is related in some way! Sam’s brother is working with orphans in Kenya and we now understand what he meant when visiting us in Zihuatanejo, Mexico said he misses his kids. We spent our three day passage to Beveridge Reef wishing we had stayed longer and plotting how we might return for a visit someday. We're sincerely hoping to meet up with them in New Zealand in November. Julia and her entire family will be there, God willing.
Our last full day there we did have lunch with Mets and her family. She made parrotfish and chips, lamb chops with veggies and gravy, potato salad, mashed potatoes, cabbage salad, taro root and I can't even remember what else! She actually made extra and set two more plates in case the new boat which arrived that morning wanted to join us. She also made extra so we would have some to take with us for our upcoming passage. Their generosity and thoughtfulness was overwhelming!
In summation of our trip to Palmerston what was so overwhelmingly wonderful for us was how quickly we were welcomed into their lives and homes and treated as family. We will miss this second home dearly and they will always hold a special place in our hearts.
All for now.
Sam and Sally
Written on August 18, 2005 at Beveridge Reef