In April 2014, we took a trip through Pacific Expeditions that was handled by Sail Rarotonga on SV Southern Cross that took us on a 13 day sailing trip through the South Pacific to exotic islands such as Suwarrow and Palmerston. Graham Wragg, the person who arranged this trip for us had to bow out due to some research opportunity he had gotten. Our trip was changed from April 7th to April 21st. We had to change our plans through work to be gone a different 2 weeks than planned after rejecting the Raro to Samoa 15 day sail in late May. Getting back to the US from Apia seems to be difficult you see and that 15 day vacation would have turned into 17 days and you might as well just consider that a 3 week vacation, something my busy life at home doesn't really make easy.
We were greeted at the airport by Ivan who recently came to the Cook Islands with his wife, he was so nice to pick us up at 6am to take us and our belongings to the boat, then he dropped us off in Avarua to do some shopping. In case you aren't aware, like me, Easter Monday is a holiday. Nothing was open except Raro Chicken which is horrible by the way. We were not able to shop, only able to get some cash at the ATM in the local currency. We walked back to the boat and fortunately Mary, Ivan's wife saw that Oasis, the gas station on the other side of the island was open and they have a quick mart where we could buy things like food, water, booze, etc. We stocked up on some large bottles of water, a couple bottles of wine and some beer. We went back to the boat to find it was being worked on, the auto-pilot was not working and a gentleman was there trying like crazy to get it working. Captain Keith sent us and our fellow passengers down to Trader Jacks for some drinks and food while we waited. By 3pm on departure day, we left Rarotonga with no auto-pilot. Watching Rarotonga disappear in the distance and meeting my fellow passengers was great. What I did not enjoy was the no-wind conditions and motoring 4 days with no land in sight.
Food options were also not great. We had things like parrot fish which I found to be flavorless. Weet Bix which is popular in New Zealand was popular for breakfast tastes similar to cardboard. Fish was served at most meals. We had canned fruit on board but no fresh fruit or vegetables. I gave up eating the 2nd week on the boat, I could not hack it any longer. We all lost a few pounds, even the captain!
I did suffer from sea-sickness which is no fault of Sail Rarotonga but the crew offered me sea sick tablets which helped. I had some bonine and patches as well which did not help during the storms we experienced.
Suwarrow was empty, no yachts, no caretakers just us and lots of sharks!! I did not feel very safe swimming there but it was beautiful. We were finally able to bathe that Saturday...yes, 7 days and no bathing by pouring rain water over our heads and trying to wash our hair and soap our bodies. While there, our boat suffered a starter problem and had to be repaired, luckily it was something Keith and Ivan were able to fix. Can you imagine being stuck on Suwarrow, no airstrip, no one around? Keith took us to about 3 different islands during our 2 day stay. Each had its own thing going for it. We snorkeled and saw a sea turtle which was one of my favorite memories.
Next, we were on our way for a 4 day trip like you would not believe to Palmerston, crazy bad weather, ripped sails, everyone was puking I think. I stayed in bed because it was the only place I felt safe. I had to hang on for dear life to not get thrown in the floor. My husband and I shared a cabin in the middle of the boat which had a twin bunk over a full bed. The twin was so close above us it was just inches from my nose which made both of us claustrophobic. That twin bed was equally close to the ceiling. There was a small portable fan with a car charge hook up to stop that claustrophobic feeling but it was often unplugged by the crew for more important uses. Luckily there was an L shaped couch area in the cabin so 1 would take the full bed and the other the couch. Our cabin was open and had 1 of the 2 heads on the boat so there was no privacy. The boat leaked like crazy so the floor was slick and with the boat rocking so hard, you had to hang on to the overhead hand rails to get anywhere. I was bruised all over from the tumbles I took. Poor Captain Keith busted his head open at one point!
We arrived at Palmerston about 8pm which was pretty dark, the islanders would not come to get us in the dark so we moored outside their reef. We were allowed to bathe that night on the boat but only 5 of the 7 of us got to shower. We ran the boat out of fresh water! Palmerston was nice, 1 catch, we were told before we embarked that there were people who had been trapped, about 15 on the island for 2 months and we may need to bring some people back with us. One woman was sick and needed a hospital so the islanders we spoke to were all saying "well, we heard this was your charter so you ARE going to take the sick lady back with you right?" I asked what her illness was and it was "we aren't sure, she has pain in her side." Ok, I am like, we cannot deny this woman healthcare, what if she has appendicitis? She could die right? But what if it's some contagious disease and we all get it? In the end, Keith thought the trip back to Raro would be too difficult and decided instead to bring back a family from Australia whose home was being foreclosed upon. We had 4 additional passengers + 1 new crew person. We didn't vote on it so why tell the islanders it was our decision? The extra passengers were really no bother and the crew person was an excellent addition. We stayed on the island with a local family, the policeman. These people were so wonderful, the food they cooked us was great, especially considering I had not eaten the previous 2 days. I cannot take eating fish 3x a day, ugh. They all meet at 5pm each day for a volleyball game, such a great community! The beach was nice, we went for a morning swim but it was a bit cold! They have hammocks set up in several places so you can look out over the beautiful lagoon. Upon our leaving, all the islanders showed up for a blessing to pray for our safe return home, so many hugs and kisses! We also got to shower, cold but still a real shower!
Our trip back to Rarotonga was not so bad, the weather was kind to us and we were able to make it back on time Saturday to catch our flight back to LAX which only goes once per week. At one point we were being told there was no way we were going to make it. I had a sit down with Keith to explain HOW important it was to get back to Raro on Saturday as planned and it made it happen. After arriving back in Rarotonga, we were able to get a ride to the Aquarius Motel for food and a shower before our flight home. That evening, the crew and passengers all met for Dutch treat dinner at Kikau Hut restaurant to celebrate a nightmare trip being OVER.
Seeing Islands with no people or few people that no one gets to ever see. The 4 days spend on land were great!
A crew that helps you through your illness.
A crew that picks you up at the airport and takes you to buy supplies and out to dinner.
9 days at sea, no land in sight.
Boat in terrible condition, leaky, unsafe.
Awful food: example canned spaghetti on toast with a hard fried egg on top FOR BREAKFAST. Hey, but at least it wasn't fish!
Ran out of fresh water so we were told after refilling to use water sparingly and by the way, we are washing dishes with sea water.
I got one shower on this boat in the 9 days but my husband did not.
Being put in a position to make life or death decisions regarding someone's health, I'm on vacation here!
Having to "hold on" for dear life to stay in bed. No safety catch for us.
Wet beds and wet clothes.
Keith is a great sailor with great mechanical experience. I give this rating a 2 because of the crew. I would have given it a 1 if they were just total jerks. I would not recommend a long term sail with this group, whale watching or fishing off Rarotonga should be ok, just bring your own food and drink. I wrote to Graham about the experience and he tells me the SV Southern Cross is being retired and sent to New Zealand and Ivan will be using the SV Eastern Star from now on. That really did nothing for me and my trip though. I kept hearing on our trip how great this other boat was. Why weren't we on it then? He addressed things like storms which I never really mentioned to him because sea sickness and storms are not something Sail Rarotonga can do anything about. However, they can better maintain their boat, make sure it's comfortable and sea worthy, pack good food for the amount of money we all paid them, not tell the Palmerston Islanders that we are making the call on whether or not the sick lady gets treatment or not, and bring the proper amount of fresh water on the boat for the number of passengers that they carry.
Would I recommend this trip to anyone? No
Tips-I asked before going what to bring people on Palmerston. Graham said DVD's, educational books, etc. WRONG! Bring these people tabacco and booze. They easily run out. If you were on an island with 50 of your family members, what would you want? Booze and cigs, am I right? LOL
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