Suvarov Atoll - 0.1 sq mile, population 2, distance to nearest land: 450 miles.

The shape was just a few feet below Intrepid, Denis yelling and
sweating from the effort of fighting him for the last 45 minutes, the thick
6 foot tuna rod (bought on e-Bay) bending 30 degrees down.

Denis yells: I'm bringing him up Andy'. Elaine is standing-by with a small
chopping board, and 10 inch knife, I with a small gaffe. Suddenly the
shape decides to go somewhere else, the 50 lb line screeches again off the
reel, I relieve Denis, increase the drag a little and suddenly 7 feet of
striped fury erupts from the sea 20 metres from us, his whole body almost
vertical out of the water with only 2 feet of tail below the surface
continuing along the surface like this for perhaps 15 metres. Striped
Marlin!!!! Nicky points the camera and snaps.

Striped Marlin can swim at 60 mph and are famous for their acrobatic fights
when hooked. We look at each other - he must weigh at least 350 lbs (180Kgs), there
is no way we ca get him into the boat. Elaine's knife and 10" chopping
board suddenly look inadequate. Whereas the Marlin's wicked
2 foot long bill like a sword can slash a person's leg like paper.
Anyway it doesn't seem right to kill something that big and beautiful when 98% would go to waste.
We fight him for the next 45 minutes through 2 more
runs and finally get him within gaffing range - and cut the line as short
as we possibly can. The pink lure comes off, and the shimmering stripes on
his side running from iridescent blue to steel grey slowly sink into the
depths and Intrepid and the Marlin go on our separate ways, both wiser and
very much tireder - but with enough adrenalin to last us all a month. Denis
is in 7th Heaven.

We are on passage from Maupiti to Suvarov, 2 days before we had seen 20+
pilot whales gambolling within 50 metres of Intrepid. No whale watching
this, they were just having fun, and were with us for 30 minutes, their
blunt snouts coming right out of the sea, mothers and babies together, our course just happened to take us past
them.

The sailing had been to die for....... 25 knot winds, bright sunshine, 2
metre waves, Intrepid doing 8 knots with broad grins all round. This is
living. Then the squalls - big black, menacing, full of rain which comes
down the hatch, and down our neck, no moon, BLACK, you cant even see the
white sails from 3 metres away, Intrepid pitching and rolling and
straightening to cut through the waves like the thoroughbred she is with 4
tonnes of keel below. Denis and Elaine share the 4am to 8am watch, and
Elaine is working on identifying Scorpio using the pointers from the
Southern Cross.

Yesterday, with the light fading both rods had suddenly exploded into
action, we have our fish drill well tuned now, Elaine and I furled the genoa, Denis
handles the rod, Nicky brings Intrepid into the wind so we slow down from
the 7 knots we were doing which would strip the line from the reels in just
2 minutes. Denis working one rod, I grabbed the other, it felt like a
battering ram, relentless even as Intrepid slowed. Both Denis and I managed
to get our fish to turn, then first I then Denis felt the lines go slack.
Disconsolately we reeled in 2 empty lines, the 2 Wahoo we had hooked had
bitten through 300 lb line in my case and steel wire in Denis's case. But we
did catch a designer Dorado, 10 lbs of sheer magic, BBQ'ed within 30
minutes, heaven with Sashimi to start..

We were on our way to Suvarov, so remote it was unknown to the outside world
until the Suvarov,
a British American trading vessel found it by chance in 1814. Its part of
the Northern Cook Islands, and the least developed.

If the pass into Maupiti is a challenge by breaking surf, our entrance into
Suvarov was trial by stealth. First, in spite of averaging 7 knots for the
previous 24 hours, we just failed to get to the pass before nightfall, so
decided to heave to overnight. There are no buoys, beacons or lights in
Suvarov. When hove-to, Intrepid's sails are set so that the front sail is
set as if we have just tacked but not released, so it pushes
her one way, the main sail pushes her the other, and the 2 together keep her
in the same place, with little rolling.  Unfortunately when there is no
wind, there is no escape from the rolling of large waves created by the 25
knot winds of the previous 3 days. I slept fine, Elaine and Denis less well!

Came the dawn, we gingerly approached Suvarov, knowing that the charted
position is supposed to be 1 mile to the west of its actual GPS position - a
problem when the pass is only 50 metres wide, with reefs on either side. The
only directions we had were in the Admiralty Pilot dated 1980, and based on
surveys that were more than 100 years old. We established our position a
mile north of Suvarov's only pass, then turned south onto 189T as directed,
only to find that we were heading directly for the reef on the right side of
the pass. A hurried check, the paper charts were indeed 1 mile out, but the
electronic C maps had. been corrected, and we had over corrected.We
continued south with Anchorage island (the main piece of land on Suvarov
Atoll) on our right, searching for the west edge of East Reef, where the
Admiralty directions indicated we had to turn left. But because of the calm
seas, East Reef was scarcely visible, lying just below the surface, but just
as dangerous to a yacht hitting it. Finally we turned where we felt it had
to be onto a bearing of 152T, then right again, then left to avoid South
Reef (also invisible until within 20 metres) and finally round to head west
and north and into the anchorage. It really was smoke and mirrors taking a
bearing on a reef which is mostly under water. And the first navigators
didn't even have this!

But even as we were entering the anchorage Elaine was exclaiming at the
clarity of the water. We could, look down 20 metres to see small fish on the
bottom more clearly than you can see 2 metres down in a swimming
pool. We anchored, admired the black tip sharks swimming lazily around, and
invited Tony, a Brit who had been there for 2 weeks across for coffee and
pancakes which Elaine served up for everyone with American know how, (you
would never think she is an East Grinstead girl really). Tony is an advanced
IBM systems engineer who has split up
with his South African girlfriend and is now sailing alone, short of money,
pondering how to give his life more meaning,
but full of initiative - he is building a thatched beach hut in return for
exemption from his $50 entrance fee. We inflated our dinghy and went across
to see John and Vero, the new wardens who have been there only 6 weeks. Their 4 children have to stay
home in Raratonga, and they miss them desperately. We offer Vero the use of our
satellite phone to call her kids, and she is over the moon, can't stop
grinning at her first contact with them for 6 weeks. .

Surprisingly there were 6 boats in the anchorage, this is the height of the
season for cruising, and Suvarov is so otherworldly that they are staying 2
weeks and more. I arranged for Denis to dive with Mark, an American on a
trawler, which was great - they try hard to avoid spear fishing while the
sharks are around. The next 5 days passed in a blur as the wind kicked up to
25 knots, we had to move our anchor, as we were bouncing around on a coral
head only 0.7 metres under our keel - but there are so many coral heads and
they catch almost everyone's anchor so I had to snorkel down to clear it.

The next part is tough to admit - 3:0 to Denis. He and I went fishing in the
dinghy and after a slow start, Denis landed a small grouper and snapper. 2:0 to Denis. Then his line
went tight, 'Big One', but after a 3 minute 'fight' it was just hooks
caught on more coral and he lost all 4 hooks. 1 minute later 'Big One!' I
didn't believe him, until  the line rushed off the reel, Denis fell back in
the dinghy, and I picked up the gaffe. Denis played it for 5 minutes, until finally we were
able to see what we had caught - a 4 foot shark, very angry, looking for
something to bite. Discretion prevailed, we cut the line but still 2 or 3:0
to
Denis. But then our dinghy anchor caught in coral. We couldn't get it free,
so cut the anchor rope,  put an empty bottle on top to mark it and went back
for snorkel and mask. I cant say I was ecstatic about going down with the shark
still in the vicinity, but someone had to. And it was deep, I hauled myself
down the rope at 60 degrees for what seemed an age, had 3 seconds to clear
it, then push for the surface....a long way away. I later measured the rope
(73 feet to the bottle) so I had gone down to about 45-50 feet free diving.

The wind stayed strong for 5 days, too strong to leave, and the weather
forecasts were even worse. Suvarov is a classic atoll, about 15 tiny islands
dotted around the rim of what had been a volcano, long since eroded down to
sea level, then built up with new coral. Tom Neale had lived here by himself
for 25 years and written a Pacific best seller, 'An island to oneself'.
Denis dived some more, this time with Don and Gwen on Tackless II, who were
American Dive Charter boat skippers who decided to pair up. I go along as
dinghy watch but the waves are so high I cant easily spot them when they
come up half a mile away. Then I snorkel off Anchorage Island pass and spot
a turtle that lets me get within 3 feet of it, its more worried about the 4 or
5 black tip sharks up to 6 feet long with teeth custom made to tear right
through turtle shell. I am as worried as the turtle. I hope people are off
their menu tonight. Dinner most nights is with Gwen and Don (Margaritas) or they come to us, (Bloody Marys,
and beef stew). Friendly place.

Tony's hut is almost finished, Vero has been teaching the girls to weave
coconut hats, make coconut pancake and has a weaving gang to make
roof panels for the Beach Hut out of palm fronds. Denis and I help Tony,
pushing the roof panels up and fixing them from the inside. When the supply of panels dries
up, we arrange with John to visit Gull Island........the wind is so strong
we go in swim wear and life jackets, the waves breaking right over John's
metal boat.

Gull Island is superb, imagine 2-300 frigate birds, big, black, bright red
breasts  nesting near the ground some in low trees, with fluffy white ugly chicks, beaks open for
fish, stubby wings, 100's of terns wheeling around overhead, darkening the
sky, flying within 2 metres of us, they nest on
the ground so that every 1 metre there is an egg neatly camouflaged, and a
few red footed booby chicks, looking like emu chicks, all white fluff and
black face with a perpetually surprised air about them. Cameras click (well
digitally so) and on the way back we troll and catch 2 rainbow
runners,(similar to tuna)
which we have to haul in quickly before the sharks get them.

It seems only proper to celebrate the completion of Tony's Beach Hut, so
Intrepid invites all the cruisers to an impromptu Thursday bring a salad and a fish party at
the Hut, we donate the fish, a case of beer,  our own version of Pina Colada
and the BBQ grille. As the half moon rises 20 cruisers are gathered round the BBQ, Orange Coladas are drunk,
beers long stored in hidden lockers are brought, new comers are welcomed,
fish are BBQed to perfection, palm trees overhead rustle gently, the surf
gurgles just 3 metres away, sand beneath our feet, John brings out a guitar,
and we listen to The House of the Rising Sun and even older classics in Cook
Island Dialect. We have all had hard passages to get here, all apart from
Intrepid are sailing alone or as a pair, and no one wants to leave.

But Elaine and Denis have a flight to catch in a week or 2, and we spot a
weather window for Friday.  We still have 5 or 6 largish sharks circling
round Intrepid after we gutted our fish yesterday, and I have just cut my
head a bit, so I am really really hoping the anchor is not
stuck.........Denis takes off the snubber (6 metres of rope with black
rubber which acts like a shock absorber to take the strain of sudden jerks
on the anchor chain which could break the anchor chain or dislodge the
anchor), and he is awarded an MS (Master Snubber with Desnubber credits) to
add to his PhD. I drive Intrepid forward, and by positioning Intrepid right
over the coral which has jammed the chain we manage to free it without the
need for me to go in. The anchorage applauds, we wave goodbye and are on our
way, round the reefs which this time are much clearer thanks to breaking
surf and turn left (west) towards American Samoa 450 miles away (3.5 days).
The waves are 10-12 feet high, 25knts of wind, we storm along at 8 knots, a
fish takes our lure but instantly bites right through our 100lb line. Sun
shining, Elaine helming, Denis writing, Nic shredding paper rubbish, I am
about to start editing another article for Yachting World, (the first was on
P95/6 of the June issue apparently) we are on a roll.

We send our best wishes to all - we heard from James about the London
bombings, (he was in the train 4 minutes ahead of the one that was bombed),
at times like this the Pacific sometimes almost seems like the safe and easy
option. We hope you are all safe and well and enjoying the northern summer.

Andy and Nicky, Elaine and Denis, the crew of Intrepid.
Please reply to intrepidofdover@yahoo.co.uk. See www.intrepidofdover.co.uk
for photos, logs and schedule
 

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