HERALD WEEKLY ISSUE 608: 21 March 2012

Maria Tanner spends 5 minutes with ... Andrew Duncan
In mid August Andrew Duncan and wife Kathy Cheval embarked upon the adventure of a lifetime as charter passengers aboard a small yacht sailing from Rarotonga to Palmerston Atoll. The trip was to take a leisurely two day sail to the Robinson Crusoe surroundings of Palmerston, ideally with a one night stop over on the tiny island before returning the next day to Rarotonga in time to celebrate the couple’s 20th wedding anniversary.

How the winds do change, and the tides do turn as the ideal prelude to the couples anniversary took a drastic dive. Two days of uneventful sailing over calm seas the trio arrived in Palmerston greeted by gentle swells and steady 30°c heat to spend the one night on the islands before setting off back to Rarotonga, 270 miles SE, on Saturday afternoon. With stiff wind from the southeast the captain initially set a course to the southwest to get away from the atoll and its reefs. As darkness set in, so did the seas and the winds increasing significantly and then the problems began.
A small tear in the Genoa (front sail) soon turned into tatters within a half hour ceasing all forward motion, though the seas which were exceeding four meter swells “kept things exciting!” says Andy.  Altering the steering to gain some forward momentum the skipper jury rigged a small storm jib (front sail) where “we spent the entire night in high seas and winds gusting over 45 knots,” explains Andy. Drenched in salt spray, Andy and the skipper took the helm in one hour shifts through the night while, Kathy stowed below keeping a constant stream of sandwiches.

\Just before dawn and now 50 miles southwest of Palmerston slowly heading for endless empty ocean, Andy and Kathy convinced the skipper to return to the Atoll rather than fight a 4-5 day upward battle with the wind for the remaining 280 nautical miles back to the safety of Rarotonga. Inspecting the vessel upon arrival the yacht was sporting a tattered foresail, broken propeller, defective GPS system and a ruptured fresh water tank. Unfurling the foresail the primary support for the front mast broke, “had this happened at sea,” explains Andy, “we would have been lost and its passengers perished.”
The couple’s maiden voyage that was supposed to take a short and leisurely 5 day trip had quite literally turned into being marooned on Palmerston Island, “stuck there until our ship boat was repaired,” Andy shrugs, “or another ship came to the island.”

The coral sand islet that is Palmerston Island is approximately 12 feet above sea level and about 500 yards in diameter. There are no shops or stores of any kind on the island explains Andy, and anything that is not harvested from the land, lagoon or ocean comes in by ship on an infrequent and unpredictable basis, “it’s not uncommon for 3 to 4 months to pass before a ship arrives.” With a small diesel generator the island has electrical power from 6am to noon and 6pm to midnight. Water for drinking and bathing is collected rainwater in concrete or plastic tanks.

\Andy had decide to stay on the island, hosted by Eddie and Shirley Marsters and the extended family group of Mama Tuaine where he volunteered as a teacher at Palmerston Lucky School, a small school catering to the 50% of the population, while it was decided that Kathy would depart on the 5 day sail to Pago Pago with one of the passing yachts.
After almost a month on the island, a small cargo yacht came up from Rarotonga and gave Andy passage back and then onto an Air New Zealand flight and home.
“It is impossible to describe what an experience this has been – aside from the one terrifying night on board in the storm, it has been one amazing experience after another, living a life that one reads about only in stories.”

-Maria Tanner

Herald Issue 608 21 March
- Terms of one China Policy document should be reviewed
- Pacific Media Assistance Scheme Seeks Innovation
- Successful NZ visit by PM
- Rerekura Teaurere New Climate Change Coordinator
- News Briefs

Copyright 2006 Cook Islands Herald online . All rights reserved.