Monday, June 24th, 2013
By Supercargo Katie Bruce
22 June 2013
As we approached Nassau under full sail, there was much to be anticipated of this small coral cay surrounded entirely by a narrow reef. Nassau, sometimes described as a suburb of Pukapuka, has a somewhat transient population of approximately 100 people, many who come from Pukapuka to tend to the coconut, taro and banana plantations.
Once all sail was stowed and we were hove to near the only access point, the Motu Nganogao (Lonely Island) barge filled with anxious islanders came alongside to load cargo, passengers and our crew. One of our passengers, Father Freddy, the first priest to visit the island in 10 years, would be performing ceremonial duties during the few short hours we had ashore. Nassau typically sees a ship every 5 or 6 months making it arguably the most isolated of the Cook Islands and our visit that much more meaningful to the islanders.
We loaded onto the barge and were welcomed ashore by three women with three wheelbarrows of cold coconuts. Although we are becoming accustomed to the abundance of drinking coconuts, we would never refuse this refreshing welcoming tradition.
With only two hours and one square kilometer to explore, the crew divided if only for a short time before eventually meeting for a swim and unexpected feast. A quick walk around the island exposed its endless ocean views and fresh breeze felt from beneath the towering coconut trees that engulf the entirety of Nassau. The island has a school, two churches, a hospital, volleyball court and mostly thatched roof homes. If you managed to stray inland, the center of the island has seemingly rich soil used to grow taro and bananas.
Once congregated back along the shore, many of the crew bathed in the warm, crystal clear waters and spent some time playing with the children. The church services had ended and we were summoned to a feast, despite our scheduled departure time we couldn’t resist saying yes to the offering. We made our way to the church hall and dined on lobster, grilled parrot fish, boiled taro, fried coconut cakes, sweet donuts and a plethora of cold coconuts. The islanders, dressed beautifully for church, performed a welcome song in English and several traditional songs in Maori. The young men performed a dance while the elders played drums.
We were overwhelmed by their hospitality and generosity. We parted ways shortly thereafter, trading tea, sugar and rice for several bunches of bananas. Rasmus, who had left quite an impression on the younger generation, left them a soccer ball that was sure to be the only one on the island.
As we sailed off under full sail, with Nassau astern and the sun setting portside we couldn’t help but be content with the beauty of the islanders and knowing that we were among a small population who had visited their piece of paradise.