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Penrhyn aka Tongareva

By Kate “Bob” Addison

25th July 2013

Penrhyn Island is named for the British ship Lady Penrhyn which arrived here in 1788. Its Maori name is Tongareva, which translates as Land Floating in the South.

We came ashore on Monday morning with our small consignment of cargo for Penrhyn wrapped in tarps to keep it dry on the twenty minute skiff ride. The sun was out and the waves across the lagoon just a couple of feet high so it was a most enjoyable commute. We tied up the skiff to a couple of large rocks, bringing her alongside in the old stone harbour where a number of aluminium fishing boats were pulled up high on the beach. The cargo ship Lady Moana, also out of Avatiu, was tied up to the newer looking wharf discharging cargo. She actually left Rarotonga a couple of days after Picton Castle, but caught up to us by missing out Atiu from her schedule.

Most of the off-watch had opted to sail ashore in the monomoy rather than taking the motor-boat option, so it was lunch time before they arrived, soggy from walking ashore from monomoy’s stern-to ‘med-mooring’ and beaming from a great sail, reaching across the lagoon on one long tack, dodging the coral heads marked with poles. The Okoma High School was right opposite the cargo sheds on the wharf and the Principal Tyronne very kindly allowed us to use the school’s brand new computer room to check our emails, and also let us use the showers at the school.

Supercargo Katie ran a shop selling all sorts of household goods, which was a lot of fun, especially because we had set up shop in the only place on the island where you could buy ice cream by the cone. Stripy candy-coloured ice cream in wafer cones became the must-have purchase for sailors and school kids alike, and between us we were soon working through the second 16 litre tub.

Ship’s shop finished, and it was time to have some fun so people dispersed to go swimming and snorkeling or hitching rides on the back of scooters or pick-up trucks to see more of the island.

Lloyd and Paul organized a spear fishing expedition that sounded especially exciting because the lagoon at Penrhyn is famous for its large number of reef sharks, a sign, I have heard, of pristine and healthy coral. The sharks are more or less harmless, but it must have been scary enough to be surrounded by sharks while fish blood was being spilled in the water, and the occasional fish dropped too. But the locals weren’t worried, and that’s always a good sign.

There were more shark sightings the next day from the ship: Nick was cleaning the fish from the spearfishing expedition ready to fry up for a delicious dinner, and as he threw the heads over the side the water started boiling as five or six sharks darted to the surface to fight for the tasty morsel. I was pretty glad to be safely on deck at that point, though snorkelling when the sharks are minding their own business in the deep water doesn’t bother me too much. George the cat was quite impressed with the spear fishing haul and guarded it closely and with great attention.

My highlight of the island was a ripping sail in monomoy back from shore to ship. With a skeleton crew of Captain, Dirk, Katie and myself we could certainly have used a little more weight, but with a reef in the mainsail and all hands far out to windward, she balanced well enough and we got back in just a few long, exhilarating tacks. Then close alongside we rounded up towards the ship, took in the jib, put her head to wind and glided sweetly alongside the ship. Grab the painter; take in the mainsail and ringy ding the bell went for dinner. Perfect timing!

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