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Palmerston Atoll – staying ashore

The Picton Castle sailed the 270 nautical miles from Rarotonga to Palmerston Atoll, both in the Cook Islands, in record time. A roller coaster passage with some hurting stomachs. But all went calm as we slid into the placid lee of the reefs on the west side of the island and the sun came out strong with a bright blue sky to frame it. The islanders in their workboats expertly helped me spot the best anchor place for letting go and soon they were alongside the ship with halloos and hugs all around, Edward, Bob, Bill, Arthur, and a few others all came out to greet us. And brought cool fresh drinking coconuts straight out of the chilly bin. Ambrosia! Nothing better in the world for a drink than a cool drinking nut, juice dribbling down your chin.

No time to dilly-dally, we must discharge our Palmerston cargo. The weather might change and we might have to heave up and skedaddle. The cargo is precious to the islanders with supply ships so infrequent. Not much to unload this time as they did just have a supply boat but still enough to fill a couple 20-foot aluminum workboats. A drum of petrol, many personal packets and all sorts of odds and ends. Rigged the yard and stay tackles to off-load the gear into the boats alongside. Then off through the pass a couple hundred yards away into the dreamy turquoise lagoon they sped, to return for the crew. Our gang then piled over the rail into the boats with their backpacks, raced in through the pass in the reef and put their feet ashore in the creamy bright white sand of Palmerston Atoll. Before being picked by families for the duration of our stay – and trading in and out with the other watches – we were brought to a covered seating area and treated to a sweet welcome of song and prayer. Then off to our new homes hiding under the palm trees and to legendary hospitality.

It’s all pretty finest kind ‘old school’ island living on Palmerston – the way it should be. You might sleep in a bedroom porch-like affair or you might sleep in a cool tin-roof covered spot on the beach. Or maybe in a fishnet hammock. Anyway, you will sleep just fine, including, if you will, a late night stroll down to the lagoon late of a night to take in the sky bursting with stars with the booming of the surf on the reef a pounding metronome in the background. Early in the next morning, the sun does what it always does – it lightens the eastern sky. The roosters do their thing and the island begins to stir. Maybe we start the day with a fresh coconut. Breakfast is on the table under the awning in the trees outside the house. No slackers in the trencher department, the table is covered with fried eggs, toast, pawpaw, beans, bananas, Nescafe, tea and cool drink and even Cheerios (a big hit with our #1 son) and home-made yogurt.

What to do now? Take your pick. There are few rules – just be a decent sort. A swim in the lagoon with the black-tip sharks maybe. Perhaps fishing is the order of the day. Fishing is a major occupation for all at Palmerston. Parrotfish being the prime species, but others too. Wahoo, tuna, barracuda, yellowfin, snapper as well. One gang went off to Toms Island, a motu to the east of Home Island to hunt the wily coconut crab. These guys are tough, they open coconuts. There is a big feast planned so much fishing must be done. From the ship come big bowls of pasta and potato salad. And Donald is drafted to cook up his famous DFC (enough for 80 people over a coconut husk fire), Donald Fried Chicken, now legendary in the Cook Islands. We all meet at the village center near some big cement water tanks. An all-hands feast with all the islanders. Lots of swimming in the beautiful lagoon. Bonfires with guitars and ukuleles at night on the beach. And off to bed after a walk barefoot through the soft sand of Palmerston, the booming surf never ending

More fishing the next day. Our freezers will be full with parrot fish when sail.

Gathering Coconuts


Parrot Fish – Annie




Day’s Catch


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