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Aitutaki and Home

By Kate “Bob” Addison

August 8th, 2013

It’s 0800 on Thursday the 8th August 2013, and Picton Castle is steaming towards Rarotonga. The familiar rolling emerald mountains are dead ahead, and looming larger every minute. It’s the end of another voyage, a voyage of almost four thousand miles offshore sailing around the Cook Islands. It’s amazing that we could sail so far without even leaving the country, and very nice not to have to clear in and out of every island too.

It’s been an incredible voyage in a lot of ways, from the fact that we were running a much needed inter-island passenger and cargo operation in a square rigged sailing ship to the very islands that we visited. In some ways looking back at the photos it feels like it was some other crew who were really there and we just saw it all on TV.

Dancing in the copra shed on Pukapuka, sailing the monomoy across the fabulous Penrhyn lagoon thick with reef sharks, stopping to assist a yacht in distress, and spending sweaty hours hoisting load after load of heavy cargo out of the hold to lower it onto the barge bobbing alongside the ship. We’ve had a med-evac from an airfield that was literally a field, we’ve played cricket in a tropical rainstorm with laughing school children, we’ve slept under the stars and in the houses of some of the most kind and generous people I have ever met. We’ve sold toothbrushes, clothes and staple foods to the islanders, and bought rito fans, hats and black pearls in return. Back on board we’ve stitched ditty bags and leaned how to do patch servings, whippings and splicings. We’ve scraped the deck and painted the ship and learned how to ‘hand, reef and steer’.

The final island call of Aitutaki was a mini vacation on our way home. We arrived on Tuesday and left yesterday morning because the container ship Tiare Moana was due in so we had to hoist our anchor and clear the pass for them. It was a glorious two day visit. I think it is actually impossible not to have a good time in Aitutaki. You’d have to try pretty hard anyway. The beauty of the lagoon and the island are justifiably famous, and the people are so happy, laid back and kind that the combination is irresistible. There’s enough infrastructure to get anything you want easily, but not so much as to feel spoiled or crowded. Definitely one of my favourite islands, Aitutaki is a gem. We were also lucky enough that our visit coincided with their Te Maevai Nui celebrations and on Aitutaki that means dancing!

The Tuesday night dancing was the story telling dances, slower and lyrical, the elegant, sensual dance is accompanied by singing and tells a story, usually a very traditional one that passes down these legends from generation to generation, keeping the tradition alive. The whole village is involved; the beautiful young people at the front in magnificent matching costumes, the elders forming the musical accompaniment at the back, and the Ariki or chief leading and telling the story. The best thing is that this has nothing to do with tourists, we just happen to be lucky enough to be there are the right time: you can see by the glances and smiles that the boys are dancing for the girls, the girls for the boys, and everyone trying to impress the judges in the hope that their village will be champions.

Then on Wednesday night it was the turn of the drum dances. Fast, energetic, colourful and spectacular. Maybe a hundred matching dancers, moving their hips and knees in time, the movements so fast and precise that the coloured rito skirts and leg bands become a blur and the audience, never mind the dancers, is left breathless. What an amazing end to an incredible voyage!

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