Thursday, October 25, 2018

Beveridge Reef - A Submerged, Hidden Mountain Stopover

Can you see the breakers in the distance?

  Can you imagine stopping in the middle of the ocean and dropping your anchor for the night? Well, it is possible if there is a submerged reef/atoll out there with an entrance pass into a shallow-enough lagoon. Beveridge Reef, actually a submerged mountain, is such a place. It is located between Palmerston Atoll and Niue Island and makes for a convenient and intriguing stopping place, IF conditions allow.

Beveridge Reef has a mysterious allure. It rises up directly from the sea floor, 16,000 ft below. It is hard to see (i.e., lies all underwater; there is no land) and wild (no people). Its location is ambiguously charted ("reported to lie 3 miles NE of shown position" - what?! Google Earth satellite imagery shows just a vague smudge). Cruisers often have to abandon their attempts to visit the awash atoll because the weather is frequently stormy here. It lies in the So. Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) region which carries frequent overcast/windy/rainy/swell/nasty conditions. There are a couple of reported shipwreck remains here. 

With hopeful anticipation and and a promising weather window, three of the boats that departed Palmerston decided to aim for a stop at Beveridge and to wait out a predicted 24 hr. windless period. CINNABAR, Y2K (with Italians Max and Alex), and FREYA (with Texan Lewis and South African Jules) all converged at Beveridge within hours of each other, in calm, sunny conditions. As we approached the general area, we gave our  reported GPS waypoints a wide berth until we could actually see breakers in the distance. At about 4 nm away, the white breaking waves, the light blue under-clouds that reflected the shallow water in the reef, and a catamaran at anchor within, showed us exactly where Beveridge was. The catamaran assured us on the VHF radio that as we approached the reef, we would be able to see and readily negotiate the pass through the hidden reef.

After lining up on the pass (using the waypoints given in the above cruising website link) and with a big dose of faith, we increased engine power, monitored our instruments, maintained a keen watch of the sea ahead, and cautiously crept our way forward through the shoaling depths of entrance and finally into the sizable lagoon.

I'm wearing my polarized sunglasses to help identify the shallow spots (and a wireless mic/headset). The pass entrance is dead ahead with breakers to the left and to the right. We saw 24 ft of depth at one point, which is quite shallow. There was 4 knots of ebbing current flushing out the pass against a modest long period (2 meter, 14 sec) SW swell rolling in the pass, on the western side.
At one point, we became a little unnerved as it first appeared as if there was no gap at all in the waves breaking ahead. Where is the so-called pass? But then, as we got closer, we saw a gap of flat water in the near distance.  The waves that initially appeared to be breaking across the pass were actually an optical illusion from the waves on the far distance shoreline, way across the opposite side of the lagoon. Whew - ok - got it.

FREYA followed us right in through the moderately turbulent waters.
Looking WNW from a drone's eye view, the pass is very obvious. Not so much when at sea level.
(all drone pics are courtesy of Max on Y2K)

Once inside it was flat and calm and blue, blue, blue. And silent. And full of a kind of mana (spirit). We idled around the inside periphery of this ocean 'lake', sounding the depths for a while, and spying one of the shipwrecks. We found that the entire lagoon has a depth of about 30-40 feet, and a sandy bottom with only scattered low coral heads, making for good anchoring. After selecting a spot on the SE corner, we dropped anchor and fully relaxed. It was noon time and a beautifully bright and sunny day. We first made a trip to the top of the mast to take some pictures, and then enjoyed an exploration snorkel in the severely clear water.

View of CINNABAR from the top of the mast.
Y2K (closer) and CINNABAR (farther) from the drone, looking north.

Y2K (closer boat) and FREYA anchored nearby. It is open ocean on the other side of the breakers.
Underwater, as expected, it was a broad sandy plain interrupted by sporadic, random rocky bommies harboring the usual small reef fish varieties as expected. There were some sting rays, hordes of hermit crabs, and a 5' shark of some unidentified 'serious' variety that shadowed us the whole time we were in the water. What makes the place special is the pristine wild condition, it's lack of human impact, it's enormous remoteness, the sea life's surprising lack of wariness, and just the striking play of bright sunlight in the clear water on the shallow white sandy bottomscape canvass. Together with the infinite forms of blue hues all around, it was simply one of those mesmerizing experiences.  We swam around in a sort of hypnotic, astonished daze. It was the type of reward we hoped to gain from living this nomadic aquatic life.

Sylvia Exploring.

The fish were curious and unlike most places, not skittish.
Checking the anchor set and the clear visibility.
Later in the afternoon, after we had been basking in our good fortune and pristine conditions, some surprises arose. As the tide came in, and the water level in the lagoon rose, the bouncing began. The groundswell outside the reef was no longer being blocked, so wave chop inside the lagoon steadily increased and started tossing the boats around in a rather annoying and uncomfortable manner. Moreover, the skies became overcast and gloomy. Wow - that was a rapid change. It calmed down again that night at low tide, but after the bounce returned in the morning, all three boats decided to forego another day at Beveridge and continue on our way westward. CINNABAR and Y2K would go to Niue (FREYA planned to head farther on, directly to Tonga). Hopefully Niue would be less bouncy and rolly!

It was regretful that our visit was to be so short. Another day or two of snorkeling and exploring would have been optimal, but the sizable ocean groundswell kept it from being so. We would especially have liked to snorkel the area close to, but just south of, the pass. There is probably more abundant sea life action there.

Before the bouncy-rolly waves arrived.

Exiting the atoll was very straightforward. The tide was near slack in the AM and we just followed our same arrival GPS track in reverse. 

We are grateful to have experienced this unique, far away speck of ocean. 

There is a pair of other similar mostly-submerged atolls on the route between Tonga and New Zealand. They are called the Minerva Reefs and are frequently used as a temporary shelter for boats transiting between the two countries. We may well stop there too in the near future if it helps with our passage to NZ.

Trip Totals:
Distance sailed = 293 nautical miles (Palmerston to Beveridge)
Avg speed = 6.3 kts.
Duration = 46.5 hrs.
Motored = 29.9 hrs. (some for battery charging, some because of light wind)

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Palmerston Atoll - Visited Only By Boat


The residents of this unique atoll are all descendnts of a single settler. William Marsters, an English carpenter from a passing ship, settled this atoll in 1863 with his 3 Polynesian wives. He then had 17 children (at the time,) and 54 grand-children. His descendants have traditionally welcomed seafarers for many years. Although Palmerston is administered by the Cook Islands, the family was granted full ownership of the island in 1954.

Nowadays, there are three families (about 60 people total) living there now and they "sponsor" or host the yachties who stop there on their migration westward. They say about 60 boats per year take an open roadstead mooring and visit the island.

During our stay, there were eventually 9 boats in the anchorage and the yachties were split up between the 3 families. We, along with 3 other boats, were sponsored by Edward and his family.

We contacted Edward and his nephew-in-law Will in advance of our arrival. They very much appreciate it when cruisers are able to transport specific requested supplies/goods to the atoll. Contact info: and/or

Our first trip ashore with Edward (driving), customs officers Godley and Sheila.
 (Sheila is the island's visiting nurse and hails from Papua New Guinea, of all places).
As Tom and I attached Cinnabar to her mooring buoy we were pleasantly surprised to see a long, sandy beach lying parallel to the wind. This could be a possible kiting location! And with the big winds coming up Tom might be able to get some more days of kiting under his belt. He was excited.

Every morning the local pangas would drive out the pass to the mooring field, pick up their yachties, and transport us to the various beaches and houses to spend the day with our sponsors, walk around the island, or do whatever we wanted.

Friendly Palmerston Residents

My contact Will (a Kiwi, one of 3 non-Marsters residents) and his wife Fiftieth, Fifty for short. She's Edward's niece and one of the islands schoolteachers.

William Marster's original house. Nobody lives there now.

Another Palmerston resident.

On Sunday we all attended church. The ladies were instructed to wear a hat and dresses that come below the knee and don't show shoulders.

Nicole and Audrey (SMETANA), Sylvia (CINNABAR) and Alex (Y2K) ready for church.

Sure enough, the winds came and Tom was able to get in 4 days of kiting. 

Kiting at Palmerston...who knew?
(winds 18-29 kts, 7m and 10m kites)

Tom had a bad take-off; a sudden gust and too shallow water. His wounds were patched up at the local clinic.

The beautiful beach where Tom did his kite ops and launching. I waded in the shallows and watched stingrays.

It was so windy that one of the heavier boats broke its mooring and had to re-moor. Edward and his son came out to drop another mooring and attach it to CINNABAR and Y2K (a Beneteau) as a backup. Luckily we stayed secure.

Edward and son John conduct maintenance on the Moorings.
(Anchoring is not desirable - the rocky shelf below is full of coral - although it is possible if the moorings are full and only in the area your host specifies.)

Snorkeling the reef from the boat was also excellent, very healthy coral, giant napolean wrasses, and lots of fish life. The occasional turtle would surface nearby and we got daily visits from humpback whales. Tom even saw one whale in the water when he was doing an underwater repair.

Since there are no stores or restaurants on the island our host families would feed us a big lunch every day. Often it was their locally caught parrot fish prepared in numerous delicious ways. Catching and exporting parrot fish is the islands one industry. Each family has several large freezers which hold the parrot fish fillets until the supply ship arrives to bring goods and take the frozen fish back to Rarotonga to be used by the resort restaurants. An impressive solar farm (~120 panels, ~40 kV?), installed in 2015, replaced the island's generators and allow the residents to keep as many freezers running as they like. 

Other amenities on the island include internet, wifi, cell, and TV service (all by satellite), a school and teachers, health clinic and nurse, water catchment systems, tractors, quads, scooters, workshops, and a mahogany tree forest. However, there is no suitable big-ship pass into the lagoon, nor harbor or wharf. Also, the residents continue to veto building an airport of any sort (in order to maintain their semi-isolation).

One of the other sponsors, Bill, invited us to have ice cream at his place every day.

The island had a "garage sale" and Bill found a lovely brassiere into which he fashioned a hat. Nice going Bill!

Some of the yachties with Bill's wife Matua. While we were at Palmerston there were sailors from Italy, Ecuador, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, France, Canada, South Africa and the U.S.A

We were compelled to stay an extra day since host family Bob was throwing a birthday party for their yachtie, Anthony from Australia. All the yachties were invited and we enjoyed a table loaded with meat, fish, poisson cru, rice and vegetables. And a chocolate birthday cake!

A full table. Oscar (Swedish boat HILMA) fills his plate while Max (Italian boat Y2K) enjoys lunch.

I was shocked to see a California Chardonnay on the table. Anthony had brought it and he told me it was his last bottle. I got so excited he generously filled my glass up to make sure I got plenty.

La Crema Chardonnay from Sonoma.

On the mooring and mostly protected from the E to SE swell, we waited out the wind event in relative comfort, although it did get a bit bouncy at the end. After enjoying the extreme hospitality at Palmerston for a week we were ready to head to our next destination, the island of Niue with a short stop at Beveridge Reef (weather permitting). After Edward and his sons brought us out to Cinnabar for the final time we urged them to stay aboard for some cold beers and conversation. Edward played my ukulele and he and his sons sang several songs for us. We watched the sun set and they stayed as long as they possibly could, leaving with just enough light for them to make out the pass between the treacherous coral heads in their lagoon.

Our host Edward (R) and his two sons David (L - who cooked all the meals) and John (Middle), a very nice family. David has also worked on a ship and has visited all 15 of the other Cook Islands. 

Palmerston is a very unique place and it held many pleasant surprises for us. We'll never forget the island and its generous residents.

Cinnabar on her mooring at Palmerston.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Passage Notes - Days 5 & 6 - FP (Raiatea) to Cooks (Palmerston Is.)

From The Bow - Broad reaching in nice conditions but softening winds. Makes it vastly easier to deal with the inevitable equipment issues that arise.

Panda's Not Happy:

Day #5: The Fischer-Panda Genset started making a horrible noise (like loud popcorn - high voltage sparking?). Gah! Not believing in coincidences, Tom thought the noise might have something to do with the recent water leak inside the genset box. Instead of charging using the genset we had to use the engine, plus our solar since it was a sunny day. The good news - since our water heats only by engine, we would have hot water for showers that night! Tom went back to trouble-shooting the genset as well as going around the deck with a screwdriver to tighten loose screws. Turns out our vang (which holds the boom up) tang had a few screws loose (pun intended) so he attended to those as well.

We discovered that our lazy bag (bag into which the mainsail drops, keeping it more or less in order) has a few problems. The bolt-rope was coming out of the boom track and we secured our third reefing line in the wrong location on the boom which was ripping out the sail slides (bolt rope and slides keep the bag attached to the boom). We discussed the bolt-rope problem and reckoned it was caused by 1) the lazy jacks which are too tight at the back (we just installed new ones with a new configuration), and/or 2) the location of the third reefing line. We decided to wait for the wind to abate before attacking these problems.

Classic sunset shot aboard - this good weather is how one becomes lured into doing another long passage. 
The weather forecast indicated this might be our last pleasant day. It was calling for it go squally tomorrow, followed by a big wind and wave event that will last through next Wednesday. (This is Thursday.) The boats that were at Palmerston have all left to seek shelter at Niue which has better protection. We discussed diverting to Niue, but reckon we would have at least 1.5 days of rotten sailing in big winds and huge seas before arriving there. We also have a "social mission" in Palmerston, more about that in a later post. We decided to maintain the course and arrive in Palmerson tomorrow (Friday) and hunker down there. Even though the winds are predicted to come from the E to SE and mooring field is on the W, we expect to have to endure some uncomfortable wraparound swells during the event. Oh well, or is it "Oh Swell"?

Dinner tonight was mahi-mahi burgers and cole slaw. Yum!

Gloomy weather, sunny smile. Sylvia  on watch in foulies as we neared Palmerston. 

Land Ho!!:

Day #6: It was another surprisingly pleasant night but with lighter winds. We were eking the last sailing miles out of Cinnabar before having to fire up the engine and motorsail down the track. At 0300 (3:00 a.m.) the wind abated further and so it was a good time to simultaneously motor along and attack the lazy bag and reefing line problems. We eventually got everything sorted out by 0500 and when we looked around we discovered that the previously-clear sky was gone and was replaced by heavy clouds and squalls (i.e. the cold front we were expecting earlier in the eve.). The wind rapidly increased to 18-22 kts, so off with the motor and out with sails again. Tom went off-watch for some much-needed sleep and I watched the sun rise between squall lines. 

Once the sun was fully up the weather didn't seem as ominous but it was still a far cry from our previous days of sailing. We sighted land at around 0900, low lying Palmerston Atoll. We had a very windy last leg with reefed main and jib and we were still screaming along at 8-10 knots, taking water over the bow for the first time since night #1. 

On a mooring in the open ocean on the western side of Palmerston Atoll. The  'motu'  is the 'home island' where the  inhabitants (~39 persons) reside. After only about 6 hours of squally weather, the cold front move east , leaving behind sunny skies.
We radioed the folks at Palmerston and a nice man named Edward came out to direct us to a mooring. All the moorings are on the west side of the atoll since the prevailing winds come from the East. Due to our deep draft I had requested the mooring farthest from the reef. Maybe that was my mistake as he directed us to one that looked to be only 200-300 feet from the reef, ack!! Keep in mind that Cinnabar is 52' long and was on a mooring line that has about 25' of surface line. Do the math and the separation with the reef is very small if the winds shift 180 degrees and the boat lies in the opposite orientation. The good news is that the BWE (big wind event) is predicted to be E to SE. It was already blowing a steady 20 knots, what in the heck will it be during the BWE? At 1109 hrs we were secured and made arrangements with Edward to meet with Customs (they would come out to the boat). He also told us that we could use a long line to secure the boat to the neighboring mooring so that we could be attached to 2 moorings. (We later discovered that the deeper moorings belong to "Bob" while the shallower ones belong to Edward, hence our placement. Edward and Bob are related, as are all the inhabitants of Palmerston, but more about that later.)

We breathed a sigh of relief, had a hug of accomplishment, and went about Cinnabar putting lines and things away in preparation for clearing customs and our trip ashore which would include lunch prepared by Edward's family.

We had arrived!

Palmerston Atoll Brochure  -  The mooring field is just north of the western tip (off Home Island).. And apparently, they awarded Tom his very own  motu (SE corner). He's contemplating building a secret kiteboarding  camp there.

Trip Totals:

Duration:               115 hrs
Dist. Made Good:    675 nm  (avg BSP 5.9 kts)
Dist. Sailed (Log):   810 nm (avg BSP 7.0 kts)
Engine hrs:            10.2 hrs
Fish count:             1 mahi-mahi