Palmerston Island

Friday morning we exchanged anniversary cards….before having a leisurely breakfast and eventually went ashore around 10.30 am. Here in Palmerston the entrance through the reef to the shore is particularly difficult so the families shuttle the cruisers (or the yachties as they call us) back and forth to their boats.

Bob took us ashore and we chatted to him and the family and caught up on line. Before we knew it, it was time for lunch so I helped fill the table with goodies and moved it outside where we all tucked in. Another boat had come in earlier – a 50 foot Bavaria – and it had 10 people on board! A mix of American and Danish – and all were pretty much strangers before signing up for the adventure. A real psychological experiment that’s for sure…..

After lunch we were surprised when Bob broke out the beers to help us celebrate our anniversary and Anthony’s birthday (the skipper on the Bavaria). Well….one thing led to another….and the beer was drunk before we moved onto wine…..and actually we didn’t move from the spot for the rest of the day while being royally entertained! Suddenly it was after five and time to return to Morphie. Had been a rather unique anniversary in a very special place. It was really interesting to hear about Palmerston and life ashore.

Palmerston considers itself English despite being part of the Cook Islands. They continue to live a simple life although there are recent modern additions to make life easier – such as the large satellite dish giving them phone, tv and internet access.

They have added solar power to their island. The money for the installation came from the central Cook Islands’ government but the maintenance is down to the islanders. They pay via the meter system each month and the maintenance element is added by the Palmerston central administrative function. This will pay for the inevitable replacement of batteries and panels and for diesel to run the generator on cloudy days. For heavy work the administration has a supply of diggers etc which can be rented out to the islanders when they need them.

Water is collected individually by each family and they have electric pumps to push it through to their standpipe in the kitchen plus the shower and washing machine. So it is a bucket transfer job when washing up for example. There is a central water collection system in the middle of the island near the church for times of drought when the community can access this.

As the island is separated into three sections there are also three cemeteries. Some of the graves are made from blackened charcoaled coral – and the later ones marble. It is really strange to see just the single Masters surname on the majority of the graves.

Which leads to the question of who is allowed to marry who? The rules are simple – anyone can marry anyone else – the only exception to the rule is between brother and sister. So aunts / uncles / cousins etc are all allowed to be with each other. Most men, however, take off to one of the other Cook islands in search of a wife to return to Palmerston with – which Bob did but returned with a cousin anyway! I gently tackled the question over the possibilities of disabilities when continuing to breed from the same gene pool. Bob was quite simplistic about it. Every family loses their first born as it is born sickly and doesn’t survive for long. But, after that, the rest of them are all fit and healthy. They see this as their punishment from God and certainly helps explain the large numbers of small graves dotted around.

On health matters there is a small clinic here staffed by a nurse – so there is someone medically trained on island. But the supply ship only comes every four months so if there is something potentially life threatening – eg a burst appendix – then the person either lives or dies. It is as simple as that. For other things that are not life threatening but need to be done like a hip replacement, for example, then the person would travel to Rarotonga on the supply ship and likely not return to Palmerston for about a year by the time they were well enough to make the journey back. This really brings home just how remote this island is.

Having returned to Morphie before the sun went down we had a quiet night on board. Sadly there were no more whale sightings!

Saturday morning and we were up early again …. and was picked up to go ashore around 11.00 am. We dropped off some rivets at Goodley’s as he needed to fix his boat and I got on with the laundry…. The washing machine is very old fashioned and labour intensive so I was backwards and forwards for a while. And, of course, the minute I pegged it out on the line the heavens opened. Oh never mind….perhaps it’ll be dry tomorrow!  We again wandered the island and enjoyed the sights.

We visited the school and handed over some DVDs of BBC Planet documentaries which we thought would be good for the kids. We met a few of them at school – they range from five to 16 years old. They follow a home-schooling programme and each have individual goals set for them on an annual basis. Beyond that they have to leave Palmerston and go to Rarotonga and live with relatives while they continue their education.

Again we sat and chatted to Bob about life on the island. He is a bit sexist and makes totally inappropriate jokes but you have to get through that and recognise that they are living their lives according to the codes instilled in them from their English ancestor. It dates back to the 1800s with very little intervention from modern times let alone any knowledge or awareness of political correctness. I know that the inequality of treatment of men and women here is driving the Danish girls crazy especially when we are sent to the kitchen to learn how to make doughnuts while the guys sit around drinking coffee and chewing the fat LOL. I’m just going with the flow….

The house Bob lives in was built by his father and extended and added to over the years. He is not the eldest son but is the only one who lives on Palmerston so the ‘head of the family’ title goes to him and he sits on the managing council. Scandalously Goodley’s wife told me that Bob and his wife are not married …. and Bob’s wife TouPou made some scathing comment about Bill’s wife who sits on her fat **** while the rest of the family do all the work. Clearly from the different levels of housing around some have done better than others, perhaps from working overseas or because they are of New Zealand pensionable age. And, although on the surface everything is just lovely and friendly there clearly are some tensions between them. Not surprising on a place this small I guess. In the meantime here is a picture of William Master’s original house built from timbers collected from the reef after a large shipwreck.

Not sure how the time gets away from us but it does….and suddenly it is time to return to Morphie for the evening. Had been another lovely day.

Sunday morning we were up very early and were collected by Bob around 8.30 am as we were all off to church. We were inspected by TouPou and my floaty trousers were not considered suitable attire so had to swap them out for a borrowed skirt. And the Danish girls were kitted out in island dresses. And, of course, there are the hats which are a requirement in church here. Felt like we were all extras in a bizarre old film.

This was the second service of the day – the first being 6am and we attended the 10 am one – and the bell, which was recovered from a shipwreck, is rung to bring people out.

The bell tolled so we all wandered down the high street, greeted the minister, and then went inside. Women sit to the right and men to the left. Finally the pastor came in and the service started. All the readings and the sermon was in English but the hymns were in Cook Islands’ Maori. Bob and his daughter admitted that they know the words to the songs but don’t know the meaning of them although this was TouPou’s first language as she wasn’t born on Palmerston. All very bizarre. The singing was amazing….stunning harmonies…..male baritones singing warrior like followed by high soprano responses from the women. Was a very moving experience especially when I saw TouPou weeping with emotion at some of the words she was singing….

After church we said goodbye to all the other ladies and headed back down the high street towards Bob’s place. We managed to get everyone to stop for me to take a picture – check this out!

Back to Bob’s and it was time for lunch. We had all contributed a dish so the buffet table was groaning and we had a real Sunday feast. Afterwards the Danes all wandered off and left Anthony, Bob, TouPou and us having a glass of wine in the shelter under the palm trees.

Before we left JoJo turned up – this is their pet blue-faced, red-footed booby – and I went and said hi. I also checked out the chickens eating the coconuts and Eric the pig who is being fattened up for Christmas. At Bill’s place they have a baby booby while the mother clicked and flapped her wings if we got too close.

At 4pm Bob and TouPou went back to church while we continued sitting in the shade – oh yes and I rescued our laundry. After they returned we came back to Morphie in Bill’s boat and, as the wind had swung, we were now sitting sideways to the reef and the reef cut had standing waves. Quite an experience – definitely wouldn’t want to try this in a dinghy!

This morning, Monday, and I’m blogging while Richard is doing pre-passage checks. We are now ashore so that I can get it published and then we are going to say our sad farewells to the people of Palmerston. This has been an amazing experience and definitely the highlight of our trip so far this year.

Around five this afternoon we are leaving for our next destination Nuie. The wind is forecast to be light and variable with the potential for rain squalls but the seas appear to have flattened in the last few days…so fingers crossed for a good passage. Nuie is a sheer rock island which is the second smallest country in the world and we’re looking forward to visiting it. It has links to New Zealand – it’s currency is the NZ dollar – and links to an English heritage as, allegedly, there is both a great Indian restaurant and a fish and chip shop LOL. Their flag definitely looks familiar!   Will continue to blog from the passage – we should arrive there around Friday. Hopefully there will be some mooring balls available as this is another place where anchoring is not possible – so fingers crossed there is room in the inn.

Bye for now