Category Archives: Penrhyn to Suwarrow

Finally Anchored in Suwarrow After an Insane Storm

Holy sh!t. So much for an easy SPCZ crossing! After I wrote that last blog we caught a 60lb yellow fin tuna, processed it and then after Lyss went to sleep all hell broke loose. The SPCZ was insane with 20ft breaking seas and 40 knots of wind. We got into the ‘lee’ of Suwarrow but it was anything but and we got our ass handed to us hove-to for the night. We were both sick and huddled in the cockpit holding eachother with a look of despair in our eyes as the huge waves crashed over the boat and rushed into the cockpit. In the morning we had to bash 12 miles back to windward against the huge wind and seas and we both got terribly sick, cold, beaten, and poor Ellie is a damn mess with salt water everywhere, new laptop I am typing on is toast and 1/4 of the screen is damaged from salt water. I even managed to take a wave over my head and down my foulies. We are still crusted with salt. We are anchored but it’s exposed here and we have four foot waves bouncing our bow up and down over the wind chop. We have our oversized tandem anchor setup deployed with 200ft of chain in only 15 feet of water so if we move I will be amazed. It’s still howling 28 knots sustained across four miles of lagoon. We are still anxiety-ridden and I’m sure our blood pressure is through the roof. I haven’t slept in two days and my head is pounding. The most important thing is that we got through this together and were an incredible team. I couldn’t have pulled this off without Alyssa and would probably be running from the storm. She was her resolve and she had us push on to reach Suwarrow, a place I have dreamed about for years. This island is only visited by sailors, and hardcore sailor/divers at that. You can’t fly here and the price of admission is being a sailor and getting your ass kicked to get here. The water is gorgeous and this place amazing. It’s a divers paradise with mooring balls scattered about for tying the dinghy to. Can’t wait to explore. But for now: celebration, showers, rest and cleaning. What a F**king ride!

LEwis & The Tough-as-Nails Mermaid

June 20, 2015

Suwarrow Atoll, Cook Islands

13 14.905 S
163 06 467 W

The Pleasant Sail to Suwarrow (Suvarov)

We are three days out of Penrhyn and closing on Suwarrow, 28nm SW of our position. Suwarrow is a small coral atoll with very few motus and only one person in residence. It is the island where Tom Neal lived for 25 years alone; he wrote a book about his stay called ‘An Island to One’s Own.’ I wish I had a copy aboard but they don’t sell it on Kindle so I couldn’t download it in Penrhyn. It is also the favorite port-of-call of the legendary French sailor Bernhard Moitessier.

We are so close but unfortunately will not be able to enter the coral pass today as we would arrive at sunset and thus without adequate light to safely enter the 15ft deep pass. We will be heaving-to tonight in the lee of the island.

The past few days have been really pleasant sailing. We have had to motor-sail for most of it, but the calm conditions have made it really peaceful and restful. Even with me taking over the entire night shift I have been able to get adequate rest in the mornings. We have been filing our days with reading and trying to catch fish that were apparently all taken by the commercial tuna boats or something because we have yet to get a bite.

We stopped in Manihiki and watched a gorgeous sunrise over the atoll while hove-to a mile out but decided it was too rolly with the large swells and decided to sail on. The weather is also very unsettled so staying on a coral shelf is not a very prudent decision. Something was drawing me to the island though and I’m glad I was able to see it, if only from seaward.

I have played the weather forecast perfectly and we are sailing on a light breeze from the NNW. We are closing on the northern branch of the SPCZ (convergence/convection zone). The plan is to sail into the lee of Suwarrow and ride out the squalls tonight while hove-to. The strong SE trades will fill in with vengeance tomorrow morning and the plan is to hide in the lee of the atoll until we have enough light to enter the pass.

I expect the anchorage to be exposed to the three miles of fetch coming across the lagoon, but I read that there is good holding so we’ll double up the anchors again and ride it out. It should subside in a couple days and the longer-term forecast looks very pleasant from the east.

I am so excited about the diving in Suwarrow. I have heard amazing reports of very healthy coral and thousands of colorful fish. Be sure that I’ll be taking some epic GoPro footage to share when we reach Samoa in a couple weeks.

Alyssa is in good spirits and is very excited to be done with atolls after Suwarrow. We have not seen a grocery store in over two months. We are completely out of anything fresh or live. She is dreaming of salads, fresh produce, grocery stores, restaurants, cafes and civilization. Samoa will have all that and more and she can’t wait. In the meantime our current plan is to try and trade with another boat for some eggs or mayonnaise and anything fresh or green. Or bodies are screaming for more nutrients – in hindsight I think we should have bought that overpriced green superfood powder from the health store. Most boats are coming from Bora Bora so they should have some French goodies for us to trade and maybe something green.

I expect a very active squally night tonight while hove-to. Who knows, maybe we’ll get lucky and it will be pleasant….I just knocked on wood.

Cheers from Ellie and her Crew,

June 18, 2015

South Pacific Ocean

12 55 S
162 45 W
191 T
4.5 KTS

The Difficult Task of Leaving Penrhyn

Lewis and I are on our way to Manihiki, a 200nm sail downwind from Penrhyn.
It was a rough day yesterday while getting ready to leave. First we woke up around sunrise to finish readying the boat and pull up our 3 anchors (yes, we had 3 anchors out! Two on our bow and one on our stern so we wouldn’t swing into shallow water or hit the coral heads on either side of us). Then we had to motor across the atoll which takes a few hours with me on the bow looking out for pinnacle coral heads in the lagoon. Clouds and squalls kept taking away our sunlight, making the water turn black and impossible to read the depth, so we kept stalling until sun came back. When we finally got to the other side, a town called Omoka, which is of course a lee shore (where if your anchor drags, you are pushed onto shore instead of safely out to sea), we couldn’t find this so called “sand patch” to drop our anchor in to get a good hold. Instead, we anchored in 50′ of coral so our anchors and chain drag and scratch, making a terrible, terrible noise until one of the anchor prongs finally catches under a bommy. I stayed on the boat to keep anchor watch while Lewis went to shore in search of diesel and to check us out of Penrhyn. Oh, and I forgot to tell you, our dingy outboard prop broke while we were motoring back and forth to Te Autua village on the windward side of Penrhyn. There is this stupid rubber ring on the inside of the prop that absorbs shock in case you hit something so it won’t ruin the engine or gears (makes sense), but it wears out over time (ours crumbled to little pieces) so the prop would no longer turn. We didn’t know about this lovely feature and didn’t bring a spare. Our friend Bruce on Skabenga told us that we NEED a spare prop but somehow it never made it onto our spares list of stuff to buy. DOH! SOOO long story short, Lewis took my inflatable paddleboard in to the harbor. Did I mention it was blowing 20kts and squalling with huge chop because we’re on a lee shore? Inflatable paddleboards don’t like those conditions because they’re so light with all of that thick windage above the water, the nose gets blown downwind. When Lewis returned a couple hours later with 2 jugs of diesel and a case of beer, he said he, with the case of beer in his waterproof backpack, and the two jugs tied just in front of him on top of the paddleboard, flipped over like 3 times! He was acting as ballast to the inflatable paddleboard! I have a great pic of him almost back to the boat, drenched with a smile on his face for negotiating a proper NZ exchange rate so we could afford a case of beer!
Our transmission on the boat is slipping too and sometimes doesn’t go into forward unless we kind of jam it quick and forcefully. I had to empty our huge lazarette full of dive and kite gear to get to the engine in case we had to manually put it in gear. Thankfully it worked when we went to pull our two anchors up. The second anchor was extremely difficult to bring up because it was caught on coral. Imagine this, Lewis is at the helm, I’m on the bow with the anchor remote, drenched because it just poured. I get the signal to start bringing in the chain so I point in the direction I want him to drive so it takes the stress of the chain as I am bringing up 200′ of chain. A couple times, the chain yanks the boat when the wind catches our bow, forcing our bow one side or another, as the chain drags and catches on some kind of coralhead that is too deep to see. We finally get it with about 85′ to go when, yank!, our bow is pulled hard down as the chain stops coming free. Then the wind catches the bow, throwing us the other way. The chain slacks for a couple seconds and then, yank!, it pulls the bow hard the other way. I let more chain out hoping that the extra slack would let it free from under whatever it is caught on. I directed Lewis to drive the left as I drop a little more, hoping that’s the way it is snagged. YANK! Nope, wrong way. We tried to the right as I let out a little more, yank! grind! grind! pop! Lewis yells not to break the windlass (the heavy duty chain puller-upper lol), adding that he might need to dive on it. I start pulling some up, then yank! grind! grind! grind! I see more slack so I pull a little more up. Pop! grind! grind! grind! Lewis yells, “just let it out! I’ll have to dive on it!” I respond saying “I got it up to 75′, more than we had it before. I think it’s dragging!” A very good sign. I keep bringing up more chain, “50 feet left!…25 feet!.. I see the first anchor!” The second anchor is about 12′ behind that on more chain. After securing our primary anchor, I have to reach over the bow with a boat hook to grab the chain, hand over hand I wrestle the chain up with a 55lb fortress anchor on the end. I have to lift it over the lifelines and on deck so I can undo the shackle and disassemble the anchor for storage. I’m getting pretty strong on this boat;) While Lewis was at customs, I tried lifting out our dive compressor out of the bottom of the lazarette a few times and couldn’t get it for the life of me. I could really use a massage on my lower back. haha Lewis said it was pretty difficult to juggle a case of beer on the back of a couple scooters going to and from the customs office in Omoka. And he thinks that the guy driving smelled like an Irish pub and may have been drunk. I’m hoping that the unpaved roads meant that he was going under 10mph with this guy!
Our friend Levi gave us 3 kites and a couple harnesses when he switched boats. He said he had too much stuff and Lewis was happy to accommodate the gifts. (Many thanks again, Levi!) Levi was a kite boarding instructor in Honolulu so he gave me lessons in Penrhyn. I love it! I already know how to control the kite, so I’m hoping to practice with the board in Suwarrow.
The wind died and I am now motoring towards Manihiki, a closed coral atoll with no entrance to the lagoon. We plan to anchor off in the lee of the island. If it’s too rolly or too dangerous, we’ll figure out a new plan. Lewis started taking over my half of the night shift because he knows how much I hate sailing in the dark. He says he was going to singlehand before we met, so he should be able to do it and sleep in the morning. We’ll be there by tomorrow morning and will stay a couple days. Then 2 nights to Suwarrow, max 2 weeks there, and then 3 or 4 days to Pago Pago in American Samoa.
I’m dreaming of open air markets, grocery stores, fresh laundered clothes, good wine and restaurants. I’m out of eggs, fresh produce (except 2 butternut squash), mayo, and only have 1 small container of powdered milk. The cargo ship came to Penrhyn while we were there, but apparently there was some kind of mix up and the only thing they brought was juice and beer. All of the islanders are pretty upset as they are in need of fresh supplies. A woman’s husband came to our boat as we were pulling anchor just to ask for a tube of toothpaste. They said they have enough rice and grow bananas and have plenty of coconuts and fish, but the rest won’t be there for another month, maybe two. My body is screaming for a green machine juice or a shot of wheatgrass! I still surprise myself every now and then with what I can make out of pretty much nothing on the boat.
As my new friend Ruby says, “Hunger is the best sauce.”

Cheers from the rolly South Pacific,
Alyssa & Lewis

10 03.60S
159 44.75W
5.6kt, motoring in 8kt wind

Sailiing West from Penrhyn to Suwarrow

After three great weeks in Penrhyn, we have decided to sail west. We will cross the lagoon in the morning and anchor off Omoka village to clear out and pay up. Then we’ll put to sea and sail for Suwarrow, another atoll 400 miles downwind.

I would like to buy some more diesel as the wind is forecast to lighten halfway to Suwarrow. Hopefully we can score some from the locals tomorrow. We have about 25 gallons in the tank that we bought off a couple other boats; that’s just shy of two days motoring range.

We’ll keep the blog updated as we sail west. Wish us calm seas and moderate but steady trades.

Levi, of SJOSTROM, gifted us three kites and a surfboard. He jumped ship – literally – and is now on DRINA and had to ditch his gear. Lucky us and he was even kind enough to give Alyssa intro lessons. She’s now hooked and we have gear for both of us to ride! We finally got the hissing cat in the water – and she is even smiling!!!

Will write soon.


June 14, 2015
Broken Palm Island, Penrhyn, Cook Islands