|Suwarrow, Cook Islands
|Update-Suwarrow Islands, August 5, 2005
Suwarrow Island is in the Cook Islands. It became “famous” because for over 20 years (1950-
1970) a man named Thomas Neale lived on this island. He wrote about his life in a book called “An
Island to Oneself”. It was a fascinating account of self-sustenance. Although he was sometimes
called a hermit, he did not embrace that title. He did enjoy the company of cruising boats that
came to visit.
Suwarrow (or Suvarov as it was named after a Russian ship that landed here. The Cook Islanders
call it Suwarrow because they don’t have a V in their Maori derivative language) is now a national
reserve. There are two caretakers that live on Suwarrow- John and Veronica. This is their first
season on the island. Veronica’s uncle, Papa John has been the caretaker for many years. John
and Veronica will live on Suwarrow for 6 months and then will go back to Rarotonga (Cook Islands)
for the cyclone season. They had a record of 20 boats in the anchorage while we were there.
There is supposedly buried treasure on this island. One of the cruisers went looking for it.
The crew of Ace got into paradise mode and enjoyed this beautiful atoll in the following ways.
Lou’s days consisted of jumping in and getting some fish for our meals. He has become an
excellent free diver. He can dive 40-50 feet and he can stay down about 2 minutes. It is amazing
to watch him hunt with his spear and then quickly get the fish out of the water on his spear and
swim for the dinghy. The sharks are not far behind him. Sharks? Did you just read sharks? Did
she just write so nonchalantly “sharks”? Yes, well, kind of. The sharks we see the most are the
black tip, the white tip and the gray reef shark. That is also their order of aggressiveness. The
largest shark we have seen in this lagoon is 5 feet. Lou has had a few close shark encounters,
but they tend to disperse when you face them. Lou has also been amazed at the cannibalistic
nature of the grouper. When he wounded a grouper, Lou went to the surface to get air and then
he went back to see if he could get his prize. What he found was a school of grouper around the
injured grouper. At first, he thought the grouper’s kinsmen were paying their final respects. Oh no,
they were waiting to get a piece of the dearly departed! The circle of life is BRUTAL!
Martin’s days consist of: playing on the beach with his friends swinging on this great tree swing
where he executes 360 shove-its and snaps (He even built a rope ladder up the tree so that he can
launch from high up on the tree.) . Playing his guitar (One of the cruiser’s taught him the 12 bar
blues progression. We like to make up our own words to this progression. He also learned Eric
Clapton/J.J. Cale’s “Cocaine” which we have renamed Propane.). He also likes to spearfish. He
can free dive to about 35 feet, but can’t stay there long enough to get a shot at a fish.
Emily’s days consist of getting together with friends, playing volleyball, reading and snorkeling.
Emily is a great free diver and can dive to 35 feet. She is gracefully transitioning into a young
woman. She has been around more teenagers this past three months than girls her own age. I
think she is handling the situation remarkably. Even with constant input from her dad and me.
Mary’s days consist of trying a new way to cook the fish and other delicacies that Lou and Martin
bring back to the boat, snorkeling, learning to play the concertina. I also like to go spearfishing
with the guys—to look for grouper and sharks. And I try to be the first one into the dinghy once
something is shot! No shark is gonna get a piece of me! I did have a “too close for me” shark (a
gray shark) encounter and I wasn’t climbing into the dinghy fast enough for me, so Lou helped me
(read pulled me) aboard. I also was fortunate to have a friend who is a dive instructor get me back
in the water and comfortable with scuba diving. The underwater world is spectacular.
The water was so clear and still we could see our anchor chain and anchor 25 feet below us. You
could see starfish and other critters clearly from the deck of Ace.
We went lobstering on a reef in the night. It was a moonless night, with the night sky at its absolute
most radiant. We were walking along in ankle high water, with flashlights and looking for lobster,
just sitting in the water. The lobster eyes glow red in the night. Our family caught about 20, kept
11 big males, and released the rest . I made lobster crepes that prompted Lou to suggest that we
could stay on Suwarrow and have a restaurant. It was very tempting. We were very happy in this
little paradise and thought we could live there for quite awhile.
We had a cruiser party at the Suwarrow Yacht Club. We had coconut crab, sashimi, sushi, lots of
fish and other goodies. In addition, we had 4 guitars, one recorder, a flute, concertina, hamonicas
and bongos. We had a great time jamming and dancing! We were celebrating Veronica’s (the
caretaker) birthday. She had never had such a celebration in her life and was very touched by all
that we had done.
We also went to an island filled with birds. It was very interesting the different techniques of nesting
that the different species employ. You have the terns who seem to lay their eggs almost anywhere
on the ground and then take to the sky with their fellow terns and protect the eggs from aloft. Then
there are the tropic birds that find a nice shady spot and hide away while they incubate the eggs.
The boobies build their nests in trees or on the ground. They have no qualms at playing stare
down with you and will not budge. The frigate chicks were just waiting in their nests, unable to fly,
but waiting for their parents to return with a meal. I’m proud to report that the Ace crew escaped
bird island without any bird droppings.
Lou just read a biography of Magellan. He sailed from Cape Horn to Guam and somehow never
encountered the THOUSANDS of other islands sprinkled throughout the South Pacific. It took
Magellan 100 days.
Life in Suwarrow was great. But we need to keep on moving and the need to figure out what we
are doing with our lives is sometimes weighing pretty heavy on Lou and me. We had a great
passage to Samoa and were rewarded on our night watches with a little bit of a meteor shower.
|The water is so clear in the lagoon at
Suwarrow, that you can clearly see our
anchor chain 40 feet down, along with
the coral heads it wrapped around!
|A beautiful, calm day in Suwarrow
lagoon. We were lucky to have great
weather for two whole weeks there.
|Ace anchored off Anchorage Island,
where Kiwi Tom Neale lived as a hermit
for 16 years.
|Potluck feast at the caretaker's house
on Anchorage Island. That's coconut
crab on the upper left, and lots of
|This is Veronica and Mary. Veronica
and her husband, John, are the
caretakers and only inhabitants on
Suwarrow. She is the niece of the
previous caretaker, Papa John, who
was there for many years.
|Emily and Adam from Scud, posing for
a photo op.
|It was Veronica's birthday while we were
there, and this was some of her birthday
|One of the ever-present sharks in the
|Photographic evidence of our lobster
|A bird-nesting motu a few miles away
from Anchorage Island
|This island was a nesting spot for
terns, boobies, frigates, and