April concluded with rotten weather. We decided to head north from 40 degrees South Latitude. The fleet was delivering in Papeete, Tahiti, and it was rumored that Starkist would give us an end of the season party. Tahiti was the carrot upon which we gladly bit.
We studied the chart for the best route and set “Gilligan” to steer us for the next 800 miles. Little did we know that another tropical cyclone was to interfere.
ZK1DB, Arnold of Rarotonga, forecast another mean trough of snotty weather which revealed itself on our weatherfax picture. We were edging near the farthest island to the south in Polynesia, Rapa Island. It lay almost 22 degrees south. We had no chart, but it had to be surrounded by coral reefs. That evening we asked Gary, K7WQE, who ran phone patches for us to Seattle, if he could find out anything. He and Steve studied for their ham licenses at the same time, so when their licenses were issued, Steve became K7WQD, and Gary K7WQE. In the National Geographic, Gary found a story about Rapa Island with an aerial shot. On our radio call that night, Gary described it and I drew it from his word pictures; “It is the shape of a “C” with the opening of the “C” facing towards the east. It’s about five miles from side to side…..etc.”
From my crude sketch we figured we could get in the harbor, and seek refuge from the impending storm. The rule of the sea is that any vessel may seek refuge from a storm in any harbor of the world. Mostly it is a truism. Our fellow travelers, Darrell Potter on the Lady Debbie and Longline on the Marine Star decided to keep going north against the building seas and gusty wind. We fetched the lee of Rapa Island and never did a jutting piece of green volcanic rock look so inviting. The steep sides of the basaltic slopes were laid with green felt. The jagged patterns of palm leaves defined the shores. The delicious smell of land after three months excited our senses. In honor of the calm lee, I cooked a steak barbecue and we dined on the back deck with a lush tropical island as background. We would try to make landfall in the morning.
The anchor rumbled up into place under the snout of Papa George as we bore away to give the island a wider berth. We had come up from a southerly course and now cruised slowly around its eastern perimeter scanning the water’s depths for coral heads. Donee and I conned from both sides and Drake from the catwalk above our heads. Humongous shapes of brain and staghorn defined the underwater landscape. Steve stared at the sonar in case the coral shoaled up in a hurry. In the distance a dugout canoe with a lonesome paddler slipped out through the morning mist.
I had an idea. Got my English/French dictionary out and looked up a few things. “Steve, go closer to the dugout!” Steve understood my plan and added his touch, a few frozen peanuts (small albacore) in reserve. We sidled near and I yelled in my best fish wifely voice, “ Comment ‘alley vous? Trey bien? Ou e’st l’entrée? “ (How are you,…well? Where is the entrance?) He paddled along side pointing yonder and Steve threw a few peanuts into his canoe. He gestured strongly with the follow me sign and that we did, right smack into the harbor of beautiful Rapa Island…looming coral heads, shallow, drifted under and beside us. We were in the only unmarked channel, used once a year by the French Navy. We were inside, in the calm, with volcanic peaks surrounding the lagoon.