Palmerston Passage, Atoll arrival…..

Dear F&F,
After our adventure in \”up anchoring\”, we set sail for what would be an expected brief 200 mile passage to Palmerston Atoll. We pushed on and made the 200 miles in 36 hours arriving at 4 p.m on the 18th of July. This trip was much lighter in wind and smaller of sea than our last, but Cindy wasn\’t doing so well; we\’d be happy to be moored after two days and one night at sea. If any of you have seen the Tom Hanks movie, \”Cast Away\” or the movie \”Nim\’s Island\” with Jodie Foster, this is the area of the Pacific where they would have taken place.

Palmerston would be one of our more interesting stops due to it\’s unique history in the South Pacific. It turns out that in the mid 1800\’s, a whaler by the name of William Marsters jumped overboard and swam ashore at what was an uninhabited island in the middle of the South Pacific. An atoll only 4 miles in length and 3 in width, Marsters somehow acquired a wife from distant Tuvalu in the northern Cook Islands. Soon, his wife became lonely and somehow got her two female cousins imported to Palmerston and soon enough, William Marsters had started three families.

Marsters over his lifetime realized that intermarriage amongst his immediate offspring would not be a good idea and due to clannish jealousies which were to eventually evolve, he set up strict rules for the families to follow about intermarriage and divided the seven small islands up between the three families. Each of the three families owned a part of each island, but in varying amounts. Long story short, everyone of the remaining islanders eventually all moved to \”Home Island\” as it was the most habitable and easiest to get in and out of the reef at. Additionally, as it was on the down wind side, trading vessels which stopped to anchor here would chose this island as the natural protection it is from the prevailing wind and sea conditions. Segue to 2010!

After over 2500 of Marsters descendants had moved off the island (mostly to New Zealand or Australia; a few to other Cook Islands), the society has some pretty quirky traditions. First and foremost is the concept of \”claiming\” a visitor. In the old whaling days, when a family spotted a sailing ship approaching the island, they would with great skill and not a small amount of danger, race out to be the first to make contact. This entitled them according to family rules and traditions to EXCLUSIVE trading rights with that vessel. This led to arguments, jealousies and a plethora of issues between the three Marsters clans. This tradition REMAINS TODAY! By the way, there are only 62 Marsters still on \”Home Island\” as of this writing. Most are under the age of 25.

We had read in a sailing magazine an article by Captain Fatty Goodlander and his wife Carolyn\’s experience here with the Bob Marsters family.
They sounded good to us and so we kind of hoped we\’d be \”claimed\” by them. When we arrived 3 miles from the anchorage (no access to the inner lagoon…well that\’s another story), we saw a small aluminum skiff with an outboard and a man and a young woman aboard. They quickly came up to us and told us they were Bob and Taia Marsters. This was indeed the same family easily recognized by the photos from Captain \”Fatty\”. Feeling a little relieved, we were instructed to follow them to the anchorage. We were the only boat there!…. We saw three moorings and went to pick one up. Bob told us we could, \”for the night\”, but he\’d have to ask his cousin\’s Simon and Edward if it would be okay and what they would want from us in return to use it. It seems that only Edward and Simons moorings were in tact from the last Hurricane and Bob had none to offer. We tied up and were moored literally to the minute before \”customs\” closed for the weekend which would have kept us onboard till Monday.

Simon and another cousin by marriage, Teddy (representing the third family), appeared just before 6 pm on Friday night. They quickly checked us in and told us how lucky we were to have arrived when we did or we would have not been able to come ashore till Monday morning. Bob coached us to tell Teddy that we had hailed by radio before 5 pm or we\’d be stuck for the weekend. Why? Who knows, it\’s all part of the politics of Palmerston Island. The anchorage was more comfortable than the outside of Aitutaki so we were hopeful of a pleasant stay.

The next several days turned into a fascinating tour and history lesson and quite a learning experience about present day politics on this small island in the South Seas!…
Stay tuned.

Scott & Cindy