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                                              A cruising family
responded Monique as she trimmed          admission to this tropical paradise
                                        the ...

                                              Clockwise from
friends Drew and Marge on S/V            control in the narrow passage to       angled our bows back to the center
Dosia h...

                                                                                              us angled i...
beyond the town quay,” our daugh-
ter Cammi called from the spread-
ers. “All we need to do is turn left
at the bombie off...
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Multihulls Quarterly: Zen's Den


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Tom writes about Aitutaki in the Cook Islands. Published in Multihulls Quarterly Magazine; May 2010

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Multihulls Quarterly: Zen's Den

  1. 1. gonecruising Zen’s Den A cruising family discovers a hidden, cat- friendly gem in the Southern M y wife, Monique, was getting her bearings in the cockpit before the sun went down at the start of her watch. She noticed that I had added more sail while she was sleeping and was By Tom Burgess Cook Islands now engrossed in the chart soft- ware at the nav station. 12 Multihulls Quarterly • Volume 2, Issue 2
  2. 2. responded Monique as she trimmed admission to this tropical paradise the main and dropped the leeward can be high. After you make your dagger board in preparation for way down the tight and shallow some close-hauled sailing. pass, you need to pick your way This conversation would have around the coral heads in seven to been very different on our last cruis- eight feet of water and anchor with ing boat, a 53-foot monohull that two anchors and/or several lines we cruised for two years between tied to the trees to keep you from Newport, Rhode Island and the donating bottom paint (or worse). Caribbean. Now, we are cruising As is the case with many Pacific the South Pacific on our Chris White atoll anchorages, the pass into Atlantic 48 catamaran, and speeds Aitutaki can only be negotiated in and anchorages like this are exactly daylight. We had to make a deci- why we converted. Don’t get me sion. Should we kick it up a notch wrong—we loved all 10,000+ miles for the next 24 hours and cover the we cruised on our monohull, but 209 miles before sunset the next when we decided to cross the evening, or slow down to 5 knots South Pacific, with its long-distance and arrive 12 hours later when the passages and shallow remote atoll sun rose the next morning? The wind anchorages, we knew it was time was on the nose and predicted to to try two hulls. And now that our hold steady at 15 to 20 knots true. daughter Cameron is 12 and our Fortunately, contrary to popular son Cole is 10, we wanted the extra belief, many modern catamarans elbow room offered by two hulls to (including our Atlantic 48) are well keep the whole family smiling on designed for upwind work. By drop- our extended cruise. ping our leeward dagger board and trimming the sails in tight, we MAKING A RUN FOR IT could steer about 40 degrees off On this particular passage, the true wind and lay the course to we were headed for Aitutaki, a the entrance of the lagoon on one remote atoll on the northern end long tack. We are big fans of mini- of the Southern Cook Islands with mizing exposure to bad weather a reputation for having one of the and other unforeseeable problems most pristine lagoons in the South associated with boats at sea, so we Pacific. The actual island is less than decided to make a run for it. five miles long, but if you include the fringing reef and spectacular TOO BEAUTIFUL TO PASS UP encircled lagoon, the overall atoll The wind held through the night. stretches more than 10 miles. The We had a fast and relaxing sail, lagoon is so well protected from making more than 200 miles in 24 Mother Nature that it served as a hours. As we approached Aitutaki, rest stop and refueling station for the sun was setting, but we could trans-pacific seaplane flights in the clearly see the barrier reef that “What’s the plan?” she asked late 1950s. Throughout the island, encircled the island. We found the from the cockpit. you can find pictures of that era’s opening to the pass, marked only “Well, the pass into the lagoon is most famous actors and wealthy by a rusty piece of steel re-bar, 50 feet wide, half a mile long and businesspeople as they rested on and could see some other boats carries a max depth of six feet. It’s the pristine beaches while their air- anchored in the harbor, but there lined with breaking reefs on both crafts were refueled. was something wrong. About half- sides and there are no channel Aitutaki is a small, somewhat out way down the pass, there was a markers. We’ve got 209 miles to go of the way island. Unfortunately, 40-foot sailboat hard aground. Had and 24 hours to make it before the many cruisers bypass it altogether we beat the sun just to be thwarted sun sets,” I replied. due to its shallow entrance and by a blocked pass? “Sounds perfect—let’s go for it!” small anchorages. The price of A couple days earlier, our good 13
  3. 3. gonecruising Clockwise from left: looking up the channel with Dosia in the foreground; the best fire dancer in Aitutaki; Cole making his debut as a Polynesian dancer. Opposite: Town Quay, with the main harbor to the right and Zen’s Den to the left 14 Multihulls Quarterly • Volume 2, Issue 2
  4. 4. friends Drew and Marge on S/V control in the narrow passage to angled our bows back to the center Dosia had arrived in Aitutaki. feel confident about slipping past of the channel. We were in! And we Through my binoculars, I could see the marooned boat. We entered had about 20 minutes of useable Drew in his dinghy trying to pull the the pass slowly and eyeballed our daylight to find a spot to anchor for sailboat off the bottom. We hailed approach. The water was gin clear the night. Dosia on the VHF to find out what and we could clearly see where the was happening. “Drew says we’re sand bottom met the reef on each THE FUN NEVER STOPS stuck hard, but he thinks you should side of the pass. As we approached “You’re gonna need two anchors be able to squeak by,” said Marge. the grounded boat, Monique and to hold the bow into the 3 knot cur- With the setting sun, we didn’t have the kids held a few fenders over rent if you anchor near us,” barked much time to think about it. If we the side in case we bumped. We Drew from his dinghy. “Yikes,” I did not make it inside, we would passed the boat to port so our star- thought. “The fun never stops in have to bypass Aitutaki or heave board hull was slightly outside the Aitutaki!” to until the next morning. Aitutaki is channel, but still over sand. The Arriving in a well protected simply too beautiful to pass up, and depth meter told me that the star- anchorage after a multi-day ocean the thought of heaving to in such board hull passed through 3.5 feet passage is always satisfying, and lumpy seas was unappealing, so of water, which is exactly what we the typical Pacific atoll, with its near we decided to take a shot at the draw, so I figured the weight of the 360-degree enclosed reef lagoons, pass. kids, my wife and all the fenders on offers an especially welcoming Fortunately, we were able to the port side provided just enough refuge. Once through the break time our arrival with a slack high lift to help us clear the shallows. in the reef, there are usually plen- tide, a goal for all entrances to the I guess cats can heel when you tiful anchorages and deep water Pacific atolls. The wind was down need them to! channels available for navigation for the evening, so we had enough As we squeaked by, I quickly throughout the lagoon. 15
  5. 5. gonecruising us angled into the current and off the bottom. After a lifetime of sailing and more than 20,000 miles of cruis- ing, this ranks as one of the most interesting and beau- tiful anchorages we have ever reached. After Drew and his dinghy helped us set the stern anchor, he and Marge joined us on board Zen for a well deserved home cooked meal on the back deck while the sun faded over the horizon. THE FIRST BOAT—EVER The next morning, we awoke to the splash and roll caused by local fishing boats making their way out of the channel. This was not a big deal, but leveraging the benefits of cruising on a cat, we decided to take advantage of our shallow draft and venture a bit fur- ther off the beaten track to a quieter spot. What’s the first thing you do when you need to navigate a tight anchorage fraught with surface-breaking bombies Aitutaki is a bit different. Once the north of the town quay that is and strong currents? You send your you negotiate the somewhat hair- completely protected from the cur- kid up the mast, of course! raising half mile channel, you are rent and has clearer water, but only After years of cruising, our kids confronted with three small anchor- carries about four feet of depth at have graduated from helpless ing options. The first is to anchor in a low tide. passengers to active crew mem- small offshoot of the main channel, When we arrived, there were bers, willing and excited to take picking a sandy hole for the anchor three boats in the channel anchor- on challenging tasks that directly between numerous bombies (coral age, one in the main harbor and impact our cruising lifestyle. heads), while angling the bows none in the pond north of the Quay. Perched on the spreaders with appropriately into the 2 to 4 knot The sun was setting, so we decided their youthful, eagle-like eyesight, constant outgoing current with a to pick the closest anchorage with our kids have proven far more stern hook. The second option is to the most local knowledge. Tomor- valuable than the charts of these glide into the main harbor, anchor row we could drop the dink and Pacific atoll anchorages, most of the bows in 5 to 7 feet of murky investigate the other spots for our- which have not been updated water and tie a stern line to a tree selves. We quickly found a sandy since the seafaring captains of on shore to stay clear of the com- slot between the bombies in the the 1700s first surveyed them. mercial quay. Finally, there is a little channel anchorage and dropped “Hey Dad, there’s a little chan- pond opposite the main harbor to a bow and stern anchor to keep nel that leads into that pond just 16 Multihulls Quarterly • Volume 2, Issue 2
  6. 6. beyond the town quay,” our daugh- ter Cammi called from the spread- ers. “All we need to do is turn left at the bombie off our bow, keep that big reef on our starboard and stay to the left side of the entrance of the pond, and we’ll be able to anchor among some small coral heads in nice white sand.” Try to get that kind of intel from your chart plotter. It turned out to be a pretty easy entrance, and once inside we found enough room for at least two boats to anchor in five to six feet of sandy bottom. After we anchored in the pond, we headed ashore to start exploring. As we stepped off the dinghy, we were greeted by the customs folks and told that we were the first cruising boat to anchor in this spot. “The first boat this year,” I asked? “No. The first boat ever”. I gave them a bit of a con- cerned look and they quickly of the Cook Islanders. We sent word that affectionately became known responded:”Don’t worry. It’s a great back to the cruising fleet headed as Zen’s Den. If you are headed anchorage and we don’t know past the Cooks on their way to across the Pacific, don’t miss Aitut- why more people don’t use it!” Tonga and told them about the aki. And if you are on a cat, we We spent two exceptional weeks challenging entrance, incredible hope you find Zen’s Den as wel- enjoying the incredible hospitality beauty, and of course, the pond coming as we did. 17