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Cruising the Northern Cooks & Line Islands

By Sue Richards last modified Sep 03, 2008 04:44 PM

Published: 2008-09-03 16:44:20
Countries: Cook Islands , Kiribati

Updates kindly sent by Larry and Trinda Littlefield of SV Katie Lee (1981 Passport 45 Ketch).

We left Seattle in 2000 with a 3 year break to work 2003-2006, then left Zuatenajo, Mexico 2007, Marquesas, French Polynesia then this trip.

We took the less travelled route last fall after Bora Bora, Penrhyn (1 mo), Christmas(1 mo), Fanning (1 mo), Hawaii (4 mos), Fanning (2.5 mos), Christmas (2 wks), Penrhyn (1 mo), Manihiki (2 wks), Suwarrow (1 wk) and now American Samoa.

This has been a most unforgettable season. I highly recommend this route to anyone.

The passages from Fanning to Hawaii and back thru Penrhyn were close hauled but worth it. It would be reasonable to winter in Christmas and Fanning and avoid Hawaii, unless re-provisioning required it. With sufficient planning and a watermaker, provisions can come via the Kwai for the long stay, including fuel and gasoline.

A note about supplies in these remote islands: In general, the Kwai, an independent cargo sailing ship out of Hawaii delivers cargo from Hawaii and can bring supplies when requested by email. Every other trip goes to the Northern Cooks with the intermediate trips only to the Line Islands, about every 6 weeks. Tarowa sends irregular ships to the Line Islands. Rarotonga sends irregular ships to the Northern Cooks.

For more information about our trip see our blog,

Penrhyn, Northern Cooks
About 200 people in two villages. They are very friendly, generous people. We were the 34th boat in 2007 but only the 4th in 2008 at about the same date. At least 7 more followed us this year but most cruisers went straight to Suwarrow.

Check in
One must anchor by Omaka village for check in, at least.

$30NZ each passport + $2.50NZ/day paid on check out (this anchor fee is not supposed to be charged, but we paid it anyway).

$10US to spray airplane cabin insecticide in the boat in 2007 ($20US without the spray in 2008) on check in.

$10US in 2007, but he was on vacation in 2008 with no replacement. They request you put your dinghy in the water and pick them up at the wharf.

40 feet sand and coral in front of Omaka Village. Trouble with anchor retrieval, but succeeded w/o diving. 20 feet sand both north and south of Tuatau village (2007 and 2008).

No facilities or parts.

They have a number of strict rules that have caused some cruisers to have trouble here. After formal complaints in 2007, Rarotonga required them to print the rules and distribute them during check in, but in 2008 still they did not.

The rules are negotiable. The two biggies are:
1. No activity on Sunday
2. No moving the boat without permission

However, if one attends one of the two churches on Sunday then many other activities are open, such as having lunch with local friends etc.

Getting permission to move the boat is because of the numerous coral heads throughout the lagoon and the lines from pearl farming left in the water. They also are very conscious of their life dependency upon the health of their lagoon. But, make friends with a family or two and be escorted everywhere and involved in everything.

Walk, locals mostly have motor scooters, a few have trucks. Airport with almost weekly flights to Rarotonga but $1300NZ one-way.

Occasional dial-up internet at the hospital and the Telecom office.

Food and propane from Warick at the airport. He also sometimes can change money to NZ to pay fees, if you buy some supplies from him.
Fresh bread is available from Anne in Okama unless supplies are low. No fuel or gasoline.

New, well supplied clinic with nurses but the doctor’s contract was not renewed as Rarotonga didn't see the need for the expense.

Manihiki, Northern Cooks
Now a legitimate port of entry for Northern Cooks in addition to Pukapuka and Penrhyn. Very friendly, happy people, about 400 people in two villages plus a few living on the kowas (coral heads with trees in the middle of the lagoon).

We were the second boat in 2008. The home of Arthur Niel, son of Tom Niel of "An Island to Oneself", but doesn't like to admit it.

Check in
The health inspector came out to the boat with two others. Upon seeing the receipt from Penrhyn and explaining that they should not have charged the $65 anchor fee, he waived all other fees.

35-50 feet low coral and rock on the west side of the island adjacent to the village. No entrance to the lagoon except for a narrow vessel with less than 5 foot draft. A small dock exists with plans to remove more of the reef and cement the wharf for a side-to berthing for up to 130 feet with 6 meters draft. They assured me that by the season of 2009, there will be at least 4 sturdy moorings available.

No facilities or parts.

New, well supplied clinic with nurses but the doctors contract was not renewed as Rarotonga didn't see the need for the expense.

Walk, locals mostly have motor scooters. Airport with almost weekly flights to Rarotonga but $1300NZ one-way.

Satellite internet at the hospital and maybe other places.

No rules, but attendance in one of the 5 churches is encouraged.

Kiritimati (Christmas Island), Kiribati
There is no "s" in the alphabet, thus "ti" is pronounced "s".
About 10,000 people liver here, in 3 towns and several villages mostly around the northern end. Various cruise lines put in for a day every 2 to 3 weeks. Locals sell handicrafts including replica war knives, mats woven from pandanas leaves, woven shell baskets and carvings.

In 2007 this was $30Aus each passport for first 30 days of visa, $30 more each month for an extension. By 2008 they had passed legislation for no fee for American Visa, but they charged me $120 for two people cause we failed to pay for the two 30 day extensions in Fanning as ascertained by looking at our passports. We had stayed 2 1/2 months there before arriving in Christmas.

Port captain said $10 for anchor tax, but he did not collect it. $20 customs.

Off the jetty (pier) and take you dinghy to the steps going up the pier. Tie the dinghy with a long line so the wind can keep it clear of the steps as they are out of the water at low tide and can destroy the dinghy if it gets caught under them as the tide comes in. Others have anchored off the beach mid-way between the jetty and the town of London. You can leave the dinghy on the beach or through the pass into the lagoon. The pass is silted up to less than 4 feet, so most cruisers cannot enter the lagoon.

Spring of 2008, a 40 foot sailboat was holed offshore and had to repair at Christmas. They had a 50 ton crane and 50 ton forklift, so he flew to Hawaii on the weekly flight and bought 30 ton slings which he donated to the port captain. They lifted the boat and put it in a wooden cradle built inside half a container. However the crane had an accident and turned over breaking the boom. It was being repaired when we left in June.

Several small stores in London. JMB Enterprises near airport with fresh produce and bulk goods. Air freight from Hawaii is $3.00/lb so you need to really want it. Also a hardware store in London.
Water available at or near the jetty.
Fuel can be delivered to the jetty in 55 gal drums or you can tie the boat to the jetty and have a tank truck with a long hose fill direct. The jetty was designed for large ships and I was afraid to get my boat close to it.
The port captain sold me propane in 2008, transferred from his bottle with my adapter. In 2007, I had to buy a new 20# bottle full from JMB for $216 US in order to have any!

A clinic with 2 doctors and 4 nurses. They treated us and provided antibiotics for an emergency. Kiribati has socialised medicine.

Cars and scooters for rent "reasonably" from JMB.
Nine passenger mini-vans cruise the main road as taxis and load as many as 22 people plus bags of rice or flour. The charge was pro-rated by distance, about $3 Aus London to the airport at Banana, approx 15 miles away.
The Cook Hotel is at Banana.
Airport with weekly flights to Hawaii and Fiji. Monthly cargo plane for supplies.

Internet cafe in London, but routed via Tarowa and monitored. Dialup in homes. Telephone in telecom office.

Fanning, Kiribati
2500 people in 7 villages. The south motu is 7 miles long and the north is 5 to the last village. No electricity on the island, but a few solar panels-batteries-12 volt lights inverters and DVD players. Almost everyone lives in the traditional palm tree huts with thatched roofs. But the happiest folks and kids we've seen. They love to sing.

The surfing is reportedly excellent, when there is a swell. In the 2 1/2 months here we made close friends that we'll remember for life.

From 1999 thru 2009, NCL had an exclusive contract for cruise ships to visit Fanning. They leased 2 beaches and had large facilities for their passengers to have pizza, hamburgers and such plus rent hobie cats, pedal boats bicycles and beach chairs. But their last scheduled visit was April 2008 with no future trips scheduled. The facilities are off limits to the locals and no other cruise lines are allowed until resolution of the contract. Their 3 ferries are still moored in the lagoon, but the buoys marking the pass have been removed.

Check in
Both in 2007 and 2008 it was $20 Aus to customs and immigration, handled by the local policeman. Customs wants to collect duty on anything brought ashore, so give donations and gifts to friends on your boat, not on shore, or do it quietly.

In the lagoon. The current in the pass can be as much as 5 to 7 knots during max ebb, but most of the time it is not a big concern. We snorkelled the pass daily for octopus.
North of the pass tie to the old sunk barge or either of the two moorings (old tractor parts) in 12 feet over sand. The float of one mooring was not visible in 2008.
Or anchor in 30 feet sand & coral in front of the main village south of the pass, before the sunken tug. 3 moorings mostly used by the defunct NCL Norwegian Cruise Lines ferries. They prefer you anchor there for check in then move to the north side if you wish. Be sure to stay far enough south that you are out of the current flow from the pass or you'll swing with the tidal change.

No facilities or parts.

Free ferry across the pass. Flatbed trucks haul folks and school kids to and from the villages the 5 miles either side of the pass. You can generally ride with them free or contract the truck for $25 a trip.
On the south side you can often borrow bicycles. No airport, no regularly scheduled transportation of any kind between Washington, Fanning and Christmas. Locals often ask for passage to Christmas if they hear you are going that way. The locals travel by supply ships from Tarowa, when they show up, maybe 4 times a year or via the Kwai.

None except CB radio to Christmas, SSB from nurses station. The NCL island manager had a satellite phone for his business.

Two clinics with one semi-trained nurse at each. Very few drugs available. SSB radio to Christmas and Washington. Medical problems for the locals are critical. Most have head lice and fungus problems with their feet, bad teeth and eye problems.
Pacific Islands Medical Aid is a non-profit organization trying to help with donations and volunteer doctors. See

None, a few small stores, no parts, no boat services, no hardware store.
When available, fuel and gasoline can be had from Daniel, the fuel man. However they are sometimes out of diesel, generally out of gasoline, and always out of propane.
Water comes from roof catchments or hand dug wells, often contaminated.

Damned expensive! No place for cruisers.
Almost no legal place to anchor and all marinas are full, if you call by telephone. If you arrive you can often get in for one night and once they see you are not a derelict drug addict, they often let you extend for a couple of weeks. We spent 3 months in the boat yard at Honokahou on the big island and one month in Ali Wai marina in Honolulu.