Rose Island, Ethical Conundrums, and Rain

Blob tweet*:
Sep 14 _14.278S, 167.160W _ Very Bored Of Shit Weather At Sea

Diary entry:
Not a fun few days. But not the adrenalin rush of our first
encounters with bad weather either. First, boredom. Second, just wanting
to have it over and done with. I don’t even want to describe it, don’t
want to remember it. Perhaps that’s what keeps the long-time voyagers
going: a well-honed ability to forget how incredibly rubbish the bad
bits are.

Not that this was really bad, not scared for life or anything (though
when the lightning started I did do a mental check of all our emergency
gear). No, primarily: bored.

There is also a new element to this trip, considerations not just
physical, emotional and psychological, but also ethical. Rose Island.

Rose Island; Wildlife Sanctuary.

I interject; you need some background.

Rose Island. Directly en route between Suvarow and northern Tonga, and
the thing that entirely consumed my thoughts during those first three
days of the journey. A simple internet search, sent to us by email by a
good friend, will tell you:

“Rose Atoll, sometimes called Rose Island or Motu O Manu by people of
the nearby Manu’a Islands, is an oceanic atoll within the U.S. territory
of American Samoa. It is an uninhabited wildlife refuge. It is the
southernmost point in the United States.

“…Rose Atoll contains the largest populations of giant clams, nesting
seabirds and rare reef fish in all of American Samoa. The fish
population is unique from the rest of the region due to a high
concentration of carnivorous fish and low concentration of herbivorous
fish. Almost 270 different species of fish have been recorded in the
last 15 years. Tuna, mahi-mahi, billfish, barracuda and sharks reside
outside the lagoon. In deeper waters, tunicate and stalked crinoid have
been spotted by scuba expeditions. Sea mammals such as the endangered
humpback whale and the stenella genus of dolphin also use the waters.

“The atoll is a critical nesting habitat for the threatened green turtle
and the endangered hawksbill turtle. The turtles migrate between
American Samoa and other Pacific Island nations. Their nesting season is
between the months of August and February.

“Approximately 97% of American Samoa’s seabird population resides on
Rose Atoll. Each of the 12 bird species is federally protected.
Red-footed boobies and greater and lesser frigate birds nest in the buka
trees. Black noddies and white terns nest in the middle and lower
branches. The root system is used by the reef herons and red-tailed
tropic birds. Other birds can be found in the Pisonia forest, the only
one left in Samoa….”

In other words, Pacific Paradise.

We know of boats that have visited, and of boats with intentions to go.
We have whispered its name since we first pored over charts in Chile.
Indeed, it must be exactly the paradise that everyone here has been
seeking, and not discovering. We even heard of a boat that stayed there
for three weeks several years ago. Imagine! An atoll to yourself.
Suvarow without the summer camp. Is it possible?

Andy was naturally intrigued to visit. In search of solitude. At one
with nature. And far from other people.

I was also intrigued (who wouldn’t be?), but also conflicted. I kept
thinking of my lab in Antarctica, the Clean Air Sector Laboratory, the
only place with any kind of scientific’out of bounds’ for thousands of
miles. A place that my companions would generally ignore and avoid,
mainly because it was too much effort to walk the 2km to get there. But
occasionally, just occasionally, we’d discover a telling pee-hole in the
snow, or see footsteps beneath an instrument that measured snow
smoothness. And I’d rage

ANTARCTIC CONTINENT TO PEE ON. why here? because it’s the only place
you’ve been told not to go?”

A friend asked me, do you always respect Keep Out signs? I laughed- I do
if I write them.

If Rose was restricted for weird political reasons, I probably wouldn’t
have been so bothered. But it is designated as a Wildlife Sanctuary, and
goodness knows we’ve seen a lot of decimated wildlife on this trip so
far: lagoons full of ciguatera, dead reef, a sparsity of fish or
colourful coral… of course people want to see what every place would
look like if it weren’t for the people… but therein lies the problem.

We thankfully side-stepped the Rose Debate . A few days before our
departure some friends en route to Tonga sent us news that there was a
scientific research campaign occurring there, and that the entrance was
clearly barred by a large US ship. Andy was disappointed, I was relieved.

And then I became curious. What a great opportunity to find out about
local habitats from experts. And interesting to see how this kind of
remote campaign was organised. And how much would I enjoy talking to
scientists there, honestly, about this issue of visiting yachts… and,
well, everything.

I wrote an email to the chief scientist responsible for the region, not
really expecting a reply. Almost by return of mail however, she sent a
very friendly note clearly not authorising our visit, but saying she’d
contact those in charge. I liked the fact that all the people mentioned
were women. (Not that I was surprised, was it maybe just a refreshing
change to come across women in charge again?!)

The morning we were due to leave I checked email one more time. Another
scientist had written: the ship has left, the campaign was over, the
island was out of bounds.

“Please respect that the atoll is closed to visitation. A primary
reason for the closure is to ensure quarantine procedures are followed
including ship hull cleaning/ inspection, rodent, insect, plant, and
seed inspections and quarantines. One of our biggest challenges on our
island refuges is destructive introduced invasive species. Most of which
were unintentionally introduced.”

Spontaneously grinning, Andy told me to put the coordinates for Rose
Island into our GPS.

“I’m going for a swim”
“Good plan”

We swam in opposite directions, me with vigour. Ranting with each
stroke. By the time I returned, after a long sweep of the anchorage, I
was in full inside-voice torrade. “How can we convince the world’s
population to change its ways with regard to climate change if I can’t
even convince my own husband to not go to Rose Island?” “How can society
ever move in the direction of communal good over individual interest?”
“Why do cruisers have to go and visit the only [tiny] prohibited area
for thousands of miles when they have the entire Pacific to ruin?” etc
etc. The issue had escalated to huge moral proportions.

I climbed on board. In silence we prepared to leave. “You worried?”, he
asked me. “What about?”, I retorted. “About the passage, the journey,
the sailing?” “Ha! I have bigger things on my mind than mere sailing!”
“You do, like what?” “Like Rose Island.”

“We’re not going there”, he told me laughing, “I know you can’t go there”.

I love him. And felt awash with gratitude.

Thus was our course decided: anywhere but Rose Island. I opted for Niue,
the furthest south, and therefore furthest from Rose, but we both knew
the strong south-easterly waves and winds would make that a hard
passage. The Vava’u Group in Tonga was the next option, requiring a path
far to the south of Rose. Niuatoputapu, to the north of Vava’u, was now
third choice solely because Rose Island was directly en route.

We departed wonderful Suvarow, course set for Vava’u. Conditions were
not great, but not too bad. There were a few squalls and seas were quite
big, but we had left, and were sailing. It was good to be free again.

A big swell rose from the south east, consistent rolling waves about 3m
in height that kept knocking us off our course, sending us too far
north. After about six hours we gave up fighting and changed our
destination (we didn’t really care where we’d end up). New destination:
Niuatupotapu. Translation: Very Sacred Coconuts. Seemed as good a reason
as any to go there.

The squalls really hit on the second day. Torrential rain, strong gusts
of wind, lashing conditions, seas of 4-6m with occasional big breakers.
We were taking shifts, day and night, in full foul weather gear, sea
boots, thermals, woolly hat… and still soaked through. It lasted for
two full days, and by the end we were thoroughly exhausted, and keen for
land. Any land.

All this time Rose Island was always getting closer. Worse, when we set
a route south of it the winds sent us north. When we set a course to the
north, the winds sent us south. However hard we tried, we seemed to be
heading straight for it. No longer was it a paradise refuge, it was
rapidly becoming a collision risk.

diary entry cont’d..
We have changed our mind about Rose so many times that I truly didn’t
know what the outcome would be until right now- three full days into
this journey.

First, no question, we wanted to go.
Then we heard we couldn’t.
So I wrote and asked if we could.
And was told we couldn’t.
So we headed anywhere but there.
Except the winds pushed us exactly there. So much it became a concern
not to hit it.
And then the weather got stronger and we got tireder and the waves got
bigger and the rain got louder and we ripped a sail…

… and things got so bad that we started considering going there after
all, despite our best intentions not to, just to find brief shelter, and
rest, and fix the sail, and re-prepare, all under the protection of
‘force mayeur’.

And I was so tired and the weather was so wild that even though my brain
said –no, it’s not right-, my body said –please, just a few hours, just
one night-.

A far cry from the weeks of solitary paradise we had earlier dreamed of.

And so I caved, and said yes and plotted our course. And on the chart I

And not long after Andy said, we’re no going there, I can’t do it. This
isn’t Force Mayeur.

And we changed course for the umpteenth time. Tired, desperate for a
break, but not going to Rose.

He would go where my ethics wouldn’t allow. I would have gone where his
ethics didn’t allow. I couldn’t go to a wildlife sanctuary except under
Force Mayeur. He couldn’t call Force Mayeur unless we were endangering
our lives or the boat. Strictly speaking no-one need have known but
ourselves. But we are the ones¸ ultimately, who have to live with

And so at last, after three painful days of ethical wrangling, we passed
Rose Island, and we didn’t visit.

diary entry con’t
When the system of incessant squalls has seemingly passed, the
relief is tangible. We both collapse and I sleep a sleep heretofore
unknown to me in transit. Is this a second skill I’ve learnt en route?
First: to forget; second: to obtain oblivion.

I’m tired now. Two or three nights to go and I just want to be there,
anywhere, anywhere with land. In truth, I’d like that land to be New
Zealand and this be the end of the adventure. I want to stop. I want
some home comforts. And to see my friends. I want to sleep in a large
double bed that is comfortable and doesn’t need to be packed away. I
want a holiday from sailing and living on a boat. I’m done. Eight months
is enough.

It’s the fourth night and the squalls seem to have passed. We are now
sailing well, and quite fast, in steady winds and what feels like a firm
sea below. Strong and steady- much more like what I was expecting from
the weather reports.

Amusingly, I find myself dreaming of being in a friends house in NZ,
wifi’d up, new macbook in my lap, frothy latte by my side (from a cafe
conveniently next door), immersing myself completely in Facebook. For
days. Writing to old friends, tracking people down, reconnecting, maybe
even meeting again. My daydreams take me back to old friendships that
make Andy feel like a very new arrival in my life. People who were a
daily part of my life but I have now lost contact with.

I’m loving my Starbucks internet facebook employment and audibly laugh
as I scan the horizon for yet more no boats. How the hell did I get
here- ocean all around and days away from the Kingdom of Tonga, a place
I couldn’t even put on the map a year ago. I thought that once I had
habituated into this life I might never want to return.The catchments of
modern life would seem so fickle. We would choose to sail forever, in
love with the ocean and the albatrosses. I would feel a revulsion for
the old world and all its trappings.

But no. I crave Facebook and a cafe latte.

As it turns out, the last two nights of the passage were glorious. Clear
starry nights, strong and steady winds, a relatively flat sea, good
speed, and comfortable sailing motion. On the last day we even had a
Good Life moment: sat side- by- side in the cockpit watching Zephyrus
sail herself bang on course through trauma-less conditions, eating pizza
freshly made by Andy and drinking my latest batch of home-made ginger
beer while the Tongan flag I was creating indoors lacked only a final
cross and some loops for hoisting up in the morning.

With first light I saw a perfect volcano on the horizon and Andy was
woken to my whooping and cheering: “LAND AHOY!” It was a spectacular
view made only better, a few hours later, by the sight of mother and
calf humpback whales breaching in the entrance to Very Sacred Coconuts.

*georeferenced blobs appears on the smilingfootprints map

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