Suwarrow Force 10

The Robertson family visits Suwarrow, the home of author Tom Neale and learns that sometimes fortune mocks the bold.

10/13: Suwarrow Force 10

Suwarrow is a remote atoll in the northern Cook Islands. It's where Tom Neale, author of the classic An Island to Oneself, lived alone, off and on, for twenty-five years before his death in 1977. Since 1986, Suwarrow's been a protected area, Suwarrow National Park. About 60 cruising boats stopped at Suwarrow this year; I don't think anyone else visits. A caretaking couple, Harry and Huahine, lives on the atoll from May-November. During the cyclone season, Suwarrow is deserted. Upon checking in, Harry (officially the warden, and also in charge of customs and immigration) told us we could not land on any island (motu) other than Anchorage Island, we couldn't fish, we couldn't burn or dispose of trash ashore, and we mustn't throw any food scraps overboard.

“So where are the remains of Neale’s home?”

“You were standing on what’s left of his front porch, now the book exchange.” Harry said in his kiwi-accented English.

I turned to look back at where Windy and the girls were still browsing the mostly-French and Dutch titles left by other cruisers. I could see the old clapboard siding that defined the boundaries of the original building.

“Here, I’ll show you.”

Harry and I walked from his two-story residence down to the book exchange where he pulled the bolt from the hasp that secured a door signed, DO NOT ENTER.

Inside the tiny room were Tom Neale’s quarters. A small, wood-framed bed occupied the far corner and in the near corner was a shiny, late-model Force 10 marine range. It was just like our ailing stove, but newer. Right away I noticed the grill was not broken like ours was. The burner caps looked new, not like our cast-iron caps that are corroding away at a rapid rate. I forgot all about Tom Neale.

“What’s with the stove?”

“Ah, yes. A cruiser donated that to us, for cooking. We don’t use it much, the wife prefers the half-barrel out back.”

“Hmm. We would sure love to swap some parts off that—ours is just like it.”

“Mmm-hmm. So that’s where Mr. Neale lived. His family maintains the memorial outside.”

“We’ve been here a week, I don’t think he’s interested in letting you cannibalize it.”

“Maybe he didn’t understand, wouldn’t hurt to ask.” I paused, “Would you mind calling him?”

“What? We’re leaving, we’ve already checked out. Why me?”

“I just think we’ll regret not asking, and you just did the checkout, I think he’d be more receptive to you asking.”

Windy gave me a look as she picked up the radio mic. She asked Harry directly whether he was interested in allowing us to swap out some stove parts—we were willing to pay.

“We don’t want to sell parts off the stove, we’d like to see the whole thing gone.”

“How much do you want for it?”

“What are you willing to pay?”

“One hundred dollars, US? I know it’s not much, but…”

“Sold.”

I waved to Windy, “Tell him I’m going to come ashore real quick to measure it, just to be sure it’s the same—and see if he’ll let us bring it out here in his boat.”

An hour later, we were waving goodbye to Harry, an entire second range now sitting in our cockpit.

“This is awesome. We just saved a bundle spending this $100.”

“Will it fit through our companionway? Where are we going to stow it for the passage to Samoa?”

“I think so, I’ll lash it underneath the v-berth.”

Now we’re in Pago Pago and I’m trying to find a way to get rid of this thing we sailed with for four days. It’s a newer version of our ailing stove—it’s even got a window on the oven door and the snazzy bowed handle is varnished nicely. But only one single piece could be swapped out (the burner grate—and even that required some hacking). Everything else is unusable, either because it is just completely different, or because it’s riveted. Even the plastic knobs—in much better shape than ours—can’t be swapped because the flat side of the shaft it rides on is positioned 180 degrees opposite. Why in the world?

I would swap the entire thing out, but the oven is configured differently on this newer model. It’s smaller and the burner is less shrouded.

Sometimes fortune mocks the bold.

In our twenties, we traded our boat for a house and our freedom for careers. In our thirties, we lived the American dream. In our forties, we woke and traded our house for a boat and our careers for freedom. And here we are. Follow along with the Roberston's onboard Del Viento on their blog at www.logofdelviento.blogspot.com.

Except for the caretakers, we were always the only ones ashore on Anchorage Island, measuring about a mile by a few hundred feet.Michael Robertson
It says, "1952-1977 Tom Neale lived his dream on this island"Michael Robertson
I don't care if you're Julia Childs, nobody needs two of these on a 40-foot boat.Michael Robertson
Windy took this from our deck. He's about 2 feet underwater and those bommies are at 75 feet.Michael Robertson
Cruising kids look for any opportunity to make friends.Michael Robertson
This coral-based landing was heavily damaged in a recent hurricane.Michael Robertson
Checking into the Cook Islands in Del Viento's cockpit.Michael Robertson
An island to themselves.Michael Robertson
The two-story building is where the caretakers live. The white- painted clapboard siding above the bush on the left, is a sliver of the remnants of Neale's home.Michael Robertson
Oh the time I spent lying here to get this shot.Michael Robertson
The girls and I cooling off.Michael Robertson
Heading ashore with Harry.Michael Robertson