Words by Ryan

Lat: 21 deg, 12.3 minutes, S

Long: 159 deg, 47.1 minutes W

28 April 2007

Docked, Avatiu Harbour, Rarotonga, Cook Islands.

The "Rarotongan Tattoo" is the tem the Cook Island locals use to describe road rash that tourist get from crashing one of the thousand rental scooters on the islands. Considering there is only one major road around the island, the amount of scooters for hire is incredible - if each tourist rented two, I reckon there would still be enough to go around!

After two days on Rarotonga, we hatched a plan with a few other cruisers to undertake a self-guided Rarotongan Scooter tour. The details were finalized at the "Whatever" pub: Wake up early, Rent scooters and assemble at the dock no later than 10am. Sharp. Well… sharpish… - Juan, from the Catameran "Azul" eventually showed up at noon. Anyway..

On the Agenda: 1) Circumnavigate the island 2) Swim in the waterfall at the end of the Cross Island walk 3) Eat lunch at the Saltwater Café 4) Experience the Rarotongan Jet Wash!

It turned out to be a great itinerary, and was accomplished with much hilarity, however, the experience of the Rarotongan Jetwash is something I have to share. The Rarotongan runway, capable of handling up to Boeing 777's, is crammed into the NW corner of the island, on what has to be the only extended flat section of land on the island. Due to the limited space, incoming pilots need to drop their aircraft at the very beginning of the runway to ensure sufficient stopping distance. Also, due to limited space, Rarotonga does not have the luxury of a nice green buffer zone surrounding the airport - one side is fine, the runway extends out into the ocean - but the other? Well, it has a country road that runs perpendicular to and within 20 ft of the eastern end of this international runway. By now you may have guessed where I am going with this, and are thinking that we are perhaps potential recipients of the Darwin Award?

The scooter gang dropped into the airport en route to confirm the takeoff and landing time of the only 777 flight of the day, then ventured forth to the end of the runway. We had heard stories of scooters getting blown away, cows getting knocked over, and possessions getting tumbleweeded far out into the neighboring field, and even though we considered these stories to be a little exaggerated, we decided to err on the side of caution and park our scooters down the street a little. Good thing we did…

Finally we saw the plane, directly above and descending rapidly… Out into the distance it flew, banked sharply and then headed straight at us. Watching this HUGE piece of machinery bear down on us was enough to make your legs go weak. It was hard not to think of what a slight miscalculation on the part of the pilot would mean for us! Obviously he had it nailed, passing 20 ft above our heads, and stomping the plane down amid a cloud of rubber smoke 50 m from where we stood. There was so much noise and movement that it took a while to realize that there had been barely any wind! No jetwash!? So, just as we thought, the stories are exaggerated - or hey, maybe we have to be here for the take off, and not the landing, when the pilot is gunning his engines. We resolved to monitor the plane and return in an hour.

An hour later we were hanging on the fence like rag dolls, being sandblasted by asphalt runway debris and having sunglasses blown off our faces…

We had returned to the end of the strip just in time to see the 777 taxi up and set up for take off. We started to get a little nervous when the jet wash from the engines at IDLE was enough to blow our hats off our head. Added to this, a crowd of locals had gathered on the hillside 40 meters away, apparently not to watch the take-off, but rather to watch the ridiculous tourists get blasted with runway asphalt. That SHOULD have been our cue to depart with our dignities… The plane was looming ahead, the engines pointed right back at us buffeting us with a warm wind, and as the engine's started to wine we knew the decision point was past. HANG ON! It is hard to describe to sheer force of the tropical gale that comes out of those engines. I looked over at Martyn and Kathryn of "Nordic" - Martyn on the ground with his hands over his head, Katryn hanging on for dear life, skin stretched back from her face as if someone had tied her ponytail too tightly. I looked over to my right and Brysons hair was straight back, sunglasses (like mine) ripped straight off his face, hanging onto the fence trying to keep his legs under him… It felt like a minute, but could not have been more than 15sec. I have never experienced a wind like that - if anything the stories we heard UNDERESTIMATED it! The plane disappeared down the runway and we all started laughing and whooping and running around trying to recover all our positions, high 5-ving and laughing through the aftereffects of adrenaline! Wow, what a blast… (sorry, couldn't resist that pun!)

Safety first in Rarotonga - on your return from a good rag dolling on the fence, you can drop in at the airport store and pick up a T-shirt stating: "I survived the Rarotongan Jet Wash!" They actually sell these in the airport, and happily provide tourist with the next take off time!

Sailed to Rarotonga, Experienced the Jetwash, Got the T-shirt…

S/V Khulula departs this evening for Tongatapu in the Kingdom of Tonga. The passage is 880 miles, and the weather looks good. Pray for fair winds and following seas.