Water Ways
Ray Pendleton

Saturday, December 4, 2004

Palmyra still a land
of mystery

In late October, I wrote a piece about Palmyra Atoll in reply to a reader's questions about an earlier Water Ways column she had read on the Star-Bulletin's Web site.

Now that column has inspired another on-line reader to ask for more information about that isolated oval of islands some 1,000 miles south of Hawaii.

"I am engrossed in a book titled 'And the Sea Will Tell,' a true story about a double murder that took place on Palmyra in 1974," the reader wrote.

"I have also developed quite an interest in Palmyra itself," he added, "and as an avid sailor, I will one day run away on my Swan 46 Cassidy and places like Palmyra will be top priority destinations."

The reader went on to say he had enjoyed reading about Matt and Elizabeth Lange -- the atoll's caretakers for the past four years -- and asked if he could contact them by e-mail.

To get answers for him and any other sailors who might be interested in visiting Palmyra, I contacted the Langes and they provided me with very informative guidelines for visiting vessels along with a few personal insights.

First, with regard to attorney Vincent Bugliosi's book about the 1974 double homicide (which many old salts in Hawaii will remember), Elizabeth noted that it was definitely a tragedy, but that what struck her was, it was what occurs when bad people happen to good islands.

"There's been so much written about the curse of Palmyra," she told me.

Still, she just chalks it up to people's imagination getting the best of them when trying to relate to a remote and rarely visited island.

For anyone visiting the atoll by boat, the guidelines, set up by The Nature Conservancy, which owns Cooper Island, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which owns and controls all the other islands, lagoons and surrounding waters, are rather strict.

To begin with, cruisers are warned that Palmyra has no provisions, fuel, or supplies to offer transient vessels, and there are neither medical professionals nor facilities, and there is no commercial flight service.

In other words, you will be nearly as on your own as you were while you were at sea getting there.

The nearest location having those services is Christmas Island, about 350 miles to the southwest of Palmyra, the guideline warns.

The FWS will permit vessels, with prior approval, a seven-day stay in the lagoon, and just two vessels are allowed to stay at any one time.

As Palmyra is designated as a National Wildlife Refuge, visitors are only allowed access to Cooper Island, the largest in the atoll, and even there, they are reminded to be aware of their surroundings while exploring, and to tread lightly to avoid disrupting nesting birds or other wildlife.

All of the atoll's other islands are off limits unless FWS or Conservancy staff members guide the visitors.

There are a number of other rules cruisers must comply with, but as Elizabeth says, they are not unlike those at other national parks.

"And we do enjoy being able to share the atoll with visitors," she added.

To make reservations or receive the complete guidelines, e-mail the Langes at palmyra@inix.com.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Ray Pendleton is a free-lance writer based in Honolulu. His column runs Saturdays in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached by e-mail at raypendleton@mac.com.

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