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Thursday 3 November 2011 | Published in Regional


As much as he loves his home island, former Manihikian pearl farmer and seaman Max Cumming had always sought something more.

Cumming said growing up on the small atoll had given him the urge to travel, and once he started going it was hard for him to give up.

Whats difficult now is the yearning he has to return to his childhood home.

Since he last left in the early 1980s, Cumming has not been back to visit Manihiki. He has travelled close enough to see the island twice in that time, but his work has stopped him from actually setting foot on it as he passed by.

Dont feel too bad for the man, though his work involves navigating what was the worlds largest sailing yacht between the South Pacific and areas like the Caribbean.

Cumming is the skipper on the 90-metre long (295-foot) Athena a luxurious three-masted schooner that can accommodate 10 guests at a time and a crew of 22.

It laid claim to being the worlds largest sailing yacht when it was launched in 2004 by Royal Huisman. Two years later it was pitted by EOS which measured in three metres longer than Athena at 93 metres.

The Athena could be hired for upward of 275,000 euros a week (NZ$480,000) before its interior was updated and redesigned this year.

Now its charter cost is anyones guess, although the numbers are not really necessary since the Athena is hardly chartered out.

Its just like a family boat only its a super large one, Cumming said while in Rarotonga last week with his partner Rakake Tangaroa, who has family in Mauke and Aitutaki.

Tangaroa runs an art gallery in New Zealand and said although Cummings seafaring life provided some difficulties for the couple, they managed to get by with the promise of seeing each other every three months at least.

Cumming has only been sailing yachts for about 10 years and said if he could make the jump from pearl farming with his parents Peter and Alwyn Cumming to driving super yachts, theres no reason any Manihikian kid shouldnt be able to.

The Cummings have been credited with helping introduce and raise the pearl industry at Manihiki.

Cumming spent his early years helping his parents who he said are now happily enjoying a life of retirement in New Zealands Bay of Islands on the pearl farm at Manihiki until he got his job at sea with Don Silk and Bob Boyd aboard the Manuvai.

After that, he spent some time in the fishing industry in New Zealand before moving north to work aboard trade boats in Europe and finally taking up an offer to work aboard the Athena.

Cummings advice to other Cook Islanders looking to take a similar journey was to sign up with your local sailing club, get out on a lagoon and learn how to do it.

Cumming is spending an increasing amount of time in the South Pacific as people are getting a bit sick of the crowds in the Caribbean but not as much in the Cook Islands as places like French Polynesia and Fiji.

He said the Cooks were in a good location between French Polynesia and the bulk of the Pacific to pick up some of the yachts doing the rounds, though the country would benefit from the construction of more harbour space.

One day, Cumming said he would love to be able to make more stops at his beloved Manihiki as part of his work.

But for now he will have to live with the occasional glances of the atoll as he passes by.

Its frustrating as hell Id love to get back there, Cumming said.