Archive for April, 2009

Jumping Ship in Samoa

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

One of the many beautiful beaches around American Samoa:
One of the many beautiful beaches around American Samoa

Last year cruising across the Pacific, I kept hearing stories about American Samoa. The basic gist was: the anchorage sucks, it smells, and the provisioning is really good. Well, coming here off season the anchorage is great, but the provisioning wasn’t quite as good as we’d expected. So there’s a big diesel power plant and the Starkist Tuna cannery right off the anchorage which certainly detract from the ambiance. On the other hand it gives the place a tropical Dutch Harbor kind of feel. Also the anchorage is strewn with wrecks sitting on the bottom just waiting to gobble up your anchor if you’re lucky enough to snag one, if not the holding is very poor and your boat is probably going to drag the first time one of the frequent squalls comes through the bay. Luckily for us, there are only 5 other boats in the anchorage and there are 6 moorings. The other boats had been here for all of cyclone season, so we got stuck with the mooring right next to the power plant, but still no anchoring hassles and no charge for the mooring. It’s also a great place to watch the races in the big 50 person rowing shells. Apparently the big race is on Flag Day in a week or so, but they’ve been out practicing every evening.

Nothing like having a diesel generation plant and a cannery right off your stern:
Pago Pago anchorage

Good old Charlie Tuna employs 1/3 of the people on the island. They bring in fish from all over the pacific here even as far away as BC and Alaska:
Charlie the Tuna

Practice race in the 50 person Va’a lase(sp?):
Practice Race

There’s a big Cost U Less store out by the airport which is a $15 cab ride away, so yesterday we decided to rent a car and tour the island while making our provisioning run. Even after all the islands we’ve been to across the Pacific, all three of us were enchanted. American Samoa is absolutely stunning. It’s probably a lot like Hawaii was back in the 40s. There are two hotels in town and one more by the airport, but other than that there are no tourist facilities anywhere. As you drive around it’s just one quaint little beachside village after another with meticulously kept gardens and smiling friendly people. The harbor itself is made up of the caldera of an ancient volcano with an opening on one side. The other sides rise dramatically out of the bay into lush steep cliffs making it easily one of the most dramatic harbors I’ve been in. The rest of the island continues the theme with steep, verdant hillsides and beautiful reef strewn or volcanic beaches with massive surf breaks that you leave you in awe wishing they broke over sand so that you could go out and play without getting killed.

Me in front of a cool blow hole:
Jason Rose

Another beautiful Beach:
Another beautiful Beach

The provisioning was certainly the best since Tahiti. Cost U Less is similar to Costco back home, but about 1/3 the size. The selection left us all wanting more, but prices were good and Bonnie Greg filled a shopping cart to the bursting point. Fortunately the nearby KS Market was similar to a grocery store back home and though a bit more expensive, nicely filled in the gaps with the rest of the products that we were craving. Unfortunately while loading up Willow from the skiff I tweaked my back something awful when Jake (the skiff) started pulling away while I was hefting a box up on Willow’s deck leaving me in quite an awkward position. So now I’m little better than an invalid, which would be quite a problem for Bonnie and Greg if I were continuing on with voyage. Fortunately for everyone I’m not. My Dad has made me an offer I just couldn’t refuse and so I’m flying out on Thursday to go back and work with him for a few months before hopefully getting on with Western Towboat come Summer. So for now my sailing adventures are on hold once again. I’m nearly scared to death of going back to Bellingham while temperatures are still only getting up to the 50s during the day, but a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do and it beats the hell out of going another 2400 miles to windward with a bad back. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to see everyone back home in a week or so.

Bonnie and Greg going nuts in the Spam isle at CostULess:
Bonnie and Greg going nuts in the Spam isle at CostULess

Pago Pago, American Samoa

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Typical weather for our trip as we make landfall in American Samoa:
Landfall at American Samoa

We pulled into Pago Pago in American Samoa yesterday afternoon and we are very glad to be here. Bonnie, Greg and I stayed in Savusavu for almost a week, working on boat projects, waiting for weather and getting to know the local ex pat community. I’ve never been so hot in my life as in Fiji. 90 plus degree temperatures, high humidity and frequent thunderstorms which make you keep all the hatches closed. I think in the future I’m going to have to limit my tropical experiences to the dry winter season. The whole reason that we’re delivering Willow to Hawaii now is that it’s the end of cyclone season and the trade winds aren’t developed. So on the bright side you can get some wind behind you from time to time, on the other hand you can have to deal with the heat and the possibility of getting hit by a cyclone. There’s already been 4 named cyclones since I got to Fiji three weeks ago.

Killing time in Fiji trying to make a palm frond hat. It never did quite come together:
Weaving my hat in Fiji

We saw a weather window last Monday showing 2 days of no wind, followed by a few days of northwesterlies. Perfect for our Northeasterly trip up to Samoa. In reality, the wind did it’s thing, but we had large, confused seas and frequent squalls all the way. We motored 2/3rds of the way, but did get a couple of good days of sailing in. The last day was painful. The wind shifted around to the NNE so we had to motor sail the last 100 miles against 20 knots of wind with a large sea running. It’s maddening when you can see your destination, but can’t make more than 3 or 4 knots. We ended up making landfall in the early afternoon and spent a good 3 hours trying to get checked in before COB so that we wouldn’t be stuck on the boat all weekend. A freighter had just come in and everyone was tied up. Fortunately a very friendly ships agent heard us on the radio and started making cell phone calls to all the officials and got us halfway checked in. Most of the officials never came down, but we at least had clearance to get off the boat and hit the nearest bar.

Willow moored up in Pago Pago:
Willow moored up in Pago Pago

New racing canoe that just arrived from Seattle after we pulled into the dock:
Racing Canoe

Greg and I singing some Neil Diamond at the Karaoke bar:
Greg and I singing some Neil Diamond at the Karaoke bar

Tropical Storm Lin popped up over Fiji while we were enroute which is going to be pulling some strong winds through our area. We’re certainly glad we’re not in Fiji anymore, but it looks like we’ll be here for a while waiting for things to clear out. From Samoa it’s about 1400 miles to get to Christmas Island in Kiritibati 2 degrees north of the equator. From there it shouldn’t be too hard to make the final 1000 miles up to Hawaii, but getting there is going to be a long haul. At least cyclone season is running down and we’re now right on the edge of the cyclone belt.