Archive for April, 2014

Waiting on the Mail in American Samoa

Sunday, April 20th, 2014

So maybe I’m not giving American Samoa a fair break. If I’d pulled into this place on my way down from Hawaii, it might not be that bad. As it is I’ve been cruising through some truly beautiful parts of the Pacific for the last 8 years and Pago Pago just doesn’t hold up.

I’m anchored between the Starkist Tuna cannery on one side and a dilapidated wharf on the other. Big diesel generators run 24 hours a day. They’re right beside the anchorage of course. The harbor in Pago Pago is a stunning geographical formation. Imagine a lush volcanic crater stretching up 1000ft out of the crystal blue South Pacific. Now imagine that a quarter mile wide section of that crater fell away to allow boats in and out. That’s Pago Pago harbor. It’s beautifully protected. That’s why the US Navy came in here and took over the island. Then the tuna fleet came in when the Navy left. There’s no vestige of quaint Polynesia here. It’s American industry through and through.

The real problem is that I’m on a mission. I’m trying to make it 6000 miles back upwind to get to Seattle. I knocked out the leg with the worst contrary winds when I made it here from Fiji, but I was ready to keep on going. Eager to make my easting and the nudge my way back up into the northern hemisphere. Instead I had to deal with a faulty alternator that went out the night before I made it to Pago Pago.

American Samoa is just a bit too American. The fix for my alternator would have probably taken a few days at any sizable port in Fiji or Tonga. In American Samoa, there’s no one to fix it. It’s cheaper to order new parts from the states via USPS. I ordered a replacement alternator the day after I got in.

Through neglect from the company that I ordered my alternator from combined with the USPS sitting on my package for 5 days in Florida before it got trucked west, my alternator has been on it’s way for 20 days now and it’s still not here. I ordered it express and it should have been here in 3-5 days.

So instead of making a quick stop in Pago Pago and continuing on my way back home, my momentum has been broken. I spend my days doing little projects around the boat, playing guitar, going to McDonalds for internet and drinking sundowners with Phil, a young singlehander from Victoria who’ll be on his way down to Tonga soon. I want nothing more than to leave, but I’m stuck here in possibly the dirtiest harbor in the Pacific. Fetid water that I’m unwilling to swim in, daily rain that keeps my solar panels from keeping my batteries full, no shower facilities, and a sprawling un-walkable community that’s difficult to explore combine to make Pago Pago one of the least pleasant ports I’ve ever been to.

The reason to come here is supplies. If I were continuing on through the Pacific, this would be an amazing opportunity to stock up on American products at back home prices. The local hardware store is stocked with high quality tools that I couldn’t find and certainly couldn’t afford down in New Zealand. It was so beautiful that I almost cried when I walked into that store the first day.

The other big store here is the Cost-U-Less. A scaled down version of Costco, it’s gigantic by Pacific Island standards. I’m heading north and only need to stock up on snacks, meat and cheese. If I’d been heading back to Fiji, it’d have been a wonderful place to refresh my long term stores, but I’ve got a 30 day passage to make up to Hawaii. After that I won’t have to worry about provisions again, so the Cost-U-Less is a bit overkill for me.

Every evening since I arrived, the Samoans practice racing their Fautasis. A Fautasi is the largest racing canoe that I’ve seen in the Pacific. They vary in number of rowers. The largest have nearly fifty rowers, while the smallest sport closer to thirty. There’s are a total of 12 Fautasi representing different villages on the island.

Flag Day was on the 17th and the big Fautasi Race was the day before. The 12 gigantic canoes lined up out in the Pacific swell 7 miles away from the finish line which happened to be right off Bodhran. The crowd was lined up on the beach and listening to the action on the radio. I’d hear them erupt with applause. I’d then look around and couldn’t see anything. Then the crowd went wild as the the first Fautasi rounded the point escorted by two tugs, a fishing boat, a police boat and various official jet skis. It all came down to a photo finish with the home town Aeto team losing out by a nose.

The fautasi race is a big deal here. Here’s the prize payouts as listed by Samoa News: Total cash for the fautasi race was $74,000: with $20,000 to Manulele Tausala #1 – the winner; 2nd place $15,000 to Aeto; and 3rd place $10,000 to Paepaeulupo’o. Other prizes: $7,000 4th place; 5th place $6,000; 6th place $5,000; 7th place $4,000; 8th place $3,000; 9th place $2,000 and 10th place $2,000. I don’t know where all that money comes from, but a total of $202,000 was handed out in the various Flag Day events.

On Flag Day proper, Phil and I took a little hike up to some waterfalls we’d heard about. There was a series of 12 falls in all, but it was too slick to go beyond the second. It was glorious to get into the water after being trapped in Pago Pago harbor for so long. On the way back down we stumbled across some Flag Day BBQ action down on the beach where we finally got a little Samoan culture, hanging out until we took a late bus back to the boats.

There’s still no word on my alternator. I’m anxious to get a move on, but it may still not be for a while. Hopefully my part made it on Friday’s flight and will be sorted through the post office on Saturday, but I’m not getting my hopes up.

American Samoa or Bust

Friday, April 4th, 2014

Gopro off the bow as I motored away from the setting sun

Gopro off the bow as I motored away from the setting sun

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. In my case a journey of 6000 miles from Fiji to Seattle, began with a 4 mile trip out to Cousteau Resort. After waiting nearly a month in Savusavu for a decent weather window, I checked out and was ready to leave. The weather didn’t look great, but there were no cyclones or dangerous looking lows out there and I was ready. I hoisted sail and took off all the way down to point reef, 4 miles away where I broke off the clutch handle for the windvane.

This passage was going to entail sailing east against the prevailing winds. I could use the autopilot to steer the boat, but it uses lots of power and will only hold a compass course. The windvane, on the other hand, uses no power and will adjust to any shifts in wind direction to ensure that I’m always making as much easting as possible. The prospect of sailing to American Samoa without this tool filled my heart with dread, so I pulled a u-turn, sailed a mile back to the anchorage off Cousteau Resort and dropped the hook. I slapped a liberal coat of JB Weld around the broken windvane clutch handle, scrubbed the hull and prop, and took care of a few other projects that I should have done before I left.

The next morning I left in earnest. I was able to sail a little bit, but I motored most of the way out to Taveuni. I was thankful that the SE wind hadn’t filled it, it made this first leg a much easier trip. A pod of pilot whales came by to check me out a couple hours after I left. I also spotted my first everpygmy sperm whale a little before sunset.

Pilot whales leaving Fiji

Pilot whales leaving Fiji

Once I passed Taveuni, I began to encounter a contrary current that stuck me all the way to Pago Pago. Sometimes it was down below half a knot, but for the most part I had to fight a 1+ knot current 620 miles against the wind. Bodhran doesn’t motor particularly well into the waves, nor does she sail particularly well hard on the wind. This combination made this passage the hardest leg of my proposed trip home.

The weather was all over the place during the passage. When I got wind, it was normally out of the southeast and I was able to sail into in fairly well. I had blue skies about half the time with the rest being filled in by squalls, and lightning. I ran into one cell in the middle of the night that brought gale force winds from the east, so I hove to for 7 hours and let it pass. In between the stints of sailing, I fired up the motor and made as much easting as possible.

On the 6th night out, I’d been motoring for 48 hours strait. The constant vibration shook a wire loose from my alternator. Of course it happened in the middle of the night. I spent 3 hours doing everything I could to fix it. But it looks like something shorted when the wire came loose and blew out the diodes.

I was worried about running the engine with a faulty alternator. Fortunately the wind filled in out of the SE and I had a great sail to within 10 miles of Pago Pago. The the wind died down leaving me along a very rough coastline with a 7-10ft swell running. I nervously ran the engine the rest of the way in, hand steering to conserve power.

I dropped the hook at the head of the bay, up past the Starkist tuna cannery on one side and McDonalds on the other. It was too late to clear into customs, so I put the boat to bed. Drank a couple of Fiji Golds as the sun went down and then put myself to bed. It took me 7 days to make 620 miles. Not my best average ever, but I was pretty happy with it. I ran the engine for exactly 100 hours. So I burned lots of diesel, but I made it. This was the passage I’ve been worrying about for the last few months. I’m glad to have it in the books.

Tuna boats in Pago Pago Harbor.

Tuna boats in Pago Pago Harbor.

Yup, that's a McDonalds.  They've got two here.

Yup, that’s a McDonalds. They’ve got two here.

Settled into Pago Pago with the Q flag up.

Settled into Pago Pago with the Q flag up.