Abaiang, Our Private Resort

20 miles northeast of Tarawa lies a serene atoll that has all the appeal of a vacation resort island.  The culture is simple and oriented around family values. The clean beaches are lined with coconut, bandanas and Palm trees, fine white sand are adorned with ornate seashells, coral and dried leaves.  Clear emerald water gradually turns dark blue as the massive reef falls away nearly 100 yards from the beachside in some areas.
Homes are built entirely with coconut tree beams and sawn lumber thatched with palm fronds tied with twisted coconut twine. There are no nails or tin used.
Platforms under the thatched roofs are built in various heights – ground level to 12 feet providing a small 2nd story level.  The siding is made from the buttend of the palm fronds – very thick and hard, hand sawn into long thin strips and attached to the bigger lumber.  Some siding has intricate patterns cut away for air circulation, some homes have only Palm fronds laced together, or perhaps fabric hanging down.  All unique and several homes are built in a small group allowing families to live together and still have their individual sleeping abodes.
Babies and toddlers have their own small day maneba similar to the doll houses built at home. With the ocean side being within easy walk of a toddler, the parents are able to go about their chores of fishing, cleaning and drying fish, laundry, gathering coconut fronds for mat weaving.  They are busy all day just to gather and cook their food on open fire pits, and wash clothes in large tubs.  The dish pans and washing stands are next to the “house”.
Unfortunately the toilet – nothing more than a giant stone as a base with a hole chiseled away leading to a pit underneath may be too close to the water wells.  They bathe out in the open wearing a sarong.  At least they understand the consequences and boil their water. There are several above ground cisterns that capture rain water but when those run dry they resort back to the well water.
The school is comprised of several small huts, each hut represents segregated ages and class, with the same home construction.img_1345 The finer coral and shell floors are covered with palm fronds. There is 1 small desk and chair also built from coconut lumber for the teacher, a table for books and papers, a couple of 2 X 3 foot small tables for students to sit at while studying, but they mostly sit on the floor to write or read.
We walked through the school lane and were an immediate distraction to the younger students. They are so eager to latch onto you, give high-fives, girls want to hold both hands.
The last day of school for the term was on Thanksgiving day and we were invited to join their “cultural day”.
There was traditional Kiribati singing and dancing competition performed by the students,  and the parents brought palm baskets filled with only traditional foods. There was no “imatang” (white/foreigner) food allowed. img_1373After the student competition the judges walked around to each group of parents to count the number and ways of food presentation.  I, being a true “foodie” person was very curious to see how many ways to cook taro root, breadfruit, papaya, sweet potato and coconut. I duck-walked barefoot throughout the giant school maneba covered with nothing more than coral and shells – it’s rude to walk when everybody is sitting – to speak with the parents and view their hand woven Palm baskets.  Amazing food!img_1400  Most everything included coconut is some form – cream, water, or grated.  There was boiled scrawny chicken with feet and necks still attached, shell fish, small reef fish and octopus all cooked in various ways.  Bandanas fruit was most interesting to eat.  Looks like giant 3″ candy corn shape but unimaginably opposite in terms of texture. The “fine-thread” fruit is boiled with or without coconut, then chewed and twisted between your teeth to suck out the pulp and juice.  One of those and I had a mouthful of threads stuck between all of my teeth. Not very graceful to pick at your teeth, but I did anyway just to be able to speak again. Not wanting to be in second place, a young girl offered me one that she had helped prepare. Not able to refuse I warmly accepted and she beamed with pride. I chewed and nodded my “delicious thanks” and waddled back to our mat with a mouthful of string.

The head school master’s wife prepared us an eloquent platter  – she won the food prep competition.  We and the other yachtie couple who attended the festivity were the only ones eating with plastic bowls and spoons.  Our food platter had delicious coconut balls very similar to coconut macaroons that exploded with flavor and natural sweetness, crispy taro chips – similar to potato chips, smoked clams on skewers, boiled shellfish, reef fish fried in coconut oil, slices of papaya, chunks of fresh coconut, young coconut spouts, breadfruit,  taro all cooked in coconut milk or just boiled in salt water. So delicious, we ate our fill several times over just like thanksgiving dinner at home.
Unfortunately after sampling the different recipes of all the starchy coconut laden food I paid the price in the middle of the night with a double dose of meds. Cast iron stomach John slept peacefully with dreams of thanksgiving pies.

We rented motor bikes and toured the island yesterday. There is only 1 dirt road that runs the entire distance of the island. We saw only 1/2 of the northern atoll about 10 kilometers. The beaches, villages are the same. All clean and beautiful. Groups of thatched homes, fire pits, wash stands, community manebas.  Families with friendly smiles greeted us as we passed by.  Kids eager to interact with Imatangs waved, yelled and ran after the bikes. Some stood in the middle of the road with their arms stretched out to give passing high fives.

We have enjoyed our stay here at the village anchorage but we’re off to the remote part of the island to paddleboard and hang out with our new cruising buddies from New Zealand. Their boat is very similar to ours and we get along very well. Perhaps too well, we’re being encouraged to move on to the Marshall Islands with them. We had originally planned on the Marshall Islands but the timing wasn’t seeming to work out. Guess it’s better to sit in the M.I. Than in Tarawa for another 4 weeks though. Still thinking it through, we’re not impulsive… Mmphm.

We will keep you posted on our next adventure!

Big Island, Big Hearts

 

The Health and Quarantine group arriving via dinghy. We anchored quite a ways off shore; the ladies weren’t too happy about the wet ride.  img_1126completing all the forms, signing our signatures that we didn’t have stow-aways, rats, infectious diseases, guns and ammo, no dead arrivals, declared the exact quantity of onions and potatoes, literally, we’re all cleared in.  The Quarantine officer then asked for “cold water and snacks, – ‘home made snacks’ .  Still recovering from lack of sleep, no fruits and veggies, I brought out iced tea and cookies from Bora Bora.

We moved from Betio (Besso) to Ambo, about 5 miles east. We anchored in 10′ of water which wasn’t a problem but when the full moon cycle brought exceptionally low tide we were grounded. The tide came back in and we moved into 15′ depths.  A view of the lagoon area from the highway.img_1149 It’s hot during the day but the breeze blows in the late afternoon into the wee morning hours cooling us down.

We’re very happy to have found the laundromat, wash, dry and folded is about $5 – a very cheap price considering water is difficult to make on the boat. Taking a break, waiting for the laundry to be folded. img_1139

We met a gal at a little open “cafe”, her name is Timera (Simera). We invited her and her fiancé, Tenabo, img_1177to the boat for a lunch. They in turn took us to meet their families in the villages.  Turned out to be a real eye opening experience in what life is like in Kiribati.  The village homes are no more than 8′ x 10′ galvanized tin structures with thatched roofs, fenced with chicken wire. img_1183Most of the homes have a “maneba” a platform raised waist high off the ground where family and guests sit during the day.  Some of the homes have fabric draped down for privacy and shade, some are lined with polypropylene rice bags. The interiors are small with nothing more than coral covering the dirt, kerosene stoves, a wash stand as kitchen sink, mats for beds and sitting, solar lights, a community “bathroom”.  Pigs, dogs, cats, chickens all roam freely.  It’s customary to offer water to guests and we were obliged to drink and visit.  The people are very warm and inviting, wanting to hear all about us and where we come from. We found we didn’t want to elaborate too much about our comfortable lives at home when they have absolutely nothing.  We brought our customary gifts of banana bread, jar of jam, candy for the kids. img_1159The children want to be held or carried, a little disconcerting when they are naked and not potty trained, but I happily snuggled and played with them.

More pictures of our new friends’ families and lifestyle sitting in their maneba.

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His parents and daughter. They are from Onotoa, a southern Gilbert island. We were given giant clam meat cured in salt, some fruit “roll up” made from some unknown fruit that was fantastic.  img_1174This is their “kitchen” wash stand.

We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet these extraordinary folks and be welcomed into their homes.  We’re invited for a family get together later this month. It will be a potluck meal. Not wanting to be rude we’ll attend but I’ll bring paper plates and bamboo eating utensils, and we always carry our in our backpacks.

We’ve arranged a tour guide to see all the war relics around the island tomorrow. Later this week we’ll be heading off to Abaiang, an outer island 25 miles NE of Tarawa. We will be there for our limited 10 day visit and come back here afterwards.  Our new friends are so anxious for us to come back so we can swim, visit their homes and spend more time with them.  We may bring more of the family out to the boat to have lunch with us. They don’t know what mayonnaise is and eggs being expensive (.70 cents each, much to expensive for their budgets) I will make them special egg salad sandwiches and peanut butter cookies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing, AMAZING Sail Across the Equator!

It was a hasty departure out of Tuvalu, sooner than we had anticipated but the cyclone season was growing closer and we had already endured a few bouncy, wet, anchor rides. We took turns watching the anchor drag alarm, poking our heads out to watch the lightening and listen to the wind howl through the rigging.

The weather to the north was changing daily. We were watching the weather grib forecasts and the SPCZ was showing up on the forecast with large black blotches of heavy rain headed back our way. As the SPCZ moves northward it also pushes the ITCZ allowing an easier passage across the equator. It’s similar to crossing a 4 lane highway, as the traffic passes by from your left, get ready to run for the median and wait for the opposite traffic to pass by in order to get across the the second half. We realized we had only a day to ready the boat, post a quick blog and check out before the weather rapidly deteriorated and overtake our path to the north. Go when the going is good!

Monday morning we launched the dinghy and headed to immigration and custom to clear out by 9:00 a.m. Mmphm, so much for being early. A tuna trawler had arrived on Sunday evening and got the clearance priority slot so we were forced to wait for an “after lunch” opening. About 11:00 we went back just to see if any of the Immigration officers had come back earlier. Well he was in and rather annoyed that he had to come out of his office and actually perform a task. I believe he gets paid. With departure stamps in our passports we dinghied up to the port office – about a couple miles up the shoreline – to meet with Customs for outbound clearance papers. He was still out on the fishing trawler and not expected back til after lunch. Darn. We happened to be speaking with a Customs import agent and asked her if there was a place we could wait and perhaps get some lunch. Nope, nothing around. Then just as we started to walk away she asked if John knew how to operate a motor scooter. She handed us the keys and offered her personal scooter. We’re foreigners, having met only 10 minutes prior, and here she is very kindly, and happily obliging a foreigner. We were astounded by her generosity and trust! Who and in what other country would offer their personal vehicle to a total stranger? We offered to buy her a lunch, and with many thanks we accepted her scooter. John gave her a liter of gas money and she reluctantly accepted it. We drove 3 miles back into Fongafele. A quick lunch in a “Chinese” restaurant (a dose of Imodium on the side) and drove back just in time as the Customs officer had arrived at the dock and was preparing to leave for his lunch hour. He very graciously completed our clearance. God’s be good, it was our lucky day!

Cleared out, dinghy packed, final boat checks, we made haste. Weighed anchor and headed for the northern 2 mile pass just in time for the slack low tide over a 1/2 mile wide reef with 28′ of chartered water under us. It’s a little gut wrenching to see deep, blue water transition to an emerald green in less than a minute, and see the breaking waves on both sides of the reef. We took turns watching the depth sounder, looked over the side at the passing reef and counted off the distance in 1/4 mile increments according to the chartplotter. Once the depth sounder reached a steady 35′ depth reading and could see the blue water ahead of us we actually breathed a little easier. Looked back and said good bye to Tuvalu.

The first 18 hours was a smooth glassy motor ride. The grib forecast was spot on, a rarity! We welcomed the smooth ride for once but not wanting to burn the diesel since this was a 700 mile leg and the fumes intolerable, we were very pleased to shut down and had full sails up in light winds the following evening nearly 80 miles to the north. We looked back and watched the threatening cumulonimbus (thunder storm cloud streets) build and seemingly chase us. Yes, in fact, they were chasing us. Oh come on winds!

The second day out we were sailing in 15 knots on the beam with 2-3 meter seas, all the sails were up. A great sail despite the side rolling. By late afternoon we were caught in the “squash zone”. This is the air mass between the SPCZ and the ITCZ that gets compressed as the zones push and bump against each other. The wind immediately picked up to 20 knots on the beam. Not too uncomfortable down below but enough that I didn’t attempt to cook. The first couple of days we tend not to eat a lot anyway so no big deal. Sandwiches, fruit, crackers, ginger ale.

It always happens when I’m asleep and John is on watch. For a brief hour, black tendrils dropped out of the quick building cumulonimbus street and pounced on us. 30 knot winds blew, the ocean became a menacing dark blue with white foamy waves all around. I stood up on the lazerette to see farther out to the east. Blackened sky was rapidly approaching with driving rain, the ocean was nearly white with breaking waves. John went forward to put a 3rd reef in the mailsail, having already furled in some of the Yankee. The staysail was fortunately already reefed. We watched our boat speed increase to well over 7 knots, and then we began to surf at 8.5 knots. John still working on the reefing decided to drop the main. Good call. We furled more of the Yankee to a small triangle and we held onto the stainless steel lifelines as the boat heeled well over to port slurping up water. Water repeatedly gushed down the side deck and trickled over the cockpit seating. One good thing about sailing in the South Pacific, it’s hot and we generally sail in our underwear. We learned our lesson coming across from Mexico, don’t bother with clothing unless you want to deal with loads of wet salty clothes down below. And then it passed, over and done with. The front moved off just as quickly as it came on leaving behind 15 knots of good wind on the beam but 2-3 meter waves remained. With that much wind and boat speed dropping to 5.5 knots due to the waves we moved along with full sails once again, just enough that we could walk on the floor, but the pitching and rolling was very annoying.

The miles ticked away and each passing day it just got better. The sun was out filling the battery banks. The wind steadied from the East, mostly 12 – 15 knots, with full sails hoisted. We came up the leeward side of the Southern Gilbert island chain and the waves disappeared. The glassy ocean allowed us to sail with light winds in the moonless nights with such smoothness that we couldn’t tell that the boat was actually moving. There is no sound of splashing as the boat glides over the top of the water. It’s one of those rare moments in sailing where there is no distinction between your body and the boat. A magical, whispering motion, the boat speed is known by the intensity of sound as water passes by the rudder. You can feel the strength of the sails gently pulling, the feel of the helm, the smell of ocean, cool and refreshing wind on your face, your mind and body at total rest with the power of sails and wind. You lose track of time and only the stars moving across the horizon reminds you that you’re not stationary. Four days of bliss and peace.

Saturday, Nov 5 – 4:03 p.m. we crossed the equator – no longer shell backs.img_1115 Awww, feeling a little saddened that we may not pass this way again. We toasted Neptune with a full bottle of rum. We felt guilty that it was an awful tasting rum that was distilled in Moorea.img_1103 Burnt sugar with a strong taste of turpentine, totally unpalatable. We brought out the bourbon, made another toast to Neptune and enjoyed a shot ourselves. So many more adventures in the North Pacific are coming.

Part of the sailing challenge includes trying to time a passage so that the departure from and entry to a pass is near perfect relative to tide and current, and daylight hours only in a reef atoll. We made new calculations every 3 hours the last 24 hours of the passage. The distance to go divided by average boat speed, factored the wind +/- velocity, crossed our fingers for good measure and hoped for sustained wind to keep us going. Not exactly scientific given the various elements. We calculated a sail vs engine for an arrival time of 3:00 p.m at the latest to the Tarawa pass, anchored and sundowners in hand by 5:00 p.m. Well, so far we haven’t been successful mostly due to uncooperative weather, not due to the lack of sailing skill.

Sunday, Nov 6, sixth day out. A 17 mile span of ocean lies between the islands of southern Tarawa and northern Maiana. The ocean floor depth rises to about 800 feet below the ocean surface and on either side of this 800 feet lies depths of over 12,000 feet. Imagine a giant dam between the two islands and the tremendous amount of water that flows over that dam with tide, eddies and current all influenced by the moon and wind. The wind lightened in the early morning hours as we began the crossing. The adverse current was pushing us west of Tarawa, our distance made good to destination dropped to 1.5 knots. We ghosted along on calm water constantly trimming the sails and tiller windvane. At about 10:30 a.m the wind nearly died, we had another 17 miles to go and the arrival time at the pass was looking to be 8:30 p.m.

Choices: arrive at dark and stand off for 10 exhausting hours.

Second choice: Time to motor.

Let me say, nothing goes to plan, don’t ever expect it and you won’t be disappointed.

John opened the rear lazeratte hatch, reached down and began to turn the engine exhaust valve. He turned the handle once, then it began to spin. It’s an the old gate valve and what came apart in his hand? “Oh, it’s made with an “acme” screw, and it’s stripped” stated matter of factly while holding up a knob attached to a spike of bright twisted bronze.

My interpretation: “Oh, it’s a ‘We’re screwed’ screw” .   The nice way of saying it here. My heart firmly attaching itself to my lower gut.

The Exhaust Thru-Hull Valve: The engine exhaust hose comes off the back of the engine and is connected to a through hull valve embedded in a bronze housing. The entire assembly is in the side of the boat that is suppose to open allowing exhaust to escape while the engine is running. In the closed position it prevents the sea water from flowing in when the engine isn’t running.

Layman’s explanation. You gotta go real bad but there is a needless “out of order” sign indicating on the obliviously plugged toilet.

Examining the options: John got out the screwdriver to pry it open from the outside. No Joy. Next came the hammer and chisel thinking he could possibly force the gate open. Leaning out over the side of the boat he tapped and grunted. Hrumpff.

Next option: Disassemble the entire through hull but that would leave a hole in the side of the boat and the exhaust hose couldn’t be connected to a gaping 2″ hole. I looked at the life raft.

My first option: launch the dinghy with 5 hp motor and have it ready to pull or push us as we try to sail the channel. But with the wind on our nose, a long narrow channel through the maze of reef and coral bommies lurking under the surface I wasn’t sure the dinghy motor would be able to keep up. Maybe we could hail the Tarawa harbor master and have a fishing panga tow us in.  Second option: Continue sailing to the Marshall Islands another 400 miles until John came up with a fix.

John is really smart though, and he’s always calm and nonchalant, “it’s not a worry, I’ll fix it”. With a kiss for reassurance.

He removed the packing, (the handle was already off), drilled and tapped a hole into the bronze valve then screwed the appropriate sized bolt into it. Grabbed the bolt with vise gripes and removed only the special valve leaving the housing in the ‘open’ position and allow the exhaust hose to remain attached. Why the manufacturer used an “Acme” bolt is beyond me. We now have a wooden plug on the outside of the boat to keep water from coming in when the engine is off. (We won’t sink) Very clever, that guy. An hour later he started the engine and we motored up the west coast of Tarawa atoll.

5 full days of perfect sailing; 18 hours of engine time out of Tuvalu;  4 hours getting around Tarawa and to the anchorage

The boat hummed along the 700 miles on the same tack, with only the one exciting hour of sail dousing, and tweaks of sails the remaining days.

We entered the pass at 2:00 p.m, an hour motor through the winding channel and by 3:00 we dropped anchor in 45′ of water amongst large steel skeletons, floating Asian fish canneries and rusty old wrecks on the reef.

Tired but still pumped with adrenaline we tidied the cabin, hung up the sunshades and gave our ritual high five, hugs and kisses for our AMAZING sail across the equator.

And yes, thanks for the emails, we did in fact see the incredible Super Moon.  An incredible view with a clear sky and billions of stars.   And it was on my birthday, perhaps a fortuitous year ahead.

Tuvalu, Last of So. Pacific

The passage from Samoa to Tuvalu forecast looked promising, last of the southeast trade winds, 10 – 15 knots just aft of the beam, less than 2 meter waves, not too many rain squalls. All was mostly pleasant, a little lighter winds than forecasted the first 5 days but the waves were coming from all directions creating volcano shaped waves and most of it was 2 meters and built to 3 at times. We rocked and rolled in light winds, our appetites were squelched but it was too rolly to attempt cooking anyway. We reminded ourselves that the rain squalls were holding off, it was hot but under the bimini we felt comfortable enough to sit and read, and the sails were staying full most of the time. We hoisted Mr. Bean (whisker pole) off to port attached to the full yankee and with one reef in the main we sailed for 2 full days. A pod of frolicking, jumping dolphins joined us, we haven’t seen dolphins since the crossing from Mexico. A sign of heading north perhaps? The nearly full moon kept us company, the ocean had a beautiful shimmer all night, the stars barely shone. Lovely sailing despite the rolling seas.

The third day out, all was well until we heard a “twang” near the mast, metal to metal clinking. Oh crap, nothing too serious? – the spreader lift wire broke off the spreader, we could see the fitting still attached to the end of the wire. That was a problem though. It was swaying back and forth at times violently, repeatedly smacking our snazzy painted mast. We cringed with every irritating smack knowing we were losing chips of paint and suffering little dings in the mast. I begged John to hoist me up to the spreader just to grab it and tape it to the mast to prevent further damage. Quick as a Saipanese monkey I’d be, but he vehemently denied my request. There was no going up the mast in the rolling conditions. We counted how many more days of clanging and dents. Grrrr! John was able to take the spare halyard (rope) captured and secured it to the mast for a couple of days. Much to our chagrin he had to repeat the roundup a few times. A job for the anchorage when we arrived in Funafuti.

We hoped for a 5 day sail but the winds just didn’t fill in enough to get us into the atoll during daylight hours. The last day out the squalls came on us with a vengeance. We knew we would heave-to and wait out the remaining 8 hours just 40 miles south of Funafuti. With no choice but to wait it out, the seas and wind picked up with no regard to our comfort! We had 35 knot winds all at once. John had just finished tying the spray skirts on when a huge wave broke alongside the cockpit sending a wall of water through the railing and over the bimini. Fortunately I had just gotten down below and closed the cabin doors. We watched 12 foot waves breaking around us and the wind was shrieking through the rigging. We sat down below and waited, and waited, counting the hours as we rolled and pitched making us both queasy. At midnight we woke, let loose the sails and sailed to Funafuti. The waves were too much for the south pass, the breakers on the reef would’ve been too dangerous to cross. We continued on with the engine with light northerly winds to the west pass, narrow, and about 2 miles of reefs and shoals. Using google earth charts – satellite images of the area provides a picture of where our boat is using gps coordinates in relation to the reefs and pass overlayed onto CM93 charts on the laptop. A little more complex than this brief description but overall, another way of entering a pass in addition to other charting applications we use. Of course eyeballs and vigilant watch is most important.

Oh and when we arrived – it was calm, clear water! We anchored in flat bottom 40 feet, tidied the boat, zipped on the sun covers, and with abundant water supply had the laundry on the lifelines before noon. We gave our ritual high-five, hugged and gave our thanks for a good, safe passage. By far this was a nice sailing passage aside from the ongoing rolling. We sailed all but the exit from Samoa and the entry through the pass. 5 days of good sailing, 1 lousy day of horrendous winds, rain and giant breaking waves, only 1.7 hours motoring out of Samoa reefs and 3.7 hours on the lee side of Funafuti and through the pass to anchorage. Sweet! There were 2 Aussie yachts but departed in the afternoon. We briefly chatted, got the cruisers’ info on Customs and Immigrations, wifi, lay of the land. They are also headed north to Kiribati, we’ll be looking forward to meeting up with them there as well as moving across Micronesia. It’s a ways off yet but we’ve missed having cruising buddies so we’re keeping our hopes up. We’ve had the anchorage all to ourselves for the last 2 weeks. Time flies!

Funafuti is truly a remote south pacific island. The island is one of nine islands – formerly known as the Ellice Island group. The island is about 9 miles long, perhaps ½ mile across. There is 1 road running North to South. The main attraction is the 3 story Government building – the roof lined with massive solar panels offering air conditioning and nice seats to hang out while people watching. Twice a week a small passenger plane arrives from Fiji. The 40 year old fire truck winds up the old WWII siren 30 minutes before the plane arrives and drives up and down the runway. The warning signal for everybody to clear off. Mopeds, bikes, dogs, kids are trained to move along quickly. People line up near the runway waiting for the plane’s arrival. We participated in the departing lineup, waving as the plane roared down the runway less than a block from our standing position. They get all excited waving goodbye, cheer and greet one another. The simple life here.

We were amazed by the beautiful white beaches, pink sand of ground coral and blue water. Lots of beautiful shelling and beach walking. It’s hot during the day but the evenings are cooled with a NE breeze, enough that we sleep comfortably. No bugs, no distant shore and traffic noise. There are very few cars here, mostly mopeds loaded with kids, groceries, drivers, miscellaneous goods. During the down pours they hold umbrellas over their heads as they scoot down the narrow “highway”. Had a couple of close calls stepping out in front of them as the flow of traffic is opposite to the U.S. and didn’t see them coming around a corner.

The people are not Samoan, not Fijian, not white either. Besides the general 2 arms and legs, they have a very dark complexion, most of them tall and slender. Their faces are long and narrow, beautiful black eyes, jet black hair. Their language is some form of Polynesian and limited English. img_1056The kids can recite grammatically correct English salutations, etc. but cannot converse fluently. Some of the adults can communicate but again, it’s limited. Don’t bother asking for directions to the market. The kids are very nice and sociable, they want attention and often call out to us.

Wifi is terrible. Slow and very expensive. $16 US for 600Mb, barely fast enough to download some weather files, post a small blog and a couple of emails. Hence no pictures on this blog, sorry.

The food is very basic – fish and rice. The grocery stores are tiny and barely stocked with canned goods, mostly from Fiji. There was a line up at the grocery store the other day. Apparently the ship came in and this week’s special was sugar. People had 30 pound sacks, there were 2 guys carrying 100 pounds of sugar out the door. There are no fresh produce stands, a few banana trees, lots of coconut trees and some breadfruit trees. Limited soil and space not much is grown here. We bought a loaf of local bread, a fluffy white blob that resembles a holey sponge. And since it’s too hot to bake on the boat we’ve made do with the strange textured, sweet rubbery sponge. I purchased 4 carrots imported from Fiji, they turned black and wilted in the fridge the next day. There are a few dogs, no cats, few birds, didn’t see any rats or cockroaches. Other than viewing the simple homes with very large cisterns capturing water, there is very little else to distract watching the people. And that’s what makes this place special, a step back in time, away from the western culture, family oriented and mostly simple.

Most of the people depend on the fishing industry. There are 6 large fish processing ships currently in the harbor. The fishing trawlers go out –netting of course – and return side tying to the mother ships. The full canning process is done in the harbor. A couple days ago a fishing panga came by with father and two sons. They had a boat load of frozen Travelly jack, Rainbow runner, and frozen yellowfin tuna. The large fishing trawler had arrived earlier and regularly give fish to the locals. We gave them Aussie $10/ $8 US and a jar of mayonnaise for 2 medium sized fish. The fish eyes were still bright – indication of instant freezing, wonderfully fresh and delicious!

We’ve enjoyed our stay here, it’s been lovely sitting in the calm waters. Out of 14 days, we had 3 days of rain squalls. It came down so hard that the island about 1/4 mile away and the large floating fish plants all disappeared. We captured lots of rain water, showered on deck, washed 3 big loads of laundry, cleaned the canvas, filled our tanks and every available jug on the boat. During the full sun days our 300 watts of solar panels kept up very well. We cranked the refrigerator and made plenty of ice, powered the radio and radar, charged the computers, electric toothbrushes, vacuum cleaner, e-readers, etc, ran full fans during the day and were able to get through the night. We learned our lesson – don’t buy the cheap flexible panels – waste of money. John repaired the spreader lift wire, redid the port side just in case, and checked all rigging at the top of the mast. We’ve cleaned the boat inside, scrubbed the bottom and rudder – well John did anyway, and now ready to leave in the next couple of days. Our next journey is another long ride, the winds look light, especially as we approach the equator. Doldrums here we come, hopefully without the squalls and crazy winds.

We say goodbye to the south Pacific, a little saddened to depart, seems like we just got here but the cyclone season will start soon and we need to be well north. Wish us fair winds, no following seas though – makes us queasy.

Beautiful Samoa

It was a quick 16 hour motor out of American Samoa on calm Sunday night, September 25th. The winds didn’t fill in as forecasted, and the squall line in the distance provided a nice light show; fortunately the cloud to water lightning bolts were moving away from us. We crossed the date line and arrived on Tuesday, Sept. 27th, famished, hot, thirsty, and pooped with little sleep. The marina turned out to be very nice, almost like home with concrete docks, firm holding cleats, potable water, and a row of restaurants across the street. I went to the top of the dock ramp where the very helpful taxi drivers wait for tourists. Tsukee, the driver pointed out a nice restaurant so ignoring that we hadn’t even checked in with Customs and Immigration, I dashed across, ordered a fish and chips and asked Tsukee to deliver it to the boat. The marina manager and Customs officials are pretty relaxed here. It was great to have all of the officials come to the boat for a change, we didn’t have to figure anything out and best of all, we just relaxed in the cockpit.

The first obvious difference is the traffic driving on the opposite side of the road, and stop lights (there were no stop lights in Am Sam), crosswalks, noise and congestion, with tourists everywhere – mostly New Zealanders and Australians. This is the cheap tourist destination for those countries. The big cruise liners come in once a week and the city is inundated with camera toting tourists. And wearing appalling short shorts, tank tops, and bright white legs.

Here the cars have the right of way, and when you’re not thinking of the opposite flow of traffic it’s dangerous to try and cross the busy street without looking several times. The drivers would just as soon run you down, tagging extra points for the Pelangees. Dogs run wild and one crew member off a neighboring boat was bitten. John had to fight off one vicious dog with his backpack. Next time we’ll carry some rocks.

Once out of the noise and traffic, Samoa is exquisite and peaceful. The air is clean and fresh, the harbor water is clean. The culture here is different from American Samoa even though the citizens of both countries share the same language and religious beliefs. The Samoans are industrious. There are coffee and cocoa plantations, farms with cows and sheep, partly due to the size of Samoa and green lush flatlands. But the streets are cleaner too, the people are much more active – thereby much less rotund, and much more outgoing. The villagers take a lot of pride in their homes and work hard to present a beautified village.img_3596 Each home has a “pavilion” or family gathering place where family and guests are welcomed. Pavillions are open on all sides, ornate, colorful, draped in Samoan prints, maybe they’re concrete, some are wood, some are actually lived in, and some are grass huts. There are stone base pavilions that have been in the family for generations, lichen covered boulders were amazing. All unique and inviting.

The Matatua village chief, Tusi Tuatua nickname “Junior” our driver took us on an island tour. We started the day at the Robert Louis Stevenson mansion/museum. His tomb is at the top of the mountain, a 1.5 mile hike up the hillside. The Samoans revere him, they sing his poem in their Sunday church services. A very beautiful home – Vila Vailima, most of it has been refurbished due to the high humidity and salt air. However there are quite a few original bedroom furniture pieces, his writing box and inks, books in glass cases, and California redwood paneling.

We continued on to the high waterfalls,img_0955 lower falls flowing into swimming pools carved into the bedrock, and along the coastline collapsed lava tubes nearly 100’ deep have been turned into swimming pools with a slippery,img_3600 moss covered ladder leading down to a platform over the water named the “sea trench”. There were several other lava tube pools along the seaside where fresh water flows from the high mountains.

There are spectacular, fine white sand beaches, rocky cliffs, rough flowing black lava cliffs and bedrock.  John swam in all the fresh and sea water timg_0963ide pools; clear, emerald green ocean with deep blue trenches, img_3605 breathtaking views from the cool refreshing mountain tops when not draped with fast moving clouds. We picked a cocoa pod and ate the green pith around the cocoa bean. It was a citrus flavor with a sweet note.  Cocoa, coconut, banana, papaya, and mango trees are along the roadside, begging to be plucked.

We’ve been very fortunate, most of our weather has been tolerable. The rain has moved in the last couple of days and the temperature feels like it’s 95 degrees in the boat. Somewhere around 2:00 a.m. it finally cools enough to sleep.

We provisioned heavily while in Am Samoa so we aren’t in need of anything but fresh fruits and veggies. Things are a little more expensive here. The fruits and veggies are nicer here with more variety. A 3# bag of eggplant costs about $1.25. Mangoes are in season with several varieties and so sweet. The pineapples and papayas are juicy and wonderful. We purchased a small bag of fresh bitter cocoa, ready to grate for baking or to drink in the coffee. Also a fresh bag of cocoa beans ready to roast and eat as you would almonds. The flavor is indescribable. As to greens – well the hot weather isn’t great for growing greens and we miss the green salads of home.

We didn’t bother figuring out the bus system, the bus stops aren’t marked and not sure where they’re located. The taxis are very cheap, $5 tala – about $2 US will take you anywhere. But as in American Samoa, each stop will cost $5 tala for each stop. We walk a lot of miles, we’re getting even thinner.

My elbows have healed well enough, I no longer wear elbow braces and as long as I don’t carry, lift, push and pull, or strain in any fashion – I’ll make it. Good thing John is strong and able-bodied, mm-hmm. In case you’re wondering, somehow I developed tendonitis in both elbows back in Am Sam and wore elbow braces for nearly 3 weeks. I couldn’t lift even a pan without intense pain. Daily doses of Advil and splashes of Gin lessened the pain at night.

We were set to leave a week ago but a big low depression developed north of Fiji driving 45 knot winds and steep seas. We calculated our trip northward and the last 200 miles forecasted into Tuvalu would’ve been plowing through 15 – 20 knot northerlies with 6-8’ washboard chop, a repeat of our trip from Bora Bora to Suwarrow back in July. No, thank you very much. So we’re looking at the weather for a 6 day trip – 630 miles, so far it’s looking like the next couple of days we’ll be heading out. Cross our fingers the SPCZ (South Pacific Convergence Zone) – stays quiet and well south of us allowing the East tradewinds to fill in. And, while we’re asking the Weather Gods/Neptune, can we have no squalls with lightning?

Follow us as we head north to Tuvalu, you can watch our progress on the DeLorme tracker and we post daily comments. We try to say nice things, never curse, and laugh to appease the Weather Gods.

Farewell American Samoa

We are close to departing Pago Pago, Am Samoa; bound for Apia, Samoa. We’ve been here 2 months, a little longer than anticipated but so much of our plans changed in the short term. Some due to maintenance and waiting for parts, and then the timing of our son’s wedding happened to coincide with our plans. It all worked out for the best, we were ecstatic to see at least two family members and share their joyous day. 20160916_175202-15433

Our  1 week vacation in Maui was very relaxing!

Just a few highlights of our adventures here in Pago Pago.

This is the fish sensor that was floating on the surface as we sailed from Bora Bora to Suwarrow back in July. The 8×8 foot square 2″ tubular frame has a sensor (the sensor is to my right) that sends a gps signal to the fishing fleet via a solar powered float. img_3288The sensor indicates the shadows or presence of fish huddling under the netting, an indication that large schools of fish are nearby. It took off a 3″ stripe of our bottom paint and stole our lucky fish line and squiggly squid hook. There are hundreds of hazardous counters floating on the ocean surface, mostly deployed by the Asian fishing fleets. This one washed up on the beach in Suwarrow. The solar panel was still intact.  As a result of losing our lucky line our catches dwindled in size and flavor. img_0833The always-so positive fisherman wouldn’t give up even the largest flying fish we’ve had, and I vehemently declined his smelly offer of dinner.   It became one of our shopping expeditions to find more hand line and fishing gear when we arrived in Pago Pago. No easy feat here amongst the giant tuna fleet that has scooped up all the “big fish”  gear leaving only 8 pound line and small hooks on the shelves. Fortunately we were able to buy more fishing gear while in Hawaii.

Speaking of dwindling fish, here is the ruin of our ocean. img_20160923_093121All the large fishing fleets use these one mile nets with “cork”(hard foam) floats to haul in all the fish, squid, anything that can be trapped. Starkist and Samoa Tuna packing companies are the largest employers on the island. Often times the nets break and drift away trapping and killing whales and dolphins, and ensnaring sailboats.img_0840 There is now a shortage of wahoo, restaurants serving fish here have signs posted  “wahoo shortage”.  One day soon, expect to see a sign posted  “Ciguatera fish only, take your chances.”

 

We woke up one morning to see a “bomb” floating towards us. John got into the dinghy to investigate, lassoed and drug it to shore. img_0868Turned out to be a tuna boat fender, heavy rubber with giant rusty swivels about 2 feet in diameter, 5 feet long. Another hazard out on the ocean.

We hiked along the Southwestern ridge of the harbor about 2000′ in elevation.  The old tram is still up there. The massive steel structure slowly rusts away.img_3396It was decommissioned after the 1980 Flag Day accident. The P-3 military airplane came in too low and caught the tram cable. The cable cars still remain on both sides of the harbor. img_3363This is the remains of the other side of the harbor tram and the view that people waited in line for. Beautiful scenery looking across the caldera from higher tram, the picture doesn’t do it justice.img_3395

 

The entertainment of the island, “The Bus”!  The buses are privately owned. For a buck you can ride anywhere but if you get off for one errand and get back on to travel to another destination looking for parts or groceries (no Fred Meyer One Stop Shopping here) you pay another buck. Add all up those “ons and offs” for 2 people, it’s not that cheap anymore. But the buses have their own personalities fashioned after the owners and they are very intriguing. The sound system deafens you, the blown speakers vibrate and beat against the wall of the bus. The small 30″ wide seats shared with large Samoans will cramp you and half of your butt will hang out into the 2 foot isle only to be pinched by the rider’s leg on the next seat over. We haven’t seen a bus that doesn’t have a picture of Jesus or a poster of religious saying. The exterior paint schemes, music and dash decorations represent the owners. The interiors range in beautifully treated wood, plywood flooring, bench seats, some padded seats, plexiglass windows that hang between 2 rails, the bus driver’s windows are home sliding windows and scabbed into the sides.

The music is a little strange. Western music, 70’s hits including BeeGees, Techno-Pop Reggae blend, Hymns, some Beyoncé, and other music sung in Samoan blasting away as we rumble down the highway,  or sung behind your ear by one of the riders.

Just a few of the buses…

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Just some other comical pictures of us hanging out in this place much like home, yet so far from home and family. 1 Pamplemousse for breakfast, lunch and dinner weighed over 4 pounds.

 

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A rainy day poking around the Southwest tram, we waited inside the car until the rain let up.

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The fiddlehead fern was over 7′ tall, the stem is a the size of a small tree limb.

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Hello! How are You?!!

Summer is winding down in the states. We hope you had a wonderful summer,  the Fall Equinox  is around the corner. Our favorite time of year!

We’ve been asked the same question from our families and friends since we’ve been in American Samoa – “What’s Up?”  We’ve had several passage plans written in the sand, completed the chart downloads and sent off the country applications only to be washed away by the ongoing waves. Fiji timing came and went, Tonga destination is still under consideration, waiting to see what the weather and the timing of the cyclone season brings us.

So what else are we doing? Wellll, it’s pretty boring stuff working on the boat. We’ve gone through the entire boat cleaning sails, lines, polishing the stainless steel, digging through lazarettes. Cleaning the mold growing on the cabin interior, drawers, shoes and clothing; the humidity here is 99%, just shy of dripping off the ceiling. Discarded galley items we deemed useless, moldy books, old ratty and new clothes that are too hot to wear, bits of this and that. It’s truly amazing we filled several boxes and hauled it off the boat. The goal is to be able to sleep in our v-berth while in port, the salon bed is pretty cozy for the two of us on a regular basis. We spent 3 days between cleaning the dinghy bottom covered with algae and fouled with nasty green growth, and re-sewing the chewed up dinghy chaps. We scraped and polished it back to new.

The 3 year old 250’ anchor chain nearly corroded through a couple of links from using a stainless steel snubber hook, fortunately John caught that when we moved to the dock. Really bad news – it was in the middle of the chain. John cut out the rusty links and pounded in a joining link, took him about 2 hours in the hot sun on the dock using a ballpeen hammer and piece of steel. We used some bad advice cutting off 50’ of the new chain before we left Portland to reduce the bow weight. Next time we’ll bring a regular hammer too.

We purchased a lot of boat spares and routine maintenance items from home and had those delivered via USPS. And as always, one small routine maintenance turns out to be an add-on to some other issue that needs attention. The electric bilge pump gave out, the raw waterpump couldn’t be fixed, and the new laptop wouldn’t boot, and 3 of the Renogy flexible solar panels stopped working, along with several other typical maintenance items that are necessary to maintain a great sailing boat. A lot of island time, swearing and ranting, head scratching, and a flattened wallet, all is now taken care of.

So on to the good parts. We’ve done a 9 mile hike across the island ridgetop, hiked up to the refreshing waterfall,img_3392

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and had one day of snorkeling and feasting at a famous place called Tisa’s. We enjoyed the traditional Samoan Umu roast during the August Sturgeon full moon.img_3418

First the fire is built above ground, rocks are added, then layers of green banana leaves are laid on top. The meat and fish are wrapped in banana leaves, layers of taro root, pumpkin squash, and bananas are added;  tuna and octopus roasted in husked coconut shells,img_3425 with more layers of leaves and left to steam for several hours. Great food and fun with other cruisers.

John installed a cockpit table, it is wonderful to sit outside and eat at a table or work on the computers. It swivels 360 degrees on a swing arm and has adjustable height.  img_0875We purchased the same Lagun swivel arm and bracket mount that our friends on SV Sababa has. Thanks Tim and Lindsey for the great idea! The table is removable when underway.

Am Sam is a wonderful relaxing place to hang out, and the term “island time” really originated from this place. The family owned buses are on their own schedule, the food comes out when it is finally ready (and cold), even the airport is laid back. People are in no rush to be anywhere in particular.

There are several unpleasant facets to this island. I’m on my soapbox now. Trash is one of the biggest complaints. They just don’t seem to care enough. Styrofoam containers are used on top of serving plates, plastic utensils and cups are used – there isn’t a water shortage for cleaning, they just like the disposable system. The wind blows it all away.

The portion sizes are mind boggling! I asked for a $3.50 sundae, I got nearly a quart of ice cream topped with chocolate syrup, cherries, and whipped cream all overflowing from the container.img_20160909_125951 Of course it was served in a Styrofoam container on a plate layered with waxed paper. We stopped for a “quick” burger lunch the other day. A giant bun, ½ pound of meat, cheese, no lettuce available, large portion of crispy fires, a large scoop of macaroni salad and a coke. I overstuffed myself with 1/3 of the lunch. “Skinny Pelangy” (pelangy means white person) as John has been called by several people did manage to eat his entire meal but he needs to eat. The lady next to us ate her entire meal and shouldn’t have. It’s no wonder these people have the highest obesity rate in the world as they continue to gorge and enlarge; and they’re on our healthcare system! PUT DOWN THAT DAMN FORK! The poor kids are built like little building blocks with bags of chips and soft drinks glued to their sides. Boycott McDonalds, Carl’s Jr, Coke, Pepsi, and any other junk food producers. Tax the hell out of junk food.

If it wasn’t for the humidity, lousy anchorage and bugs, and expensive commute back to the states, we’d consider calling Am Samoa home 4 months out of the year. We enjoy the beautiful island and friendly community, the bus system, hiking, and limited shopping.

The timing of our projects and washed away sailing plans all worked out though. Our son is getting married in Maui this week so we flew in yesterday. It’s a nice vacation sitting here in the rented air conditioned condo with a comfy couch, king bed that doesn’t roll from side to side, 2 bathrooms with lots of  hot water, a regular oven, full size upright refrigerator with ice cubes pouring out, and neighbors who knocked on our door to hand over 3 bags of food including a large bottle of vodka. We’re taking advantage of the fast-fast wifi to update the new computer, complete more downloads of the North Pacific region for our upcoming journey.

Wonder if we’ll make Tonga, we’ll keep you posted. I promise!

American Samoa – A Touch Of Home

We packed up the dinghy, readied the boat, departed Suwarrow early Wednesday, July 20, bound for American Samoa 459 miles on a SW direction. A 4 day passage.  imageThe weather router, Bob McDavitt in New Zealand,  indicated a “squash zone” would drape across Tuvalu in the Gilbert Islands, Am Sam and eastward toward the northern Cook Islands. A squash zone is an area between high- and low- pressure systems moving closer, compressing the isobars between the two. Often times the squash can cause even higher winds as one pressure system remains relatively stationary.  We looked at our weather satellite photos, the grib and surface analysis forecasts and decided we were far enough north and wouldn’t be greatly affected.
The anchor had wrapped a corner of one small bommie but slipped off easily as the wind pushed the boat sideways. John secured the anchor and we followed our inbound GPS track on the chartplotter. The tide was lower as we passed over the reefs and so crystal clear, we could see the reef 50′ below us  as if it were within 5′ of the boat’s bottom.
Out on the open ocean once again we adjusted  into our passage mode. The wind was light, it was clear and warm, we threw in our fishing line and settled into the cockpit. By noon, the fresh trade winds picks up from the SE and our boat speed picked up to an even 6 kts over 1.5 meter swells, another great sailing day that lasted into the wee morning hours.
By 9:00 a.m. The high overcast began to move in killing the winds, horse-tail clouds foretold the change of weather way too soon.  The winds dropped down to 10 kts and our boat speed followed suit. We unfurled  all the sails and lazily sailed a flat 4.0 kts. For whatever the reason this passage caused me to not feel well. I didn’t have the energy or inclination to do anything, I just wanted to sleep. Fortunately John and I often alternate the low energy spells on passages.
We pulled another set of forecast files from the SSB, the squash zone was forecasted to intensify over Am Sam area by Saturday/Sunday, our anticipated arrival date. The squall zones started lining up behind us as the day grew darker. imageWe turned on the radar and watched a thick yellow oval shape line up, spanning 25 miles SE to NW behind us, moving faster than our boat speed. We dubbed it “the yellow submarine”.  The wind was starting to come in gusts, our cue to start reducing sail area. Torrential rain poured for a few moments at at time, stop, the wind lightened up. Over and over for the next twelve hours. By this time I had a pounding migraine, generally an indication of low pressure sitting over me. I asked John to consider maintaining 6 kts however we could to arrive before Saturday nightfall to enter the harbor and anchor. With the fluky winds, the seas built to 2-3 meters coming from east to southeast directly behind us. Another rolly day as the Westsail hull is too wine-glass shaped to move forward flatly with wind coming from directly behind. It will roll from side to side, interfering with the boat efficiency.
Over the course of the next 48 hours we motored most of the way. At times we were able to shut down and sail at 6.0 kts when a squall passed over but then the wind would drop back down and we’d roll side to side doing 4.0 kts or less watching the large looming waves coming at us. By Saturday’s predawn hours the waves calmed down as we passed north, hidden behind Manua Islands, 60 miles out from Am Sam. For a few hours we had some relief from the unruly waves. I actually began to feel much better too.

The sight of AmSam’s jagged mountains appeared over the horizon, it was noon and the rain had stopped. The sun was shining between the large cumulus build ups, happy rainbows popped out. We entered the wide harbor entrance at 4:30 p.m. with plenty of time to anchor. The wind was blowing 20 kts and even with the boat set at 1200 rpm, we were moving at 5.0 kts.

There were just a dozen boats in the anchorage, plenty of swinging room for us. I shifted to neutral and got the boat speed down to 3.0 kts as John went forward to ready the 45# CQR anchor. All boater eyes on us, we were up for the “anchoring dance”.   We threaded our way between boats toward shallower waters, looking for 35 – 40′ depth.
A brief history of the anchorage. The 2009 tsunami that swept across The So. PAC did major damage in the Am Sam island. Boats were totaled, loss of life, city destruction took place and the harbor is still filled with debris.  Anchoring here isn’t easy and often times boat anchors become ensnared in all sorts of things. Concrete blocks,  Mattress, tires, bedding, ropes, chain, baby playpen, garbage of all sorts.
And we’re going to find a place free of obstruction. We watched our fish finder, the bottom looked flat, a few large bumps, a couple of sprawling mounds but at last we found the spot between two boats with 200′ of swinging room between us. I always drive the boat while John  manages the anchor and chain dropping. We have great hand signals that keep us communicating without having to shout the commands over the wind and engine noise.
John gave the first command, I stopped the boat. He dropped the anchor, the boat started drifting back from the wind, John payed out a 3:1 scope, i.e., 40′ depth would equal 120′ of chain lying in a line. At that point, he keeps his hand on the chain and  manual windlass (chain pulley with gear teeth that helps pull in or let out chain using a long handle for cranking). As I back down, let out another 60′ of chain, final tug at 1200-1400 rpm to gauge the holding. He can feel if the anchor dug into the bottom properly by the vibration of chain. We both can tell if the anchor didn’t set, we continue to drift backwards, the boat feels very light on the helm to me and from visual land cues we can see movement. Not good.
Wellll, today was one of those days that lip reading was first. I read John’s highly pronounced lips long before the ‘wave off’ wagging head signal happened! John pulled up a plastic bag filled with garbage. imageStart over. We moved into a new position, just slightly ahead, repeated the arduous task. Again,  No joy.
Let me tell you, John has some finely sculpted muscles since we’ve left the states. All the anchor and chain, rope and rigging pulling has given his upper torso a lot of definition and mass. Even the tattoo artist was impressed.
We tried again, MORE pronounced lip reading from both ends of the boat. John came back to the cockpit and huffed that he didn’t think he would be able to pull it again, especially with more garbage attached to the anchor. I looked around, several boaters were watching us and waving directions.  They all had ideas of where we should try next but we saw the lumps and bumps on the harbor bed.
We drove a ways ahead from the anchorage to take a break and discuss our options. “One more time Honey, you can do this”.  And as Tammy on Anjuli would’ve said to Dan ” don’t be a wuss!” We drove back in, found 38′ of clear bottom. John dropped, I maneuvered the boat and reverse speed. It set! 2 hours later, 3 times of dropping and pulling back up, and not so nice  words about with the anchorage area. 4th time we shut down and gave ourselves the ritual high five hand slap.

An item to purchase: the electric windlass. We heard, discussed, read all the pros and cons, and I am determined to have one, John isn’t so sure.

As it tuned out, we made a wise decision to motor the 40 some hours, the wind picked up close to 25 kts in the anchorage that night.  We set the anchor watch and slept with one eye open. A boat came in on Sunday, did the same dance next to us and mentioned the sea was extremely rough and uncomfortable. He is a 40′ catamaran that performs well in downwind sailing configuration.

Pago Pago, pronounced Pango Pango,  looks and feels like a small Oregon coastal town. Large tuna boats, semi-large container freighters, long high piers for the inter island ferry, smaller fishing fleet boats, mountains surrounding the harbor, tall green trees line the mountains, the Starkist tuna plant gives it the fishing town smell, McDonalds and Carl’s Jr have their special meal deals, (should be banned in my opinion due to the obesity issues here), the Toyota dealership is across the way, colorful buses drive by, the homes have the American design, – colorful  ranch style with peaked roofs and driveways. The American and Am Samoa flags fly on poles throughout the city. Very different from Fr. Poly and Mexico.

imageOur first trip ashore on Monday to check in was so pleasant. The harbor master, customs and immigration process was lengthy but easy. The officials are so kind and welcoming. We could read the street signs, wonderful friendly people called out to us in English, we saw nice coffee shops, open fruit market, clothing shops, all the buses had signs we could read. The ADA wheelchair signs are prominent in the parking lots, the political campaign signs are up.  Just enough to make us feel comfortable and at home. We’re not so lonely here. If it wasn’t for the constant blowing wind funneling through the harbor we could actually live here on our boat.

Food prices are slightly higher than Oregon but that is to be expected with the cost of shipping. Most American brands are here with lots of Asian products. A melding pot of Asian and European descent folks. The Samoans are very large people, not so much tall, just wide. Most of the women have their clothes designed and hand sewn here. There must be one sewing shop on every other block. They  proudly display their personalized clothing in the windows. The dress code is on the modest side. Cover thy scandalous knees, no bare shoulders. I wear my long beach pants and tee-shirts, goodbye flowery shorts.
I went to the laundromat, what a treat to load the washer, push all the buttons for fun and watch the agitator.  Then, to have the clothes dried in hot air, shrinking our stretched out tee shirts back to normal size. Aah , the smell of fresh dried clothes!

Sunday is worship quiet day. Most of the stores are closed, the buses don’t run except the church buses filled with smartly dressed citizens. Beautiful!

It’s amazing to interact with the genuine, friendly people and listen to their  personal  history connected to this island. Everyone we’ve met has some personal connection to mainland US. They want to know where we’re from, what its like,  how many kids we have, how long have we been out, how long we plan to stay, where are we going next.  We found out the Am Sam citizens vote in the US presidential elections. The cab driver wanted to hear our political views so his children have a better idea of what the average American thinks of the candidates. Oh boy, bad year to talk about our views.

The wind has been blowing hard everyday and we’ve tried to make sure one person is aboard at all times. It’s suppose to calm down this weekend so maybe we’ll go ashore together to do some sightseeing. The coastline is just as beautiful as Suwarrow, long white beaches lined with coconut trees, deep blue, emerald to light green water surrounding uprising rocks 200′ tall covered with lush vegetation. This is a view taken from the WWII memorial site trail. The main highway along the coastline winds around for miles, the bus ride is very scenic.image

We are starting our boat projects, taking advantage of the beautiful scenery with hikes planned and a festival this weekend.

 

Bora Bora to Suwarrow July 7 – July 15

Our passage was 700 miles, it should have taken us 5-6 days, 7 at most if we had very light winds. The first two days were very boisterous sailing conditions.  The wind was up to 25 kts and the seas kicked up to over 3 meters from the SE, breaking over our port quarter across the stern. At times we saw 10.7 kts on the speed log as we surfed down some of the larger waves. We had a triple reefed mainsail, reefed staysail and reefed Yankee down to 70% and sailed with a nice balance on the helm. We sailed 147 miles the first day despite the breaking waves. By the third day the SE wind lightened up and we cruised along at 130 miles a day, felt much better, our appetites had returned and got into a sleep pattern that gave us enough rest.

We had two glorious days and nights of velvety sailing, 15 kts of SSW steady wind, with mostly flat seas. The days were were spent reading and basking in the shaded cockpit watching the 1 meter seas roll by with full sails pulling us along at an easy 6 kts. By 8:00 p.m. the moon had already set allowing a full sky of stars and the intensely bright southern Milky Way.   The southern cross normally highly visible blended into the backdrop of the star maze. We even had a small meteor shower for a few hours. As tired as we were we couldn’t stop watching the night  sky.

On one of the fine sailing days, John looked out to the port side and jumped up as we watched a large 24″ diameter counter with solar power drift next to the boat. It was that same instant he looked back behind the boat to see that it was tethered to a large 6′ X 6′ floating 2″ tubular steel frame with net and buoy balls. It was a fish attraction shade, the counter sends a GPS coordinate to the fishing boats informing them the quantity of fish in the area. We had sailed directly over the top of it!  All we can say is we are so grateful for our full keel boat and the keel guard cover plate between the rudder and hull. Had we been a fin keel it could have wrapped around the fin,rudder and or propellor. Also we were sailing and the propellor wasn’t in danger of over wrap. Our lucky, lucky day! Later at anchor we were to see that our bottom paint was totally stripped off in a 3″ wide stripe from the cut water fitting (a fitting that holds the bow sprit to the hull of the boat) to the rudder. John barked at me to let go of the fishing hand line I was trying to save. I lost my lucky, favorite fish hand line, it hooked the net and took everything with a huge yanking snap. Better to lose the line than my fingers.

Alas, the weather constantly changes and we saw from our daily weather satellite and wind forecasts that a very large trough was moving on an easterly course,  well to our south, driving 40-45 kts of wind and large, tall seas  from Fiji to the Society Islands, Fr. Polynesia. We listened on the radio net to the group of boats bound for Tonga as they approached the front. We felt concerned for them but they were well seasoned sailors with good sturdy boats, at most they would lose their appetites and have a couple of sleepless nights.  We knew we wouldn’t get the full brunt of its fury as we were headed in a  more NW direction but wind and seas that large in strength have long tentacles. The wind picked up right on our NW  nose, 20-25 kts with short 6′ waves 3-5 seconds apart, looked like a giant washboard as we leapt and crashed over each white, angry wave. We were being pounded. The boat smashed bow down hard into the troughs, jarring every bone in our bodies, clanging dishes, books, and seat cushions were thrashing around down below. Walls of sea water splashed back well over the dodger and Bimini – (the sun cover over the cockpit), water was running down the walkways in a steady stream. We were drenched, there was no sitting down in the pools of water rushing down into our cockpit seating. The only saving grace – it wasn’t too cold and we didn’t need sunglasses.
We were close hauled – boat pointed as close to the wind direction as possible, headed in a  more NW direction. The sails were working as hard as they could, we were making only 1 kt of headway. We tried falling off the wind (point the boat in a different direction) but there were only 2 options: go south into stronger winds and bigger seas or go north away from our destination where the wind and seas weren’t any better. We started the engine and decided to motor to get through the front as quickly as possible. Mm-hmm, plans are wonderful fantasies! The first hour we bashed and crashed into the waves. The bow dipped, the stern rose up, growled as the propeller cavitation beat the water into a white foamy froth.  The second hour we called out “UNCLE”!  With 2000 rpm and sails, we were making only 2 kts of headway! Normally 2000 rpm will push us along at 5-6 kts, but not this day. A quick calculation said we would burn through all of our fuel in the remaining 119 miles of  our trip. Suwarrow Island doesn’t have fuel or provisioning supplies and there was another 450 mile leg to go after Suwarrow. Exhausted, hungry, achey, sticky with sea water, we shut the engine down and hove to -sails on opposite sides of the mast to stop forward motion and keeps the bow pointing toward the the waves.

Immediately the calm settled over us, relieved,  we shed our wet underwear and hid down below for nearly 23 hours. The wind and seas never took a break, the wind howled through the rigging as the wind and waves pushed us backwards nearly 57 miles! At noon the next day we looked at the conditions,  determined to gain back our distance we tried to sail due north. It took us 8 hours as we motor sailed 55 miles back to our original hove to position. Determination and logic dont always produce the desired results when you’re dealing with Mother Nature. We shut down and hove to again for another 12 hours. At 5:00 a.m. The wind had died down, we released the sails and slowly sailed at 3.5 kts towards Suwarrow. By noon the wind gradually picked back up to a steady 15 kts and we had a marvelous 20 hour sail to the welcoming entrance of Suwarrow.

Suwarrow Island : Atoll. Part of the northern Cook Islands, governed by New Zealand. Very remote atoll, only one entrance on the NE side. The wind was still blowing at 15 kts when we furled the headsails. The current wanted to push us closer to the reef so we carried a little extra speed and had the mainsail ready to rehoist should anything happen to the engine.  We monitored  both the Garmin chartplotter and I-Sailor app on the IPad to navigate over the reefs and winding channel, both systems were spot on. Not too bad, just pay attention.
Suwarrow selfie
The largest island known as Anchorage island is less than 1/2 mile across, about 2-3 miles in diameter. A Small anchorage is in front of the island in the atoll, but can hold as many as 20 boats before the anchorage becomes over 100′ deep.  SuwarrowThe finely crushed coral beach entices you to heaven with mature coconut trees overhanging the lagoon, shady areas along the beach have comfortable weather worn benches, a fire pit for bbqs, a large hammock made from fishing net, mountains of fascinating, colorful shells draw your attention to the ground, giant hermit crabs walk along unafraid. Aside from the wind blowing in the trees, ocean waves crashing on the distant reefs, the birds whooping in mid air,  there are no other sounds.
Suwarrow anchorage
There are several other small islands within the lagoon but due to the fragile ecosystem, it is no longer permissible to dinghy out to the other tiny  Motus/islands. Scuba diving has also been disallowed. We arrived amongst the company of 2 other boats, one of which followed us out of Bora Bora but because of the boat size, steel, tall freeboard bow and hull, large engine carrying 1,000 liters of fuel was able to motor the entire way. But despite Morild’s advantages, they were also delayed 24 hours to Suwarrow. We didn’t feel like such wieners after talking to them.

Harry and Pai, the very friendly Customs and Immigration officers radioed us and gave us a better location for anchoring than we had chosen. We motored to the back of the other 2 boats, dropped anchor in 55 feet, mostly bommie  free, white sand, with the usual welcoming committee of no less than 6 sharks circling us as we shutdown. We barely had time to get the cabin back in presentable order, put on some clothes and throw out the fenders before they arrived in their 20′ aluminum skiff. This was a first for us- not even in formal Mexico, Fr. Poly were we boarded. The inspection, fumigation – an aerosol can of bug killer sprayed through the air for 15 seconds, paperwork, payment of $50 took an hour. The only eyebrow raising was the fact we were carrying 24 cans of beer in addition to the abundant quantity of other spirits. HArry was very excited to receive a six pack to lighten our stores in exchange for 5 pounds of freshly caught yellow fin tuna.

Harry and Pai had gone fishing earlier that morning and caught 7, very beautiful  rainbow runner fish. I believe they may be part of the tuna family. About 26″ in length, weighing nearly 5 pounds each, Harry roasted them over the open BBQ pit. They served rice with coconut curry sauce while the yachties brought the other potluck food. A fabulous way to end a long tough sail, on a remote island with less than a dozen people, sitting under the stars, with a cooling breeze flowing across the lagoon. We carved out trenches in the sand, chose the biggest hermit crabs and had a humorous race watching the silly crabs claw their way forward. It was a truly magical evening on a very mystical island.
That day was worth every muscle ache, salty faced grimace and foul language moment, the sailing days we dream of, the idyllic anchorages and people, and why we continue on through the often times, ill tempered ocean.

The 5 days we spent in Suwarrow were spent paddle boarding and snorkeling across massive coral bommies  teeming with damsel fish, schools of multi colored parrot fish, other unidentifiable colorful  reef fish, strange looking eel creature, and sharks. One day the torrential rain blew in, we showered on deck, captured 25 gallons of rainwater, and hung our swimsuits out for the fresh water rinse. That felt really good as we had to conserve our fresh water for the next leg of the journey.
We lucked out and got to see the manta ray that come in for their 7:00 a.m. early morning cleaning. Small parasitic fish swim on top of the manta ray eating the algae and harmful parasites. We were fortunate, the other boats missed them. Unfortunately the 4′ grey shark took a special interest in my mass despite my growling and waving of limbs to make myself look bigger. Ooh, warm breakfast: rolls and ham hocks on that frame. I confined myself to the dinghy while John bravely continued to film the ray.
One day we had 15 black tip sharks circling the boat, rather a creepy feeling to watch their beady little eyes. They weren’t interested in my swishing fingers to get a close up picture.

The path to the north side of island is dense through the coconut trees, underbrush and mangrove bush. We fed the tuna skin and bone remains to the sharks in ankle deep water. It didn’t take long to have 6-7 sharks snapping and thrashing to catch the tasty morsels.  Hoping to see from where we sailed, we unfortunately were besieged with enormous amounts of trash. Here stretches the human impact on the  planet.  Plastic in every form from our highly civilized existence. John collected 7 toothbrushes within a 10 foot stretch of beach. Bottles, shoes, rope, netting, toys, everything and anything. Such a tragedy to see what we are leaving behind in our wake of free will and reign over the fish and mammals. We hung our heads in shame and silently circumnavigated the reef back to the lagoon.

We took pictures of the famous cabin and Living improvements that Tom Neale built during his stay alone on the island during 1957. Suwarrow RangersThe Rangers currently  live in an open A frame “house” complete with generator, lights and a freezer for their 7 month stay on the island. The kitchen is a separate area with some shelves for stores, dishes and a 2 burner propane camp stove. Their beds are in the open air, the picnic style table and benches share the same space. They catch rain water from the gutters, filing a 500 gallon cistern. When it rains they pull down the tarps that are nailed to the frame. A very simple, often times lonely existence – monitor the boats that are anchored and fish for their food.
Nothing else grows on the island except breadfruit and coconut. The coconut crabs are illegal to eat and fishing in the lagoon is prohibited. A good thing as it attracts the larger gray sharks.

As we checked out we left our departing gifts to our hosts.  A dozen eggs, 2 pampelmousse, and 2 additional beers. We were sad to leave this magnificent place, so pristine and different from south Fakarava.

The sail to American Samoa, a touch of home for the homesick sailors is next.

Departing French Polynesia

Some of the best times we had in Fr. Poly were spent in Nuku Hiva, Marquesas; South Fakarava, Tuamotu; Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora. bora boraAnchored at the Bora Bora Yacht Club with this beautiful view of Mt. Otemanu, 727M tall towering over our bow.

We missed out on Huahine and several other islands in the Tuamotu but there is so much more to see on our journey.

Fascinating archeological sites – we would’ve visited each one if time allowed, jagged volcanic terrain, diverse Marquesan culture, beautiful Tahitian artisans and woodcrafters, fakaravasnorkeling in pristine turquoise water, collecting shells, paddleboarding across the colorful coral reefs filled with exotic fish all made our visit exquisite and unforgettable.  The 90 day visa wasn’t long enough, we really wanted more time but getting the extended visa while living in Oregon just didn’t work for us.

Our 15 days in Raiatea and Tahaa were spent on a mooring ball hiding behind the mountains in semi sheltered anchorages from torrential downpours, steady winds of 25+ kts –  gusting over 45+ on some days, blinding lightening and thunder directly overhead.

The deep anchorages in Raiatea and Tahaa were unexpected and we probably missed out on a lot of sights due to bad weather and not wanting to take chances dragging anchor. We heard several calls from boaters requesting assistance, mostly boats that dragged anchor and ended up on the reefs.

But we managed to visit the fragrant vanilla farm on Tahaa – known as the vanilla island, and loaded up with fresh vanilla products. scooter selfieWe also rented a scooter to see Raiatea, that was a fun trip motoring through the villages and interior farm land. The pearl farm was very interesting and the black pearls are exquisite! Couldn’t load up on those but John bought me a beautiful set of earrings.

We won’t miss the painful no-nos (no see-ums) their bites and itching lasted for over 2 long weeks, the pesky mosquitoes that left quarter-sized welts, expensive food, agonizing slow wifi connection  – if there was any at all, and the constant smoky air from burning piles of vegetation.

We met so many cruisers from all over the world, we kept a log of the boats that we met more than twice in the anchorages. Some were from Mexico that came across as part of the Pacific Puddle Jumpers, foreign nationals on their way home via the Panama Canal having been around the world already, and a lot of newbies like ourselves.  We received a tremendous amount of information and knowledge from cruisers that had already been to the places on our future cruising route. It was hard to say good bye to those we bonded with, we will miss our sailing buddies who are heading off to Tonga and beyond.

We wrap up this leg of our adventurous passage making and mark our one year cruising life all in the same week.  1 yr sailingWe laugh at our mistakes – thankfully we didn’t suffer losses, shed tears when we wave goodbye to friends, cry when I think of family at home, toast our accomplishments with lots of rum and whiskey, and high five ourselves when we set the anchor in the idyllic waters.  We’ve discovered so much more about the world and Pacific ocean, ourselves, each other, our boat, perseverance, faced our fears head on –  I can now swim underwater, and finally admitted that I brought too many clothes.

We’re anxious to begin our next 1200 mile journey that introduces us to new cultures, interesting lands and anchorages, and new cruising friends.

Westward bound this week for Suwarrow (Suvarov) Atoll – Northern Cook Island. New Zealand territory. If you have a chance – read the book “An Island to Oneself” by Tom Neale to get some history of this place.

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