McDonald’s, Costco, and a Real Laundromat
June 8, 2012, 5:54 pm, Pago Pago Harbor, Tutuila Island, American Somoa
Everyone arrived in Somoa safely and Ensemble had no difficulties on the trip over. We feel so relieved and today, as I am writing, their boat is being pulled out of the water. It has been a long two weeks for everyone. It has been amazing to watch the fleet come together and come to the aid of Ensemble. Everyone has been so sensitive to each other's needs. We even had the crew of Eva come to our boat yesterday because our outboard motor wasn't working. They gave it a full servicing and got it working. I paid them with a plate of brownies.
Unfortunately the excitement didn't end when we reached Somoa. The night we arrived, we all decided to celebrate by going to the Sadie Thompson Bar and Restaurant. This would be the future location of Janet and Shadow's (s/v Zoe) karaoke rendition of "You've Lost that Loving Feeling" later in the week. While at the restaurant, a call came out over the VHF that several boats anchors were dragging. We were aware that this anchorage was not that good holding. Unfortunately, a tsunami hit the island approximately three years before and many things ended up in the bottom of the harbor. Several boats pulled up old buckets, a bike, a barrel of hay on their anchors. Fortunately, the boats that slipped were okay and did not hit anyone. After everything we went through in Suwarrow, this was not how we wanted to start our stay in American Samoa. Again, many of us needed to re-anchor and keep watch to make sure we stayed put. And again, the rain was pouring in and the winds were blowing. This wind and rain did not stop the entire time we were here. Let's just say we were wet every day.
American Somoa is a Unites States territory and the only US territory south of the equator. In 1951, American Samoa was run as a naval base but with military advances it became obsolete. In order to replace lost income from the base closure, US companies were encouraged to build tuna canneries in the territory. Both Chicken of the Sea and StarKist can their tuna here. Unfortunately, Pago Pago Harbor smells like a tuna canning factory most of the time. The two tuna factories employ one third of the work force here. The Government of American Samoa receives annual subsidies and grants from the United States.
As a result of being a US territory, American Samoa has many of the conveniences that you would find in the US. They have two McDonald's, one being open 24 hours. The McDonald's has a dinghy dock and free internet. These are two things that are very important to boaters. Mark and I have gotten our fill of French fries and real diet coke.
I was thrilled to find a Costco like store called Cost U Less. It actually had Kirkland products. I was dancing down the aisles, carrying real diet coke which I have not had since Panama. Coke Zero and Coca Cola Light are just not the same. I also was able to get Lysol Wipes, paper towels and Bisquick. I am sure this is hard to understand, I know. Anyway, we spent almost $1,000 restocking the boat with much needed supplies. The store even delivered everything to the dinghy dock for us. Four boats had gone to the store together and there we all were in the pouring rain loading tons of supplies into our dinghies trying desperately to keep everything dry. I was so happy with my purchases, I hardly noticed. Okay, maybe that is a slight exaggeration.
Another wonderful thing about being in American Samoa is that they have a laundromat. I don't think I have ever really blogged about the laundry situation but let's just say that it has become a major budget item. When we did laundry in Bora Bora we were charged $26 per load. Almost every place we have been since leaving the US does your laundry for you then charges you by the pound or by the load. For about four loads of laundry we have paid anywhere from $30 to $125. Mark did graciously buy me a hand crank laundry "machine" which I have begun to use more and more frequently due to the high cost of doing the laundry. We have also been amazed by how much our clothing seems to be getting ruined. Rips and stains seem to be the norm for our clothing. Luckily, being boaters, the dress code is quite casual. So while here, I took everything off the boat that could be washed and went to the laundry mat with my huge bag of quarters that I saved before I left. Since it has rained every day since we arrived everything was wet and getting quite smelly. I washed everything in about two hours and came back to the boat with everything wrapped up in trash bags because yes, it rained as we were returning the laundry to the boat.
Due to the rain, we haven't done much exploring of the island. We did take the local bus to the Cost U Less which was about a forty five minute trip around the island. Because of the great stores and services, we spent much of our time here restocking and fixing things. It has been a tough time for many of us due to the weather difficulties which have changed our plans, the damage to Ensemble, the terrible anchorages we have been in, and the overall stress of keeping our boat and ourselves safe. Mark and I actually had a conversation about whether we were happy and wanting to continue the trip. Regardless of the difficulties, we feel that this has been a once in a lifetime experience. And in the end, we will be able to say that we sailed around the world double handed. Now, that is truly amazing!
We are headed off to Tonga tonight. We will be sailing with six of the eight boats that came here with us. We should arrive in approximately three days. We stayed a couple extra days in American Samoa to wait out another weather system. The weather is quite favorable for us now. We should be able to catch up with some of the fleet in Tonga. We are hoping for safe anchorages and sunny skies in Tonga.
A Terrible Night
May 31, 2012, 4:32 pm, Island of Suwarrow, Cook Islands
The following is the full story of what happened the night we arrived in Suwarrow. I wrote this when I was on anchor watch between 3:00 am and 6:00 am the following morning.
When we arrived in Suwarrow, we were anchoring in the rain but there was little wind. By the time we were done anchoring we were soaked and the anchor chain had wrapped around a coral head before we could safely back down on the anchor to make sure it had dug in. We decided to let out more chain and wait to see if we would break free from the coral.
We began to start our regular post passage duties, putting everything on the boat back together. We began to look forward to a quiet night on the boat and a good night's sleep. Unfortunately, this was not meant to be. As I write this blog, I have only had four hours of sleep in the past 24 hours and it doesn't look like either of us will be getting much more sleep soon.
The wind picked up in the anchorage around 5 o'clock and we quickly realized that we were much too close to another boat in the anchorage. They kindly asked us to move and luckily we had Mark and Pau from Beatoo and Gavin from Sapphire on the boat for a visit. We began to take up the anchor and the wind starting blowing about 28 - 35 knots. As we were picking up the anchor we started moving much close to the neighboring boat, Peat Smoke. The guys on the boat threw out fenders while Mark continued to bring up the anchor. I was at the helm of the boat trying desperately to get away from Peat Smoke while Mark kept pointing that I needed to move closer to them to get the anchor up. After a bit of a struggle and one close call, the anchor was up and we quickly moved to deeper water to figure out what to do next.
Gavin from Sapphire suggested a spot to anchor given that another boat had left that spot today. We moved into position and the wind was now consistently at 30 knots and the rain was coming down in sheets. We dropped the anchor in sixty feet of water which we understood was as good as it would get in this anchorage. After some questioning of whether we were holding, we determined that the anchor was set. We were bobbing up and down greatly which made us feel as if we could spring loose at any time.
As we finished, the VHF radio was active between the boats as about half of the boats in the anchorage began to reanchor. Some were concerned about their location while others felt they were dragging. The most concerning call was from Magali on Ensemble asking for help because their boat had dragged and was now on a coral reef. As we looked over to their boat is lay abeam of the wind as several other World Arc members raced to their boat to help.
The next few hours were incredibly stressful as we began to contemplate our situation and Ensemble's crisis. Mark commented on how Lee (s/v Samsara) had read to us from a guide book that stated how Suwarrow was an anchorage which should only be used in good conditions. The evidence of this statement being clear as one can view abandoned boats wrecked on the coral reefs around the atoll. We began to discuss all we could do to keep the boat safe.
We had set a waypoint (a big "X") on our GPS unit when we dropped the anchor. We knew that we were approximately 237 feet from where we dropped the anchor. Ideally, we would have about 300 feet of chain out but we only have 250 feet of chain. We put out all put five feet. Wind was also blowing us toward the island instead of away from it. So we had no protection from the wind and approximately 400 feet between us and the shallow waters and the coral. It felt like it was about five feet. We kept the engine on for the first several hours in case our anchor began to drag. Mark also has a neat app on his IPAD which is an anchor alarm. He entered the latitude and longitude of hour anchor and then set a distance that our boat should not exceed from that spot. If the distance were to be exceeded an alarm would sound. Finally, we decided that one of us would have to stay awake at all times through the night to make sure the boat was safe. Thus, I fixed us dinner and we began anchor watch. At least we could sit down below and watch the GPS screen which will transmit onto our television. I decided to bake cinnamon buns and brownies so I could deliver them to Ensemble in the morning. We also used the lap top to watch movies. If you have to stay awake all night, it's not a bad way to go.
As we were making these preparations, we learned over the VHF radio that Ensemble was off the coral reef but was taking on water. There were requests for more people to help and they were asked to arrive donning their PVDs. There were requests from Ensemble for pumps and any other equipment that would help them. We had a collision mat (a mat that you can put around your hull to stop the water from entering the boat) and some plugs (to plug holes in your hull) that were quickly picked up by another boat and brought to Ensemble. There continued to be requests over the next five hours for all sorts of help. We felt completely helpless in that we couldn't leave our boat to go help. Luckily, numerous people sent help while others stayed on their boats to keep watch.
It's now 6:00 am on Saturday morning. Since yesterday at 6:00 am, I have only slept three hours. I am running on adrenaline and honestly don't feel that tired. As Mark put it, we have sold the house, this is our only home and we need to protect it. Well said.
Three days till we arrive in America
May 30, 2012, 6:30 pm, 13 39.8'S:165 11.9'W, 322 miles west of American Samoa (aka Pago Pago)
The evening of the day that we arrived in Suwarrow and strong squall blew into the anchorage causing a 180 degree wind shift with over 30 knots of wind and steep waves. The rain was horizontal and was stinging our skin. A dozen boats had to re-anchor to avoid being blown toward the shore and onto a coral reef. At Last successfully re-anchored. One boat was not so fortunate and was blown onto the coral reef. It suffered major damage. Three long holes were in the hull and she was taking on water. Everyone in the fleet came to the rescue with pumps, buckets and patching material. Two days later the repairs to the hull were completed, to the extent that the boat could travel to the nearest marine facility to be hauled out of the water and permanently repaired. The story of the incident and the team work demonstrated by all to keep the boat afloat and repair her is remarkable. But we don't have time to share this now. We will post it to the blog at our next port when we have an internet connection. No one was injured.
The nearest port with marine repair facilities is Pago Pago, an American territory 450 miles west of Suwarrow. Seven boats, including At Last, are sailing with the damaged boat, escorting her to Pago Pago and ready to lend assistance along the way should problems arise. We left Tuesday 5/29 and should arrive Saturday morning. We will stay in Pago Pago for a few days to provision and refuel. Most important, we understand that there is a Costco store there. Janet is so excited to be able to restock the boat from Costco. Her list of items to buy is growing by the hour.
From American Samoa, the boats will sail to Tonga to rejoin the rest of the fleet sailing to Fiji. Stay tuned for more updates once we reach American Samoa.
Arrived at An Island To Oneself
May 26, 2012, 4:50 pm, 13 15.11'S:163 06.38'W, Island of Suwarrow, Cook Islands
We have arrived in Suwarrow which is a small atoll in the Cook Islands. After six days at sea and a detour from our original destination of Niue we were very happy to arrive today. The last few days of the trip where beginning to show the signs of the low pressure system which is developing nearby. This low pressure system is what caused our diversion to Suwarrow instead of heading to Niue. Although we had very little wind, there were huge squalls all around us for the last few days of the trip. We even had to wait outside of the passage entrance for most of the morning waiting for a large squall to pass before we could safely enter the pass into the atoll.
Once inside, we were warmly greeted by a dozen or so World Arc boats which were already in the anchorage. Their stay was extended beyond the planned 72 hours in Suwarrow because they have been waiting for the low front to pass before leaving for Niue.
This island atoll has been made famous by a man called Tom Neale. He lived alone on the island for over 17 years between 1952 and 1977. He wrote a book titled "An Island To Oneself" in 1966 which described his first six years living alone on Suwarrow. The book can be downloaded as a pdf from the internet free at www.privateislandsonline.com. It is worth the read and has pictures of the island, which is a territory of New Zealand and a national park with no full-time inhabitants. A care taker comes to the island each year around this time and spends a few months maintaining the homestead of Tom Neale and the island. Though the island is beautiful, I believe we would not be here were it not for Tom Neale and his book.
We will be here for a few days till the low pressure system passes then we are off to Niue which is 525 miles away or a 4 day sail.
The best laid plans.....
May 21, 2012, 3:49 pm, 17 09'S:156 12'W, On the way to Niue, no make that Suwarrow
Everything is fine aboard At Last. We have no wind so we are using the engine a lot for the past day. In our last blog post we said that we were skipping the stopover in Suwarrow and heading straight for Niue. Well our plans have chaged. For those of you who are looking at the Wolrd ARC web site and tracking our position, you will see a course change on Monday 5/21 4pm eastern time after travling 230 miles southwest to Niue. We are now heading northwest to Suwarrow to avoid a potentil low pressure system (storm) that is developing and is predicted to cross our path on Saturday from the northwest to the southeast. We are 465 miles or 3 days from Suwarrow. If the storm does not develop we will change course back to Niue. If the storm does develop, we could stay in Suwarrow till it passes. Don't want anyone to be concerned about the reason for the course change.
Bora Bora Epilogue
May 19, 2012, 1:36 pm, Mai Kai Marina, Baie De Vaitape, Bora Bora
We again extended our stay till Saturday morning and decided to skip Suwarrow (aka Suvarov) and head straight the Niue to catch up with the fleet. This gave more time to relax and prepare the boat for the trip but more important, it gave us time to make the pilgrimage to Bloody Mary's which is a "world famous" restaurant and bar here on Bora Bora. Though I never heard of it before, several celebrities have. Take a look at the pictures in the photo gallery.
One last note about Mai Kai Marina and Yacht Club (below). We highly recommend it. They have a great marina, great restaurant and great service all around.
We are leaving Saturday around 6 pm eastern time and have a 1100 mile trip over the next 7-8 days and will try to update the blog along the way. Thanks for all the emails and comments on the blog. It is great to hear from everyone.
Mai Kai Marina and Yacht Club
May 16, 2012, 6:13 pm, Baie De Vaitape, Bora Bora, French Polynesia
We sailed with s/v Juba on the way into Bora Bora and they were kind enough to give us this fantastic picture of At Last making its way into the passage. We didn't have much wind on the way from Tahaa but it was a beautiful day and a quiet sail to the last island we will visit in French Polynesia.
Sadly, we said goodbye to Britt and Heather the day after arriving in Bora Bora. We enjoyed their time on the boat thoroughly. We were able to join them for a lovely dinner out before Heather returned to California and Britt back to s/v Zoe.
We have had a busy several days in Bora Bora! As usual it's a mad dash to catch up with everyone here, attend the rally events, get some laundry done, reprovision, refuel and get the boat ready to leave for our next passage. Half of the fleet left Bora Bora on the 13th while the second half of the fleet will leave today the 16th. There isn't enough room for the whole fleet to anchor at Suvarov and Nuie (they are very small remote islands) so the fleet was split in half.
While here in Bora Bora, the fleet did participate in a dinghy race. The rules were that you could not use your motor and any attempt to sabotage other boats was highly encouraged. The coarse involved rowing around multiple boats in the anchorage. Mark dressed for the event in his bandana which has a good amount of hair attached to it. Many people asked him where his Harley Davidson was. He even won a prize for his "costume." We brought our boat hook to the race and in the pictures you can see me grabbing other boats in an attempt to get ahead of them. Below is a picture of the aftermath of the dinghy race where many people ended up in the water or soaking wet from buckets of water.
We wish we had more time to explore Bora Bora. It seems like there is so much to do and just not enough time. We did decide to stay an extra day in Bora Bora because our house closing was moved up to 5/17/12. We are still receiving emails today finalizing the sale of the condo. It will be quite nice to be able to leave Bora Bora with the house sold and that behind us. We also have a few extra things to do to get the boat ready. There are four other boats still in Bora Bora so we will surely have company on the way to Suvarov. Once there we will shorten our stay there to 48 hours in order to catch up with the rest of the boats.
Here is a picture of the start of the leg to Suvarov by the boats that left today. It was quite a sight watching so many of the boats leave. We are off to refuel and fill our water tank. Then we will leave tomorrow afternoon. We are looking forward to doing some real sailing instead of island hopping!