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Pacific Odyssey 2010/2011
Follow the Larsens from Seattle to Australia and back.
07/24/2010, Apia, Samoa

"Talofa" is the greeting here in Samoa. It is so nice to hear. We tied up at the dock around 10am on Thursday morning. We were greeted by Harbor Control and our offshore sailing instructor, John Neal who happened to be tied up with his boat, Mahina Tiare III, just across the dock. We had to stay aboard for a couple hours while our yellow quarantine flag was flying and various officials from Customs, Immigration, Health, and Quarantine all came by for a chat, paperwork, stamps and information. Each of the offices I listed have separate representatives with different forms. While we were waiting, John and his wife Amanda treated us to cold slices of watermelon and a local fruit salad. Amanda also performed her version of a Maori Haka (she is a New Zealander and a Haka is the Maori war dance.) She put on her red wig and Viking hat and danced along the dockside giving thekids quite a show - her passion for the Haka runs deep. Amanda and John also gave us some tips for getting about town and finding supplies and treated us to a feast of a breakfast the next morning. Mahina Tiare III is an HR46, so the kids got to see what a "real yacht" looks like inside. What a welcome.

Once we were free to leave the boat we headed into town for a little resort action at Aggie Gray's Hotel. Just down the street from the Apia Marina, Aggie Gray's hotel harkens back to the post-war era when Aggie began catering to GI's. She was supposedly the inspiration for the Bloody Mary character in South Pacific. She died a few years ago, but her spirit is alive in the hotel. Next Wed night we'll take the kids to dinner there for the dance show, but meanwhile, we've been invited to swim and relax by the pool anytime we want.

Today we visited the Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Treasure Island and many more works) home and museum. He and his family spent the last 4 years of his life in Samoa. He is buried on a hill above his home. His wife returned to the United States after his death, but once she died, her daughter brought her ashes back to Samoa so she is buried alongside RLS. Sophie is working on a blog post detailing the home, his life and our visit. So I'll leave the rest to her.

We then came back to the boat and tried to set up our transformer to get the batteries juiced up. It ran for 20 minutes until Finn and Freya yelled from above "Hey Dad, there's fire and smoke, the box is on fire!" Eric is kicking himself because he meticulously set the transformer for 220 instead of 240. He thinks he misheard the marina staff when we arrived. So now we have to run the engine to charge the batteries for a couple hours and we have to track down a new transformer. A hot situation.

This afternoon we'll snorkel at the nature preserve, tomorrow is Sunday so we'll attend the Catholic church service and hear amazing singing and Monday, Eric is off to officialdom to request permission for us to sail to the neighboring island of Savaii before we depart for Tonga. On Tuesday we signed up for an all-day tour of Manono Island, a tiny outer island in the straight between Upolu and Savaii. The kids will get a ferry boat ride, a local lunch, get to see how coconut milk is made and watch some women weave mats. It is a total touristy-tour with staged "local" situations, but what the heck. I am sure we'll meet some nice elderly Australians on holiday and have a relaxing day.

We've learned some valuable culture lessons already. We've been hustled a couple times, but now we can see it coming. Whenever fresh tourists arrive on shore, they stand out. White skin, sun hats, backpacks and all the while they are looking up and around to take in all the sights. This makes an easy mark and we were no exception with our three little ducks in a row. It starts out with a friendly hello, then a drawing you in with some story about an Auntie to lives in the States, or some relatives who lost everything in the Tsunami and they are helping them raise money, and then suddenly you've been hooked and have to get out of the situation with your money still in your pocket. No harm done and we can now see them coming a mile away. We've learned the "waving-off hand wave" and how to sing-song a disinterested "Talofa" so we can say hello and ignore them at the same time. The kids have found this fascinating. At first we started to call it the Samoan Hustle, but then realized that is quite unfair. It is just the hustle that happens in any big city, in Samoa or right at home, especially in cities often visited by tourists.

Samoan Landfall

We have arrived in Samoa. We are all well but tired. We will make a proper update later.

Closing in on Apia

The wind returned in spades and we are closing in on Apia, less than 100 miles to go. When the wind returned, we were too far out to get in Wednesday before sunset, so we actually had to slow the boat down to arrive after sunrise on Thursday. After pushing for speed for days, it just feels wrong.

The harbor in Apia is within easy walking distance of the restaurants and shops. It will be nice not to need a car. This time tomorrow I hope we are having pizza for lunch. (Local food will follow soon.) We are all ready for port.

This will be our longest passage of the trip, at 19 days. We will have covered over 5500 nautical miles of Ocean. Once in Samoa, our pace will slow. Our next several passages will be 1-4 days and we will take substantial time between them. I won't have as many boat projects, and we will focus on seeing the sites and meeting people. The next phase our our trip is about to begin.

A Hot Night to Samoa

Last night I wrote that it was hot.I was premature. We hadn't yet met today. This must be the hottest of our journey. The fans don't help that much because they just blow the hot air around like hairdryers. Not sure why the change, but Eric pointed out that the sea temp is a surprising 87 degrees!

The moon is high in the sky, bright and lingering a bit longer than last night. This is helpful. After the close encounter with the fishing boat today we need every bit of light to see what is coming on the horizon. Without the moonlight, it is virtually impossible.

Today I've been thinking about the joke about the guy who jumps out of the airplane without a parachute. He falls so many thousands of feet, and says that once he got to just ten feet from the ground he could simply jump from there. That is how I feel about this passage. We are within jumping distance after 2,000 miles.

Eric and I just switched watches. We are both so exhausted that he is sound asleep already and I'm only on this paragraph.

We must constantly manage our fatigue. There isn't a way to eliminate it, despite the naps we each take during the day. We just can't get enough hours at one time. It effects us in ways we sometimes don't realize. For example, I might start crying in the middle of the day while I am cranking in a reef on the headsail. No other reason than just being bone weary. Every hour we make a log entry, noting the wind direction and speed, weather features, lat/long, etc. There is a comments section where we write "saw a ship" "squall passed by" or something like that. Eric came on watch last night and was reading through my previous 3 hours of log entries and asked, "what does 'mugs of water' mean?" How should I know? I have no idea why I wrote that, but I do clearly remember writing it down. This is the kind of bizarre behavior that fatigue brings about. The log entry goof up is benign, but when it comes to managing the sails, making decisions about course line in relation to ships and squalls, we've got to make sure we are making logical choices.

In preparation for Samoa, Sophie has been a cleaning busy body. Finn however is breaking down. He needs to run around and get the energy out. It is bottled up inside and explodes from time to time. Freya has tried on her various bathing suits (most of them hand-me downs and that is why she has far too many) over and over again.

For those of you who heard us talk about our travel plans, you may recall we included French Polynesia, the Cook Islands and Niue on our agenda at first. We would have loved to visit these areas but when it came down to it, we just don't have the time. When we explained our itinerary to sailors who'd traveled the South Pacific before they'd say, "you've just described a 3-year trip." And they were right. There just isn't time enough to cover the great distances and find time to spend in port long enough to make it worth a stop. The leaving again is such a chore. So, we decided that given our personal time frame we needed to take a short cut and head directly for Samoa, getting the major ocean miles out of the way first, allowing us to take 2-3 weeks in Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and New Caledonia each before heading to Bundaberg, Australia. It was a hard decision to pass by so many beautiful islands, but we think this will give us time to linger, relax and make friends in the places we will visit.

Specifically, we are headed to (Western) Samoa. It is just called Samoa now, but is to be distinguished from American Samoa to the East. There are two major islands, Upolu and Savaii. We will first head to the town of Apia on Upolu where we'll check in with customs and hang out for a week or two. We'll visit Robert Louis Stevenson's house, hike to some waterfalls, etc. Then we'll head over to Savaii, which is less touristed, and anchor is some bays and hopefully meet people from more remote villages. From what we've read, the port of Pago Pago (pronounced Pango Pango) in American Samoa is not such a great place so we'll take a pass on that port and forgo the western supermarkets.

Modern weather technology
07/19/2010, 350 miles NE of Samoa

With modern resources sailors get spoiled. In the old days, a sailor would read the sky and the winds, and rely on the sea lore of his nation (this critical intelligence was tightly held) and make a best estimate as to where to find favorable wind and current. Even not that many years ago a sailor left port armed with pilot charts (which combine decades of knowledge and observations) and a forecast, but was largely on his own at sea. If the winds and current were not favorable, the mariner made the best of it. Today is different. In addition to the pilot charts and highly detailed pre-departure weather models I get a personalized forecast for my route every 3-4 days. I receive faxes daily with weather maps and satellite imagery. Twice a day I download detailed wind, wave and pressure reports and forecasts. For the past two days I have been beside myself because none of it is helping.

My pilot charts tell me that I have about an 80% chance of 20 knot winds from the East or Southeast - heavenly. My weather router forecasted 12-15 knots of wind from East South East, excellent. My daily wind reports, GRIBs, tell me I am experiencing 12 knots of Eastern wind, quite acceptable. However, for the last 2 days we have had 6 - 10 knots of winds and mostly from the Northeast, which is dead astern and light for our boat. Wind swirls and moderately rolling seas have also impeded sail efficiency, frequently spilling the air. We were hoping to reach Samoa by Wednesday afternoon, or Thursday morning at the latest. Thursday at all is going to be tight unless conditions improve. At least the Pilot charts are right about the current, 0.5 - 1.0 knots pushing us west toward Samoa. We have revised our expectations for landfall and are making the best of it. Maybe not so different from days of old - except for my diesel, the "iron genny" which has enabled me to take a week off of this passage; my refrigerator with some cool drinks for the hot afternoons; and a library of movies to prevent a crew mutiny. This modern sailor is spoiled...

It is far from an ordeal though. The Mahi I caught yesterday has provided some excellent meals, with more to come. Christine has done another great job of provisioning. Our fresh supplies are just beginning to run out. Along with the primarily healthy food, we have a good supply of snacks. The Doritos this afternoon were a delicious treat. The kids are playing together well, generally. Sophie has taken to cleaning the cabin twice a day. The weather is beautiful and we continue to have clear nights with few squalls. And it won't be too many more days until Samoa even if the going is slower than I would like.

After seeing no traces of other boats for two weeks since leaving Hawaii, we have seen three fishing boats in the last 24 hours. Two appeared last night around midnight. One off in the distance, another near our coarse line. As fishing boats can be challenging with their trailing gear, I hailed the boat. I received a heavily accented reply, which neither of us could understand. We took some comfort though in knowing he knew we were there. We watched the well lighted boat closely as it passed to port. This afternoon we saw another large fishing boat, which looked to cross our path. We adjusted coarse to increase our passing distance and brought up the radar, but could not see the boat on radar despite it being well over 100 feet in length. While we had no issues seeing this boat, it was disturbing that even within a couple of miles, our radar could not find a target. We have heard that wooden fishing boats don't show up well, but we were both surprised that a boat of this size produced no bounce at all. I have to confess that sometimes at night my head checks have been less than fully diligent after I have observed a clear radar screen. I will be much more diligent gong forward

Samoa Within the Week

It is the middle of the night - my watch, about 2am. So dang-blasted hot, that is the only way to describe it. The kids wake up a couple times a night to ask for water. The sea water temp is 86 and the air temp is 80 and we are quite definitely becalmed. We are moving under power of the engine and have been for 9 hours already. This is a sailboat but we are not averse to using our auxillary engine when the going isn't going. We have about 100 hours of diesel in the tanks and 10 more gallons in jerry cans just in case. We've used about 60 hours so far on the trip and we have less than ¼ of the way to go. Seems like a good use of resources. Hoping to catch up with some new wind at a favorable angle as the sun rises.

According to our ship's log, we have travelled over 5,000 miles since leaving Seattle on May 9th. We are closer to New Zealand than we are to California. We are about 500 miles out from Samoa (our passage is a total of 2300 miles from Hilo) and we just passed a fishing ship 1 and ½ miles to port. Eric hailed them on the radio and did make contact but we couldn't understand their English and we didn't speak whatever it was they were speaking, but at least we alerted them to our presence in case they hadn't noticed before. It is a big ocean, but ships do often pass in the night.

We haven't seen much wildlife on this passage, just tonight as we are getting closer to land we had some dolphin visitors. At least, that is what we think they were. Just a couple of them, black and larger than the grey bottlenose we've seen before. They were less playful than others, preferring to glide alongside our stern for a few minutes before heading off somewhere. Lots of flying fish - in schools they leap through the air and fly with their little fins an amazing distance before diving in again. A couple of frigate birds again and not much else.

Eric caught us another Mahi yesterday. We had Mahi filets for dinner and the rest he made into Ceviche for tomorrow's lunch. The kids aren't so keen on the fish meals yet; hoping that will change, expecting that it won't.

Kid update: Sophie is busy designing her ideal boat to live on. She has catalogued the shortcomings of her environment and is keen to make a difference 'the next time we take one of these trips.' She has also been busy created a new language. Finn is still busy doing Dinosaur research using a couple books we have on board. He is also usually the first one up in the morning, shortly before 6am. He sits on the bench and reads his books until the rest of the crew begins to stir. He is really enjoying the Secrets of Droon series as well as the Akimbo series by Alexander McCall Smith. Freya is working hard on her reading skills, going through the Bob Books with Eric. When she has trouble sounding out a word, brother Finn offers some great advice he learned from his teacher Linda and Freya seems to respond quickly to that kind of help. As heartbroken as we are that Freya will miss an incredible Kindergarten year with such a special teacher, it is so good to know that Finn has so much of that year fresh in his mind. He is eager to share. Finn and Freya have also been busy painting flags from different countries. We have a maritime flags of the world book on board and they are making sure we are ready to fly the courtesy flag wherever we might land (Peru and Norway included.)

For the folks who read these blogs to get info for their own planning efforts, we will be doing a "Gear Issue" once we have some time in port. However, I must put in a word for the following items: Bottomsiders - these are the cushions we bought for the cockpit. We thought they were a luxury item; absolutely essential. 5,000 miles of sitting can hurt if you don't have some squish. Also, we are still thankful for our self-steering device the Monitor Windvane from Scanmar. It just keeps on going and lets us get some sleep and some very very important shelter from the sun. If we had to hand steer in this direct sun for any length of time we'd be toasted, literally. We also have had great service from our Spectra watermaker. For years Katadyn was the leading brand, and we do have their portable, handheld water maker in our ditch kit, but for serious fill-the-tank water making, the Spectra puts out about 6 gallons and hour drawing less power from our batteries than the Katadyn would. We are quite pleased.

Speaking of water, we haven't seen rain since the downpour in the ITCZ last week. Our boat is completely salt-encrusted topsides and our bodies are quite salty now too. Everything is. It comes through the port lights on the breeze (when there is a breeze, when we can have the windows open without fear of waves caused water to gush in like they did earlier today)

So that's the update. Not much else to add except that everyday something either breaks or shows its weakness. Eric continues to rise to the challenge. The moon is now down and the air is very still and thick. The clouds have dissipated and I can some stars, but otherwise it is a very dark black night on the unusually calm water.

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Who: Eric, Christine and family
Port: Seattle, Washington
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