Malo! (Hello in Samoan.) I'm such the active blogger these days . . . NOT! We are still in American Samoa and are living quite happy lives here on our little island of Tutuila, American Samoa. It truly is funny how the wind may blow you to places you barely knew existed. When I occassionally return to the mainland and the topic of our current location comes up, no one knows where American Samoa is. Pretty sad that no one even knows that the United States has a territory below the equator in the South Pacific. But, I can sympathize. Pre-2004 I would have had just a vague general idea of some place called American Samoa.
For cruisers who are contemplating whether to stop here, all I can say is do not believe everything that you read in the cruising guides! And please do stop here! Heck, you might even end up staying here for a bit. For those U.S. citizen cruisers looking for a place to stop to replenish the cruising kitty, there are jobs to be found. You won't find the jobs in the paper, but come to the yacht club and start talking to people. That's how jobs are found on this island. People with mechanical or electrical abilities are nearly always in demand. And, for those cruisers from other countries, you may be surprised to learn that American Samoa does not fall under U.S. Immigration laws. We have our own American Samoan immigration laws, which are MUCH more flexible than U.S. immigration laws. Often times you can obtain work permission if your sponsor can document that your skills are needed and that the employer's needs cannot be met by hiring locals (who are U.S. nationals).
Pago Pago just went through a facelift of sorts with a nice new main road, replete with sidewalks. Sidewalks in the South Pacific? Now that's a concept. Sam threatens that when the first stoplight gets installed, we are "outta here." :)
For those needing a fix of fast food, a brand new McDonalds was built about a 2 minute walk from the dinghy dock. A laundromat is a 30 second walk from the dinghy dock. Buses run frequently and you can get around the island easily (but be forewarned -- they quit running around 5:00 at night and do not run on Sundays.)
Yes, there are two tuna canneries in the harbor and, yes, when they are cooking you will get some fish smell. But it's not horrendous. But, having grown up on a farm perhaps I am desensitized to odorific sensations. We were on Purrrfection in the harbor for a while and it's not overpowering, so don't let that stop you from paying American Samoa a visit.
After reading the cruising books before arriving, we had this absolutely terrible mental image of Pago Pago harbor and was pleasantly surprised when we pulled in and saw that our mental images didn't match with reality. While I wouldn't run the watermaker here, the good news is that Rainmaker Mountain on the eastern side of the harbor lives up to her name and there is plenty of rainfall. Friends of ours who are still living on their boat in the harbor said that they never have to lug water due to the amount of rainfall.
Soon the cruising vessels will start arriving and there will be new faces at the yacht club. Since this is a small island, and since the palagi (non-Samoan) population is smaller, we always welcome the opportunity to say "Hi" to new folks and live vicariously through their stories since we are now CLODs (cruisers living on dirt).
Hope to see some of you soon!
Hello everyone and Happy New Year 2008. Today is a good day to look back on the past year. For us, 2007 was one very busy year. We started off the 2007 in Curacao, then were off to the San Blas Islands of Panama to hang out with the Kuna Indians for a while.
Then it was time to head to Colon, Panama in February and get Purrrfection ready to head through the Panama Canal and into the Pacific. Although Colon itself is a bit of a dump, we have fond memories of all the good times spent at the Panama Canal Yacht Club in Colon, where we were docked for about a month. During that time, both Sam and Victoria made several trips through the canal as line-handlers on other vessels. How many 13 year olds can profess to having traversed the Panama Canal 3 times by age 13?
Then it was time for Purrrfection to go through the Canal and we entered the anchorage off Panama City for another month of "getting ready" for the Pacific. (Hint: Next time, do not buy so much food.)
Then it was off to the Galapagos (a one week passage, more or less) and then 3 weeks enjoying some really swelly anchorages, but otherwise really swell hikes and expeditions.
After the Galapagos, we ventured forth on the longest passage that we had ever had --- it was 22 days until landfall in the Marquesas. After a couple of months in the Marquesas, it was time to head down to the Tuamotus, then off to Tahiti and the surrounding islands of Moorea, Huahine and Bora Bora.
Then time for another 5 day passage (or so) to Suwarrow (aka Suvarov) where we had the pleasure of hanging out in the middle of nowhere -- literally --- while we enjoyed the hospitality of the resident Cook Island game warden and his family (John, Veronical, and 3 boys) and about 12 cruising vessels.
Then we arrived in American Samoa .... and all of our plans changed (as sometimes is apt to happen with cruisers). In a nutshell, we have decided to stay in American Samoa for about 5 years and let the girls finish out high school here. I joke that in less than 3 months we went from being full-time cruisers to: 2 jobs, 2 cars, 4 cell phones, 1 puppy, 1 kitty, and 1 house. But, it all fell into place so easily that we have to assume that this was all meant to be. We really enjoy American Samoa and it is truely a shame that the island has gotten such bad rap in the past. That is, I believe, the result of staying only in the Pago Pago harbor area and never venturing out from that very small area. We were immediately impressed by the friendliness and warmth of the Samoans. By far, the Samoans have been the friendliest islanders we have met in our 3 years of cruising. Hands down.
There are plenty of job opportunities available here on the island. Many companies and the government offer 2 year contracts, which pay for housing, transportation to/from, and shipment of personal effects. But --- this is not Hawaii. If you want Hawaii, then go to Hawaii. American Samoa is not 3rd world, nor it is 1st world. It is a 2nd world country. So, one must remember that when contemplating coming here. As for us, we are all quite happy.
The girls are in private school, and have a great group of friends, and are glad to have the homeschooling phase of their education done and over. Sam and I are both enjoying being gainfully employed again. Life is good. Hope it is for you, too. Best wishes to all for a healthy and prosperous 2008.
Hello, my faithful followers. You have full authority to have me thoroughly flogged with a cat o' nine tails because I have been a very, very bad blogger. I promise to get this blog current within the next week.
We were in the Society Islands (Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine and Bora Bora), then to Suwarrow (aka Suvarov), and now we are in American Samoa. So that, in a nutshell, is what we have been up to for the past month.
I did update our photo galleries before we left Bora Bora, so there are lots of new photos even in the absence of blog entries. So, check out my photo gallery. Unfortunately, there is no "slideshow" function --- there used to be, but it got taken away with some system adjustments. I was told that it would be put back on as a feature -- but I'm still waiting for that. The best thing to do, once you are in the Photo Gallery, is to click on the album that you want to see, and then double click on the first photo in the album. That increases the size of the photo tremendously, and then at that point you can use the arrow buttons (you'll see them --- don't worry) to navigate through the photos in the album.
If you miss having a slideshow function, please write to the administrator of sailblogs and ask him to put that feature back in! Just go to the www.sailblogs.com home page and at the bottom of the page click on "Contact Us."
Perhaps if enough people write to him, we can convince him to spend the time to get it operational again. It really is so much nicer to just hit "slideshow" and then have all the photos progress through without you having to click, click, click all the time.
08/01/2007, En route to Tahiti
As promised in yesterday's blog, here's an additional photo from our "Swim with the Mantas" session. This photo shows a manta doing a back flip as it circles a school of small fish. The "flaps" indicate the position of the mouth (a manta is a filter feeder) and the two whitish "lumps" on the right side of the manta in the photo are two remoras. Remoras have a suction cup on the top of their body and they suction themselves to other fish (and sometimes also try to suction themselves on to people who are in the water trying to clean the boat bottom --- just ask Sam about that one.) A couple of weeks ago we saw a large porpoise that had a Remora stuck over one of it eyes. The porpoise positioned itself right in front of our port bow and kept swimming and spinning in an apparent attempt to bump the Remora off its eye by hitting the bow with the remora. Regretfully, the porpoise was not able to dislodge the remora.
Hmmm. . . how about some more shark stories? After finishing snorkeling with the mantas, we were in the process of getting back onto Gaston's boat. When it was my turn, Gaston noted that he had drifted precariously close to some coral heads, so I had to swim away while he started the outboard up again and moved to a different location. So, there I am with one fin already off (as I had been preparing to climb in using the outboard transom as a step over the stern of the boat) and trying to awkwardly swim to the new boat position on the other side of some coral heads when a large white tip shark glides by about four feet from me. Thankfully, white tips are not usually aggressive (another "beagle" type shark --- see my earlier post), but I did take the time at that point to put my other fin back on so I could actually swim instead of flail around in water.
After we were back onto our boat, I then decided to go snorkeling a bit more, since I was already wet and geared up. Sam didn't feel like going and the girls were heading over to shore with two French boys from two other boats, so I swam over to check out the fish traps myself. All was going fine until I noticed a 6 foot gray shark. Some gray reef sharks are similar in temperament to black tip and white tip sharks. Some, however, are known to be aggressive. I find it pretty hard to distinguish between gray sharks in the water, so I decided to just mosey on back to the boat. After I described it to the local boys later that night, they said it was "just a baby" since it was "only 6 feet long" and that the gray sharks in their area are not aggressive. They also said that the gray sharks are "scared of Tahitian man" and that they dart away when they see them. (I think a bit of bravado was being put on display for my benefit at that point.) Nonetheless, I think that I will avoid the gray sharks whenever possible.
07/31/2007, Toau, Tuamotus, French Polynesia
We had a great time with Gaston and Valentine at Anse Amyot and their family on the atoll of Toau in the Tuamotos for the past several days. Theirs is the only family on the atoll and they were lovely guests. We enjoyed a scrumptious dinner of lobster, octopus, fish, rice, coconut bread and coconut rice one evening at their restaurant, while last night we had a potluck at their restaurant with the cruisers bringing various dishes while Gaston and Valentine provided fish and octopus. (More about the octopus in a minute.)
The winds, which had been gusting up to 30 knots and maintaining a steady 20-22 knots, finally let up a bit and we decided to take Gaston up on his offer to take us to swim with the manta rays in the lagoon of the atoll. First, everyone on board was, I believe, glad that it was Gaston and not ourselves navigating the run-about boat through the minefield of coral heads. Anse Amyot, situated on the northwest side of Toau, is technically a cul de sac since it does not (technically) have a pass into the atoll. But, Gaston took his run-about through some very shallow water next to his parc d' poissons (fish traps) and then through a scattering of VERY closely lodged coral heads that rise straight up to the surface of the water. Local knowledge a must! While the waves were still a bit rough for snorkeling, we knew that yesterday would be our only chance to snorkel with the mantas. As we geared up and prepared to jump off into the lagoon waters, I hoped to see a couple of manta rays in the four foot wing span range. Boy, was I surprised when I jumped in and saw four or five very large mantas gliding in the waters right beneath me. Their wing spans probably ranged from 8 to 12 feet. Very impressive! Mantas are filter feeders and are not aggressive animals. It was amazing to see them swim up from about 20 feet to only 5 feet below us and then see them arch over backwards (so their undersides showed), and then circle back down in a loop pattern into a school of small fish. Their movements were so fluid and graceful it was as if we were watching an underwater ballet. I was so glad to to have my camera with me to capture a few special shots.
When we arrived back into the anchorage, Sam went octopus hunting with Gaston. Gaston knew where the octopi like to hide out, and he quickly found a hole and stuck his wooden spear down into it. A couple of jabs had the octopus entangling the spear (and Gaston's arms) with his tentacles. Quickly, Gaston grabbed its head and turned it inside out and twisted its neck. A few slams on the rocks and a bit of cleaning out of the intestines and Mr. Octopus was ready for dinner. Valentine makes an out-of-this-world curried coconut cream sauce and then simmers the octopus in it. Really, really delicious! And very tender, too. Gaston did mention that when hunting octopus you have to be very careful not to allow its tentacles to enter your ears or your nose as the suction cups are a real danger and ear drums can be popped and nasal passages . . . (well, not real sure what happens there, but I believe we'd all agree that octopus tentacles up the nose is something to be avoided at all costs).
We are now en route to Papeete, Tahiti and should arrive Thursday morning. When we left out of Toau this morning (Tues.) we were flying along at 8.5 knots for the entire morning. Our hopes were high for an arrival tomorrow morning into Papeete! But, after lunch the wind died down to 8 knots and our SOG (speed over ground) was reduced to 4.5 knots for a bit, but now we are back up to 6 knots.
I will post some additional photos of the mantas over the next couple of days since our slow connection over the SSB radio severely limits my ability to send attachments. We are lucky, though, that Winlink (unlike SailMail) does offer us the ability to send attachments. Using Photoshop, I try to reduce the photo size to somewhere in the 10-20 kb size, and then I generally do not have any problems. But, trying to send more than one photo at a time can be problematic. So, check back in a day or so for more photos! When we get to Tahiti (where a fast internet connection will be possible), I will upload new photos into the Photo Gallery.
07/27/2007, Anse Amyot, Toau, Tuamotus, French Polynesia
Sweaters and jackets in Polynesia? Well, according to Tori and Alison it was a bit chilly (with the wind and all, you know). The thermometer was reading a bone-chilling 81 degrees, but with 18 knot winds ... well, let's just say that they are very lucky they didn't get frostbitten. Well, technically it is the winter months here since we are south of the equator and the seasons are flip-flopped.
(The sad fact is that later that night I could have sworn it was in the 60's because it did feel cool, but it was actually 79 degrees. We are now officially the wimps of cold weather. Will we ever be able to go skiiing again?)
07/27/2007, Anse Amyot, Toau, Tuamotus, FP
The wind has been blowing hard all of today and tonight, but we are in a wonderfully secure little anchorage on the northwest side of Toau. There are a couple of families here and they are the sole inhabitants of all of Toau. We met Valentine yesterday and she proudly showed us her restaurant (where we will be eating tomorrow night), her copra, her small church (where she leads the services) and her pigs and little piglets. If the wind hadn't been blowing a steady 22 knots all day we were to go with Valentine to a small motu further out in the lagoon, along with a side trek to see a large resident manta ray that we could all swim with.
But, the wind is blowing ... still ... and shows no signs of letting up. I just checked the wind speed indicator and it's reading out a steady 26 knots. Not exactly good sleeping weather. We are on a mooring installed by the family (apparently the French government required them to install moorings before they'd let them open the restaurant so that the reef would not be destroyed in this small cul de sac), but I'd feel safer if we were on our own anchor. This will probably turn into one of those nights when I am up and down all night looking at the chartplotter, checking the wind, and making sure the anchor alarm is set while our dear Captain Sam snores soundly away.
On a different note: When I look at this photo I am amazed at how much the girls have grown since we moved onto Purrrfection in August 2004. Tori, who is now the (usually) ardent sailor, held a slightly different view three years ago when she was 11. She barraged our ears with her daily lamentation of "You have ruined my life." Then, slowly, over time, she changed her view. Alison, who was only 9, was too young at that time to really voice many protests. Thank goodness for that! I think I would have gone insane if I would have heard a double chorus of the Tori mantra every day!
07/26/2007, Rotovoa, Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia
Here's the additional photo to go along with the "Pushin' Up the Daisies" entry.
07/26/2007, Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia
Just a visual reminder to everyone that at some point we will all end up "pushin' up some daisies," so we had all better be making the most of each day.
This cemetery on the Fakarava atoll was touted as being an "old" cemetery, but Sam and I were a bit confused as we saw no old gravestones. Most were from within the past 5 years or so. So where did all the old gravesites go? We found one older mausoleum-type structure, but it was open and there was nothing in it. Kind of creepy. Perhaps it is best not to have all of one's questions answered.
07/24/2007, Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia
We've been "houseless," but certainly not "homeless" for several years now. Boy, that could soon change, though. Sam came across this oceanfront property that has real fixer-upper appeal and potential. This "maison" features a split level plan, including a loft, deck and even a pantry. Real open-air appeal.
Ummm maybe we might pass on the opportunity. Any takers for a slice of paradise?
07/22/2007, Fakarava, Tuamotus, French Polynesia
We have had some terrific snorkeling here in the Tuamotus. The water is often a beautiful deep turquoise blue, other times it is a rich cerulean blue, but always it is clear and inviting. (I never knew for sure what color "cerulean blue was, but we just recently watched "The Devil Wears Prada" with Meryl Streep and now I have been thoroughly educated on the importance of cerulean blue.) The visibility has been nothing less than spectacular. The tropical reef fish are different here than in the Caribbean, though, and we are enjoying trying to identify the various new species. Some species are the same, though. Unfortunately, since we don't have a fish book for the Pacific, our identification has been limited to comments such as, "Did you see that one with the Pinocchio-type nose that looks like a swordfish-wannabe?" Not exactly scientific. And, of course, we've had several escorts on each snorkel trip: black-tip sharks.
The way I figure it, beagles and black-tip sharks have a lot in common. Beagles are basically good-natured dogs that just like to be free of a leash and wander around the neighborhood in search of some food scraps. Hey, that sounds exactly like a black-tip shark. Black tips are basically good-natured chaps who just like to carouse around a bit. Their neighborhood may be the coral reef rather than suburbia, but a 'hood is a 'hood. Beagles are inquisitive and will usually come around to see what is happening if they notice some action somewhere. Ditto for the black-tip shark. Beagles like to chase rabbits and other wildlife just for the fun of it. Black-tip sharks seem to enjoy cruising the reefs trying to cause havoc in much the same way, but generally causing no harm (and most of the time being completely ignored, to their likely chagrin).
But, have you ever tried to take away the dog food bowl when a beagle is eating? I dare any one of you to try that risky maneuver. (Kids, don't try this at home.) Anyone who has been so brave knows all too well that the mild-mannered slightly pudgy beagle will morph into a killer Rottweiler/Doberman/Pit Bull mix that promptly chomps down and takes off a finger or two from the offending hand. And so goes it with black-tip sharks. As long as you don't try to take their food away (such as taking the spear with that nice fish on the end of it out of their reach), then they aren't likely to cause you any harm. But, you take their food bowl away, and, well, there may be consequences to pay.
(Dedicated to Max, our friends Dan, Susan and Matt's beagle. Hi, guys!)
07/22/2007, Makemo, Tuamotus, French Polynesia
Here's an additional photo to go along with the entry about black tip sharks. Just like a pack of beagles out for the hunt.
07/15/2007, Makemo, Tuamotus, French Polynesia
Makemo: What a gorgeous place! The Marquesas with their dramatic steep volcanic mountains covered with their dense lush foliage were certainly beautiful, too. But, I so enjoy waking up and enjoying my morning cup of coffee in the cockpit while I gaze upon crystal clear blue water and palm trees waving on shore in the light breeze. The water is so clear within this atoll that you can see clear to the bottom in 35 feet of water. Very nice. We were in Raroria yesterday (another atoll in the Tuamotus), but the wind was kicking up from the SE and we had a lot of coral heads in the anchorage right behind us, so we decided to move on.
Yesterday was Bastille Day here. Raroria had several activities planned: pitonque (aka bocce) tournaments, longboat races and volleyball, along with a BBQ of some sort. So, we thought that Makemo, being even a larger village (relatively speaking) would also have some events planned, but they are in the process of building a new gymnasium and the supply boat was arriving with tons of aggregate to be unloaded, so they decided it was more worthwhile to have the young men working rather than celebrating. Also, although these are French islands, it seems as though the locals think of Bastille Day as a holiday for the French, not necessarily for them. Polynesians have their own festival, Heiva, which runs from the end of June to mid-July, and they seem to place more emphasis on that celebration.
We had a domestic morning: laundry, defrosting the freezer and cooking. (Sorry folks, it's not cocktails with umbrellas all the time when you're cruising.) This afternoon we invited the girls from Encanto to go swimming with us and now Tori and Alison are over at their boat making "milkshakes." (We supplied the ice and sweetened condensed milk and the other boat is supplying their industrial strength VitaMix blender. I think the motor on it is larger than our small dinghy motor. No joke.) So, they are not technically milkshakes like one would get at Dairy Queen, but they are still pretty darned good.
Sam and John from Encanto are over on shore cleaning the coconuts they gathered on their dinghy exploration earlier this afternoon. It takes some time and there's certainly a technique to it all. It's actually pretty difficult work to get the meat out of the shell. If they get them done soon enough, while the girls are still making milkshakes, then there could be some coconut milkshakes to be shared. Speaking from past experience, those are really hard to beat.
And that is life in paradise for today. Ta-ta.
07/14/2007, Raroria, Tuamotus, French Polynesia
Around 1950 or so, Thor Heyerdahl and the his raft, the Kon Tiki, unceremoniously arrived at Raroria and promptly crashed into the southeastern corner of this atoll, thereby ending the famous voyage.
You will be happy to know that we were able to arrive and depart Raroria without any of the problems that Thor experienced. The pass into the atoll was a bit of ride, though, with the current running at about 5 knots against us on the way in. When the tide is running hard, the water boils up like a witches' cauldron. So, we waited for what we thought was slack tide or close to it, but since the tide tables are not exactly dead-on in most of the Tuamotus, you have to rely on your observations rather than a strict timetable perusal. We still had the outgoing tide coming out against us (as we wanted) and we had no problems. But, for those cruisers who aren't used to inlets where the water really rushes in and out (say, like the Boynton Beach or Jupiter inlets in Florida) and aren't used to eyeball-navigation around coral heads based on the observations of crew serving as spotters on the bow (as everyone has to while cruising the Bahamas), I suppose it could be a bit of a different type of area to navigate through.
P.S.: As an update, we have been to several atolls since I wrote this entry (Raroria, Makemo, Tahanea, and Raroria) and none of them have been as terrible as the guide books would have you believe. Raroria was the "worst" of them, and it certainly wasn't a monster by any means. A little common sense goes a long way: know the tide tables; observe the pass for awhile by lingering outside before attempting to go through; don't try to sail through; do it in good light; watch your SOG (speed over ground) and push the engine harder when necessary. Going in against an outgoing tide is a better idea than surfing your way in to an unknown atoll with offending reefs and coral heads in abundance. Just common sense.
07/06/2007, Taiohae Baie, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas, French Polynesia
Horses are very popular in the Marquesas. This image brings back fond memories of how I spent a good part of my time while growing up on a farm in Ohio. If you ever wanted to bring a good item to trade in the Marquesas, pick up some inexpensive saddles in Mexico or Panama and they'd be worth a fortune here. The local saddles leave a lot to be desired as they are basically carved out of wood. After having the opportunity to race horses down a street with one of the local guys from Pua Mau, Hiva Oa, I can personally attest to their lack of comfort!