The start of our passage to Wallis and Futuna was rather inauspicious. When we completed our immigration check-out and clearance from customs on Monday (23rd October), we had estimated that our time of departure from Apia Marina would be at 11:30 am the following day. Although this was about six hours earlier than Randall had estimated that we needed to leave, we wanted to be clear of the marina while the tide was fairly high.
It was not much past that time when we actually did back out of the slip, with the much-appreciated help of two lads from one of the commercial sport-fishing boats on our lines, keeping Tregoning from bouncing sideways into the neighboring boat in the lurching surge. With an eye on the clock we had not particularly studied the clouds upwind of us. So we were a bit surprised when the sky darkened and a squall-line moved over us as just as we reached the middle of Apia Harbour. With gusts up to 27 knots and a brief deluge of rain, we decided to turn a few circles and let conditions calm down a bit before we headed out to sea. Anybody who noticed us, must have wondered what point we were trying to prove by selecting that particular moment to leave the shelter of the marina.
Turning downwind, once we were out of the Harbour's entrance channel, the sun soon reappeared behind us which was more encouraging, although ´Upolu remained shrouded in the most ominous-looking low clouds and rain. For the next few hours, we had to deal with insufficient wind and a change in direction that caused us to start aiming between ´Upolu and Savai´i Islands rather than staying north of them both. Finally, in the late afternoon the winds settled to a better speed and direction so that we did stay north of both islands and thereafter had excellent sailing all the way to Uvea (a.k.a. Wallis) Island.
Unable to sail west dead-downwind, our route was a rather drunken-looking weaving from one side to the other of the rhumb-line (direct-line) to our destination. However, despite this extra distance, and the wind speeds dipping below optimal at times, on Friday morning, we found ourselves sailing towards Passe Honikulu within 15 minutes of when we wanted to be there. So it certainly did not hurt to start our passage six hours earlier than intended and never have we arrived so close to our intended time without having to speed-up with motor-assist, or take-in sail to slow ourselves down. After almost 10 years of cruising, finally it felt as though we had made the most perfectly-timed passage.
Other than a couple of fishing vessels off the coast of Samoa, we had not seen any other boat traffic until we got to Wallis. After three days and nights on our own at sea, we then found ourselves trying to be in exactly the same small patch of water as another sailboat. As we were approaching the southern pass into the lagoon, we were hailed on the VHF by SV Blowing Bubbles who were just about to enter the pass to leave Wallis. We suggested that Blowing Bubbles come out first so that we could watch their track through the channel. We were sorry that we were going to miss Kyle and Shelly, a lovely Canadian couple we had meet in Whangarei and who we had heard on Gulf Harbour Radio, but they needed to catch the weather-window to sail further north. They were planning to spend the cyclone season north of the equator, in the Marshall Islands. As they came through the pass, they kindly gave us GPS waypoints for anchorages that they had used and plenty of other information about Wallis
We had also seen the track on the AIS of a vessel entering the pass at a confident speed of 9 knots a couple of hours ahead of us. This turned-out to be the small cruise-ship Caledonian Sky which was docked at the end of the wharf in the island's main town of Mata ´Utu. We anchored near a catamaran well clear of the wharf but while we were scurrying to inflate the dinghy so that we could go ashore and check-in with Customs and Immigration, a dinghy came over from the cruise-ship and asked us to move. The wind was strong enough that when they pushed away from the dock in 30 minutes, they were not sure that they would miss us as they slowly swung their bow around.
The small cruise-ship at Mata ´Utu wharf (with a hill we subsequently rode/walked up beyond)
Having watched the passengers wandering back to the ship, we raised the anchor and motored to the other side of the wharf. The ship left at the time that the crew members had anticipated and while the bow did swing pretty widely, we could see on the AIS track that it did not go over where we had been anchored. Still, with 15 - 20 knots winds and no assisting tug boats, it was probably a good idea that they had warned us.
We returned to about the same spot to anchor again (a little further from the wharf) and finished launching the dinghy. Unfortunately, the delay for the cruise-ship caused us to miss the Customs Office (which closed at 1 pm) but we wandered inland and found the Gendarmarie. This allowed us to complete the immigration part of checking-in but Customs would have to wait until Monday. Our rusty French permitted us to understand the directions that the native gendarme gave us to the island's only ATM, and after walking almost 1 km uphill to get there, we were both pretty hot and tired. So with some colorful notes of Cour de Franc Pacifique (about 100 CFP to US$1) in our pockets, we stopped briefly at a supermarket for baguettes and a couple of cans of cold beer on our way back to Tregoning. Ah, the luxuries of being in part of France.
Everyone we spoke to was very friendly and wanted to be helpful but we were so tired that our French was even more jumbled than ever and English was not as widely spoken as in Tonga and Samoa. We will be digging out our French phrasebooks and will hope to communicate more clearly when we are better-rested and return to shore on Monday.