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Sunday, May 10, 2015

What's New in Pago Pago - Part One

Flower Pot Rock - Fatu & Futi. The beaches on Tutuila are amazing!

Gorgeous harbor sunset
With the slow strike over on the west coast, supplies have re-appeared on the island. It was sluggish at first... the few items that did make it to Tutuila were greedily grabbed up (by hoarders like me) and socked away. Then, there were no eggs.... again. But little by little, more containers arrived on the ships – and then even more. Fresh produce is again abundant, as is everything else.
Cassidy and Carolyne - inseparable - again!

Shannon's great photo of two of her children enjoying an island ride
in the back of our pickup truck

Waterfall hike in Nu'uuli
This was perfect timing for several cruising friends, one family who sailed from their 7 months in Tonga and another family who sailed from Fiji. There is no better place in the South Pacific Islands to get provisions than American Samoa! Their eyes bugged out of their heads when they saw all the available groceries.
They have chia seeds?
Yep.
Couscous?
Yep.
Gluten free pasta?
Uh-huh.
And the 6 kids aboard reacted the same way Carolyne did once the anchor was dropped...
LOOK! THERE'S McDONALD'S!!!!
Joe demonstrating the art of using the coconut shredder. This technique
renders the most awesome coconut cream in the world!

Taco Thursday at Evalani's for $1 chicken, pork or beef tacos - LOADED!
Unfortunately for sv Lil' Explorers, their stay was way too short. But we managed to squeeze in some tour time. It was great fun to share some of our favorite nature hikes with our friends. Sludging through the mud to the waterfall for a cool swim was memorable. Fortunately for us, sv Lady Carolina will be here a little longer and also our new friends who spent 5 months on the small atoll of Penryhn, sv Elysium.
Our cruising friend, Dick, giving us ride back home from the dock

Cruising friends, Dane and Jessie

Helping our New Hampshire friends on sv Ironbarque with a science project in the tropics...
Earthwise produce bags

These papers work pretty well, but this is what Clare on Ironbarque had to say:
"Among our various tomatoes the best one by far is the one sitting on a paper towel that had been dipped in vinegar and dried.  So I would recommend dousing fruits and veggies with a diluted mix of white vinegar, or at the very least, dousing the vessel in which they are stored." 
Jim recently took diving lessons with an awesome Frenchman, Renault. The cost here is $350 for the complete open water certification and $175 if you only want the Padi scuba diver card. Tutuila is a great island for learning to dive – lots of shallows for the introductory lessons and then later on and a little further back the coral reef drops off and Jim said he was suddenly swimming with the turtles! Carolyne and I signed up together and now after taking our first Mom/Daughter Dive we're enthusiastic about our second lesson!
Renault and his precious wife, Anita, whom he met in Madagascar.

Meanwhile, we're wrapping things up here in Pago Pago. Jim is already hopping on the boat projects that we have ignored over the last 8 months. I won't bore you with the list – it is depressing. But here are a few photos of what lies ahead:
Mold on cockpit canvas due to water leaks - relentless!
Dinghy chaps surgery... patching, patching and more patching!
Seems like this project is not really a priority, but chaps can extend the life
of your inflatable by YEARS!
Projects put on hold while we wait out the weather produced
by Rainmaker Mountain (and so aptly named!)
In addition to boat projects, we have a list of equipment repairs...
but, we're no longer taking risks fixing or upgrading anything else here in American Samoa.
You would think that with the huge fishing fleet here that oodles of qualified mechanics and technicians and “fix-it/make-it-better” gurus would be in abundance. That has NOT been our experience. And yes – we asked around and got recommendations before we hired. Our 5HP outboard is STILL sitting in a garage, completely torn to pieces, and the only problem it had was that it wouldn't spark. The repairman says he can't fix it and we're terrified what he's going to charge us to put it all back together in un-working condition. And the alternator we had re-built for $160? There is absolutely no improvement – the amps are exactly the same. It is very difficult to locate “competent” service people. Luckily, you can ship easily to the US and other countries. So, that is our remedy for repairs.
Rah-Rah-Rah!! Our new love!
Jim performed numerous carburetor surgeries (one after the other) to our California purchased Yamaha generator. <Do NOT buy California carburetor equipment if you value your sanity!> Jim finally threw in the towel and bought the only brand new generator we could find on the island. It had less than appealing reviews on Amazon, but with all the cloudy, rainy days we felt we had no choice. We took the risk. And we're happy we did. $500 later, we are smiling again.

The internet on island seems to have gotten worse (although I understand that it is far better here than in Tonga!) - it has taken me several hours to post this!

so more later...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Not Starving in American Samoa... yet!

I just made some of the BEST sauerkraut ever!! I prepared it so it fermented naturally and has all the good lactobacillus bacteria for good "gut" health. It's stupid easy to make and it tastes fantastic!! More cruisers should really consider fermented foods as “healthy” eating options when fresh veg is limited.

2 very small cabbages cost us $7 due to rising costs.
All I did was wash and chop two ordinary cabbages and one Chinese cabbage. I crushed it all down with a wooden spoon and added about a Tablespoon (maybe 2) of salt to get the juices to leech out of the veg. Once I was happy with the amount of liquid in the container, I filled a ziplock gallon bag with water and placed it on top to keep the leaves submerged in their own liquid. Then, I stored it in the shower in a loosely fitted lidded container so the gases could escape. After 5 days the sauerkraut was ready and I stuck it in the fridge. We're not new to fermented food options; we've also made a large batch of KIMCHEE in the past before making our Pacific crossing. We're really happy I did this now, however, because our fresh food options have become severely limited. 

Why are vegetables so difficult to come by in American Samoa these days??
First of all, most of the veg is shipped here from the United States. There are a few farms here on island that grow their produce, but only a small percentage of the harvest is sold in stores. The main reason we're having problems finding fresh produce recently is due to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union representing dock workers and the West Coast Port Employers in a standoff regarding contract agreements. While produce rots away in shipping containers in the west, the store shelves are being emptied here in American Samoa... no fresh produce, eggs, milk, etc... 
But not to worry, we are not starving here... yet. There are plenty of canned foods and boxed items still available. But, it is a wake-up call to American Samoa to research other options in case there are future food incidents. If I was in charge, I'd look to New Zealand, Western Samoa and Tonga.
Cost-U-Less got in a few cases of organic flour and
I stocked up by buying 6 bags at $7 each!! And I am grateful!

These baby bananas are a favorite - super sweet and delicious when ripe.
These are grown locally and are easy to come by.
My question is just how much money do dock workers really need to make?
Are they educated for that particular job – needing to spend years in a special shipping school to know how to unload a container from a truck and then put that same container on a ship? My understanding is that the average salary of a dock worker is about $147K per year. In addition, they get generous benefits and retirement packages.
Interesting.
I am teaching and I guarantee you that I don't get paid one quarter of that amount, but I am required to have a college education to do my job. And I may be a little more cranky about this because it was just announced that we teachers have to work over spring break. What? We work overtime and do not get paid for that? Yeah, it sucks... but my attitude is that if I don't like it, I CAN QUIT! 

Some could argue that the cost of living on the west coast is high - but I would argue back:
The average salary for a Seattle Registered Nurse is $72,000 , which is 9.2% above the national average of $65,920, according to glassdoor.com.
The average annual salary of a teacher in Portland is $55,565.
IT Engineers in San Fran-Freaking-Expensive-Cisco have a median income of $102,966 according to salary.com, but 10%-45% fall in less than the $100K range annually.
But DOCK WORKERS need more than even that???
Exactly where are we going to draw the line to blue collar workers getting paid more than educated professionals?? Or do you want ME administering your next insulin injection or screwing with your computer software?
I'll do it for $147K a year... but you won't like the outcome.
And I don't blame you. I'm not qualified.

Most American Samoan homes have lush yards
with breadfruit, papaya, coconut or banana trees.
I say quit negotiating with the union and FIRE THEM ALL! Are you really going to argue there is no one out there who couldn't and wouldn't do that job for what they are currently being paid... or even LESS??? (Yes, I am a little tweaked that I hoarded some eggs and still ran out!) I am also a tad resentful that I am working my butt off at a mere fraction of what dock workers make. The whining in the west makes me think of that movie with Russell Crowe, Cinderella Man – or maybe I just want to put some boxing gloves on. Do what the rest of us do, you little babies. Go find another job if you're so unhappy. Go get an education for those of you who don't have one. Invent a product that we can't live without. Go find happiness somewhere on the planet – because I'd bet it all that there is someone out there who would thank God for your job!

Meanwhile, the governor and Congresswoman here in American Samoa have been actively trying to get a waiver for American Samoa so that we can get food shipped here. Congresswoman Aumua Amata said earlier, “Right now our [store] shelves are bare, our people are getting hungry, and the price of goods have skyrocketed."

It is true that flour and rice are dwindling. Bread production is difficult due to a lack of flour. Jim even thought to fill our gas and diesel cans just in case. Speaking of cans, the tuna cannery here in American Samoa has 400 containers waiting to be picked up and is waiting for important machine parts, that without, are hampering production. I went to buy a tomato the other day and it was $3 for a small Roma. I don't think it is a state of emergency where people are starving, but for our family this "interruption" has certainly shed some light on the fragility of an island with 55,000 large, hungry inhabitants.

American Samoa, due to its isolation and US dependent programmed mindset/algorithm, is most certainly at a disadvantage. And I am out of eggs, fresh milk, lettuce, cabbage and other salad fixings and garden side dishes!!! Rice is scarce. If what I do have on hand happens to have weevils, I will pick them out... angrily.
Fire them.
Fire them all!!













Saturday, December 27, 2014

'Tis the Season to be Soggy

From beginning to end, we never tire of this!
How many of you cruisers have heard this before:

“Please take a shower.” (Okay – maybe there are plenty of you cruisers that have heard that one!)
“But I don't need a shower.”
“Did you take a shower yesterday?”
“Yes.”
“Well, why don't you take another one?”
“Okay. I will. Later.”
“But I need you to take a shower now.”
“Like right now? Right this minute?”
“Yes.”
(sniff-sniff) “Okay. Fine. I'll take a shower now.”
“Okay. Would you please take a longer shower this time?
“Really? Why?”
“Because the tank is too full.”

Never in our cruising lives have we seen so much rain. And we have never “caught” rain before – ever. But we are catching rain on a daily basis now! Living in the southern hemisphere means it's our summertime. And summer means torrents of rain. Torrents. 
Until now, I have never looked at the Fatty Knees full of water on the fore-deck and thought of Mr. Bubble and a back-scrubby-on-a-stick at the same time. (Cruising women become desperately clever when it comes to devising a way to take a bath!)


With the rain comes the rain forest. A rain forest of mold, mildew, spores and more spores. We battle the growth daily. Mildew on the cushions. Mildew on the mattresses. On the walls. On the stove. On the fans. On the ceiling. On clothing. On food. On vitamin bottles. On appliances. On electrical cords.
My dear friend, Alice. She offered to fix Carolyne's
hair for a fancy dinner function. Little Zel wanted to help, too!


The glamorous outcome!
And rust. We must check canned food supplies regularly. I have found a couple cans that have been suspect of so much corrosion that the contents inside might have been botulistic. (Botulistic is not a word, apparently, but I am stuck on the boat due to torrential rain and so I am making up new words for fun.) BOTULISTIC seems like a good one.

We did not invite a colony of ants aboard, but somehow they confused “Hotspur” with “Hotel”. And insect problems are also to be expected in the tropics, so we are not surprised. However we did not expect what happened while we were enjoying sun-downers with a fellow cruiser one evening. We did not expect to be chased home by a swarm of termites that began landing on us and crawling inside our clothes and burrowing in tickley places. It was obscene. And the night Jim became mad in the head was not a fun night. It was all because of a lonely bug, playing love melodies on his wings in hopes of attracting a mate. I thought my husband had become a raging lunatic when he woke me out of my sleep in the wee hours screaming like a madman! We never did locate its hidey-hole to put us out of our misery, but by the third night the bug was much quieter – until he finally played no more. I can't decide which was more annoying - the chirping bug (which I didn't notice until Jim shared his ravings with me) or the raving mad husband.

I love American Samoa for many reasons. I wish I could honestly say that American Samoa is a wonderful spot for cruisers... and if you're talking “eye candy”, then yes. But there are a few logistical facts that make cruising here a pain in the butt. From a cruiser's perspective, American Samoa could be much more accommodating. Here is a list of our discoveries. It is not rose colored... it is factual.

There are no haul out facilities in American Samoa – unless you are wealthy. We are desperate for a bottom job. It will not happen at the Ronald Reagan facility here in Pago. Last we checked, $9,000US is the cost for a 45' boat. I don't know any cruiser who would pay that to haul in/out and have some paint slapped on the bottom. The next best place to haul out is Tonga or Fiji.
Our favorite crunchy Christmas cookies (Old Fashioned Molasses and
Almond Thumbprints filled with raspberry jam) never quite baked into a crispy "crunch".

Chewy cookies lovers? American Samoa is for you!
And though there is a marina here, it is only for emergencies... as far as we have been able to tell. Old men who have heart problems or single-handers seem to be able to talk the marina into a spot to side-tie. There is no water and no electricity. Theft is an issue. And that is too bad because the holding in the harbor is horrid. I talked with the marina when we first arrived and was told that it is not a “long-term” marina. I was quoted $30 each day to stay there if it was an urgent matter, although the staff told me the marina would “work” with us. We declined.

The Pago Pago Yacht Club is defunct. Something to do with government interference from the governor's office. I never did get the whole story.

Our one-foot red Christmas tree... and yes, that IS a hair clippy adorning the top!

Christmas Day sun... sort of.
If you wish to leave the harbor and sail around to the other side for a few days it will cost $50US every time you “move”. And there is a monthly charge to anchor here... we have no idea how much it will really cost when we plan to leave (the hidden charges aren't published), but there are several stories of those sailors who sneaked out in the middle of the night to avoid "taxation".
A gift from one of my students... a baby pineapple


Samoan food is not our favorite. (In fairness to the culture, I feel I have not had good examples and my desire is to gather a group of friends together for lessons in cooking and tasting.) But this has been our not so scrumptious experience:
Greasy pork or corned beef wrapped in taro leaves baked to death in an “umu” and swimming in fat...
Breadfruit and taro baked into dehydrated, gray lumps...
Coco Rice... rice cooked in coconut milk and ground cocoa beans with lots of sugar ... (apparently, we are the only ones who do not appreciate this interesting combo) and I have been told by a Samoan friend that eating it with bread and butter is the key. I may have to give it another shot.
Varieties of plantain served as a side dish – cut in slices... dry, tasteless and starchy.
Lots of breads and sugary starches, including a "pancake" that is a sugary ball of dough fried in fat. (I must say that I DO like this pancake, however, I just can't eat food like that anymore if I wish to stay nimble and fit through the hatch!)
Our beautiful daughter on her 15th birthday
Restaurants are spendy and most of them are mediocre. Jim and I had a wonderful meal for our anniversary at the Sadie Thompson Inn – one of the best meals in a long time. We had 2 glasses of wine each and an entree and nothing else and it cost $100.
A beautiful day after the rains led us to hike up to this magnificent sight!

Some of our friends brought soap and shampoo!
(They don't have a Fatty Knees)

Our friend, Raj, returned to Fiji
And for the most disappointing fact about cruising in American Samoa...
the internet is horrendous. It is expensive and is terribly slow. It makes working from here remotely very difficult indeed. We pay $50 each month for internet that functions well enough to send emails – most of the time. To maintain his websites, Jim must spend an additional $60 – only 4 gigs a month – which could easily be burned on Youtube videos in one day. The US has poured anywhere from $95 million to $200 million for the internet here on the island and it is slower than anywhere in Mexico we have ever been. Taxpayer's money pours in, but no one can tell you exactly where it goes. It seems to simply evaporate.
Three island teenage boys did this to 
Carolyne's hair with fresh flowers.
What American Samoa IS good for if you are a cruiser is that it is the most affordable place to ship things in and out to the States in the South Pacific. We bought and received out Raymarine chart plotter from Florida shipped here quickly and easily. We have purchased items online, shipped them to family or friends (who box these little things up in one box) and then have had that box shipped to the main post office in Pago Pago marked “General Delivery”. It's been wonderful.
Carolyne and her friends at a church function dinner

US food items are plentiful here on island. Dried cranberries, flax seed, couscous, gluten free products, canned veggies and fruit, oatmeal, canned chicken and corned beef... and food cost is much lower than in French Polynesia. And yes – beer, wine and spirits are available and reasonably priced. American Samoa is a fabulous place to stock up on food.




Getting around on the island is easy. The bus system works pretty well. The cost for adults is $1. Kids ride for 25 cents. But, the buses quit running around 5:30pm and on Sunday they don't run at all. It's not the end of the world if you take the bus with a stop... or even two. But any more than that and those dollars begin to add up. The buses are small and many times crowded. Going out for dinner on the other side of the island or a night at the movies isn't feasible because it's too far to walk. There are taxis you can take – but they have been known to charge a hefty fee based on your derivation.

Propane is not close to the harbor, but the buses will take you there with your tanks. Trash receptacles are near the dinghy docks. There are 2 dinghy docks: the marina allows cruisers to tie up in a slip and there is another dock at the end of the harbor closer to a nearby laundry facility.


Hotspur has fabulous seats for the long boat races!
There is so much potential here for the island to make a small fortune off cruisers or on tourism, but as one local person told me, “The US has spoiled the people here”. And that is sadly true. Why get an education or work hard towards making your own money or growing your own food when the federal government hands out food stamps and federal grants like party favors? Obesity is rampant. Diabetes is slowly rotting away at the culture – one limb at a time. Alcoholism is the main reason there is any crime at all. As Jim so aptly put it, American Samoa is just a glorified, tropical Indian Reservation... minus the casinos.

But it is paradise, nonetheless. And as long as the US keeps the influx of money coming there are jobs – even for cruisers. The hospital needs doctors and nurses. The schools need qualified teachers. The tuna boats need licensed helicopter pilots. There is one Starkist plant remaining on the island - the others left when minimum wage increased. Almost everyone here is from somewhere else. And the people... the people are wonderful and kind. We do love American Samoa despite the fact that it's cruiser limited. We think we'd love it even more, however, if we just weren't living on a boat.



Saturday, October 11, 2014

Gaining and Losing While Cruising

It has been am emotional several weeks for everyone aboard Hotspur.

GAINING
As we are staying in American Samoa for a year or more, I put the feelers out and began looking for a job. Undoubtedly, we can always use the income. But mainly, work keeps me from feeling slothful and going bonkers. More importantly, my marriage remains healthy. Hey- cruising here and there is interesting and Jim and I don't get bored. Hunkering down to wait out hurricane season somewhere for who-knows-how-long is different... and feeling cooped up on the boat 24-7 can become a terrible trap.

It didn't take long to find a job. And I'll tell you my secret how I did it:
I met a man on a jet ski while I was at the dock picking Carolyne up from public school one afternoon. He hired me after a 3 minute conversation.
Seriously.
Mean Ms. Meri gives a test

Honor students wear lava lava to school
I am teaching Math, History and Spelling (and soon, Science) to 6th, 7th & 8th grade students at Manumalo Academy, a private school. The pay is decent; it's based on my Master's degree. I love the job. There are books for every student... also desks (although the termites love to chew on them and make a mess on the floor!) and the kids have learning pads in the classroom. My largest class is comprised of 24 students.
Carolyne's and my sweet ride to school

Entertainment provided on the big screen as we roll to school
The twist? Carolyne had to attend their 9th grade program. She was furious for having to change schools, but the good news is that she has adjusted nicely. The private schools on the island have good reputations and most parents wish they could afford to send their children. In the public schools there are simply not enough teachers. And, there are too many students - 40+ kids to a classroom is not uncommon... not enough desks, so the kids sit on the floor... not enough books so the kids share. Once football starts, rivalry among competing schools is fierce... there is a lot of fighting. 
After school with her Samoana school friends


At Manumalo, Carolyne is one of 5 students in the newly developed freshman class... she gets a lot of attention and is, therefore, learning more. As a bonus, as long as she keeps her grades up she is allowed to meet up with her public school friends regularly after school.

LOSING
Meanwhile, hurricane Odile did a number on the Baja last month... where we just left 7 months ago. Many of our friends lost their boats... and three people we new well lost more... their lives. 
Guenter Trebbow
Guenter, a popular German sailor, was a well known character in La Paz and had lived there for years aboard his boat Princess. I loved chatting with him – I never walked away from our conversations without laughing. He was fond of his little dog, Fritz. His sweet heart gave out during the chaos brought on by the hurricane and he was lost to us. The folks on sv Guenevere wrote a touching tribute to Guenter here.

Paul and Simone were fairly new to the La Paz scene... a year or so... in their 40's... a fairly young couple, divers and in good physical shape. It is simply tragic that they were killed.




Hurricane Odile left wreckage all along the Baja. Santa Rosalia and Escondido weren't spared. Many friends lost their boats. 

The internet here in Pago is horrifically slow and I am unable to link to much. However, here is a place where you can make donations to the La Paz effort to find homes for the now homeless sailors.
(Photos of Odile's devastation and our friends used by permission from Shelly Rothery-Ward)

But being so far away from the devastation in Mexico didn't spare us grief. 
Ray & Jenny (formerly of sv SUKA) emailed us the Curley family's guestbook entry from 1982
Our friend and long-time cruiser, Jack Curley on the 41' ketch Kulkuri, was preparing to sail towards Japan from Pago Pago. Jack was Jim's closest friend here in Pago. 
Photo of KULKURI from blogsite of Domino Marie
Jim knocked on Jack's hull one Monday, but there was no answer. He figured Jack might have hitched a ride into town with someone, as his dinghy was there. By Wednesday, we felt uneasy. Jim and I went together to check. When still no one answered our knocks, Jim boarded Kulkuri. We weren't prepared mentally or emotionally when Jim discovered that our friend had died a few days earlier. It was shocking. Jack was in excellent physical condition. He rode his bike hard from Pago to Tafuna every Sunday to keep his cardiovascular system healthy. He was full of life and energy.

As far as death goes, it appears Jack spent the day riding his bike. He had a glass of wine with a friend that evening and then watched a movie on his computer. And then it looks like he fell asleep.

The weeks have been taxing physically and emotionally for many cruisers as we mourn the loss of our friends.

R.I.P. Guenter, Paul & Simone, and Jack.

As Jack used to say, “Fair winds and Foul Friends”.