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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?”
“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?”
(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.

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.

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.

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.
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.

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”.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Pago Pago, American Samoa – Week 3

photo by Jim

photo by Jim

Mount Alava Trail:

There are numerous hiking trails on the island of Tutuila. I wanted to come back to a clean and tidy boat before we took off so insisted that we leave for our trip after chores... and so we got a late start. It was a sweaty, hideously steep transit from the anchorage up to the beginning of the trail – I almost turned around. Carolyne complained and balked at every step – and I might have agreed with her except that I had to save face in front of my husband, who claimed I would “never make it”. It was a cloudy day, but all three of us were soaking wet by the time we reached the trail head at Mt. Alava. It was totally worth the effort - he view was breathtaking!

What is left of the tramway atop Mt. Alava following a terrible

 plane accident

 in 1980

photo by Jim

Nature... in alien form     photo by Jim

photo by Jim

I believe we all got our second wind and eagerly began the winding trail through the rainforest. Unfortunately, we didn't get far. Because we started so late, the mosquitoes were in full force! And when Carolyne lost something on the trail and wanted to back-track to find it, we decided to make the trip again at a later date... next time starting much earlier in the morning and bringing a larger bottle of insect repellent.

Fa'a Samoa – the Samoan Way:

Carolyne arrived at her first day of classes last week only to be told to come back at 1pm for Registration. And at the point that she was finally registered she was then directed to return the following morning for a placement exam. Carolyne was stressing a bit because she had wanted to begin her first day with everyone else … when everyone is new. But she shouldn't have worried. After her placement exam we were told all the the students had been released for another week. The school administrators were very slick and told us it was due to unfinished renovations in one wing of the building. But the news on the radio was that the principal at her school had been fired and refused to leave. That was a bit of drama, which the villagers found quite entertaining. We still don't really understand.

Decked out in school uniform

You-know-who... caring for a stray mama and her pups

Cruiser Relationships:

We had really hoped to meet new people (cruisers and expats) through the Pago Pago Yacht Club we had heard so much about. It was disappointing to learn that the club is no more... it dissolved a year or two ago - something political with the governor's office. Then, we received an email from Chuck, a cruiser friend in Argentina, who offered to connect us with his friend living in American Samoa. (Cruisers tend to be wonderful in this way!) The same day, Michael called us and Jim and he made plans to meet for lunch in the future. Hopefully, we'll get some information on what jobs may be available, expat venues and other tips and helpful hints.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Pago Pago, American Samoa – Week 2

Beautiful, yet blustery, Pago Pago anchorage

Lovely local girl

Decorating for Labor Day

Two men taking a lunch break wearing traditional lava-lava (or sarongs)

Wet & Windy Weather Week:
It blew like stink for an entire week... 25+ knots... with no reprieve! Rain, rain and more rain. And I know while some of our friends are waiting out serious droughts in other parts of the world... desperate for even a single drop of rain... that I shouldn't be complaining. But wet dinghy rides – getting drenched in sudden cloud bursts – saturated right down to your undies – salty hair plastered quite undignified-like (and only on one side!) after being slapped around by saltwater waves – plastic poncho doing very little to ward off the wet... changing into dry clothes AGAIN... finding yet another place to try and dry out wet clothing... well, after a week it's a little much. Factor in restless sleep as the boat shudders and mutters endlessly throughout the night? That's a recipe for Cranky Crew.

'The Healing Garden'- memorial to those lost in the 2009 tsunami
located in the village of Leone

Nicest surprise:
I just met a cruiser (from Dallas) who is a friend of a non-cruising friend of mine (who also lives in Dallas, but with whom I became dear friends in San Antonio over 20 years ago)... who happens to be crewing on a boat that is anchored in the same anchorage as Hotspur right here in American Samoa! Greg and I finally met after missing each other in Tahiti and then again in Bora Bora. And what a delight he is... we chatted for hours like old friends! (Thank you, Mark, for introducing me to Greg!) I just love small world encounters.

Windblown in Pago Pago with my new friend Greg 
Luckiest in Line:
I was first in line... that's right... #1... to buy Samsung UNLOCKED cell phones for only $15 each! It was a Blue Sky promotion and I arrived well over an hour before time to start the line (and I looked a bit pathetic standing there hungrily all by my lonesome)... but I saved $70 locally (almost $200 had I purchased from Amazon!)!! And I didn't look so pathetic walking away from that mile-long-line that accumulated behind me with my cell phones and free T-shirts (that are way too big for any of us but they were FREE!). Yep... I'm a cheap cruiser. With my cheap cell phones for the family. Uh-huh... uh-huh... uh-huh...

And, after minimal effort, we have Carolyne enrolled in school! She starts 9/2.

One of the numerous fabric stores on the island...
we paid less than $7 for Carolyne's school uniform material!

Wam-V that will be following the Hokule'a and photographing the adventure
Good Deeds:
Carolyne was out of bed at sunrise for the spay and neuter clinic. She loves to volunteer and did so many times while in Mexico. She jumped at the opportunity in the Village of Leone here on the island. Numerous cats and dogs were brought in for free vaccines, de-worming and prohibitive procreation operations. The state of the pets here on the island is pretty dim. Mange, starvation, ticks and fleas... it's pretty bad. I think maybe worse than in Mexico.

Tanya preparing injections

Steve getting sleepy pup ready for ear tattoo tag number and belly shave

Zeke and Nina came along to help, too

Kitty ready for surgery

This friendly kitty is the stray
McDonald's cat... eaten alive by mange
 ( crew on sv Trade Winds rescued him- Carolyne and
 I will check on him next week

It is always the saddest part of cruising – saying “so long” to friends. Sv Mojombo departed on their way to Western Samoa, then to Fiji and finally back home to Tasmania.

Vicki, Nina, Gary and Zeke