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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Pago Pago, American Samoa - Week #1

Our biggest thrill visiting Pago Pago was the arrival of the Hokule'a (double hulled traditional voyaging canoe) and watching the premiere of Jean Michele Cousteau's 'Swains Island: One of the Last Jewels of the Planet' at the Marine Sanctuary.

Jean Michel (the son of diver and film maker Jacques Cousteau) presented his PBS documentary for the first time – a look at Swains Island, which is located about 200 miles north of Pago Pago. Marine biologist Dr. Sylvia Earle was also at the presentation- a National Geographic explorer in residence and named by Time Magazine as its first Hero for the Planet in 1998. Carolyne and I were in the small audience.
Jean Michel Cousteau at his premiere presentation of
Swains Island

Carolyne in the Samoa News

Beautiful culture!
The Hokule'a and its team use wayfinding (or landfinding), a non-instrument navigation method used in ancient Polynesian traditions. Long canoes greeted the Hokule'a and her sister ship Hikianalia. There is a book that explains the methodology and techniques: We, the Navigators – The Ancient Art of Landfinding in the Pacific by David Lewis.
Hokule'a side tied

Amazing tree carving in Pago Pago harbor
Our biggest anx: Anchoring in the harbor is tricky. The 2009 tsunami that hit Pago Pago and killed 50 people has left the bottom very messy and the holding is precarious. We tried several times to drop the hook and set it our normal style: drop anchor, back down straight until chain is taut and no skipping occurs, increase RPM a few notches... increase RPM a few notches more... a little more... and we're set!. Our true and tried method didn't work for us here... we just slid on back. Instead, we dropped the anchor and floated above it until it nestled nicely into the sludge and then very, very gently backed down on it. We have been in the same spot for a week with various squalls visiting the anchorage with no problem... so far. But we always have someone on board. Always. And that makes family outings – well, they don't happen.
What I do during passages...Cherry Strata Pie... and why I need to go on a diet.

What Carolyne and Jim do during passages. Must be very bored to create
horror flick make-up: Hotspur Horrors.
(this particular toe grossy inspired by Kyle on sv Lady Carolina)
Our biggest surprise: the friendly Samoan people and the cheap prices of food and supplies. Rarely do we meet locals on the sidewalk where they don't say “hello” or “good morning” with a large smile. And they speak English (the majority). A local veggie and fruit market is nearby: $5 for a large bag of sweet potatoes, $1 for bag of fresh green beans, $1 for 6 fresh ears of corn corn, 6 lamb shanks $4... well, you get the picture. A laundry facility is close by the anchorage... $1.25 for a load of wash and $1.75 for a dryer. Buses cost about a $1.
The bothersome Boobie that wouldn't go away... until Capt. Crankpants appeared.

Carolyne's photo of fence flowers and me in the background
with my gigantic sunshade.
Our biggest disappointment: the marina really isn't a marina. They call it a marina, but it is for transient boats and small fishing boats only. Unless there is an emergency, cruising boats can only stay 15 days max and the cost for our size boat is $30 per day. No electricity and no water.

A happy dance! US Post Office in Pago Pago means sending and receiving supplies is a piece of cake. We bid on a used Raymarine replacement chartplotter on Ebay while we were in Bora Bora... 9 days later it arrived... and arrived 9 days before we did! And it works! Price of shipping varies – I find Amazon prices to be steep. Cheaper to beg a friend to accept a list of supplies shipped to their home in the States, sort the items into one large box and then ship that. (Thank you mi amiga, Jackie!)
Hokule'a inspired greeting by a lovely people
And our biggest news: We are planning to stay here through hurricane season. I will see about getting Carolyne into high school next week.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Suwarrow and Changing Plans

Due to light winds and a disabled spinnaker, our 5-6 day trip to Suwarrow turned into 7 ½ with an estimated arrival time at pitch black of night... 8pm to be exact. Goody - yet another round of night watches, bobbing outside the atoll waiting until the following morning for daylight to show us safely into the entrance.

Why Suwarrow? Well, Suwarrow is an Atoll National Park. The Cook Island Compendium tells of a fairytale-esque, uninhabited paradise that is compared to a "mid ocean Eden". "When cruisers die and go to heaven", one collaborator writes, "Suwarrow will be one of the destinations available to them." For us, it seemed like the perfect stopping place to rest up during the 1,150 mile leg from Bora Bora to American Samoa. And we couldn't resist the images conjured in our minds based on reports over the last 10 years. The impressive snorkeling and lovely sea creatures we would encounter, the delicious coconut crabs we would catch and devour over a roasting fire pit on the beach, the warm and friendly welcoming of the two rangers that are stationed there for 6 months of the year that would take us on fantastic tours of the area... the glowing reports of Suwarrow had us hooked!

Instead of flipping a coin (do we wait outside Swarrow for 11 hours or do we skip it altogether?), at 6pm and 12 miles away we called our friends on the SSB already anchored in Suwarrow for confirmation of availability and what they'd learned so far. (We had been staying in touch with each other same boat time, same boat channel since leaving Bora Bora same boat day.)

There was only one anchorage allowed for boats, our friends reported, and it was surprisingly small. Five boats were anchored already, but there was room (probably) for one more. The rangers are very firm - no longer are visitors allowed to explore the surrounding motus and islands, they told us. The rangers living there used to offer daily tours around the area, but do so no more. And so far, our friends told us, it cost them $50 for the privilege of dropping their anchor... a fee imposed on cruisers if they have not cleared from Rarotonga first... although many cruisers report being charged the fee even if they have... which, we understand, the rangers get to keep.

This disappointing dispatch - and knowing that just last week a beautiful sailboat (sv Amiable, with whom we were anchored in Bora Bora) dragged in Swarrow, hit a reef and is sadly a complete loss - was enough for us. We didn't blink an eyelash. The weather forecast was virtually the same for the next week. We would continue on to American Samoa without stopping.

Maybe Suwarrow used to be the touchstone of heaven. Maybe its unbelievable reputation has attracted too many cruisers over the last few years and the newer, younger rangers don't feel like putting much effort into playing host to so many visitors. Or maybe too many regulations and restrictions have lessened the empyrean experience. Who knows? Regardless, we are disappointed to have missed a taste of the Cook Islands. We should have chosen to visit Penrhyn instead – if nothing else, it certainly would have been a better point of sail... even without the spinnaker.

Meanwhile, a big "thank you very much" to the person who told Carolyne that there is a McDonald's AND Carl's Jr.AND KFC AND Pizza Hut in American Samoa. She chatters endlessly about what she plans to order and eat. She has monologued so much about it that even I am craving the taste of a salty, greasy Micky D french fry... except that I know I can't only eat just one. So much for the "cultural experience".

We arrived safely in American Samoa 8/18/2014 after 11 days from Bora Bora. We finally had to turn the engine on the last 24 hours. It was slow going as it was. And the Golden Arches beckoned from the anchorage.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Spinnaker Heaven!... for about 10 minutes

It's been three nights now since we departed Bora Bora, being illegal aliens for 16 days while waiting out weather.
We're headed to a small island in the Cooks called Suwarrow (pronounced SU-VER-OV by some, and SWARROW by others).

But the old seaman's farewell adage "Fair winds and following seas" is a quandary.
The 'fair winds' part we get; the 'following seas' part is baffling.
We despise that point of sail.
Following seas mean a ride on a mighty elephant sod out of its mind, weaving dramatically from side to side, inserting high rise hiccups periodically and leaning WAY over to one side - and then to the other - as if it eventually might just topple over altogether in a heap of drunken lethargy.

Jim had re-rigged our spinnaker halyard (thanks to suggestions from our fellow Tartan TOCK sailor's online group) and we were very happy with the result. So as a remedy for our current state, we hoisted our asymmetrical spinnaker on the starboard side, mirroring the genoa on the port. It was time to dance a jig! We picked up a knot and a half of speed and Hotspur settled nicely! Hot doggy!! This would cut off an entire day of our passage if the wind kept up!

But our jubilee was short lived. While Jim applied mylar tubing to a possible chafe zone on the sheet, I danced my way aft to chase off (for the ump-teenth time) a determined Boobie bird warming his feathered fanny on the solar panels. I was waving my arms and jumping and shouting when out of the corner of my eye I saw colors shimmy in the sky. My brain registered a Deja vu in time to see our fabulous spinnaker snake it's way through the air and plunge head first into the sea, waving stupidly like an festive party streamer. (Jim says the spinnaker has spent more time in the water than out... but really, I think that's just his cup-half-empty talking.) Abandoning the Boobie,Jim and I were able to retrieve the sail - sock and all. We discovered that the large U-bolt at the mast broke off. The bolt was probably original (thus 38 years old) and was likely rusting underneath a coat (or 2 or 3) of paint. So, once again we have a salty spinny detached from its salty sock, both drying on deck.

Just like the Hulk and David Banner, Captain Crankypants replaced my sweet and logical husband. Snarling and swearing, the captain grabbed a boat hook and started towards the only thing he that might take his brooding mind off the spinnaker... the wide-eyed Boobie. The Boobie, beak open and backing away, must have known this was no longer time to test the limit... for it had been reached. Something in the eyes of the deranged captain scared the squatter and he flew the coop - never to return. Smart bird for a genuine bird brain.

And Carolyne, knowing that Jim and I suffered a rather crappy morning, cheered us both up quite nicely with a savory comfort meal of homemade fried chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy. And dang... that girl can cook - and what's more I didn't have to!! And the rest of the day was joyous. There really is nothing like a good meal to boost a crew's morale!

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Monday, August 4, 2014

Last Post with Photos for a While... I think...

(The photos are loading in random places, the internet is terrible and I don't have time to fool around with this... so sorry!)

As fate would have it, the weather just is not cooperating.
and then
 in other words...
In the spirit of French Polynesia (and out of total boredom during rainy days) 

James and Josh - sv Carpe Diem

Nina - sv Mojombo

Captain Gary of sv Mojombo in search of manta rays -  with son, Zeke, and Josh of sv Carpe Diem

Sadie - sv Carpe Diem

Sis and Bro - Nina and Zeke
So we're still in Bora Bora – weather is bawling and scrawling in “The Dangerous Middle” and we want to sit tight until it looks like things simmer down a bit. No point going out to get beat up when we can just wait it out.

Good news is that Jim found a used Raymarine C80 chartplotter/radar/bla-blah-blah on Ebay and we bought it. We're having it shipped to American Samoa. I will be so happy to have all our electronics back! I know they are just a crutch... but what a convenient crutch they are! The radar allows us to see squalls in the middle of the night and we can prepare for those. We have a back-up chartplotter that we're using on Jim's Android, but I like the one that is BIG and right in front of my face when I'm at the helm. Call me picky.

It has rained the last several days so I brought out the sewing machine and began redecorating. Our canvas curtains were stained and ugly. So I washed them by hand real well and then after they dried I put some loud and cheerful Polynesian fabric on them. Then our old throw pillows looked so ugly that I ran out and got some more material and made throw pillow covers. It cost all of $30 for the fabric and I have a considerable amount left. (The mola design on the yellow pillow is a gift from the kids a couple years ago in La Paz. I finally got around to doing something with it and I jut love the way it turned out!) Fabrics here are more expensive than Mexico, but the prints are gorgeous! My decorating is a little loud... but how it brightens up the boat! I think I'll throw in a little purple...

The pareos (or sarongs) they sell here range from $20 - $35. The designs are exquisite, though. Carolyne went into the fabric shop and found a remnant in red with large blue tropical flowers on it. It cost $8.50 and I hemmed the edges, leaving the selvages natural. She wrapped it around her twiggy body and it looks perfect! We went back tot he fabric shop a few days later when she was wearing it and the old lady noticed her right away and commented on her skirt... knowing that the material came from her shop. The owner of the shop was so pleased!

I have been trying recipes with breadfruit. I'm no good at it, I must confess. The riper the fruit, the sweeter it is. It has a banana quality to it. Yet the smell, not offensive at all, bugs me. I don't like it. I have eaten breadfruit prepared fro me by a Marquesan lady and I like it. My way sucks.

Carolyne has made friends with a lovely pair of Tasmanians... Zeke and Nina on sv Mojombo. They are really cute teenagers and Carolyne goes to the pool with them daily and they play games together. A few days ago she accompanied them to the other side of the island with their parents and they swam with the manta rays. (I had wanted to do that!) Carolyne said that the rays were HUGE (the size of garage doors!) and that they were feeding on the plankton, so the visibility was obscured and they were feeding deep. So not as cool as the sting ray experience we had in Moorea. No one got any photos.

Captain Crankypants doesn't really like to play games and yesterday with the rainy weather I insisted that he indulge Carolyne and me in a friendly game of Balderdash with the entire family of sv Mojombo. It was a great way to spend the afternoon with exceptional people, homemade scones with cream and apricot preserves, and Carolyne's no-bake cocoa and oat cookies.
And the captain found... he actually enjoyed himself!

Looks like the weather may be dissipating and we may head out today... I am waiting for the “go ahead” from the captain.