A note from Dick and Gail Barnes:
Dick and Gail Barnes are off on another excellent adventure on their Nordhavn 57, Ice Dancer II. They departed Honolulu on May 4, 2009 for an expected one-year cruise of the deep South Pacific. On Ice Dancer (I), a Nordhavn 50, they completed trips to Mexico, Alaska, Hawaii and French Polynesia for a total of 23,545 nm. Ice Dancer II has been to Mexico, Alaska, Galapagos Islands, Cape Horn to Hawaii for a total of 28,708 nm. At their first stop for this trip, Palmyra Atoll, they had completed 52,253 nm on their two Nordhavns. You are invited to share their observations, here.
July 19, 2009 Sunday
Niuatoputapu, Tonga 15-22.5S 173-20.8W
Our time in American Samoa was longer than expected, due to a mix-up on a part and a shipping problem. Nonetheless, we put made good use of our stay by touring the island and talking to its people.
The volcanic soils and abundant rainfall make for lush vegetation. Mangos, papayas and other fruits hang from large trees in the forest. This provides food for the many Samoan fruit bats. They are daytime flyers, without sonic sensing, have wing spans of over three feet, and the body appears the size of a small cat. In the evening, you can see scores of them returning to hang bat style from their favorite trees.
Most of the road system is along the waterfront, with steep hillsides along side that remain from a volcanic cone. The speed limit is 25 mph throughout the island and it is enforced by a large contingent of watchful police, patrolling in cars, trucks and motorcycles. It looked like they have a zero tolerance policy.
Samoans have developed a mass transportation industry that others should consider. Small buses run in a stream along the roads. They are crudely constructed upon various sized truck frames by local craftsmen. They are licensed, but certainly would not pass any DOT style specifications. But, at 25 mph, the safety risks involved are outweighed by the cheap transportation--one dollar takes you about anywhere. The industry seems open to any entrepreneur wanting to get into the business, so there is no lack of passenger capacity.
The well groomed and trim youth attend school in uniform. Both boys and girls wear lava lavas, a wrap-around straight skirt, patterned in the school colors and design. They were well behaved, respectful and friendly.
From the Pago Pago Yacht Club come rowing canoes each evening, to practice for races. Here, the canoes have 42 rowers and a coach at each end. The craft are some 70-feet long and move swiftly. Other sports in season were rugby and cricket.
There is little tourism on American Samoa. A convention complex was badly damaged in a hurricane and not yet repaired. The tuna fishing and canning industry is the primary economic input. However, one of the two canneries is closing, due to increased labor costs and cheaper alternatives, elsewhere. Wages lost will be sorely missed, causing more families to depend on money sent home from workers living overseas.
Pago Pago is the only port of entry in American Samoa. It is run with an iron grip by a port captain. Once you have checked in, you may not move your vessel without permission, and you are charged for each movement. You cannot take your vessel out to fish for the day, for instance without checking out of the country. It provides great control and a source of funds. It is not a yacht-friendly policy.
The power of the port captain can work in a favorable way. After several visits, we obtained permission from him to make a stop at Ofu, in the Manoa Islands east of Pago Pago. Gail had learned of the Coral Gardens, located in a national park operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. No boat may stop there without permission of the Pago Pago port captain and it means beating to weather 60 nm back toward French Polynesia, to visit. Apparently, no one does it by boat and the only visitors to the park come by small aircraft.
The harbor at Ofu (14-09.8S 169-40.9W), has a treacherous approach, with hazards that are not apparent. The port captain drew us a chart of how to approach safely and where to med moor to the small concrete dock. We arrived on a Friday and over the weekend a few people inquired about why we were there. They didn't seem very friendly.
First thing Monday morning, a police vehicle and an unsmiling policeman was on the dock, instructing me to come on shore to talk. He was certain that we had committed the crime of the month by landing without permission. After explaining that we had permission, he asked to come on board and search the boat. Sometime later, he received a call back from the Pago Pago Port Captain, and left, satisfied.
The next day, the policeman returned and brought us a six-foot chief's staff that he had carved from hardwood and a basket of a dozen papayas. We think that the port captain told him to be nice to us. Another man that we had met over the weekend showed up with a bunch of bananas and several papayas. We responded to both with out own gifts, including smoked sockeye salmon that we had canned in Alaska.
The Coral Gardens were like swimming in an aquarium. It had the clearest water we had ever seen and the tropical fish population was large and varied. Certainly this is a national asset worth protecting.
We ran overnight to Apia, Samoa in strong trade winds on the stern quarter. Samoa is an independent nation previously called Western Samoa. Apia Harbor (13-49.7S 171-47.1W) is another that is tightly controlled. We circled for about 45 minutes after requesting entry into the harbor. The reason was so that the Port Authority workers could finish some work and then escort us into its marina. No yachts were given the option of anchoring in the harbor. The marina was dredged out of a corner of the commercial section of the harbor two years ago. Its Bellingham floating concrete docks are first rate, but the riprap seawall doesn't quite do the job of keeping out surge. Potable water and 50 cycle electricity is included in the slip fees, which were comparable to West Coast U.S. prices. We put our 100 amp Charles battery charger to work, that operates on 50 or 60 cycles and 210 to 250 volts.
Unlike Pago Pago, Apia has a strong tourism industry. Flights arrive from New Zealand and elsewhere to fill hotels and cruise ships disgorge a couple thousand in a bunch. Tourism is the primary source of income, supplemented as in American Samoa by cash transferred from overseas workers. It is a clean city with multi-story, modern buildings. Some charm from the German colonial period remains. Souvenir crafts are more abundant, here. Also unlike Pago Pago, tourists are no novelty to the locals.
The trip to Niuatoputapu was another overnight voyage, running south and perpendicular to strong trade winds. Again, it was bumpy. Entrance to the lagoon is through a narrow passage in the reef that is well marked. Anchor holding was good and the lagoon is well protected from swell. Dingy landing and tie-up is marginal.
This is the northern-most port of entry for Tonga. A few hundred Tongans live in small villages. Officials from quarantine, health, customs and immigration came on board to check us in. The same government officials organized pot luck dinners, birthday parties and lunches, for mutual benefit. The following day, we had to travel to another village for payment of fees. Our folding mountain bikes were put to good use on the sandy, five-mile trip to the modest bank and government buildings. Fees and favors from yachts may comprise the greatest economic input to these communities. There is some agriculture, but it may be used primarily for subsistence. Pigs, horses and chickens run loose, everywhere.
Four sailboats are at anchor here and represent an international population. There is a polish man who lives in Cairns and has a business in Papua New Guinea. The Danish boat has two primary school aged children. An Australian boat from Brisbane has been cruising these waters for twenty years and presently has their young-adult daughter on board. The fourth boat is from France. We met the first two boat crews in Apia, last week.
Now, we are calculating alternatives to make up for time lost in Pago Pago, waiting for repair parts. Something has to give, either by moving some stops to the return voyage or truncating time at anchorages along the way.
That's cruising--plans change.
Dick and Gail Barnes
Ice Dancer II