Sunday, September 30, 2012

Still in Niuatoputapu

Well - we did not sail as planned. The window for departure closed, with south east winds making a southerly passage potentially unpleasant. This has allowed us to get to know some of the locals better and to do a bit more exploring on the island. We found a lovely small country road that runs along the slopes of the volcanic ridge, which dominates the center of the island. The road serves small plantations where taro is planted under the partial shade of banana palms. We exchanged greetings with an old man on a horse with his grandson riding behind him and a bag of firewood slung across in front.

We have learned a few words of Tongan - hi, how are you?, fine thank you, yes, no, 1,2,3,4... Rani as usual is the linguist and has made several friends on the island. We are often greeted by children as we walk through the villages - Rani gets a big hug from one little girl, who she says reminds her of herself when she was a child in India. This is the first place where we felt it appropriate to donate some older clothes, which were distributed around the island by one of the nurses. We also delivered stationary supplies to the primary school in our village and had a nice conversation with the principal. She was weaving a lovely pandanus taovala (apron), decorated with shells and seeds, while she taught 4 grade levels - true multi-tasking!

Yesterday we had a triple feature - the third anniversary of the 2009 tsunami, an inter-village rugby tournament, and arrival of the supply ship from the capital in Tongatapu. The government official in charge of constructing 73 houses to replace those lost in the tsunami gave a speech. This was followed by blessings and readings from the heads of two churches. Then the rugby matches began with second string teams followed by first string ones from each of the three villages. 'Our' village won the tournament, beating the much larger village of Hihifo. I played 'rugby' in the field beside the game field with some of the smaller boys as well as Elder Jenkins, a young Mormon missionary who has been in Tonga for 15 months. The boys had great fun playing with Palangis, as we are called here.

When the supply ship arrives everything stops and people from all the villages arrive at the wharf near which we are anchored. They pick up cardboard boxes and bundles - supplies sent by their extended families from the big city. Fuel barrels were filled on the wharf with diesel and gasolene, and dozens of propane tanks were delivered to the families who use these for cooking. A half dozen giant plastic cisterns were rolled of the ship and loaded on small flat-bed trucks - presumably the last cisterns needed to complete the post-tsunami construction. In addition 2 of the 6 small fishing boats sent by the government to replace those lost in the tsunami were lifted by crane onto the back of other trucks.

But the big event, for us anyway, was the unloading of the ice cream. We placed our order and after a couple of hours, we and a few other families who could afford the 10 paanga (6 dollars) were rewarded with square 1/2 gallon tubs of 'Meiraku' vanilla ice cream. Not having a freezer, we hurried out to visit our friends on 'Picara' where we quickly downed two bowls each, accompanied by red wine. Not the most balanced meal - but a real treat after a hot and sweaty day.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Sunday Service in Niuatoputapu

To try to better capture what it is like here, I will write a little about a few experiences we had in the first couple of days.

On Sunday, we attended a Catholic church service at a small church on the outskirts of the first village. Different from the Samoan service, where everyone dressed in white, here the men wore dark lava lavas with aprons made of woven pandanus leaves or, in many cases, woven plastic. One older gentleman appeared to be wearing a piece of shiny black plastic tarp as an apron. Women mostly wore black dresses or long skirts with sleeved blouses and pandanus aprons, some simple and others with fringes interwoven with shells and seeds. In contrast to the Samoan ladies the Tongan congregation were hatless. The men and women were interspersed as were the singing leaders, who would start each song item throughout the service. Most of the service was sung - and powerfully sung - in harmony. The entire congregation sang every song and knew all the words. It is a cliche, but at times the singing sent a shiver down my spine and Rani had tears in her eyes. It felt like we were in a bell tower, surrounded by the raw throbbing of a dozen bells.

We were invited after church to a lunch of traditional Tongan food. Sia and Niko have a small house in the first village that was built for them by the Catholic church after the tsunami. They have refused to move up the hill to the new village site, claiming that the new site has no well water. I suspect they want to stay where they are because it is much better situated to the water, the wharf, and the fishing grounds - and I don't blame them! The bugs will also be much worse back in the bush. But because they will not move, they do not qualify for government aid.

The lunch consisted of fish, which had been caught by a combined effort of villagers and cruisers, baked in taro leaves, two varieties of taro, and papaya, all cooked in coconut milk. There is a distinct lack of spices and herbs in Tongan cuisine just like in the other Pacific islands we have visited so far. Niko was squeezing fresh mango juice when we arrived and we were a little worried when it was diluted with local water but it tasted delicious and we suffered no ill consequences. The cruisers brought deserts and we contributed some onions and canned meats. Sia has also invited us to celebrate her son's 17th birthday later today.

Swimming with Swine

Our check in with customs, immigration, and quarantine was a bit of a debacle. We initially anchored at the wharf, but the officials did not come that day. When they did arrive, we had anchored off and had to row our small dinghy in and ferry them out to Ladybug. The two women were in formal long skirts and did not have an easy time getting in and out of our dinghy. Still, we had a nice chat with them on board where we served them cookies, coffee, and tea.

When it came time to leave, however, I did not do a good job of holding the dinghy as the nurse, Monica, boarded. She hung onto Ladybug while the dinghy slipped out from under her and then fell face first into the water. This did not improve her mood. We fished her out using the stern ladder and help from the quarantine officer. I poured a container of fresh water over her while Rani fetched a towel. I then rowed her ashore, apologizing profusely for the incident. We have since visited with Monica at the clinic and brought her a jar of home-made mango chutney by way of apology. Rani told her that my Mum had a similar incident on another boat I had owned and has refused to go near any of my more recent boats. Monica thought this a most sensible course.

Niutoua spring is in the village of Hihifo. Slightly sulfurous, it has lovely clear water in which a sizeable number of fish make their home. The local horses graze on its banks and the first time we visited, a pig joined us at the shallow end for a nice wallow. The spring is located near beaches and a smaller island that can be explored by wading across a shallow channel. We visited the spring twice - once on our own and once with our friends on Long Shot II. Long Shot II is home to a family from Victoria BC - 2 boys - Charlie 13 and Riley 11 and a girl named Saylor (5 1/2). Their parents Doug and Susan are a lovely, warm couple who came ashore to help us tie up when we arrived and have been generous in their hospitality since then. It has been really fun spending time with this family who can make any outing into an adventure.

Near the spring is a bakery. It's location is almost impossible to describe - down a small path through someone's yard and through another yard where a ramshackle bungalow sits under a gigantic mango tree. There are no signs and the house looks completely private, so we had to ask a local for assistance despite having the above directions. The bread however is very good, despite being without salt or sweetener of any kind.

We hiked yesterday across the island to the outer reef where a large swell was smashing itself against the reef edge. The breakers were impressive and the beach - miles of white sand - completely deserted. The only thing to mar the scenery was the extensive plastic debris washed up on the beach and lining the plantation road along which we approached the shore. Disposing of plastics and other long-lived garbage on these islands is a problem and we will pack all of ours off to somewhere that has a landfill or incinerator.

We will check out tomorrow and sail south towards Vava'u over the weekend.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Niuatoputapu

Niuatoputapu is a fascinating place - hard to describe in a few words. We are anchored in a somewhat protected bay off the 3rd village on the island - Falehar, I think it is called. There is a smaller village a km or 2 away and the main village of Hihifo is at the other end of the island, maybe 4 kms from here. A paved road runs between the villages, along which you may see an occasional car and truck (maybe one every 20 minutes or half an hour). Most people ride bikes or walk.

Each town is made up of small bungalows (most are small - 16 X 20 feet with two or three rooms), built or re-built after a major tsunami that swept down form Samoa in 2009. The Catholic church has built some houses and the World Bank is building others, including an entire village further inland and safe from tsunamis. Each house has a large plastic cistern, plumbed into the roof gutters and a separate outhouse with running water and a sink on the outside. Drinking water in our little town comes from a community well and is supposedly treated. I am not sure where sewage goes, but suspect it makes its way quickly into the sea. The town dump is a shallow hole in the sand near the wharf + numerous small dumps in the surrounding woods.

Hihifo is the metropolis with a couple of small stores, the customs and immigration, and a 'bank'. The bank is also a western union office, housed in a small prefab building on cinder blocks, with a low counter and two staff - no safes, wickets, or security. These buildings are located on the front lawn of the high school and share this field with a large graveyard, the graves of which are cheerfully decorated (with banners and plastic flowers) and consist of mounds of crushed coral. Hihifo also has a large cell-phone tower, powered by solar panels. Strangely, the health clinic is actually in our village at the other end of the island. The only other larger buildings are a couple of community halls and the churches - we have three in our village - about one for every 100 people.

There is no central electric power on the island and the internet has been down for 2 months or more. Power is provided at some buildings by solar panels and generators, but the place is pretty quiet and dark at night, so I suspect that gas is precious.

A supply ship arrives here every 2-4 weeks - one is due on Friday. Apparently the supply ship brings ice cream and because there are few fridges on the island, everyone greets the ship and has an ice cream feast. We plan to be on hand for this!

The villages are alive with animals - horses, pigs, dogs, hens, and roosters, along with their broods wander freely. Anyone with a garden surrounds it with barriers of old sheet roofing and barbed wire to keep out these wanderers. As you walk through a village, just about anywhere you turn you will see a sow with her piglets grazing on a lawn, or two or three horses on the verge at the roadside. In one yard we passed, a man was lying on the lawn, snoozing beside three equally relaxed dogs.

There are larger fenced plantations of taro, manioc, coconut palms, pandanus, and fruit trees in the hills and plains around the villages. At several houses, we have seen women preparing pandanus leaves to be woven into mats and a type of apron that is tied around the waste over a lava lava. In addition to agriculture, the main industry seems to be building. The world bank has set up a large construction site near our wharf and building materials are stored and prepared there before being transported to the new village site up the hill.

My first impression was that the animals that wander so freely appeared to have good lives, but perhaps this is an illusion. The horses are ridden occasionally (we have seen only one rider, using a heavy blanket for a saddle) but are also apparently used for food. Similarly, we have been told that the locals eat dog. No doubt the pigs and chickens share a similar fate. Our (admittedly brief) experience has been, though, that fish caught in the lagoon, coconuts, and taro are the main foods of the islanders. So perhaps the animals are reserved for special occasions.

The local people we have met so far include the immigration and customs officials, the nurses at the clinic, as well as a few families we have met while walking through the towns. The officials can speak good English, but most locals speak very little, even though English is taught in the schools. Still we are able to communicate at a superficial level and the people are very friendly.

I will stop now and write about some of our experiences here in another post.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

An addendum

Correction to the previous post - the busy port alluded to should have been Apia, not Atuona. Chris has been reading Robert L. Stevenson's book "In the South Seas", so the Marquesas were in his thoughts as he wrote the blog, hence the reference to Atuona, Hiva Oa. Also, we are visiting Niuatoputapu in Tonga, not Niautoputapu...

In addition to provisioning with lots of fresh vegetables and fruit before departing Apia, we also shopped for fabric and lava lavas. Chris was finally persuaded to buy one and he chose a subtle Samoan geometric design in green/blue in contrast to Rani's floral print. In case we have not mentioned this, lava lavas are the simple wraps - made from about 2 meters of cloth - that many Samoans and Tongans wear. I have yet to see Chris try his lava lava on but shall be sure to take a photo when I catch him in it!

Fabric was fairly inexpensive in Apia and tailoring prices very reasonable, so I had several dresses made to order by young Sonia. I gave a rough verbal sketch with each piece as well as one of my old dresses and was very happy with the results. One needs to allow extra time, preferably a day, in case the shop forgets to complete the order or adjustments are necessary. I learned this on a previous visit to India and was not perturbed when it happened to me this time.

Sonia, my tailor, poses with me as I show off
 one of my new dresses

Here is a very appropriate quote from R.L. Stevenson:


"Every one who has been upon a walking or boating tour, living in the open air, with the body in constant exercise and the mind in fallow, knows true ease and quiet. The irritating action of the brain is set at rest; we think in a plain, unfeverish temper; little things seem big enough, and great things no longer portentous; and the world is smilingly accepted as it is."

Last days in Samoa

We are now in Tonga, after a 38 hour, 200 mile crossing to Niautoputapu, an island in the northern-most group of Tongan islands. This is a small place - the village by the wharf having 300 souls, and a pleasant change from busy Atuona. It is Saturday and the officials who are to check us in have not yet arrived. When we arrived at 8:30 am, we were told we would see them in an hour or two and later that they would appear at noon or 1 o'clock. The last news, imparted by a passing fisherman, is that they may come this evening. If not, we will depart the rough concrete pier and anchor amongst the three yachts already in the harbour.

Our last few days in Samoa were divided between a three day car trip to Savaii - the largest of Samoa's islands - and preparing the boat for our next passage. We hired a car with our friends on 'Flow' - Camilla and Johanne while the Norwegian family on 'Hero' rented a second car. We just made the ferry - an hour's hectic drive from the marina in Apia, but 'Hero' was not so lucky and had to wait 4 hours for the next one. We assured them that we would meet for supper at our fales (the sleeping platforms we had reserved for that night).

The ferry was an ancient vessel, with an alarming amount of rust and a steel ramp patched so many times that it resembled a crazy quilt. We later learned that boats that have earned their retirement in New Zealand are sent out to Samoa to begin a second life.

We spent two days driving around Savaii passing through dozens of Samoan villages, many with traditional thatched fales and some with modern bungalows, probably built by Samoans who had lived in New Zealand. A fale is a simple open platform, often oval in shape, and sometimes with thatched shutters to enclose the sides. Each village had larger communal fales as well as up to four churches of different denominations. We took to counting churches and had a pool on the total number we would see on our circuit. We counted 136 churches, but I am sure that many more lie off the main route and on cross roads. The effort and cost of building and maintaining so many structures - some the size of cathedrals - attests to the religious zeal of the Samoans. Many villages also sported a Western Union branch. We later learned that tens of thousands of Samoans live and work in New Zealand - sending home money via Western Union.

Another indication of the importance of religion in Samoa is the nightly prayer curfew. We were surprised to see men wearing formal lava lavas ranged alongside the main road for several miles. We stopped to ask one of these why this was and he explained that they were enforcing the prayer curfew - when villagers must remain in their village and pray for a period of approximately 30 minutes. This seems to happen around dusk.

On the first day we visited a coastal lava field replete with blow holes. The ocean swell surges into these holes in the lava and in one case produces a violent jet of water that reaches about 50 meters. After paying our 5 tale (about $2) each at an entrance fale we drove down a dirt road to a parking spot where we were approached by a Samoan with a basket of coconuts. We declined his offer to watch him throw the nuts into the blow hole (10 tales), but enjoyed watching from a distance as other tourists did this. When he timed his toss right, the nuts were ejected from the hole as if fired from a cannon.

At our beach fales that night we did indeed meet up with our friends from 'Hero' who had only just made it onto the 2pm ferry. The carnivores among us shared a traditional Samoan meal of taro, raw fish in lime and coconut milk, and fried fish, all washed down with delicious 'Valaima' Samoan beer. We slept well that night on our thatched wooden platforms with the surf playing in the background. This was my first night off Ladybug since November 2011!

The next day we snorkeled over a forest of stag horn corals, drifting parallel to the beach on a strong ebbing tide. We then packed the cars and continued our circuit of Savaii. Our main destination was a hike to the crater of an extinct volcano. The drive to this hike made good use of our high clearance vehicle. We reached a fale high on the mountainside and after paying the 'crater man' his 20 tale fee (each - ouch!) we hiked for a couple of hours up a well maintained grassy road/trail. The crater was a bit of a let-down as it is more of a valley - filled with trees and plants. The walk, however, was absolutely lovely in the late golden sunlight, despite a couple of brief downpours.

That night we stayed at another beach fale 'resort', this one larger and less personal than the first. On the final day we drove to the ferry, which was delayed due to engine troubles. We picnic'd on the shore near the ferry terminal, staving off the repeated attentions of two little boys intent on selling us several cans of orange pop. When the ferry eventually arrived, it proved to be a much larger, but almost as rusty as our first ferry, smelling of stale sick. There had been a large swell running through the strait between the islands and many of the passengers looked unwell. We made it home with no further problems, however, adding another 50+ churches to our count between the terminal and marina.

It was great fun to share this adventure with our friends on Flow and Hero! Pictures to follow.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Upolu

The following pictures are from our car trip around Upolu - the Samoan island where Apia is located and where we are currently moored. We rented a car with Camilla and Johanne off the Norwegian boat, 'Flow'. We will post another blog with pictures from our multi-day Savaii trip when we reach Tonga.

Fire dancing - Every Tuesday there is a show at the local ice cream bar where children twirl burning sticks and other perform native dances. Thanks to Camilla of 'Flow' for this photo.

Falls and swimming pool at Togitogiga- Thanks to 'Flow' for this picture.

Our little Daihatsu - a high clearance vehicle was mandatory for this trip although we did not use the 4 wheel drive.

Black Sands beach

Coastal hike through national park

Camilla and Johanne in Pandanus forest

Rugged coast

Pandanus forest

Off-lying islands with sea arches

The islands were home to a tern colony

The trail ended in lava flows with 'rope' lava.

Two lovely flowers

Churches line the coast road - more than we have seen anywhere else in our travels. We counted more than 50 between the ferry terminal and Apia - less than a one hour drive!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

There but for the grace...

We are still having fun here in Samoa and yesterday went on a car tour around the island (40 dollars for a day with unlimited mileage). We visited a black sand beach and then hiked through a coastal pandanus forest with views of sea arches. The trail then came out onto a lava field where we had lunch while watching the waves erupt against the volcanic cliffs. Later we swam in a pool under a waterfall and enjoyed an early dinner at a sea-side resort. It was nice to be off the boat for a while.

A few days ago, some cruisers we had met back in Moorea and again in Tahaa limped into the marina, under tow. "C'est La Vie", a large French built Amel, went on a reef near here and was quite badly damaged, being holed in several places and losing her rudder. I have spent quite a few hours helping out with fibreglass work. Steve off 'Gypsy Heart' and Doug off 'Long Shot II' have also been working on the hull damage. Steve, despite probably being the oldest cruiser out here has been lying on his back in a kayak grinding damaged glass over his head for hours on end. Danny off 'Pogeyan' will give Bob (the owner) advice on repairing the rudder, which was destroyed during the 17 hours they were on the reef or perhaps when they were pulled off by a Samoan police boat. Danny has fixed a few rudders before, which is a good thing as the rudder was completely torn apart.

The cruisers got together as soon as the boat arrived. After rigging a tackle, we were able to heel the boat over enough to raise the worst holes above water. We led two halyards over the top of nearby boats, including Ladybug. Larry off 'Pantaray' swam under the hull and plugged a small remaining hole with underwater epoxy. I helped by pounding out the panel that was completely stove in and then grinding the inside and re-tabbing it to two bulkheads. The second bulkhead was pushed in about 4 inches, so I borrowed a hydraulic jack to push it back roughly into place. The work we are doing is a temporary fix to get the boat to a suitable yard for insurance work.

The boat almost sank once it was towed off the reef and required a bucket brigade of husky Samoan police men as well as the crew to keep the water below waste level while a diesel pump was prepared. The pump then kept her afloat during a 25 mile tow to our marina. This was a harrowing ordeal for the owner and his crew, Jody. After running aground around 10 pm, they suffered through a long wet night heeled over at 45 degrees being pounded further onto the reef. The cause of all this - a small error in judgment or perhaps too much trust in electronic charts - a mistake any of us could make.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Robert Louis Stevenson Museum

The Robert Louis Stevenson museum is a must-see if you are in Apia, Samoa. The house is lovely, the tour guides are knowledgeable, and the walk to the grave on a Mount Vaea is beautiful. Stevenson spent his last 4 1/2 years in Samoa at the end of the 19th century. He wrote 5 books here and was popular with the Samoans because he spoke out against colonial abuses and inefficiency. Stevenson was given a Samoan name of Tusitala - "teller of tales".

When Stevenson died (aged 44) hundreds of Samoans watched over his body, cleared a path to the top of the mountain, and bore his coffin to the grave site.

Stevenson did much of his writing from his bed as he was quite ill during his last years.


Grand hall at Vailima

Recent portrait of Stevenson

On the veranda at Vailima

Cat rug in smoking room

Sculpture comemorating the end of cannibalism. Legend has it that the chief's son had himself wrapped in leaves as a sacrifice to save a chosen victim. His father, upon seeing his son, chose to substitute fish for the feast from then on. 

Cook house at Vailima

Epitaph on grave - written by Stevenson for himself

Camilla and Joanna - our Norwegian friends, joined us on the hike to the grave high above Vailima

Stevenson's grave. His wife, Fanny is also buried here.

Vailima - the right hand wing was added by the German governor who lived here after the Stevensons left.

Apia Local Scenes

A few pictures from Apia, plus a nice one of Rani conning Ladybug through some coral patches.

Ladybug in the Tuamotus - Rani is watching for coral. Our Japanese friends on 'Gaku' took this. 

Finally, some fresh produce! Farm market in Apia

Making a fiber strainer (for expressing coconut milk from grated coconut meat)

Rolling bundles of taro leaves

Another happy Samoan making a coconut milk strainer.

Apia Police Band - note traditional lava lava and marching sandals.

Miss Samoa Pictures

A few pictures from the Miss Samoa pageant 2012. These were some of our favorites. We do not have a good picture of Miss Samoa as our camera batteries died :(

3re place contestant

Runner up - very popular with the crowd

Traditional costume with black wrap

Coconut fibre costume



Children's dance group

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Provisioning review - 6 months out

It is about 6 months since we left Mexico and I would like to put down a few thoughts about how our initial planning worked out.

We laid in a huge amount of dried goods, cans, and bottles when in Mexico - enough for 6 months of cruising. The conventional wisdom is that such things are scarce in this part of the world and very expensive in French Polynesia. Well - this is not entirely true. Yes - some things are very expensive in French Polynesia, but many things are quite reasonable, especially once you reach the Society Islands. If you are following in our footsteps, I would suggest you lay in about three months worth of staples, rather than six months because you can resupply at fair prices in Papeete or on Moorea. We have heard that Raiatea is also a good spot to reprovision.

The advantages of just buying 3 months of supplies are that you are more likely to make less mistakes in your estimating, you will have more space left on the boat for other things, and there will be less spoilage if you get things wet on passage . Also, you will have less money tied up and it is quite fun to reprovision in a foreign place because of all the different things people eat - such as tinned pate and superb cheeses that we found in French Polynesia.

We over-bought in the following areas: Oatmeal, granola, and bran flakes - ingredients for my morning cereal. For various reasons we eat far less cereal now than when I was in Mexico. I put this down to really good French breads and the fact that we discovered crepes, which I now make every few days. Butter - I think we still have a few pounds of Mexican butter going rancid in the fridge. Canned butter is reasonable and plentiful in Polynesia. Cheese - We still have a couple of kilos of Mexican cheese, which I could happily have replaced in Papeete with nice Ementals, Camenberts, or Bries. Rice and lentils - available here at good prices. Canned goods - we ended up cooking mainly with long lived vegetables and have used very few cans. Beans - we have enough dried beans for another year.

There is now a general panic in the fleet because most people are worried that when hey reach New Zealand in November, they will lose things such as beans, dried fruit, canned and fresh meat, and anything that can sprout I suspect a lot of stuff will be given away in Tonga or confiscated and destroyed by the reputedly strict quarantine officers in New Zealand - waste that could be avoided with some foresight.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Samoa

We arrived in Samoa yesterday (Friday) having crossed the international date line, lost one day, and gained an hour. That put us in in time to clear in through all the formalities by supper time and still manage to get out to see the 'Miss Samoa' pageant last night. Entrance formalities involved 6 people from 5 organizations and a walk downtown to the Immigration offices.

Ladybug is tied up in a marina for the first time since we left Mexico about 6 months ago. There are many boats here that we know, it being one of those cruising bottlenecks that is pleasant to visit and hard to leave. Gaku, our Japanese friends whom we met in the Marquesas are just across the dock and dropped over before we were even cleared in with a little bag of fresh vegetables, knowing how precious these would be after 4 weeks away from markets. 'Chapter 2' is also here - our good friends with whom we spent so much time in French Polynesia. They arrived with a loaf od fresh bread and tickets to the show. Truly it is the people you meet while cruising that make this experience so worthwhile!

The 'Miss Samoa' pageant featured six lovely Samoan women between 20 and 23 and was arranged similarly to other beauty and talent pageants, but with a very patriotic Samoan flavour and, of course, Samoan dance and music. The costumes were much more modest than those in the decadent west - Samoans are very religious (mainly Christian) people, which might explain this. Many of the dresses and outfits were of traditional materials - bark and feathers - and some were remarkably ornate and imaginative. The women were extremely beautiful and all were good dancers. One woman clearly had the crowd with her (friends, fans, and relatives I would guess) and they gave her tremendous support in the form of cheering and shouting whenever she came on stage.

That brings me to the differences between a Samoan audience and one back in Canada. The audience appeared to be unrestrained in ways that would be considered rude in Canada. People started leaving en masse before the show ended right in the middle of the crowning of the new Miss Samoa. Far fewer people clapped for the performers and the clapping was very brief. When one contestant banged her head while exiting the stage, due to poor light, instead of a few titters and a hush of empathy for the poor woman, the audience erupted in laughter that lasted for a full minute or more! Clearly slapstick would go over well with such an audience.

We plan to stay here for two weeks and rent a car to tour the islands.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

All is not wine and roses

Well we had a record day on day one of our passage from Suwarrow to Samoa - 168 nautical miles in 24 hours - an average of 7 knots. To put this in perspective, our average speed over 5500 miles from Mexico has been 4.5 knots. However, such speed comes at a price - high winds and high waves make for very uncomfortable sailing and poor Rani has been green for the first couple of days. She is better now and was able to keep down a meal of fries and eggs this afternoon.

Also - back at home, the new tenant in our house had a sewage back-up as soon as she moved in. They are blasting behind our house, which may have caused a pipe to collapse, but whatever the cause, we feel bad for our tenant and also for our friends, Dave and Patrick Rife who we asked to fix the problem. They spent a messy few hours in our crawl space and for that we are very grateful and also a bit guilty-feeling! It is certainly frustrating trying to deal with issues like this from a sailboat in the middle of an ocean and I am swinging over to the camp that advocates selling the house before you leave on an extended voyage!

We are about 170 miles out of Samoa at 13 56 S 168 52 w. The seas are down from yesterday's 3+ meters but things are still rolly and we are barrelling along at 6+ knots. We look forward to making landfall at Apia on Friday morning (Thursday back at home - we cross the international date line tomorrow).

Monday, September 3, 2012

International Cross Roads

Tom Neale, the Cook Islander who lived alone for many years on the island off which we are anchored, would have been shocked if he woke up one day to the sight of 25 boats floating in his lagoon. In Neale's time on Suwarrow, one or two yachts a year might visit this isolated atoll. The fleet of cruising boats that is here now includes voyagers from Poland, Italy, Germany, Austria, Canada, US, England, Norway, New Caledonia, France, Malta, Scotland, and Australia. The yachts range in size from about 30 feet to over 120 feet!

Last night cruisers on the Australian catamaran 'Fantazia' organized a Blue Moon potluck on the beach. We feasted on an inventive selection including curries, salads, pastas, and freshly caught coconut crabs and fish. Around dusk, we walked across the island to see the full moon rise and to watch the shark feeding. Stephan from 'Charlotte' stood on the edge of the reef throwing pieces of fish into water boiling with 20 frenzied sharks ranging from 3 to 5 feet. To give the watching cruisers a thrill, Stephan reached into the melee and lifted a shark out by its tail. The poor thing was most perturbed when it found itself hoisted out of its element and tried its best to bite the hand that had been feeding it, but without success.

Tonight we were invited on a French mega yacht for another potluck. We had seen this boat when anchored off Fare in Huahine a month ago where it towered over the rest of the fleet with its five spreader rig. It is the largest boat in the anchorage at 37 meters with an 8.5 meter beam. The owner, Christian gave us a tour before dinner, explaining how engineering a boat this size presents quite a different challenge from smaller production boats. The vessel was designed and built in Holland of aluminum. It can be sailed by as few as two people, but the loads on such a huge sailing ship must be very carefully handled.

Obviously it is impossible to cope with the huge forces on a 37 meter boat without a lot of mechanical help. All the lines are controlled from an electrical panel at either of the two wheels. Hydraulics are used to to power all the winches. The primary winches for the genoa and main sheets are about 18 inches in diameter (the size of end-tables). The mast and boom are carbon fiber, the boom being much longer than a typical suburban house and wide enough that one could sleep across its width. Despite its huge size, the boom only weighs about 1000 lbs because of its ultra-light construction. The mast is held up by rod rigging with tension of many tons on each stay. The stays have no turnbuckles to tension them, but instead the mast was jacked up until it exerted 8 tons of pressure on the hydraulic jack and then wedged in place. The sails are huge and weigh hundreds of pounds each - the genoa alone is 1500 square feet - twice as large as all our sails put together.

Down below, there are two seating areas each the size of a large living room and below these, cabins for the owner and guests. The interior was designed in Italy and finished in a beautiful hardwood, mixed with panels of a white composite and laminate floors. The crew quarters and galley are separated from the owner's quarters by a watertight bulkhead and door. We were briefly shown the engine room where a caterpillar diesel provides both primary drive through a massive shaft and a bow thruster for maneuvering. The muffler for this engine is larger than our entire diesel. There are also two diesel generators that run about 4 hours a day to handle the electrical demands and two large water makers to provide on-demand fresh water.

Unusually for such a large yacht, Christian, the owner is also the captain and is always aboard the boat while underway. He usually sails with a crew of three other people, including a Swiss first mate. Christian, and his friends Pierre, and Idi, joined us and Carol and Livia from 'Estrellita' for a moonlit dinner on deck. Much of the conversation was in French, but I did my best to keep up, and was able to contribute a small amount. Christian is an affable host and made us all feel at ease. The next day he visited us for coffee on Ladybug and we were able to give him a somewhat shorter tour of our little boat.

We are underway for Samoa in 3 meter swells and 20+ knots of wind - rolling and surfing down waves at an average speed of 7 knots. At this rate it will be a fast, if uncomfortable passage. Our position now is 13 29 S 165 20 W.