Thursday, November 28, 2013

Samoa in Retrospect

O.K. I am going back in time quite a bit here, but now have no excuse for not writing more extensively on our time in Samoa.

Getting there was not pleasant. As mentioned in a previous blog we planned to leave Tonga early Thursday morning and be in Apia, Samoa around lunch time on the Friday, which allowed us 27 hours to do approximately 200nm. Being in Niuatoputapu, we only had access to weather via our grib files, which gave a good indication of what was happening but not a very detailed picture. Hence the expected E-SE of up to 20knots ended up being NE-E with squalls up to 35knots, which made the trip quite uncomfortable at times and we had been hoping to sail between the two big islands of Samoa at first light but found ourselves able to see the pass at dawn but due to the wind angle needing to tack to be able to get through them and then once we were through finding that there was a westerly current with E winds that meant we couldn’t make headway as we were being pushed west, and we didn’t get into Apia until 1630. When we looked back at the weather for that time, we realised that we had sailed through a convergence zone meaning that the weather was more unsettled with squalls, and we also found out that as you get closer to the equator the trades do tend to back more to the East and this is the predominant wind for around Samoa.

There was another catamaran that had left Niuatoputapu the same morning we did and they were ahead of us and we heard them radio Apia Port Control for customs clearance from 1500, but were told that authorities had finished for the day and that they would need to clear in the morning. The next day being Saturday we thought this was strange, and as it transpired we were unable to clear until the Monday morning, which meant a weekend sitting on the boat in the Harbour. We had already realised that we would probably miss customs clearance earlier in the day when our progress was so slow, which was O.K. as we had jobs that would keep us busy on the boat. Dan did radio Port Control on the Saturday morning and they allowed us to go and get some water from the dock so we could get on with the washing. Again Dan needed to do further repairs to the stitching on the tramp as with the wind and waves in the squalls the day before the port tramp had come apart again. We also lost one of our life buoys from the life lines, one of the wind generators stopped working and on the Friday morning we lost hook and lure to a very big fish as the trace was bitten right through. The wind generator was an easy fix of a new fuse and we decided that if the fish was big enough to bite through the trace we didn’t want it anyway!

We did have a visit with the other catamaran that we arrived with, so that helped to break up the time, and there was VHF talks with a couple of boats that were in the marina that we knew which was helpful as they were able to help us with info about Samoa. Clear in on the Monday was swift and easy and all completed within a few hours, despite visits from three different agencies. Dan then organised for us to go into the marina so that we could give the batteries a good charge with shore power and make it easier to provision and get fuel etc. We had looked at prices for this in Tonga and had budgeted for two nights, so we thought we knew what we were going to need to pay, but when Dan went to do this when we were leaving the marina they asked if we were leaving Apia and we said that we were going back into the harbour for another couple of days, as we still wanted to do some jobs etc in Apia so she said to come back and pay when we were leaving. We did this and it transpired that they charge for anchoring including the days that we were there before we cleared in, plus the cardboard printed marina passes (which no one ever checked) and another $16.00 that we don’t even know what it was for, so of the $180.00 Tala we had they charged us $176.00 when we thought it would be $80.00 and we would have $100.00 for fresh fruit and veges! Needless to say this left a very sour taste in our mouth about the whole Apia experience, especially as I believe those boats anchored in the harbour that didn’t go into the marina were never charged for their stay. I feel if you are going to charge for anchoring it should be advertised and everyone should have to pay. If we had known it would cost us so much we would have not cleared in and carried on to Wallis.
One of the local colourful buses of Samoa
Kids enjoying the rare treat of an Ice Cream in Apia
In saying this we did get to meet up with friends Paul and Francis who we met in Whangarei on their yacht Monkey Fist that we weren’t expecting to see and as we had some paper work to sort out we also got a Samoan sim card for phone calls and a Digicel modem which gave us good internet access, even in Savaii Island, where we were originally told we wouldn’t get coverage. We also visited the Samoan Village in Apia, which is at the Tourist Visitor Centre and puts on a really great show for a donation and was very entertaining as well as helping to explain a lot of the cultural values that the Samoans have. We learnt about traditional cooking, arts and crafts and of course their tattooing.
Traditional Samoan Meeting House.
Oliver with our favourite entertainer of the day.
Woodcarving the Samoan way.
We also managed to get the generator coupling fixed (this had broken in Tonga and we had only been using the generator if really needed.) We found a blank coupling after visiting several likely looking motor parts shops and the staff there were really helpful, giving us phone numbers and address for engineering shops that might be able to machine it for us and even ringing them for a price. But they suggested to first try the NUS (National University of Samoa) where there was an engineering course. Dan found his way up there and they organised for one of the students to do it as a learning experience under the watchful eye of the tutor. When Dan went to collect it he took some cash, but also 2011 Rugby World Cup hats that we brought as gifts back in NZ and an outer of chocolate bars, and he also took Paige, so when the tutor knew we had kids, he didn’t let us pay and they shared the chocolates and hats among the class as payment. We also found a shop that had material on clearance, so we selected a couple of different styles with cotton to match and our friends on Monkey Fist that were heading to Niuatoputapu delivered that to them for us.
Because we had to wait for the coupling, also because you need a cruising permit to visit any other anchorages in Samoa, and we didn’t think we would have any internet access after leaving Apia and because we need the right weather for sailing we ended up staying in Apia for a week. We then headed west to the bigger Island of Savaii which was a good day sail to the first anchorage of Matuatu Bay. On the way we caught two Mahi Mahi within half an hour of each other, and as I am writing this we still have the last fillet in the freezer, so they have kept us fed for a long time!

We went for a walk on the Sunday morning in Matuatu Bay, leaving the dingy on a beach close to a resort as we had heard that every beach belonged to a family or village and that if you used the beach or shore waters you needed to pay for this. It wasn’t until a few days later that we realised we did pay for this as we were looking for the kids slip on, water proof shoes and couldn’t find them anywhere, and we remembered that we had taken them ashore at Matuatu but left them in the dinghy. Obviously where we had left the dingy someone decided they needed the shoes more than we did. If they had come to talk to us about it we could have given them something else from our stores as for the rest of the time away we needed to carry the kids to shore so there shoes didn’t get wet or they had to go barefoot, which in itself isn’t a hardship, but just inconvenient, especially as they are getting so heavy! We didn’t find any redeeming features at Matuatu and all the activities in the area needed to be paid for so we only stayed the one night before moving on to Asau Harbour.

We left in the afternoon for a short sail west, and are really glad we weren’t any slower as getting into the harbour was rather hair raising and would have been impossible in the evening. We could see Monkey Fist in the harbour but for the first time this trip our electronic charts did not match up with what we were seeing, both the Navionics and the Max Sea. We did finally spot some small bent channel markers and with all eyes on reef and current lines made our way into the Harbour and anchored up by the well kept but unused wharf at the eastern end of the Harbour. We spent six relaxing days there, swimming in the body temperature waters, jumping off of the wharf, meeting the local kids in the pools made out of the lava rocks on the shore and exploring the little island on the reef.
One of the many flowers in Asau found on our walks
One of the Local Churches
Rylee about to enjoy a swim, jumping in off of the targa bar.
The local kids came out to visit it.
Oliver mid jump!
We also spent a day helping Paul and Francis give out reading glasses through the Recycle for Sight programme run by the Lions. The reading glasses are collected by the Lions, checked for breakages and lens strength by a programme run in the women’s prisons in Australia, and then the volunteers get training on how to test and how to fit them for people who may not have access to them, such as in the Pacific Islands, Vietnam etc. Paul and Francis have helped thousands of people on their travels to help them to see and read again. The day after running one of their clinics the local minister said to them that all of the older people in the village were really tired as they had all stayed up late the night before reading with their new glasses! Paul and Francis had organised to run a clinic in Asau at one of the church halls. When we arrived the church ladies fed us a breakfast of egg sandwiches, kakao (Samoan Chocolate Drink) and fresh green coconuts. We then had a busy morning, testing and fitting everyone who arrived for reading glasses and some of them for distance glasses as well.
Paige helped by holding the pointer at the letter chart for checking distance vision and the boys helped by keeping the testing glasses clean and generally fetching and carrying. Sadly we couldn’t improve sight for some of the people due to severe damage to their eyes from diabetes or other issues, and for them there was a small range of sunglasses just to help with comfort from sunlight and wind. Other people were quite cheeky and wanted several pairs as they saw so many glasses but we had to explain that they would also be given out in other Islands as well. Rylee and Oliver also took many photos for Paul on his camera. There was also a small kindergarten at the hall and we gave away a pile of picture books to them. Paige read aloud to the group with the teacher translating while we were there. We also gave out soft toothbrushes to them, which we had brought from NZ, and I hope that they use them as many of them already had rotting teeth at ages 3 and 4. Once the rush of the morning was over, we enjoyed a lunch of taro, turkey soup, sausages and again green coconuts. Everyone seemed very grateful for the glasses and it was very enjoyable to be able to meet with people in this way

Our lovely cooking team.

Dark clouds over Asau.  One of the reasons we stayed a week, to avoid the squalls!.

As we still had internet access we were able to keep an eye on the weather, so we made the decision to set off for Wallis on the Saturday morning, knowing we were going to have light winds for the 210nm trip and aiming to arrive on the Monday morning to catch the slack tide for entering the pass into the lagoon. This ended up being no wind by Monday morning and we were still 60nm away from Wallis, so we made the decision to motor the last 60nm and get through the pass on Monday afternoon.
Our time in Wallis will be our next blog entry.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Photos from the past few months....

Rylee skurfing behind the big boat in Asau Harbour, Samoa.

Friends from Asau Harbour, Samoa. Rylee and Oliver spent many hours playing with these guys, despite not much English on their side and no samoan on ours. They had their own salt water pool right on their front door step which was lots of fun for all.

Local kindy kids, with Paige reading to them from some books that we were given to hand out from my work. The teacher was really pleased and said that they would be really helpful to her and the children. The best thing was this kindy was in a room with no windows right on the beach of the bay, with the breeze coming in...just magical.

Wallis stone formation in the middle of reef. We think it was a natural formation but you never know.

Paige and me on her birthday in Wallis, October 10th. And her Birthday Cake...Tongan No Egg Chocolate Cake recipe.

Some of the Wallis insect life...this thing was HUGE, the photo doesn't do it justice really!

One of the Islands in Wallis, we had an amazing first few days with very little wind and sparkling magic, but the place sure does change when that Easterly crops up....

And another of the Wallis wildlife that kept us all entertained for hours...again the photo doesn't do their size justice...

We spotted this in Noumea, New Caledonia, and we took this photo especially for Pop and any other speed freaks out there!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Travel Log in Short!

Tonga to Samoa, weather not as forecast, illness, squalls, breakages and delays, causing us to sit on the boat over the weekend and not able to clear customs etc until the Monday. One week in Apia, one week in Savaii Island, then a slow trip to Wallis. Ten days in Wallis, very friendly people, interesting churches and monuments, five days of no wind, then five days of squalls, rain and headcolds. Paige celebrated her 12th birthday while we were there, with chocolate cake and lasagne. On to Futuna for just a day, as the wind was pumping and we needed to keep moving, which ended up in our best passage ever of 1000nm in four and a half days, with an average speed of 9.1 knots and a top speed of 22.09 knots! Arrival into New Caledonia had the navigational hazard of cruise ships and freighters coming through narrow passes at the same time as us! Again we have had the pleasure of meeting new people and old friends since our arrival five days ago, and now we are in the process of getting sorted to leave again and will continue heading west by the end of the week.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Niuatoputapu in Words

When we left Vava’u we said to the kids that from now on we possibly wouldn’t be seeing many boats, and be mostly by ourselves as just about everyone we had talked to was heading to different places to our cruising ideas. What a surprise we got as from the afternoon that we arrived in Niuatoputapu other boats started arriving in the anchorage until we were sharing with 7 other boats and two of those had kids on board. Not only that but both of them had TWINS on board. Having three sets of twins in close proximity in a “normal” population isn’t usual for us let alone a cruising population. This attracted quite a bit of interest and there was even a photo shoot on Division II for the potential of appearing in Cruising World, a sailing magazine based out of the U.S.
On our arrival into Niuatoputapu we had radio contact with Sia, who lives in the village off of the anchorage and is the only one with a VHF radio on the island. She works for the Tourism, Trade and Commerce Department. As we only needed to do our interisland clearance she gave us directions to the Customs and after a rest and some food we headed to shore to do our paperwork. We didn’t want to tie the dinghy to the wharf as it was mostly sharp rocks and we didn’t want to risk damaging the dinghy, so we took it to shore over the reef at what happened to be high tide....more on the later. We started on our walk which we were told was around 3-4 km up the road. As the wind was behind us and we were still quite tired from the passage we were really struggling, but thankfully someone picked us up in their truck and we got to sit in the back much to the delight of the kids and were taken to the customs building. This was great as we would have walked right past it as it was up a small driveway, part of four small buildings (including Police, Bank and Ministry Offices) that was next to the High School and one of the primary schools. It took no time at all to do our clearance, and then we faced the walk back to the dingy, but this was much more pleasant as we had the wind in our faces which helped to cool us down. On our return to the dinghy the tide had gone out some, and there didn’t seem to be anyway we were going to be able to relaunch the dinghy. The tide drop has been less than a metre in most of Tonga and we thought that it would turn soon and we would be able to get back to the boat. As it was we were still only about half tide and after a couple of hours, made the decision to wheel the dinghy down the road and along the wharf and put it back in the water off the ramp at the end of the wharf. I bet the local villagers had a great laugh at our expense!
While we had been waiting under the shade of a tree we were approached by one of the local High School Girls, named Ahi and her youngest sister Sima. We talked for quite a while and learnt many things about the island from Ahi and her family.
The population of the whole Island is just under 800.
This is the first year that they have had a 7th form graduate at the local high school. Prior to this older secondary school children had to go to Vava’u or Tongatapu for education.
The supply ship comes once every three weeks on average, and they have an airport but they don’t get any regular air service.
Women who are expecting a baby have to go on the supply ship to Vava’u or Tongatapu as the Medical Officer is male and not from the Island, therefore will not allow them to have their babies there. There is no hospital to speak of, so if there were complications there would be no way to get help.
There are two primary schools on the Island and one on Tafahi, another smaller island just north.
There are many horses on the Island, both for transport and as a food source. There were also many pigs and chickens, but only two cows and around 5 sheep. We also saw goats on our adventures around the Island.
Weaving is the main source of income for the Island, as tourism, apart from the yachties, is nonexistent. The weaving is sent on the supply ship to Vava’u and Tongatapu and is often made to order from family members in these places. Some of it is also sent to Australia and New Zealand. Often several women are working on the weaving of the large mats, and I imagine that the income from them is shared out among those that have worked on them. The women do the weaving and the men work the plantations and also fish to provide for their families.
While we were there a roading project was in place and they were resealing all the roads and we saw many people, both men and women with high-vis vests on with brooms etc working on the project. I said to someone that this must be a good source of income for the people of the island, but found out that many of the workers, especially the women haven’t been paid yet, and may not be until next year!
Ahi also told us some of the local legends pertaining to prominent land marks around the Island, which was great to link place names with meaning and the stories behind them. The most memorable being the legend of the Samoan Devil stealing the Island out of the middle of Niua’afo (an Island around 200nm west of Niuatoputapu) which was the exact size of the lake now there. The Samoan Devil was trying to get the Island back to Samoa before the sun rise but only got as far as Niuatoputapu when the sun came up and he was spotted by the Tongan Devil, who fought for the Island and told the Samoan Devil to “chop” the lines off of the Island that they were using to pull it, and that is how Tafahi got its name and it means “to chop” in Tongan. It is also said that on a clear day you can see Samoa from Tafahi. We found this slightly unbelievable at first, but when we worked out the distance and thought about the fact you can see Mt. Taranaki from Golden Bay at times, it wasn’t inconceivable, but I don’t know how many clear days you get up here.
In 2009 the tsunami from an earthquake off of Samoa hit Niuatoputapu at around 0730. It killed 9 people and wiped out many homes and did a lot of other damage. The 9 people are all buried together outside of the new government buildings, and it still saddens people to talk about the devastation this caused for them and that it also seemed to take time for assistance to reach them. They did get help, with several kinds of new homes provided by different aid agencies, including the NZ navy. Tsunami evacuation plans are now in place and most of the villages have been relocated closer to the base of the hill. There are still people who do live right on the water front though. Many of the vehicles all looked new to us also, and Dan figures they are all post tsunami, though I think you could easily survive without one here. One of the little islands at the anchorage looks really picturesque and I can imagine was lovely pre tsunami but now the whole island is difficult to walk on as it is covered in dead coral and there is only a small beach, and the snorkelling didn’t look too inviting either. The one thing that was great was the whale just off of the reef there, which was easy to observe from the island.
On the Thursday we went on an Island tour with Sia, who took us all on the back of her truck, again to the kids delight, and we stopped at a church hall where local women where weaving, stopped at the one of the local shops, had a walk around a families plantation area and stopped at the fresh water springs for a swim. We then drove around the new villages and stopped at the main Primary School and High School to donate school supplies from the yachties. The school had the newest playground I have ever seen in Tonga, which was donated by New Zealand after the tsunami.
That evening we had planned a pot luck tea at Sia’s home, but unfortunately we had to rain check, and did this on the Friday, which was great. The two cakes were the first thing to disappear I think! Some of us had expressed an interest in walking up the hill, but the local consensus was that it would be too hard without guides, so on the Saturday morning Sia’s two sons guided us on a walk up and across and down the hill. The views were amazing and I have to agree that I don’t think we would have been able to find our own way, as the youngest son had gone ahead and was cutting the path with his machete in places!
On Sunday we had a picnic lunch with Ahi and her brother and sisters on the beach, where we had traditional Tongan food, all made from food available on the island, most of it grown by Ahi’s father. We had bread fruit and taro, Lesi which is papaya cooked, one in the Umu, and one in a pot with onions, Liu, which is the taro leaf cooked with coconut milk and a meat, usually corned beef or fish or chicken and we also had fish and to finish we had banana (hopa) cooked with coconut milk and brown sugar, plus the small cup cakes that Oliver had baked to share. It was all very delicious and after a rest we enjoyed a swim. We were down by the lead lights for the channel entrance and the kids were climbing up them and jumping off into shoulder height water. Unfortunately Rylee decided to dive in and managed to skin his nose on the bottom! He looked rather funny for a few days with a big scab on his nose but was very good about not picking it and it fell off at the end of the week, just leaving a slightly pale area amongst his tan.
Monday was a busy day for us, as everyone was making moves to leave Niuatoputapu to head south to Vava’u, and we had a constant stream of visitors to exchange details, swap photos, have last minute plays etc, and get information about heading to N.Z. and the places to go. It was very pleasant, but very busy and by the end of the day Rylee was feeling unwell. We had been invited to dinner on a friend’s boat, so we still went, but Rylee didn’t last so we had to return home before dessert, and by the following morning all of us had some form of stomach upset. I am not sure whether we picked up a virus, or it was something we had eaten, but it past relatively quickly, though Tuesday was a very quiet day on Division II!
Dan decided that it was a good time to leave Niuatoputapu from the weather files we received and he initially thought Wednesday would be a good day to go, but when he went ashore in the afternoon to check out (despite still being under the weather) he found the buildings all closed up and managed to find someone who said it was a holiday. After this we thought maybe to leave first light on Thursday giving us a recovery day before passage, all day Wednesday to check out and allow us to arrive in Samoa Friday daytime to clear in before the weekend. Unfortunately we discovered that Wednesday on Niuatoputapu is a cultural day and none of the government workers work on this day, so we had to wait until the Thursday morning, and we were not sure if they were going to be at the wharf to clear us at the time we requested or not. In the meantime we went back to Ahi’s home to say our goodbyes, and we were given some weaving that Ahi had done herself of our family tree, which was a truly lovely gift.
Thankfully Customs and Immigration did come to the wharf Thursday morning as arranged and we were heading out the pass 0900, a couple of hours after our preferred leaving time.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Niuatoputapu in Pictures

Weaving, seen on the Island Tour
View of the anchorage from our treck up the hill.
View of the Eastern side of Niuatoputapu
TIWNS! 3 sets in 1 anchorage!
Little Sia - Our Island Tour Guides daughter.
Paige looking out over the South Western side of Niuatoputapu.
All the kids at the Pot Luck Tea in Sia's back yard.
Sunsets at Niuatoputapu.

All the boats at anchor.
Rylee with his skinned nose after diving to deep in shallow water!
Books from Whangarei given to a local 3 year old, Sima
Sima with her Mum and Nana

Photo shoot of our hosts for Sunday Lunch and all of us.
Sample of woven mat used for our Sunday picnic lunch.