Safe arrival in Neiafu, Tonga

Safe Arrival in Tonga

We arrived safely in Neiafu, Tonga, the capitol of the
Vava’u Group of islands, yesterday at 9 am local time, almost
exactly 48 hours after we left Apia, Samoa. We would have
posted this information earlier but after a nap, a visit to
immigration, and a couple of beers at the Aquarium Bar and
Restaurant, we were pretty much fit only to sleep. Our current
location is South 18 degrees, 39.96 minutes, West 173 degrees
58.92 minutes.

During our last day in Samoa, we did some final provisioning,
ate a nice meal at “Paddles”, and spent our remaining Tala at
the Aggie Grey souvenir shop. Check-out required a trip into the
immigration office in town. We took advantage of duty-free
alcohol privileges at stock up at the Le Well liquor store,
which immediately took us and our goods to customs (next door to
the marina). We received our clearance from customs, and then
paid our marina bill at the Port Authority office next door. We
did all this with our friends on the Austrian boat Risho Maru,
which was going to sail along with Sabbatical III to Vavau in
Tonga. We informed the Port Authority staff that both boats
would leave the marina at high tide that afternoon and anchor
out before leaving the next morning, and they agreed. Low tide
was at 0930 the next morning and we did not want to touch bottom
for a third time. All went well until the Port Captain called
both Sabbatical III and Risho Maru on the VHF after he spotted
us at anchor just before sunset. He harangued us at length for
leaving the marina and not putting to sea immediately. When we
informed him that we obtained prior permission from his staff in
the Port Authority office he barely relented, refraining the “I
am the boss” declaration of our first encounter with him. He
said that the strict rule is that once you leave the marina, you
must put to sea, even though one can only leave the marina at
high tide. This rule is a safety hazard to boats and both Peter
and Mark argued with the Port Captain at length about it.

The passage started slowly even though there was wind. Our
course took us up and around the barrier reef of Samoa. Our
changing course coupled with the changing wind direction kept us
busy making numerous changes in sails. The mizzen spinnaker
turned out to be very useful during these first hours. It
seemed to take forever to jibe through the Apolima Strait — at
one point we just turned on the engine to keep the number of
jibes down — until finally we caught some nice wind in the
mizzen spinnaker. A big squall soon followed and in its
aftermath the wind strenghtened and moved forward of the beam.
We just stuffed the wet spinnaker into the forward cabin to dry
as the boat heeled over in the wind and did 8 1/2 knots in a
moderate swell that occasionally came over the bow. We soon
caught and passed Risho Maru who had left Apia an hour before
us. As we passed very close to Risho Maru, Peter took photos of
Sabbatical III under full sail, and we did likewise. They even
crossed our stern so that we could get pictures from both sides
of the boats. We have not seen the photos them yet but Peter
says that some are great.

A couple of hours later, while Laura was deep in a nap, I
thought I saw a pull on the fishing rod. The rod is usually
bent over some just from the flow of the water at 8+ knots, but
this seemed a bit more of a bend. Sure enough it was a
beautiful, small yellow-fin tuna. I had to wake Laura to reduce
sail and grab my “fish processing” equipment while I landed the
fish. The fish was so tuckered out by being dragged by the boat
at high speed that it was easy to land him. The tuna weighed
about 6-8 pounds and provided about 3-4 pounds of delicious
white meat. It was too rolly down below for Laura to prepare
her wonderful stir fried tuna with Chinese noodles. Instead, she
just rubbed olive oil on the whole cleaned fish, wrapped it in
tin foil, and popped him in the oven. We ate the fish right out
of the aluminum foil while sitting in the cockpit, along with a
can of Pringles potato chips and ice cold water. A wonderful
boat meal.

We crossed the international dateline sometime during that
first night so September 23rd (Sunday) never really happenned.
We went right from Saturday to Monday the 24th. That meant
that we were the first people in the world to celebrate our son
Ben’s 24th birthday. We meant to call him on the sat phone but
the boat was bouncing along a bit too much for us to feel
comfortable handling the phone. On the second day of the
passage (call it Monday), the wind did not decrease as
forecast, and we continued to make over 8 knots with the wind
just forward of the beam. We could not longer communicate with
Risho Maru by VHF radio, so we reverted to a scheduled call on
an SSB channel. By mid-afternoon it was clear that we would
arrive at our waypoint in front of the channel to Neiafu in the
dark even if we slowed below 7 knots. We did not wish to enter
this longish and winding channel in the dark so we started to
reduce sail to slow the boat. It was rolly as the waves hit us
broadsides, with larger waves occasionally coming from every
direction. As I did my afternoon watch I saw one larger wave
sneaking up to the boat from behind. It smacked the stern and
turned into a small geyser of spray that directed inself into
the small gap we leave in the aft facing hatch. One second
later I could hear Laura squeal as the spray got her as she
slept in her berth. This is the first time that sea water has
found its way into this little opening since we left the
Caribbean. One got me too during my night watch. As I was
reclined in the cockpit in my I-pod reverie, I heard a slap
against the side of the boat and two seconds later a couple of
gallons of sea water gave me a drenching.

The wind continued strong into Tuesday night and we put the
main sail away altogether, and sailed with a small jib with a
reef and a reefed mizzen in order to slow the boat so that we
could make a dawn arrival. Turns out that was a mistake. A set
of squalls came through around 2 am and in their aftermath the
winds died back so much that we could barely make 4 knots even
with all sails. We wallowed around at this speed until Risho
Maru caught up with as a spectacular dawn began, and we were
still 10 miles from our waypoint. So we motored those last
miles. This sail south to Tonga from points north can be very
difficult with the predominately ESE tradewinds and southerly
swell. We were very lucky to have winds that were ENE becoming
NE and swells from the east. It was about as good a wind and
swell direction as one could expect this time of year.

The check-in at Neiafu has a bad reputation. Boats are directed
to tie up to a commercial dock used by container ships. It has
large black rubber protrusions that may do a good job fending
off the tall sides of a 200 foot container ship, but have done
damage to the stanchions, lifelines, and rigging of sail boats.
Our plan had been to check-in at Neiafu at the afternoon high
tide to minimize the risk of damage. But since we were tired,
it was early morning, and the wind was slight, we decided to do
the check-in as soon as we entered. We tied up to the
commercial dock at dead low tide and three beefy Tongans — one
in a grass skirt — clamored aboard. Each represented a
different agency: customs, health, agriculture/quarantine. The
immigration official had called sick or there would have been
four. Laura served cold fruit juice and chocolate cookies, they
asked a few questions, and we were done. Risho Maru tied up
right next to us and when they were done with their check-in, we
both found moorings towards the south end of the harbor so as to
be far from the “bar” area of the waterfront. A big squall blew
through just after we picked up moorings and we knew that if we
had still been at the commerical wharf at that time, we would
likely have sustained damage or at least a lot of aggravation.

After a short nap, we took the dinghy into town to do the
immigration check-in along with Risho Maru. As we dinghed
through the anchorage, we realized that that we knew dozens of
the boats there. Some we knew from the Panama, some from the
Galapagos, others from French Polynesia. Many of them had
arrived just that day from Nuie, the Cooks, American Samoa, and
“New Potatoes” since all were waiting on the same weather. It
was fun to swap stories with old friends while waiting in
immigration, and then at the Aquarium Restaurant afterwards.
Risho Maru found an Austrian bakery in town which they will
sample today.

The anticipated big event is Ben’s arrival in Neiafu
tomorrow morning. We have not seen him for 10 months are can’t
wait to have him with us. Laura baked a banana bread for a
belated birthday celebration.


Departing for Tonga

We expect to depart for Neiafu in the Vava’u Group
of Tonga tomorrow morning (local time). The course
takes us west along the northern coast of Upolo Island
(where Apia is located), through the Apolima Strait
that separates Upolo and Savai’i Islands, and then on
a course of 189 degrees magnetic for Vava’u. The
route is about 348 nautical miles and will take us
48-54 hours. The forecast is very good. Risho Maru
will be departing at the same time for Neiafu as well.

Since our last blog we attended a Samoas dance and
musical show at the famour Aggie Grey Hotel in Apia.
We went with the Risho Maru’s and with Quest (Pierre
and Denise). The show and the buffet were great. We
also snorkeled at the marine reserve near the marina.


New slideshows and news from Samoa

Check out our slideshows for new pictures from Suwarrow and Samoa.

Sunday in Samoa is truly a day of rest – nothing is open. Well, almost nothing. In the morning I stopped by the little grocery store that is just a few blocks away from us. They had told me that they would be open until 1 p.m. on Sunday and would be serving food. I did not expect much as it is a store that has very little to sell during the week. When I walked in I couldn’t believe my eyes. They had laid out a buffet table with 10 huge covered serving trays – and were selling the delicious freshly cooked food to the customers. Almost all Samoan families get together every Sunday for huge traditional dinners and this must have been set up for those people who just couldn’t cook all the required food for themselves. There was barbequed taro root, several kinds of chicken, a couple of Chinese type dishes, lamb and pork. It was sold for take-out and we ordered several plates of food – enough for us and some extra for our friends on Yara who are all still sick with the flu and stuck on their boat. Very fun discovery for us and it was delicious. All the internet cafes were closed on Sunday, except one which opened at 6:00 P.M., so after walking to town with the Risho Marus and taking their son Finn to McDonalds, we spent some time catching up on e-mail.

On Monday we all rented a van together to have a tour of the island. It was supposed to be the 3 families – the Sabbatical III’s, Risho Marus and Yaras, but everyone on Yara was still sick, so we had to go without them. We had rented a large 8 person van which we thought was pretty nice until shortly after we left the car rental place. Suddenly we noticed that there were several cockroaches on the floor. We stopped the car and took out all our bags and found that the cockroaches had already gotten into our bags. It was so disgusting and there was really nothing that we could do about it, so we just kept on rolling and making cockroach (or cockalaka as our Austrians call them) jokes. The back seat was just crawling with the disgusting creatures.

Day tour of Samoa

Most of the island is sparsely populated and very beautiful. Lots of waterfalls and beautiful beaches – landscapes ranging from rolling hills to steep green volcanic mountains. There are small villages scattered everywhere and each village has at least one church as its centerpiece. The people themselves live in houses called “fales” which are very unusual – they are totally open on all sides – with just a roof, a raised floor and beams and decorated railings holding the structure up.

Day tour of Samoa

Apparently it is considered very impolite to look inside a fale – there is an honor system that people observe so that the residents have their privacy even though everything they do is open to the world. Most of the compounds we saw, however, had both a fale and a more modern closed home next to each other, so I think that there must have been adjustments made over the years to give people more privacy and protect them from nosy tourists. They were interesting to see. On our stop at the Sapoaga Waterfall ( the prettiest one we saw) there was also a small botanical garden and a tour guide who was very entertaining – he cut a coconut for us and made fresh coconut milk – so delicious.

Day tour of Samoa

Stopped for lunch at a very cute and nice looking restaurant called SeaBreeze . It was nice, but really slow and we were all anxious to get on with our tour.

By 5:00 P.M. we had gone around most of the island and were pretty tired. We stopped at a couple of grocery stores, but found the pickings kind of slim. We were afraid to buy too much anyways as we were sure that the cockroaches would get to them if we left the bags in the car for any amount of time. One more big job was to go back to the boat, grab our 8 jerry cans and Risho Maru’s 2 jerry cans and go back to the gas station to fill up with diesel. We were getting low on diesel for the boat and there is no dock that you can pull your boat up to to fill up, so you have to “jerry jug it”. Not too bad with everyone helping out – including 7 year old Finn.

Today, Monday was a much more low key day. You have to get permission from customs here if you want to buy duty free alcohol, so we decided to do that. It was not too bad at all – we just had to bring a letter to the customs office and come back a few hours later to get the stamped and approved form. Not a big deal since the customs office is right next to the marina. We also did some boat chores, e-mail and other mundane boat tasks. Plan to leave within a few days if the weather is ok. The sail to Tonga is not terribly far ( about a 2 day sail), but it is almost due south and it will be very rough if the wind and waves are from the south – which they often are. We are looking for a good weather window to make the trip easier. Have to get there before Ben does on the 27th!

One more interesting and strange thing about being in this marina. They have “toilet bowl fish” here. We have never seen these before, but other people apparently have in other places. They are smallish fish that live in the harbor and apparently have a keen appetite for whatever comes out of the boat toilet. When you flush you hear a huge flurry of motion and commotion under the boat – which is made by dozens of fish that jockey for position to be first in line under the boat to grab whatever appetizing morsel comes out. Talk about disgusting. We just hope that the fried fish sandwiches we have been eating do not come from local waters! They tell us it is tuna.



We arrived in Apia Harbor, Samoa, on the 11th of September. We knew that you had to call the Apia harbormaster prior to arrival so we were careful to call on the VHF to announce our arrival an hour or two outside the harbor entrance. There is a reef on either side of the harbor entrance, but it is clearly marked and entry into the anchorage was very easy. Our 3 day passage from Suvarov had been good – lots of wind and a very fast passage. We had passed our friends on Rishu Maru and Yara by the evening of the first day and continued to sail quite a ways in front of them for the whole passage even though they are both on catamarans which we thought would go faster than us. It’s hard not to feel a little bit competitive when you sail, so it was fun to be so fast.

We had heard that as of a few weeks ago all yachts coming to Apia had to stay at the new marina rather than the anchorage. When we called the harbormaster to confirm our arrival and to ask how to proceed he told us to drop our anchor and we would be able to come into the marina at about 6:00 P.M. They said they would send someone out to guide us in at 6:00 when it was high tide. It was only 1:30 at the time. Just as we were dropping anchor we got a call on our VHF radio from the harbormaster telling us we should move the boat out of the anchorage and pull up to a tugboat on the wharf in order to complete the check in procedures. We took one look at the rickety old tugboat there and decided we would probably damage the boat if we pulled up beside it, so we called and asked if it was possible to leave the boat where it was and come in by dinghy to check-in. They agreed and we said we would be in as soon as possible – as both the dinghy and outboard engine were up on the deck of the boat where we leave them on our long passages and it takes us about 1/2 an hour to get everything set up. As you can imagine we were dead tired after a three day sail, with only truncated periods of sleep. But we got to work and were busy setting up the dinghy and engine when suddenly a small motorboat pulled up beside us and an official told us that we had to hurry up and get to the shore to check in. It was kind of strange as we had just arrived and it was clear that we were trying our best – so we told him we would be there as soon as possible. When we got to shore we entered the ugly dilapitated building which serves as the customs, immigration, quarantine and health office.

Only one man was sitting there – a very gruff looking Samoan. He took one look at us and proclaimed that we were late. Mark asked politely exactly what he meant as we did not know what we were late for. He said we were late in getting there to check in and that now he would have to summon back all the other officials – he was clearly bullying us around. Mark explained that we had just come in, that we had said it would take about 1/2 an hour to set up the dinghy and that we had done precisely that and had then proceeded in as required. The gruff official said something nasty and then picked up the phone to summon back the other officials. It was the strangest process. There were 4 sets of officials, one for each of the totally meaningless check-in procedures. The first person was the “health” official who asked a series of questions that would have had us both in stitches if it were not such a serious office… questions like: Has anyone died on board your ship? Do you have the plague? Do you have any rats on board with the plague? Seriously – the form must have been from the 1800’s. Then two officials from “customs” said they had to go onboard to check the boat. They came back to the boat with us on our dinghy. Both were young guys, clearly bored with their life and their jobs. They sat down below, had a diet coke, commented on how nice the boat was, and asked if we had any firearms on board. That was about it for customs and we took them back to shore. Then we had to answer some relatively reasonable questions from the immigration lady who gave us a 2 month visa for the island and wished us a good vacation. The best part was the last when 2 guys from “quarantine” had to come on the boat. One of them was clearly afraid of going on the dinghy and he backed out at the last second, but his friend came to the boat. He sat in the cockpit and glanced below to see if the boat looked like it needed to be quarantined. Despite the messy condition, he said we were just fine, but asked for $20 ( which he put in his pocket), and after asking about our religion ( did you know we were Lutherans?) and George Bush, he asked if we had any good DVDs. I told him we only watched opera so he gave up on that – but he did tell us that Pavoratti had died. Then we were done and we could take him back to shore. What a silly process! We were pissed at ourselves for giving him the bribe, but then again, $20 wasn’t too bad of a price to get rid of the guy.

We got back to the boat about 4:00 and decided to rest a bit before putting the dinghy and the outboard engine back on the deck – which we had to do before we moved into the marina. At 5:00, an hour early, the tough bully, who is apparently the harbormaster showed up in his little motorboat with 3 other guys and acted angry because we are not ready to move into the marina. We told him that we had been told to be ready by 6:00 and he said,” Who told you that? I never said that, and I am the only person here who could tell you what time to be ready”. We decided not to argue with him and just said, we would do our best to get the boat ready to pull up anchor and into the marina as soon as possible. We were pretty unhappy with the whole situation and were tempted to just pull up anchor and sail to Tonga directly, but we were too tired and really wanted just to go to sleep.

We got everything ready and asked the men on the harbormaster’s boat which side we should put the boat fenders and lines on to tie us on to the dock. It is important to get everything set up in advance before you reach the dock. We explained that we wanted to approach the dock “stern side to” – meaning that we wanted to back in to the slip – which gives Mark better steering capability . The men told us to put everything on the port side of the boat so we did – after reconfirming several times that we wanted to back the boat in. We pulled into the very tight dock area and found that access to the dock they were putting us in was partially blocked by a large dredge. This marina just opened and apparently they didn’t do a good job of dredging, or digging out, the bottom to make it deep enough for the boats. They are now trying to dredge the bottom, working around the “minor obstructions” put in their way such as the dock and the boats that are here. Once we got around the dredge we realized that the slip they had ready for us required coming in “forward side to” not “stern-side” to. We could either quickly move and re-set 4 long lines (ropes) and 8 bumpers to the starboard side, or just proceed forward side to. We opted for the later. Now safely tied up to the dock we could rest and relax a bit. We noticed, however, that our depth sounder showed less than 1 meter of water under the keel and we wondered if the slip we were in would be deep enough at low tide, or whether we would end up scraping the bottom. We had told them the depth of our keel several times and had assumed that they would take that info into account when they assigned us a slip for our stay. As you might guess, from everything proceeding this, we woke up in the middle of the night – at low tide – to the sound of our keel scraping back and forth on the rocks that were now sitting on as there was not enough water for us. We were too tired to do anything – and besides that you can’t just move out of a slip at low tide and go find somewhere else to park yourself for the night. So we drifted off to a restless sleep.

In the morning we spent about an hour and a half trying to rouse the harbormaster or his assistant via VHF. When Clare, the very nice assistant showed up, she spent some time on her cell phone, and finally a boat showed up with the harbormaster. Mark told him we had scraped the bottom all night and didn’t want to ruin the boat by waiting around for the next low tide. We needed to move to a deeper part of the marina. He didn’t seem to understand why this lack of depth was a problem for us. Mark went out and with the help of the harbormaster’s boat and a lead line to measure depth he went slowly around the marina and found what seemed to be a deeper slip on the next dock. Then with a great deal of help from all our friends and some of the harbormaster’s helpers we moved out of our slip, and crawled along at a snail’s pace to the suitable spot. The depth sounder showed zero meters under our keel ( meaning we were actually touching the bottom again), and the tide was still going out. We did make it somehow to the new slip without getting stuck on the bottom and without further incident.

After check-in we begin to appreciate Samoa for its beauty and kind people:

We have been in the new slip for 4 days now and it is just fine. It is actually great – and we are right next to our friends on Rishu Maru and Yara – so of course there has been a lot of socializing. There are only about a dozen boats here in total. We walked around the town and were delighted to find lots of restaurants and internet cafes plus interesting markets with lots of local produce and fun household items (such as kava bowls which the locals use to mix up and drink the intoxicating kava drink they use regularly). We plan to try it out when we get brave enough. I was particularly happy to find a great local beauty salon where I tamed my wild hair and brought it back to just one shade of brown rather than a mixture of brown, red, gold and grey.

On Friday we were busy taking down our big jib as it got ripped on the sail from Bora Bora to Suwarrow, and then it got even worse from Suwarrow here. We still had the ballooner up on the same headstay with the jib as it had been too windy when we approached the island a few days ago to take it down as we would have liked to. We were not sure how hard it would be to take both sails down in the slip – we were concerned that if both sails were unfurled ( which they must be to take them down), and the wind picked up it might become unmanageable However, as soon as we started to work on it the guys from Rishu Maru and Yara came over, and helped us with the whole process, taking down both sails, folding them away, and putting up the newer, smaller jib. I really love the comraderie among our fellow boaters – there are always people anxious to help out with any process that you either can not do yourself, or that you are just not comfortable doing.

We had planned to rent a van on Saturday and have a tour of the island, but the little boy on Yara got sick so we postponed until Monday. Instead we walked to town with the Rishu Marus, saw the flea market and the fish market and hopped on a local bus which took us to the Robert Lewis Stevenson museum. He lived in the 1800’s and is famous for a few of his books, including “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde” and “Treasure Island”. He apparently lived here the last 4 years of his life and had a beautiful home up on a hill just outside of town. It is now a museum and he is quite a celebrity among the Samoans ( at least that’s what they said on the tour). We really enjoyed the bus ride – it made a stop to get fuel and half the bus got off to do a quick shop in the market next door , before we proceeded on our route. The Samoan people seem to be extraordinarily pleasant and friendly and we are really anxious to do our tour of the island so that we can see the villages and meet more of the locals. If the city people are this friendly (except for the customs people), it should be a really nice experience. Today is Sunday and pretty much everything is closed for the day. This is a very Christian island and everyone belongs to a church and goes on Sunday mornings. Then it is the custom for families to spend the rest of the day having a big feast. We wish we knew someone who would invite us, but I guess we would have to hang around here longer to get to know any of the locals well enough . Mark tried his best yesterday with a taxi driver, but no luck getting an invitation for Sunday.

Leaving Suwarrow and sailing to Samoa

Monday September 10th
noon local, 2000 UTC
Position South 13.40 West 168.46

We are completing our second day of sailing between Suwarrow and
Western Samoa, a distance of 510 nm. We hope to reach Western
Samoa sometime tomorrow. So far we have had good winds – ranging
from 10 to 18 knots . We have the wind directly behind us and
have our two head-sails up making for a very fast, although
sometimes rolly sail. As the boat dips in the swells the large
jib which is poled out to the port side of the boat tends to
fill with air and then snap as it rolls off. It can be very
annoying. Other than that it is a good sail- we have made great
time – averaging almost 8 knots per hour all day yesterday.
Today so far we are averaging a little less than 7 knots. We
were sad to leave Suwarrov as it was really one of the nicest
two weeks of our trip. If anyone is interested in reading about
Suwarrow there is a great little book by a guy named Tom Neale
who lived on the island alone in the 50’s and again in the 70’s.
It is called “An Island to Oneself” and you should be able to
get it in any public library. The island really has not changed
since he lived there – except now there are a dozen boats in the
harbor as opposed to the 2 a year that visited when he lived there.
The other yachts in the harbor were all so friendly, and the
island caretakers were great. We fished, snorkeled, explored the
outlying motus, visited with friends, walked over coral reef
barriers, shared dinners, and read a lot. I even played my
keyboard for our friends – and am now planning to learn a couple
of popular pieces so that I can accompany Alexandra as she sings
them. We had planned to leave Suwarrow at the same time as our
friends on Rishu Maru and Yara, but when we tried to pull up our
anchor we found the chain was wrapped around a head of coral
some 50 feet down. Rishu Maru and Yara had already pulled up
their anchors by then, and started out of the pass. Other people
we know on the Norwegian boat “Menja” and the American boat
“Seafari” noticed we were having trouble getting our anchor up
and came over to help. Frank, the young guy on Menja even put on
his snorkel fins and mask and went into the water to get a good
look at how the anchor chain was wrapped and he called out
directions for us to move the boat. We spent quite some time
manoevering around, but were firmly stuck. Frank then went over
to another boat where he knew that they had diving tanks. It
looked like we might have to have someone dive down to free the
chain. But Mark tried moving the boat backwards which gave a
good pull on the chain and after a few more minutes we were free.

Just outside the atoll we came upon a couple of whales – the
first ones we have seen for months. They were cavorting like
crazy in the water – lifting up their fins and slapping them in
the water and then leaping staight out of the water several
times. It was fantastic to see. We soon caught up to Risho Maru
and Yara and for the first day we were all in sight of each
other and could talk on the VHF. Our boat is quite fast when it
sails downwind with the two head-sails out and by the end of the
day we had passed both of our friends and are now about 30 miles
farther west than them. We can still talk to them on the SSB
and we have scheduled calls twice a day to check up on each other.

Hannah is now in Madagascar and we are hoping to hear from her
soon. Ben has purchased plane tickets to come visit us in late
September in Tonga. An exciting last couple of months of this
trip await us.


Departure for Samoa

Within the hour we will depart Suvarov (Suwarrow) for Apia,
Samoa (previously called Western Samoa). It is now 11:15 am
local time on Sep 8, which is 21:15 UTC. The forecast in finally
good, with light winds around 10 knots today increasing to 15-20
knots by tomorrow from the ESE. It is 520 nautical miles to
Samoa and the route is straight from Suvarov to Apia on a course
of 255 degrees magnetic. We really loved our stay in Suvarov
but are looking forward to sailing again and new adventures.
Risho Maru and Yara are also leaving today for Samoa and we will
remain in SSB radio contact with them twice each day.


Suvarov and fishing

September 6, 2007

We are still in Suvarov (Suwarrow) in the Cook Islands. We had
hoped to leave five days ago for Samoa but the weather has not
cooperated. It is beautiful here so we are not complaining
about being stuck in paradise. The wind had slowed to less than
8 knots and came out of the north. That brought rain and
squalls, some intense, mixed in with periods of sun. We used
those sunny periods to snorkel all around the lagoon, and took a
long walk along the reef to Monkey’s Island at low tide during a
cloudy morning. Then the wind shifted from the south but still
light. We used up quite a bit of diesel getting here from
Bora-Bora and then subsequentlyunning the generator and making
water, so we do not have nearly enought to get to Samoa without
a few days of good wind.

There is one thing fairly new to us that has become an important
part of our stay in Suvarov, and that thing is fishing. To
illustrate its allure, consider that yesterday, while we were
snorkeling in the most amazing reef, watching colorful fish in
the crystal clear water, Laura turned to me and said “Let’s go
back to the boat and go fishing.” Even Laura is smitten with
the fishing bug. It is not just the sporting aspects of fishing
that moitivate us. It is also that the fish that we catch –
grouper – is quite delicious and is far better to eat than
anything that we have left on the boat. We and our friends on
Risho Manu and Yara are all out of fresh food. Only one of our
two fridges is running and it has only has some cheese, beer and
coke. We had our last apple with breakfast. We have lots of
dried and canned food, but none of it seems as appealing as
baked or barbequed grouper.

It is fairly easy to catch grouper in the lagoon once John, the
park warden, gave us some pointers. From our dinghy, we drag
150 feet of 200 pound test line off of a plastic spool (called a
yo-yo) with a diving Rapala lure attached. No fishing rod or
reel required. Laura steers the dinghy along the dropoff near
reefs. We have found the reef just behind the sailboats is very
productive so we do not have to go very far. We are now
confident that if we spend one to two hours trolling a line from
the dinghy, we will land a big grouper. The other day while
contemplating the options for supper just one hour before
sunset, we decided to go out for 45 minutes and see if we could
catch something (sort of like a last minute trip to Whole
Foods). After 30 minutes, we had a fish on the line and I
started to haul it in while wrapping the line around the plastic
yo-yo. As the fish got almost up to the dinghy I was surprised
by the sudden strength of the tug on the line. I pulled up hard
and found that there were two fish heads staring to me — one
belonging to a large grouper and the other to a shark with its
jaws around the grouper. The shark and I were both shocked to
see each other — the grouper already knew what was up. The
shark chomped down, taking the back 60 percent of the fish,
leaving me to haul in the front 40%. The shark had the better
part by far since grouper heads are quite large and are not
eaten by us. Nonetheless, there was enough grouper left for a
nice supper for Laura and I. However, this fish was not as
tasty as the others, which we attribute to the trauma the poor
fish went through in those last moments. Late yesterday
afternoon, Laura and I caught a grouper big enough to feed us,
Risho Maru, and Yara plus leftovers. The fresh fish keeps the
beans and rice dinners on hold.

The wind is supposed to pick up a bit tomorrow and we may use
the opportunity to start off for Apia, Samoa some 520 nautical
miles away. With the forecast winds, it should take us 4 days
to reach Samoa. We will miss the annual festival that we had
planned to attend but this loss is offset by the wonderful time
that we have had in Suvarov.


Suvarov – 2nd week

September 1st

We are still in Suvarov. It has continued to be a very fun
place with shared dinners on the beach just about every night. A
couple of days ago Jim from “Special Blend” left and we all
thought that would be the end of our big fish dinners. A few
hours after he left however, another boat, “Southern Cross”,
pulled in and before long everyone in the anchorage had heard
that they had caught a 120 pound marlin. The boat belongs to
Cedric, a New Zealander with 2 little girls named Hannah and
Page. Cedric has 3 friends on board with him who are all avid
fishermen. They had caught the fish the day before arriving in
Suvarov and after catching the monster and pulling him up to the
rail, one of them realized that the hook had fallen out and
instead of letting the fish get away the guy tackled the fish
and wrestled him to the deck of the boat. He (the guy, not the
fish) had a nice big wound on his leg as a result. They kept as
much of the fish as they could in their fridge, but
unfortunately had to toss a great deal into the ocean as they
had no room to store it. In any event they brought enough fish
to the barbeque that night to feed the entire group of sailers –
which must have been at least 30 people.

John, the caretaker of the island, is very nice to the sailers
here and always arranges small expeditions to the tiny islands
that are part of this atoll. Yesterday a bunch of us went with
him in our dinghies out to a small island on the other side of
the pass into the lagoon. It is a bird sanctuary and there were
thousands of birds of all different kinds. Many of them were
nesting and we saw lots of eggs and lots of tiny baby birds as
well as the adults. The appearance of humans on the island
throws them all into an uproar which was quite a sight to
behold. We all tried to be very careful about not disturbing
their natural habitat, but just the sight of us got them all up
into the air crying out and swooping over us. On the way back
Mark and I thought we would try some fishing again, and before
long Mark had caught a very large grouper. It was very exciting
to catch him and we brought him back to shore to clean. You are
not allowed to clean fish from your boat here as the fish
entrails attract sharks and none of us want them around the
boats. If you bring your fish to shore John and his sons will
help you clean the fish and then they toss the remains into
water at the far side of the island. John’s 11 year old son
Jeremiah helped us gut and fillet our fish. Just when we
finished up with our fish his dad and mom returned from their
own little fishing expedition. They had 5 or 6 fish with them,
including one very large grouper, and announced that they would
be served that evening at the beach barbecue. That night on
the beach there was another musical festival as well as the
potluck dinner. Singers, guitarists, drummers, and the harpist
all performed. Our friend Alexa sang some beautiful songs that
her husband Peter had written and she also sang an amazing
yodeling song – not silly or loud – but a very sweet, plaintif
type of song – really beautiful.

We had planned to get ready to leave here by tomorrow, but the
weather report for the next few days forecasts very light winds,
so we are going to hang around here a few days longer. We
decided to join another small expedition of dinghies today going
to another area within the lagoon with good snorkeling. It was
nice – lots of parrot fish and beautiful coral. Some of the
group took a walk along the fringing reef between two islands –
you can only do the walk when it is low tide. It seemed too far
and too hot so Mark and I returned to the boat. Almost landed
another grouper, but not quite.