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.