12 September, 2006

Western Samoa

Western Samoa________

Willy and I have made our first passage together, and altogether it was a fine one: very flat seas, beautiful bright skies, and, at times a fair wind. The wind was mostly light and we made only 80 or so miles in 24 hours (my lowest output since leaving the US. But they were consistant and moved us over three to four knots the whole way.

This light wind made for perfect timing as we were just outside Apia Harbor at first light. The pass was wide and Will sailed us through to the anchorage where we dropped the hook under full sail just behind the fleet.

Western Samoa looks to have lots to offer: diving, surfing, hiking, exploring, ect. That will come. Last night we passed up on an opportunity to go to the Miss Tootie Fruitie contest—a transvestite beauty pagent.

American Samoa

American Samoa___________

Rain is the key word here. Yes, I made it to American Samoa, and yes I’ve picked up my brother—but the real factor is constant rain. In Suvarow it rained and stormed for a few days then passed. On the passage to Samoa—the same—it stormed like crazy for two days straight: rain, rain, rain, and a lot of wind. It was a rough trip. I was ready for it to be done. Too much rain. The wind wasn’t so bad, sailing under a jib alone and then down to the storm jib. I did have some breaking seas which weren’t so pleasant, but not real dangerous.

Rain, rain, rain.

Luckily, I hove to outside of Pago Pago for the night and the wind and storm died down nicely and gave me calm conditions to enter the harbor. (Sorry, Pago Pago is the main harbor of American Samoa. Used to be a big military base in WWII.)

This is funny: when I finished with customs and anchor my boat back in American mud once again, I hear a shout from shore. Blind as I am I get the binoculars out and find a silhouette that I recognize: My Brother! Wow, and I was worried that finding him could be a chore. And there he is—perfect—right where he should be. I still didn’t have my dinghy prepared and couldn’t be bothered so I VHF’ed my friend George: “Gdangist, Gdangist this is Araby. Do you copy?”

“Yes, this is George, go ahead.”

“George, my brother’s on the beach. Can you give me a right over to pick him up?”

“Okay.” And then he was gone.

“George, George, do you copy?” Nothing. Then I see George rushing over in his dinghy hardly a minute and a half later. He looked a little confused. I pointed to the beach where my brother was with a smile.

Then he laughed. He thought I said, “I am dragging on the beach. I though this was a laugh as there was next to no wind. But the laugh would be on me in the end.

As we pulled up to the beach—only as I got out of the dink not 20 feet from my brother—did I realize THIS IS NOT MY BROTHER! It was Brian. Oh man was I taken. I couldn’t believe it. I laughed so hard, I had to apologize to Brian at being so utterly disappointed to see him. (After all, it had been a good two weeks. He didn’t go to Suvarow.) What a bummer.

Brian wanted to get a bite to eat, as did I. I still had to prep my boat so he came back with me to help out and chat. We did the work. I was so ready for a good meal ashore I can’t begin to relate it. As we dinghied to the dock I see a figure standing on the fishing wharf. I have no binoculars now, but the silhouette is right. . . and I recognized the shirt. . . is he looking at us? I turn a little, a little more. . . Sure enough, there stands Will next to a cab. Just pulled up minutes ago. Bloody perfect timing.

How do you like that? And he was starving to eat as well.

Since then, nothing but great talks and more rain. We have accomplished a ton of work in the time between showers. He is so enthused to be here. It is going to be a blast, I can tell already.

We’ve gotten the boat ready to ship out again and Herb and Jim have just arrived. They also got rather slammed with bad weather that just seems to be sitting on top of us right now.

This is motivation for me to head south directly to Tonga instead of heading west to Western Samoa, which is supposed to be a splendid spot. Everyone loves it but it isn’t renowned for its diving and I doubt that it is out of this foul weather pattern we have here.

So south it may be—just as soon as the weather changes enough to get out of here.

05 September, 2006

suvarow rodeo

Suvarow Rodeo______




With typhoon season stalking  only months away the time is nigh to make some good way westwards.  Leaving French Polynesia there are a couple of options: Raratonga and the S Cooks, Suvarow Island, Niue Island, or head straight west for Samoa.  Samoa is a popular reprovisioning spot, but from Polynesia most boats are making a snappy run to \Tonga or Fiji—the next  and last major draws before seeking shelter from the typhoons, either north, Kiribati, Indonesia, ect.; or south New Zealand.   (Of course, this is all wildly over-simplified.)

            I have no real plan.  I waffle this way, then shuffle back that way—I only ever planned as far as the Marquesas.  With that done and all of French Polynesia to boot, I now have to start anew.  Herb and I have come this far together, all the way, anchorage for anchorage, from Cabo, so we try to stick together until hellfire and brimstone shake the swell.  We thought about Niue, but the anchorages are nill, only mooring balls and offshore diving—no lagoon.  And Suvarow always sounded so great.  Made unfortunately famous by Tom Neale, who wrote a book about his solitary life there, An Island to Oneself, or something like this.  Haven’t read it myself.  It has been growing in popularity year by year as a good intermediate stop on the way to Samoa.

            Suvarow, however, represented much about what I want out of cruising.  It is remote and uninhabited (minus one caretaker, a joyful man).  It is an atoll and a bird sanctuary, protected by the Cook Islands from development.  It hasn’t  changed much since Tom Neale’s day from what I’ve heard.


So Herb and I agreed that it was a go and set out from Bora Bora on a Saturday like any other.  A brisk wind winding down from the north to a nice easterly.  The passage was roughly 700 miles—the longest since the pacific crossing.  I think we were ready for the sea again; the change of pace, the communion, the aloneness and all the rest.  Time alone at sea is such a strange and paradoxical experience: once peaceful and extremely demanding, peaceful yet utterly frustrating.  Cooking while running with a swell is likely the most frustrating experience of my life—seriously.  Everything takes such effort and energy and nothing ever remains still.  I find it often best if I sleep and disturb nothing.  I only seem to make more trouble for myself.

And yet I love the experience deeply.  It is like crawling into a deep tunnel in your mind and psyche.  So many mundane thoughts drift through, but those occasions, those rare accidental moments where something meaningful twinkles in the mental moonlight of a daydream and then I can grasp it in the open light of conciousness!  The way it makes me feel alive, the way the world becomes perfect all in an instant and for a mere moment perhaps, but long enough.


The sail was rough but good.  Great wind, but although the swell didn’t seem like much; it was a might-bit confused and slapped the boat around and I was rarely comfortable.  But the wind was so fresh that I sailed under jib alone—and still managed 130 mile days.  The simplicity of no mainsail is so refreshing—no worries.  I was all smiles there.  Herb and I zoomed along, staying close again, close enough to stay in VHF contact throughout the trip. 

We were fishing like mad too and Herb kept loosing lures.  I however, after a little innovation, managed to hook a mahi-mahi (dorado or dolphin).  I had been remembering Old Man and the Sea and enjoyed fighting the fish with the handline.  Having no gaff I had to thoroughly wear him out before I could grab him behind the gill plate and heave him aboard.  This was my first big fish, about twenty pounds, and I had only partially prepared myself for the reality of having to gut and fillet such a fish on my deck while underway.  It was everything I feared it would be.  I thought I might die of it.

            I caught the fish at dusk (never again) so by the time I had bludgeoned him well, restowed the fishing gear, got ready the knife and bucket it was nigh black out.  But where to do the job?  The cockpit is occupied by the tiller and vane lines.  It won’t do to explain it, you’d have to see to understand, but sitting on the cabin top, fish on the side deck, tale made fast to the shrouds I filleted the devil in good order and enjoyed a big bowl of seared dorado and soy sauce.  It was well earned and I swore I’d never catch another fish for a fortnight for all the toil it cost me.

            Some steaks I saved for the next day, some I canned (in a pressure cooker), and some I salted and put on deck to cure.  Suvarow was within a day’s march but was looking like an afternoon arrival.  Since I am under sail alone I will never go through a reef pass with poor visibility, which means I must have the sun either above me or behind me so I can see the location of the submerged coral heads without glare.  The pass was to the northeast, thus needing a morning or midday arrival.  The final day Herb sailed hard and made the pass in the afternoon, slow and careful under motor power.  I hove-to (parked) just east of the atoll to await morning and hopefully fair weather and a fine wind.

            Well the night at least was peaceful.  I set sail again at five a.m. to position myself outside the pass, but there were vast squall lines to the west and the wind had shifted to the north.  By dawn it was blowing 25 from the west and I was hove-to again scrubbing all the blood and fish guts from my decks.  Got a good well needed shower myself.  Being hove-to can be peaceful and I was in good spirits.  I sat below and piddled around.  The rain and wind relented and were followed by a calm.

            I certainly can’t sail through a dangerous pass with no wind.  So again I waited.  The weather would pass and it did within a few hours and a fair northerly cropped up and pushed me south toward Suvarow.  A perfect sunny day.  Compared to Caroline the pass was a monster—huge and without breakers.  I found the eastern edge and found my course.  I easily identified the two dangerous inner reefs and made my way around Anchorage Island to the anchorage proper.  Herb had warned me it was a bit crowded but most were leaving the next day for Samoa or Tonga.  But the anchorage was wide and the sailing nice.  I tacked up wind and dropped the hook far to the west of the lot of them.

            Herb and Jim came up in Jim’s dinghy and we had a drink to celebrate my arrival and my dorado.



Oh, but weather being what it is, nothing ever remains constant for long.  Since leaving Mexico the sailing has been grand and offered little to complain about.  

That afternoon was spend jabbering with friends aboard Bamboo.  The wind started to rise as the sun fell and we all felt like it was time to be back aboard our own vessels.  By ten o’clock it was howling hard from the south.  Since the wind had been from the NW when I arrived Araby had swung roughly 180° and wrapped her chain around a bomby (slang for a big coral head).  This is fine in that the anchor is mega-secure but it creates a grating sound as the chain saws into the coral.  It also, in essence, shortens the active scope of the chain and can create a brutal snubbing action if the boat is riding in a swell—which was just the case. 

With all the lagoon to the south the wind had a great fetch to build up waves.  As Araby rose with the wave the chain would go taught and “bang”, the whole boat would shiver with the tension.  This is what snubber lines are for; they are pieces of stretchy line that you make fast to the chain and then to the bow, then letting out a bit more of chain that will now be slack.  Now, instead of the swell stiffening the chain and shock loading the boat, the shock is absorbed by the line smoothly without rough jerking.

            This is all well and good and I always use a snubber regardless of conditions, but this time I was in such deep water (45’) and with such a swell and high wind (35 knots) that the snubber itself was chafing into my deck joint at the bow.  I must admit to the folly of having inadequate chafe protection for my lines, a sin I know, now remedied.  But as I eased the snubber to protect my deck and line the snubbing load on the chain and bow roller became dangerous.


Something had to be done. 

Indeed the situation was worse than I had admitted to.  This was quite a blow and I was so comfortable in my anchoring that I was over-cavalier about the whole mess.  I stood on the bow staring at my predicament trying to piece out the best solution.  The situation was complicated by a limited number of cleats, afore-mentioned ineffective chafe gear, ect.  After much staring in the driving rain, I resolved the issue by releasing so much chain to the point where I spliced the end of it into a long stretch of rope rode (anchor line) (For anchoring, I have 200’ of chain spliced at the end to 300’ of 5/8” rope rode.  This is a lot and I am proud of it.). 

Now all the chain was overboard and the rope road would itself act as a snubber and relieve some of the strain on my primary snubber, which I left attached for extra strength and as a safeguard if the splice were to part.  Surviving a storm is all about the safeguards: I had precious little doubt that my anchor and chain would hold, with the sand and coral and great scope (length of line divided by depth, 1/5 is ave.).  The worry was really keeping the chain attached to the boat and keeping damage down.  In this I was successful once I applied myself to it.  My anchor was attached to the boat in three places.


However, as I came to final resolution I looked around to notice that everyone else’s anchor lights were on and there was a certain tension in the air I hadn’t noticed, enmeshed as I was.

Again, I was slow perhaps in grasping the seriousness of the weather.  It was foul.  Waves in an anchorage can be more hazardous than the wind.  It occurred to me that my VHF was off, not to mention my anchor light (like an idiot).  As I turned them on there were voices on the radio immediately: “Sandpiper, Sandpiper,  this is Petrel, would you like Peter to come aboard?  Over.” 

No response.

I looked up and saw running lights moving through the anchorage.  My God, I thought, someone has drug their anchor—and it was a crowded anchorage.  Sandpiper  must have lost their anchor.  It was about 12:30 am and I didn’t hear much else on the radio.  I could see their running lights going back and forth—I couldn’t make anything out as to what was going on, just back and forth, right through anchorage; it seemed sort of impossible.  Why didn’t he come out here where I was, where it was open?

It was Sandpiper, but he hadn’t drug anchor but had lost it, and his chain, and he had been set adrift, and surrounded by a dozen boats.  His wife later told me, after hearing a load bang! on the foredeck, which was the endline knot parting, Peter comes to her and calmly says, using perfect British understatement, “Dear, it seems we have a bit of a problem.”  You don’t say. . . 

He narrowly missed Minaret and was drifting ever faster toward the north reef.  He started his engine only meters away from the coral.  Now for the treacherous navigation.  Luckily Peter was a retired tugboat skipper and accustomed to tight spots, but even he deemed it a miracle he managed it.  He zig-zagged through the boats until his wife could prepare the kedge (secondary) anchor for deployment.  But it was a small anchor, and the water was deep.  I heard them on the VHF: “Jamie, we’ve reanchored and I think its. . . wait. . .  we’re dragging. Stand by.”


It seemed to me that there was little harm to try and help out, since my dinghy was in the water and I had a prepared kedge anchor already, and lots of spare rode.  I threw it all in the dink to take over to him.  All I knew was that he was having anchor problems.  I could imagine him there motoring forward slightly to alieviate some of the strain on the anchor all night long.  Another anchor couldn’t hurt.  So long as I didn’t flip the dink in the process.

            I get on the VHF: “Sandpiper, Sandpiper, this is  Araby,  unless you call me off I am motoring over in my dinghy with another anchor for you.  Over.”

            Nothing heard.  So I did the prep work, properly flaked out the rode, and was off.  I only later heard the  Sandpiper  didn’t even hear my call.  It was just as well.  At first he was a bit hesitant to accept, humble and all that, but it would have been insane.  He was in a tight spot, a catamaran just behind him.  So he accepted and I ran out damn near 450” of line out with the dink and he set it off his bow.  Both anchors were now holding and he kept his engine on all night, as did many boats.


It wasn’t long after I was back that I noticed another set of running lights out in the lagoon.  I didn’t know where they had come from.  This was Dungeness.  Yet another boat had lost their anchor.  They had gone adrift and were only alerted via radio that they were free.  Their engine did not start as readily and were blown aground as it hammered up the rpms.  Luckily they motored off with little damage and it appeared they chose to steer into the reef intentionally as opposed to colliding with other boats.  Very noble indeed.  However their kedge was unsatisfactory and they opted to stand off, essentially motoring back and forth through the open water of the lagoon all night.

            It was a tough night all around.  No one slept.  Three other boats destroyed their bow rollers (bow mount where the chain runs off into the water).  And the weather didn’t abate in the morning but kept right up.  There were lulls and at some point two guys went out with scuba gear and retrieved both lost anchors and returned my anchor to me from Sandpiper.  The custodian was out on the reef retrieving Sandpiper’s lost dinghy which had chafed through its painter.  What a night.

            Araby made it through in fine style.  Every hour or two I would let out six inches of extra scope so the line wouldn’t chafe all in one spot.  This was enough to ensure that I would get up regularly to check them, but really I was up all night.  Slept a bit from 5 -7.


During the calms of the following day Herbert and I found a new calling. 

            We had offered to dive on a neighbors boat to check their anchor and see how badly it was wrapped around coral heads.  As we talked on the VHF another boat broke in and asked if we could please do the same for them.  We said sure, we’d be pleased.  Anchor diving was as good a reason as any to hop in the water.

            By the time we made it to the second boat, the skipper asked us if we wouldn’t mind helping Minaret  as well.  We smiled.  This was great fun.  I got many, many thanks for helping out Sandpiper and Herb and I made a fair number of friends with our anchor diving. (not to mention the bottle of whiskey, a fine lunch on a cat, and the “good” chafe gear (firehose) I’ve never been able to find).


That night was nearly as bad as the last, but at least everyone was more prepared.  Most of us slept perhaps too much.  The wind shifted and caused Herbert’s boat, Bamboo, to drag a bit, but was saved from trouble by the ever-present coral heads.

            48 hours and still blowing.  Many boats had planned on leaving days ago.  Two boats have managed to enter the pass during the day and told horror stories about the conditions outside.  By the third day the sun was back slightly and the winds more moderate.  Everybody participated in a pot-luck diner ashore and John the custodian caught many fish for us.  For me it was nice to meet so many of the voices I’d been hearing on the radio for two days.

            The next few days were spend diving on anchors and diving a few little reefs near the pass.  The storm ate up most of the time I had given myself to stay.  Unfortunately, I was on a schedule: I was meeting my brother in American Samoa in five days and needed that much time for the passage.  Luckily, the weather looked good for a while, light winds slowly building.


I had moderate difficulty in getting my anchor up, but no trouble getting out of the pass.  It was sad to leave; such a great island and I just touched the surface of it.  But I was excited to see my brother and anxious to learn what the future would hold for us.


The first two days were indeed good sailing.  I was still a bit drained from the storm; I didn’t really feel at my best.  And wouldn’t you know it, that lovely weather window I was traveling in went and closed right on my face.  Another low came up from the south and smacked me head on.

            This wasn’t fair.  I just went through this at anchor and now I am on a reach—trying to make way south—and am getting regularly pooped by moderate seas!  Ugggh.  I wasn’t much in the mood for it.  I had trouble keeping a decent course.  It was blowing about 30 knots.  It wasn’t so bad, but the worst I’ve sailed through since Mexico,  but much longer and with worse seas.

            And this one kept at it to.  Two days, only abating while I was hove-to in front of Samoa—which was, I’ll admit, convenient.  But I felt like a be-draggled cat.  Everything was soaked.  I chafed through a running line for the windvane.  No major problems, it just was a bore and a drag.  I couldn’t sleep worth a damn.


Pago Pago, American Samoa is not a touristy, scenic spot—it is a reprovisioning hub.  It is an industrial port—but I couldn’t have been much happier to be in Caroline again.  I dropped my hook and was so relieved.  (I had a sensation that I was going to somehow blow it on the way in and embarrass myself in front of my brother.)

            As the hook dropped, I hear a whooping coming from shore.  And sure enough—there is my bro sitting under a tree.  I was so excited I couldn’t even wait to put my dinghy in the water.  I hailed my friend on the VHF: “Dganist, Dganist this is Araby.  Do you copy?”

            “Yes, this is George, go ahead.”

            “George, my brother’s on the beach.  Can you give me a right over to pick him up?”

            “Yes, sure.  Right away.”  And then he was gone.

            “George, George, do you copy?”  Nothing.  Then I see George rushing over in his dinghy hardly a minute and a half later.  He looked a little confused.  I pointed to the beach where my brother was with a smile.  Then he laughed.  He thought I said, “I am dragging  on the beach.  I though this was a laugh as there was next to no wind.  But the laugh would be on me.

            As we pull up to the beach—only as I get out of the dink not 20 feet from my brother—do I realize IT IS NOT MY BROTHER!  It is Brian.  Oh man was I taken.  I couldn’t believe it.  I laughed so hard, had to apologize to Brian at being so utterly disappointed to see him.  (After all, it had been a good two weeks.  He didn’t go to Suvarow.)  What a bummer.

            Brian wanted to get a bite to eat, as did I.  I still had to prep my boat so he came back with me to help out and chat.  We did the work.  I was so ready for a good meal ashore I can’t begin to relate it.  As we dinghied to the dock I see a figure standing on the fishing wharf.  I have no binoculars now, but the silhouette is right. . . and I recognized the shirt. . . is he looking at us?  I turn a little, a little more. . . Sure enough, there stands Will next to a cab.  Just pulled up minutes ago.  Bloody perfect timing.


How do you like that?  And he was starving to eat as well.




Drinks on bamboo, dark dink ride.  Wind.  Snubber chafe, Smubbing chain.  To the deck.  30 knots.  All lights.  Boats moving  VHF.  Sandpiper.  Kedge anchor and dink  .    BUCKING dink ride.  Another boat adrift.  All night long.  And into the day.  Busted bow rollers.   Many thanks.  Extra anchors.   Wrapped chains unrapped.  Payment.  Stories.  More lost and found:  dink and floor boards.