16 August 2014

Sailing around Upolu

Since I now have a bit of time to spare in Samoa before heading off to Vanuatu, I decided to sail out of Apia and down the coast a bit to a couple of the other anchorages on the chart.

Before doing so I visited the fish market and picked up these tasty little treats.  3 parrot fish and a couple of grouper.  The larger of the parrot fish I cooked up the same day, and put the other four in the freezer to eat during the trip.

The first anchorage I went to was Fagaloa Bay, which was nice and scenic.  On the way in I passed this village directly below a waterfall.
The head of the bay gets shallower very slowly as it goes towards the village there, so I was able to pick my anchoring depth.  I dropped anchor in about 11 metres of water just away from the reef along the side of the bay.

After a day or so snorkelling and some time walking on shore, I decided there wasn't much to do there and headed to the next bay, Falefa Bay.

Falefa Bay has an odd little island sticking out of the coral reef at the entrance to the bay, and a village along one side.  I did a bit more snorkelling around the reef near where I anchored, and then headed out in the dinghy along the shore.

Just outside of the bay I found a small resort where I stopped to order some lunch and tried to get a recharge on my SIM card (no luck there), but also found this rock pool nearby.
The pool appears to be fairly popular with locals and tourists alike, and I stayed there for a few hours chatting to some people I met, including these two young ladies.
The one on the left, Teuila, is just about to return to Nanjing in China where she is completing a degree in international trade and marketing.  I wished her well in her studies and recommended that she consider working in Singapore after she completes her degree since she speaks Mandarin as well as English and of course Samoan.  So Susan, you might end up with a young Samoan lady with a degree from China knocking on your door for a job interview one day!  The other lady (Meue? -- can't figure out the spelling from hearing her name once) was considering a degree in Psychology.  They both seemed fairly switched on to what was happening around them in the world, which was good to see in young Pacific Islanders.

Unfortunately on the way back to Chiara Stella I broke another shear pin in the outboard -- and since that's the third one so far this trip I have no more spares.  So I will have to head back to Apia on Monday in order to try to source a replacement.  I know of a few motor service centres there, hopefully someone will have a pin that I can use.  Without it I'm reduced to rowing if I want to use the dinghy which is a bit of a pain.

In the mean time, tomorrow will be spent cleaning and tidying, and perhaps cooking one more of the parrot fish for lunch.

06 August 2014

Turtle feeding frenzy

I posted the other day that I'd been bitten on the butt by a turtle.  Yes, it really happened.  No, I don't have a turtle-shaped hole in my backside.  No, it didn't hurt (not much).

How it happened was that we went to Swimming with Turtles in Sato'alepai Village, Savai'i, Samoa.  You basically hop into this large lagoon pool where there are a bunch of pretty chilled out turtles, doing their own thing and waiting for someone to swim by with a tasty piece of papaya.  Which they are happy to take from your hands, as shown in this video shot by our sailing friend Leanne from True Blue V.

Unfortunately I think that there is a simple flaw in the premise of getting turtles used to snacking on papaya.  Papaya isn't that dissimilar in colour and shape to a human butt.

You can guess the rest of the thought process going on in that tiny little turtle brain all by yourselves.

05 August 2014

Launching Coconuts

Launching coconuts into the blowhole on the south coast of Savai'i, Samoa.

Papaseea Sliding Rocks

This is just outside of Apia, Samoa.  A video of me sliding down the rocks at Papaseea.
Also one of Nhi taking the same slide.


Previously I lauded Rarotonga as a great holiday destination, and I still do, but Samoa has a lot to recommend it as well -- not just for sailors but for anyone looking for a warm weather get-away.

The weather here at this time of year (southern hemisphere winter) is notably warmer than Rarotonga, and the water temperature is warmer as well.  This has made swimming and snorkelling much more attractive.  I must be really no longer used to the cold because now I'm comparing a place where the water temperature is 24 degrees with somewhere else where the water temperature is 28 degrees (I have a water temperature sensor on the hull of the boat so I know pretty much exactly what the water temperature is).  Compared to Lyttelton's 15 degrees, both are a paradise!

Having spent a few days in Apia, we decided to do a bit of a tour of both of the islands of Samoa, the main one Upolu (where Apia is located) as well as the larger but less populated island of Savai'i.

Upolu scenery is very pretty.  It has mountains and rivers and as a result lots of pretty waterfalls.
Unfortunately I died horribly after accidentally falling in to this one.  The remainder of this post has been dictated from the afterlife.
Yes, I'm still a smart-arse.

We stayed a night at a beach fale in a village called Salepaga on the south side of the island.  Nhi took my electric bike and I rented a touring bike for myself (which was much harder work than the electric!) and we cycled along the south coast for a bit.

We discovered this beach at Vavau, with a bit of effort.  There is a sign at the top of the turn-off saying "beach bungalows" with a couple of ladies on a fale there telling us that the beach bungalows were no longer there and it would cost us 5 tala per person to visit the beach.  So we paid our 5 tala and followed the road and didn't see anything spectacular.  After walking around for a bit we discovered another track, and following it we found this.
Which was where I proposed.  More on that later :)

We continued along the road and a short bike ride later we found the turn off to the To Sua trench.  It's a marvellous spot, it's a large sinkhole connected to the ocean by an underground opening, with a ladder and platform put down to enable swimming.
We stayed for a few hours and enjoyed the water as well as the garden scenery, and then had the taxi driver take us and the bikes back to Apia.

Later in the week we struck out from Apia (by taxi again) to the Robert Louis Stevenson museum.  RLS spent the last 5 years of his life at Vailima, overlooking Apia, and built a rather impressive house here.
The inside has been restored, including some of the Stevensons' original furniture and belongings, as well as some replicas of period pieces where they couldn't obtain the originals.
Although I did spot that they had included a Staunton chess set (dating from well after Stevenson's death) rather than the St George style which would have been more appropriate for the time!  I must mention this to them if I get back there.

After a few more days relaxing in Apia, we struck out again for the other island, Savai'i.  We had a tour there promptly and professionally arranged by the folks at the tourist information office on the Apia waterfront, basically it involved a taxi to the ferry terminal, a hire car on Savai'i, and one night's accommodation in beach fales on the far side of Savai'i.

Savai'i also has lots of pretty scenery.
It also has blowholes!
It's also the site of a recently active volcano, with lava flows still evident.
Also an odd little tidal race formed between the main island and one of the offshore volcanic offshoots.
Just driving around the island and watching the island life was interesting.  Samoa has a strong family-oriented culture and we could see a lot of family based agriculture while we were travelling around, often with an entire village getting together to dig rocks (volcanic soil is good for growing things but also contains many rocks), plant, harvest, build fences and walls, and even collect bags of rubbish to keep the streets clean.

Overall a really interesting place to get away from things.  Highly recommended.


4 days of glorious (mostly!) downwind sailing got us from Suwarrow to Apia, the capital city of Samoa.  We had the option to detour via American Samoa (Pago Pago) but decided not to, and took the direct route to Samoa.

Most of the sailing was done wing on wing, with both headsails poled out, and for some of that I kept the mainsail up with 3 reefs, sheeted in to reduce the roll a little bit.  Overall there wasn't much swell or rolling, however so it was OK with or without the main.

Early on the second morning we got hit by a series of strong squalls, each only lasting a few minutes but the strongest gust in the last one reached 44 knots!  I had the small autopilot running at the time and it refused to hold a course in those gusts so I was reduced to hand steering.  After that the wind reduced nicely, however, and gave us a good run for that day and the next day.

Early in the morning on the 4th day we were up taking in the poles as the wind had swung around to the north, and by the mid morning we had the wind on the beam.  It was still fast sailing and we managed to make Apia before sunset with a little bit of motor assistance.

Apia is quite pretty.  To say there are lots of churches is an understatement -- there are dozens of them and some are quite massive, such as this Catholic church on the waterfront in town.
As we had arrived in Apia too late in the day to clear customs, we spent a night at anchorage before moving into the marina (which was nearly full but one space was made available).  There was an endless procession of visitors to Chiara Stella -- health, quarantine, customs, port authority, immigration and then finally a tender to lead us in to the marina.

We spent a bit of time watching the outrigger races on the harbour.
Stopping at the marina allowed us to take on water (which we were short of, as we weren't able to use the watermaker in the harbour), and top up the batteries with shore power, which I'm now making use of by running my main laptop.

There are a few bars nearby the marina which can get noisy at night, but we've been taking advantage of those to have a few drinks, watch the rugby (go Waratahs!) and generally chill out.  It's also useful to be able to ride the bike to the nearby supermarkets -- of course we have been unable to restock provisions since Rarotonga.

Retrospective - Suwarrow

I now have enough internet and a bit of free time to go over some of the parts of the trip that I was only able to talk about briefly earlier.  Blogger allows me to post via email but I can only send text emails while at sea, no pictures.

Our first planned stop after leaving Rarotonga was Palmerston atoll.  This is a sparsely inhabited atoll about 260 miles north west of Rarotonga, housing about 25 people (the population fluctuates a bit from year to year as some leave and some return), all of whom are from the same family -- the descendants of an Englishman who settled there in the 19th Century with his 3 Polynesian wives.

Unfortunately about 40 miles south east of Palmerston we were hit by strong north westerly winds, quite unusual for that time of year and not what was on the forecast at all.  So we hove to overnight and waited to see what the wind would do the next day.  In the morning I discovered that the wind had moved to the south west but was still quite strong, too strong to enable us to sail to Palmerston and also too strong (and from the wrong direction) to allow us to anchor at Palmerston.  This is because the only anchorage at Palmerston is outside of the reef, and it's a lee shore in anything coming from the west.

So we decided instead to make sail for Suwarrow.  Because the wind was strong and over one quarter we had a run of something like 168 miles over the next 24 hours, and in fairly quick time we had arrived at Suwarrow.

Suwarrow is an atoll in the northern Cook Islands that is usually uninhabited, however the park ranger Harry and his wife Vaine are stationed there from June until the end of October.

The anchorage is inside the lagoon, tucked away behind one of the main islands known as "anchorage island".  It's quite pretty.

The island has the trappings of home for the two people who live there for part of the year, including a sign to remind everyone how far they have come to get here:
The past history of the island includes that it was inhabited by a New Zealand seafarer, hermit, and survival expert Tom Neale, of whom a memorial is found on the island.
The island is also inhabited by hundreds of crabs -- mostly hermit crabs but the occasional coconut crab too.  We saw hermit crabs getting up to all sorts of antics -- climbing trees, digging holes, and getting into the occasional bar fight.
The atoll's name comes from the Russian "CYBOPOB" ("Suvorov", pronounced SUvaROV -- unstressed "o" vowels in Russian are pronounced as an "a"), who was a Russian general in Napoleon's time.  A Russian ship bearing Suvorov's name passed by the atoll during the 19th Century and gave its name to the atoll, the name has changed over time to "Suwarrow" and it's now known officially as that according to the Cook Islands.  There are some plaques commemorating the sighting of the island by the Russian ship on the island, however I'm not sure when the plaques were placed there (they appear to date from some time during the Soviet era).
All up we stayed at Suwarrow for 6 days -- snorkelling on the reef, strolling on the island, and watching some manta rays being cleaned -- video of that to come!

All good things come to an end though, and after a last visit to Harry and Vahine, who taught me how to husk a coconut and gave us the recipe for coconut pancakes, we packed up our dinghy and left for Samoa.