Thursday, September 22, 2011

Still in Suva

But today I went to the Ministry of Fijian Affairs and secured a permit to sail to the outer islands. The tentative plan is to head down in a couple of days to Beqa Island (the one with Frigates Reef) then Kadavu Island (of the Great Astrolabe Reef fame). After that...not sure. I hope to visit one or more of the islands in the Lau Group which are said to be the most remote and undeveloped (I sailed right through the Lau Group on the way to Suva but couldn't stop because there is no port of entry there). In the mantime Suva is a cool town. Quite un-touristy, multicultural, vibrant.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In Fiji

I made through the (before the days of GPS) treacherous waters surrounding Fiji  to get to Suva on the southeastern end of Viti Levu. Again it was a slow and pleasant passsage until the last 30 hours when it became a bit bumpy. More about Fiji soon.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Neiafu, Vava’u, Tonga, 13 September 2011.
Pics from Tonga.
Greetings from tomorrow. I neglected to mention that I crossed the International Date Line on my way from Samoa to Tonga. In this part of the world, the date line makes a sharp left (looking south from Samoa), so although Samoa and Tonga are in the same time zone, Tonga is one day ahead.
Yesterday afternoon I returned to Neiafu to complete the check-out formalities (which involve a stop at immigration, the port captain, and—most importantly--customs, who give you the piece of paper called “Clearance” which the authorities at the next port will demand). The last couple of days I’ve explored a couple of the numerous anchorages within the Vava’u Island group. Yesterday morning I sailed out of the lagoon within Hunga Island with La Cueca. They set a course for Fiji and I for another nearby anchorage (the name escapes me at the moment) where I snorkeled, scrubbed Twister’s bottom, and had lunch.  Two days before that, I had motor-sailed down to Ano Beach for the full moon party (there was a race from Neiafu to Ano Beach, but I have no interest in racing). I was a little disappointed at the (low) levels of drunkenness and debauchery. It was a bunch of sailors after all. I’ve seen numerous Humpback Whales here but have yet to swim with them. I plan to set sail for Fiji tomorrow (Wed the 14th here in Tonga) and if I run into some whales on the way out, I may join them for a swim.  The visibility in the water is generally good here in the Vava’u group of islands, but the underwater scenery is rather unexciting (unless you run into some whales).  It's around 440 miles to Suva. If I manage 110 miles per day I'll do it in four.

It’s about a month and a half until the official start of cyclone season in the South Pacific—still plenty of time to make it to Australia.  I’m starting to lean towards New Zealand. If I head to NZ from Fiji, I should be able to spend about a month in Fiji--time enough for sightseeing and hopefully some surfing. The trip to OZ (with a stop in New Calidonia) is a little further and thus may be a bit more hectic.
There is an interesting group of expats here who run all the tourism-related businesses (bars, restaurants, sailboat charters, whale-watching tours). Americans seem to comprise the largest group along with a few Kiwis, Aussies, Italians, and Spaniards.  It’s quite feasible for a Palangi to move here and set up a business just as long as some wheels get greased, according to one American business-owner.

This morning there was a swap meet. I sold a diesel jerry can and my Alvarez acoustic guitar (I sold it to a local for a symbolic sum). Every time I divest myself of possessions I feel lighter emotionally and even physically. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Neiafu, Vava’u, Tonga,7 September 2011.
Sometimes I can’t remember what I’ve written and what I’ve only thought about writing.
I’m moored just north of a 27 foot Albin Vega (there always seems to be a 27-footer around beating out Twister in the smallest boat category). It’s the second Albin Vega 27 I’ve seen on this trip. They must be good boats. Rebellion, the other Albin Vega I’ve noticed, sailed by Paul from the Netherlands, came through the Beagle Channel (just north of Cape Horn. One of three ways to get around the southern tip of South America—Straits of Magelan, Beagle Channel, and, of course, around Cape Horn) to get to the Pacific. Another Albin Vega 27, Berserk, was sailed from Norway to Ushuaia then to the Antarctic Peninsula. You can read about that in the book, Sailing To Antarctica With Berserk, or something like that (not well written IMHO, but a fascinating and inspiring story)
To my north are a couple of “old friends” from the Pacific crossing—Gary and Rory on La Cueca, and Wattie and Di on Cariad. Elsewhere in the anchorage are Rutea (from San Diego).  
Many of the cruising boats in the South Pacific have converged on Vava’u Island in Tonga for the Vava’u Regatta—a week of racing, partying, and other activities. I had originally planned to bypass Tonga, but the other big attraction—swimming with Humpback Whales—drew me here. I was in fact greeted by a few of them as I was entering the passage to Neiafu Harbor (also known as Port Refuge for its excellent shelter).
The sail down from Apia, Samoa was shaping up to be the most pleasant passage of the trip until the last 30 hours. Most of the way I was sailing on a beam reach with ca 12 knots of wind and only 4 feet of swell (The majority of my sailing on this trip has been downwind which is fine as long as there’s little swell.  With swell, Twister tends to yaw and roll with every swell that catches her stern and since I typically only have the jib up going downwind, there’s no mainsail to stabilize the motion of the boat). It was so pleasant I was almost getting bored when the wind started backing (changing direction in a counterclockwise direction) and increasing in strength until I had 30 knots of wind from the south (ie right on the nose). It didn’t take long for the swells to start building in size. So the last 30 hours (and about the last 30 miles) were spent beating into the wind and swell, going 2 knots or less.  Twister handled the conditions like a champ, though. That was probably a little taste of what what’s to come if I decide to sail to New Zealand. I’d love to get some input from y’all on that subject (NZ or OZ), so please leave a comment (in fact, comments on any subject are encouraged). From Tonga I plan to sail to Fiji and from there either to New Zealand or to Australia via New Calidonia. In Apia a lovely couple, Martin and Simone on the boat Whistling Oyster, gave me a complete set of paper charts for NZ, so that’s no longer a reason to skip NZ.
The check-in procedure in Neiafu (main city on Vava’u) was pretty painless. I tied up to the customs dock and checked in with immigration, customs, and quarantine. The fourth and final office, health, was unavailable, so I’ll do that today. More about Tonga when I’ve seen more of it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Apia, Island of Upolu, Samoa

Apia, Upolu, (formerly Western) Samoa, 31 August 2011.
Here are some pics from Samoa. And pics from American Samoa.
After having chafed through a few dock lines during my stay at the public dock in Pago Pago I now have a good collection of short pieces of rope for trading on my next pass though the Marquesas.  Twister is back in a marina for the first time since departing Marina Del Rey in April. The authorities require all yachts to take a slip in the marina here in Apia which is the only port of entry in Samoa.  Apia Marina is actually much nicer than either Bar Harbor in LA or Marina Village(San Diego) where Twister stayed the ca 1.5 years before departing on this trip. The cost is somewhere around $12 per day. That’s of course $12 more than I have been paying to anchor most other places, so I plan to move on toward Tonga (Vava'u) tomorrow. My stay in Pago Pago lasted one day over three weeks.  Interesting place, American Samoa.  Did I mention that people there are extremely friendly and helpful? Also as there in basically no tourism there, almost everyone I met were curious what I was doing on their island. I attempted to surf a couple of times with my friend Corie from Rutea.  Even though the waves were at most 6 feet and mostly less than that, I received a humbling assessment of my surfing level. Surfing in American Samoa is, “experts only”--every wave in AS seems to break on quite shallow reefs.
The passage from Pago Pago to Apia took 24 hours. I had a solid 20 knot winds most of the way (aside from a few hours in the lee of Tutuila) and numerous squalls, the tail end of a front that had been sitting on American Samoa for the last week. I had taken down the large genoa headsail to patch it, and the smaller jib was perfect for the conditions. Most of the way I used what has become my standard downwind setup—just the jib (sometimes poled out) with the mainsail furled. I had been concerned about boat traffic from the many fishing boats based in Pago Pago but didn’t see a single boat. Here's a video of the passage:

For comparison, here's a video of RV Moana Wave in the Drake Passage earlier this year

The difference between Apia and Pago Pago that immediately stands out is how clean and tidy it is here. In the South Pacific Lonely Planet guide (thanks again, Tim), they eloquently describe the American Samoans’ “carefree approach to litter disposal.” Ie there’s a bunch of trash along the side of the road and in the water. Unlike American Samoa, tourism looks to be a major industry here. With that comes, of course, the usual array of hustlers trying to extract money from the tourists. I can’t walk more than a few meters down the road without a taxi driver offering his services.  Somewhat less frequently I’m offered marijuana or methamphetamine.
 In 2009 the government decided to switch the side of the road they drive on from the right to the wrong—er, left , apparently to be able to import inexpensive used cars from New Zealand.  So there is a roughly 50/50 mix of left and right-hand steering on the vehicles.
Yesterday I walked a few miles up to the village of Vailima and Vailima Estate where Robert Louis Stevenson (RLS) spent his last 4 years. The mansion is now the RLS museum. RLS’s grave is another ¾ mile hike up a steep trail. While in Suwarrow I read a fictionalized account of RLS’s last years in Samoa. It’s called, “Home From The Sea,” the last four words in the poem RSL wrote for his own tombstone.
I’m still debating whether to head to New Zealand or Australia at the end of this leg. Sometimes I dream of instead taking “the logical route” as described by Bernard Moitessier—eastward around Cape Horn.  But there are a few reasons not to attempt that. For one, there is probably a reason they call it the “Roaring Forties” (the Southern Ocean south of latitude 40 S). It appears that I will be invited back to work on AMLR 2012, so it would be convenient in that respect to sail to Chile.