Twenty to twenty-five knot tradewinds gave us a fast reach to arrive off Apia, Samoa at midnight. There was a heavy sea running and the reefs on either side of the entrance were roaring with breakers so in spite of the easy to spot leading lights, we decided to heave-to and wait for day light before we tacked in to the harbor. I am glad we waited as our early morning entrance showed we might have had a mix up with two ships moorings that are almost in the fairway, just inside the reefs.
It is hard to avoid looking for change when you re-visit a favorite port after 23 years. But surprisingly, other than a very large government building on the foreshore, and a brand new small marina in the corner of the port, little looked different as we beat in to anchor almost exactly where we had many years before. Only one work boat and two handsome 100-foot long canoes shared our anchorage. It sure did feel good to be in a well-protected port after more than two months of being at sea or in open rolly roadsteads. Our anchor slid smoothly and quietly into firm mud, the boat felt as steady as if she were aground. Ashore we spotted the familiar façade of Aggie Greys Hotel where we’d spent lovely evenings at the poolside café, and there was the old Clock Tower and soon we heard the Police Marching band playing out of tune as they always had while they marched from their station to the flagpole in the center of town. But then came reality. Two officials arrived alongside in a large inflatable to tell us, “Yachts must go into the marina. You can’t anchor here!” We said we preferred anchoring, it was cooler swinging to the breeze, more private, we could hear the music from town etc. etc. We offered to pay marina fees even though we lay at anchor. But the harbor master insisted we follow him immediately into the marina, giving two reasons that did make sense, first – with three or four boats at anchor as had been the case during our previous stay, the harbor still had room for the commercial shipping to maneuver. But with the current number of yachts arriving – sometimes as many as 40 in port at one time, there just wasn’t enough room. Secondly, they had to pay for the cost of building the marina and not everyone was willing to pay to anchor as we were – so grudgingly we lifted our anchor and set sail once again – this time for a very short voyage.
We definitely couldn’t complain about the berth we were shown into, an end tie far enough from shore that we did get the full effect of the tradewinds once they filled in each morning, nor was the price a problem at about $8 US a day. Clearance was pleasant though labor intensive as 6 different officials had to fill out about three forms each. Then we stepped off the boat and within a few minutes decided being in the marina had some advantages. A wash-off under the cool waters of a hose, a desalting of the whole boat, a walk across the street to a friendly café with wi-fi so I could begin to answer some of the 120 emails that had piled up during our time away from connectivity. Then there was the chance to meet and hang out with other sailors for a change. This was the first time in many years that we had been around a large group of fellow voyagers. (The last time had been in the Marquesas Islands during our voyage from Argentina to Western Canada in 2003.) Now in Apia there were about 20 crews who had made passages along the tradewind routes from Europe, the USA. Three were from New Zealand and Australia and looking forward to the last leg of voyages that had taken them four or five or more years to complete. New voyagers, long-term voyagers, we enjoyed the stories almost every one of them had to share. Then there was the convenience of having provisions brought right to the marina by the most affordable taxis we have used in a long time and the friendly marina guards who insisted on helping carry everything right down to my boat for me. After a few days Larry and I had to grudgingly admit we were glad we’d been channeled into the marina.
The second afternoon of our stay the management of the marina put on a party for all of the visiting sailors. It was the first anniversary of the completion of their marina. The speeches by some pretty important powers – the mayor of Apia, a cabinet minister, the port Captain, were short but impressed me with how much importance they placed on having foreign yachts visit. But just as impressive was the generous buffet they set out along with beer and soft drinks.
Aggie Greys was even more elegant than we remembered, the food excellent. But now there were several other good café’s in town, three within a few minutes walk of the marina and we definitely took advantage of them. By good fortunate there was a large local festival going on during our stay. I couldn’t resist the fire dancing competition and that lead to a truly Samoan scene. The competition was scheduled to happen at a specially built stage in a lovely park next to the waterfront. Unfortunately the weather was terrible, high winds, heavy rainsqualls. When we and two other cruising couples shared a taxi and arrived at the stage it was obvious other arrangements had been made as there was no one there and the lights were out. No signs had been put up telling of the new location; no radio announcements had been made. Our taxi driver did not know where the competition had been moved. He asked a few by-standers. No luck. “There are only two places big enough to do it indoors. Let’s go check each one,” he said. We had no choice so on he drove. After ten minutes of driving we found the competition just a few minutes before the first performers were set to begin. It had been moved to a large multi-use auditorium at the far edge of town. I asked the driver for his fee. He refused to take any more than what it would have cost for the ride to the original site – “It’s not your fault the festival was moved,” he insisted. Then we walked inside the very large main room to find it milling with about two thousand Samoans of all ages, plus maybe fifty or so overseas visitors. As we stood looking around young Samoan children came rushing over carrying chairs, grabbed our hands and lead us to good vantage points and placed the chairs for us. We soon realized we were not being treated differently, this was the normal practice, children making sure not only foreign visitors, but all older folks were given chairs and made comfortable. And yes the fire dancing was grand fun to watch, the drumming wild and intoxicating, the winners gracious, the costumes lovely. And best of all, it definitely was for the people of these islands with each village yelling their support for their dancers, children jumping up to imitate the best moves, and generous encouragement for the dancers who had come from Hawaii, Vanuatu, New Zealand and Tahiti to participate.
We decided to have a package of mail sent to us while we enjoyed lots of socializing, topped up our provisions from the local shops and took a flying trip to Pago Pago in American Samoa for three days to assist a sailor who some mast problems. We have found it pays to have our mail forwarded to us only after we have arrived in a port where there is sufficient to keep us occupied for a week or two and where we are sure the address we will be using is a secure one, rather than have our mail sent on ahead then find we have chosen an address that doesn’t work or worse yet, find we don’t really want to go to the place where our mail may be waiting for us. As we didn’t know much about the local mail situation and didn’t want to be stuck waiting for mail that never arrived. I decided to ask the manager at one of the bigger banks how he received important mail. This turned out to be a good move as I learned (and later had confirmed by several people) the post office was having problems with foreign mail. It turned out that they preferred FedEx at that time. I then contacted the FedEx office and asked for their exact address. I then emailed my mail handlers. Five days later a 15-pound package of mail arrived at the FedEx office a total cost to me of $67.00.
Time did slip by quickly and comfortably. We did a varnish touch up putting three coats on any scratches, and a final coat on the hatches to blend it all in, we checked our sails over for chaff, but mostly we socialized and then one day we both realized we’d spent three weeks tied alongside and were almost tired of eating out. We also realized the marina had one slight disadvantage. Because it had been so easy and pleasurable to socialize with other sailors, we hadn’t taken the time to get to know any Samoan people other than the helpful staff of the marina. Now we filled the ice chest with 120 pounds of ice, lots of frozen beef, lamb and chicken, bought a dozen bottles of duty free rum and cognac plus about 50 pounds of fresh produce from the big open farmers market and slipped quietly out of a place that, once you got away from the marina felt little different from the Apia we’d left so many years before.
Lin and Larry