Saturday, August 6, 2011

American Samoa

Rutea in Pago Pago

Ruthie has always been very adept at delivering less-than-ideal news. Most of the time, she'll find some positive thing to say first before she drops the hammer. It was slightly different at 0500 this morning in that there never was a negative situation, only something that I forgot to take care of before I went to my bunk. Ruthie had specifically given me instructions to select a route into Pago Pago, which I had done. Except that I didn't look far enough east and, sure enough, we found an area that I had ignored and we had to divert about 3 miles out of our way in order to clear a spot with only 30' of water.

But Ruthie was judicious when she told me, "It looks like we can sail again and shut down the engine." (Always a good thing.) Then she says, "I found the shallow spot on the chart I wanted to avoid. I want to route us around it - should I change the route on the chart plotter or just divert with the autopilot?" Since I had been awake for a while, I got out of my bunk, got dressed, donned my harness and made my way into the cockpit. A light breeze was filling in from the north and it would be the first beam reaching we had seen in a long time. The main was already fully hoisted so I unfurled the genoa and almost instantly we were doing 6+ knots per hour with the engine idling in neutral. The seas were flat calm and it was sailing at it's finest. The lights of Tutuila Island - the largest island in the American Samoa chain and where Pago Pago Harbor is - could been easily seen. While Ruthie sipped her cup of tea and I gulped down my cup of hot cocoa (I haven't had a cup of coffee since early March), we were treated to a beautiful sunrise. As we sailed parallel to the south side of the island, a pod of dolphins swam along side. I hailed the port captain on the VHF radio and requested permission to enter the harbor which he granted along with a warm welcome.

Exploring Fagatogo

The island itself is densely covered with palm trees, banana trees, breadfruit trees, etc but is not as steep or dramatic as the Marquesas. The entrance into Pago Pago Harbor is about in the middle of the 18-mile long island, on the south side of the island's east/west orientation. The harbor entrance is very wide (easily enough room for little Rutea and the enormous Iver Exporter, a huge tanker that was entering at the same time) and clearly marked. The harbor takes a sharp dog-leg to the west at the northern end and that's where the tuna fishing fleet is moored and the canneries are located. We could see the streets were busy with car, truck and school bus traffic. We tried to hail the port captain again but he was busy with the tanker that was pulling in so we proceeded to the area where the yachts were at anchor. Pago Pago doesn't have a very good reputation for good holding ground and after five attempts to set our anchor (one time the anchor came up with an old tire fouling it) we finally got it to grab, albeit closer to some other boats than we would like. By this time the wind was blowing between 20 and 25 so it made all the chores a little more of a challenge.
Being slightly anxious about our anchor holding, I decided to go into town to check us in by myself. Plus, since we still have no outboard for the dinghy, rowing in the windy conditions would be difficult and the additional weight of another person would just make it that much harder. About 600' feet upwind from Rutea was a little grass-covered picnic area and I tied the dink up to a tree there and walked into see the port captain.

The check-in cha-cha had me visit five different offices but it gave me a chance to see a little of the town. Small and busy, some parts new and some in disrepair, I was able to walk the entire length of the town in half an hour. The center of town is the commercial dock where the containers are off-loaded, sorted and shuffled, and where the work is done to the great piles of fishing nets. Teams of men, working and sweating in the sun, are weaving the bobbins of cord through the house-sized mounds of nets. The fork lifts that lift the containers buzz around like so many bees, their diesel engines screaming. People I pass on the street are friendly and it seems that everyone acknowledges one another with a nod or a greeting. I bought some fresh fruit at an outdoor market (our boat being without any fresh produce for several days) and dripping with perspiration, made my way back to the dinghy.

Our friend Lars on Twister had arrived just moments after we did (even though he had left Suwarrow two days ahead of us) and came by to visit in the late afternoon with a cooler full of very well iced Vailima beer. A Samoan-made lager, the Export brew could almost pass as an ale and we enjoyed Lars' generosity and the refreshing drink very well. Since the wind had died to almost calm, we rowed back into the picnic area and found a nice restaurant for dinner, our first meal out in nearly a month. The stark contrast between the primitive Suwarrow with it's two small buildings and no streets to the harbor of Pago Pago with it's bright street lights and a row of large diesel engines near where we're anchored that provide electricity to the island was not lost on us as we rowed back to Rutea. Still, there's much to be discovered here.
At 8/6/2011 2:43 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 14°16.32'S 170°41.77'W
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