Samoa, formerly Western Samoa and not to be confused with American Samoa, is due west of Suwarrow, a downwind sail. The passage became a mixture of twin headsails poled out with the mainsail reefed and sheeted in, or goosewinging with the main and preventer on the leeward side, and poled out genoa on the windward side. Trying to prevent sails from slatting in light downwind airs is never easy especially combined with swells of around 2m.
We arrived shortly after dawn in Apia, but on this occasion our timing was perfect, and we did not have to struggle to slow Pipistrelle down to make landfall in daylight. There is no anchoring in Apia Bay, as the space is now reserved for maneuvering shipping, and a modern marina has been built with finger pontoons, water and electricity. We were hailed by Quicksilver and Dreamaway who we had met previously on our travels. Checking in was completed on board, a relatively painless process with all five different officials (Health, Quarantine, Customs, Port Authority, Immigration) giving us a warm and friendly welcome to their country.
By mid-morning the air temperature had reached a humid 30 deg with no breeze but as soon as we found that electricity was included in the price of the berth, the aircon was commissioned for the first time since Curacao more than 16 months ago! Life on board became more bearable!
We soon had an inquisitive visitor looking for food, just what the bird was we don’t know, but the red and black feathers certainly made it stand out from the crowd!
Once all the boring arrival jobs had been completed, laundry, provisioning, internet access and a quick recce of Apia, we treated ourselves to a night out at Aggie Grey’s, the most famous hotel on the island, and home to resting GI’s during the last war. Elaine had been producing excellent meals from the galley for a long stint, and so it was time to put up the ‘closed’ sign and have a buffet supper at Aggie’s! Each Wednesday evening the hotel puts on a Samoan music and dance spectacular. While enjoying cocktails we watched a superb display put on by about 30 of the regular staff, followed by fire dancing by the pool. What their insurance company would say if they knew that firesticks were being thrown to a team member on the hotel roof, who sometimes dropped them, we shudder to think!
We then hired a car, or “rent a wreck”, for a couple of days to tour the island – but it got us from A to B and had the absolutely necessary aircon. First on the agenda was a visit to Robert Louis Stevenson’s house where he spent the last 4 years of his life, to try to overcome the effects of TB from which he was suffering. His mansion Vailima was built in 1890 and was turned into a museum in 1994, the centenary of his death. The furniture of the day has been reproduced from the many photographs that line the walls. RLS was loved by the Samoans, and called Tusitala, (teller of tales). In fact he wrote 13 novels whilst there. Regrettably he died of a brain haemorrhage, and his American wife Fanny plus his step-children decided to return to the States after his death. There were no children, so there are no Stevensons in Samoa.
He is buried on the summit of Mount Vaea Scenic Reserve behind his house, a 45 minute climb away which offers outstanding views out to Apia harbour and is both challenging and rewarding. Stevenson wrote his famous epitaph, still clearly visible on his tomb. It evokes his love of mountains and the sea:
‘Here he lies where he longed to be; home is the sailor, home from the sea, and the hunter home from the hill.’
Our journey then took us across the centre of the island, to the south of Samoa, where we stopped for lunch at a resort which was still partly under construction. The Samoa Hideaway Beach Resort (www.samoahideawaybeach.ws) and others of its kind provide both bungalows and the traditional falas for their guests. A fala is a thatched room on stilts, open on all sides, but with blinds that can be dropped down at night, or in the case of rain. Woven mats act as mattresses.
There are many villages along the south coast, some surprisingly smart, The Samoan way of life revolves around the extended family. Each family sleeps in its own house, which is open-sided and there is also generally a meeting house. This has pillars but no walls, and acts as a gathering place for the family, play/rest area for children. Other family members (brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and grandparents) live in adjoining houses on the property. It is customary throughout Samoa for graves to be built in front of the main house.
In the extreme south east along the coast road we came across the villages that had been devastated by the tsunami 2 years ago. Even the concrete roof support columns had been knocked flat like matchsticks. 170 people died on Samoa in this disaster.
The next day we took the same route to start with, but then headed west along the coast road, before turning to go inland along the centre of the island. It is in these areas that villagers sell produce from their plantations such as pineapples, breadfruit, papaya, bananas, coconuts. We stopped at the roadside to buy a pineapple, and were also looking for somewhere to stop for lunch in the shade. There are very few picnic spots or places to pull off the road. The family immediately invited us to join them in their fala, and one of the sons was dispatched to bring a bowl of water and a towel to enable us to wash our hands, and then shared their food with us, including the most delicious hot cocoa drink made with beans grown on their land. It turned out that our host was one of the village chiefs or ‘matai’, a fascinating and well-travelled character. Like many Samoans, he has relatives in New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii.
Our route took us past a grass plain dotted with tall banyan trees, their aerial roots clearly visible from the road.
We had two other delicious meals out, locally at Paddles, and then with Mike & Hilde from Quicksilver, at Swashbucklers, which shares the premises with the Apia Yacht Club. The food was superb, and the view across the harbour at night just brilliant. Bob also enjoyed watching the Samoa v Wales rugby World Cup match, even though the satellite link went down 10 minutes before the end, when Wales were losing 9-10, to then win 17-9. What happened remains a mystery!
Before we left Apia we returned to the town and visited the bustling fruit and vegetable market, a colourful display created by local vendors. The market also sells wood carvings, woven products such as fans, and has a “restaurant area”. The town is colourful, colonial and ramshackle with buses very similar to those found in Panama.
Our next stop was at Savaii, the ‘other’ Samoan island, where the planned anchorage turned out to be untenable. Having taken a quick look at it, we decided there was just enough time to sail a further 17 nm to Asau Harbour, before nightfall. The entrance was one of the most difficult we have attempted, and we finished up being talked in on the VHF, by Mike and Dawn on White Princess with different waypoints from those we had sourced. This was a blessing, as not only did we get in safely, but Mike turned out to be an expert on Spectra Watermakers, and Fischer Panda generators. He resolved two issues for us, which we hope has removed the need to sail Auckland, where we were having problems in obtaining a berth.
Savaii is volcanic, the village by the harbour very basic, but the locals extremely friendly. For an island with such a dry climate we were amazed to find fresh water pools where not only the children swam, but the women washed and dried their laundry. Caught up in Rugby World Cup fever again, we went ashore to the small hotel to watch the Samoa v Fiji match, to find that the picture was very poor. It was being transmitted from Fiji, who lost, strange coincidence!!