South Pacific Voyage 2012-2013

American Samoa

By Captain Daniel Moreland and Kate “Bob” Addison

We sailed into American Samoa from Palmerston Atoll in the Cook Islands, about 490 miles to the SE. A light winds passage but sweet enough and under sail every inch until right up to the bay’s entrance.

We put into Pago Pago, Tutuila, pronounced “pungopungo”. Pago lies in a fine deep harbour which, along with Papeete, Tahiti and Suva, Fiji, is the finest in this part of the world. A lovely fine deep harbour too, surrounded by steep high lush green mountains covered in mists.

Clearing in was as courteous as anywhere we have ever been and plenty friendly. The harbourmaster is a nice and very helpful gentleman. The harbour is full of fish boats from all over, with a big tuna canning factory and shipyard. Yes, there are a McDonalds or two but we can live with that. Very friendly folks here.

Wednesday the 17th was Flag Day, or “Dependence Day” I guess, the day these islands came under the US flag a century or so ago. Big festivities all around and huge long boat races, 50′ long boats. Piles of red-white-blue coconuts all over as well as bunting and flags.

Back in the day the US was primarily interested in Samoa as a coaling station and something of a Navy base at the time. No sign of any Navy now. We forget that for a long time steam-ships need coal, and heaps of it. And they couldn’t carry enough on long routes, well, not and also carry cargo. So “coaling stations” were set up all around the world. There still are some odd piles of coal where you might least expect them in tropical ports here and there. This single fact kept sailing ships in business a long time after steam-ships made there way onto the maritime scene. The US Virgin Islands were also acquired in part with this point in mind.

From what we can see, the Samoans here seem quite pleased to be under the American flag. One guy told me that at one point the Yanks were encouraging some kind of ‘independence’ movement but the locals would have none of it. No doubt there is a more nuanced story.

We were happy to be here too, and just as happy to be in a good harbour in these northerly winds we were having with long strong squalls. We docked first at the main container wharf for clearing in, and shifted to a new smaller and verrrry snug berth just moments before a long big violent squall screamed over the mountains. Lucky on the timing. We got the ship all secured before it hit. Would have been maybe impossible to shift the ship in that wind, we would have just stayed where we were and listened to big forklifts all day. Looked like a weather system and not just some squalls.

All’s well, shopping is good here. Few big shops, but plenty of small shops. We are now sorting out fueling at half the price here from Rarotonga, and most other prices lower too, in similar proportions. I would say that Samoans are not shy of a good feed, you should see what is called a light lunch around here. Just for lunch at any old feedery, a plate piled high with taro, rice, odd thick banana stuff, corned beef, spam, half a chicken, and goop on it, bloody high too. Feed a family of six in Haiti for a week and a family of four. And pigs feet, you can actually get pigs feet at any cafeteria, and they look like pigs feet too. Crew report the biggest hamburgers they have ever seen. Cool kind of place. The crew made friends, danced at “Sadie Thompson’s Inn”.

Buses. The buses are pretty neat. Almost all the buses are pick-up trucks of various sizes built to look like what would be an old North American school bus with the rounded edges and corners. And some of these are pretty small taking only eight passengers, but still looking like a school bus or a bus from the 1950s. Costs a dollar to go anywhere.

On Saturday we steamed over to the finest fuel dock I have ever seen, pumped aboard 1,800 US gallons, steamed out of PagoPago Harbour and set sail for Tonga in fine breezes.