Captain's Log

Archive for the 'South Pacific Voyage 2012-2013' Category

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New Beginnings

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Wednesday June 5, 2013

It’s Wednesday night here in Rarotonga and there are just a few stars peeking out from the black black sky. The day was a big muggy, but now it’s cooler and quite lovely, though still warm enough to be in shorts and t-shirt on deck. I’m perched on the quarterdeck enjoying the gentle sway of the ship and the subtle smells of a tropical night; a hint of diesel and fried chicken mix with the smells of the soil and the sea. The dramatic mountains that make up the familiar backdrop to our berth here have vanished into the darkness, making the lit-up ship seem bigger and more important than she does in the day. With the number of people walking or driving past to have a good look it’s easy to believe that we are in fact the star of the show.

We have a whole new crew aboard for this new voyage which started on Monday and it’s great to have them here; a ship full of happy excited people is a very agreeable thing. There is a whole gang of them chatting and laughing on the main cargo hatch on the main deck right now. I’m not sure who’s on watch and who’s just hanging out but who cares really. They are all getting to know their new shipmates, soaking in the fact that they have finally arrived in Rarotonga and their South Seas voyage has actually begun.

This voyage is known as ‘Aloha Polynesia!’ But it could perhaps better be described as ‘Kia Orana Cook Islands!’ By popular demand we are pressing our fine barque into cargo and passenger service in our Pacific home of the Cook Islands, delivering food and other much needed supplies to some of the outer islands in the country. It will be the first chance in a long while for some of the islanders to get home, and we are delighted to welcome them aboard as our passengers and guests.

This voyage, like so much else on ships, can be described as ‘same same but different’… it’s still training in the ways of ships and the sea, exploring remote and fascinating places under sail, and trying to do a little bit to help the communities who are so extraordinarily generous and welcoming to our crew time and time again. But with the cargo and passenger operations the focus is different on this voyage, and the timeframe is much shorter than our usual year-or-so voyage. It’s going to be a whole lot of hot, sweaty hard work, and it’s going to be great.

There’s a lot to do before we sail a week from today, but unusually for the start of a voyage the ship needs relatively little work since the crew from the South Pacific Voyage which just wrapped up worked so hard to make her nice before they signed off, and that was only a week or so ago. But with a whole new crew there’s a whole load of training that needs to be done. A few hundred feet from our berth is the mouth of the harbour, and the other side of that is the open Pacific Ocean. So our crew need to be pretty sharp the moment we sail off the dock.

We have a good gang, lots more experience than a usual group of new trainees, mainly because of the apprentices we have along for this voyage who are all either graduates of the State Training Ship Danmark (Nikolaj, Anne Sofie and Rasmus) or students of Maine Maritime Academy (Jeff and Nick), and also because we have a fair few returning crew – Shaun, Shanna and Mark all sailed with us last summer on the East coast of the USA and have come back for a Pacific adventure.

We’ve been busy the last few days doing ship’s work like overhauling and sending up the spanker gaff and boom and all the associated standing rigging. But training has really been the focus of the week: we’ve been doing aloft training, with all hands climbing ‘up and over’ the fore top with help and encouragement from the pro crew, sail handling drills of bracing, setting and striking sail, loosing and stowing square sails and headsails, walkthroughs on deck to learn the hundreds of lines of the running rigging, studying handbooks to learn the seemingly endless nautical terminology, the policies and procedures that keep us all safe and the ship running smoothly. We’re had safety orientations and we also have lots more safety drills to do.

Today was an introduction to launching and recovering the ship’s boats and I promise hoisting the boats will get easier once everyone learns to pull together! There have been walkthroughs of the ship’s domestic routines, the proper way to clean the accommodation and scrub the decks, learning about scullery duty, keeping the galley and scullery clean and stocked with snacks and coffee, and helping out new cook Shawn in the galley. Shawn has a tough act to follow in the shape of the legendary Mr Donald Church, but he is doing a brilliant job – we had pan seared wahoo steaks with pawpaw salad, baked Mediterranean vegetables, rice and green salad for supper tonight, yum!

And so we are in good shape, but we still have much more to do before we sail – and then next week we start to load the cargo!

Capt Michael Moreland explains how to launch the ship s boats
Dirk and Finn rigging the spanker gaff
Jeff varnishing the spanker boom
Nikolaij and Liz overhaul spanker standing rigging~0

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Daysails and Awards

Editor’s note: Apologies for not keeping you fully up to date in the Captain’s Log. We’ve wrapped up the South Pacific Voyage and are just beginning the Aloha Polynesia Voyage which will see Picton Castle sailing entirely within the Cook Islands, offering our award-winning sail training program while we deliver cargo and passengers between the islands. It’s been a busy time with crew and trainees departing and arriving, and lots going on in Rarotonga. The Aloha Polynesia Voyage is off to a good start, and ship’s purser Kate “Bob” Addison will keep you up to date on all the happenings of this exciting voyage. But first, a log to wrap up the South Pacific Voyage…

19th May 2013

By Kate “Bob” Addison

It’s another glorious day in Rarotonga with a light ESE breeze carrying Picton Castle quietly back towards her berth in Avatiu Harbour. The island ahead of us is glowing in the afternoon sunshine, the folded peaks of the mountain ranges a rich, complex green and the fringe of beach coral-white.

We are heading home to the harbour after a very agreeable daysail, a situation most unusual for our barque. Normally when we cast off our dock lines and climb aloft to loose the sails, hoist the skiff and set sail it’s because we are setting out to sea for a week or maybe a month, making on of the long ocean passages for which Picton Castle is renowned. But this time we’re not actually going anywhere, just out for a sail. It’s a very relaxing experience for our guests aboard – cool drinks, fresh fruit platters, and the only lines they were obliged to haul on were the boat falls – with just 13 crew aboard (and one of them 9 months old), we simply couldn’t hoist the skiff without the help of our passengers. But they laid in with a will, and I think they enjoyed helping out a little.

Day sailing does let you see things in a different light. It shows off the skills of our crew who have nearly all now been sailing this ship for a solid eight months, and that really shows. At the start of a training voyage you just couldn’t leave the dock and set sails and then turn around and come back again with such a small crew. It relies on every single person knowing their job and doing it quickly, competently and with no fuss. And it’s so great to watch how much our gang have progressed since we left chilly Lunenburg last October. Captain has described this sail as the final exam of the voyage, and all aboard have passed with flying colours.

On Friday night this South Pacific Voyage officially ended and we hosted an awards ceremony and dinner aboard to mark the occasion. We were delighted to welcome Dkembe and Niko’s families aboard to join us, all the way from Bermuda and Colorado respectively. Donald cooked up a feast which was served in the salon with dinner music and fancy ice cream for dessert. After dinner the Sea Service certificates were awarded to all hands together with South Pacific fishooks, the Polynesian symbol of the navigator and proudly worn by Picton Castle crew, it’s a symbol that once you have become crew you never really stop being crew. There were kind words from the Captain for each of his crew, and a few tears and lots of laughter as he adroitly captured the personality of each person.

The next part of the event was held on the main deck in the relative cool of a tropical evening. There were all sorts of silly awards presented, each one suggested by the crew for one of their shipmates, and accompanied by music and photos. Lots of fun, and also good to step back and look at the voyage, celebrate our accomplishments and appreciate the slightly oddball salty family that we have become. The awards all given and the tearful acceptance speeches all made there was nothing left to do but for the Captain to call for the Mate, and with a “Mr Mate, that will do the watches!” the voyage was done.

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Bound For The Final Port Of The Voyage

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Thursday May 9, 2013

20-25’S 159-08’W

Picton Castle is sailing along, steering full-and-by the wind, which is an east by south Force 4. We’re 60 miles NE of Rarotonga, our home port and also the final port of this seven month South Pacific Voyage. The plan is to arrive soon after lunch tomorrow, but the voyage continues for one more week alongside – we have a packed schedule planned for that week including public day sails on Saturday May 18th and Sunday May 19th, sending up the new t’gallant yard and bending on the t’gallant sail, tons of small boat sailing – we’re hoping to do some longer expeditions to the motu off Muri beach – and of course, the crew awards night and leaving party.

But right now it’s peaceful and calm. Blue skies, blue seas and sunshine. We sailed close by the uninhabited atoll of Manuae yesterday evening, a long, low strip of white sand topped with leafy green palm trees. Captain called an all hands muster on the quarterdeck after a great supper of lemony buttery mahi-mahi (thanks to Hayley and DB for the fish), potatoes, broccoli, salad and cheesy bread. The muster was simply to remind people to take a minute to look around them to appreciate what a special and privileged thing it is to be sailing on a barque in sight of a stunning, uninhabited island, deep in the South Pacific Ocean.

Hayley with the mahi mahi
Hayley, Drea and Tonya chilling out with crafts on the aloha deck
Konnor, Chris and Nadja help Sam and DB with the tgallant yard

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Just Another Tuesday

By Kate “Bob” Addison

We have a well-used expression on the ship that something is very “Tuesday”. Tuesday being the vanilla of weekdays. Not traumatic like a Monday or fabulous like a Friday, just run-of-the-mill, routine and rather dull.

Well, today is a Tuesday and on board Picton Castle our daily ship routine rolls along, routine but hardly dull. The routine on the ship is anything but normal for anyone outside of our salty little bubble: Maia and Brody are running up aloft to loose the main t’gallant sail; Victor and Nadja are patch-serving the fore royal footrope stretched out on the well deck and then anointing it with plenty of oozing tar; Kendall has the helm steering close to the wind. Even doing dishes isn’t dull on board, what with the movement of the ship to keep things lively, two shipmates from the other watches to chat with, and your choice of music playing from Niko’s big amplifier, the Aggressor. Dkembe, Graham and Jo are on galley duty today, washing dishes after pasta in a rich tomato sauce and watermelon for lunch.

We had a muster yesterday afternoon before supper, all hands mustered on the quarter deck to hear the Captain setting out our plan for the end of the voyage. He explained that the passage that we have just made in four days from Tonga to the Cook Islands would usually have taken ten days or two weeks as it is going east against the prevailing south easterly trade winds. But we got fantastically lucky with a low pressure system over Fiji that brought us strong fair winds for the whole passage. And so now we find ourselves in middle the Cook Islands, with nowhere that we have to be till next week.

We could have stopped at another island in the Cooks Southern Group, but first we would have had to clear in at Aitutaki from the difficult anchorage there and then sail or motor upwind to get anywhere else. Proportionally we’ve had quite a lot of island time already this voyage, so instead of adding an island to our collection, Captain decided that we should go sailing instead. And sailing is what we’re doing. After the muster we wore ship to get back on course, which is a fun sail-handling exercise, and easy enough with all hands. The only excitement was when the spanker clew outhaul parted as we were re-setting it. By then it was too dark to reeve a new one so we had no spanker set until this morning when Sam’s 8-12 watch fixed it.

Now our position is 20°22’S 159°26’W and the Force 5 easterly wind is blowing across our starboard bow. We’re braced up sharp on a starboard tack heading NNE at 4 knots or so. It’s another bright, active day with white fluffy cumulus clouds, and there’s enough roll to make you notice that you’re afloat, but not enough to fling you from your bunk.

It seems fitting that people have some time under sail to get used to the idea of the end of this South Pacific Voyage and to mentally adjust to whatever the next thing will be for them. The soon-approaching deadline of the end of the voyage also seems to be motivating people to finish off all their little projects, and there’s a flurry of off-watch activity with people finishing ditty bags, sea bags and woodwork projects. Conversations are turning to thoughts of home and what’s coming next, but they sound sort of abstract – there’s a subtle feeling that this voyage will just sort of keep going forever. And in some ways it does. Not just for those who stay on for the next voyage, or those like me who went home and promptly come back again, but for almost everyone who has felt the cool sea water wash across their toes on the main deck, stood forward lookout under the bright tropical stars and felt the pride of wearing a Picton Castle crew shirt as the ship sails majestically into port.

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Back to Sea Again

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Thursday morning sees Picton Castle still pushing to get easting in this favourable weather window. Our position is 19-02’S, 171-09’W and the day is bright and sunny. The wind is a very agreeable 20 knots just to starboard of dead astern and we’re braced almost square, running downwind at a steady 7 to 8 knots.

Looking over the rail from the foc’sle head the water is foaming white under the bow as we surge along. The seas around are a dark, rich blue with scattered whitecaps and occasional glints where the sun reflects off a wavelet. Looking aft at the ship, all is peaceful and ordered industry. The sails are gleaming white in the sunshine and the laundry hanging on the well-deck lines is dancing a colourful dance.

Moving aft past the galley where Donald is inside cooking lunch, to midships and the main deck that surrounds the big canvas-covered cargo hatch, battened down now for sea. The port side of the main deck is almost entirely taken up with a row of saw horses upon which rests the new t’gallant yard Sam and DB are working on. It’s taking shape now, and looks more like a rough spar now rather than the block of wood it was so recently, or the pile of planks it was not so long before that. Something magical about watching it being created day by day, the spar that always was there inside the block being slowly released to the world. The plane lifts off long strips of pale shavings that curl as they rise up and grow, like a snake being charmed.

Moving aft again down the starboard breezeway we find our smallest, furriest shipmate George lying snoozing in the sun. He’s got his sea legs now and the movement of the ship doesn’t bother him, as long as he can keep his paws dry and find people to give him his daily dose of petting. With 30 people aboard he doesn’t exactly want for attention. The aloha deck is next, the furthest point aft on the main deck, it’s where we eat when the weather is fine and our in-house coffee shop and gossip spot all the time. It’s quiet on the aloha deck now, halfway between breakfast and lunch – just baby Dawson sleeping in his car-seat-swing that’s rigged from the overhead. It’s attached to a tag line so his nanny Tonya can swing him while she relaxes too, stretched out on the bench in the stern. Not that he needs much rocking when the ship is moving like this, lucky baby to get his very own barque to rock him to sleep!

Climbing up the port side engineer’s ladder brings us to the quarter deck where the decks are just starting to get hot from the sun. Murray has the helm, steering east by south, into the sun. John and Finn are working on a sail stretched out sausage style on the smooth, well swept deck. It’s an old t’gallant sail that was slightly too large to set nicely, so it’s being trimmed to fit – rather like hemming a pair of trousers. First the foot of the sail was cut off, and then the tabling re-stitched along what is the new foot. Now the bolt rope and clew cringles are being replaced. And soon the sail will be ready to set again, perhaps from the new yard.

It’s easy to write about all of these Tropical Island Paradises that we go to because each one is new and interesting, and there are contrasts and similarities as we sweep our way across the Pacific, but it’s also wonderful to spend some time back on our ship, being sailors and enjoying the simple pleasures of hard work well done, companionship of your shipmates, big blue skies and a wide horizon.

Dancing laundry
DB planes spar
working on t gallant yard

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International Date Line

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Position 18-40’S 173-1’W, and we’re motor sailing in fair winds to get as far east as possible before we lose these favourable winds and the more usual SE’ly trades resume. We even had some sunshine today, though it’s a bit rolly.

We got up this morning in Tonga on Thursday May 2nd, but then at midday we had crossed back over the international date line and put our clocks back by exactly one day to midday on Wednesday May 1st. Which means we get Wednesday twice this week, to make up for losing a Wednesday that we lost crossing the other way last week, and we’re back to being 11 hours behind London instead of 13 hours ahead. May Day came twice this year! It’s a bit funny that we cross the date line before 180 degrees west – that’s because the line bends around countries for convenience rather than slicing straight through them, which would cause all sorts of confusion if it was two different days on the two sides of the same island…

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Family Life and Feasting in Tonga

By Kate “Bob” Addison

I went with Captain and Tammy to the market yesterday, and we were invited back to one of the ladies’ (Betty) houses to see some tapa cloth that she had made. Tapa is amazing stuff, like South Seas wallpaper, it’s the thickness of a few sheets of paper and comes in sheets from small squares for framing to huge cloths big enough to cover any wall or ceiling. It’s made by pounding bark until its flat, joining pieces with more pounding and then hand painting geometric designs using a traditional ink made from burnt nuts.

Betty’s house was very different to your average house in the UK, made of wood and corrugated iron with free-range pigs in the back yard and a separate kitchen hut where copra or dried coconut husks are burnt in a ground oven, (after the pigs have eaten the coconut). Captain and Tammy’s 8-month old son Dawson was a great hit here, being happily passed around the family and entertaining their small children by making faces and laughing. There might not be much money around here but I did get an impression of strong family harmony.

Betty teaches dancing to the girls in her village and we got to see them show it off at a traditional feast that night put on just for the Picton Castle crew. We were shown into an open building by the beach where there were benches to sit on and a long table spread with all sorts of treats. The table cloth was banana leaves and the food was served in the stalks of a banana leaves – they look like giant celery sticks and you can use them as a funnel to sort of pour the food into your mouth, and then stack the empty stalks like the little plates in a sushi restaurant. There was fish in coconut milk wrapped in baby taro leaves and cooked in an umu or underground oven, raw fish with coconut, clams baked with coconut, papaya with coconut, octopus, roast pig, taro, sweet potato, banana, melon, and more coconuts to drink.

After the feast we moved outside to watch some traditional dancing, which was rather similar to the Samoan dancing with incredibly intricate and quick hand movements telling the story of the song. Quite captivating. But the most memorable thing was how much fun the performers and band seemed to be having. Less polished professionals, and more kids and parents who had make their own costumes of grass skirts, feathers and shell, and we’re having great fun dressing up and showing off. Betty’s granddaughter Vi stole the show with the last dance of the show – a very impressive hula.

Back on the ship, work is continuing with the on-watch as usual – we’ve been focusing on varnish on the quarterdeck, painting all over and Sam and David Brown have been making up a new spar to replace the fore topgallant that sprung on the sail from Samoa. The spar is being made from planks of pine, laminated in layer with epoxy. It’s set hard now and the process of shaping the long cuboid into a cylinder has begun to the sound of handsaws and DB singing. Meanwhile a gang are chipping away at the old yard to get the hardware off and we’ll have the new yard varnished and aloft in no time.

Dawson checks out some Tapa cloth
feast night
feast night dancing

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Kingdom of Tonga

By Kate “Bob” Addison

We sailed from Samoa to the Vava’u Group of Tonga (at the northern end of about 400 miles of islands) and, after a three day passage, we arrived on Tuesday morning. The week has just flown by. The country, one of the last absolute monarchies left in the world, is made up of dozens of small islands laced with beaches and bays and caves in the limestone cliffs. Like Samoa everything is thickly wooded, but it’s much less steep here so there are more fields and the geography has been reminding the crew of Canada, even the south coast of the UK after being so used to seeing sandy atolls and volcanic mountains typical of the South Seas.

Vava’u is some sort of raised coral or limestone cluster of islands. We sail up a five mile fjord like passage to get to the inner harbour at Neiafu. Local regulations require us to go alongside the copra wharf for clearing in – this done in as friendly a manner as can be we cast off again to find a place to the anchor down in this deep land-locked harbour. Soon enough done and the skiff is making runs into the lovely Mango waterfront cafe and the gang spreads to the winds to see what Tonga is about.

The dress is striking – school uniform seems straight from missionary times: the girls wear very modest blue or red tunic dresses with big white collars and hair in two French plaits and matching hair ribbons. A woven mat is worn wrapped around the waist as a sign of being ‘dressed up’ for formal or special occasion wear. Some of the mats are trimmed with binding in the same colour as the rest of the outfit, others are all straw and edged with a fringe. About half the people wear traditional dress, the other half baggy shorts and shirts.

Because Tonga is and always has been independent it is visibly economically poorer than its neighbouring island nations, though it is very popular with yachties so the shiny cafes, restaurants and shops by the dinghy dock and along the main street in town add a shiny, western veneer. There are a surprising number of people who turned up on yachts and never left several years later. Most of the businesses catering to yachts are run by these sailing ex-pats who seem very happy and settled here. There’s even a Friday night boat race for all comers with some great prizes, but we’d already taken monomoy off on an overnight camping expedition before we knew about it. Not that she would probably have done too well racing against a 40-foot catamaran with no handicap!

The monomoy camping expedition with Nadja and starboard watch was excellent – and exactly what Picton Castle is all about. We rigged up the monomoy with her sailing rig and oars and stowed her with all we would need: machetes for the coconuts, tarps, water, fishing gear and hammocks. Lots of lashing lines too and some duct tape obviously. Other essentials included leftover lasagne in a cooler, snorkels, and a birthday cake for Gabe. For emergencies, there was a first aid kit and a big box of birthday butter cookies that Hayley made.

Gear stowed and all aboard we hoisted our mainsail, set the jib and pushed off from the ship reaching back towards town and then tacking round the corner towards the entrance of the harbour. We did some exploring along the coastline, tacking about and looking for nice beaches or caves and dodging the coral that reefs the shoreline just below the surface of the clear water. We found a nice sandy beach for lunch and moored up Med-style, dropping the anchor off the bow outside of the coral and then swimming ashore with a stern line and making it off to a handy mango tree.

After lunch and a snooze on the beach it was time to find a camp for the night and we found our spot on an uninhabited island called Lotuma right in the entrance to the harbour. The moon was full and bright enough to snorkel by, so we did, and then Maia and Signe showed us how to make Scandinavian ‘Troll Bread’ cooked on sticks over the camp fire. Finn played his banjo and Gabe and Nadja harmonica until late. We got up at 0530 to strike camp to be back at the ship for 0800 muster and the row back to the ship into the rising sun was gorgeous. We got back close to the ship a bit early so we tied up to a handy buoy and went for one last swim call to cool off after the row.

harbour entrance
monomoy expedition lunch
school uniform and PC

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Pago Pago

By Kate “Bob” Addison

American Samoa is a very cool place. We are told it it culturally homogeneous with Independent Samoa (formerly Western Samoa), but the USA influence in American Samoa is clear from the golden arches of McDonalds to the huge Ford trucks that everybody seems to drive. Many of the people I spoke to had family in Independent Samoa, or had been born there but moved across to get married or find a job. Plenty of American jobs in American Samoa it seems, but a distinctly Samoan identity.

Geographically it is a chain of steep lush islands, the dark emerald green rainforest reaching high up the mountains and most of the buildings close to the shore line or set a little way up the slope with presumably magnificent views. The rainforest is mainly untouched, though here and there you can see patches that have been cleared for vegetable gardens or planted with banana or papaya groves. One hundred feet up the mountains slope seems to have never been touched by humans, it is that lush. It’s too steep for cattle farming so meat and dairy products are shipped in. Actually, most foods are imported; even fresh produce in spite the rich, dark volcanic soil. We met some locals who told us it was easier to earn money and buy vegetables from abroad than to grow your own – and that makes sense too given the hot, humid climate that makes a stroll down the road as sweaty as a gym session back home. It’s something like an extended stay in an unventilated bathroom with the hot taps running full, and then when the sun comes out it becomes a sauna, with steam rising from every surface.

Picton Castle was moored in Pago Pago harbour in the Island of Tutuila. The harbour looks almost like a fjord, a long, thin cut between the steep mountains. There were a handful of yachts tied up at the far end of the harbour, but it is primarily a commercial harbour with steel long liners tied up outside the fish canning factories, and cargo ships rapidly discharging containers. We got a fair bit of attention just for being there, it seems they are not so used to seeing square riggers and it was fun giving directions to the drivers who were to deliver our provisions: just go down to the harbour, it’s the tall ship next to McDonalds, you can’t miss it!

Provisioning itself was an adventure, there are several wholesalers selling food by the case or sack which was perfect for buying big quantities of canned, dried and frozen staples for our hungry crew, but finding the shops took some exciting bus rides and lots of help from incredibly friendly locals who invariably offered us a lift when we stopped them to ask directions to the next shop. We were pretty excited to find a dairy on our travels, but it turns out there aren’t any cows after all, and the dairy just bottles fruit juice and makes ice-cream from powdered milk and coconut. We tried to find some of the ice cream for research purposes, but could only find it by the 10 litre bucket which seemed a touch excessive for the two of us.

The buses in American Samoa had a distinctly Caribbean feel. They look like converted Ford transit vans with a wooden shell built onto the back and rows of wooden benches. They have Perspex windows that slide open for fresh air when it stops raining, and each bus is decorated differently, most with colourful fabric, fake flowers and feather boas all around the dash, and pumping music. You pull an overhead wire that runs the length of the bus to stop, and if the buzzer isn’t working you just bang on the overhead til the driver notices and swerves off the road to let you hop off. And just one dollar no matter where or how far you go. We met some great people on the buses – one was on his way to the dress rehearsal for the annual Fa’afafine beauty pageant, where he was doing the hair and makeup for the ‘ladies’. He said that once he was finished they looked so fabulous no one would guess they were actually men.

Flag Day is the big annual celebration in American Samoa, celebrating dependence on the USA but with some very Samoan customs, and our visit was well timed so we could be a part of it. The day started early with boat races in the harbour. Each village has a boat with about 50 people rowing each one and hundreds more wearing their colours waving and cheering from the dock. Quite an effort to turn such a long boat, but turn they did at the mouth of the harbour to head back to the finish line close to the ship. Then there’s a parade and the boat crews and crowds all head to the stadium a little way out of town to raise the Samoan and USA flags and crown the victorious rowers.

The rest of the day is filled with entertainment at the stadium: whole villages in very elegant outfits singing and dancing in unison; drummers with traditional boars’ tooth tattoos, heavy dark blue ink from waist to knee. I counted the performers for the last village and there were over 300 people dancing together, the women in long red tunics and lava lava with white flowers across the shoulder and in their hair and the men bare-chested in matching red lava lava with a sort of skirt of thin strips of white fabric hanging over the top, giving the impression of grass skirts. The dancing is fascinating, being very Polynesian but also somehow Asian. Maybe hints of the Balinese in the dancing with small, expressive hand movements performed in unison, much of the dancing performed sitting cross legged in neat rows.

The best bit was at the end of each village’s performance when the big chief man, dressed rather like the other men but with a huge headdress and staff, walked down to the front of the performers and the VIPs in the audience came down one by one to kiss him and throw handfuls of money at him. There were a couple of small girls with baskets running round scooping up the greenbacks before they blew away. It was great sport to watch the discomfort of important-looking US Navy types in smart uniform paying their respects to the chief in such an un-military fashion. Then traditional gifts were presented to the VIPS: woven pandanus hats, fans and huge floor mats, carved model canoes and shell or flowers strung onto long necklaces or eis. Really just like a Navy gift exchange ceremony only with less white uniforms and better drumming. The entertainment ended with prayers just before sunset and then the locals drifted off to feasts and parties in their villages and we wandered off in search of some food and a bus back to town.

So red, white and blue coconuts notwithstanding, we thought it was very cool how strong the Samoan identity seemed to be, and how laid back, kind and friendly the people are there. Next time it would be fun to spend much more time exploring the rest of Tutuila and the other Samoan islands, but right now the Kingdom of Tonga is calling.

Drying sails
flag day crowds
red white and blue coconuts

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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.

Alongside McDonalds
coming alongside fuel dock
PagoPago harbour

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