Monday, October 31, 2011

Back in the USA

Well, we had a busy last week in Tonga preparing to leave Soggy Paws. We stripped her completely in case an early-season storm brews up while we are gone--roller furling sails down, mainsail wrapped tightly with rope, solar panels down, dinghy lashed on deck, all the misc deck stuff removed and stowed below.

We spent about 2 days with Larry, the guy who rents the moorings, surveying the moorings and helping him do a little preventive maintenance. We added a second heavy line to our mooring, and carefully inspected the existing setup. Fortunately, our friends Roger and Amy on Shango had a hooka rig (a setup that provides a constant supply of air to a diver, from the surface), which made working on the moorings much easier.

We left Soggy Paws a couple of days ago and started our 40 hour journey back to the States. Our route took us first by dinghy, then by taxi, then small turboprop from Neiafu to Tongatapu in Tonga. We had a 6 hour wait at the aiport in Tongatapu, and then on to Fiji, where we caught a 747 that took us overnight direct to Los Angeles. We had been braced for a 10 hour layover in LAX, but our flight from Fiji got in 90 minutes earlier than anticipated (must have been a helluva tailwind out there!), and we managed to catch an afternoon flight from LAX to Atlanta.

Everything went pretty smoothly, and we actually managed to sleep some on the plane. The only hitch was that our bags were a few pounds over the limit--we took the opportunity to offload some stuff from the boat--and we paid some overage fees. None too exhorbitant until we tried to check in on Air Tran in LA. They wanted $46 EACH for bags that were about 2 pounds over the limit. Naturally we rummaged in the bags and took out a couple of books and hand-carried them aboard, avoiding the overage fees. We also found that we couldn't activate our insurance on a weekend, so got my sister to come pick us up at Atlanta airport instead of renting a car then.

We fortunately were not affected at all by the big snowstorm that hit the NE US (watching the news about one plane where the passengers got stuck onboard for 8 hours on the ground).

So this week we plan to make our way from Atlanta through North Carolina and down to Florida. Since our car was totalled last year just before we left (not our fault), we are in a rental car until we get a chance to buy something appropriate (anyone in FL have a small SUV for sale?)

We WILL be at the SSCA Gam in Melbourne Nov 11-12-13. Dave is giving a talk on Friday, entitled 'Pacific Crossing Primer'. After 3 years wandering the Pacific, and getting most of the way across, Dave feels pretty qualified to share some advice with other cruisers.

Hopefully we'll get a chance soon to add some pictures to this year's blog entries!!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Neiafu, Tonga Update

My last update, nearly two weeks ago, left us just arriving in Neaifu, Tonga.

Neiafu is the big convergence point for all the boats who have been making their way from French Polynesia via various routes toward the west, so there are literally several hundred boats in the area. Fortunately, it is a big area, with lots of harbors. Similar somewhat to famous gathering places in the Caribbean, like the Marsh Harbor, Abacos area, Georgetown, Bahamas, and the Virgin Islands.

Neiafu isn't a big town, but it is (I think) the next biggest town in Tonga, besides the country's capital of Nukualofa. There is a huge (relatively speaking) population of english-speaking ex-patriots--primarily New Zealander's but also Aussies and Americans. So, for a small place, it is pretty yachtie-friendly. There is a morning VHF net that is run mainly by the local yachtie restaurant/bars. And they have a wide-area VHF system with a repeater on CH 26, which makes it possible for yachts in scattered anchorages out of town to keep in touch with everything.

There is internet here, though painfully slow and fairly expensive (about $3 US per hour). I have a long list of 'Internet To Do' items that won't get done here, that's for sure!!

We are near the end of the 'yachtie season' right now. All the boats around us are talking about weather patterns and what route they will take to New Zealand. Soon, there will be very few cruisers left here. Though the Kiwi's don't usually head back south until about December, all the first year boats are antsy to get to NZ and start getting work done (NZ is a big refit place for cruising boats). We have at least two friends who are already in NZ and a number of the Puddle Jumpers are on their way between Minerva Reef and NZ right now. Within a week, almost everyone we have met all year will be gone.

There is one contingent of Kiwi's hanging out for the last of the Rugby World Cup--the final match between NZ and France--which is this Sunday night (Saturday morning back in the U.S.). On Monday morning, the boats will be streaming out of Neiafu Harbor, cruising south towards NZ.

Ourselves--we spent a week in Neiafu, to get oriented, and then moved out to "Anchorage 11", Tapana, to hook up with Larry and Sherri on the Ark Gallery. These are some retired cruisers who have set out some 'cyclone moorings', and who watch boats for crusiers. We reserved a mooring here before we left Hawaii last April. And the plan is to stay in Vava'u for cyclone season. We have contracted a mooring for the cyclone season for the cost of 400 pa'anga ($250 per month). This comes with a little boat-tending... opening up when it's sunny, checking for issues on board, and running the engine once a month. Once we get back from our trip to the U.S., we will drop the mooring and do some cruising, keeping a close eye on the weather.

We are leaving Soggy Paws here in one week, and flying back to the U.S.
Sherry & Dave
Hanging out in Tonga for cyclone season!
At 10/19/2011 6:11 PM (utc) our position was 18°42.58'S 173°59.24'W

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The F/V Lesila Rescue - Followup

Here is what happened after we dropped the Captain and one crew member off at Niuatoputapu (NTT) and sailed off into the night... The below information is pieced together primarily from conversations with Eric of s/v Secret Agent Man.

It turns out that the crew member was originally from NTT, so when the small boat that came out to pick them up off s/v Shango got back to the town dock, many people had gathered (news of the events had spread by word of mouth through town) on the dock, including several of the crew member's extended family. Some were crying in joy. Eric said it was quite moving, and that the villagers were so grateful to the cruisers for going out of their way to help the fishermen.

So presumably the people of NTT pulled out all the stops to house and feed these two guys, and get their part fixed. But there was still the problem of reuniting them with their boat, which continued to drift west with the other 2 crew aboard, at the rate of about 1.5 knot (approx 1.5 mile per hour). Every hour wasted on shore meant another mile further away.

But there still remained the problem of how to get the two crew back to Lesila. There wasn't a local boat in NTT capable of going to sea, nor any big enough to tow Lesila in. Conversations were started by the owner Nuku Alofa, 300 miles away, trying to find an alternate means. However, the ultimate solution was to press Eric on s/v Secret Agent Man into service. So Eric loaded up the two crew members and set out to rendezvous with the drifting vessel. A regular radio schedule was kept via SSB, so Eric knew where the boat was. By the time he set out, the Lesila was about 50 miles downwind of NTT (nearly a 10 hour sail).

Secret Agent Man finally arrived on scene just before dark, and the two men were transfered back to Lesila with the repaired part. Eric hove to to wait for the results. He also had to loan out a few tools. Eric said that it was a dark night, and the wind had picked up. The Lesila didn't have any lights on. He was afraid he'd run into it during the night.

By 9am the next morning, the Lesila had drifted to 16.29S 174.08W, 85 miles downwind from NTT. And the men had worked through the night trying to repair the transmission, and had finally concluded that they could not repair the transmission.

Here is Eric's emailed report (to the Police in Neiafu):

This is Eric captain of the SV Secret Agent Man. I dropped the men off on Lesila last night but they were unable to fix their engine. I spent the night on the radio with Nukualofa radio trying to get them a tow back to Nuiatoputapu. I am unclear what is happening. Please let me know. Their position as of right now 2000 zulu 900AM local is - 16.29S 174.08W

With a still-inoperable engine, and no certain rescue from the Tongan Navy, the Captain begged Eric to take them in tow into NTT or Neiafu. But it was now blowing about 20 knots right from that direction, and Eric's Cal 35 was not designed for that kind of work. He refused, and again offered to take the men off the drifting vessel to safety. But the men refused. By this time, a number of emails and radio contacts had been made, between the people in NTT, and the people in Neiafu, and there was some hope that the Tongan Navy would be dispatched to tow them in.

Eric couldn't do any more for them at that point, so he established a regular radio schedule with them, and set sail for Neiafu.

It was nearly a day later before a Tongan Navy ship was dispatched to tow the Lesila in, and yet another day before Eric got a report from the Captain via radio that they were under tow, headed home to Nuku Alofa. But they did eventually get rescued. Eric is here in the harbor with us in Neiafu.
Sherry & Dave
At 10/10/2011 9:38 PM (utc) our position was 18°39.73'S 173°58.99'W

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Eventful Passage from Niuatoputapu to Neiafu

After watching the weather carefully for several days, to pick a weather window that was not too light or too strong, we left Niuatoputapu early on Sunday morning.

Our friends on Dream Away had opted to leave on Saturday evening, planning a 2-overnight sail, in light winds, for the 170 miles SSW to Neiafu. My Maxsea routing optimization showed that we could conservatively leave on Sunday morning and get in to a reasonable anchorage before dark on Monday, if we got going early on Sunday.

So we were out the pass at 7am and under full sail headed south by 8am. Several other boats left just after us, so there was a parade heading south, on the east side of Niuatoputapu. As forecast, the wind was still a bit light and had a bit too much south in it for a great sail at first. But by 11am it had picked up a few knots and was swinging more east.

Around lunchtime, while Dave was snoozing in the cockpit, I heard a weak and scratchy voice in broken English on the VHF, saying something like "Can you help me, our engine is broken." At first I ignored it--it was so weak that, and the English broken enough, that I assumed it was far away and not intended for us. I heard nothing about a sailboat, so they couldn't be talking to us, right?

Then we chatted with our friends on Shango, they had heard it too, and so had Chesapeake, close behind Shango. Finally (somewhat reluctantly), I called on the VHF "Disabled vessel, can you hear me? Where are you located?" Then Dave took over, with is US Navy officer training... After several minutes of back and forth, with very poor copy (both because of weak VHF and because of heavily accented broken English), we established that it was an 11 meter (35 feet) fishing vessel with a broken engine, and they were located about 7 miles behind us. They had been broken down for a day already, and were basically nowhere near anything for at least several more days of drifting.

At this point, as much as we wanted to keep going, with a fair wind and things awaiting us in Neiafu, we decided that we must turn back and render assistance. It turned out that, good friends that they are, both Shango and Chesapeake turned back with us. It seems overkill, but it was nice to have company, and it turned out that all 3 vessels helped in some critical way.

Shango has an integrated Radar on his chartplotter, which was nice for finding the fishing boat. Shango and Soggy Paws both have active AIS, so it made it easy for us to coordinate our actions over the next few hours. Chesapeak is a pretty fast boat, and they sailed ahead of us to provide advance communications.

When we reached the fishing boat, we quickly decided that towing was not an option. We were 25 miles from Niuatoputapu, in fairly good seas, and Lesila, the fishing vessel, was a heavy steel boat. None of us felt comfortable risking our boats and engines taking him under tow. It turned out that his problem was a broken transmission. So the first thing we did was "loan" (give) him some tools he needed to take his transmission apart. Soggy Paws stuffed a socket wrench and 3 sockets of the required size into a gallon milk jug, and tossed them to Lesila as we sailed past. Then we all hove to to see if they would be able to fix the problem.

About an hour later, the captain announced on the VHF that the transmission had a broken part, and there was no way he could repair it on board. It needed to be welded. So Dave started talking to him about gathering up their passports and things, and we would take the 4 of them back to Niuatoputapu (NTT). The captain, of course, didn't want to leave the vessel. So we explored other options. First, we got the owner's telephone number in Nukualofa (about 300 miles to the south), and we called the number on our satellite phone. He wasn't in and wasn't expected until 7pm, and the person who answered had almost no English. About that time, the Pacific Seafarers Ham Net was gearing up on 14,300, and we called them for ideas. Basically, the answer was, 'You are so remote, and it's not a life and death emergency, it's not likely we could get any assistance for you, but let us know how it turns out.' We did get a few phone numbers for people in Neiafu and Nuiatoputapu to contact, but none of these panned out.

The captain finally suggested that we take him and another crew with us to Niuatoputapu, with the broken part. His plan was to get the part fixed/welded in NTT, and somehow get back to the boat. Meanwhile, the 2 other crew would be left on board, with the GPS and SSB radio, so it would be possible for someone to rendezvous with the drifting vessel the next day.

Shango volunteered to take the 2 crew on their boat, back to NTT, if we would go along for support. We knew at that time that we couldn't reach NTT before dark. We hoped to be able to get someone from the village (or one of the cruisers still there), to come out the pass in a small boat to take the passengers aboard, so that we could turn right around and head for Neiafu.

That seemed like a workable plan. The two crew jumped in the water and swam to Shango, with the part. Chesapeake went with us, sailing ahead and providing first contact via VHF with (eventually) Eric on Secret Agent Man. Eric then contacted Sia and Nico ashore and arranged for a boat to go out and pick the crew up off Shango.

We had a pretty fast sail back north--the wind had freshened enough, and was on the beam. But it was 10pm before Shango had managed to drop their passengers off and turn around. So, 14 hours after originally setting out, we again headed south. We were all pretty tired by then AND knew we had turned a 1-night passage into a 2 night passage. We also knew that bigger winds were forecast on Monday night and Tuesday, and we wouldn't be able to beat them into port as originally planned. *sigh*

Sunday night wasn't too bad, other than the fact that we were all tired.

Monday afternoon, however, the weather started setting in, and we had heavy rain and squally conditions all afternoon and most of the night. On my watch, I spent the whole time reefing and unreefing sails, with the wind varying between 'less than 5 knots' and 'almost 25 knots'. One time I finally gave up trying to sail, and started the engine to motor thru the calm, and not 2 minutes later shut down the engine and had to reef in again, as the wind was back to 20-25kts.

To put the final icing on the cake... Late Monday afternoon, when Shango went to turn his engine on to motor through a flukey wind spot, his engine wouldn't start. He and Dave did some troubleshooting over the radio, but they were unable to solve the problem. So, Shango had to sail through to squally conditions, conserve battery power, and rendezvous with us outside the harbor so we could tow them into port.

We all made it safely, and fortunately, by 8am when Shango sailed into view, the weather had abated a little. Without much trouble, Soggy Paws took Shango in tow for the last 5 miles into the harbor. Chesapeake, also standing by, went ahead into Neiafu harbor to get assistance with finding a mooring for Shango, and get a couple of dinghies lined up to take them onto the mooring.

It all turned out well, but is sure turned out to be quite a different passage than we had envisioned!!
Sherry & Dave
Hanging out in Tonga for cyclone season!

At 10/10/2011 9:38 PM (utc) our position was 18°39.73'S 173°58.99'W

Fun in New Potatoes

We enjoyed our stay in Niuatoputapu (aka New Potatoes).

One fun thing we did was hike the ridge trail. We hitch-hiked early one morning down to near the 3rd village of Hihifo, found the path up to the top of the ridge (thanks to Avril on Dream Away's good directions), and hiked along the ridge top. We found viewpoints for every direction, and the weather was great for taking pictures.

Another fun thing was a 'pig roast' that Sia and Nico hosted at their house (for $25 pa'anga per person). They baked 2 whole (small) pigs and fixed some other traditional Tongan side dishes (taro, greens, etc). We had home-made mango juice to drink. And a fruit dumpling mix for dessert. About 8 boats participated--everyone ate their fill and had a good time.

Another thing that provided a lot of amusement was watching the animals around the village. It is springtime here, so all the animals have babies. As we walk thru the village, there are tiny chickens following the hens, little piglets capering behind their mothers, and even a (horse) foal wobbling next to its mother.

Finally, we had the chance to see the 'about monthly' supply ship come in. Most of the cruiser's dinghied in to the concrete quay to watch the fun and games around the supply ship. About 20 passengers arrived on the freighter, along with lots of cargo. Rumor had it that after the cargo was unloaded, the captain would break open the freezer and sell ice cream from his stocks, but we didn't stay on the docks long enough to watch the ice cream caper (it was hot as heck standing around watching). But later in the evening, we were amazed to see that all the town kids were shinnying out the bow line and jumping off the bow of the freighter. We couldn't believe the captain would allow that. But the kids were having a ball.

We also had a short snorkel on the reef one afternoon. The wind was down and the tide was up, and we actually were able to anchor the dinghy inside, and swim out over the reef, to get to the deep water. Much of the reef was pulverized during the tsunami 2 years ago. There is new coral growth coming back, but it is still fairly barren where we were. Lots of fish, and lots of interesting 'profile' (caverns, etc) on the reef.

There were whales about while we were in Nuiatoputapu. We saw them from the ridge while we were hiking, to the west of the anchorage outside the reef. And we saw them fairly close to the entrance to the anchorage as we were leaving. But we never got to go out and try to observe them up close.

We could easily have stayed a week or two longer, to take our time, do some more snorkeling, hiking, and meet more of the local people. But we do need to get down to Neiafu and get settled in soon, so we reluctantly left Niuatoputapu on Sunday morning.
Sherry & Dave
Hanging out in Tonga for cyclone season!

At 10/10/2011 9:38 PM (utc) our position was 18°39.73'S 173°58.99'W

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Beautiful Passage to Niuatoputapu, Tonga

The passage to Niuatoputopu, or "New Potatoes", as the cruisers call it, is 180 miles--just barely beyond what we could comfortably conservatively manage in an overnight passage. So the discussion was, do we be conservative, and leave late in the day and plan a 2-overnight passage. Or do we hang it out a little, leave early in the morning, hope the wind holds, push a little, maybe have to motor a little, and arrive at a strange place with a reef entry just before sunset?

I was pushing for the conservative approach, but Dave was adamant that we could make it in one overnight. If we didn't we'd just heave-to and wait for daylight outside the pass.

We ended up with perfect weather--we got a little more wind than we thought we'd get. It was only a few more knots than forecast, but it was enough to boost our speed from the planned 5 knots to 6.5 knots, and we had a BEAUTIFUL beam reach for nearly 30 hours. We arrived at the pass at 2pm, with plenty of good light for getting in and anchoring. Dave, of course, got a pat on the back for making the right choice.

We are now in Tonga, which, though still situated a few degrees East of the actual "International Dateline", is on a time zone that is on the other side of the dateline. So we shifted our clocks from "-11 plus DST" to "+13". That means we lost a day and gained an hour. Today is now tomorrow here.

I have changed my computer clock to match (somewhat reluctantly), so only god knows what date this blog is posting when I email it. It is very confusing... it is Thursday, October 6 here in Tonga, but it is only Weds, Oct 5, in the U.S.

We are enjoying Niuatoputapu (New-ya Tow-pu Tah-pu). It is a very small out-island, which was totally devastated by the tsunami 2 years ago. They have no running water and no central electricity--only cisterns and a few houses and government buildings have solar power. There are about 800 people living here in 3 small villages, with about 10 working cars/trucks. The supply ship comes here every 1-2 months. There is one small store that is out of all but the most basis supplies, unless the supply ship has been here recently.

But the people are friendly, and they all like to practice their English (thank god!). There is one local with a VHF radio and good English that helps organize things for the yachties. Last night we had a nice Cruiser Potluck at Sia's, and tomorrow she is organizing a pig roast for 25 pa'anga per person.

We are looking at the weather forecast, and must leave here on Sunday, in order to have reasonable winds for the our next hop, 160 miles south to Neiafu, Tonga. This will be our last ocean passage for about 6 months!!
At 10/05/2011 7:39 PM (utc) our position was 15°56.49'S / 173°46.08'W

More Samoa Touring - Manono Island

To complete our touring of Western Samoa...

After breakfast at Matavai Beach Resort, we drove to the Manono ferry terminal and took a small boat out to Manono Island, just off the western top of Upolu. Our information was that, if you waited for a ferry boat to fill up, you could go for the local's price of 2 tala per person. But, looking like the tourists we were, we were offered an immediate departure for the 4 of us, for 10 tala per person, round trip. In the interest of making the most out of our time, we decided to accept.

It was an easy ride (inside the reef) out to the island, in our little covered launch. Our plan was to walk around the island and find a place to eat. What we didn't realize was how hot and windless it would be, and that there seemed to only one place that you could request a meal from. After 1 hour of hot walking in the sun, we finally reached Sunset Beach View (or something like that). A small establishment that had a few bungalows to rent, and whom would make us lunch. We met the crew of s/v Mary there, a Dutch family with 2 small children. They had come by bus and on the ferry with the locals, and thought that leg was the best part of the whole trip. They had spent the night at Sunset Beach, and paid double what we had at Matavai.

We had an OK lunch of rice and vegetables for about $5 US apiece, and walked the rest of the way around the island to meet our water taxi driver at 3pm.

On our way back to Apia, we stopped at Aggie Grey's Resort out by the airport. This is a full-on US-style resort, complete with golf course (looking a little parched and empty in the heat), swimming pool, activities desk, and beachfront. We didn't even bother asking the price.

The next day was Friday, and we took care of the business of clearing out of Samoa first, as we were planning on leaving for Tonga over the weekend. Roger and Dave visited Customs, Immigration, and the Port Authority before coming back to pick up Amy and I to go sightseeing. With all the paperwork done, we headed out for Robert Louis Stephenson's house, where the famous author spent the last 10 years of his life, and where he died in his mid-40's, of Tuberculosis. It was a nicely done museum in RLS's original house. After visiting the museum, we hiked to the top of the hill above the house to visit his gravesite (about 2 hours round trip, nice hike).

Our final tourist stop was at the Indian restaurant for dinner. On our way home through town, we stopped and pre-ordered our meal (friends had warned us of long prep time if you waited to order when you sat down to eat). And then had great traditional Indian curry dishes for dinner. A nice restaurant, nice family, and good food for reasonable prices. Located across from Farmer John's grocery store.

Saturday morning we did a 'grocery run', and then turned the car in to the rental car company (Friendly Car Rentals, conveniently located right across from the marina). We spent the afternoon getting Soggy Paws ready for sea, for an early morning departure on Sunday.
Sherry & Dave
On our way from French Polynesia toward Tonga

At 10/03/2011 12:57 AM (utc) our position was 13°58.03'S 172°16.62'W

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Surviving Samoa

Wow, I can't believe we spent 9 days in (Western) Samoa, and haven't made an update to the blog!

We were super-busy the whole time... between watching Rugby World Cup on TV, socializing, touring around, and a little 'touristas', the time just flew.

We arrived in time hang out with Dream Away and Quicksilver for 2 days until they left on Sunday. They gave Dave and I a cram course in Rubgy rules, as we watched the elimination rounds, including Samoa vs Fiji, Samoa vs South Africa, and England vs France. Avril from Dream Away also spent a lot of time with Dave giving him tips on where to go and what to do in Samoa.

s/v Shango (Roger and Amy) showed up on Sunday from Pago Pago, so we got together with them and rented a car for 4 days. Unfortunately, it took Shango all day Monday to get cleared in. So we set the rental car up for Tuesday morning. Then on Tuesday morning, both Dave and I came down with a pretty bad case of 'traveler's diarrhea'. We rented the car anyway, but I spent all day Tuesday very close to the 'head' on our boat. By Weds Dave and I were feeling better, so we set out with Roger and Amy to 'do' Samoa.

We headed west out of Apia on Wednesday morning to do a clockwise circumnavigation of the island, with planned stops at the major tourist attractions (about 4 or 5 in total). We also wanted to spend the night at a small place that rented 'Beach Fales', but had not made any concrete plans or reservations.

Upolu is a beautiful island, and much bigger than American Samoa. There are some nice low mountains and some pretty beaches. But (from a boater's perspective) there aren't many anchorages, even if you could get permission to go there. Unlike French Polynesia, the barrier reef is not far enough off the island to form a nice navigable lagoon.

The people outside of the the capital city of Apia are still living very traditionally, though not many of their fale's (traditional thatched houses) are not thatched anymore. Corrogated aluminum seems to be the norm, these days.

Unfortunately, driving by in a shiny rental car--we didn't get much chance to interact with the 'real people' of Samoa. And when we did (to ask directions, etc), it seemed they barely understood english. So we didn't get a great cultural experience on this island. The children, as always, were friendly. In one village, it was obvious that the children had been told to leave the ferangi alone. They stood wistfully 100 yards away and didn't bother us. In other villages, the children waved and shouted 'Bye Bye!' and in others, they boys ran alongside the car with their hands out yelling 'Money!'.

I don't know whether the children learned 'Bye Bye' because some adult wanted them to tell the foreigners to go away, or because of a general confusion about Hello and Good Bye. But the 'Bye Bye' seemed to be universal in the villages for the children, all over Samoa, all smiling and waving.

The people in the little villages seemed to very friendly, and as interested in us as we were of them. In the middle of the day, they were all hard at work--farming and keeping their houses and grounds neat and clean. Every house had breadfruit, mango, papaya, taro, and coconut trees. Sometimes a pig or two, and some chickens. Most fales had flowers ornamental shrubs planted, and the yard area kept swept of leaves and debris. We didn't see much evidence of fishing--without protected bays it would be difficult to get small boats out through the surf.

Though there are many buses in and around downtown Apia, we were surprised at the lack of buses out in the countryside in the middle of the day. This is in contrast to American Samoa, where there was nearly always a bus in sight, no matter where on the island you were.

Through a litte oversight, we left Apia with only a half a tank of gas. When we realized it, we were down to a quarter of a tank on the far end of the island from Apia. We called the rental car company on the cell phone, and asked them where the nearest gas station was. They told us there weren't any and we would have to return to Apia to get topped off (this turned out not to be true). Dave kept asking everyone we saw about where we could get gasoline (even people walking in remote villages who probably never owned a car in their life). We kept hearing that there was supposedly one in the SE corner, where we were headed. When we finally got to this small town, we found the gas station. It looked new. Roger and Dave (who should have topped the tank off before we left Apia), were relieved. But, alas, the shiny new pump was out of gas. 'Tomorrow' they said. But the nice attendant who spoke good (NZ-accented) English, told us where the next one was, and said we should have plenty of gas to get there (we did, barely).

But the rest of the afternoon was tainted by the fact that we needed to get to the gas station before it closed. We stopped at a couple of place on the south coast, but hurried past a couple more due to the time.

We did have a really nice lunch at a nice resort on a beautiful beach on the SE coast... Letia's. Another cruiser had told us she'd like to have spent the night there, and we considered it. But we still had half a day of sightseeing, and Letia's was a little more upscale than we had envisioned.

We finally reached the next gas station on the mid south coast about 5:30 pm. After filling our tank, we finally got serious about looking for a place to sleep for the night. We stopped at one or two likely places, but they were pretty pricey and not quite what we were looking for. Our search was complicated by the fact that to even see each place, we had to pay an 'access fee' to get into the beach area. The access fee was imposed by the village council who had leased the beach area to the resorts. We paid 5 tala ($2.00 USD) in one place, and 10 tala in another, and still hadn't found a place to sleep. The backseat drivers (me, mostly) were getting restless, and we decided "one more stop, and if that doesn't pan out, we'll go back to the boats (half hour away) to sleep."

But the last stop was golden. We stopped at a small grocery store, to ask the guy if he knew of any inexpensive beach fale's nearby. He directed us to the owner of another grocery store up the road, John Pasina, who's sister was running his 'resort', a small place place down on the beach. Dave and Roger negotiated a good price... 100 tala ($46 USD) per couple for the night, including dinner and breakfast (because there was no place to eat nearby). We ended up at John Pasina's Matavai Beach Resort, and loved it. (Resort is a bit of a stretch for this place). It wasn't mentioned in our Lonely Planet, or in the local tourist brochure, but it was in the Moon South Pacific guide, with not a very good writeup. They said you had to hike in 3 Km, and the water wasn't drinkable. But with our car, there was no hike required, and we had (and they also supplied) plenty of bottled drinking water. We did have to pay a 10 tala 'access fee' at the entry to the men guarding the beach road.

It turned out that Matavai Beach was recently the host for the main body of 'Survivor Samoa', which had just wrapped up a few weeks before. They had about 20 beach fales--little open air sleeping huts--right on the beach, and we were the only guests. We had our pick of the bunch, and they equipped each hut with a nice foam mattress, sheets, and mosquito netting.

We had a sunset swim in the warm water, a simple dinner, and crawled onto our sleeping platforms for a nice night's sleep. We slept well, with only the sounds of a gentle surf, and no dogs, and no roosters. It was pretty magical, overall.

On our way out, we stopped at the 'Survivor' huts on the adjacent beach, and took pictures.
At 10/03/2011 12:57 AM (utc) our position was 13°58.03'S 172°16.62'W