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American Samoa … The Unplanned Stop

Flag Changing
Dan raising the quarantine and courtesy flags as we near American Samoa.

As we made our way through the islands there is one place we really didn’t plan on stopping and that was American Samoa. We’d read a lot about all of the possible places and we hadn’t really heard good things about American Samoa. For one, we heard it was dirty and the anchorage was full of garbage. Other cruisers talked of bringing up old mattresses and plastic children’s pools with their anchors. There were two main positives according to what we read. One is that the people are amazing and the other is that you can have parts shipped there very cheaply from the states because it’s an American territory. Well, since our water maker needed parts we obviously had them shipped there and after just a few days in Suwarrow we headed out to Pago Pago. (By the way, in American Samoa it’s pronounced Pahngo Pahngo. And Samoa is pronounce SAH mo ah, not Sa MO a as we’ve learned in the US.) It did take a bit for that to get changed in our speaking but we do like to speak as the locals do when we arrive somewhere so we do our best.

AS Charlie
How could I be this close to Charlie and not get my picture taken with him?

We arrived in Pago Pago Harbor early in the morning. The sun was just coming up over the mountains. Once we entered the harbor it was as flat as glass and absolutely beautiful. The first thing you notice after the view is the smell. The Sunkist Tuna factor is right on the water and every so often it lets steam out which smells like rotten fish. Okay, not the best part of American Samoa but we could live with it.

Knowing what we knew about the possibility of trash in the anchorage we were very cautious to make certain our anchor was well secured. On what we weren’t certain but it appeared to be holding steady. After our traditional anchor down beer we decided it was time to head to shore. This is almost embarrassing but our first stop was the McDonalds on the waterfront. We both had a sausage McMuffin and have to say it was delightful!

From there we checked out the town and headed to the post office to see if our parts had arrived. This is really something here. If you are waiting for a package you go to the back door of the post office. They let in 8-10 people at a time. When it’s your turn you hand your ticket over to the mail person and they bring you your package. From there you hand it over to Customs who then opens it and asks you a few questions about its contents. The crazy part is you are literally inside the bowels of the post office at this point. You’d never see this in the U.S. They’d be afraid someone was going to “go postal” and start tearing up the joint.

Only one of the packages we were waiting for was there and it wasn’t our water maker parts. Since the mail plane only comes in once a week we knew we were going to be here for several more days at least. As it turned out there was a hurricane in Hawaii the following week so we ended up in American Samoa for 17 days.

The thing is that during those 17 days we came to truly enjoy this place. The people are so kind and generous. We spent as much time as possible getting to know everyone from our servers in restaurants to the shopkeepers and even the kids. The kids, yes, even the kids are so unbelievably respectful and courteous. One day we passed this young boy, maybe 8 years old, as we were out walking. He was lying down on a bench waiting for his parents to finish their business and when he saw us he sat up tall, straightened his shirt and gave us a proper hello. We were blown away! And even on the buses the teens would help us with directions and chat with us like grown ups. They weren’t sitting there with phones in their hands ignoring the world.

Speaking of buses, they are very cool here. It seems they are all pretty much the same shell with the basic hardwood seats inside but they are painted completely different and each driver customizes the interiors as well. Some have fur lined dashboards with crazy feather things hanging from the ceiling. Others have crosses and statues of the Virgin Mary and yet others have flat screen TVs playing music videos. No two were the same!

While we were here we had a custom-made shirt made for Dan and dress for me. Both are of the same fabric. That’s a huge thing in the islands and we wanted to take part in that tradition.

Here more than anywhere else we had been we noticed crypts in front of the houses. Sonny, our bartender at Sadie Thompson’s Inn, explained that this is the Samoan way of keeping past relatives close to the family. They believe that if you have the grave on the family land it will generate questions from children who may not have known that person. That makes the family talk about them and the children are always being reminded of their family and their roots. One guy even told us he sleeps on his father’s crypt at night. He does it especially when he’s got problems or feels he needs guidance.

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After two weeks our water maker parts finally made it and Dan was able to get it back working properly. That was a relief and left us ready to get on to new places so we set about doing some provisioning and prepared to head out to Niue. The provisioning here was spectacular as we found lots and lots of our American brands and for the first time since we left México beer and liquor was available at a decent price. So, all in all we found American Samoa to be a wonderful place full of truly good, kind people and we were glad we made the stop.

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

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Suwarrow! The Jewel Of The Cooks!

Jilly2Our passage from Bora Bora to Suwarrow was relatively uneventful. We had several days of great sailing but during the final two the winds died and we had to fire up the iron genny. We arrived at the pass around 0800 and our entrance went perfectly. That’s always a blessing. Ever since Fakarava I still hold my breath as we get ready to go through a pass but Dan has proven over and over that he has a handle on the timing these days.IMG_1689

We’re pretty certain if you look up “majestic” in the dictionary it says… “See Suwarrow!” This ranks right up there with Maupiti as one of our favorite destinations so far. The rangers, Harry & John, were an absolute delight to get to know. The Cook Islanders should consider themselves blessed to have such amazing ambassadors. They represent their country well.

One thing to know about Suwarrow is that it is only inhabited from April through the end of October. That’s when the Rangers are there. They get dropped off with six months of supplies and hope to be picked up by the start of cyclone season in November. We say hope because in 2017 they were essentially forgotten. This could have ended in disaster as cyclones can completely wash over the atoll. Fortunately for Harry & John they were able to hitch a ride with one of the last cruiser boats leaving the atoll.

You can only get to Suwarrow via private yacht or charter so getting the chance to visit this amazing place was just awesome! When we arrived there were just a dozen other sailboats in the anchorage. This made for wonderful and peaceful stay in paradise.

One day we went snorkeling near the edge of the atoll. The water was so clear you could easily see 150-200 feet away. Dan caught a glimpse a five foot grey shark. I missed it but the other fish were beautiful and the coral itself is in amazing shape. Unfortunately we’ve seen a lot of dead coral in our travels in the Tuamotus and further west. You can tell they take great care to protect this perfect gem.

Another day we went on an exploratory adventure in the dink. We traveled all around the reef on the northwest side of the atoll. The water was flat & calm and the sun was shining bright so we had unbelievable visibility in the water. We made our way down to a motu and decided to pull the dink ashore. We had to get out and pull it through some very shallow water…6” or so. As we started walking we noticed several baby black tip sharks swimming around. The splashing of our feet in the water undoubtedly attracted them. No worries…all we had to do was splash toward them and they darted away.

This motu was at a point in the atoll where the ocean comes over the reef so there is sort of channel there. It’s not deep enough to drive a boat through, even the dink, but it does have quite a bit of current. As I was walking along the shoreline I came upon a very disheartening sight. In a stretch of about thirty yards the beach was literally covered with plastic garbage. Most of it was bottle caps from plastic soda bottles. I was horrified at seeing this on this most perfect beach so I went back to the dink, grabbed a garbage bag and began picking up all the trash. In the span of about five minutes I picked up 64 plastic bottle caps!!! In addition to that there was a plastic tube that once held caulking, a dozen or so plastic bottles, plastic lids for five gallon buckets, a plastic bag, and several other pieces of plastic. It was very sad to see all of this trash collecting on a beach that is literally hundreds of miles away from anything. It made me wonder how far this stuff traveled across the ocean to get here. It was very sad!

Cook Trash

On a lighter note we did get to witness nature in action a bit later. We were slowly creeping along the reef near the shore just checking things out when we saw a fish swimming at the top of the water. At first we thought it might be a puffer fish so I told Dan to go back so I could get some video. As we got nearer to the fish we saw about a three foot black tip shark swimming around the fish. He had already taken a bite out of it, which is why it was at the top of the water. As we approached the shark got spooked and darted around the dink. He came up on the other side and went back to his prey. Within seconds he chomped down on the fish and took off. Apparently he thought we might be trying to take his dinner. It was pretty cool and we got it all on video!

Later in the day we went to shore to hang out with some of the other cruisers. Before we bunched up with them we walked to the other side of the motu to what the rangers call Shark Bay. Within seconds of stepping into the water we knew exactly why it’s called that. We literally saw a least a dozen or more sharks swimming near the beach. They weren’t huge by any stretch. The largest was a grey shark about four and a half feet. The rest were in the 2-3 1/2 foot range. Most of them were black tips but there were a couple of greys and a white tip. They literally surfed the waves right into the beach into water that was four to six inches deep. It was absolutely awesome! They were coming right up to us. Of course once we saw them we stepped back toward the beach so they couldn’t get to us. Later Harry told us that is where they clean their fish and get rid of some of their food. He said the shark are like dogs. You can almost call out and get them to come up to the beach. He’s even seen them almost beach themselves trying to get close to them when they were throwing out food. What a sight it was to see.

Cook Sharks
Shark Bay!

As the sun started to get lower we walked back to the anchorage side of the motu. This motu is completely covered with hermit crabs. As it gets darker you literally see the beach come alive. It’s like the entire surface is moving. I am not exaggerating to say down the one path from the ranger station/housing to the picnic area we saw close to a thousand of these things. It was amazing!!! This atoll has certainly provided us with a lot of wildlife experiences to be sure.

We made our way back to the beach where several other cruisers were sitting around the table chatting. They had all just finished learning how to weave a basket out of palm fronds. Ranger John taught the class. Dan brought his ukulele to shore and gave a little concert for everyone. We all had our sundowners and were just enjoying the music, fellowship and amazing sunset. When I say amazing I mean it. The water was so flat that at one point you couldn’t tell where the water ended and the sky began. What great way to end a day.

We awoke on our final day and got ready to make passage. Before we could leave, however, Dan had to get his dive gear on and help SV Maia to get their anchor unfouled. They anchored in about 85 feet of water and were wrapped all up in the bommies. This anchorage is known for its bommie fields.

My amazing man, Captain Save-A-Hoe, came to the rescue again. It took him almost an hour to get their anchor chain unwrapped. He had to make three short 85′ dives to the bottom to get them free but he did it.

Cooks Capt Sav A Hoe

Six boats left the anchorage the day we left and Dazzler and one other boat were the only ones who didn’t have trouble getting their anchors up. Everyone was just gawking at us as we smoothly raised our anchor and cruised out of the anchorage. Yep….we looked like professionals.

Of course all good things must end and so it was with immense sadness that we said goodbye to Harry & John and the mystical and magical place known as Suwarrow. Three days was clearly not enough time to really enjoy all there was to see there but alas we had parts arriving in American Samoa at the end of the week and we had to move on. So, we departed the anchorage for the 80 mile journey to Pago Pago.

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan


Cooks Best Sunset