Stopover in Samoa
What problems exist here are made up for in spades by the warmth of its people. "Passage Notes" March 2008
According to Sean Myers, "It all started out with an energy-bar wrapper." Myers, who sails Souls Calling, a Lagoon 500, says that while eating the bar, "for some reason I was thinking about my life goals. The bar just happened to be a Clif Bar. On the wrapper was a brief note from the fellow who made it. He thanked his father, Clifford, for all the wonderful times they'd had together. It stopped me dead in my tracks. I wasn't expecting something like that on a wrapper. I was touched, deeply touched. I wondered if my kids felt the same way, if I'd done enough with them and for them for them to be as grateful. I decided that I hadn't. I was too busy with work. They were too busy with school. It was time for a change. So I walked downstairs to the kitchen where my wife, Jennifer, was preparing dinner, and I blurted out, 'Let's buy a boat and sail across the Pacific!'"
My wife, Carolyn, and I were getting reacquainted with the Myers in the air-conditioned main saloon of Souls Calling in Apia Harbour, at the island of Upolu, in Samoa, the country formerly known until 1997 as Western Samoa. We'd first met them a year ago during a Cruising World Adventure Charter in the British Virgin Islands; they were just then setting off on their South Pacific adventure.
Now they're old hands at the Pacific Ocean; even their young ones are.
Outside in the bright tropical sun, Jake, 9, climbed the mast while 11-year-old Mikaela also monkeyed around the rig by climbing the port shrouds hand over hand.
"When Sean suggested this trip, I was completely taken by surprise," says Jennifer. "But I know that when he says something, he means it. So I told him, sure, I'd give it a year, if it was aboard a comfortable catamaran with a genset and washer/dryer. I had no desire to rough it totally."
Sean thought it best to buy a brand-new boat so he wouldn't have major problems or undue maintenance issues. He picked up his sparkling 50-foot cat in France and sailed it with a delivery crew to the B.V.I. to meet his wife and kids. They've since toured the Caribbean and the South Pacific and are eager to move on to Australia.
"We've had a great time here in Samoa," says Sean. "We've also been volunteering along the way with project input from the Peace Corps. Here in Samoa, we got involved with a local village school and had a ball!"
Sean, a successful businessman with a degree in economics, is also quite a promoter and motivator. He gets things done and done fast. Example: He organized all the building materials, 16 local parents, and 16 visiting volunteers and descended upon the school with gusto. In a mere four hours it was like new, with fresh paint inside and out-even new flooring and decorations.
"We did it for the kids," says Jennifer. "Both theirs and ours."
Any words of caution?
"Well," muses Sean, "we're having an incredible time as a family. Cruising with the kids is working out wonderfully. However, I didn't expect the boat to take so much of my time. Unfortunately, we've had a number of system issues. I expected to work on the boat an hour or two a day. Many days I'm spending eight!"
As a cruising destination, Upolu isn't quite paradise. There's a constant swell rolling in the small, industrial harbor. Port fees imposed by government officials can be a bit arbitrary and exorbitant. It's also a country where remittances-income sent home from overseas workers-play a large role in the stalled economy. This can translate into a mindset of "Who's gonna give me?" rather than "How do I earn?"
It took me a while to put my finger on what was ultimately nagging me about Samoa. Then, while walking down a deserted street in Apia, it hit me. The history of the country suggests that about 50 years ago, the town had seemed poised on the brink of success. Now, there's an odd sense of missed opportunity.
Plus there's the crime issue.
"The moment we saw the muddy prints of bare feet on the cockpit cushions, we knew we'd been robbed," says Michael Sullivan, a crewmember and gourmet cook aboard Southern Star, an Island Packet 45. "They just took the stuff laying around-cameras, radios, and MP3 players-but it adds up. We'd come here expecting paradise, and we got this. So we went to the local paper and told our sad, woeful story, thinking that would be the end of it."
"But it wasn't," says Mark Rogers, the boat's skipper and owner. "Every time we went into town, local people would stop us and say how sorry they were. A few days later, there's a knock on the hull, and the local police have caught the guy and recovered almost all our gear. Wow! We were overjoyed and very grateful to all the Samoans who helped."
Mark was born in South Africa but spent the last 20 years or so living in California. Kurt Talke and Andy Jenkins round out his crew.
"All my life I've looked forward to this trip," says Mark. "I read the books and pored over the magazines for years. This transpacific passage has exceeded my expectations in every way. We're having the time of our lives. It's just been great."
Mark is heading for New Zealand to meet his wife, Molly, and their 3-year-old daughter, Kendall.
While the current political administration of Samoa gets mixed reviews from cruisers, its lovely Polynesian people get straight As for hospitality, friendliness, and warmth. They really are larger than life. "You Americans eat until you're full," one joked with me, "while we Samoans eat until we're tired!"
Oh, yes, modern Samoa is a mixed bag. Picture the ghost of writer Robert Louis Stevenson (his remains are entombed nearby) sitting in a palm-frond-shaded McDonald's and attempting to seduce cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead (who conducted her sex research almost a century ago in nearby American Samoa, just 40 miles to the east), and that's the reality of modern Apia.
There were only 10 cruising yachts in the entire country when we were there. If you wish to sail elsewhere in Samoa, you need permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Apia. A 2007 rule now requires sailboats in Apia Harbour to berth in the new marina because the old anchoring grounds are needed as turning space for the container ships.
"We find Samoa a very interesting place," says Holger Jacobsen. "We've been across the Pacific before. We can't seem to get enough." Holger, born in Germany, and his Taiwanese-born wife, Gloria, sail Dharma Bum III, a Privilège 12M. Holger and Gloria co-authored Destination Paradise, a great back-to-front tale of their sailing adventures that's available, alas, only in Chinese.
"Dharma Bum III is our third multihull," says Holger, who founded a language institute in Taiwan-and met his adventurous wife there when she enrolled. "I wouldn't even consider a monohull. However, I caution people about buying a used charter vessel. We purchased ours in the Caribbean. Our hull is structurally OK, but we keep having rudder and saildrive problems. Our boat was used very hard."
Their 3-year-old daughter, Aurora, an avid nudist, completes the crew.
"We're having a wonderful time cruising the Pacific," says Gloria. "People have been so nice to us. Why, some pearl farmers in French Polynesia spent weeks making us an elaborate seashell-and-pearl tree that's just fabulous! But make no mistake: Cooking and sailing and raising a child aboard take a lot of work. But it's well worth it, however, when you're having lots of fun at the same time."
They currently have no specific cruising plans, other than to wander where wind and whim dictate-like the dharma bums they truly are.
After months of cruising in Micronesia, the Goodlanders are now back in Southeast Asia and ping-ponging between the Philippines and Hong Kong.