We left Savai’i on schedule, which meant that we were once again planning our departures based on formalities rather than on the weather. Unsurprisingly, we were rewarded with sub-par weather. The first day was salty, with light squalls coming and going. We tried to make guacamole, but were thwarted by the woodiest avocado we have ever opened; despite its soft exterior, the inside seemed more like a construction material than a spreadable fruit. Then we discovered mangoes at the bottom of the fridge, and with the last of the Caribbean hot sauce, the day was saved.
At night, the sail crossed over into spicy, with one squall blowing well into the high forty knot range. Jazz had dug halfway down below her bed before Andrew talked her out of deploying the drogue. But as we surfed at 11 knots, we decided we should furl the already twice-reduced headsail, and Andrew had to clip in and go forward to get the furler to move. Jazz, tailing from the cockpit, watched the waves breaking over the bow onto her soaking, lifejacketed husband with her heart pounding. With the sails reduced, we hid inside and let Otto run the boat as we watched the instruments.
The furling exercise involved some violent flailing that shook loose some of the sail’s UV cover and bent the downwind pole’s attachment point. But that was the extent of our damage, and we counted ourselves lucky when we heard the report that Leni, a bigger catamaran sailing behind us, had shredded its mainsail in gusts over fifty. Still, the stormy conditions meant we were both awake for a beautiful sunrise.
The second day was calmer, but we kept the sails conservatively reefed as we were a little shell shocked.
Still, the feisty first day had bought us time, and we hit our planned arrival time at Wallis’s southern pass right on the nose. We motored calmly, if slowly due to the 20-knot headwind, up around the lagoon to the main port at Mata Utu.
We had to be there to check in, but as we dropped the dinghy in somewhat perilous waves, we knew we wouldn’t be staying. Fortunately, the paperwork turned out to be straightforward and quick: customs is right by the dock, and an immigration officer met us there and saved us the mile-ish walk to the Gendarmerie. He even drove us up to the post office, where we were told sim cards had run out, but we could at least use the wifi to send our papers on to Fiji.
A couple of scenes from our walk back towards the dock. The level of development is notable; we are not in Samoa any more.
We took a short walk, mostly to check the grocery store for eggs (nope, it’s a French island), and were struck by the contrast between this relatively wealthy and very French island, and the poorer Samoa we had just left.
Back on the boat, we followed Acushnet south. The lagoon is really beautiful, all around the island; sailing by all the little motus, coming and going, was a highlight of our visit.
We were headed towards Gahi bay, but turned around when Acushnet reported the entrance was fully blocked with fishing nets. Instead, we headed to Faioa island, on the southeast of the lagoon, where we dropped anchor in fifteen feet and floated our chain amongst some bommies across from a long beautiful beach.
We had a bit of a rainy morning…
But the sky quickly cleared, and we set up to visit the beach, excited to make a day of it: we packed Dinkus full of all our beach toys, chairs, and even the hammock, giant umbrella, and mermaid tail. The approach to shore was straightforward, and we pulled Dinkus up onto the beach between some harmless jellyfish. We were just setting up our umbrella when the sky darkened with clouds of hungry mosquitos, and we bee-lined back into the dinghy, swatting and swearing. Beach day was out, and we were glad we’d anchored so far off shore.
Instead, we picked up Acushnet and brought a subset of the beach gear out into a “shallow” sandbar between their boat and land. We had a couple of drinks sanding in what started out as waist-deep warm water. As the tide came in, we started to risk losing Jazz, so we packed back into Dinkus and called it a morning.
In the afternoon, we went snorkeling off the back of Villa. We found surprisingly large and healthy coral, in many varieties – including directly under our boat, which made us glad we’d opted to float our chain.
There were also some new-to-us fish, which is always exciting. Probably our favorite, this bicolor fangblenny, and its excellent undulating tail.
Here, a brightly-colored South Seas Devil, left, and a blackeye thicklip.
Down on the ground, we found a speckled sandperch, and several pairs of banded gobies and of … whatever the all-white guys are, maybe sixspot gobies?
Then there was this longnose filefish.
This lagoon triggerfish is unique-looking, but very camera-shy and liked to hide in a little burrow. Also in the sandy region, and new to us, this flagtail triggerfish.
A lemonpeel angelfish, some blacktail snappers, and a hairy thing we first thought was a sea cucumber but on closer inspection seems to be a furry growth on a hard coral. Identifying stuff underwater is hard, especially because the books we have for the Pacific are the same size as the Caribbean books, and… well, look at a map.
Case in point: what is this ridiculous floating-orb algae growing up towards the surface? We don’t know, but it definitely looks like something out of a sci-fi horror movie. Egg sacks?
And finally, we have the Jazzfish, in this case diving down to look at a swollen phyllidia. Her ear was still acting up at this point, so this is her one and only time diving down, at which point she decided that that was a bad idea and she would stay on the surface.
The surprise lack of internet access made planning the next day somewhat more complicated, but we managed to get through to a travel agent via the Iridium, and secured a car reservation. So we got up early-ish and motored the boats around the island to Halalo, where we anchored in forty-five feet of water in an odd-shaped reef basin alongside three other boats (including the aforementioned Leni).
We carpooled into shore, taking some time to get Acushnet’s dinghy anchored appropriately for the swinging tides on the muddy, sloping landing.
We lost half an hour trying to find the driver who was supposed to meet us; without internet access easy things are hard. Jazz ended up wandering into a gated port installation and getting some communication help from the confused guards.
But we found the driver in the end, and he bombed us across the island to the office. And thus begun our saga of being helped to death, as the travel agent came to meet us at the rental agency and “helped” translate our plans in a way that just added confusion. Then he wanted to talk to us about the island, so we (thinking this was about a finders fee) followed him back to his agency, where we got a thirty-minute rehash of the island’s tourist map. Meanwhile Jazz is looking at the time and fuming, as we’re rapidly approaching the noon police station closing hour, and one of the rental car tasks for the day was to finish our check-out with immigration. (Customs had kindly allowed us to check in and out at the same time.)
So we got released from tour-guide purgatory and drove to what we thought was the gendarmerie, but turned out to be the Marie, the generic government buildings. We were redirected to the gendarmerie station, where they were initially confused about what we wanted, but eventually told us that we actually needed the police, not the gendarmerie. So we asked where that office was, but they really wanted to help us, so they said “wait here” and left. They came back and said someone would drive and lead us to the police, and then they left again (time now: 11:40). There was lots of conferring, and several phone calls were made, and then we were told to meet the agent at the post office in an hour. Not ideal, but fine; whatever. Everything was closing in 20 minutes so hopefully this person would actually show at the post office to bring us to a private checkout. We went to “the best restaurant” for a mediocre lunch, and in Jazz’s case, to take the edge off with a glass or two of wine.
One hour later the gents of the group were waiting at the post office while the ladies finished lunching. Lucky for everyone involved, a guy showed up at the post office only 15 minutes late, and Andrew and Ross followed him to a building literally next door to the restaurant. They completed the paperwork, and he stamped the passports, and we were all re-united at the restaurant and ready to start the day of tourism. Ready, except the car, who had trepidations: “WARNING, / I am FRAGILE / I fear the HOLES”
First stop, we drove back to the harbor to try to pick up Christoph from Leni, who had wisely given up on us at this point and started in on boat projects. From there, on to the number-one attraction on the island, the hike around the crater lake! … which turned out to be the crater viewpoint, because the hiking trail has been securely fenced off. So we took a look, and chatted with some guys from the French navy who had come in on a warship, before moving on.
Our next stop was the Lausikula church, which was a pretty building with a gorgeous view. Jazz was thrilled to see the amount of female representation in the statuary around the altar. Andrew was busy chuckling at the fake marble painted onto the concrete columns.
The travel agent had told us that there was a nice walk up a hill behind the local high school, near a big cross. We found the cross, and we walked along the red dirt road, but aside from a concrete telecom bunker we didn’t find much worth seeing.
At this point we’d hit most of the highlights, so we drove the ring road around the island ticking off the other tourist destinations. You get a sense of abandonment, as if the work has left the island and the people have followed. We saw several churches, mostly built within the last thirty years, in active use, and in a state of disrepair.
One in particular was constructed of rough-hewn blocks of coral, had about an inch of water pooled inside the doorway, and smelled strongly of sewage. It was empty that day, but when we passed the next day (a Wednesday morning), we found it packed with well-dressed people with a game of bocce in the yard. Also pictured: the best shirt we’ve seen, possibly ever.
The last recommended stop was Gahi bay, where we’d aborted our anchoring attempt. The view was briefly pretty as we approached from the hilltop, but we weren’t sure why this had made the list of tourist destinations.
And that was all we had in us. We went back to the boats.
We met up again in the morning to futilely search the other supermarket for eggs. (There are never eggs, we don’t know why we bother.) Along the way we stopped to take a picture of this clearly very loved graveyard.
We had some bad instant coffee in the bakery across from the market, returned the rental car, and headed back to the boats to make the pass exit timing on our way to Futuna. A couple of isolated clouds waited for us out in the open ocean; check out its little rainbow!
Also, Acushnet was able to snap these great shots of the breaking waves we passed on our way out.