From the first moments on Maristela, I felt like a totally new era in my journey has begun. For the last eight months, while on land, I was under constant time pressure: whether stopping for a short land visit on one of the islands or passing through one of my destinations on the rush through Central America, time was scarce and precious, and had to be distributed carefully between sightseeing, Internet time and, in shore stops case, big load of ship maintenance. Suddenly, I had all the time in the world, and practically no duties. We planned to stay in American Samoa for two weeks at least, and there wasn’t really that much to sightseeing to do, and little day-to-day maintenance. That suited me perfectly – after the last busy months on Lorraine-D I felt that relaxation was what I needed most, and John was similarly minded – after a difficult single-handling passage from Tonga, he felt he needed some rest.
And the two of us had a beautiful vacation.
We explored every bit of Tutuila Island, going on every road there was, climbing the mountains and exploring the towns, going along beautiful seashores where high waves broke on the rocky ridges and walking on the shady jungle paths. Using the opportunity to stock up with food and supplies, we explored the local shops of all kinds. McDonald’s near the marina, the center of the local yachtee social life, offered free internet for six hours a day, and at last I was able to get hold of friends I haven’t talked to for many months.
In one of our most successful trips, we rented a car, and for the first time in my life, I was driving without an instructor; and I enjoyed that immensely. Previously, driving was expensive, dangerous and tense; suddenly, it was just fun. American Samoa was the best place for inexperienced driver because the locals’ relaxed manners expressed itself in the driving, taking the edge out of it. The speed limits were 30 km/h inside the villages and 45 km/h between them, and the drivers were totally content with the limits, never overtaking and honking only to greet someone they knew.
We drove on mountainous roads across the island, reaching places so idyllic that made clear why there was not much done in the Pacific – why work if you can lie on such a beach, drinking coconut milk and watching the waves? From the local market, it was obvious that the locals didn’t grow anything that needed to be picked from the ground – bending was clearly too much of an effort.
One mysterious fact interested us very much – though many of the houses on the island were half-destroyed and in a very bad shape, but the cars on Tutuila were new, big and expensive. Turned out, there was a tsunami that hit the two Samoas and Tonga. American Samoa was hit the worst, more than 200 people were killed, and we still could see remnants of ruined buildings everywhere on the west coast. To help the local population, US government sent each family a tent and 40 thousand dollars to repair their home. The Samoans, sharing the American love for big cars, left their homes unattended, but they all bought new, luxurious cars…
In the evenings, we had time to read, cook food and enjoy long, deep conversations about everything in the world – and there was much to talk about. Coming from places and age groups as far as possible from one another, different cultures and different backgrounds, we were equally curious about the other side of the world. We both didn’t know much about the other culture’s history, politics and everyday life, having never met anyone from each other’s country in our life before. Each of us proved knowledgeable and ready to share experiences from our homelands, and the other was ready to ask and listen. So we spent many quiet evenings sitting on the stern of Maristela, watching the lights of the harbor and talking about Edmund Hillary and Eliezer Ben Yehuda, about the Palestinian problem and New Zealand economic policy, about places and people equally far from both of us… there was always something to talk about.
John was eager to share, and I to learn, his knowledge and experience about sailing. He had impressive mileage, including around-the-world trip, two voyages through Alaska and Hawaii, three journeys to Tonga and two to Australia and Tasmania.
All of those were done on Maristela, and this small wooden lady and its builder and captain seemed perfectly adjusted to one another in 46 years of coexistence. Contrary to Lorraine-D, equipped with a lot of complicated systems and thus needing constant maintenance, Maristela was totally self-sufficient and able to be managed by one person. It demanded very little electric power, all the pumps being operated by hand, and the little electricity that was needed came from a small solar panel. John’s way of sailing was also very different from what I was used to: on Lorraine-D the sail handling was monotonous and simple, as we had only two sails and we used both of them if we could. John, on the other hand, had 14 different sails with him, and he could adjust Maristela to any weather conditions, optimizing her speed relatively to the wind direction and velocity. With light Maristela, who would have difficult time going hard on the wind and the waves, he had to plan his track more carefully, taking the weather into account. In short, on Maristela, sailing was art, while for Lorraine-D it was just the means of proceeding forward.
In American Samoa, my vision of sailing and sailors underwent a big change, not only because of John, but also of all the people on the boats surrounding us. Previously, I was always sure that mostly people sail in bunches of at least three-four people; turned out, the most common number of crew on a private boat is two, and loads of people sail single-handedly. From a dozen boats we saw in Pago-Pago, there were 6 single-handlers, 3 pairs, one family with kids and two commercial yachts with bigger crews. This statistics is a bit unusual for most places, but American Samoa attracts single-handlers because of its cheap prices on anchoring and living, almost free internet and peaceful atmosphere undisturbed by tourists.
After the two of us felt like we relaxed, travelled and shopped enough, we decided to move on to Western Samoa. Although the two Samoas were the same nation and spoke the same language, Western Samoa was under German and then New Zealand control, finally gaining independence in 1962. While the nation called itself Samoa, the US Samoa has insisted on calling it Western Samoa, to feel more equality between the two. The two main islands of the neighboring countries were situated only 60 miles from each other, thus promising less than a day of sailing between them. After raising the anchor and cleaning it from all the junk that clung to its anchor, we were ready to make our way to Western Samoa.