The way to American Samoa is tied closely in my memory with sail repair. Never had we that much of it as during those 7 days. As our sails were still torn in Pitcairn storm, We mounted a spare jib and main; and though the jib was well experienced, hard-working one from the Atlantic, the main was old, evidently not used for 5 years at least, small and not quite adjusted to the boat. The thread that sewed together its parts tore constantly, and a rip that advanced in a few minutes took hours to repair. Additionally, we manage to tear the third spinnaker sail only hours after hoisting it. I spent my last day on Lorraine-D sewing the two sails, starting at 9 in the morning until it was too dark to sew.
We arrived to Pago-Pago harbor on a sunny morning of July 19th, and made our way to the dock in extremely dirty water: plastic trash, food scraps and bits of wood were floating in the water all around us. After we attached ourselves to the dock, we were greeted by unbelievably fat local officials; the marine patrol policemen, who came by to say hello and ask if we’re married, were even worse, resembling potato sacks more than human beings. Afterwards we found out that American Samoa is the fattest country in the world, with 93.5% of the population suffering from obesity problems.
Despite that, the trash everywhere on land and in the water, and the stink from a local tuna cannery, we liked American Samoa from the very first moments on land, when we boarded the local bus. The buses here looked homemade, as though someone has busted the back of a regular car and fitted a wood box on it instead. Inside, they were decorated with local colorful fabrics, had big speakers that played reggae at high volume and cost you 1$, no matter where you went. In short, they were friendly and fun, and had just the right atmosphere of living in South Pacific. Our previous encounters here were a bit disappointing – Rarotonga and Tahiti were too touristic and expensive, Mangareva too remote and dormant, and all of them lacked any indigenous speck we really looked for in this part of the world. US Samoa, though thoroughly infiltrated with American culture of junk food, consumerism and love for big cars, had nevertheless its own relaxed and friendly way of life. The local green scenery was unspoiled by tourists, who avoided the island because of the water pollution and the fish stink of the tuna factory, and the island didn’t even have any facilities to receive them, having only one hotel which wasn’t very attractive. Though I’m not a big fan of consumer culture, seeing American-fashioned big department stores with impressive choice and reasonable prices was nice after the appalling shopping costs of all our previous stops.
As I went back to the yacht after our first lookout, I met John, our closest neighbor, whose wooden boat bearing the name Maristela was attached to the berth ahead of us. From our first conversation I learned that John is from New Zealand, and he sailed alone to Pago-Pago only for a brief stop, to get the boat out of Tonga, an independent island nation to the south-west of Samoa, where he spent a lot of time. It was then when I started considering the possibility of moving from Lorraine-D to small, cozy 32-footer that was operated single-handedly by probably the most amazing person I’ve met on this trip.
John has dreamed about going around the world on a boat since he was a little kid – he used to sail as long as he remembers himself, and his school notebooks were full of boat drawings. No wonder than when he started his carpentry apprenticeship, he begun the preparation for building his first boat at the back of his house. After searching meticulously for the best model and gathering lead scraps for the keel, 17-year old John begun building Maristela, who would be his loyal companion and only home for many years. Working full-time, John devoted all his free time and mental effort to the boat, and after three years of work, the boat was finally ready to be launched on water. It took John another three years to get prepared for the big voyage, and in 1968 he set out on the big trip of his life – going around the world. For the next few years, John has led a life of a gypsy, travelling between all sorts of countries and stopping here and there to earn some money to keep the boat going. After stopping for several years in US, and sailing twice to Alaska, John decided to return to New Zealand with his family, thus completing his circumnavigation in 18 years. Since then, he has undertaken quite a few trips in South Pacific, and in the last three years has frequented the Kingdom of Tonga, New Zealand’s closest neighbor and wonderful place to find shelter from the cold New Zealand winter.
I didn’t know that much then, the long and fascinating tale of John’s life slowly uncovered before me during our subsequent talks. At that moment, talking to John on our second day in US Samoa, I knew basically that he’ll spend some time in US Samoa and will head back to Tonga, that he’s done a lot of sailing in his life and that now he sails alone. However, I sensed the atmosphere of altogether different sailing around the boat, and guessed that the bag of John’s stories is full an just needs the proper listener… that’s why, when I hear John is leaving the dock to anchor deeper in the lagoon, I asked him if I can join him in his journey. After some consideration, consulting with his wife and mutual discussion about possible plans of sailing together, John agreed. I stayed the following couple of days on Lorraine-D, trying to do as much cleaning and tidying as I could, doing this last bit of favor for the place that has been my home until now.
The parting with Lorraine-D and its captain wasn’t painless – I have spent more than 7 months on the boat altogether, and felt as if I was a part of it already. I stood on the dock to release the mooring lines, seeing, for the first time in my life, Lorraine-D leaving the port without me onboard. But after saying goodbye to this wonderful period in my life, it was time to move on, to the new adventure.