For the first time since Panama we have openly disobeyed official orders. I was about to write for the first time ever, but then our exit from Panama crossed my mind. I will write about that another time – maybe. Our passports are missing an exit stamp from Panama, after lying to an immigration official and then taking off hurriedly skipping immigration exit procedures.
Here in Samoa it happened again. We tried to do everything right, waited for two hours to get the paperwork from no less than the prime ministers office. Papers that would allow us to visit the island of Savai’i – the bigger of the two Samoan main islands after officially having checked out of the country. There were indications that this procedure was not agreed upon by customs but I thought that they might have figured it out meanwhile.
So after getting our letter and going through immigration exit procedures I proceeded to customs and stupidly told them what my plans were and showed them the letter to prove it was OK. As a foreign yacht I need to get an outgoing clearance from customs – a document that states my next port of call, the crew and stores carried on board and that I have legally cleared out of the last port. Unfortunately they did not agree with my plans. I was told that I could visit Savai’i but would have to come back and that I would get my customs clearance only then.
I told them, that I needed a clearance to Wallis immediately and that it made me very sad, that I couldn’t visit the beautiful Island of Savai’i, because I was already cleared out by immigration and could not stay any longer without violating immigration laws. He agreed and started to tell me about nasty people who were violating the laws and visiting Savai’i illegally. He looked at me sternly, saying he hoped I was not one of those reckless people. I just did what I usually do in such a situation – just looked at him with a puzzled expression as if I had not quite understood what he was talking about. At this point I was actually just very disappointed and thinking that I was going to miss out on Savai’i altogether.
I finally got my clearance but the customs officer confiscated my letter from the prime minister so I took off to the boat in a very angry mood. We had started our quest at 9:00 o’clock and meanwhile it was 13:00 and I was sweating away in the heat of the day – I was hot and bothered. I proceeded straight to the boat and went right on to leave port. Only then it dawned to me that I had gotten myself in to a totally stupid situation – I was buggered (as they say in Australia).
The weather report predicted wind only for this day – hardly enough to get to Savai’i and no wind for the next 4 to 5 days. I would either have to motor the 220 miles to Wallis using up most of my precious fuel or spend the next 3 to 4 days bopping along on a very still Pacific Ocean. Also it was already too late to reach even the next possible anchorage before dark and I was not allowed to do that anyway. Gaylyn telling me how stupid it was to show customs the letter did not make my mood improve at all.
We took off. The port of Apia disappeared in the distance – very slowly because we were only making 3 to 4 knots of speed. It was about midnight when we reached the first possible anchorage and we decided to carry on and make our final decision once we reached Asau – the place where we were originally planing to stay on Savai’i. After a pleasant night sail with a full moon, reaching on 7 to 8 knots of land breeze we arrived outside of Asau at 6:00 (giving us an average speed of 3.5 knots or 6.5 km/h – a bit faster than an average person on foot). Because it was still too dark to risk the entry through the reef I decided to heave to for a couple of hours which would allow me to get some sleep.
I was going towards 9:00 when I woke up again – it was time to make a decision. We decided that it was pointless to carry on with no wind and that we would try to claim an emergency stopover if someone cared to ask, pretending that our engine was playing up.
The entry through the reef was rather exiting. I was navigating with google earth footage but the sunlight was so bright that I had problems reading the tablet display properly. In Asau there is a channel going through the reef with the remains of an old sea wall to port and a reef to starboard. The swell breaks over both sides and the entry is hard to spot. You have to go awfully close to the nasty black rocks that remain of the old sea wall to get into the channel. I got into alarmingly shallow water before I understood that keeping a safe distance to the rocks was not an option.
Our friends of the sailing vessel Dione arrived several hours later. Sue of Dione – being a lawyer – claimed that the sole existence of the document from the prime ministers office was enough to allow me to stay. The fact that some customs officer had confiscated it was irrelevant. Well my previous experience with lawyers is that they are quick to tell you how things are supposed to be but that doesn’t really help much if some official has a different opinion on the matter.
We settled in anyway and started to forget about our unclear legal status until the next afternoon
when a rundown little tinny approached us with two police on board and the barkeeper of a close by resort who acted as the skipper. They were already taking photos of Qi from the outside and kept on doing so after boarding. When I asked them how I could help them they said they had come to see our permit. Gaylyn started telling them that it had mysteriously vanished but I do not like telling bullshit to officials, so I told them that customs hat taken it away.
They were not overly worried. Instead after telling us they would try to retrieve the document for us, they changed the topic and proceeded into the inside of the boat, made themselves comfortable and accepted our offer of drinks. The policewomen showed interest of my music that was running and her male college tried two glasses of the wine we had just got out for sun downers. They ended up taking plenty of photos of us and themselves and took off after 20 minutes, the male officer slightly clumsy from the effects of the wine. We have not heard of them again so far..