A funny Thing Happened on the Way to Tokelau

We got underway from Tonga about mid-day, and saw whales blowing in the distance as we worked our way out of the maze of islands. We had twenty knots of wind on the beam, which meant fast sailing. Too fast. Once we were clear of land it became quite uncomfortable. But more importantly we had allowed three days to get to the vicinity of Samoa, where Drina was, and it was only going to take two. We had the idea that we would spend a night at anchor in Apia, without going ashore, so we could avoid going through the formalities, and then we would leave the next morning in company with Drina. But an email from Michael on Drina said not to try it — that the Samoan officials would require that we clear in and out, including paying a minimum of $100. Michael also wrote that when he gets to Tokelau he planned to have a boat pick up Doina and her son Dan, and since there is no safe anchorage he would simply drift for the day.

These prospects did not sound pleasant. We were crashing through big waves with deeply reefed sails; we needed to kill an entire day so as not to arrive in Tokelau before Drina; and then to spend another day drifting off Tokelau… We decided to drop the Tokelau plan. After an hour’s deliberation we decided to head for Wallis Island (in the French group Wallis and Futuna), west of Samoa and on the way to Tuvalu, where we still hope to rendezvous with Drina.

I had some misgivings about withdrawing our support from Doina’s effort to visit Tokelau — a place she had visited as a child, and a place that is severely threatened by climate change. But here’s the funny (though sad) thing. The next day we got another email telling us that Doina’s request to visit Tokelau had been denied! I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t want the Blue Planet Odyssey support, or simply allow Doina to visit. But whatever…suddenly I felt good about our change of plan!

The wind continued to blow in the mid 20’s, occasionally gusting to 30, and although we tried to take it easy (sailing through the night with just a partially furled jib), it was still uncomfortable and difficult to sleep. Also our cruising guide said that when the wind blows hard at Wallis, a very strong current flows out of the pass (similar to Maupiti), so we had some concern about what lay ahead.

But we arrived unscathed and had no problem at the pass. Two other boats were in the anchorage. We dinghied over to the Australian (English-speaking) one to ask for information about where to land the dinghy and how to clear in. We hit the jackpot — they told us all that and much more, and provided us with a hand drawn map of the places most important to yachties (gendarmerie, customs, supermarket, restaurants). We hitchhiked into town (first car picked us up), and cleared in with the gendarme, but the customs office was already closed for the day. We went to the post office, where they offer 10 minutes of free wifi per day, and checked email (which takes about 10 minutes with their slow Internet connection). We investigated the grocery stores, which are far better stocked than in Tonga. Then we hitchhiked back to the boat (first car picked us up) with fresh baguettes and a few other goodies, and invited the Australian couple to join us for hors d’oeuvres. Very enjoyable. They started sailing their 52-foot boat from Spain seven years ago…and they don’t plan to stop sailing in Australia, but will keep on going around. I picked up a few tips about cruising and sightseeing in Oz.

Next day we hitchhiked back to town (easy, again), and cleared through customs. In fact, the customs official cleared us OUT, too, so that we can leave whenever we want. Very laid back. He told us we were the 19th pleasure boat to come to Wallis this year. This place is off the beaten track… We also visited the Cultural Bureau, which provides information about the islands, and free tours (we plan to do that tomorrow). There is no tourism office here.

We stopped for a chocolate croissant, bought more baguettes and Camembert cheese; we stopped at the post office for our 10 minutes of Internet; and hitchhiked (easy) back to the boat. The other two boats have left, so we have the anchorage to ourselves. All very relaxed. None of my usual “yet another paradise blues” — especially since I have zero expectations here, and no particular schedule…no hurry, no worry. We’re thinking we will stay another three days +/-, and try to pick a good weather window for the 400 mile sail to Tuvalu.

3 thoughts on “A funny Thing Happened on the Way to Tokelau”

    1. In response to, “How fast is 20 knots?” (My answers are rarely short…)

      On shore a mile is 5280 feet. I forget if there is a logical reason for that; probably not. At sea a “nautical mile” is 6080 feet. This corresponds to one minute of latitude (60 minutes in a degree, 90 degrees from the equator to the North/South Pole). A “knot” is one nautical mile per hour, or about 1.15 land miles per hour. So 20 knots is about 23 statute miles per hour.

      One might ask why this unit of speed is called a “knot” rather than, perhaps, a “naut.” The name comes from the method of determining the speed on old sailing ships. They would toss a wooden piece (the “log”) into the water, with a light line attached to it and wound onto a drum. The line would pay out off the drum while a predetermined period of time elapsed, like 30 seconds. One nautical mile (6080 feet) per hour is the same as 51 feet per 30 seconds. A knot would be tired in the line every 51 feet (if the time interval used was 30 seconds). After 30 seconds the number of knots that had paid out was the measure of the ship’s speed in nautical miles per hour…or…knots.

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