We reached Samoa after a challenging crossing. Since leaving Beveridge Reef, we had been sailing north on a beam reach. The wind varied somewhere between 20 and 27 knots. High, steep waves hit us right on the side and regularly splashed into the cockpit. At least twice we got hit so badly, that the cockpit filled with water up to our ankles. For seconds we just sat there, watching the water flow back into the ocean through the two thick outlets.
I was standing in the middle of the companionway when a wave hit us with such force that the boat almost lay flat on the water. I saw Keren – she has been sitting leeward in the cockpit and suddenly swam up to her belly button in the foaming masses of water. Maelle stood on the other side and kept a lookout. She was looking down at Keren almost horizontally, her mouth wide open and her hands held fast tightly around the sunshade and bimini to keep from falling.
Changing Winds caused a lot of work on the foredeck.
As quickly as we were thrown to the side, WASA came back just as quickly. The water drained away and we just looked each other in the eye for a few moments. Then we burst out laughing.
When we came closer to shore, the sky was cloudy. All around us, we saw the rain falling from the sky. I had no information about the entry procedure, only that one should radio the port authority when approaching the port of Apia. We made contact on channel 16 and were instructed to proceed into the harbour to anchor with the other sailboats and to wait for the health department.
While we made our rounds and searched for a suitable anchorage with the depth sounder, some of the workers from the docks welcomed us waving. We found a suitable place between the other yachts and waited; waited and waited. Although we radioed the port authority again and again, no one showed any interest for WASA. Later, when the sky turned red, we knew that no one will check our papers today and went to sleep.
The next morning; it was Friday; finally a small boat approached. The health department! After a short round of greetings and introductions, I helped the official onto the boat. The three Covid tests we did all came out negative. While we waited for the results and filled out forms, we had a good chat about Samoa: Samoa, more precisely western Samoa, has been a German colony from 1899 to 1914. With the beginning of World War I, New Zealand took over the administration. Samoa finally gained back their independence in 1962 – This year the island celebrates 60 years of independence!
Since the Corona outbreak three years ago, the borders remained closed to tourists. No plane or ship was allowed to land on the island for tourist purposes. Since the opening of the border on August 1, we have been the 10th boat to enter.
Before leaving, the official solemnly declared that we were now allowed to recover the yellow flag. The yellow flag stands for the letter Q in the flag alphabet and is therefore used as a quarantine flag. It is hoisted on starboard under the courtesy flag before reaching a new country. It states: „Everyone healthy! We would like to check in! „.
Now it didn’t take long and another boat approached us – a funny sight: Mark from a neighboring catamaran approached us with his dingy. On board were three more customs officers, all Samoan build, pushing the dinghy deep into the water. One officer joined us on the boat, the others Mark drove to the other new arrivors.
The procedure of entry is quite similar in most countries. First you have to visit the health office, then customs, then immigration and possibly the port authority afterwards. Many forms have to be filled out, questions answered, and certificates checked.
We haven’t had a Samoan courtesy flag. Time to get creative and start stitching!
Many sailors are upset about this or are downright afraid to face the officials. „Unnecessary paperwork“, „unfriendly“, „rip-off“, „it takes for ever“. All that might be true! The procedure can take a long time, many questions are asked and sometimes you wonder how exactly the requested amount of money has come about.
But as sailors we are visitors in a foreign land – we have to stick to their rules. Especially since we nowadays have easy access to most of the information about procedures and requirements via the Internet, through official government sites, or forums like noonsite.com.
For me, the entry is always something special. You never know what is going to happen, sometimes everything works out wonderfully simple and fast, another time you give away days before you hold all the certificates in your hand.
In the past, usually everything went well. I always try to approach the officials with a smile on my face and the necessary respect. I prepare a folder with all the necessary papers and copies what often saved a lot of time. Even when things didn’t go as expected, it was always good to stay calm and friendly and explain the situation. In Costa Rica for example, the customs officers personally took care of finding my ID card, which I had forgotten at the bank. They even arranged a delivery to the customs office.
With all its escapades the official entry and exit, is just part of the adventure and always provides funny stories!
In Samoa the customs officer was definitely very friendly! However, during the thorough check of our papers, his expression darkened for a brief moment. Our Zarpe, the exit form from French Polynesia, did not mention Samoa, but Fiji as our next destination. „You should not have come here. You broke the law“ the official explained without further comment. He was right. And we had quite little to counter. I explained to him the situation, our itinerary and that we were on the run from the announced storm.
This journey is my dream! If you want to support me and keep the journey going, please feel free to invite me for a symbolic dinner!
Thank you so much!
He understood and said that we could try to clear in with a so-called „emergency stop“. We would have to write a small handwritten letter to the head of the customs office and could then count on a permit. He helped me, put words in my mouth that justified our entry: „storm“, „exhaustion“ and „running out of supplies“ apparently work well.
In return he asked me if I could take him ashore with my dinghy. The customs office has no own motorboat, and he would like to handle everything today. No sooner said than done! In the end, I not only drove our customs officer ashore, but also played shuttle service for all the other officers and translated for a French couple that was not confident enough in English.
In the evening, when our customs officer came back to the boat with the confirmation of our entry, he greeted me with „Talofa, Brother“ – which means „Hello my brother“. Everything had worked out so far. We got permission to enter Samoa.
But still we were not allowed to leave the boat. – The immigration office had not been there yet! It was Friday evening; the weekend was coming up and was followed by a holiday on Monday; no chance that we would get our stamps soon.
In order not to be stuck on the boat for four days, I took the dinghy ashore on Saturday morning and went to the customs office to ask my new friends for help. In fact, the officer got behind the phone and soon returned from his office with a grin on his face. „You are free! – You can pick up your stamps on Tuesday„. I was already on my way out when he followed up: „Let the others know, too!“
– „Of course!“