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The Appalling Apia Marina

I’m often accused of ‘only telling the good parts’ of cruising. Maybe this missive will change that perception.

Frankly, I’m not too fond of marinas or, to put it another way, I don’t like trailer parks even if the trailers float. Nor am I fond of being ordered around. Especially by idiots. So I was a bit shocked, while in (formerly Western) Samoa, to be summarily ordered into their new Apia Marine.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you boaters have been asking us for a marina for years,” said the happy-but-don’t-mess-with-me harbor host guy… who just happened to be the head of the bribe-happy Port Authority as well. “And to give us more room in our crowded harbor!”

The harbor was almost empty. You could easily anchor another fifty yachts and six inter-island freighters within it. And, while I’m not against marinas existing as an option, making them mandatory is certainly not a regular practice in the South Pacific.

Plus, I’m not rich. I can’t afford to pay $30 a day for dirt-dweller abuse. The simple truth is I came to Samoa to chase the ghost of Robert Louis Stevenson and Margaret Mead, not to be a profit center for its power-mad Port Authority.

To say the marina was new is a bit of an understatement. The evening before Wild Card pulled into it (and ran hard aground twice), it was being furiously-if-incompetently dredged… by a rusty back-hoe on a dangerously tilted barge.

The first vessel which tied to a piling… pulled it over… like a candle-in-a-cake. On the day of the grand opening—yes, the Prime Minister made a stirring speech—one of its big-boat finger piers broke loose in two knots of breeze… without anything tied to it.

A couple of minutes later the gleaming shore-power/water box across from our slip… keeled over like a felled tree… again, with no one around.

Not only was this the marina-from-hell, it was haunted!

The very first evening, the blissfully-happy security guards went around to all the yachts and shook their crews down for beer, rhum or worse. The second evening the security guards brought their own kava bowl… which evidently gave them the munchies. “Do you have any food aboard your yachts, please,” they begged, “perhaps some potato chips or beer nuts?”

No, of course, there were no toilets. Ditto, no showers. “But we are going to build them for you soon, and when completed… no extra charge!” said the Port Dictator with a sleazy, what-more-could-you-ask-for smile.

There were some shaded benches and a picnic table in the marina… but a crudely printed note said these were off-limits to yachtsmen—for the use of Port Authority officials only. 

For almost a week all ten boats in the harbor were told we’d be ordered into the marina the following day. But nothing happened for five days. The marina opening was, happily, postponed. (Two of the ten vessels actually wanted to go into the marina, the other eight did not). But we were in a foreign country, and, hey, you gotta-do-what-you-gotta do, right? So we hung around our boats to move them instead of day-tripping ashore.

Suddenly, on Saturday morning, the Harbor Master was zooming around in his dinghy. yelling at us. “I’ve been calling you on Channel 12 since dawn… why aren’t you monitoring the Port Authority frequency? It is time to go into the marina… go, go, go… right now!”

Needless to say, this created bedlam in the anchorage. We all hastily yanked up our anchors and rushed into the marina. An American vessel named Marcy, with Captain Peter of Washington State, was in the lead… and, wham, came to a sudden halt. “I’m aground!” he said.

We’d been promised there was a minimum of 15 feet in the marina when, in reality, there were numerous spots with only four feet… and some slips for sixty foot sailing vessels with less than three feet of depth!

“I’m aground,” Peter repeated to the Harbor Master who was waiting to catch his lines 50 yards away.

“No, you are not,” said the Harbor Master.

“What..?!?” said Peter. He was in total disbelief. Not only was he obviously hard aground… not 100 feet from the Harbor Master who told him he wouldn’t be… but the guy was NOW telling him he wasn’t.

Peter didn’t loose his cool. Instead, he grabbed his six foot long boat hook and speared it into the water… where it stuck in the mud with plenty protruding.

…now all the remaining nine of us were not aware of this… as we were underweigh, heading in. The Harbor Master could have informed us or warned us or instructed us to avoid that particular clump of dredging—but he did not. Almost every boat which drew over 5.5 feet ran hard aground.

It was chaos. A small squall was passing at the time, and many of the vessels, once aground on the trailing edge of keels… had their bows pivot with the wind… and were danger of damaging themselves, the docks or other boats.

Some of the yachtsmen, realizing that the Harbor Master was now KNOWINGLY attempting to force boats drawing seven feet down four foot channels… attempted to warn their fellow boaters. They shouted from docks, from their boats… one fellow even ran out on the seawall… “Turn back,” they shouted. “Slow down! Reverse!”

There were numerous boats aground at the same time… with the harbor master yelling, “More throttle… give it some power, Skipper!”

I have, in my 47 years of living aboard, never seen anything quite like it.

I mean, it was an incredibly funny scene if it wasn’t happening to you!

Needless to say, many of the skippers weren’t too happy… and expressed their displeasure forth-rightly to the Harbor Master… who was amazed how ungrateful these foreign sailing wretches were… now they were hollering at HIM!

That was HIS job!

His face turned to stone. 

He started to openly yell back… and on his HH VHF (which all vessels were required to monitor) contemptuously referred to his now five-minute old customers as “bloody asses.”

And the new instructional signs were a laugh riot. As you came into the marina, the first important sign you saw said, “Upon entering the marina, shut off your engine.”

Perhaps they wanted total chaos, eh?

Now various people, even ones who didn’t want to be there, had various expectations and agendas. For instance, Floridian Duncan-the-sailor on Good Karma. He speaks fluent Samoan which he learned during his years as a Peace Corp worker. He figured this would be a good time to give his Samoan family a tour his boat.

…but the Harbor Master said no. “No Samoans allowed aboard or anywhere in the marina,” he said.

My wife Carolyn figured she had misunderstood. Surely, a Samoan wouldn’t be making a racist rule which eliminated people such as himself… why he and his workers would be in violation… at the very moment he uttered rule!

“No Samoans,” he said. “None. Never! No exceptions…”

(There is a serious theft problem in Samoa, so this could be behind his strange logic, although it was completely silly because, of course, ALL the visitors {and mechanics, boat-workers, etc} to the marina were Samoan… hell, we were in Samoa!)

“You have to wear your marina badge at all times,” said the Harbor Master. “No exceptions!”

Now my wife Carolyn is slow to anger… but she is of Italian heritage… and when she started waving her hands around… well, I know she’s about to go off.

“What badge,” she asked.

“…the badge I am going to give you,” said the Harbor Master.

“Okay,” Carolyn said, “then give it to me.”

“Two dollar,” said the harbor master.

“…then you aren’t giving it to me, are you,” Carolyn vented. “You’re selling it to me. You’re already asking us for more money… you’re hitting us up with hidden charges, within minutes of arrival!”

“You have to sign-in and sign-out every time,” said the Harbor Master to change the subject. “And have your pass to leave the premises or get back in…”

This was easily solved. We all just kept our dinghies in the water to avoid the lengthily delay while the lip-moving-and-not-too-speedy security guard demonstrated, again and again, that he could not spell “wild” nor “card”. (I’m sympathetic to the fact English isn’t his first language and spelling isn’t a high priority in Samoa… but if the ONLY way I can go ashore… to find a toilet, for instance… is to have my name, pass number and vessel’s name accurately recorded in his ledger… well, I can only spend five or ten minutes saying “W-I-L-D” and “C-A-R-D” before I blow my top while wetting my pants).

Yes, I could go on. The marina is airless and, thus, stifling hot. Port truck traffic is very loud. Just across the street is a nightclub which doesn’t know the disco-craze is over… even at 2 A.M.

When I complained about running aground, the Port guy just grinned evilly and spudded a giant dredge within a couple of feet of my vessel… and dredged underneath me for three days straight… just upwind of me… literally splattering my entire port side with mud.

“…deep enough now, skipper?” asked the port guy.

“Yes,” I wept in frustration, “I guess so… thanks!”

The strangest part is that every other Samoan we’ve met during our stay… with the sole exception of the head of the Port Authority… has been absolutely wonderful to us.

Sadly, many vessels which planned to stay for two weeks for the XIII South Pacific Games, are now moving on to Tonga. The brand new marina will soon be as empty and profitless as the anchorage.

Cap’n Fatty Goodlander lives aboard Wild Card with his wife Carolyn and cruises throughout the world. He is the author of “Chasing the Horizon” by American Paradise Publishing, “Seadogs, Clowns and Gypsies” and “The Collected Fat.” For more Fat-flashes, see fattygoodlander.com.

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One comment

  1. Wow…I’m surprised that you don’t describe the fistfights this jerk must have been in on a daily basis. I understand uncaring and even ineptness, but when someone actually tries to cause harm to a vessel or its occupants, my hillbilly roots might have provided a trip to the local orthopedic surgeon for this mongrel. You are a patient man Cap’n….

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