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Around the World with Captain Mercer: American Samoa

Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012

The evening before our arrival at American Samoa, a spectacular sunset begs for a photo. Billowing Cumulo Nimbus, thick and heavy with moisture, parade across the horizon, the sun setting behind them, turning the sky to gold and orange. The sea is like glass and just a gentle swell rocks the “Amsterdam” as we steam westward.

Pago Pago, American Samoa beckons us today. An early morning, still in darkness, lights twinkling in the humid air along its shores with the volcanic peaks outlined against the sky. The sunrise, to the east and astern of us, comes quickly and the first rays of the sun hits the tops of the mountains, turning them from darkness into verdant green. The higher the sun climbs, more of the island changes colour, until one can see a mass of vegetation, palm trees and sandy beaches.

Pago Pago has a deep natural harbour, shaped like an inverted ‘L’, a reef provides protection from the swell, however, there is a natural break in it, wide enough for ships to enter. In the space of a ship’s length, the echo-sounder shows a vertical wall, one minute registering over 500 metres and within seconds, 35 metres.

The inlet walls are covered in greenery, with houses dotted around in cultivated spots. The smell of wood-smoke permeates our air-conditioning and layer upon layer of it is
suspended in the trees, not moving in the still air.

Our pilot boards and comes to the bridge, greeting us like long-lost family, he explains that everyone is cooking ‘Umu’, or a traditional family meal. The meat and vegetables are baked in a pit and covered until done, similar to New Englanders and their ‘bakes’. The smoke is the result of the many baking pits.

We swing on arrival and park between numerous tuna-fishing boats and inter-island work boats. A concrete pier, not quite long enough to accommodate all our length, however more than sufficient in the circumstances. The inevitable straw market is just outside the gates, a blaze of colour against the grey of the pier’s surface.

Clearance granted by the local authorities and our guests are down the gangway, ready to do battle with the market stall owners, jump into taxis or wander into town. It is hot and very humid and many, having claimed victory in their ‘bartering’, head back to the coolness of the ship, their spoils of victory in hand.

We have a short call here, having arrived at 8 in the morning, we sail at 1 in the afternoon, having to make Sydney, Australia on time is of paramount importance. The pilot boat blows a shrill salute on her whistle as we depart and we in turn reply, the deep tone of our whistles reverberate around the harbour, bouncing off the surrounding peaks. We pass a dilapidated building, nestling amongst the palm trees and growth; the once proud terminal for Pan-American Airways, when they ruled the Pacific with their massive flying boats, an echo of an age gone by.

Tonight we allow for crossing the International Date Line, we put our clocks forward by 24 hours, now it’s Sunday, tomorrow we will wake up on Tuesday, Monday has ceased to exist for us……….

1 Comment
  • MS. B. Thomas

    Thank you for revealing the splendor of God, by showing His marvelous works within the places we, as His created beings can live, enjoy, and hopefully with enormous gratitudes. Samoa is home, dwells within the heart.

    Thank you again,


    MS. B.T.

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