Samoa

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WorldSouth PacificSamoa

An online cruising guide for yachts sailing to Samoa.

Samoa
13°50′S, 171°45′W Chart icon.png
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Map
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Flag
Capital Apia
Language Samoan, English
Currency Tala (WST)
Time zone UTC+13 , DST: UTC+14
Calling code +685
Samoa is an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean. It is part of the region of the Pacific known as Polynesia. Its population is around 185,000 but many more Samoans live outside the country, particularly in New Zealand, Australia and California. Samoa is about one-half of the way between Hawaii and New Zealand. The islands have narrow coastal plains with volcanic, rocky, rugged mountains in the interior. The two main islands are Upolu and Savai'i. The capital, Apia, and the international airport are on Upolu.
Small info.png Latest News
August 2014 -- Apia Marina is now open again after repairs, power and water have been restored to all berths. UN Small Island Developing States Conference commences on 28th August. Teuila Festival commences on 25th August with the main opening event on the 29th August.

Samoa is a country comprising two main islands, Savai'i and Upolu, as well as several smaller islands (some inhabited, some not). Upolu contains the main city, Apia, and approximately 75% of the population. Savai'i is the larger of the two main islands and offers some exotic island scenery as well as a few sheltered anchorages, notably Asau Bay.

In 1997 the country's name was changed from Western Samoa to Samoa although the name Western Samoa is still used by some people, specifically residents of American Samoa immediately to the east.

In 2009 the country changed the side of the road on which vehicles drive -- Samoans now drive on the left side of the road in line with many other countries in the region (the exception being French Polynesia).

In 2011 Samoa moved from the East to the West side of the international date line, moving forwards one day. This means that it is now on the same side of the date line as Australia and New Zealand, and shares a time zone with Tonga. American Samoa is still on the east side of the date line, in line with the USA and French Polynesia.

Samoa's currency is the Tala, with one tala approximately equal to 50c Australian / US. Prices in tala are indicated with a $ sign in Samoa, meaning that some prices can seem quite high if you equate those with dollars, but are in fact quite cheap. Expect to pay between 4 and 6 tala for a beer in most bars, and 15 tala is considered a reasonable price for a cafe meal. Locally grown produce can be quite cheap, for example 5 tala will buy a few coconuts or a bunch of bananas.

The Samoan people are a Polynesian race, speaking a language closely related to the language of Tokelau, and similar to that found in Tonga. Samoans share many customs with or similar to those in Tonga, and are keen to teach visitors about their customs and way of life known as Fa'a Samoa. Samoans are quite religious, with Sundays being a day of rest with very little open. The Mormon (Latter Day Saints) church is strong in Samoa with many large LDS temples around both of the main islands. The Samoans are a welcoming people and will go out of their way to help visitors.

Despite limited facilities in some places, even compared to other South Pacific nations, it is well worth visiting Samoa. A cruising route through the northern or southern Cook Islands can easily accommodate Samoa as a stop on the way to Fiji or even Tonga, or onwards to Vanuatu.

There is a marina in Apia with some facilities and several anchorages on the northern side of each of the main islands. From Apia it's possible to explore some of the sights of either Upolu or Savai'i islands by taxi or rental car, and from the various anchorages it's possible to visit rainforests, waterfalls, and see a way of life that has not changed very much for centuries.

Robert Louis Stevenson, one of the most famous authors of the day, settled in Samoa in 1890, and endeared himself to the Samoan people. Known in his time in the Samoan language as Tusitala (teller of tales), his house survives today, restored as a museum for visitors in the hills above Apia.

Charts

Land Information NZ
NZ 86 -- Samoa Islands (also covers American Samoa)
NZ 865 -- Approaches to Apia Harbour. This also covers most of the anchorages on the northern side of Upolu.

Navionics digital charts are largely incorrect for most of Samoa except in the immediate vicinity of Apia, and should not be trusted. C-MAP charts are mostly correct except for a few places around Upolu. The LINZ charts mentioned here and in other places are the ones to use, they are available in paper or digital format.

Note that in many parts of Samoa, especially the south coast of both of the main islands, there have been insufficient surveys done to regard any chart as absolutely correct.

Weather

Samoa's overall climate is hot and tropical, with drier conditions between April and November, and hotter and wetter conditions between December and March. The climate becomes milder as you head into the highlands of Upolu. The South Tropical Convergence Zone often moves over and past Samoa, bringing moderate to heavy rainfalls even in the drier season. Otherwise the climate is similar to that in the Society Islands of French Polynesia, and warmer and wetter than that of Rarotonga or Tonga.

In the wet season there are occasional cyclones. There is no cyclone-safe anchorage or marina and so visiting sailing vessels should avoid Samoa during this time of year.

Unusually for countries in the South Pacific, the Fiji Meteorological Service does not issue a weather forecast for Samoa waters. The Samoa Meteorological Division issues a weather forecast here, which includes a coastal waters forecast.

GRIB data and Fleet Code data covering Samoa is available through Saildocs and other services -- see the Weather page for details.

A generalised South Pacific weather forecast from the Fiji Meterological Service may be found here or by sending an email containing send nadi.sopac to query@saildocs.com. See the Weather page for more information.

Passages

Typically, Samoa would be approached either from American Samoa from which it is a day or less sailing time away, or from the northern or southern Cook Islands. Typical transit time from Suwarrow in the northern Cooks is 4 days, from Rarotonga it would be around 6 to 8 days depending on your yacht speed and the prevailing winds.

Onwards from Samoa, next destinations are typically Tonga (either Niuatoputapu or Vava'u, Fiji, Wallis, or at a long stretch (10 days or so), directly to Vanuatu.

Note that if there is a significant southerly component to the wind, reaching Tonga from Samoa can require some upwind work. However Niuatoputapu Island in Tonga can typically be reached in 2 days sailing or less, so a weather window does not have to be very wide to make the anchorages there.

Islands

Main Islands

Other inhabited islands:

Anchorages for these islands are listed in the Berthing section below. Note that there is no usable anchorage for yachts on Apolima island.

Communication

There are no radio nets specific to Samoa. The harbour master in Apia harbour maintains a regular if not constant listening watch on VHF 16. Note that radio reception is quite poor in Apia harbour, and it may be the case that the harbour master will not hear your VHF contacts until you are just outside or even inside the harbour. HF and VHF transmission from yachts in the marina is very poor.

Also see: World Cruiser's Nets

Navigation

See Apia

Entrances

Apia is the only port of entry or departure.

Immigration & Customs

See Apia.

Visas

A 60 day visa is offered to all visitors. This can only be extended in special circumstances.

Health & Security

Security is not an issue in Samoa, the Samoan people are generally speaking very honest and crime rates are low, both in Apia and outside.

Outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases such as Dengue Fever and Chikungunya occur on occasion in Samoa, although are not common. Malaria is not prevalent. Typhoid is endemic in Samoa and you are strongly advised to get vaccinated before travel. The Samoan Ministry of Health is quite proactive in alerting people, via posters around town and regular announcements, about any health issues.

Tap water is treated mainly around the Apia town area however it is still strongly advised to consume bottled water from commercial companies. Personally I had no issues drinking water from the tap after filtering with a standard household water filter of a fairly common brand.

There are two main hospitals in Samoa, one on each major island, and various medial and dental services are not hard to find in Apia.

Berthing

Apia is the only suitable port in Samoa.

There are several anchorages on the north side of Upolu, and two that I know of on the north side of Savai'i, notably Asau Bay.

Before visiting these anchorages, after clearing in to Apia, you need to obtain a cruising permit. To obtain this:

  • Write a letter requesting the permit, stating the name of the vessel, crew names and nationalities, and the vessel registration details. Also state the harbours which you wish to visit and also the duration of your stay in Samoa.
  • Take a copy of this letter along with your passports and a copy of the registration papers.
  • Visit Elisaia Galulolo, at the Prime Ministers office on the 4th floor of the government building in central Apia. To enter the building use the lifts which are in the car park. Take the lift to the 4th floor and ask at the reception desk for Elisaia by name.

The permit is issued on the spot, and there is no charge for issuing the permit.

Fagaloa Bay (Upolu)

Entry approx 13°55′S, 171°32′W.

This is a wide deep bay, with a few villages scattered around the shore. It has good shelter from the prevailing winds. Entry is easy although there are no lights or beacons, the mouth of the bay is wide and deep. The Navionics electronic charts I had for this bay were out by about 1km, there appears to have been a poor tiling job done when constructing the charts, but the C-MAP charts were accurate as were the LINZ charts.

There are two large, uncharted, but easy to see rocks off the northern point of the bay, Utuloa Point. These will be easy to see and miss during daylight but if you are entering by chart at night then stay at least 200m off this point.

Anchor near the head of the bay. Beware the reefs on either side but the water shoals very gradually as you approach the head of the bay so you should be able to choose your anchoring depth. I had no problems finding places to anchor with plenty of room at 12m depth. Holding is good. Some swell enters the bay on occasion but it generally allows a pretty restful sleep.

Falefa Bay (Upolu)

Entry approx 13°53′S, 171°34′W.

All of the vector charts I have for this bay are inaccurate. The C-MAP chart is out by about 100 metres or so, the Navionics chart appears to be a complete work of fiction. The LINZ (raster) chart is accurate.

This bay is best entered from the east. There is a small island on the northern side of the bay with extensive reefs around it, keep to the south of the bay as you enter.

This is an attractive bay with a few villages on the western side, containing two large conspicuous churches. I found a secluded anchorage in a bay on the southern side, near an isolated sandy beach with a good snorkelling reef. Depth was about 11m and holding was good. If there is some northerly in the wind then the swell in this bay can be quite significant -- it might be better to move to the nearby Saoluafata Harbour.

At the head of the bay is a small river which leads up to the Falefa Falls. This can be reached by dinghy. At the mouth of the bay is a small coral island with mangroves growing ashore, a lot of rubbish and a somewhat foetid central pool. Near the island there is some good snorkelling but there is also a fair bit of current moving around.

Just outside of the bay, on the western side about 800 metres past the point, there is a small resort called Le Uaina Beach Resort which has a dinghy landing (tie up to the steps) and serves a decent lunch.

Just a little past the resort (walking distance, or take your dinghy across to the ramp), is Piula Cave Pool in the grounds of the Methodist church. The pool is fresh water, cool but not too cold to swim, and well worth a visit. It's quite popular with locals and tourists alike.

Saoluafata Harbour (Upolu)

Stand off the reefs to a point 13°51.085′S, 171°37.177′W and head in on a heading of 175T (164M) or thereabouts. Note that there is often a fairly significant west running current running across the mouth of the harbour, so you may need to steer somewhat to port to keep course. The reefs on your starboard side will be fairly visible but there are also underwater obstructions away from the reefs, so stand off them and keep to the course line until you are in. The reefs to port will be visible only in fair weather.

The C-MAP and LINZ charts for this harbour are both accurate, the Navionics chart is once again a work of fiction. If in doubt consult google maps or google earth which shows a reasonably good outline of the reefs. None of the beacons or leading marks shown on the charts are present, all appear to have been removed or destroyed recently. In particular the location of the front leading mark now has a house on it, I am guessing that the mark was taken down to allow building.

This harbour offers the best shelter of the north coast bays and harbours (other than Apia) because of the reef to the north, but there can be a little swell coming in as it bends around the easternmost point of the bay. It is certainly better than Falefa Bay if the wind swings to the NE. Anchor pretty much anywhere in the harbour, there is plenty of good depth and the holding is good.

There is a village ashore with some shops and village supplies but nothing else of note ashore. The Le Uaina Beach Resort and the Piula Cave Pool can both be reached by dinghy but they are a little further from here than they are from Falefa Bay.

There is a small volcanic island in the harbour called Albatross Island, landing on the island appears somewhat difficult but there is good snorkelling nearby.

Mulifanua (Upolu) and Salelologa (Savai'i)

These are the Upolu (east) and Savai'i (west) terminals of the ferry that runs between the two islands. Some cruising guides may report that these are suitable for anchorage but more recent information from the Samoa Ministry of Transport indicates that these harbours may not be entered by private craft except with special permission from the ministry.

Manono Island

Manono is a small inhabited island (albeit with no cars -- walking paths only) in the Apolima Strait between the two main islands, about 1.5 miles off the coast of Upolu. Recent reports indicate that a suitable anchorage may be found on the north western side of the island near a small gap in the fringing reef. There are a few small villages and at least one resort ashore.

Leave plenty of room off the reefs on approach, and do not attempt to round the southern shores of the island or pass between Manono and Upolu, as there is insufficient depth.

Matautu Bay (Savai'i)

Arrive outside the bay at approximately 13°26.143′S, 172°22.425′W and come in on a heading of 141T (130M) to avoid the reefs on the northern side of the bay and a shallow patch just inside the entry. The anchoring area is at around 13°26.825′S, 172°21.875′W and offers good shelter from the prevailing winds. The navionics charts for the bay are accurate, as are those from LINZ, but the C-MAP chart had insufficient detail.

A small amount of swell can be expected if the wind moves slightly north of east, but otherwise the bay is calm, with anchoring in about 7 metres over sand.

Dive Savaii run diving and snorkelling tours from this bay, and will collect you from and return you to your yacht if you book a tour. There are two resorts on the NE side of the bay that offer evening entertainment, dinghies can be landed on the beach outside either resort. There is an extended rock wall providing some extra swell protection for the resort beaches between the resorts and the anchorage, go outside the wall with your dinghy, and don't attempt the reef crossing at low tide. There is also a pizza cafe opposite one of the resorts.

Asau Bay (Savai'i)

All of the charts for this bay are incorrect. The LINZ and Admiralty charts are out of date. As I write this a NZ Navy survey team are heading for the bay, so expect an updated LINZ chart to appear in the near future. The C-MAP chart is out by about 0.57nm, the Navionics chart has insufficient detail.

The entrance is pretty exciting, and not in a good way. There is a significant swell coming from the NE into a deep hole just at the port side of the entrance, with breakers that stop just as they reach the reef at the port point of the entrance.

To enter the bay it's best to call Ian from Va-i-Moana resort on 7777955 about an hour before arrival and ask him to guide you in in his dinghy. The leading markers marked on most charts are no longer present and the channel marking buoys on the C-MAP chart are optimistic but entirely fictional.

If you wish to attempt it by yourself then arrive at 13°29.983′S, 172°39.361′W and come in on a heading of 139T, or 128M. There will be breakers close to this line on the port side. There is a white post either side of the channel, part way through the entrance, you need to favour the port side of the channel (close to the breakers) as you come in to avoid shallow patches to starboard. The next waypoints on the channel are 13°30.179′S, 172°39.179′W, 13°30.285′S, 172°39.094′W and 13°30.618′S, 172°38.805′W. by the time you reach this last waypoint you should have good depth, be inside the bay, and be clear of the channel.

There are depths anywhere between 18 and 6 metres inside the bay (although it shoals fairly quickly on the south side, I went from 8m to 3m under the keel in about a boat length), plenty of anchoring space in what appears to be clean white sand. I found a good anchorage about 500m from the resort in 15m of clean sand.

The resort does good meals, lunch and dinner, and has a Samoan Feast night for WST35.00 on Friday nights. Call the resort in advance to confirm as nights and prices seem to change occasionally.

Forums

List links to discussion threads on partnering forums. (see link for requirements)

Links

References & Publications

  • Visit the tourist information office in central Apia and collect a copy of the Jasons.com guides. There is a small booklet covering various attractions around the island and a larger fold-out pamphlet with maps of both islands as well as central Apia. Both publications are free.

Comments

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