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SEA Currents: SSV Robert C. Seamans

October 10, 2015

Landfall in Wallis

Rachel Rosenberg, B-watch, Hampshire College


Looking off the starboard side of the ship as we pass through the narrow opening in the reef to enter Mata’utu harbor.

Ship's Log

13°17.133’S x 176°10.129’W

Docked in Wallis, setting sail again on Tuesday October 13th

A patchy covering of stratocumulus clouds, but warm and sunny, with Force 5 winds

Souls on Board

Today was the day we had all been waiting for.  Although we came within a mile of Wallis yesterday, we couldn’t enter the harbor because the high swells would have made the narrow entry too risky.  Today, however, the swells were smaller, and Captain Sean deemed it safe for us to enter.  We aimed to pass through the 300 foot wide channel at around 1000 local time, when the tide was supposed to be favorable.  B-watch had the deck at this time, and with the help of the whole crew we brought the Seamans safely into port.  The first thing we had to do was strike the sails and switch to engine-power, which provides greater precision in steering.  This was going smoothly until we got to the jib.  I’m still not sure why, but as we were hauling it down, it started flapping around wildly, its lines whipping all about.  Five of us had to climb out on the bowsprit (clipped in by our harnesses) to get the sail under control.  What fun! After all the sails were struck and we were motoring into the harbor, it was mostly up to the professional crew to get us through the opening in the coral reef.  A lookout posted on top of the foremast combined with several experienced eyes and hands on deck made for smooth sailing.  As we passed through the narrow passage into the harbor, students and crew members alike were awed by how close the ship was to the waves breaking on the reef.

We docked at Mata’utu, the largest city on the island of Uvea, part of the French overseas territory of Wallis and Futuna.  We were the only large ship in port on this 78 sq km island with less than 9,000 inhabitants.  The local television station came to report on our arrival, and several families stopped by to watch.  I suppose that an arriving group of 35 is significant in a place that averages only 200 visitors a year.  After we cleared customs, we got a couple hours to walk around on land.  I had been worried that my 10 minutes of practicing French from a phrase book wouldn’t be enough, but we encountered so few people in “town” that it wasn’t an issue. Things that we did encounter: lots of pigs, coconut trees interspersed with trash, ornate Catholic churches, abandoned houses, and crumbling sea walls.

Before heading back to the ship for the night, we visited Bernadette, the chief of services at the Ministry of Culture who answered all of our questions about Wallis.  She told us many things that we couldn’t tell just by walking around for a couple hours.  For example, Wallis has no income tax, but it does have free education and healthcare.  Also, there is some internet and landlines, but no cell phones.  Some people have jobs, but the major occupation is subsistence agriculture and fishing.  In addition to the French territorial government, there is a local political hierarchy consisting of a king, a few ministers, and several village chiefs.  With so little published information about Wallis, it is exciting to be here and learn about the culture and environment firsthand.     

- Rachel


Leave a public comment for students and crew to read when they reach their next port and have access to the internet!

#1. Posted by Marianne Donovan on October 13, 2015

Rachel, so nice to read about your trip! Wallis sounds like a really unique place. Here’s something I bet you didn’t know - Uvea means something in medicine: 1.the pigmented layer of the eye, lying beneath the sclera and cornea, and comprising the iris, choroid, and ciliary body.

Loving reading about your trip.



#2. Posted by Cindy Rosenberg on October 23, 2015


We are following these posts every day with great interest and excitement for you and some days a little nail biting. (Gales, seasickness, waves washing over you on watch, oh my!)

#3. Posted by Aunt Gena on November 17, 2015

Holy cow Rachel this is cool! This must be an experience of a lifetime. I know poppop is up there admiring what a strong person you are. He would have LOVED to have done something like this. I am just catching up on these blogs, but promise to catch up daily. Thank you all for letting us share in this AMAZING experience.



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