Antics at Betio Anchorage
29 December 2012 | Near Banreaba - Parliament House - Tarawa Lagoon
This week has gone so quickly as we all speed towards the end of another year. Hope your Xmas went well!
Now that we have cleared quarantine, we have shifted location from Betio Harbour, with its crowded and choppy anchorage, and moved further up the lagoon to just off shore from the Kiribati Parliament house. We have only been here one night, but it is much calmer and quieter, and with a lot less dinghy traffic. There is also another yacht here, which is always good from a security point of view.
As always in a new place, there is so much to take in and learn, but we are gradually getting into the swing of our new home. We were met ashore on the Saturday we arrived by the AVI representative, Linda Uan and her assistant Motire, who introduced us to the Customs and Immigration people, but as it turned out they were unable to finalise our clearing in as it was a weekend, so we were advised to come into the office on Monday.
We spent Sunday sleeping, relaxing and tidying up IM after the passage. On Monday, (Xmas Eve) Linda and Motire met us at the wharf again and took us around to the various immigration and customs offices and on a mini-island tour, including a health briefing at the local Betio community clinic. The lovely clinic staff took time out of their schedule to warn us of the more important issues. We felt guilty about their time being diverted from the many people waiting to be seen. It was raining on and off throughout the day, so it was nice and cool, but the extra water highlighted how low lying these islands are, and how the slightest bit of additional fluid creates drainage and ground flooding issues. We also got to meet several other AVI volunteers and some local people, who had boats or could help with information about the mooring. An outing was organized for Boxing Day and we returned to IM, a little apprehensive in case she had been 'visited' by someone looking for a quick Xmas pressie, as warned by the yachtie blog, Noonsite, but thankfully all was intact.
Xmas day dawned warm and sunny, but did not really feel very Xmasy. We were still looking for some champagne we had buried deep in one of the lockers, and as the Betio supermarkets had been empty of any fresh fruit and vegetables other than apples (which were delicious and crunchy I have to say!), the tin of Spam Turkey we had found, along with our last potatoes, some sad cabbage and dried peas were on the menu for Xmas Dinner. We were just getting it ready when Tony noticed a fellow from one of the neighbouring trawlers moored close by, drifting away from the mother ship in the aluminium tender, waving frantically for help. Before we left Australia a friend had bought to our attention a story about a Kiribati fisherman drifting for days at sea after the outboard on his dinghy failed, and it was clear this seaman could end up in the same predicament. Tony quickly lowered our rubber dinghy, but decided it would be quickest to row rather than waste another 5-10 minutes get ting the outboard on. He was out of earshot before I could suggest taking the handheld portable VHF, or putting a shirt on. He caught up to the drifting tinnie, but then a protracted interaction took place, as both boats now bobbed closer and closer to the reef. With the current level of the tide they would soon be over it and on their way to the open ocean before too much longer. In the meantime, another man had appeared on the back deck of the fishing trawler and was yelling at the man in the dinghy. He was clearly not happy. Luckily for us, some local i-Kiribati people in a tinnie with an outboard burbled over to Tony and the drifting man, and I could see further negotiations taking place. Tony handed over the rope for the tinnie to the i-Kiribati people, who started to tow the man to shore, and rowed back to our boat. The man on the trawler started yelling in English, "bring back my dinghie, I am going to call the policeman". He was shaking his fist and from the distance, looked angry and menacing. The i-Kiribati people ignored the irate dinghy owner, and we turned to the man in the trawler and shrugged our shoulders, it was thankfully out of our hands, we just hoped the dinghy would be returned.
Tony said the man in the drifting dinghie had been very upset and claimed he had been 'hijacked' by the man on the trawler the night before, who had been beating him, and he just wanted to get ashore. He was distraught when Tony offered to tow him back to the trawler and neither of them could get the outboard motor going. We may never know the full story, but planned to go over to the trawler after we had finished our Xmas lunch and offer the dinghie owner a lift to shore. However, later that afternoon we noticed the dinghie seemingly 'drifting' back the 250-300m from the port wharf towards the trawler. As it got closer a small black wet head appeared at the waterline - the owner had swum ashore and was now dragging it back to his boat himself! Clearly the motor was still out of action. So... that was our Xmas day!
Boxing Day a strong breeze blew up in the morning and as we were still not familiar with the anchorage, and didn't know if the breeze would build, or if our anchor would hold in the extremely choppy conditions, we rang Linda and postponed the lovely outing she had planned for us to meet some volunteers at the other end of the island. It was disappointing but as later events would prove, probably wise! One of the other yachts decided to re-anchor and all the trawlers were hobby horsing around on their moorings quite alarmingly. There are at least five wrecks on the reef to our leeward side in Betio harbour, a very visual reiminder of what can happen if anchors drag or moorings fail.
The rest of week passed in a blur of getting more forms sorted, checking out various shops and supermarkets, (the op shops here are great, Tony replaced a few shirts which have already 'melted' or collapsed away in the tropical conditions.) We met more people, and had the inspection of our boat by quarantine (the officer commented " it is not very big but it is homely"). Whenever large boat envy strikes (everyone else seems to be in a 55ft luxury ketch!), we laughingly repeat his comment to ourselves.
Saturday morning we had decided to motor further down the lagoon, but first wanted to get our gas cylinder re- filled. Once again, as seems to be a pattern, a strong wind woke us early in the morning, but we were more confident about our anchor holding, as the Bruce appeared pretty well dug in now and the anchor alarm on the GPS was silently happy. However, Tony noticed the second mooring line on the trawler ahead of us had given way, (yes, the same trawler from our Xmas day adventure!) and it now seemed closer than yesterday. A moment later, as I went back up on deck to drink my morning cup of tea it was clear the trawler was definitely closer! The mooring had collapsed and the whole boat was drifting back towards us. The crew must still have been asleep and were unaware, so in my best farmer's voice I yelled out to them, and thankfully a man appeared on deck (along with his startled girlfriend). The wind was gusting to 30k and if it had continued at that strength , the trawler may well had collided with us, as Tony fingered the start button, ready to motor us out of the way. The wind dropped slightly and veered, and with the tidal current in our favour, the trawler started to edge slowly past us, less than 20 metres away. We wondered why they did not start their engine, and so decided to call Tarawa Harbour on the VHF to alert them of the situation - the trawler was heading straight for the reef. After several conversations with a couple of people and some miscommunications, (it was early Saturday morning after all) we were able to convince the authorities that it was not us that needed help. We gave them the name of the trawler, but they too were unable to raise the drifting boat on the VHF radio. We were the only yacht still in Betio Harbour at the time as several others had left for the Marshall Islands earlier that week, or had come further up the lagoon. We watched sadly as the old wooden trawler, weighing upwards of 100 tonnes, gently collided with the reef and was then pushed out of our sight behind another large wreck. It had been less than 10 minutes since it broke free. The maritime authorities called us back and asked if we could offer any assistance to pull the trawler off the reef. With our poor ageing 28 horsepower engine and disinclination to get our keel boat any closer to the reef than she already was, we declined, noting it would unduly endanger the safety or our vessel. After the morning's excitement, we decided the gas cylinder could wait for another day, and an hour later we up anchored and motored up to our current mooring. The next high tide, where there would be any possibility of the trawler being hauled off the reef, was later that afternoon, so next time we go to the harbour we will check with interest to see the outcome, but it looks like there is now another victim of the Tarawa reef.
So that was our first week! Happy New Year to you all - hope you have a great evening celebrating, we have been invited to a party, so we are looking forward to that.
Photo Note: Besio Island from IM