29/12/2012, 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
21/12/2012, 01 21.925'N:172 55.772'E, Betio Harbour, Tarawa, Kiribati
Saturday 22 December
Just a quick update, as we wait for customs and immigration to come out to the boat, to let know we dropped anchor just off the Betio Wharf, Tarawa atoll at 9.20 am this morning after a perfect moonlit sail ¬- beam reach all night.
We couldn¬'t hold IM back, even completely reefed down she was making 4 kts, like the proverbial horse headed for home! As a result we had to tack for an hour or so up and down outside the channel before first light enabled us to safely enter the unlit harbour.
Unbelievably another Australian yacht entered harbour just after us, and now we are both bobbing at anchor waiting to hear when Customs etc will arrive. There is a pleasant 10k breeze and we are enjoying the rest ¬- hope your Saturday is going well.
It could be Monday before we get ashore, so may not have internet connection sorted until after Xmas, but wishing you all a wonderful Xmas day. The local AVI representative came to the Tarawa port office to speak to us over the VHF radio, and asking us to contact her as soon as customs formalities were finalized. It will be very exciting to start the next stage of this excellent adventure, even as we sadly realize the 5,500 kilometres of ocean crossings are behind us for a little while. It's been a fabulous experience. More details in coming blogs, as we will use this space to update you on our year in Kiribati, and also outline more sail adventures as we hope to get around to some of the outer islands in the coming months. Seasons greetings to you all, Love from the tired but very happy Skip and Crew IM
20/12/2012, Southwest of Tarawa, Kiribati
Friday 21 December
Photo Note - Banaba Island
It was actually late Wednesday afternoon when we sighted Banaba-Ocean Island 12 NM off our starboard bow, a small low isle, too far away to make out much detail in the drizzle, but exciting to see all the same. (Doesn't take much to excite us out here!). Depsite its low profile above sea level, it is actually a 4000 metre high mountain sitting on the sea bed. As with all land, it then seems to take forever to 'get past' it, and the currents and seas appeared to be affected for quite some time. As we laboured past Banaba, the usual late afternoon thunderstorms had been building, along with the swell. The rain squalls we had been cheekily surfing and darting away from ganged up on us, and there was no possibility of avoiding the storms gathering at our heels. Night descended, with a nasty large purple blackness looming over half the horizon.
By this stage of a passage, lack of decent uninterrupted sleep is starting to catch up with the crew (even Marco!) and knowing we will soon be in port , all we wanted for an early Xmas pressie was a few more nights of moon lit sailing, with the boat humming along to the swishing sound of the miles slipping past the keel. Santa obviously didn't get our letter, as Wednesday night rapidly turned into one of those that makes you wonder why you sail.
The black clouds caught us, out came the wet weather gear and tethers. Several rain squalls preceded the main storm, and even when that passed, the weather pattern had changed - settling into 15-25k winds, gusting to 30, constant rain and intermittent downpours. The sea state became way too uncomfortable for the off watch to get any sleep (aka me and you all know how ugly I get when overtired!), and making a simple cup of milo earned Tone several new bruises (and not from me!). By midnight we were both dripping wet and cold, and just a teensy bit 'over it'.
Enter the Examiner, of course! Three bright lights loomed just over the horizon. Previously, similar lights had turned out to be fishing trawlers, often with no AIS system, or not using it if they have, so they didn't show up on our warning system, and they don't answer call ups on the VHF radio. Shortly after spotting them they disappeared behind another curtain of rain. Earlier that evening, when we had decided to track a rain shower, we discovered the radar had stopped working, some connection probably loosened by the headsail in a sloppy tack or perhaps, just like us, tired. So the radar wasn't going to help us keep an eye on their whereabouts in the dismal conditions. We got the boat settled, and she zoomed along in the strong winds.
Optimistically, Skip Tone went below to shut his eyes. He had barely been asleep an hour when one of the trawlers emerged dead ahead out of the driving rain, her multitude of bright lights and accompanying dories looking more like an NT road train than a vessel in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. At first I could see a red port light, then a green starboard light, and then both lights coming straight for us. Unbelievably, the wind dropped, and because we were well reefed to cope with 25-30k winds we suddenly stopped. With less than a mile between us and the trawler, we had no boat speed, no steerage, and no idea what they were up to. Several futile calls on the radio went unanswered, they must all be hauling the nets or cleaning fish, the way the trawler was going round and round in circles, there must be someone on the bridge, or maybe not! It was 4.30 am, so maybe they were all asleep, unlike us. Reluctantly I called Tone on deck for a second opinion, indicating that now might be a good time to turn on the engine. He agreed, and long story short, we turned away (and much to our chagrin, off our course, NO VMG!). IM's iron topsail chugged us slowly and safely past the trawler, still seemingly oblivious to our presence, despite our radio calls and repeated lighting of our sails with white torches. As dawn broke, blearily sipping our tea, the other two trawlers motored into view - heading back to what must have been the mother or possibly processing ship.
After motoring most of Thursday morning the breeze picked up again and we hauled out some more cloth and shook out the reefs, thinking we would sail across the equator. We were both a bit tired and the thunderstorms were still lurking - the joys of tropical sailing. I had chilled some wine, and it looked like we would be passing 'over the line' around 2 ish, a respectable time to be having a wee sip we thought. This is our second time over the equator but we still wanted to mark it appropriately. Sadly the weather gods had different ideas, and 10 minutes or so before the magic 00.00.00 figures on the GPS, another small squall sprang up... and our attention turned back to hauling the headsail in a few turns, reefing down again, and getting anything that didn't like being wet (ie the kindle etc) down below. So....no photos of us crossing the equator, and it wasn't till later that day we could even toast King Neptune. Tone did share some of his beer with him however, pouring a generous amount over the gunnels into the choppy slate blue waters.
Thankfully Thursday night passed much more serenely, with a steady 10kts from the southwest, veering round to the north, which we are still enjoying this morning, with an overcast, but not raining, sky. We are less than 80 miles south west of Tarawa, and both GPS are predicting an early Saturday morning arrival.... (!!) We can scarcely believe it.... this time tomorrow we may be at anchor! As with any arrival, the first few days are busy clearing customs, quarantine and immigration, but we will let you know as soon as we can that all is well.
Keep enjoying those Xmas parties, Cheers Andy and Tony