Leg 11 - Kiribati - Suvarrow - Samoa

May 16, 2018

 

 

 Christmas Island (Kiritimati, Kiribati) was one of the oddest places we have ever been. It is very isolated from other islands as well as from the country of Kiribati to which it belongs. There is only one plane each week (on Wednesdays) which we fortunately got our departing crew to in time with no problems.

 

The “international” airport was tiny. It had one check in desk and one “security scanner” which didn’t look like it worked. All of the signs were hand-painted including the sign for the airport itself. The seating area consisted of 3 wooden benches in the same small room as the check in desk. There was no food and no amenities. It was basic to say the least. The fact that the airport accommodates a 727 jet coming from Hawaii and going on to Fiji is amazing to me. License plates in Kiribati are also hand-painted!

There were no restaurants or tourist attractions on the island at all. Apparently, 95% of the visiting tourists are there to go bone fishing in the lagoon, a type of sportfishing with saltwater fly fishing rods. The other 5% must be on passing boats like us.

 

Except for fish and coconuts, the fresh food supply on the island seems to revolve around the plane’s coming and going. If you asked about fresh food in the stores, it was the same answer – maybe when the plane comes. As it turns out, I didn’t see much even when the plane came. What the stores did have plenty of was corned beef, sugar and white rice. I did see a few decent looking cabbages in one shop but when I asked the price, one was weighed on a hanging scale and I was told it going to be $16.50! Eggs were $1.50 each. The only other thing I saw was some soft potatoes and Chinese garlic. Therefore, we are stretching out the few veggies we have aboard the boat as long as possible, sawing off tiny bits of cabbage and carrots to add to meals.

 

There are four towns on Christmas Island – named London, Paris, Poland and Banana (right). The airport is near Banana. We were anchored in London in the tiny harbor and appeared to be quite a source of interest to the locals and fisherman who came and went. Everyone smiled and waved. On the last day, I bought two lobsters from a local diver. They were the biggest, sweetest lobster we have ever had – just delicious. We cooked them and served the meat with a creamy butter- wine - garlic sauce and rice.

 I wanted to get to Paris but it was all the way across a wide lagoon so we did not manage to get there. We did get to see Poland on one day when we went out in a rental car with our Australian crew. Both Poland and Banana were very primitive by modern standards – thatched huts on stilts, outdoor kitchens, piles of coconut shells and pigs. Every village has one or more maneaba, a very large pavilion in the center that provided shade, a place to gather and apparently a place to sleep as well. In every maneaba, there was always one or more people sleeping at any time of the day. In fact, horizontal seemed to be a favorite position of the Kiribati people. There seemed to be people laying down everywhere all over town.

 

Very few people wore shoes and women always wore a sarong to the knees. All of the school students were uniforms but were barefoot. However, with the midday heat and rough landscape, I think they must have extremely tough soles on their feet. Everyone we met was very warm and friendly with huge smiles. Few spoke English, however, so there was a lot of hand gesturing to make up for the language gap. We were warned that dogs are a problem in Kiribati and were told to carry rocks in our pockets in case we met an unfriendly one. In fact, all of the dogs were well-behaved.

 

Fortunately, it was not nearly as hot as I thought it would be, situated just 1 degree above the equator. There was enough breeze at night to keep it very comfortable and also in the shade of Elcie’s cabin in the day it was fine. Now if you were in the sun at mid-day, it was pretty toasty. We spent an afternoon touring the island in a rental car and it is mostly a flat and wild landscape with many seabirds nesting. It is hard to believe it but Hydrogen bombs were tested here in the 50s and 60s, even while people were living on the island. Apparently, the bird population has recovered since then but I understand there are some lingering health problems among the older people.

We are underway to Samoa and have about 340 miles to go. We are all looking forward to some civilization (and internet) after a long break from both. Since we left Maupiti in the Society Islands, we have done a LOT of sailing with the only stops being at one sparsely populated island and two uninhabited ones. We have still had great sailing conditions though the moon is now quite small until the next full moon starts to come on which will happen around the end of the month. With just five of us, there is more watch standing to do which makes the time go quickly. The girls are both taking a watch as well. One of them stands the 4-7 pm watch and the other stands the 7-10 pm watch with Richard. 

 Our three days in Suvarrow Atoll were pretty amazing. We ended up being the only humans there as the rangers have not showed up for the season yet. There was so much wildlife on the islands and all around us.

 

On our first evening, we went ashore and Emma realized something was moving beneath a hammock she had climbed into. She thought it was a hermit crab but it was actually a very tiny sea turtle that looked as though it had just hatched and was trying to make its way to the ocean. We guarded it from the terns and frigate birds that were swooping around overhead. It would have made a tasty snack for one of them. It took nearly 20 minutes for it to reach the water’s edge. We didn’t touch it but cleared the path of palm fronds and coral chunks. Sea Turtles imprint the sand so that they will return to the same beach when it is time to make a nest. Once it reached the water, it swam off – looking ever so miniscule in a big ocean.

There were lots and lots of hermit crabs and coconut crabs that startled you as you walked along the paths. In the air were tropic birds, terns, frigate birds and boobies. In the water, we saw black and white tip reef sharks – all quite small. There were some more territorial grey sharks around so we didn’t stay in the water when they showed up. One of the most exciting things we saw were three large manta rays – about 6-8 feet wide - swimming around large coral heads. They show up in the morning to have a cleaning – by rubbing against the coral and also by letting small cleaner wrasse, a type of fish, eat the algae off of them. They are so graceful and lovely to watch.

 

There is an old shack on the first island we anchored near – Anchorage Island. A New Zealander named Tom Neale lived on Suvarrow by himself for about 12 years in the 60s and 70s. He wrote a book about his experiences called An Island to Oneself. Apparently, he got very tired of eating coconuts and fish but passing cruising boats would bring him fresh fruit and vegetables and other provisions from Tahiti. He only left reluctantly in 1977 when he became ill. I’ve been looking for a copy of his book but haven’t found one yet.

 

We dinghied across the lagoon to a small motu (island) that was part of Seven Islands. We picked this spot with a wide beach to document the plastics that had washed ashore. It was pretty shocking – mostly plastic bottles and fishing gear but also straws, spoons, toothbrushes, bottle caps, flip flops. We shot a bunch of video which we are making into a short video about the problem of plastics floating in the oceans. The large pieces break down into very tiny pieces that fish and birds can ingest. From afar, the islands look idyllic but up close you start to see the trash and debris. It’s a big problem. We are now carrying about 7 bags of trash we collected on board. Hopefully, they are willing to take it in Samoa.

 As I said earlier, our own fresh food supplies on board have gotten pretty low. We have a small wedge of green cabbage, about the same amount of purple cabbage, a half a carrot and a tired cucumber. We do have garlic and about 5 onions as well. We’ve been taking votes on how to use the remaining eggs and white flour. Of course, Sunday morning crepes won out. We are a democracy at least when it comes to food. I’m sure that a trip to the grocery store in Samoa will be one of the first things we do after clearing in. 

 

 It’s been really warm so sleeping hasn’t been so comfortable. I ended up sleeping in the aft cockpit one night having given up on trying to stay cool down below. Moonlight was happy for the company and laid down next to me. At least when we are moving there is a breeze over the boat. It will probably be pretty toasty in Samoa so we will likely anchor out to catch any breeze in the harbor. There is a marina we can go to but last time we were there it was very still and humid and there were also mosquitos.

 

Stay tuned for more on Samoa and onward...

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