7th of August 2016, Fanning Island

With ten feet of draft, fore and aft, we made our way from Christmas Island to Fanning on Saturday. Our departure was delayed considerably because of a break-down of the old crane on the jetty that was essential for loading passengers and luggage. Just before nightfall we slipped the lines and set course for Fanning Island with a hatch full of passengers. The wind was strong and favorable but the sea was building. Soon the seaways were constantly washed with waves breaking over the gunwales.

To make the trip as comfortable as possible in these rough conditions we had three crew members looking after the well-being of all on board. They tied down the boom-tent on windward to prevent the people sheltering under it from getting wet by occasional sea-spray. After dinner we surprised the passengers by showing the movie “Cinderella”, on a big screen mounted on the end of the hatch. For two hours our guest were able to forget about the weather conditions out on the open ocean.

Shortly after I came on watch at four o’clock in the following morning something unforeseen happened. Among the four meter high waves there was a “freak-wave” that broke over the starboard side reaching even our highest deck, monkey island. A gulp of seawater entered through the half-open engine room door and flooded the hydraulic generator, setting-off all it’s alarms. “screech, screech, screech”, went the alarm, waking up (almost) everybody on board. It took me ten seconds in the engine room to realize that the vessel was not in peril, and I started washing and drying the flooded engine. Yes, sailing these waters is always full of surprises.

Around three in the afternoon we arrived safely in the lagoon of Fanning where Arioka and Ieie managed to tie our ship to the mooring withing ten minutes. They make it look so easy handling the mooring line, thick as a sailors forearm, from their little rigid inflatable boat.

After transferring all our passengers to shore we set-up the cargo gear and prepared the ship for the job of discharging local cargo during the next few days. After that we called it a day and I asked the captain permission to go ashore. Brad himself took the opportunity of riding some waves during the last sun-ridden hours of the day.

On shore I met Kwai’s long-time customer and friend Bruno, a seventy year old tanned and skinny sailor of french origin, who got marooned on Fanning island two decades ago. He married a local woman, had some children and set up a great bed-and-breakfast. Of all his achievements on this tropical island, Bruno never managed to get a grip on the language, so he greeted me with his usual: “Bonjour Bengineer, comment ca va?”. We set down and he told me the following story.

He said: “I wish you were here yesterday, because I could have used some of your tools”. There was this fisherman who had a big tuna-hook stuck in his leg. He went over to the local nurse who sedated the injured area (while she was seated in a wheelchair, the only chair available in the local ‘clinic’). Because she did not have the equipment to cut the two stainless steel hooks, the nurse sent the patient to see Bruno, the only person with a decent set of tools on the island. Bruno ended up using an angle-grinder with a normal grinding disk. “I ran out of the nice thin cutting disks that the Kwai provides”, he said smiling. So it took him some five agonizing minutes to cut through the tough stainless hook-stems. “With sparks flying all around, the patient complained that his leg was starting to get hot, haha”, Bruno added. After this mechanical intervention it was only a matter of pushing the barbed hooks through, until the points pierced though the other part of the leg. Because the fisherman lived in a village not too close to Bruno’s place, the two men took a ride in Bruno’s brand new Suzuki-truck that Kwai delivered two voyages ago. “While driving down the unpaved paths, I opened my window”, Bruno said, “shouting: Taaatuuu Taaatuuu”, you-know, like a real ambulance. Hahahaha!

Kwai’s departure is set for Tuesday.