16th of July 2016, Washed-up in Washington island

Dinnertime… that’s where I left off in my last blog. Oh no, not fresh lobster again! With coffee-ice cream as desert. Man, it’s a hard, hard life on this sailing vessel. The lobsters were a present from one of our friends on Fanning island. The Kiribati people are famous for their hospitality, especially what food is concerned. However basic the meal, they will share it with you. My personal favorite dish is ‘te mota’, where the saucer-size leaves of an ordinary weed are covered in batter and deeply fried, mmmmm.

We delayed our voyage to Washington island with one day, because of bad sea conditions. Once we arrived (on Monday) captain Brad decided to stay an extra day to be able to serve the island community better and load all the bags of copra that we found neatly stacked on the shore waiting for us.

Washington island has the shape of a square egg, with a fresh water lagoon as the joke in the center. Because of this shape there is hardly any shelter from the waves and the swell that just curve around the island. As a result of the high swell and the choppy waves we had quite a few injuries on board this time. Worst case was a cut in the forehead of our crew member Tokateke. He is the designated driver of the aluminum council-boat that we bring from Fanning. Unfortunately this time Tokateke was devoted to bailing the water out of the boat when an exceptionally violent wave hit the boat and almost capsized it. Tokateke hit his forehead on the sharp deck-edge resulting in an impressive scull-deep wound.

Luckily we have the equipment of a small clinic on board, and fortunately I am a suture-freak. So I asked our assistant cook Arina to find an icepack for Tokateke’s head, and I had Teruia sterilizing the medical instruments. Just when I got all dressed up for ‘the operation’ on the aft deck, the captain told me to fix a problem with the  outboard engine on the council boat. Half ‘n hour later I returned to my human patient and started the job of sticking holes in someone’s skin while the ship was rolling heavily. Just before nightfall I finished the last of seven stitches. Helping a fellow crew member like this is surely more gratifying than fixing an engine (although the engine hardly ever complains).

At night I had permission to spend time on shore and in Washington, like in many other Kiribati islands, there is no other entertainment than the local kava-bar. I paid 20AUD for four giant bowls of muddy water, enough to treat a dozen of locals to a night out in the town. I think kava is a blessing in this era of alcohol-related problems. After a dozen of cups one basically falls asleep while clutching the last empty cup.

While the kava-bar provides the p.a. and other musical equipment, the customers themselves provide the entertainment in the shape of ‘krokeh’ (karaoke). It seems like all the locals are blessed with angel’s voices and often you can witness two, or three layer harmony singing.

On Washington island the white man is still a rarity, especially at night in a kava bar, and I soon learned that I was the special guest of the evening. So when it was my turn to perform the song of my choice I could not refuse of course. Thanks to the kava there was not a trace of stage fright, but… the influence of the substance on the brain is considerable. My memory blacked-out after the first Chorus. Still, because of the fact that I managed to (kind of) sing a song in the Kiribati language, I gained ‘eternal’ fame. The next day, whenever I met local people they would shake my hand and smile for my (tear jerking) effort.

The next morning, still numb from the effects of kava, i decided to walk along the beach back to the Kwai. A sandy coral-beach, rimmed by a dense palm tree forest, that outsiders might classify as ‘tropical paradise’. Reality, however, is different. On my way I found the beach littered with human and animal excrements. One used diaper and a dying dog later I decided to put back on my flip-flops.

Because of the huge swell it took us two full days to off load the cargo destined for this island and on day three we started early to load copra. Luckily the island had recently received a ‘donation’ from the Taiwanese government: three glass fiber polyester longboats that could assist us in our operation. By the end of the day we had 85tons of valuable dried coconut on board. Islanders get paid 2AUD per kilo nowadays which can add up to 150AUD per day p.p. This lucrative business lures people from neighboring atolls to relocate to this place of plenty.

On Thursday, at 1800h we started loading 50 passengers and at 1900h, just before nightfall, the anchor was hoisted and we were on our way back to Fanning. As we have the prevailing wind, current and waves right on the nose, it will take us about 16hrs to bridge the 80nm between the islands.

Bengineer