Yes, Ben is back on the KWAI  and writting to us again.  Yay Ben!! Welcome home!

Saturday 11th of June 2016, Christmas and Fanning Island

Mauri, mauri to y’all from sailing cargo vessel Kwai. Our ship arrived at Christmas Island last Monday and started offloading the bigger part of our cargo. After arrival, there was a significant change in crew. Plenty of crew members with family on this island stepped off only to be replaced by other faithful Kiribati crew. On Wednesday our cook Jane flew back to Honolulu. She will join us again on the next voyage to the Cook Islands (a ‘must-do’ in her profession). Later the same day I, Bengineer, arrived on Cassidy  airport, just on the edge of Banana village.

Arriving in Christmas island felt like coming home. I left the plane surrounded by two dozens of amateur fishermen, carrying expensive gear. Inside the ‘terminal’ (no toilet paper or running water), the chief of immigration, Bitareta, recognized me and tried to keep a straight and earnest face while I started blabbering conventional greetings in Kiribati language. The other locals present turned their heads and thought:”whos that imatang?”. There happened to be nobody to pick me up, but of course I was soon offered a ride to the dock. On the bed of a truck I was informed about ‘the latest’ about my friends here on the island.

Once I arrived at the jetty captain Brad and all the crew welcomed me back on board. Only Mark, the supercargo, I didnt know yet. It was almost time to call it a day so by the time I had stowed my gear the cargo hatch was being closed. I had not been on the Kwai for two voyages and I was pleasantly surprised to see all the changes that had been made on deck and in the engine room. My god, during my absence the crew had done a total make-over of the ship. It looks clean, perfect and organized. I can hardly wait to make my personal contribution during the refit in Fiji later this year.

The conditions during our passage from Christmas to Fanning could not have been better. With a steady wind, force 4 on our starboard quarter, the captain ordered all the sails to be set. This made the ship stabilize and run a comfortable 7,2 knots on a slight sea. Our passengers had a great time eating, sleeping and singing because, for once, none of them suffered from motion sickness.

Shortly after lunchtime on Friday we entered the lagoon in Fanning where we found our mooring buoy waiting for us. Half an hour later the passengers were being escorted to shore and we started prepping the ship for cargo handling. The boom-tent was stowed away, the deck scrubbed, the cargo gear was set-up and the cargo hatch opened. Thanks to the experience of local stevedores and our crew we had most of the ‘Christmas cargo’ off loaded before nightfall.

Before we arrived in Fanning we heard that the barge, that we use for our operation, had sunk. What a Bummer! Now we were forced to use two smaller boats to bring cargo to shore. Brad asked me and Arioka to go over to the other side (of the pass in the lagoon) to see whether the barge could be salvaged. The aluminum barge is the size of a small pontoon and has a double bottom with four chambers. We found it tied to the dock while listing dangerously to port side. The islands’ locals had already tried to pump the pontoons dry but to no avail. The hull turned out to be undamaged and the water had infiltrated through leaky hatches on the aft section of the barge. With the use of a borrowed 110V generator (thanks Bruno!) and a submersible pump it took us one hour to pump roughly 2000 liters out of the pontoons. Two dozens of stainless steel screws, three tubes of Vulkem 116, and a few hours of labor later we had the barge floating and ready to go.

LUNCHTIME

During days like these, where we are working cargo with the help of a dozen local stevedores, the cook serves a huge lunch ‘Kiribati style’. Nothing can please the locals more than a plate full of sticky white rice with Spam and tin-can sausages on the side. This time our cook Taua spoiled the gang by adding ‘all you can eat’ instant Kim-Chi noodles. I realize that the contrast could hardly be bigger with today’s breakfast: French toast, I-matang (=strong) coffee, fresh pineapple, Greek yoghurt, scrambled eggs, and a wide variety of cereals. i can hardly wait for… dinner time!

Bengineer