In Christmas Island a significant part of the crew was replaced by other crew. As usual, the standing Kiribati arrived at their home-island, were replaced by others who had not been sailing for quite some time. Brad and me took the plane from Honolulu to Christmas Island to replace Evy and Shony. We were sad to see Jane step off because of health issues.

I found it a great pleasure to see that so many tourists disembarked from the plane at Cassidy Airport on Christmas Island. Mainly men that come  to the Island for hard-core bone fishing. Fiji Airlines stops over on their ‘non-stop flight’ from Honolulu to Nadi, Fiji, and this makes the Line Islands more accessible to visitors. The tourist industry is still small, but it means a significant contribution to the local economy. There used to be 4000 tourist a year visiting Christmas island, and apparently the number is growing.

When I arrived at the terminal, a construction made of plywood and corrugated steel, I was happy to see Bitareta’s face. For years, this well-humored stocky lil’ woman, has been the customs officer for the Kwai. Although we have known each other for years, she hardly lifted an eyebrow when I came to her booth. When I was cleared, all she asked me in a low voice was: “do you have any sjoklat?” (Chocolate) . How I love this culture and its people!

Although the captains and engineers were not on board, the remaining Kwai crew had been working hard to retrieve the anchor that had managed to get stuck at a depth of 50 meters. Together with a professional diver, mate Megan went down to assess the situation. It turned out to be a discarded anchor chain that our anchor had managed to grab. On the second dive, the Kiribati diver attached a line to the fouling chain. This line was then hoisted by our cargo crane. Our own anchor was let out a shackle or so, and the ship moved away from the spot. A few hours of work had paid off, and the crew can be very proud of themselves.

The next day around three pee-em, we hoisted anchor, and set sail for Penrhyn Island, the Northernmost island of the Cook Islands. The weather was fantastic and we soon shut down the engine, continuing our voyage at an average of 8 to 9 knots. In the morning though, we discovered two seams to be ripped in the gaff tops’l. No wonder, because winds were quite strong. The crew took turns in stitching the seams back together.

This trip we carry an extended crew of fourteen. Brad decided to bring more crew because of a request that he received from Rarotonga. The sailing cargo vessel Tiare Taporo apparently has difficulties finding crew and wants to hire some of our faithful Kiribati. When the down payment on their wages has been received, the crew will be dropped off on one of the Cook Islands, to continue their voyage on another ship.

With fourteen crew members on a four day leg, I have the privilege of being assigned an assistant engineer. Burangke has been sailing on the Kwai for four years, and he turns out to be a great student. Besides the training we have been doing hands-on jobs, like taking apart the faulty inboard head, and cleaning out the engine room bilge. As a true Kiribati island guy, there was not a word of complaint during these dirty jobs. It’s true: these people don’t complain. All day long they kid around, sharing smokes and making jokes.

Because of the favorable winds, we passed the equator earlier than expected. We were already a few degrees into the southern latitudes when Neptune arrived on the foredeck. This time it was Banu who took care of the honors. During this ancient sailor’s ceremony, newbee crew members who have never crossed the equator before, are initiated into the realm of experienced sailors (shellbacks). This time we had three pollywogs on board: Tokaniman from Christmas island, Tekateke from Fanning and Crissy from Maine. Tokaniman was accused of eating too many bananas. Tekateke was considered of being too small, and Crissy’s crime was being too pretty!!! The standing crew was happy to oblige in the punishment: a bath in genuine bilge water.

And on we go… towards a destination that takes us out of the winter, into the Southern summer. Our thoughts are with the ones we love on shore. Let these thoughts warm your hearts. Until we return in January.