Thanksgiving Day, 2016 7N 158W

We are heading north after a brief stop at Penrhyn Island to load empty drums for use in Kiribati.  The wind is fine in the East at 10-12 knots and we are motors ailing with all sail set at 7+ knots.  Good fortune has carried us through 22 degrees of longitude and we are now due south of Christmas Island and able to fetch it comfortably on the starboard tack.

We are still riding a wave with Kwai as we head north. The first week of the upwind voyage to Christmas Island gave us much mild SE and even S winds and we could close reach efficiently, averaging over 6 knots, then a N’ly trend put us close hauled on the port tack but still making good easting.  We ended up within a hundred miles of Penrhyn and called there to pick up empty drums, needed in Christmas Island to load fuel for the Outer Islands.  The new mizzen has performed well.  Finally we have reliable weather helm, a great help in pushing the ship to weather, and we can now make progress upwind with only sails.  This is huge as in the event of a major breakdown we should be able to get home without an expensive tow or long downwind trip to an unfavorable port. Then there is the big advantage of further fuel savings.  So much of our route is a close reach or on the wind and the wing of the mizzen gives important lift.  On the 1400 mile trip Suva to Penrhyn we burned only 7000 liters of fuel, while carrying 180 tons of cargo against the wind. We have yet to speed test the sailing rig in any wind aft of the beam over 12 knots, but after Ethan rigged the mizzen staysail yesterday we were making 4.6 knots across a 10 knot breeze under pure sail power.  With weather helm also comes the ability to trim sails forward and aft to help her find her “groove” where the helm balances best, producing minimal drag from the rudder, and where the old girl takes off with maximum boat speed. 

Kwai now carries seven sails – main, main topsail, fore staysail, jib, flying jib, mizzen and mizzen staysail.  This last sail is rigged on a stay between the mizzen at the crosstrees and a point halfway along the cargo boom in its stowed position. One more sail will follow – a taller mizzen staysail, set to the truck of the mizzen. Then the rig will look like a modern sloop following a topsail cutter, and make use of the advantages of both.

Kwai departed Suva with a full load and a full moon on the 13th of November.  After just over 2 months of refit and drydock, we were only 3 days behind schedule sailing form Fiji.  A few days before it looked like we might be stuck another week, with loading issues. Dock space is hard to find in Suva and the paperwork for getting a truck through the gate of the Port daunting.  The first day alongside, we managed only 2 trucks through the gate, and the second day looked like a repeat.  I decided to delay trucks until the following day to be sure the paperwork could be done, then at 1000 the Port informed us we did not have berth the following day.  So call everyone back and we agreed to work late. Suddenly it was all happening; the trucks were loaded, got through the gate and alongside. Stevedores showed up, even a fork lift and we loaded the whole ship from 1700 to 2300. The big trucks were loaded without pallets, but they brought their own workers to unload.  Two trucks were backed up and pallets hand loaded to be swung into the hatch and hand stowed.  Only the pallets of cement and lifts of lumber were not broken.  The Supercargo team, Franki, Megan, Chrissy and Banuera worked to measure, mark, and color code the cargoes as it flew into the hold. Kwai crew as always stepped up and got the job down.  A great comradery set up between the truck laborers, stevedores and Kwai crew as everyone pitched in with gusto and laughter to get the job done and to bed.  The trucks seem to arrive in the right order for good stowage and even the suppliers, ready to complain about any delay to their trucks, had to be impressed and smiling. Wham, bam, close the hatch, stow the 8 lifts of timber on the hatch and clear the dock by midnight.  The next day we slept in until 9 then I spotted an opening at the local ferry dock.  Within an hour we were alongside, taking water and stores and loading the final 30m3 of cargo in the last corners of the cargo hold, fo’c’sle and deck.  Bitareta’s pool table rides on the forward hatch strapped in with Asan’s 3 tons of animal feed. Loading cargo on Kwai is an art form and this load with 4 boats on deck with cargo stowed in and under 2 of them is a pretty picture.  360m3 in all sleep on Kwai, plus 119 drums now stowed on the Aloha Deck. 

A couple of days of stowing, lashing and shopping and Kwai was ready to sail.  The celebration of the accomplishment of the refit and loading and of the new rig carried on the day after departure as we cruised through the Fijian Islands. After a raucous photo session in the morning, Franki led some of the crew on a drift dive along a beautiful reef as Kwai glided under sail through the passage between Vanua Levu and Taveuni.  The rib outboard boat was up and down testing the new davit to get the pictures and reach the dive site. The gorgeous high tropical islands and coral reefs of Fiji slid by.  The I-Kiribati crew saluted the island of Rambe, home to a Kiribati community displaced from Ocean Island during the Second World War so the island could be mined for phosphates.  As the full moon rose we cleared the last outlying reefs of Fiji and headed home.

So after 14 years, the dream of a rigged Kwai has ripened to reality.  We need to thank over a hundred people in this endeavor. First thanks goes to April, Mama Kwai, who has been there in body and spirit from the first days of looking for ships in the Norwegian winter to today, running the office, so often behind the scenes, but a crucial link in the chain.   Secondly to our patient investors, most of who have been with us from the beginning, thanks for this patience.  Now 2017 should be your year.  We send thanks to the original crew – Jojo, Mark, Todd, Boxer, Garret, Elissa and others who worked for years in the poverty and dust of Norway and Portugal, when the dream was just a dream.  Thanks to Mr Ralph Packer, who gave us his dock, his time and freely of his stock the year and a half that Kwai was in Martha’s Vineyard, and to the crew there who worked to get Kwai operating under her first rig in 2004, when we departed New England with plywood covered fore and aft decks. The time had come to get to work with what we had and through the first 10 years of Hawaii operations we rebuilt the rest of the ship between trips – replacing the whole deck, section by section, adding the topmast and bowsprit to the rig, rebuilding the sole in the cargo hold after chipping and painting below.  We have had 6 Captains, Brad, Evy, Kim, Christopher, Dominic and Madeleine, 10 different Mates, 10 Engineers and over 120 crew,  28 of whom are Kiribati, who make up the backbone of the ship. Since arriving in Hawaii, direct investment has been minimal.  Restoration and refit has been mostly financed out of operating profit. Without the office staff and Supercargoes these funds would never have ripened.  April, Wendy and Maire carry the load in the ivory tower of the home office and did the 14 hour stints accepting cargo in Honolulu.  Robinette, now married to Captain Evy, worked there as well, and brought in Daron who built our first Database that now handles the 10,000 items we ship every voyage out of Honolulu.  Super Supercargo is Franki who is on her 14th voyage and has helped build the good bottom lines on all and more.  This tough position has been held by 17 others, some of whom, in the early days, were drafted into service with little training.  Our business is built on Customer Service and the office and Supercargoes have accomplished this, building a huge reputation for service, delivery and even timing.  Thanks to all of you for fueling the Kwai adventure.  Finally we salute the team that got the job done in Fiji. This team has been working for 5 years to make reality of the original plans, plus handling many other incidental improvements along the way.  First to our designer/engineer/naval architect Ethan Aspler.  Ethan has drawn every aspect of the rig improvements and reconstruction of Kwai.  His attention to the smallest detail has meant the construction crew could proceed without hold ups and with the certainty that what they were building was properly engineered.  Ethan made it like a giant puzzle.  The crew and shore shops could fabricate the parts and the construction crew weld them in place.  And when you stand now on the bridge wing and look around at the Aloha Deck and rig, you can attest to his ascetic eye as well.  Kwai is a sailing ship, and looks the part up and down.  Then we come to Captain Evy, who loves the adventure and the big project unfolding before him.  He has been the one to get it done.  Whether hands on fabricating and welding or directing his crew Evy is why the ship is here today working her way to Christmas Island with all sail set. He doesn’t see problems, only challenges and solutions.  This along with his fine seamanship skills and good judgement with crew and ship’s business make him one fine Captain.  Of course this was a team effort and Evy brought in Shoni as fabricator and welder with wide knowledge of the metal work required.  Along with Teibitoa, one of our longest serving crew members, they accomplished the steel and aluminum construction that finished the ship with skill and artistry.

And last but not least our longest standing Engineer, Ben Vroom, veteran of 10 voyages, and many adventures ashore in foreign ports, kept the juice flowing out of the generators and carried out the wiring and plumbing changes required with the alterations.

When we sailed for Fiji, we carried 10 Kiribati crew to get their US visas in Suva and to carry out the bulk of the muscle work of the refit.  Teibitoa, Teitera, Tetaake, Kabiriera, Banuera, Burangke, Teruia, Taua, Ieie and Beeni are all long term members of the Kwai family, averaging 5 years of service each.  Nothing moves on Kwai without this group, lifting, hauling, stowing or cooking it.  And there is no one prouder of their ship and every improvement that is made.  These are sailors and riggers, and stevedores and cooks who share the load with passion, laughter and at every opportunity song and dance.  This is for you all, your ship, your lives, our dream.

Aloha, Captain Brad, Thanksgiving Day, 2016

PS Meanwhile will writing this a squall came through on the beam.  To test her out in 25 knots, we shut down the engine and set a new record of Kwai speed under sail – 9.5 knots!