This morning Kwai shares the roadstead at Christmas Island with 3 freezer ships, 2 superseiners and the bulk carrier Quinghe from Hong Kong. This big bight is used by the Kiribati licensed tuna fishing fleet to discharge their catch to the freezer ships. The seiners can take whole schools of young ahi, yellow fin tuna, and some 30-50,000 tons of fish departs Christmas Island every month to feed the world. Most ends up in tunafish sandwiches. The Quinghe is chartered to pick up the copra in all the Line Islands, specifically to clean up the 1500 ton backlog in Washington Island. Unfortunately she has not proved suitable. Anchored off the western end of the island for 3 days, the Captain could no open the hatch. The covers are lifted with the crane and would get out of control. Years ago the Bank Lines ships loaded copra in the same place. The union purchase rigs (two booms, one over the hatch and one over the boat delivering the copra form shore, two wires and a single hook) could handle working in the swell. Modern ships with single swinging cranes built to handle 10 ton buckets of bulk cargo are not suited to this work. Our little ship is. If the pass at Teraina (Washington) is workable and the copra makes it to the beach we can load 100 tons in a day using 2 or 3 shore boats. The Quinghe was anchored a mile out while we are right off the pass.
We agreed with the charterer to shuttle copra from Teraina to Tabuaeran (Fanning) and discharge into their ship, but the Captain would not anchor there either due to lack of swinging room should the wind turn westerly. This is very rare, but only local knowledge and a keen watch will allow a ship to anchor close to the coral reef without enough room to swing. We do it all the time, but we have an agile vessel and, honestly, only work with the grace of Mother Ocean. Many, many ships, including my last one, Edna lie in pieces on the reef. And in the real world, our 120 tons of copra, only makes a small dent in the production of Teraina and we cannot efficiently carry it to the closest copra mill in Fiji, So in the scheme of the world commodities market, Kwai does not figure. But to the lives of the copra cutters in Tabuaeran and Teraina we are important.
Today the 120 tons in her belly may sit there. A big swell NW swell may keep us from discharging into the Qinghe, and even getting ashore. Last evening we just managed to get the passengers off the ship. The Jetty at Christmas juts out into the open ocean. The fendering system is mostly gone, broken by big vessels smashing into it and to rust. We cannot touch the jetty without damage, so it is tricky to lie close enough alongside for the shore crane to reach ship while the swell heaves up, down, in and out. Only the wind holds the ship off and last night it was light. We had the staysail set and the flying jib loose in case we needed to hoist it quickly. The load of copra keeps her bow down, and the wheelhouse aft offers enough wind resistance to keep the stern out. When she is light the bow stays out but the stern is in danger of coming in and getting under the jetty. Full port rudder and a kick from the engine was needed last night, but mostly Kwai lay quietly enough, heaving 5 meters sideways with the set swells, but always staying clear.
The passengers go off in standing on a pallet with a cargo net to hold them in. Once they lift off the deck they are fine with no more swinging. Hustling the old ladies and children in the net while the heavy cargo hook swings above is a challenge but once they take off it is like a carnival ride with shouts and laughter. The atmosphere is like with families yelling back and forth between greeters on the dock and passengers on the ship, happy to be home and happy to get off the ship. We make it as comfortable as possible, but its still a crowded boat ride and everyone is excited to get off.
Today, local Saturday, the swell is bigger yet and it is impossible to come alongside. We had planned to discharge today directly into the Qinghe today, but both ships are rolling enough to make that too dangerous. Instead the crew worked to day to clear the passenger’s baggage, including about 100 bunches of bananas, a ton of taro, bags of clams, pumpkin, and unknown produce and 2 logs. These were loaded in cargo nets and into our dinghy and another hired aluminum boat These ran to the jetty where the crane could lift them out. Finally we could hose down the deck and get the old girl shipshape again.
Next up is the long passage home to Hawaii in ballast (empty). For the last 3 trips we have not loaded seaweed. The cost of union stevedores in Hawaii has priced this commodity out of the market and the supplier is selling to ships to Tarawa. We are hoping that the strengthening US dollar will bring the price a bit higher so the route through Hawaii can be competitive again. The final stage of the refit of Kwai as originally planned will take another strip in Hawaii. The wheelhouse will come off, get re-shaped, rebuilt and re-attached 3 feet lower, in the same place as the original fishing wheelhouse was. Two months out of service are planned and on subsequent Hawaii visits, the new mizzen mast will be fitted, exhaust rerouted up the mast and finally the galley mess area rebuilt in fine style.
Aloha, Captain Brad