This Saturday morning, we are bobbing at anchor off the pass at Washington Island, watching the squalls move around this bit of ocean. Wind has been light northerly all night, tending NW this morning. All fine for us as it is offshore. To work cargo we anchor close to the reef as the depths drop off quickly here. The anchor watch makes sure we stay in deep water and attached to the bottom. Two night ago the current dragged the anchor off the edge and we had to motor back. This morning I am looking at the current line a boat length outside us, where the Equatorial Countercurrent flows to the east at 1.5 knots. El Nino is still with us here, bringing variable winds, extra rain, and easterly sets where the current usually flows to the WNW. It is helpful for our Outer Island round trip which runs NW, outbound, then SE on the return to Christmas. At times the return can be against 15 knots of SE wind and 3 knots of NW current. These last 3 visits to the islands we have often had SW or NE winds which we can use either way. As the border of the Countercurrent has been about half way between Christmas and Fanning we steer to ride it either way for as long as possible. The challenge is to work cargo between the rain squalls and keep the 60 deck passengers dry when underway.
A south big swell has slowed the copra loading here at Washington but we should finish today and leave this evening. All cargo moves through a blasted pass in the reef here and comes ashore on the beach. The swell closes the pass out and makes the loading zone a washing machine. The islanders are highly skilled at landing and loading copra during these times. It takes 2 workers in neck deep water to hold the boat steady, while the stevedores carry the 50kg bags of copra through the soup to dump them in the boat. Once loaded to capacity, the driver has to get the outboard tipped down in the water and running and hold the boat steady inside until reading the right moment to run her through the pass. Our big aluminum boat can lift 2 tons in calm weather, but the driver has been limiting it to about a ton the last 2 days. Too much load and they may not make it out the pass A breaking wave can turn the boat over scattering the crew out board and copra in the most dangerous spot.
Sunday night we will stay at Tabuaeran and leave for Christmas at noon on Monday. We will have about 100 tons of copra to discharge on Wednesday. The Education Department has chartered the ship to return students to their home islands for Christmas vacation. This will start on Saturday, 28 November. The regular ship coming from Fiji to Christmas every 3 months broke down just 30 mile from port and has been 2 weeks waiting for a tug from Fiji to tow her to Christmas. She is carrying cargo for the Outer Islands and once landed in Christmas we will transship it. So there is plenty of work on this Voyage 33, even without visiting the Cook Islands.
The office is now taking orders for the Cooks and Kiribati for our Voyage 34, scheduled for February, after another refit period in Honolulu.
Aloha from wonderful Washington Island, six miles long with 14 mile long freshwater lake!