After 9 days at sea, I was on watch at 0400 Thursday morning. I could see a
faint outline of Fanning Island on the radar. As the sun rose and we got
closer we could could see the Island with our own eyes; The whole crew was
excited. Beeni, a Fanning resident got up early to steer even though it
wasn’t his watch, Teruia had already packed her bags. We came around the
North West side of the Island and approached the narrow passage into the
lagoon that is Fanning Island. The Entrance to Fanning Lagoon has a powerful
current which has swept Kwai’s dingy and crew members out to sea.
Captain Evy asked me to take the ship in through the passage; I took the
ship into the choppy waters there the tidal current meets open Ocean and
turned North East to head through the pass. Going against the current I
increased the engine RPMs from 1300 to 1500. We had arrived during the
strongest current of the day. As the Kwai inched towards the narrowest spot
I increased the throttle until we had 1750 RPMs. We slowed to the point
where it was hard to tell if there was any forward progress. Suddenly there
was a banging and then things became much quieter; The RPMs were down to
zero. Evy immediately took over and restarted the engine but it over revved
and died. After a few more attempts to start the engine Evy went to the
engine room to investigate. The Kwai started Drifting backwards out of the
passage. On the Captains order we dropped the Anchor and after dragging for
a minute the anchor started to hold. As we swung on the anchor the depth
varied from 2 to 10 meters under keel.
SuperCargo Chrissy called our Agent Naan to send us a boat. Naan sent
some of out fanning crew members in our little aluminum barge. As soon as
the barge was along side it’s outboard would not restart. Evy was in the
engine room trying to diagnose the Detroit diesel and the crew were on deck
fixing the outboard which was and easy fix; The crew replaced the corroded
spark plugs and changed the beat up propeller. The ships engine was another
story, We would intermittently hear the engine start, over rev and shut
down. The Anchor was dragging out to deeper water so we pulled it up and
were now drifting near the entrance of the lagoon.
With a running outboard Natan tried to tow the ship with the barge.
Towing such a large ship with the barge was ineffective because the barge
was blown sideways by the wind. Chrissy suggested an alongside tow. We
rigged the barge on the port quarter but the maneuverability was bad because
the propulsion was only on one side.
A fisherman named Christmas came to save the day. Christmas is an old
friend of the Kwai and a colorful local character wearin a dainty beaded
church hat, which looked like a doily. Christmas had a runabout with the
same 40 hp Yamaha Enduro outboard as the barge. So we tied Christmas’ boat
on the starboard quarter. We then had a boat on each side of kwai and were
able to maneuver, albeit slowly.
We just had to wait for the tide. Teratiti was standing at the narrows
on shore watching as the current slowed and communicating the conditions Via
radio. As the tide slowed we got into position turning the ship by relaying
throttle orders to Christmas or the barge. Chrissy and Teitera were on the
bow standing by the anchor and giving kabiera directions to push on one side
or the other with the zodiac.
When the current came slack we made our approach to the narrows. Evy
came out of the engine room to drive the barge and communicate with me via
radio. With both boats going full throttle there was some steerage with the
ships rudder. We moved forward, first just making one knot. Two two stroke
motors screaming away and Kwai crawling forward. We slowly picked up speed
to over two knots! Consulting with Evy and Chrissy on the radio I had a good
course, steering close enough to the beach to see the faces of the crowd who
were watching us come in. I was completely focus steering the ship in its
compromised condition. In the midst of my second try driving the ship into
Fanning lagoon I thought of how functionally whimsical the ships temporary
propulsion arrangement was and a shit eating grin spread across my face. As
I came abeam of the point I turned towards the mooring maneuvered in. Once
we temporarily tied to the mooring Evy dove down and shackled our biggest
line to the anchor. Finally we were safe in the lagoon. Evy came around and
gave a heartfelt thanks to each member of the crew. We had Christmas and his
crew onboard for a snack. We filled his gas tank and gave him two big boxes
of frozen chicken and bucket of Ice cream for his troubles.
After too much think and looking at exploded diagrams, Evy Diagnosed the
problem; a shaft was not turning the governor. With Toki and Nemo’s help
Evy disassembled the motor, Fabricated bronze key and filed a groove so
that the shaft could turn the governor.
The crew unloaded the cargo and we departed Fanning after only 29 hours
on the mooring, we departed Fanning for Christmas Island. We can now see
Christmas Island on the Radar and day is breaking, Our ETA is 0930. We hope
to quickly unload and then be on our way for a quick outer Islands trip
before heading south to the Cooks.
Chief Mate Carson
0500 Sunday November 25th (CXI time)