Today, Christmas Eve finds Kwai at the top of our first trip through the Ratik Chain of the Marshall Islands. We are anchored at Wotho, 385 miles NW of Majuro. The Marshallese call this area Kaben Meto or bottom of the sea, referring to the 3 small atolls of Wotho, Ujae and Lae. At each island Kwai has landed the Christmas cargoes, loaded copra and sold out “provisions” – rice, flour, shortening, coffee, noodles, gasoline. Our extended family today includes 2 Marshall Islands Shipping Corporation (MISC) engineers, 2 Tobolar (copra company) employees to weigh and pay out the many copra cutters, an MISC Mate in training, and a salesman to handle the distribution of provisions.
Also aboard today a family taking an unexpected tour of Kaben Meto and several passengers bound from Ujae to Majuro. Our Kwai crew count 10, including the guest Cook for this trip, Raffael. Chrissy has her pet booby, Snowball, now 2 months old and fledging. The family have 2 lively young daughters and a puppy and a pig. Such is Kwai in RMI. The days are full of sailing between islands and landing cargo and loading copra with our barge and at times local boats.
The scene is often chaotic aboard with up to 30 copra cutters or local folks hanging around to get paid and buy provisions. Boats come and go, hatch opens and closes, happy customers collect their goodies, gasoline gets pumped into containers, and many tour the deck to take in the bridge, masts, cargo gear and daily operation. Everyone takes part, Kwai crew know their work and the RMI crew theirs, but it is all shared as the hum of business and life carry on often into the night. Teitera Turei has stepped up as Mate and he efficiently runs his 5 Kiribati crew as they handle the sails, gear, barge and deck. Tobolar weighs the copra bags either in the hold or ashore and sits in the small aft cabin to make chits and pay out in cash. There can be 50 individual cutters on these small islands. Each one gets paid to the penny and climbs out of the aft cabin, smiling to get in line with MISC sales to get another chit as they spend the money. Oh, and another one to get copra bags to fill for next trip. All crew take part in distribution of provisions and bags, and the fun and excitement that goes on through it all until finally the barge is lifted aboard and the ship shut down for the night.
Meanwhile it’s December and the trade winds blow at 20-25 knots. The villages are not always at sheltered anchorages and within the atoll lagoons nasty chop can get up. The safe navigation and security of the ship fall to the officers, Ross and Chrissy and we stay busy. Five times now we have dragged anchor in squalls, thrice on to lee shores that required quick response to pick up the anchor and move. We’ve had great sails running at 10 knots between Alinglaplap and Lae, and now face some memorable punches back to Majuro. The mainsail is derigged and the Pilot sail (smaller triangular mainsail for you lubbers) in place for the trips back. We hope to fetch the NW tip of Kwajaein tonight to discharge and load at Mujatto. Here we will stay outside the lagoon as it will be calmer in the lee of the island than inside with a lee shore and long boat ride over the shallows. Then on to Ebeye where the family will finally arrive and our last cargo discharged. Rumor is now MISC will send us to 2 more islands for copra before returning to Majuro and the end of our 4 month charter here.
The negotiations for the sale of Kwai to RMI continue. There is progress. Other opportunities still exist, including a return to Line Islands through Tarawa. And more ghost net work looms for the summer. Kwai has a good fit here in RMI. She does her work efficiently and has clearly demonstrated the possible reduction in carbon emissions which is a high priority here.
We’ll find a time for a few Christmas stockings and a yankee swap today or tomorrow and hopefully a safe anchorage to enjoy a fine Christmas dinner. Merry Christmas to all from Kaben Meto and a prayer for a better 2021 when we are all free to travel again. Aloha, Brad