Maori (hello in Kiribati), this is Joanna Maltas signing in to share a few words from a ‘visitor’ perspective on the Kwai. As a rookie to not only Kwai but to sailing, I find myself in a unique and busy scene, a world unto itself where there is constant motion far beyond the expected dance of boat and swell. The jib is doing a jig, the main sail swaying in a waltz with the winds, the others doing swing dance close behind and below them crew tango with ropes, passengers, cargo and the tools of their trade. The Captain conducts the show in a crackle of radio transmission, and joins in on the deck stage doing a two step to get things from step one to step two, three and beyond. Its is a complex show, a large and shifting cast, lead roles swaying here and there under a constantly roving spotlight in the lively give and take of responsibility that is life on Kwai. As time passes and I digest what I hear, see, feel a picture forms and reveled in the crowds clear players emerge, the jumble of dance moves turns out to be a detailed ballet of balance to keep the show a playful comedy of well fed players and not a over-booked tragedy.
Currently the show goes on from the gentle mooring at Fanning Island. Passengers have been dropped of in time to allow a quieter Sunday morning and the passing showers coolness could be appreciated and not a hindrance to production. Now we are back to dancing with weather and timing as the Sunday break is broken to fill the precious hull space with more copra. Our departure schedule follows a nine o’clock in the morning passenger loading time after which we can leave the lagoon’s beautiful turquoise waters held by the encircling arms of Fanning’s atolls, joining the ocean again through the narrow channel that is the space left between a ballet dancers fingers.
Our night had constant winds and a flashing lightening show off to the NE, but otherwise was a uneventful passage from Washington. Sails went up with a few minor hiccups after dinner and stayed up through the night. Work on Washington went well for the off loading as far as I could tell, but I was encouraged to go ashore and so I could judge only from a distance. Loading was a bit slow as the ship had to wait on copra to be prepared for transport to the waiting boom and hull at the Islands own pace. Any delay in preparation can easily complicate a process that already demands enough time for all cargo to be moved by a small fleet of three skiffs and plenty of manpower. But as mentioned we sailed in the night so gratefully all was finished in time to make off under the pink of sunset. I stood along the railing admiring the ever present beauty of ocean and clouds, smiling to myself recalling the days experiences as a rare ‘I-matang'( pale skinned human)among the giggling questions and playful pestering of the local children.
Before our quick stop over at the furthest island, we made the regular first stop at Fanning. Weather was good, a bit hot for this fair female, and I took advantage of my flexible work exchange arrangement to duck out out of the sun a bit, save a few toes from getting stepped on and hide out during the afternoon. The morning we were a little short on crew as some had gone a shore overnight, so I had fun jumping in to the line up and helping offload fuel barrels, rolling and strapping with a few other fellahs. When the crowd of workers is less I enjoy taking a hand at slinging rice bags and tossing boxes, more fun the cleaning up stinking moldy moist copra hiding in the hull corners, but equally rewarding. When it came time to hefting copra bags in full sun it was quick to show that this gals heart may be there but she’s not built like these blokes. They do it all day and then the regular crew run sails and are up for watch through the nights, all with smiles and constant jokes. It fills me with humbleness and appreciation. But of course it takes the cook and the cooks assistant too, because all the muscle and motion burn piles of rice, fish, an assortment of other fried meats and plenty of ramen noodle snacks. What a team. Of course this paints an incomplete picture even still, there is a super Super-cargo who masters the sails and dodges the nastiness when seats are sadly denied to board for the current running of the Kwaishow. This boat is a rare treasured chance to travel between islands and folks can get more than a bit cross when they can’t cross. Engines are tended regularly, to ensure the partnership of propelling relied upon by the cast is on cue. Directions are dispersed and tasks coordinated by others to the very organic and changing mass of helping hands, (all attached of course to a variety of heads housing a variety of brains storing a variety of ideas on how things should be done).
I joined the boat while it tapped its toes waiting on this and that at Christmas Island. Sometimes the lively tap dance of work and sometimes tapping in impatience as this and that obstacle arose leading to ups and downs of anchors, ins and outs to sea and jetty, calls back and forth from cabin to offices and shouts back and forth from boat to shore. Eventually thanks to the constant work of management on shore all got lined up as necessary to fill the space that the heaving of stevedores created, a process kept in motion by the sassy prompting of management on deck. The copra got off and the cargo got on. There was in the delay a chance for some time off. I found out later this is not a regular thing, but a very unusual event. Some crew made it to shore and did a bit of day time and night time exploring. Also some waves where caught, porpoises pursued, and plenty of sun exposure had by all. One of the unheard of two days off in a row, turned into a working after noon anyhow and some rust rampaging work that had been getting chipped away at continued. Fresh coats of paint where applied to areas of varying levels of readiness as the tasks were completed by some of the afore mentioned hands attached to the variety of afore mentioned heads yet again filled with various ideas of what it means to get the job done. But in the end everyone finds things to appreciate, gets a heck of a lot of work done and there is always plenty to eat!