Over 1,100 Nautical miles, and almost due south of the Hawaiian islands, between 2 degrees north and 5 degrees north of the equator, lie the inhabited isles of Kiritimati, Tabuarean and Teraina. Strung out like pearls in this remote area of the Pacific, these beautiful islands are home to a friendly people, who’s sun drenched existence relies more on trade with Honolulu, that far flung scion of the American dream, than it does with Tarawa, the capitol of this Pacific nation called Kiribati (pronounced Kiri-bas) Tarawa, although the capitol, and main island of the Gilbert group, is 1,770 nautical miles away from Kiritimati, in the west.
Kiribati, with its far flung islands scattered over more than half a million square miles of Pacific ocean, would be one of the largest nations on earth, except that most of it is just glittering sea. The island people have a famous reputation, in history and in literature, of producing fine seafarers. You can see, in the islands, men sailing traditional “Te Waa“ or canoes, with woven sails, across the lagoons, using small rudders, and their feet in the water, to steer.
It is to the easternmost group of this wide fetching Pacific nation, that we are bound. Carried on the Trade winds south from Honolulu, we make a fine speed of seven and a half knots, under sail, towards Kiritimati, our first landfall, and capitol of the Line Islands. Our ship carries staple foods like rice, flour and sugar, building supplies, machinery, spare parts, electronics. We have on board everything from memory cards to two cars, and food, lots and lots of food.
Our crew anticipates our landfall eagerly, every mile closer is a mile closer to home for the deckhands of Kwai. As the island comes closer, first on the chart, then on the radar, and finally, as dawn breaks on the 8th day, as a smudge of beach and palm trees on the horizon, conversations become more animated, spirits lift, and the crew springs up, in the early light, to prepare the deck for arrival.
Our routine of the ocean crossing, a waking dream of ‘2o minutes!’, watch on deck, steer the ship, check the lashings, trim the sails, watch below, is about to give way to the bustle and excitement of getting down to what we really do, supply these islands with a much needed lifeline to the outside world.
New crew will join, cargo will come off and be loaded into containers to be picked up by its owners. We will tally boxes, count bags, and check and re-check our checklists as crew and stevedores together work to move all our precious supplies. We will work hard, sweat in the sun, eat like horses, and rest in the shade between lifts. And every night we will feel the tired satisfaction of knowing our job has been done well, and enjoy the company of our shipmates and the clear, bright stars of a balmy evening in the tropics.
Tiabo moa (good bye in Kiribati) , Meg