Voyage number V55 began on the second of September, 2020. Fifty five voyages in 15 years,
many of 2-4 months, and now Kwai is headed to new territory. The Republic of Marshall Islands
(RMI) beckons from across the dateline. This old ship will be as far west as she has ever been
in her 70 years of existence. A 4 month time charter to service the Outer Islands from Majuro is
a sweet contract in this time of COVID 19 shutdowns. Not only have we been shut out of our
regular ports in Kiribati and the Cook Islands, we get to work in one of the 6 nations on the
planet with no COVID cases to date.
The results came in yesterday. The final virus testing of our crew of 10 and 1 passenger –
negative. For the past month in Hawaii, the crew has been quarantined aboard and no visitors
allowed. COVID cases have skyrocketed recently in Hawaii and we had to take this very
seriously as any virus on the ship would have meant sickness in our family and the end of our
charter in RMI. Meanwhile we still had to accomplish a dry docking of the ship, annual survey, a
rebuild of our ancient cargo winches and the regular maintenance of the ship. This did require
some workers on the ship and several trips out to suppliers and workshops. Face masks, hand
sanitizing and social distancing were part of our daily lives.
New crew joining the ship were isolated until testing showed them to be virus free. James, Ross
and Chrissy all went through this successfully. As the daily numbers of infection in Hawaii
soared we had to keep a sharp watch on all our activities in the last few days. I think I’ve been
tested 6 times now to be sure. Finally we are away and Doctor Wes, our on call physician,
reported negative results on the final tests taken hours before departure.
We are a crew of 10 on this V55 to RMI. Captain is Brad, ready for retirement and only aboard
to make sure all goes well on this new charter. Chief Mate Ross and Second Mate Chrissy will
move up one position once Brad departs from Majuro. At this time RMI has one flight a month
and no passengers are allowed to fly in. But we will be able to fly out. Entrance on the ship will
be closely monitored. We take our temperatures twice a day and the voyage must last 14
days. In Majuro we will all be tested again before we are allowed ashore. Like other virus free
nations in the Pacific, RMI is rightly very cautious of visitors.
Jane has returned to cook for us. Our loyal 5 I-Kiribati remain aboard the ship since at least 1st
of April. Bosun Teitera, and Deckhands Frank (Burangke), Ieie, Tematang and Iakobwa form a
tight knit team of sailors running all deck operations smoothly. All have been banned
temporarily from returning to their Christmas Island homes. Kiribati seamen can repatriate to
quarantine in Tarawa, but there are no flights at this time. Tarawa is only 430 miles from Majuro
and we could have dropped them there, but all chose to remain on the ship for this next
adventure. These guys are dedicated, wonderful crew, and an inspiration to all of us. Their
only breaks have been good internet communication with home and the occasional kava night
aboard. Yet they work every day with good nature. James has returned as our smiling
Engineer. We are all veterans now, with years of service on Kwai and make a strong Kwai
Kwai V54 comprised 2 trips this summer to the Pacific Gyre to collect nets and plastic debris,
under charter to Ocean Voyage Institute. First voyage was 48 days and the second took 35
days. Captain Evy was the driving force behind these voyages, proving his and Kwai’s worth
with improvements in handling the nets and in their detection in the wide ocean. A huge
homemade grapple, flying from the cargo gear, landed on the nets and hauled them aboard.
Only the bigger nets required divers in the sea to set cargo slings for multiple lifts to get the
whole bundle aboard. Some nets had been located by yachts transiting the area and marked
with satellite trackers. The ship could sail directly to these. University of Hawaii scientists
provided relevant maps of the best hunting areas based on wind, and current models. In return
the ship collected samples and picked up buoys. Even NASA was involved, experimentally
tracking debris from space. But the bulk of the nets were still found by lookouts aloft.
Kwai has a comfortable top from where to spot debris and Captain Evy kept this manned with 2 or 3 spotters using top of the line binoculars. This ancient mariner’s art was a steady source of sightings and much competition between the crew. Twice the cargo hold was almost filled with nets and debris.
The first load was landed in Honolulu in late June and loaded into 5 donated Matson
containers. These were shipped to the US mainland as fodder for pilot plastic to fuel projects.
This event was well covered by local media and once again Kwai was on the evening news.
The second trip cargo was discharged onto the wharf at Kewalo in Honolulu and sorted by Kwai
crew and volunteers from several local ecological organizations. One container of sorted
material was shipped to Europe for a secret promotional project and boxes of samples went to
sustainable artists. Mary Crowley, of Ocean Voyage Institute (OVI), spent several months in
Hawaii to help make this all happen. Long a diva of the offshore charter business, she now
spends her energy on cleaning the ocean. The ship carried several media personal tasked with
recording the venture. Jackson handled this alone on the first leg and a team of 3 – Elven,
Todd and Ed produced material on the second trip. The promotional and documentary works
are still in progress and can best be seen, as they are released, on links on
Captain Anika sailed as Mate with Evy on V54A, along with Engineer Willy. They finally signed
off Kwai at the end of June, Anika after 7 months and 4 voyages (V51-V54A) aboard and Willy
with just one trip and 2 months less. Kiko, our local Hawaiian historian, and hawaiian canoe
builder rounded out the Kwai crew on V54A. Alex Barnard took over as Mate on V54B and Sara
Nyoma as our colorful Cook.
Carrying us through to the new year our shore team of April as director, Wendy, Office Manager
and Jennifer, as buyer and Honolulu warehouse manager remains quietly toiling away without
major exposure. While they have neither the glory nor the glorious sea time, they keep us on
budget and on track. Thanks to all of you.
In this year of COVID, Kwai is lucky to have work. So many ships are tied up due to the virus,
while we have gone from charter to charter. Thanks to Mary of OVI and to her team of
volunteer media personnel, including Locky and Ryan, as well as those who sailed on Kwai.
This work has paid the bills and more importantly we have all been part of the vast and
necessary effort to clean up our planet.
And thanks to our charterers, Marshall Islands Shipping Corporation (MISC), to the vision of the
RMI government and their partners in the Micronesian Sustainable Shipping Project, Deutsche
Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). Kwai’s charter in RMI is part of their
commitment to the Paris Climate Accords to reduce the carbon emissions of their shipping
fleet. As one of the island nations most susceptible to rising sea levels, RMI has been on the
forefront of sustainable development. Kwai’s success as a sailing cargo ship and her proven
fuel efficiency has given her this opportunity to demonstrate to our global community what can
be done in small scale sustainable shipping. We have found some acknowledgement for what
we have been doing for years.
The ship is for sale and Captain Brad is retiring. We hope that one of the 2 fields of work that
have come up this year will lead to a buyer who can carry on the Kwai tradition of service and
sustainability. Our family of crew is vibrant and strong and with them sails the hope for another
50 voyages to come.
Aloha, Captain Brad 19N 161W, bound for Majuro.