Kwai returned from her first Outer Island trip in RMI on 16 October with a full load of 1839 bags of copra, (115 tons), 2 tons of cold pressed virgin coconut oil and a few pallets of unsold flour and foodstuffs. The voyage itinerary was Majuro to Jaluit Atoll, Ebon and Namorik Atolls with a full outbound load of general cargo. We had 5 stops in Jaluit with the bulk of the cargo delivered to the first stop at Jabwor. Jaluit HIgh School is here with 300 boarding students from all the southern islands. There we could discharge at wharf and all cargo was off within 24 hours. The remaining villages had much less cargo with only 5 chairs for Imaroj. Naimaroj received some tonnage including 10 drums of gasoline and construction materials. This island is in the far north of the atoll. In all Kwai steamed about 50 miles up and down the atoll. About half of the lagoon is charted and there are quite a few coral heads. On this first trip we proceeded with a lookout aloft and in good visibility, stopping at night or when the sun, clouds and reflection of a glassy sea made safe passage impossible. At each village Kwai received a warm welcome. In 3 villages of Jaluit and in Namorik, this included a raucous women’s group who pelted the arriving ship with pandanus fruit bananas and other fruits, then came aboard for singing, short speeches, more singing, including a Kiribati song from the crew, a bit of dancing and tours of the ship. Too much laughter all around as the ladies are quite bold and many enjoyed a cargo ride in a net with pallet to get on and off the ship. The men follow aboard to get the much awaited cargoes ashore.
Ebon is a beautiful ring of coral with motus covering about half the perimeter and clear lagoon. The entrance passage is tricky and best attempted at slack water as there is sharp turn and cross currents. The flow seems to run over 5 knots despite what the chart says. Luckily we did have “local knowledge” as the Pilot recommends. Dennis, the Chief Mate form the Aemman, has been with us all along and is great resource for safe passage and in dealing with cargo distribution in the islands. Other members of our local support team include Marton and Arno, from Tobolar, the RMI copra buyer and miller, and Jothar, a salesman for MISC. They carry “provision” – rice. flour and other staples to sell directly off the ship. Customers can even bring their jerry cans out and get pumped gasoline at discount prices. This is all part of long standing traditional cargo operation in RMI. With 25 islands to supply with goods and to bring off the tons of copra is a daunting task and to help is why Kwai is here. Meanwhile back on Ebon, the local ladies could not come aboard due to a quarantine of the ship, not for COVID, but dengue fever which is rife on Jaluit and Majuro but not yet on Ebon. However they sent huge amounts of bananas, plantains, coconuts and cooked products from the imu. Cargo operations took a couple of days there. In Majuro the cargo came to the ship a bit haphazardly. The MISC receiving team were not quite ready for the volume of cargo Kwai could handle. On Kwai “cargo is king” and we load the last ton. When word got out the suppliers brought it. In the end much of the cargo went from truck directly to the ship, bypassing the warehouse. And of course, some Namorik cargo which should have loaded first came at the end. So there was quite a bit of cargo shifting at Jaluit and again at Ebon, before everything could get ashore.
Namorik is its own special island. Again full of bananas and tropical fruits and with another warm welcome. But here there is no passage for vessels into the lagoon and the depths to deep for anchoring, so the ship must stand by off the landing to work all cargo. The boat can only work the passage to the landing at half tide and above. For this visit this meant working in the early morning until 0900 and again in the afternoon into the night. This was a challenge to keep the ship safe but close enough for crew to work the discharge of cement and food and to lade 115 tons of copra. We even had a 2 ton truck to land this time. The islanders came out right way for this with a well prepared raft of 3 boats and in a squall it went over the side and safely ashore where it quickly went to hauling copra to the beach. During the break midday at low tide we did get time to snorkel the beautiful reef full of live coral and explore the other sides this small island from sea. The counter current seems to strike the island west side where we were working and split in 2 directions north and south, making strong currents at each end. This was helpful while loading as the ship could steam slow ahead right off the pass and hold station. When the wind blew NE we put a cargo sling around an coral head and tethered the ship to the reef with a long floating line. The current made this quite a challenge as the wind, tide and ship all had there say in how she would lie. One day we ended up with the line over the stern! In any case we could only stay there when the wind blew off shore, which was not constant and twice we hurriedly cast off. Meanwhile ashore the copra guys were busy weighing copra sacks and building piles on the beach to load aboard as possible. Like Teraina this little island is a prodigious producer of coconuts and the people anxious to get ti away and get paid. In the end we loaded full but left 4-500 sacks ashore which is why we are going back again this trip after Wotje to take the rest along with 1000 bags of Jaluit. Copra is the name of the game here and Kwai will do her part.
We discharge the copra at the copra mill in Majuro. Due to rain delays this took 3 days this time including one night working until midnight in the cool night air. Copra cannot get wet and great lengths are taken to keep it dry. In the end rain beat us and the last 3 nets of 2 tons each went off the next morning.
The passages between islands have been fine but with not as much wind as Kwai likes. We had a brief stop at Kili 25 miles form Jaluit Kili to Ebon and Jaluit back to Majuro we have had some fine sails. And Majuro to Wotje the last half was with a fine E’ly breeze on the starboard quarter. But for much of this first month in the Marshalls we have had the ITCZ overhead or nearby with rain squalls and light winds predominating. There is keen interest from passengers and onlookers to see Kwai under sail and understand how it all works. Kwai’s rig is a bit cumbersome due to the combination of sailing and cargo gear and she is best set on one tack and not so hot at tacking or gybing frequently. We try to avoid getting the crew up at night to change sail again after long cargo days. We look forward to the steady ENE winds of winter. Hopefully we will be sailing off the dock at Majuro and on one tack to destination to the NW, then sailing back to the SE hard on the wind.
On the15th of October we moved form Delap Wharf (Copra Mill) to Uliga Wharf and commenced to load Wotje cargo. Kwai has been chartered by this island to bring some construction materials and food, The Mayor was in Majuro to arrange all this. We took on 35 pallets of cement blocks, 5-8 pallets of cement. heavy lifts of rebar and lumber and many pallets of boxes of food and household supplies. Wotje is a prosperous island of 1000 inhabitants and again home to a regional boarding high school. It was a major Japanese base in WW2 and many remains are obvious through out the island. Kwai arrived on Tuesday at 1500 and immediately came alongside the old Japanese wharf. At almost high tide there was 6″ below the keel. After a warm welcome from the ladies of the island and more gifts of food than we can eat in a week, cargo operations began and continued to 1800. All the deck cargo and frozen cargoes were discharged. Kwai then went to anchor. This Wednesday morning, is rainy. We have started discharge between the squalls of the food and boxed goods by boat to shore. In the afternoon we will try to get alongside again to discharge the rebar lumber, cement and cement blocks directly on to the wharf. All is well aboard.