Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Med Moored in Radio Bay, Hilo

Silhouette is back in the U.S.A. We made a safe entry into Kuhio Bay this morning and turned the corner into the small nook known as Radio Bay to facilitate our check-in with Customs. A friendly fellow cruiser took our shore lines as we Med moored against the seawall.

The first I saw of Hawaii was at 10 p.m. last night when I came on watch and could see the lighthouse at Cape Kumukahi on the island's east coast. Upon our landfall in the Marquesas, we could see Hiva Oa from 46 miles away; so I was surprised when we couldn't see the island of Hawaii, with two 13,000-foot volcanoes on it, from 50...40...30 miles away. Although we searched in vain for the Big Island yesterday, it stayed shrouded in rain clouds and/or volcanic smog. At dusk, I looked around---still no island---but we were surrounded by rain squalls in 360 degrees. Patrick caught some wind and showers on his watch, but considering the look of things from the cockpit, it wasn't too rough of a landfall. In fact, once we got into the wind shadow created by the Big Island, the sea was the calmest its been during the entire two week passage.

When I finally could see the island in the light of day, I was amazed at how low the topography is---at least from this approach. Hilo is situated against the base of a shield volcano, Mauna Kea, but we could only see the bottom of its flanks this morning. Its summit remained obscured by clouds. The giant Mauna Loa also remained hidden in a cloak of gray.

We are looking forward to exploring the Big Island after a much needed good night's sleep. Safely arrived in Hilo.
_____
Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fanning to Hilo, Day 14: Out from Under

Yesterday (Passage Day 13) brought more blue sky and sunshine, by day, and more stars and meteors, by night, than we've seen in the past week and a half. The signs this morning bode well for more of the same...but not without first passing through a big rain cloud---complete with double rainbow---done.

We have 87 nautical miles to go to our waypoint outside of Hilo and another 25 nm into the harbor. If all goes well, Silhouette will be poised to enter Radio Bay tomorrow morning. Today, we will spend the day scanning and re-scanning the horizon for the outline of Hawaii. The Big Island is, after all, a big island, with two high volcanoes on it (Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa). We should see the island long before we arrive, but then again, we may not. Hawaii has its own particular brand of smog, called "VOG." Volcanic smog is a mixture of sulfur dioxide and airborne particles spewn out from the island's active volcano, Kilauea. VOG may obscure our view of the island on our approach.

We are very excited about making this landfall, and I'm experiencing a huge wave of anticipation adrenaline. Patrick is looking forward to an uninterrupted night's sleep, and I'm looking forward to all the good things to eat!(Those who know me will not be surprised.) I'm especially looking forward to visiting the Hilo Farmer's Market on Saturday.

I'm also looking forward to seeing Hawaii with new eyes. I've been to Hawaii twice before---and Patrick once lived on Oahu for three years---but I'm looking forward to an extended stay and to exploring some of the more remote areas of the islands. It's fitting and has a certain emotional symmetry to it, that as we bring our South Pacific voyage to a close, we visit the Pacific islands of our own country. Now that I know that the Marquesans first settled Hawaii, I will be looking for signs of their culture. In fact, I have already seen some without knowing it on previous visits: The remains of "heiau" or temples on Hawaii have almost the same construction as the ceremonial meae in the Marquesas.

As I write this, a tropic bird flies alongside the boat. Earlier this morning, I saw a fairy tern. Yesterday, a masked booby landed on the bimini. All the signs are there for another tropical landfall. Yet, this tropical landfall is just a little bit different: After almost two years and over 17,000 miles, we are coming home.
____
Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Fannng to Hilo, Day 12: Wa-hoo! We Caught a Wahoo

After cleaning up the breakfast dishes, I emerged from the companionway into the cockpit to see a fish on the end of my line! I had put the lines in the water when my watch started at sun-up. It was my first real fishing effort in three or four days, because it had been too rough: not too rough to fish, just too rough to deal with a fish should we catch one.

As I pulled the fish in hand-over-hand, I could tell from its pointy snout that it was either a tuna or a wahoo: definitely not a mahi mahi. As the fish got closer to the boat, I could see the unmistakable colors of a wahoo. Wa hoo! We finally caught a wahoo! Patrick grabbed the wire leader and tried to lift the fish over the lifelines, but those wahoo are darned heavy! The fish was struggling, and I didn't want to lose our very first wahoo, so I quickly thrust my hand under the gill cover and grabbed the gills to help haul the fish on board.

It was a nice sized wahoo for our-sized refrigerator: a meter long before I removed the long, pointy head and short tail. It wasn't much fun cleaning the fish in a rolling cockpit in 18 knots of wind; but Patrick steered the boat downwind for a less violent action while I cleaned, and we got her done. I should say, we got "him" done, because the wahoo was a male. Now, we have retired the trolling lines for the rest of the passage. The wahoo will provide us with about five generous meal's worth of fresh fish: more than enough to see us to Hilo.

The menu for Day 12? Wahoo fish sandwiches with garlic mayo for lunch and wahoo steaks with leftover pasta alfredo for dinner. Vegetables? What's a vegetable?

The conditions are still rough, but we are out of the lightning and most of the rain. The forecast shows no precipitation, but we still have about 80 percent cloud cover, and some of these clouds are holding rain. Winds are variable---16 to 25 knots with gusts to 28 (the forecast says 18 knots)---and the swells are still big and still steep. However, since the wind has been more from the east, we have been on a beam reach and have been able to maintain an average speed of five knots or better. (This also means the cockpit is very wet, as we occasionally get hit broadside by a wave whose top falls right into our cockpit.) It's looking good for our arrival at Hilo on Wednesday.

Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Fanning to Hilo, Day 11: Moving Again and an Early Retirement

Did I say we had left the zone of tempestuous weather behind in my last post? I should have known better than to say anything like that out loud. The squally, rainy weather has continued following us north. We haven't had any bursts of 40 knot winds...but we've had 20 knots...and 30. We've had lightning flashing continuously in the sky for hours at a time (thankfully, none of it too near the boat.) And we've had deluges of rain. Okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration. Maybe not deluges. We're still a boat, not an ark yet, but I think more rain has crossed Silhouette's decks on this passage than on any other single passage we've made.

Up until yesterday. That's not to say it didn't rain yesterday: It just rained less. Everything was less. The swell was lower. The wind lightened up---enough---but not too much. More and more time passed between squalls until they turned into just big gusts of wind or sprinkle showers. And the result was better sailing conditions. Today, we finally got the boat moving at better than five knots of boat speed. All. Day. Long.

Between the huge swells, winds on the nose, and the period of time when we had no wind at all and had to motor, we've had a difficult time on this passage getting the boat moving and making any miles. Yesterday was only the second day of the entire passage in which our speed over ground has been a consistent five knots. It was also the first night in four or five evenings when I could do more than heat something out of a can for dinner. I enjoyed our reprieve for a day.

I didn't expect it to last. I gave up any hope of a ten or twelve day passage to Hilo long ago. So I wasn't surprised when we had lightning again last night, and Patrick had to hand steer through several squalls in the wee hours of the morning. On my first watch of the day, the wind quickly built from 18 to 25 knots, and we had to strike the jib (which we were using in conjunction with a double-reefed main) and exchange it for the stays'l once more. That slowed our progress yet again, but gave us a more genteel angle of heel and kept the rail of the boat out of the water. Later today, the wind and swell moderated, and we were able to unfurl a little of the jib to increase our speed. Once again, we are moving at over five knots.

Silhouette has been a needy companion on this leg, demanding constant attention. Frequent shifts in wind direction and strength require many minor adjustments to sail trim and course and the reefing and un-reefing of sails in order to keep her moving along. She does not tolerate any lapses in attention, and she lets you know it by either galloping wildly away, luffing her sails, or skating along the water on her rail. The sea also chimes in, spitting around the corner of the dodger as if to give you a gentle slap in the face for daydreaming.

We have discovered a change we want to make to the roller furler installation on Silhouette. This came to light because in rough conditions like the ones we have been in, we often use a double-reefed main/stays'l combination. Rather than take a reef out of the main during the lulls in wind, we sometimes prefer to unfurl some jib. It's easier to reduce sail when the wind suddenly increases again, and the helm seems to stay better balanced in big swells than with a single-reefed main. The issue is, we only have two winches on each side of the cockpit:  not enough to accommodate the jib sheet, stays'l sheet, and furling line on one tack. We should have seen this one coming; but we had never spent days on end going upwind, so it wasn't a big issue before. It's not a big change:  just the addition of a line stopper/clutch ahead of the cockpit furling line turning block, which will facilitate transferring the furling line to a different winch and also simplify securing the line when the sail is partially furled. Since we have been on a starboard tack for days, Patrick has worked around this situation by leading the furling line behind the helm, through two snatch blocks secured to the radar arch, and onto the starboard stays'l winch. It's not ideal, but it's working for us, for now. We'll add the stopper in Hawaii.

Changing topics, those who've been to sea know that you dream more at sea. Or maybe we just remember our dreams more due to the interrupted sleep schedule. In any case, I was a little confused a few nights ago when Patrick woke me for my watch. As a matter of fact, I was a bit resentful. I couldn't understand why I was being asked to take another watch, when our third crew member hadn't yet stood a watch! In this event, our "third crew member" was an imaginary person in my dream...

We put our real third crew member---our Monitor wind vane---into temporary retirement yesterday. The Monitor's water paddle broke off at a weld on the shaft (not at the safety tube which is designed to break should the water paddle strike an object.) Our vane came with the boat and is twenty years old. This break was due to crevice corrosion in the weld, which is not unexpected given its age and life in saltwater. Since Patrick had a safety line attached as per the operation instructions, we did not lose the paddle. However, we are now without a steering vane for the rest of this passage. It's times like these when I think of our friends Noel and Litara Barrott, who completed not one---but two---circumnavigations entirely by hand steering. We're not in their league yet, because we still have the autopilot!

357 nautical miles to go. ETA Hilo: Wednesday




_____
Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Fanning to Hilo, Day 8: In the Shadow of Clouds

Although we are technically on the other side of the ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone), Silhouette is still traveling under heavy cloud cover and is surrounded by rain squalls. The clouds and precipitation in the forecast seem to be following us north. We are sailing along in gusty winds (15-24 knots) under a double-reefed main and staysail. Our speed is only 2.5 to 3.5 knots over ground. It would be nice to shake out a reef to increase our speed, but at our current angle of heel and with gusting winds, it would not be advisable. We are back in the 2-3 meter swells that characterized the first two days of this passage, and our rail occasionally dips into the seas as Silhouette shoulders her way through them.

We are currently headed almost due north. Based on the forecast, we decided not to continue all the way to the arbitrary waypoint we were heading to (10 deg N, 150 deg W) while trying to get in some more easting. We will continue north until somewhere around 14 or 15 deg N latitude before turning northwest towards Hilo. The wind conditions should be such that the home stretch will be more of a reach than a beat, a comfortable ride.

In the meantime, both Patrick and I agree that beating into the swells under sail beats listening to the incessant drone of the engine---as we did for over 24 hours while motoring through 3-8 knot winds---and rolling from gunwale to gunwale in the ITCZ. In most conditions, we can sail quite nicely under full canvas in 6-8 knots of wind; but when the swells are that big---two meters, steep, and on the beam---it's impossible to keep the sails full as the boom crashes back and forth and the sails flog helplessly.

We did have a doozy of a wind for a short period while we were in the ITCZ. Two nights ago, we were traveling through an area with a lot of electrical activity (lightning) but no thunder. Thankfully, the lightning wasn't too close to the boat. Other than lightning, there was nothing to see by, as there was no moon and cloud cover masked the stars. As Charles Schultz's Snoopy used to pen, "It was a dark and stormy night..." On the first evening watch from 7 to 10 p.m., Patrick was overtaken by a rapidly moving squall. Prior to the squall, we had been motoring in 3-4 knots of wind with no sails up. At about twenty to eight, Patrick summoned me out of the pilot berth and told me to get dressed and stand by. By then, the wind had built up to 40 knots, but we had been crashing and rolling around so much before that anyway, I hadn't really noticed.

Patrick had started out by steering up into the wind, but as it quickly built to 40 knots, he could no longer steer the boat effectively. (At that point, having a sail up would have helped with steerage, but the conditions were now too rough to go out on the foredeck and hoist the stays'l.) By the time he got me up, Patrick had centered the helm and lashed it. We were still motoring ahead at that point, but since the sea state hadn't built up, we decided to to shut the engine down and simply lie ahull. (Lying ahull means just letting the boat drift with no engine or sails.) Lying ahull is a storm tactic, but generally not a popular one due to the danger of broaching when a wave hits the boat broadside. A boat that is lying ahull will typically orient itself beam to the seas, and Silhouette did. Since squalls are fast moving and short in duration, they don't generally build up the sea state to a dangerous breaking-wave level like gales and storms do; but rather, the sea surface is often beaten down by the wind. In this particular case, the squall actually improved the sea state from what it had been before by flattening it somewhat, so lying ahull worked fine.

The squall was a huge one and took over an hour to pass. On my watch following the worst of the squall, the winds were still in the mid-twenties to low thirties. It was a shame to be motoring when we could have been sailing, but we decided to wait until conditions were better to send someone out on deck in the dark. The wind had come down enough so that we could steer using the autopilot if we steered north instead of to our course (which was northeast at the time.) When the wind dropped down to 20 knots at 1:00 a.m., I woke Patrick and he hoisted the staysail. (I would have gladly gone out on deck to hoist the sail, but in rough conditions, Patrick feels it's his responsibility as skipper to protect me from them.) It wasn't long after, from my bunk in the pilot berth, that I heard the iron jenny start up: The wind had completely died again.

We are glad this zone of fickle winds and tempestuous weather is behind us: Although we are still in the shadow of clouds, we don't have to wonder which of them may be harboring 40 knots of wind.

In other news, we've caught no fish, except for flying fish, which routinely land on deck or in the cockpit at night. They are not really big enough to eat, so we throw them back. I've had three sightings of a mysterious solitary large dolphin or small whale that seemed to be following the boat for awhile. We've also had two large schools of dolphin as escorts, including a visit from the spirit dolphins---my name for the ghostly silver forms of dolphins, sheathed in bioluminescence---streaking through black water like beneficent spirits in the ink dark night.
_____
Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fanning to Hawaii, Day 3

After a two and a half week stay at Fanning atoll (blog post forthcoming), we are underway again. For those of you following along back home, you may be wondering what the heck we're doing? "Aren't they going to Hawaii?" you may be asking. Yes, the port of Hilo on the Big Island is our goal.

Due to the winds and currents in this part of the ocean, our sail plan has been to head due east from Fanning atoll. A band of light winds and squalls (the Intertropical Convergence Zone, which you may remember we passed through on our passage from Mexico to the Galapagos) is lying just north of Fanning, carrying with it thunderstorms and rain. Once a boat passes through that region of confused air, it encounters the northeast trades, which blow a steady twenty knots at this time of year. If we set a direct course for Hilo, we won't be able to make our course due to being hard on the wind, beating against these northeast trades. The wind may push us further west than our target, and we may not be able to make landfall on the Big Island. The prevailing wisdom among sailors making this passage is to get in as much easting as you can before turning north for Hawaii.

Patrick came up with a strategy modeled after the experience of some friends of his, Bill and Karryn Dean, when they crossed the Pacific five years ago. After leaving Fanning, the Deans got a lift from the Counter-Equatorial Current, which runs in an easterly direction. Fanning atoll happens to lie right in the path of the Counter-Equatorial Current. While anchored in the lagoon, we watched for a weather pattern with some south-easterly winds on the backside of a passing low. The plan is to use these southeast winds to sail as far east as we can before the wind shifts back to due east, forcing us north. That is exactly what we have been doing for the past three days. We are still at approximately the same latitude as Fanning atoll, but we have moved over three degrees to the east in longitude.

The only drawback to our sail plan is that the passing low which gave us the south-easterly winds also left two to three meter swells in the wake of its front. The going has been slow heading directly into the swell, and we haven't made as much easting as we'd hoped. Without the one and a half to two knot lift we've been getting from the Counter-Equatorial Current, our progress would be even slower. Even considering this drawback, the strategy is working well, and it may have provided just the advantage we need to make our landfall. The wind is already starting to shift back to the east, and sometime tomorrow, we will find ourselves following the wind around and changing course for the northeast.

The second part of the strategy is that we will actually continue to the northeast to about 150 degrees West, well past the longitude of Hilo (which is somewhere around 154 degrees W) before turning and heading northwest for the Big Island.

The most exciting thing to report about our passage so far is that the swell came down today and our stomachs are feeling much more settled. Sunshine and a blue sea replaced the clouds and slate gray ocean of the last two days, while night watches opened under a canopy of stars. Never mind that we're now under a canopy of dark clouds. All is well onboard.
___
Posted from sea via Ham Radio.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Snapshot of Life on Kiritimati (Christmas Island)

November 1-November 8, 2013

I mentioned in our "safe arrival" post that Kiritimati is a large, sprawling atoll of "several thousand" people: It turns out that over six thousand people live on Kiritimati. Many of the inhabitants are transplants from Tarawa, an overcrowded atoll in western Kiribati. In addition to foreign aid from Australia and other countries such as Japan, Kiritimati receives income from its chief exports, copra and rock salt. Christmas Island is also a tourist destination famous for its sports fishing industry centering on bonefish, marlin, and wahoo. 

First view of Kiritimati

Deep water ships at anchor off Christmas Island

Sports fishing boat in Kiritimati lagoon

The population of Christmas Island is spread out over four main villages. The port is in Ronton (London), which has the most infrastructure. The largest village is Tabwakea, adjacent to London. Banana is the next village up the road and contains the airport, which consists of a solitary building and a short runway out in the mangrove flats. Finally, on the opposite side of the lagoon is the smallest village, Poland. We didn't visit Poland, due to its distance from the anchorage, but it is reportedly the smallest village. All of the villages have missions and missionaries. 

A living compound in Banana



We were on the island during the annual "blessing of the graves," in which the villagers decorated family graves with banners made from pandanus leaves and colorful flags. We saw this in Tabwakea, but not on the graves in downtown Ronton (London). We wondered if those were the graves of earlier settlers and not related to the current inhabitants from Tarawa? Christmas Island was the first place I've ever been where the crypts have corrugated tin roofs.

 
The blessing of graves in a cemetery on Kiritimati

The missions are where many of the newer buildings are located: the ubiquitous cement block buildings with corrugated tin roofs found all over the Pacific. 

Tennessee village:  An idea that didn't catch on; This village was basically part of Ronton


More traditional living compounds consist of thatched huts adjoined by outdoor sleeping platforms built on sturdy risers or stilts. The risers are built out of the stocky trunks of coconut palms and are not really tall enough to be called "stilts," but they do lift the sleeping platforms two to three feet above the ground. These days, many of the traditional huts are becoming a hodge-podge of old and new building materials, with patchwork roofs and sides of mixed thatch and corrugated tin. 

Ronton living compound

Part of Ronton compound

Another living compound in Ronton

Village houses on the beach at sunset

Thatching the roof of a newly built community meeting place

Detail of pandanus panels used for thatching

When we arrived on Christmas Island, it struck us with a depressing air of neglect. Rubbish and half-completed---then abandoned---projects were in evidence wherever you looked. Rubbish was often just tossed outside and then blew everywhere, even littering the graves in London's cemetery: a disrespect we haven't seen tolerated anywhere else in our travels. To be sure, some of the neglected feel of Kiritimati was due to the fact that it receives little rain. The atoll was hot, dry, and dusty, and the yellowing, drought-affected palm trees looked anemic. 


Typical Kiritimati landscape

These open bags of cement must have met with a rain shower



View into the lagoon from the atoll's main road
However, the longer we stayed in Kiritimati, the more it began to grow on me. The people on Christmas Island are as friendly as any we've met anywhere. I've titled this post "a snapshot" of Kiritimati because that was all we got. We only stayed for a week, and I think one would have to live on the atoll for at least a year to get a complete picture of this complex and complicated place.

Villagers on Kiritimati have not completely lost their traditional fishing skills; but the many small shops were still stocked with the usual Pacific Islander canned fare for those who either didn't fish that day or didn't catch anything: tinned mackerel, corned beef, and Spam. You could also buy some staples such as flour, rice, and milk, as well as a variety of condiments. There was a notable Asian influence in the selection of condiments as well as in the variety of packaged noodles available. Eggs and some produce are brought in from Hawaii; but once they are sold out, there are no more until the next cargo plane or ship. We found very little local produce available, nor did we see much growing besides coconuts other than a few thin banana trees. Most of the fare available in the shops by far, was junk food: chips, cookies, soda pop, cheese twists, fried pork or bacon snacks, and ice-cream. Considering the fact that all of this junk food has to be imported to the atoll, it is amazing how much energy (both in terms of fuel consumption and the human time and energy to load, transport, and offload it all) is expended on bringing junk food to this and other Pacific islands. 

Many people on Christmas Island smoke, and the cigarettes on Christmas Island are about nine inches long. Imported Gallaher's tobacco from mint green cans is rolled in a pandanus leaf to make this long cigarette. We were told this style of cigarette came from the Chinese. Some western style cigarettes are also imported and sold.

There is a bus on Christmas Island, but its schedule is erratic. I think I spotted it twice the entire time we were there. Since there is no reliable bus or taxi, everybody hitchhikes. It is fairly easy to get around the island this way, and we hitchhiked often across the dusty expanse of the atoll. It's easiest to get rides on the many trucks that clatter up and down the dirt road; but occasionally, a private vehicle will also stop and offer you a ride. On the trucks, you are usually sharing the flatbed with other hitchhikers, so it can be an interesting way to meet the locals. 

A full load

Youthful hitchhikers
Patrick and I had several memorable hitchhiking experiences. Once, we had a thrilling ride into town (red gas jug for the outboard in tow) hanging onto the back of a tanker truck. Another time, we flagged down a truck and when we hopped in the flatbed, we found we (and about six young men) were sharing it with a freshly slaughtered pig. The truck eventually detoured off the main road and out into the mangrove flats somewhere in the village of Tabwakea. We stopped at a hut, where a woman emerged with a large rectangular roasting pan. We saw her draw a can of water from an open well dug into the dirt ground. After she washed out the roasting pan, the young men in the truck hopped out, dragged the pig into the pan, and carried the pig into the hut, where it was to be cooked. That task complete, the young men hopped back in the flatbed and we were on our way again!

While we were waiting in the flatbed for the pig to be delivered, Patrick and I noticed a man in a nearby coconut tree. He was filling plastic water bottles with the pearly white coconut sap used to make syrup. The liquid is cooked to make a thick, brown sweet syrup that reportedly keeps for months. It is also reportedly used to make a variety of coconut liquor.

On our return trip the same day, Patrick and I caught a ride in a truck carrying a load of coral rubble. We balanced with our groceries on the coral as we sped back to London.

Since there are no school buses on Christmas Island, every passing truck is also a potential school bus. Trucks are forced to slow down while passing in the vicinity of schools due to the presence of speed bumps on the road. After school, primary grade children race along the road and precariously hop onto the backs of moving trucks. On one of our rides, Patrick started out alone in the flatbed, while I kept the driver company in the cab. After the truck passed by a school, Patrick was swallowed up in this throng of children:

Patrick is in there somewhere...!

At Christmas Island, you anchor in the ocean because the lagoon is too shallow. Unlike other atolls where we've anchored in the ocean (Niue, Palmerston Island), the anchorage at Christmas Island feels exquisitely safe, because you can drop your anchor in shallow water in sand instead of being on a mooring ball in deep water with a reef for a lee shore. The wind never blew from the west while we were at Christmas Island, so we never felt in jeopardy. 

A tiny Silhouette at anchor off Christmas Island

The anchorage in the ocean near Ronton is stunning, and one of my favorite things to do at Christmas Island was simply to take in the view from the wharf. The surf rolling in onto the white sandy beach at the edge of the atoll was spectacular. At low tide, the villagers set their fishing nets in the surf. Peering down to the coral reef lying just below the water's surface from the height of the wharf, you could see hundreds of fish. Snorkeling the same area underwater revealed thousands of fish, including huge schools of striped and yellowfin surgeonfish. A school of dinner plate-sized Moorish idols frequently swam near one corner of the wharf, looking abundantly picturesque. One or two large manta rays also frequented this area. Best of all, schools of spinner dolphin visited the anchorage almost daily, taking a break from herding fish to perform acrobatic tricks. The spinners frequently surrounded the boat while we were at anchor.  (My spinner dolphin photos are not all in focus, but I include them here to give you the idea of the behaviors we saw.)


Surf fishermen

View from the wharf

Spinner dolphin acrobat

Spinner dolphin doing the backstroke

A school of dolphin around the boat

More spinners

The crew from the New Zealand sailing vessel Saliander organized a tour of the island with the Wildlife Conservation Center. They were joined by us and the crews from Silhouette-Texas and Irie II. We saw very little wildlife, but we did have an interesting tour of the island. Salt is highly concentrated in the shallow lagoon at Kiritimati, and we stopped first at some salt evaporation ponds where the rock salt exported from the atoll is collected. Apparently, brine shrimp used to thrive on Kiritimati, but an influx of milkfish into formerly shallow areas of the lagoon (associated with rising sea levels) was responsible for their demise. The milkfish quickly ate up all the brine shrimp. 


Kiritimati as viewed from the back of a truck

Salt evaporation ponds

Another view of the evaporation ponds

Sluice gate controlling entry of water into the evaporation ponds

Our tour guides and some of our tour group at the salt ponds

Rock salt storage shed on Kiritimati

We spent the next several hours driving through mangrove flats. We passed through some bird breeding territory but did not see any nesting red-footed or brown boobies. We saw a few of each species feeding over the lagoon though. 


Road into the salt flats

Shallow lagoon on Kiritimati
Salt flats on Kiritimati

Road through the mangrove flats

We stopped at a beach on the Bay of Wrecks---another of Kiritimati's stunning coastlines---where sea turtles lay their eggs. (We did not see any turtles because once the turtles lay their eggs, they return to the sea.) After two brief detours to visit the topographic high point of the atoll (11 meters above sea level) and the timbers from one of the wrecks, we then moved on to an area where sea turtles frequently feed on the moss-like seaweed. Unfortunately for us, we arrived at the wrong stage of the tide and no sea turtles were present on the day of our tour. 

Beach on the Bay of Wrecks



Crab burrows on the Bay of Wrecks:  These crabs had very cool stalked eyes but were lightning quick

The stake and tree were used to tie a volleyball net to

Al and Phil on the apex

View from the island's high point:  Mmm hmm.

Timbers from a shipwreck on the Bay of Wrecks

Our Penrhyn island cohort tours Christmas island

Slabs of coral lining the Bay of Wrecks looked like old dinosaur bones

Al looks down on a bunker


Sea turtle feeding beach on the east coast of Christmas island

The island's high point as seen from a distance

...and still more coconut palms and mangrove flats
 
Finally, we visited a sooty tern breeding ground, where thousands---perhaps tens of thousands---of terns were on the wing. The noise was deafening, and someone in our group kept repeating, "Alfred Hitchcock: The Birds." Obviously, we had reached the zenith of the wildlife tour. 

Sooty terns on Christmas Island
On our return to London, we made another stop on the Bay of Wrecks to see a more recent wreck. This boat had been anchored in the harbor at London only a year before, but broke free of its mooring lines and ended up destroyed on the beach. 

Wreck on the Bay of Wrecks

Detail of shipwreck

Me and our guide, Aubrey, fooling with flotsam

Tiptoe through the flotsam
We also stopped at an air strip used by the British during their occupation of the island. (The British conducted above-ground nuclear testing on Kiritimati during the late 1950's and early 1960's.)

Aeon Field marker

Driving down the abandoned air strip at Aeon Field

Our visit to Christmas Island coincided with the arrival of the sail cargo ship Kwai---outbound from Hawaii---and an Kiribati inter-island passenger vessel. Numerous foreign-flagged tuna fishing vessels---most with an El Salvadorian crew and fisheries observers from the Kiribati--- also dotted the harbor. The wharf was a hub of activity while the Kwai---which brought everything from junk food to new bicycles for the villagers---was being offloaded. The dock was transformed into a rich milieu of stevedores and villagers, offloading the cargo in huge brailer nets and packing it into waiting trucks or containers to be carried to the local shops, while supercargo and locals alike checked items off their respective lists. Crew members from the Kwai rode back and forth in the brailer nets, swinging from the crane high above our heads. Villagers were ferried to and fro from the waiting passenger ship in large open boats, carting away staples and long-awaited items. Patrick pointed out how a fork lift was needed to hold down the back end of the wharf's crane in order to more safely offload a truck from the foredeck of the Kwai. All of this activity occurred in a warm breeze wafting with it the unmistakable smell of copra, which was piled high on the wharf awaiting an exit ticket on a cargo vessel someday. 

The Kwai before offloading:  Note the truck on the foredeck

Fork lift holding down the back end of the crane
After the hustle and bustle of the offload was complete and the Kwai and the passenger vessel left, the floating dock for the passenger vessel was removed (much to our dismay, as we had also been using it for a dinghy dock), and the wharf seemed a little lonely. Only a pile of copra and an empty crane remained. 

Patrick standing on the empty wharf:  The dinghy pontoon has not yet been removed; copra pile to left

A few villagers still came and went, fishing from the wharf and giving it the only sense of life. One by one, the boats we had been traveling with departed the anchorage for Fanning Island, following in the wake of the Kwai. We were the last to leave. 

SV Saliander leaves the anchorage under an asymmetrical spinnaker

Pictures will be added to this post from Hawaii. (added 12/18/2013)

Some Logistics Notes for Cruisers (2013):

Check In/Out: 
Call Christmas Radio on Channel 16 when you arrive. If there is no response, keep trying. They often don't respond right away but will eventually. It will help speed things along if you have printed out four to five copies of your Arrival crew list and boat documentation ahead of time, as well as have a laptop or paper available to print out or write a statement for the Health Department. (Pre-printed forms are not available for yachts because the port deals mostly with commercial ships.) A boarding party consisting of representatives from Customs, Immigration, Health, Quarantine (Biosecurity), and the Police will board your vessel to complete the necessary paperwork. Then, you will be asked to take your passports into the Immigration office for stamping and to pay a $50.00 sanitation fee (Quarantine Department) at the cashier. There is an ATM located in the same complex as the immigration office. The government offices close at 4:15. Upon departure, and additional $50.00 port fee must be paid at the Kiribati Port Authority (KPA) office, located in a Quonset hut at the wharf, before checking out with Customs. If you are going on to Fanning Island, an additional $20.00 must be paid to Customs for an inter-island clearance. Immigration requires a Departure crew list and your passports.

Fuel:
Diesel is available at the petrol station and at KOIL (Kiribati Oil Company Limited). KOIL will deliver diesel to the wharf by truck for larger vessels and amounts; (there is a $180 delivery charge on top of the fuel cost) or in 200 liter barrels for smaller vessels and amounts; (no delivery charge for the barrels, you must pump it into jerry cans and get it to your boat yourself.)

We had issues with filling our propane tank but eventually succeeded. KOIL, the company selling LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) on Christmas, only carries 18 kg and 24 kg containers. In order to fill our 9 kg propane tank, we had to purchase an 18-kg LPG tank and gravity fill both our propane tanks. (Our second tank was low but not yet empty, so we wasted some fuel.) KOIL does not gravity fill tanks as a routine company practice, but one of their employees knows how to do it. (He is the only employee who knows how to gravity fill the tanks.) With permission from his boss, he will sometimes fill tanks in order to help out cruising sailors in need of fuel; however, this can take some time and planning. In our case, the employee's wife became ill, causing him to miss work for several days. So start early if you are seeking to fill your propane tanks on Christmas Island.

Provisions: 
In addition to the local shops mentioned above, yachties seeking to supplement their provisions may be interested in making a trip to "JMB," which is 15-20 km up the main road, just before the Captain Cook Hotel. (Hitchhiking is possible but weekdays are best for catching a ride.) The owner of JMB imports some American brands from Costco in Hawaii, and although it is necessary to check the dates on meats, we found some useful items there. If they don't have what you need in the shop, ask to see what's in the bulk containers and freezers in the rear. JMB also has the lowest prices on spirits; while we found that Punja's (near the KPA wharf) has a better price on beer.
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Posted from Fanning Atoll via Ham Radio.

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