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|
|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|
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.
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|
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.)
|View from the wharf|
|Spinner dolphin acrobat|
|Spinner dolphin doing the backstroke|
|A school of dolphin around the boat|
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|
|Wreck on the Bay of Wrecks|
|Detail of shipwreck|
|Me and our guide, Aubrey, fooling with flotsam|
|Tiptoe through the flotsam|
|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|
|Patrick standing on the empty wharf: The dinghy pontoon has not yet been removed; copra pile to left|
|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):
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.
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.
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.
Posted from Fanning Atoll via Ham Radio.