Posted by: powellpjc | December 26, 2010

Samoa to Kiribati.

Lagoon, Tarawa, Kiribati.

Samoa to Kiribati.

The quintessential South Pacific shot. Kiribati style.

15 days of pretty nice sailing.

Started off no hell with heavy rain out of Apia, Western Samoa. Lightning and booming all around me. My insignificance reared his head. Second night out, still in heavy rain and squalls (25 knot winds) I come across a fishing fleet. Four boats doing their thing. If there is one boat out in the ocean that has right of way, it is a fishing boat working his lines or nets. He is going slow, cannot manoeuvre and expects you to stay clear. Unfortunately, with all his working lights on –the bright halogen spots—it is impossible to see his running lights. Two in the morning and I am in the middle of this little fleet. This leads to comedy on the high seas. I decide to radio the nearest boat and ask him which way he is going.

‘Fishing boat, this is sailing boat 1 mile south of you. Which way are you headed?’ Two boats answer. ‘I am going 007 True’ one says. Other guy says, ‘Are you ahead of me?’ There is no way out of this muddle. Who is talking to whom? Or, if you like, whom to who? No way to explain my position and I realize it quickly. The only thing left to do is to stay awake for the rest of the night, steering away from bright lights. Listen—this is not easy in night squalls on a sailboat¸ singlehanded.

Two days later the squalls went away, the wind stiffened and I made good time. About 140 miles a day on beam reach. Then came Dec. 21st.

One equator, one dateline, one lunar eclipse and the summer solstice. All in one day. This was auspicious. Next day I nailed a brace of Yellowfin tuna. The boys in Pago Pago explained how to land, dispatch, clean and prepare tuna. They make their living, and their millions, doing the tuna thing. Sashimi for me for 2 nights and another fine meal of seared ahe.

The pair of yellowfins, pithed and bled. Awaiting the high carbon steel.

After the thrashing and pithing and 8 hours of cooling the cuts in the fridge, one sits down to sashimi. Soy and wasabi sauces, cold rice and delicious tuna. And being a dextrous and effete kind of guy, I like to affect the chopsticks.


The fish made up somewhat for the technical setbacks on this fortnight haul. I list them in no chronological order and I’ve probably forgotten a few, that being the human response to tragedy and other pokes in the eye.

  1. Two bilge pumps failed. Never to pump again.
  2. My AIS anti-collision gizmo packed it in.
  3. My chartplotter (main navigation system) began flicking off. Like your computer might. You know that’s bad.
  4. My water tank sprang a leak.
  5. Making water to replenish tank (after changing water tank bladders), my watermaker panel started smoking.
  6. My propeller shaft started making really bad noises.
  7. My backup GPS began shutting down for no reason. Another thing that you know is bad.
  8. #2 reefing line parted in the night like a pistol shot in downtown Atlanta.
  9. Because of a new bilge pump installation (yes, I had a spare), I had a flood whilst trying to make water. Nothing focuses the mind of a sailor like water over his feet.

10.  I make it to Tarawa, Kiribati, and fluff up the dinghy. Mount the brand new, 3,5 Hp Merc and there is no way that it will start. I cannot row into shore because the trade winds are stiff and the rollers about 4 feet high.

Ok, that’s enough. I overcame most of the above issues and anchored at Betio Island, Tarawa Atoll, Kiribati. Why, I don’t know. There is no good reason to come here in peacetime. In wartime either. The Yanks launched their second big offensive of the Pacific campaign (after Guadalcanal) here in 1943. In November the 4500 well-fed, well-prepared Japanese defenders lost their lives in 4 days of fighting. 1500 Americans, too. The relics stand sentinel on the beach.

The shore batteries were no match for the USNavy 16 inch cannons. This 6 incher came from Singapore after the fall.

Another one with the barrel spiked.

An ammunition bunker behind a gun emplacement. No one home. No spirits, that is. Just one kid sniffing gas.

This is what I think of when the word 'pillbox' is mentioned.

The barrel is separated from the turret. That spells bad karma.

The loading tray is still intact. Well, the bottom half that is.


 A bad day for Rising Sun Karma.

This place is dirty, dusty, filthy and without redemption. No phone cards. Public drunkenness. No internet on most days. No sidewalks. No ice. It appears to be an NGO state and a failed one. The Cubans are here. The Canadians, Americans, Japanese, and Taiwanese, Aussies and I’m sure many more. Taiwanese?

For example.

And another.

The anchorage is hell. Four foot rollers and 25 knot tradewinds, steady. Getting into the dinghy is a mug’s game. Getting out is unceremonious lurching, timing and luck. I dove on the prop shaft this morning and was lucky to see 4 feet in sandy water.

Some of my neigbours. All these boats are wrecked, having been blown ashore in adverse winds.

I was duped into coming here. Free of cyclones. Well, ok, but if I want 4th world I can go to Pickle Lake. And I’ve been there.

Wait. I take it back. Well, some of it anyway.

I rented a car today (day after Boxing) and toured the island. It was a public holiday and things were slow, except for the dancing! And I mean DANCING.

It was a ‘feast day’–I know Catholics will understand–and each village put together their finest for the exhibition. Singing, drumming and dancing. The drummers were men, the singers were women and the dancers were the finest, nubile female forms that could be gathered from each village. They prepared for this day all year and the results were inspiring. Intense and passionate rhythms; melodic and harmonic singing and dancing that would bring a tear to any jaded eye.

I sat in on two dance halls and was floored.

I could not follow the pounding drum rhythms–too intricate–but the dancing was mesmerizing and these were not dance floors for a hotel. This was dancing for your village. Ok, the bishop was there as was a handful of his cronies. The bishop had his eyes closed and was clutching a fan, The presentations were for the people. Wow.

A few pics may help in the understanding.

The village elders gather in a group around their communal drum.


The men run things. Similar to the rest of the world.

And for the women, these sweaty guys might have some appeal.

The boys pound on their drumskins. And I mean pound.

But make no mistake. Everyone is here to see the youth. The female youth.

Mad and sexy.

Or, happy and sexy.

But, without question, intense and sexy.

Judge for yourself.

Kiribati graveyard. Surely, these folks didn't all die of alcholism.But no matter my opinion of Kiribati, I will never see the likes of this again.

But no matter my dislike of Kiribati, I will never see the likes of this again.



  1. Belated Festivus greetings! Your hotmail account has been hacked again, just so you know.

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