"Arctracer" Letters

Tarawa & Nonouti, Kiribati, July-Aug 2004

It has been over a month since our last general letter. Our shroud fell down on July 9 about 50 miles SW of Banaba Island and about 300 miles SW of Tarawa, Kiribati. The shroud is replaced and we are now in Nonouti revisiting friends we made last November. We plan to leave tomorrow for the Solomon Islands.

It took us 3 days to get ashore in Kiribati as it was their 25th Jubilee - 25 years since independence from Britain. Not only did they celebrate on the 12th, but they celebrated for the entire week. No government employees were working, not even the customs, immigration, and quarantine officials. Finally the woman who operates Tarawa radio contacted them at home and they came out one-by-one to clear us. We were glad we were finally allowed ashore on Thursday to send a fax to New Zealand. We completed clearing in on the following Monday when offices reopened. We only had to pay the normal $40 (Australian dollars) each for visas to Immigration, but we had to pay $7 each "overtime fees" to Customs.

Our shrouds are swaged, and the mast fitting is not a regular tang but is a "T" on the end of the shroud which slips into a slot in the mast. It was the "T" which broke. It is practically impossible for us to fix this ourselves. After initially tallking with our friends Pete & Judi via Iridium phone, we faxed a hand-drawn picture and measurements of our shroud setup to them. We didn't know that there are several variations of T fittings so it took us a few days to understand that we needed to remove the good shroud on the port side of the boat, take digital photos of it from three views and send them for a rigger to see. The new shroud was made by a rigger in Whangarei, New Zealand and he had it in a box within 3 weeks. It took 6 days (over a weekend) to arrive via DHL. It was amazing that it cost more to ship the shroud than it did to make it! Thank goodness we had email, good friends to organize things for us, and an airline to get it to us. Things would have taken MUCH longer if email didn't exist and if the shroud had to come by boat. We have learned from this experience that it would be much better to have swageless rigging and fittings which we could fix and replace ourselves. We may have our rig changed when we get to Australia so we won't have this problem again.

So did we enjoy our stay in Tarawa? Yes and no. We were there in November last year, so there were no new sights to see. There are almost no other cruisers there now, so we were not involved in sunset cocktail parties, dinners on other boats, and helping each other fix things. We did boat projects including mending and painting a couple of oars that had broken, sanding and repainting the starboard engine air-intake cover which had gotten salt water in it, putting new ties on our lifelines, mending mosquito netting for the malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the Solomons, mending sail covers, mending zippers in our cockpit windows to keep the rain out when underway, putting new screws in a hinge to replace corroded rivets and losing the hinge overboard in deep and murky water so that it was impossible to find, and sewing new pillows, file box covers to keep dirt and dust out and Kiribati blouses. We also finished reading all the magazines on board. We wrote lots of email, read information about the Solomon Islands, toasted and ground the cocoa beans that we got in Samoa last year, and took care of a little business ashore. We had plenty of time to make bread and granola (difficult to find in these countries). It was rather relaxing, and a nice break from our ususal go-go-go interactions with cruisers and locals.

The stores in Tarawa were not wonderful, but we were able to find some fresh lettuce, papayas, green peppers (capsicums), and a little other stuff at the market, and canned and dried stuff (expensive) brought by container ships from Australia and New Zealand. We bought two dozen eggs at a local store, then realized they were packed in February. We found about 6 good eggs out of the 24. We'd never seen black mold inside eggs before. We had intended them to last for a few weeks, but once we realized most of them wouldn't be good, we used them up immediately. We bought potatoes, but they were really getting rotten after three days on the boat so we planned our meals around using them up quickly. There was enough rain to refill our water tanks, but not so much as to make life dismal. We found time to cut each others hair. Most of the time we took taxis at 60 cents per person per ride, but one time some telecom workers in a new van with airconditioning gave us a ride. They had several detours to make before getting to the grocery store we wanted to go to, so we got to see some interesting places on the island. One large area was for the unemployed, who mostly fish. Their traditional thatched roof houses were really close together. Our drivers bemoaned the living conditions, but they weren't really that much different from other places on Betio Island which is one of the most crowded islands we've seen. A few people have cement houses, but most houses are traditional and the community has community water faucets and toilets.

We got our PNG visas revised at the Australian embassy. In Pohnpei we got visas which were only good if we arrived in PNG before September 15, but now we are not so sure of making that date so we have obtained new visas which let us arrive anytime before November 15 and stay for two months. Without these stamps in our passports, we have heard that the PNG officials would send our passports to Port Moresby for processing. That would certainly involve delays, and since the government there is not the most reliable we would worry about getting our passports back. Now we do not have to worry about that. We will only be visiting the Louisiade Archipelago. We heard a boat on the radio say that they had over $10,000 worth of computers, binoculars, etc. stolen in Kavieng on the North coast of New Ireland so we want to be careful about where we go. Apparently they got their computers back after negotiating with the thieves and the police were of no help. They said it cost about $200US to get most everything back, while the typical PNG worker with a job makes about $35US per month. The temptation to steal from another yacht must be nearly irresistible.

The Greenpeace ship "Rainbow Warrior" stopped in Tarawa on its current tour of Pacific islands to explain the tuna fishery to islanders. We went to their open house, and were shown through the 180 foot long ship. It is an old North Sea trawler, bought by Greenpeace and modified to be a three-masted schooner after French commandos blew up the original "Rainbow Warrior" in Auckland harbor in 1985. They are concerned that the Pacific tuna fishery, practically the last remaining healthy fishery of the oceans, is being targeted now by too many fishermen and will soon be overfished. The collapse of this fishery would be very bad for the islanders, since they rely on fish for a large part of their food. About ninety-five percent of the profits on tuna go overseas to China, Taiwan, Japan, the US, etc. rather than to the islanders who own the ocean areas where the tuna are caught. There are more enormous fishing boats still being built, like the 300 foot long purse seiners which catch up to 1000 tons of tuna every trip. It would be sad to see the tuna go the way of the North Atlantic cod, but that is the direction in which the fishery seems headed. There are not enough controls and there are big profits - a combination which almost always leads to over-exploitation. We hope there will always be enough tuna for us to get one once in a while. We landed a beautiful yellowfin the morning the shroud broke, so we have been eating well here in Kiribati.

Also in Tarawa we looked up the children of our friends in Nonouti. The son, Rikiuea, age 26, works at a hardware store in Betio and plans to be married in January. The daughter, Mwakurata, age 22, recently got married at home on Nonouti and works for the Department of Public Works in Betio. Her husband is a seaman and works on German ships many months of the year. They were keen to visit our boat so we had them aboard after they finished work one day. They ate grilled tuna, rice and dahl with us and brought us gifts of souvenir Kiribati shirts. When they were on the boat we talked with their parents (our friends) via SSB radio. They had Rikiuea buy some bicycle tires and tubes for us to take to Nonouti. We took photos of them and printed some out. They had 2 films from Mwakurata & Tooia's wedding, but they weren't developed yet as it cost $2.50 to get each picture developed. It is amazing that it costs more to get things in these countries when their salaries are much lower than they are in the States. Rikiuea and Katarina told us that the last supply ship was 11 containers short of rice, so the island is out of rice. We gave them about 10 pounds, but didn't want to give them too much of the supply we bought to share with islanders in the Solomons and PNG.

(view Tarawa photos)

The wedding of Mwakurata and Tooia was apparently a big event in Nonouti. Tooia's family traveled down from Tarawa by boat and stayed with Mwakurata's family for three months! The wedding was postponed for a week when some of the relatives were delayed, but nobody seemed to mind. There were feasts and dancing almost every night. While everybody contributed, caught fish and helped out, there was a big drain on the host family. For example, one and one-half bags of rice, forty pounds each, were consumed every two days. Fortunately, Akineti prepared for this by getting 300 bags in advance, and they still had 30 bags remaining when everybody finally went home. For the wedding feast, Tamatau killed four of his pigs. They all said we should have been there, and it does sound like fun, if a bit exhausting.

On August 4th, with the new shroud securely in place and our permission letter to the Nonouti police from Immigration giving us permission to stop there for a week, we hauled in our anchor and headed for Nonouti in the afternoon. We weren't watching our GPS carefully and at noon the next day when we took our position we thought we had 4 miles to go before crossing the equator, but we had indeed recorded 4 degrees South, so had already crossed it. This was our seventh crossing of the equator under sail, and our sixth since last Halloween. We finally toasted Neptune with Bloody Marys at about 8 degrees south at 1 pm. Oh well, we had a good trip, so guess we must have been forgiven for not toasting the sea and wind gods sooner. We saw lots of flying fish, but didn't have any luck catching a mahi mahi or tuna this trip. While trolling on the way through the Nonouti lagoon we lost a lure, perhaps to a big barracuda which bit the line.

On the 6th at 12:30 we dropped our anchor in about 7' of water about half a mile from the shore of Matang village on Nonouti. Ashore two families had prepared rice, breadfruit, mahi mahi and shark marinated in Italian spices for us - Delicious! Tamatau's family runs a store and have rice. They stopped selling it a little while ago at their store when the island supply ran out, but kept enough for themselves. Uakeia's family had no rice so we took a 20# bag in to them. He gave us some dried Te Ibo, which we'd never seen before. We guessed that they were worms and were right. They are found at low tide in the sand. Women look for 2-3 small holes, put a stick into the area, then dig them out and dry them in the sun for a few days. They are chewy and a good snack. The locals also rehydrate them and have them with rice. Tamatau and Uakeia invited us to go to a 1st birthday celebration the following day - Saturday at noon where Uakeia would be the master of ceremonies.

The 1st birthday is very important in Micronesia. We were invited to a 1st birthday party in Majuro, Marshall Islands, but had other plans so didn't experience it. Here we were entertained and fed from noon until 5:30 pm. Many people made speeches and gave envelopes of money to Te Bwebwe (the mother - a teacher) for her daughter Tekenteiti. They were both dressed to kill in satin-looking dresses with fancy netting on the one-year-old's skirt. She looked very uncomfortable and after a few hours discarded the dress and relaxed in her pampers. There were two very long tables of food and a smaller table with two whole pigs that had been cooked in an underground oven for 12-14 hours. Our favorites were lobsters and a salad made with green papaya. The favorite food of the children seemed to be small hotdogs called "cheerios." Some adults seemed to put piles of pork on their plates and almost nothing else. The meat disappeared quickly, and some was probably taken back to some houses. There were also raw, marinated giant clams, chicken dishes, various kinds of fish, noodles and rice. Each of the over 250 guests had about a cubic inch of cake for dessert. Then about 2 hours after dinner there was "afternoon tea" with more cakes, tea and coffee.

A group of young adults from Tarawa wearing T-shirts with Tekenteiti's photo did several dances, including their idea of Asian Indian dancing. In between events the guests of the party were encouraged to dance. Mostly women invited men to dance and Jerry was asked every time. Nina danced several times with our male friends and once when a stranger asked her to dance. All the music was fast and from their favorite CD which we happen to have, so most of the songs were familiar to us. Some of them were played several times during the afternoon. When dancers got sweaty, they were dosed by others with talcum powder and perfume. Powder put on your cheeks gave you permission to touch cheeks with your dancing partner, if you dared. The crowd of over 200 watched every move, and shrieked with laughter at some antics. A good time was had by all.

The day after the party we had the two Peace Corps volunteers on Nonouti aboard "Arctracer" for a few hours and heard their interpretation of the education system here. It sounded like they get quite discouraged because so little real teaching goes on. Today is a national holiday, youth day, and school is cancelled, but nothing is planned for the youth. Sage is from San Diego and Sarah is from Columbus, Ohio. Sage speaks the I-Kiribati language very well after being here for a year and a half. Sarah has been here since January. They told us that the Peace Corps provides them with a satellite phone like ours so that they can get text messages, but are not allowed to call out on it unless there is an emergency. They also get "care packages" from their parents fairly frequently, so they have food that normally cannot be obtained in Kiribati. The Peace Corps flys them to Tarawa occasionally ($200 round trip) for meetings with volunteers working on other islands. They receive about $250/month and the Peace Corp also keeps another fund for them so that they can get an apartment back in the States when their volunteer work is completed after 2 years. Sage seems to really like the lifestyle on Nonouti, living in a stick hut with a thatch roof and a cement hole on the ground in her house for a toilet, and is thinking about asking for an extension to stay longer.

(view Nonouti photos)

Here in Nonouti we talked to our Aussie friends Fay and Zed on their boat "Journeyman" in Vanuatu via the SSB radio. We're hoping to meet up with them in the Solomon Islands in a few weeks. On the radio we found out that they'll be checking into the Solomons at the same place we are going. We haven't seen them since we left Sydney in April 2002, so it will be good to catch up with them again.

For two days Jerry cleaned and regreased our winches so they will function better. We went ashore for a visit each day and were fed fish and rice. One day we also had sweetened pumpkin with flour, and on another we had fried bread dough. We bought 40 liters of diesel (at $1.20 Australian per liter) to top up our supply. Jerry and Uakeia checked the rudders and cleaned the bottom of the boat for our 800 mile trip to Lata, Nende Island (Santa Cruz Island) in the Solomon Islands. Today, Thursday the 12th, Tamatau, his wife Akineti and Uakeia and his wife Atitea will give us a farewell party and a special meal. We arrived on a Friday, so have to leave Friday as the week Immigration allowed us to visit Nonouti is almost over. We got photos of Tamatau's and Uakeia's sons today in their aluminum boat with 3 sharks they caught in a net. They eat the shark meat here, but sell the fins. In some places sharks are caught just for their fins which are considered a delicacy in Japan. This lagoon is huge and not overfished, so catching some sharks seems acceptable. They also eat all the turtles they can catch, which makes us sad.

We communicated by email with our friends on "Green Nomad" from Brazil who were in Tikopea - the easternmost of the Solomon Islands. The islanders there seldom get supply ships, and need batteries, fishing equipment, and hacksaws and blades, so we bought some in Tarawa to trade. We also promised one of the four chiefs on Tikopea Island that we would take his brother-in-law and child back to Tikopea from Lata, and pick up some supplies on Vanikoro Island where the chief's two brothers live in a Tikopean village. Since we are much later than anticipated we wonder if they have found another ship. The guy has been at the Lata clinic with his son and was ready to go home about 3 months ago, but no ship went to Tikopia in that time. We think this would be an interesting way to get friendly with the Tikopians and learn about their culture, so are looking forward to it. The visit to Nonouti has delayed us another week, but we feel it was worth the time to see our friends again and do more boat preparation.