Friday, November 11, 2005

Tabiteuea & Abemama, Kiribati

November 5 - November 11

The overnight sail to Tabiteuea was very nice, especially the final 20+ miles once we were in the lee of the atoll. We wound our way through the bommies into the outer anchorage which once again was minimally charted and there appeared to be no inner lagoon. The local police force came out to the boat to check us in. It must have been the entire force because eight men showed up; all with various stages of uniforms, some with home made patches on their shoulders and the more senior men complete with modern uniforms AND hats.

It turned into a much longer affair when the boat that delivered the men lost their propeller next to Island Sonata. I tried to dive down to the bottom in 35 feet but I didn’t have any bottom time to find it and the water was very murky. John even got out his dive gear to look, but it was a bust. I went in with the police chief Acau (pronounced a-cow) to get another one, actually we just sat there drinking coconuts while his wife ran off on the scooter to tell someone to bring one. (I have a hard time with the local names so I thought I had it easy with a-cow, the only problem was I remembered it was "a-farm-animal", so more than once I called him a-goat or a-pig to KT and Island Sonata, luckily I never said anything to his face) The entire time we were gone a local was diving with no fins and almost getting more bottom time than John with his scuba. He finally found it.. and it was white.. both John and I were looking for a black propeller.

The satellite photos showed a potential path into an inner lagoon, so once again we got out our GPS and hand held depth sounder and took off in the dinghy to plot a route into the lagoon. We ended up anchoring in 15 feet surrounded by green water, you can’t even begin to describe the color especially through polarized sunglasses. KT was upset when she found out the water temp was down ... to 85 degrees! During our stay John and I did a couple of exploratory walks to the outer reef and the government center/school down the island. They were installing a huge solar array to power a phone system with a couple of pay phones, unless they were going to call Tarawa, I had no idea what good the phone would do because none of the outer islands had them. We had a couple of unsuccessful fishing trips to the reef, unless you consider cracking up the locals successful. We came upon an anchored fishing canoe, and went over to talk to them about their catch. Well of course we had on our local Kiribati fishing hats, you know “do like the locals”, except they were wearing regular baseball hats. They didn’t speak a lick of English so we didn’t get much more than eyebrow raises, nods and smiles, but after we left and I looked back I thought they were going to fall out of their boat because they were laughing so hard… oh well.. no respect earned there.

All four of us tried to walk along the road to explore the island but we spent most of the time diving into the shade and not getting anywhere. Finally Acau came by (he also delivers the fuel drums around the island), and offered us a ride. It was much more fun to see the island from the back of the truck with the cool breeze blowing in our faces. Every once in a while, someone would yell duck as a branch and hanging leaves swept over the top of the cab. We also stopped at most of the villages to do a delivery so we got to interact with the locals. The village furthest north is on a spit of land with an inner brackish lagoon and a path leading to the outer reef; there were not many trees so it was scorching hot in the mid-day sun. We were all invited in for, guess what, drinking coconuts, as the kids peered around the “church” to stare and giggle at us. I finally got some of the kids to come over to a neighboring hut and tried the telephoto camera trick again. I couldn’t get some of the kids to smile so I pushed my face into a smile with my fingers and next thing you know all the kids were poking themselves in the face. Oh well it didn’t turn out as planned but I did get some good shots.

We enjoyed some amazing sunsets and the lagoon was breath taking, although the locals were not as friendly as Onotoa (or perhaps not as outgoing). I asked the policeman if they would like to get more cruisers/visitors and he said.. “no.. too much work”. I guess I would feel the same if I had to spend the day waiting to find a propeller to get me back home.

November 12 - November 23

It was a relatively easy overnight passage from Tabiteuea to Abemama, especially for me since Chris took over one of my watches!  For the second time since our initial departure back in Dec 2003 we crossed the equator.  Perhaps because it wasn't new, or maybe because we hadn't been at sea for fifteen some days, it wasn't the big event of the first crossing.  We still paid tribute to King Neptune (never want to piss him off), and Chris threw over four more wine bottles with messages.  We were shocked when two of the four from our first year were found, and are now anxiously awaiting news from this year's bottles.  Early in the morning Chris was treated to playful dolphins speedily dashing in front of our bow.

The pass was a nightmare; it was rough, windy and there were huge waves.  The wind was blowing AGAINST the current, creating five foot standing waves.  Of course we didn't notice just how crappy the conditions were until we were already committed to going through the pass, so there was nothing to do but go full throttle ahead and hope for the best (even at full throttle we were barely making 2-3 knots against the wind and waves!).  Chris got soaked as he stood watch (for reefs) on the bow.  In addition our instrumentation (with the ever crucial depth) kept going out.  Luckily we were able to radio Island Sonata and they lingered, letting us follow them in.  Chris and I both expelled huge sighs of relieve when we finally made it through.

On Sunday (the 13th) we made our way into the village to check-in.  We were overjoyed when we came across a little store with COLD cola.  A few of the other boats that were already there had arranged to play some music for a few of the locals and invited us along.  In typical islander fashion, nothing can be 'given' without giving something back, and so they too did a few performances for us, and apologized that they didn't have anything more formal planned.  They insisted we come back in a few days at which time they would be more prepared!  That night we joined SawLeeAh and Island Sonata aboard Interlude for pizza, dominoes and a movie.

The next morning one of the police officers along with a customs officer boarded Billabong for the official inspection; which consisted of a few questions and no search or confirmation that we were telling the truth!  We served apple pie and a fruit drink with just about gagged the poor customs girl as I hadn't tested it and didn't add quite enough water ... they are too polite to say anything, but it was easy to figure out when her entire face puckered up and she started coughing violently!

On Wednesday we once again found ourselves on motorbikes with Island Sonata ... there really is no better way to explore an atoll or island.  It was a hot and dusty day, which we ended with a refreshing swim in the strong currents near the causeway (we had all kinds of fun jumping off the causeway and letting the current swiftly carry us through).  Then it was back to the maneaba for the village party/presentation.  Following the opening dance (by four women/girls), we were presented with head wreaths and once again invited (although saying "no" is not an option) to open dance with the locals.  There were four more traditional dances performed.  The somewhat ironic thing was that three out of the five dances were led or solely performed by the local Peace Corps girl (Kate) ... a WHITE girl!!!  Here we were, miles from home, watching traditional Kiribati dancing, being performed by a WHITE AMERICAN!!!  Too funny!  We were especially entertained by the locals who couldn't take their eyes off Kate ... an I-Matong doing their dances ... probably dances that many of the locals don't know themselves anymore!  After the performances we were served a delicious feast ... by far the best local food we've had to this day.

By Friday the wind had sufficiently calmed down, so we moved to anchor near the pass entrance, where a small, nearly unpopulated island sits.  The waters here were a terrific shade of blue that blended beautifully with the vast blue skies and fluffy white clouds.  We explored the small island, where we were covertly followed by a few young girls, who would giggle and run away anytime we turned to look at them.  On Saturday Chris and John took advantage of the nearby pass and went fishing; returning with a dog-toothed Tuna.  They were also treated to a few dolphins playing nearby while they fished.  I joined them for an afternoon fishing trip (which we came back empty handed).  That night we had dinner with Island Sonata, and then were joined by Hugaley, Navire, and the two Peace Corp women for a few evening cocktails.

More fishing occurred the following day, resulting in another delicious Tuna.  We also did a bit of snorkeling outside the pass where we spotted turtles, an octopus, lots of colorful parrot fish, and giant clams.  Luckily Island Sonata was also out snorkeling because on the way back in we ran out of gas and had to be towed back to our boat!  We shared our tuna with Navire, having another great dinner aboard Island Sonata (catamarans are always the preferred party boat!).

As weather reports indicated that the winds would pick up, we moved to the South anchorage on Monday (21st).    We spent two nights there before making an impromptu decision to depart and head for Tarawa.  On our way out we caught a tiny little fish, but threw him back in hopes for something bigger ... which unfortunately never hooked up!

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