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October 2008
Dear Friends:

What was the most exciting sail we had over the past few months?  Definitely our shortest, smallest one.  After landing Cheeky through about a foot of surf at Kiritimati (Christmas Island, in the Line Islands), finding the customs officers off for the day but not too worried about us, after a laughter filled journey on a local bus (a normal 8 seat Toyota van reconfigured so, 25 islanders and the two of us fitted in with music thumping loudly, children laughing and packages crowding every spare space) a visit to the “biggest” market on the island, a clean small shop with a small variety of canned and packaged goods which was out of ice cream (Larry’s one craving after a month at sea) and out of all fresh food other than cheese and sausages until the next ship was due to arrive in ten days, we returned to find the surf was now running about 2 feet high across  a coral rock strewn sand patch.  Fortunately I had a plastic garbage bag to wrap our papers and my handbag, unfortunately getting the dinghy launched through the surf without getting fully swamped and without punching a hole through the bottom left me totally drenched, sand covered and more than a bit bruised. 

This is the view of Kiritimati’s roadstead with Taleisin, Mischief and Chuck’s charter yacht clustered near the commercial wharf in the background.

 

The next day we decided to get out Cheeky’s sailing rig (three miles was definitely too far to row) and used two plastic bags to double wrap my handbag, then loaded that plus our four collapsible water jugs, two spare ice bags, the class 3 life preserver cushions and essential dirty clothes plus a wash bucket into our 8 foot dink. 

“Should I put a reef in the sail before we set off?” Larry asked. “Why not put in two, we can always shake one out,” I answered after looking about half a mile to the south were the large entrance to the lagoon seemed to have more white on the water than we did where we were anchored ¼ mile off the lee of the island.

Darren used an ATN Top Climber to go aloft. He had a back up halyard safety line which Larry kept snuggly wrapped around a winch.

The reach towards the pass was great fun, once we figured out where to put our feet, got our cushions comfortably under our bottoms and decided who would hold the tiller, who would hike out.  Then we cleared the point and headed up to beat into the lagoon, watching all the time for coral heads and shoal spots (the dinghy draws three feet with the center board fully extended).  Sure glad we had two reefs in that sail! The wind here was blowing at least 20, gusting 25; the tide was with us, which meant it was against the wind. Three-foot chop soon had us soaked. But surprisingly, once I got thoroughly wet, I began to really enjoy the challenge, laughing as the warm spray hit, trying to judge the best times to tack.  By the time we’d sailed about three miles and turned through the 50 foot wide entrance to the well protected but tiny port we were both laughing, soaking and glad we’d not tried to bring Taleisin in here. Things had definitely changed from what was shown on the chart.  The entrance to the harbor dredged by the British back in the 1960’s when they used this island for testing Hydrogen bombs has definitely silted in and is only deep enough for the small fish boats and lighters used by the local folks. 

Darren and Melinda were definitely happy campers once they had re-attached Mischief’s headstay and had the roller furling gear working again.

 

But, the sail in paid off. There was an ice plant right there; we could fill our water jugs too. Even better, two of the six non-Kiritibati (Imitang) islanders saw us sailing in and came to introduce us to their world – Henry Genthe, biologist/journalist plus a surfer turned charter boat owner named Chuck “the Surfer” Corbett.  In spite of my bedraggled wet state, Henry loaned me his computer for email at the phone company’s office. All three men went off searching for some item Larry mentioned and two hours later an even more laden dinghy and two well befriended sailors set off for an intrepid journey home.  Yes this time we got to run most of the way back in Cheeky, trying not to freeze our bottoms or knees on 70 pounds of chipped ice nor lean too hard on the four collapsible 5 gallon jugs full of sweet fresh water, but now we had a new challenge as afternoon squalls swept over us with blessedly fresh rain but 35 knots of wind.  Instead of reefing the sail even more, we just pulled up three feet of mainsail and held onto the leech of the sail to keep it pulling, let it go when heavy gusts hit and made it safely home, laughing most of the way.  Definitely proved that was not the best way to get ashore either but wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

The singers ranged from 16 to 78 years in age, the voices from the deepest bass to an unusual high pitched sing song used by the women to call out special counterpoints to the main melody.

Final solution to getting ashore relatively dry? The next morning we lifted Taleisin’s anchor and sailed a mile north to anchor near the big ships wharf that extended almost a quarter mile offshore. There we learned to time the surge running along the wharf and jump onto the stairwell that lead from water level up to the landing. I don’t think either of us thought about how long we’d stay in this open and often rolly roadstead, but first it was dinner with Chuck – fresh grouper and marinated octopus caught right under the big wharf, then it was the arrival of another yacht, a rarity at an island that only sees six or eight boats a year. This one was Mischief a Perry designed 36-foot cutter out of Hawaii sailed by Darren and Melinda Dzurilla.

Five days out of Hawaii Mischief’s headstay wire broke due to work hardening just where it entered the swage at the masthead.1 Only their roller furler halyard was keeping the furler, the sail and its foil from falling into the sea. Darren and Melinda had rigged a spare halyard to act as a temporary headstay and sailed conservatively with a reefed main and staysail, the rest of the way, diverting from their original destination of Fanning Island in hopes of getting in to the secure looking port shown at London on Christmas Island (Kiritimati). They had to settle for working in the roadstead anchorage where Larry and I lent a hand to get the gear down. The two men designed a way to re-attach the headstay (subject for a cruising tip in a few months) and the local dive shop owner welded up a fitting to get Darren and Melinda underway again. 

This lovely dancer swayed her hips and moved her arms in motions that mimicked the waves breaking onto a beach as she carried in a crown woven of over 100 flowers.

 

But the biggest enticement that kept us at this island for two weeks was the promise of a Boteki to celebrate my 64th Birthday. Teretia, Henry’s Kiribati born wife, had been looking for an excuse to put on this relatively formal type of party used to celebrate weddings, first birthdays, 64th birthdays and arrivals of royalty. Seems she owed for previous invites she’d had.  So for three days she and her relatives prepared specialty foods including freshly caught land crabs which were then steamed, the flesh picked out, mixed with coconut milk and heart of palm then stuffed back into the cleaned crab shells and lightly steamed again, fish was caught, three big sweet cakes were made. Larry and I added a big tub of ice cream (three gallons) and a cask of California red wine to the party, Darren and Melinda brought along a big casserole. When we arrived there were about thirty or forty local people surrounding the small concrete house Teretia and Henry have leased right on the beach, next to the local church. Then a bus pulled in with twenty-five more people, all wearing matching shirts and lava-lavas plus handsome fresh flower head bands. Turns out Teretia is a member of the champion singing group on this island, one that came second in the national championships the previous year at Tarawa, the capital. They were the special treat of the evening.

The Birthday Girl.  The flower lei were a lovely surprise, made by Melinda. Larry’s gift to me was the promise of an evening out at my absolute favorite South Pacific Restaurant, Aggie Grey’s, once we sailed in to Apia in Samoa.

But just as they arrived it began to rain. No problem for these island folks. Within minutes the people from the next home arrived with a canvas tent to shelter everyone who could not fit inside the 15 by 20 foot main room of the house.  Teretia and her beautiful daughter Raeua spread freshly woven mats for the singers on one side of the room, and others for us – the special guests - on the other. Then the first song rang out. Though the singing style, the words and rhythms were exotic, the voices could have been at home in the chorus in Westminster Cathedral. In this small-enclosed space they were powerful, exciting and inspiring! For two hours song after song rang out. Fresh sashimi of tuna and mahi mahi was passed around as the local people wandered in and out, children ran through laughing and teasing but we four visitors sat fully entranced by the music. Then a beautiful 14-year-old girl dressed in grass skirt, pandanas leaf top and flowers danced into the room carrying a crown that had been woven for me. Next came a chocolate covered birthday cake with a whole lot of burning candles that had all the children jumping up and down with delight. I had to act a bit more dignified but was just as delighted. Though the table was then spread with a feast including a huge pot of wonderful curried chicken, it was the cake that disappeared first! Yes, it was a wonderful way to spend my birthday, a wonderful way to end an unexpectedly interesting visit to one of the more isolated islands of the Pacific.

One of the highlights of the evening was watching our hostess, Teretia, dance with one of the local men.  I got a chance to dance with him when a recording of “Will you still need me when I’m 64” was put on the CD player during dinner. He was really good!  

 

As we rowed home the skies cleared to reveal a full moon. With our water tanks full, our ice chest full of ice and frozen meat, our fresh provisions topped up a bit from the limited and very expensive selection of fresh vegetables that had arrived on the local ship that day, we knew the next morning would be the perfect time to sail onward.

Fair Winds,

Lin and Larry


1This is a not-uncommon problem on boats with roller furling headsails. When you are running in the trades the headstay tends to slacken off, the weight of the sail and its gear makes the sagging headstay swing back and forth thus aging (work hardening) the wire. See last months cruising tip – Reinforced tradewind sailing - for more on this.

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