Kiribati 2015

Our passage to Tarawa, Kiribati…had lots of squalls with wind 30-40+ knots and heavy rain at times. We found it difficult to make any westing until the last 2 days when the wind turned SW for us giving us a straight run to Tarawa. We crossed the Equator during the day and did a countdown to 00.00.00S before heading into the Northern Hemisphere. There was plenty of wind on the journey although on the last day we had 13knots on the nose so we decided to start the motor so that we could get a good night sleep at the anchorage. The 470nm passage took us 4 nights and 5 days. The wind and squalls took their toll on our headsail which we had restitched by Marshall Sails only 2 months ago in Fiji. Looks like we have to do it again by hand.

The Kiribati Flag….This photo was taken outside Parliament House. This monument represents the Kiribati Flag.

The image of the bird on the Kiribati flag represents authority, freedom and command of the sea. The sun rising over the red sky represents the equator and the blue and white wavy lines symbolize the Pacific Ocean and the 3 island groups of Kiribati (Gilbert, Phoenix and Line Island groups). I like it and I think it is a pretty cool flag. We are supposed to fly it whilst we are here in Kiribati but I have no idea where I would get one. Luckily, no one seems too worried about our flag etiquette.

Betio….Don't come here for your holiday. Betio is in South Tarawa and it where the commercial harbour is and where we must come to clear into the country. The anchorage has good holding but the best plan is to get in, do what you have to do, then get out. It is a good port to refuel with petrol and diesel, using jerry cans and the dinghy to transport them back to the boat. There is no fuel wharf as such. There is a tiny small boat harbour but one look at it and you will never want to take your boat in there. Would you want to take the risk of rats on board? Or cockroaches fattened up by copra and something called a rhinoceros beetle which I never want to meet. Not to mention all the health risks. There is LPG available and supermarket items but don't count on anything fresh in the last month. If you do see anything fresh, buy it immediately and buy lots of it.

I am struggling to take a photo here. There are 100,000 people on this atoll. Many are in Betio living in poor and crowded conditions. Sanitation and hygiene is poor. There is no sewerage plant…that is the harbour, beach and lagoon. I saw the local ferry discharge its holding tank directly into the small boat harbour. They even gave a little wave as they did it. I felt sick as I have seen kids swim here. What chance have they got?

How do you manage rubbish on an atoll? With great difficulty and so the lagoon also becomes a rubbish disposal area. There is a landfill site which has a prime waterfront location but there is not enough collection of rubbish from the streets and bins. The local people live, work and play in amongst it all. Unfortunately on a hot day when you really want a swim it is not enticing to go for a swim. There are health risks to swim here and even more so if you already have any cuts or open sores. Red Cross is here and it looks like they have their work cut out for them. They offer health services including HIV/AIDS support. In third world conditions such as these you will also find Hepatitus, Dysentry, Diarrhoea, Infections and I have also noticed some of the locals have nits. I have seen them going through each others hair picking them out. I know anyone can get nits but they don't have the money to spend on treatments so it is apart of their daily life. So keep your hat on! especially on those crowded buses.

The locals rely on rain water for their drinking water and in dry conditions that can be in short supply. The roads are either dry and very dusty or muddy after the rain. On a more positive note the people seem nice, friendly, a little curious and a little reserved. They open up if you greet them first with a Mauri (hello) and a smile. It's sad because the people are the best part. Most of the people are dressed reasonably well. I think alot of charity clothing from Australia comes here.English is not their first language. The supermarkets are OK with a good enough selection of Australian and NZ goods but fresh foods are lacking. Anything that is half decent disappears quickly. One lady had a trolley full of great carrots and left about one dozen rotten ones in the tray. I have not seen any carrots since and that was a week ago. I have seen wrinkly old red and yellow capsicum, cabbage which we don't eat and the same old onions I saw a week ago. On the road stand you can get fresh bananas and pumpkin. I saw one tray of eggs in Bairiki but I don't think it is something the locals eat. The islanders live off fish, coconut, taro, bananas and breadfruit - everything else is imported. Yes, you can get beer here!

It's early days. We hope to check out other areas here in Tarawa and have applied for permission to visit some of the outer islands but I don't think we will renew our 30 day visa.

The WWII Battle of Tarawa happened here in Betio. I can see Red Beach from True Blue V and this is where the fierce Battle of Tarawa took place. I am keen to check it out.

According to Landfalls of Paradise by Earl Hinz…...During the early days of 1942 the Japanese occupied several of the Gilbert Islands as part of their expansionist move. They heavily fortified Betio Island in Tarawa Atoll. After the Japanese southward expansion was stopped at Guadalcanal, the US forces next wanted Betio as an air base from which to attack the Marshall Islands to the north. In 1943 a great seaborne force comprising hundreds of US ships and planes and thousands of marines descended on the strongly fortified Japanese at Betio. History was made. 76 hours later Betio was a denuded island and the Japanese force of 4,500 persons ceased to exist. Today only the rusting hulks of tanks, amphtracks, and landing craft dot the water, while on land rusting coastal batteries and concrete bunkers sit beneath swaying palm trees.

Craig and I walked the beach to see what has been described in the tourism brochure as an outdoor museuem. We soon came across a tank which is half buried in the sand at low tide. I wonder what else has been buried by sand and time.

This is Red Beach. It was once a beautiful beach but that was a very long time ago. Now it is littered with rubbish, rusting tin cans, clothing, large fishing vessels washed ashore, WWII stuff and poo. It is also at risk from overcrowding, super high tides and weather events.

This Japanese gun once pointed as a threat out to sea but it now points quietly inland away from the reef.

The guns tell a story of a battle hard fought and many lives lost.

Japanese big guns took a hit from the US forces and now lie rusting in the sand


The Americans weren't the only ones here. This is a memorial to 22 British, Australian and New Zealand lives lost. It says these men were brutally murdered by the Japanese. I don't know the story behind this memorial but I don't think these men died in war action. Perhaps they were taken as prisoners of war.

Japanese concrete bunkers now have more recent graves surrounding them.

Concrete bunkers take up prime beachfront position. American landing craft got hung up on the reef due to an error in tidal predictions. That would have worked in favour of the Japanese but not so good for the Americans.

Other happenings along Red Beach…

This is a locally made canoe and it has a sail. We often see it out sailing in the lagoon but I am never close enough to get a photo of it with its sail up.

Fishing vessels washed ashore take up prime beachfront position.

Turtle = Food

Warning...This is a turtle shell left on the beach after being slaughtered and eaten. Whilst walking along the beach we came across locals who had caught a large turtle and they were cutting it up. We passed by quickly not wanting to watch the rest of the turtle killing. Although we found it disturbing, I accept that this is their way of life. This is how they live and this is a food source for them.

Foreigners who complain about local lifestyle practices can easily alienate themselves and make it difficult for future cruisers/tourists and foreigners who follow. This happened recently in New Caledonia after a cruiser complained to the police that the locals had killed a turtle. The locals reacted angrily by banning foreigners to their island saying that foreigners don't understand their way of life. Fellow cruisers also criticised the cruisers saying if they wanted things to be just like home then they should stay at home.

Too bad about the turtle but great smiles.

I asked if I could take a photo and they were happy for me to do so. I have edited the photo so as not to show the turtle as it will upset too many people. Local kids on the beach are very interested in anything that is going on.

Fishing, boating and beach life in Tarawa.

Beachfront property along Red Beach. With so many real life problems these people are also concerned about their island disappearing with Climate Change. Even in calm conditions high tide is not far from their houses. The more immediate issues affecting people daily are health and sanitation. To be quite honest, Craig couldn't get off this beach fast enough. Personally, I am ready to move on from Betio. It's time for us to find a place that is clean enough to swim and enjoy Christmas. We have been given permission from Customs and Immigration for a 10 day visit to Abemama Atoll.

Abemama Atoll….75 miles south is an overnight sail and we arrived at noon at a large atoll with access through a wide pass into a lagoon. We have anchored up in the north east corner and have good protection from the prevailing wind and waves. A trip to shore shows us that the people live in a very traditional way.

Only materials found on the island are used for most of their buildings. It is a good thing that they don't get cyclones here. We are on the equator.

This open air bure is made totally with traditional materials. Pandanus trunks and leaves, Coconut trees and twining. The floor is a coral base covered with village made grass mats. It is a work of traditional skills. Some of the locals sleep here at night. We met some of the locals and they offered us to sit in the bure with them and enjoy a coconut drink. Some of the children couldn't stop staring at us prompting their elders to say to them "haven't you seen a white person before?" Of course, they then cracked up laughing.

Traditional way of life is lived on the outer islands. It's a far cry from a western way of life but actually life here looks pretty good with a lot less to stress about. I commend and admire people who live in a self sufficient way. Sometimes it makes city life look way too complicated.

We met a local named Tanro who was happy to show us around his village area. We first met him when he sailed his canoe past our yacht when we were at anchor. He had good english and explained their way of life to us. He is the local warden and will fine you if your pig is not on a leash.

Local rules….you have to keep your piggy tied up or you will get into trouble from the local warden. Rules are rules!

As we walked around the island we came across a Taro pit. Taro is a root vegetable and is relied on by many of the islanders as a food source. In atolls where the soil quality it so poor the locals create pits and mulch them so that they can grow the taro in a fresh water pit. This is a healthy pit but at other islands their taro crop is under threat from salt water at high tide. If salt water gets in it will kill the crop. This is one of the impacts of climate change in the Pacific atolls that you will hear people talk about.

What happened to Christmas?

We had planned to have Christmas with our friends at Abemama Atoll however when a weather opportunity arose to get 75nm north back to Tarawa; clear out and then continue north to Majuro we decided to take it. Our visa is only good for 30 days and if we did not take this opportunity then we would be forced to go between Christmas and New Year. The weather forecast looked better now than later and with all the public holidays (4 days over Xmas and 3 days over New Year) we made our decision to go now. We arrived back at Betio, Xmas Eve morning and dropped anchor just before a large SW trough hit bringing 30-35knots of wind to the anchorage. We had no choice but to drop the dinghy and get the outboard on even though Craig was in the dinghy bouncing 3feet in the air and swinging around. Of course there was much yelling, screaming and swearing.

Craig zoomed off to the harbour. He was on his way to get us cleared out of Kiribati before the government offices shut their doors for 4 days. His day got worse as his hat blew off and landed in the disgusting harbour water. I saw him going around in circles trying to get it back with the dinghy leaping into the air. Finally he had the cap in his hand but there was no way he was putting it back on his head. First stop was Immigration but it is a 10km bus ride to get there. He was going to have to ride the crowded bus with no cap. Crammed into a 12 seater van with 20 other people doing the Twister riding along with hands splayed for bracing and faces with squashed noses flattened on the window. When is a Tarawa bus too full? Ha, it never is!

Immigration was the easy part. Next stop was Customs back at the Betio harbour. The Customs Officer said "When do want to leave?" Craig said "I want to clear out today and depart tomorrow." Customs shook his head…"I can't do it, we have no power. Come back tomorrow." Craig said "Tomorrow is Xmas Day." Customs said "I will have someone on Standby for you." Craig decided to come back later in the afternoon. He hoped the power would be back on.

The Port Authority was the next stop to pay our $50 departure tax. Craig walked into the office. The Cashier girl looked at him, looked at the clock, said "lunchtime" and walked out. Craig decided to use the lunchtime hour to buy beer as he was surely going to be needing it when he got back to the boat. Customs eventually got their power back and had to do some work after all.

Christmas Day was spent alone on the boat in Betio harbour. It didn't feel like Christmas at all. We decided to depart Boxing Day bound for Majuro. The forecast still looked good although it was changing daily.

Boxing Day….Our Passage was terrible. It is OK to turn around and come back.

We departed Betio Harbour at 10am and sailed at 7 knots past Abaiang Island which is about 30nm north of Betio. At this pace we were dreaming that we would arrive in Majuro in 2 1/2 days. Well, that moment was to be the best part of the trip. It was all downhill after that. The wind didn't listen to the forecast of 15-18 knots at all and the swell became 3m with bumpy, choppy seas on top. After Abiang the winds started to shift and take us northwest. The wind increased to 30knots and squalls came through bringing 35-40knots. True Blue V was pointed as hard into the wind as she could go. It was a thumpy, bumpy ride and there was no rest for the crew on board. It was blackness overnight as nothing could be seen outside the cockpit.

By morning we assessed our track which was dismal and many miles west of any intended position. We decided to tack which took us East. That was our 2 choices. East or West. We could no longer make any north as the swell and seas were coming from that direction. We thought we would try for Butaritari Island for shelter but after many hours going East we realised we could make the Easting but would not be able to make it the 20nm north to get there. At Majuro, the weather was deteriorating and they were preparing for 40knot winds and 4m swells generated from an approaching Low. The only choice left was to turn around and go back 50nm to Abiang Island that we had passed with glee 24 hours ago. Once the decision was made the boat was turned around to travel with the wind and swells. We were much happier and the boat motion was much more comfortable. We arrived at Abiang at 9pm. It was too late to go through the pass so we hove to for the night with 2 hour night watches. I was so tired that I had to set an alarm at regular intervals to wake me as I was falling asleep sitting up.

Next day we waited for slack tide to enter the Abaiang Pass. We were still tired and stressed and bloody Navionics charts weren't correct again. It seems they are quite happy to run people aground. SAS Planit is only good if the danger spots are not under a cloud!!! Eventually we got our anchor down without running into anything. We gave ourselves a day off to rest, watch movies, eat popcorn and recover our sense of humor. Where has it gone?

Our Passage to Majuro was too rough to continue...

This Movie is aptly named "Shake, Rattle & Roll." Push Play and come along for the ride.

We have just turned the boat around and will return to Abaiang Island and wait for another weather opportunity to travel north to Majuro.

Gratitude comes with hindsight….We knew we had made the right decision to come back. Now we were thanking the world and the lucky stars above. As Craig was standing near the boom, he noticed that the shackle that secures the outhaul for the mainsail was no longer seized and the bolt was only half a turn from being undone. Had this occurred during our voyage, we would have been in crisis mode. We would have had a free-ranging, flapping mainsail in some of the worst conditions we have encountered. Typically these things like to let go at the worst possible times. So glad it didn't.

Abaiang Atoll…We did have permission for a 10 day visit here but that cancelled out once we cleared out of the country. We are now sitting here very, very quietly waiting for a weather window to continue north to Majuro. This time we think we will try to make some Easting early before those NE trade winds get to us. We have emailed the other boats to let them know not to call us on the VHF radio. We have listened to their constant VHF chatter and they obviously don't realise that the locals will follow every conversation with great interest. What else are the locals going to do for entertainment and news? We have heard them follow conversations to other stations and even suggest they come over for a beer! If a weather opportunity doesn't come soon we will have to go back to Tarawa and clear in again. Oh no!

3rd January 2016 Ahh! What a life? Abaiang has a better quality of life than Tarawa. We have not been ashore but this canoe sailed past finally giving me my canoe photo. We are planning to depart today and are bound for Majuro. Our new plan is to get east first. When the northeast trade winds find us we can make north. Please may we have a better journey this time.

True Blue V 2016