arrived at Fanning Island (Tabuaeran Atoll) 03 deg 51 min North, 159 deg 22 min West on Friday Oct 26. Even though Fanning is east
of the international date line is was officially
Saturday Oct 27 there because Fanning is part of the
Republic of Kiribati (pronounced Kir-i-bas) and the capital
of Kiribati, Tarawa, is west of the international date line. Kiribati
is one of the poorest countries in the world and the contrasts with the atolls of French Polynesisia are quite striking.
Kiribati used to be called the Gilbert Islands and
was under British jurisdiction until 1979 when it
became independent. The people of Fanning are Melanesians, not Polynesians,
and were resettled from Tarawa. Tarawa has a population problem
and you can emigrate to Fanning and get 1 acre of land and a small amount
The customs and immigration guys came out on a boat to meet us.
(Actually its "the" boat since the whole island of 1600 people
only owns one 25 foot aluminum equipment transport
boat, a few outboard powered canoes and a bunch of
sailing canoes). We had to fill out quite a lot of paperwork but the folks were very friendly and spoke reasonable English. The
immigration guy, Tabuya, who was also the police
chief, invited us to a picnic with his family the
next day on the other side of the atoll. The biggest
news to happen to Fanning in many years is the "NCL project" which stands for Norwegian Cruise Lines. One of their
cruise ships comes once every week and there are
some of their American and Australian employees here
supervising the construction of several buildings so that the passengers
can be served during a day long stop. Its only a few huts serving
as kitchen and bar and a bunch of picnic tables but it's a very big deal for a place where the only source of economic income
is seaweed farming. Talking to the Australian
running the operation, Rick, gives you an idea of
the frustration involved in constructing something in a place where
the only source of supply is a broken down ship that comes every month or so, if that.
There is also an American, Leif, who lives on a boat Mystic with his
wife and 4 kids. He, along with another American
Nate, have a small business ashore that employs half
a dozen locals making coconut wood lamps for export.
He has a nice woodworking facility but also is suffering from the lack
of supplies and spare parts. He has just finished getting the permits for
a shrimp aquaculture facility that he hopes to startup soon. He is planning
on expanding to other islands. After being fully
operational, he estimates his company's profits
at ~$12m US a year. Which brings up the interesting situation for him
of taxes. His plan is to not pay any, including US.
While we wish him luck on the tax scheme, we don't
think he'll manage to escape. He used to have a
small company that did software for the business
re-engineering trade and is quite familiar with the all of the trials
and tribulations that we went through at Epiphany.
But he likes low-tech better now.
All of the westerners (about 8) on the island showed up at the police chief's picnic on Saturday. Also in attendance was the
headmaster of the local secondary school and his
wife, a teacher there, and their kids. We ate
traditional Kiribati food such as fried breadfruit and fish and drank
coconut juice from nuts right off of the tree The musical entertainment
was boom box with a mixture of local music along with a
lot of disco tunes.
The next day we went into the village and ran into the mayor who
invited us to a town gathering that night. We baked
up a bunch of chocolate chip cookies and brought
1000 yds of 100-lb fishing line for gifts. We were served
a simply enormous amount of local food including shrimp that looked like something out of Alien. I had to make a speech about
where we were from and presented the fishing line to
the village. Ruth was also asked to speak about the
war in Afghanistan and fielded questions for 15 minutes. Even
though English is spoken we did this through an interpreter because a lot
of the older folks don't speak English very well. There was about a 40 minute dance and singing exhibition that was quite
different than Polynesian dance. The dancing has a
much slower rhythm and the singing is very high
pitched and nasal, a little like the Austral Islands. It was very cool.
Then they turned on the disco, and several of the locals asked us to dance.
It was a lot of fun and very
The next few days we did a bunch of scuba diving outside of the atoll
pass. The abundance of marine life was striking. We
were engulfed by huge schools of bright blue and
yellow fish. There were half a dozen large sea turtles in
evidence. And there were a lot of larger fish, such as 5-foot long Hump head Morai Wrasses (Napoleon fish). Interestingly enough
there were no sharks in evidence although there are
certainly sharks around. Ruth lost a large tuna to a
shark while fishing. (She just got the head). The coral was
quite nice and included a bunch of pink coral, a color of coral not seen in French Polynesia. The water was a little cloudy, maybe
30-40 foot visibility, but, overall, the diving rates very highly.
On Thursday the 2nd we took a dinghy trip to the north-west side of the
atoll where there is an old transpacific submarine cable
station and an overgrown, abandoned airstrip. We
beached the dinghy in front of the village
hall/church of the village near the cable station and were greeted by
the minister. He directed us to the cable station that was about a mile walk north. We walked through the village and ended up
getting invited by a family for drinks (coconuts).
Their house was one of the nicer family "compounds"
built on their acre and included a taro pit for raising the large
starchy plant that forms an important part of the diet. There were several
huts for the 3 generations that formed the family - father and mother,
daughter and her three brothers and threee sisters, and the daughter's
husband and son. No electricity, refrigeration or
running water. But quite a nice shady setting with
no significant bugs and a nice cool breeze. They opened coconuts
for us and the daughter, who spoke English well, asked us lots of questions
about where we lived, where we were going etc.. She also had her kids
sing us some songs and we reciprocated by singing Puff the Magic Dragon.
We coincidentally had a nice metal soup ladle in our backpack and gave
it to them as a gift. They offered us some pumpkins but it was obvious that this was a significant part of their food supply and
we declined. One of the attached pictures shows the mother
preparing taro. Another shows the grandkid
and his uncles and aunts.
Afterwards, we walked on to the old cable station. It has been
abandoned for a long time but part of it has been
converted to the only highschool on the island. The
concrete buildings with tile roofs are a contrast with the thatched
huts on the rest of the island.
Near the beach by the cable station, above the old pier where the cable
used to go out to sea I buried the Epiphany time capsule
that I have been carrying on our entire trip. There
is a web site dedicated to "geo-caches" which
contains a database of items and their GPS coordinates and we will add this location to the site. Our friend Boris at Epiphany
buried a similar Epiphany time capsule in Croatia
this summer. The capsule contains a CD with the
original software release as well as some other Epiphany memorabilia.
The coordinates of the geo-cache are 03 54.541 N 159 23.442 W which
is under some scrub bushes about 10 feet above the storm high tide level.
Our friends Chris and Marcus from Pez Vela are underway from Christmas Island, about 160 nm away and will be here on Friday, just
after dawn. We are looking forward to meeting up
with them again and doing some diving. I'm sure that Chris, who did her
master's thesis on abalone aquaculture will be
interested in talking with the folks here who are planning the shrimp farm.
The final attachment
is a view of the atoll pass from Bravo Charlie at sunset.
We are planning on leaving out this pass on Monday for Hawaii. It should
take us 7 days to get there. Hopefully there won't be any more late season hurricanes to contend with. Currently there is
Hurricane Octave, halfway between Mexico and Hawaii
which formed, quite unusually, at the very end of