“Capitaine Quiros” – passenger no. 1 (reaching Kiribati and Nauru)
Day 2,242 since October 10th 2013: 191 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home and min 24 hrs in each country
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross).
Heading deeper into the Pacific
Life. Box. Chocolate? Mr. Gump’s mother was on to something. Within 24 hours everything changed and the Saga was suddenly heading towards Kiribati and not Nauru. The good ship “Capitaine Quiros” became the 23rd container vessel to gracefully carry the Saga forward. Here is a day by day account following last week’s entry on leaving the Solomon Islands.
Day ONE onboard – Nov. 20th 2019
For a long time I had been waiting to board the good ship “Capitaine Quiros” from Honiara in Solomon Islands to the small but very interesting Pacific island nation of Nauru. So on November 19th when the good ship arrived, I was packed and ready to come onboard. However that same evening I received an email from which I learned that the ship would be calling Tarawa in Kiribati as its next port and not Nauru. In addition there was no mention of Nauru at all. If Nauru had been dropped from the schedule then that could be a real problem. Now what? Would we not be going to Nauru or would the ship go to Nauru later? And how would this affect the visa I had acquired? The Nauruan visa is hard to come by and even harder when you do not fly. It would expire on December 14th. Was there enough time? After speaking to Lawrence from Sullivan Shipping (the ships agent) I learned that the ship had been rerouted to Tarawa but would afterwards continue to Nauru. Now it was just a question of time – but I should be fine? A powerful thunderstorm was tearing the sky apart outside. Lawrence told me to meet him at his office the following day (Nov. 20th) at 08:00am.
So on this day I got up before 07:00am, did thirty-one push-ups, had a shower, got dressed, made a cup of tea and had some breakfast. I was still at Jenny’s home and she was bringing me downtown on her way to work. The night before I had been working late on rescheduling meetings in Fiji and getting the Red Cross in Kiribati notified about my sudden arrival a few days later. I also downloaded various information about Kiribati (which is pronounced “Kiribas”), downloaded a map of Tarawa and scheduled social media for the upcoming days. Jenny and I said farewell at her office. We hugged and walked our separate ways. Five minutes later I was sitting in Lawrence’s office waiting for him to arrive.
After Lawrence showed up it did not take long before I was escorted inside the port which was just on the other side of the road. And minutes later I was onboard being greeted welcome by the 3rd officer. Around 09:00am I had settled inside the “Owners Cabin” and soon thereafter I was given a familiarization of the ship. I briefly met with immigration in the ships office, they stamped my passport and I had my first meeting with the ship’s Captain, which was ultra-brief as we were about to leave. That meant that I would soon be out of reach and loose reception on my phone!! So I returned to my cabin and got my affairs in order while we began to put Honiara behind us. At lunch I had more time to get acquainted with Captain Evgeny Zemtsov, who is from Saint Petersburg in Russia, and informed that it would take about five days to reach Kiribati where we were scheduled to stay for a day. Then another three days to reach Nauru where cargo operations were likely to take at least nine days. And then another six days to reach Fiji. The Captain was calculating an ETA for Fiji around December 15th. That meant the good ship “Capitaine Quiros” would be my home for the next twenty-five days! It also meant that all going well this ship and its crew would be the first to bring the Saga to three new countries!!
Day TWO onboard – Nov. 21st 2019
I woke up when my alarm went off at 07:10am. We were already at deep sea. I took thirty-two push-ups and headed down to the officers mess room for my breakfast. Afterwards I headed back to my cabin on C deck and honesty didn’t have much to do. I’ve had a lot of time on my hands in the last few countries so I’ve had time to organize well and get to the bottom of much of what I usually do onboard ships for the first few days. The Saga has changed tremendously lately and the workload has dropped. I’m far from the days where I was working beyond one hundred hours a week. Furthermore I was offline onboard this ship. The ship has WIFI but it is not an open network. I could probably have gained access but I preferred being offline. Disconnected from the world.
Relaxing in my cabin...
As the sun rose so did the temperature onboard. You cannot get closer to the sun on our planet’s surface than around the equator. Air-condition becomes precious onboard but there was an issue with the compressor and the crew was reconditioning the air-conditioning. Several hours passed as we learned to appreciate what we normally take for granted. Out in the open ocean we were twenty-three men sitting on top of a powerful MAN B&W engine pushing us forward at around nine kts (16.7kph/10mph). Speed at sea is measured in knots which is abbreviated kts (nautical miles per hour). In the afternoon the air-conditioning was working again. The hours went by as I mostly did nothing: watched a few series, organized some files, watched a movie, discarded outdated paperwork, had a shower, read in my book…
Day THREE onboard – Nov. 22nd 2019
It rained all day. I can’t help wonder about what the point might be of having rain at sea? I understand that water evaporates out of the sea and is carried inland by clouds so that it can rain over land and keep our world lush and green. After all, plants need water so that makes sense. But why would it rain at sea? Well…this day it did. We were also moving about a great deal: up and down, from side to side, forwards and backwards. You get used to it. It can even be a bit fun. Like a rollercoaster. I decided to empty out my large North Face basecamp duffel bag to get a complete overview over what I’m carrying. Just in case I might have something I didn’t need any more and wasn’t aware of. The only surprise was some liquorish tablets which had fallen out of their box months ago and had now liquefied into a sticky brown substance. This substance had melted into several items so I needed to give it all a good wash.
C deck. My cabin is to the left at the end of the hall.
Day FOUR onboard – Nov. 23rd 2019
I was checking out which movies I have on my hard disk drive when I came across “Blade Runner” from 1997. Classic! Three minutes into the movie a text appears on the screen: LOS ANGELES, NOVEMBER 2019. Wow? The first Blade Runner movie takes place this year and this month! And that was about how exciting the day got. I slept most of the day. The weather was a lot better. Apparently the weather we were experiencing the day before had built up over Papua New Guinea and moved east right behind us. We only caught the edge of it.
Day FIVE onboard – Nov. 24th 2019
At 03:16am we crossed the equator and entered the northern hemisphere. That is my home hemisphere. It is the part of our globe where I was born and raised. I was well into my twenties before I paid my first visit to the southern hemisphere. This particular crossing however became the twelfth time we have crossed the equatorial line within the Saga. And we have more to come. Looking at the crew list all on board belong to the northern hemisphere. Captain Zemtsov is Russian and so was the Chief Engineer and the 2nd engineer. The Chief Officer was our only Romanian onboard, I was the only Dane and everyone else were Filipino. Together we counted twenty-four souls and five days in I had been shown nothing but kindness. I had even encountered a bit of surprise. One evening as I was making myself a cup of tea I met a crewmember who obviously did not know I was onboard. He was staring bewildered at me. I smiled and says good evening at which end I also said: “are you surprised to se me?” He nodded and said yes.
There are basically three entities involved with a ship like this: the Owners, the Operators and the Charterers. For some ships all three are the same. For the good ship “Capitaine Quiros” the setup was as follows:
Owners: Neptune Pacific Line (NPL)
Operators: Columbia Shipmanagement (CSM)
Charterers: Neptune Pacific Line (NPL)
That basically means that the ship belongs to NPL who in this case also are responsible for the cargo and which ports to call, while the entire crew is contracted by CSM. It was Ian and Rolf at NPL who were kind enough to assist the Saga and provide me with access onboard. NPL’s ship is in fact the only containership which calls Nauru! There used to be two companies but now it is down to NPL. Obviously I am outmost grateful to Ian and Rolf for making this a reality. It might have been impossible to reach Nauru by any other means. If Columbia Shipmanagement (CSM) sounds familiar to you then it may be because they have also helped the Saga in the past. The good ship “Cape Moss”, which in 2016 brought us from Madagascar to the Seychelles, was owned and operated by CSM and chartered by Maersk. A slight difference was however that back then “Cape Moss” was operated by CSM in Cyprus while “Capitaine Quiros” is operated by CSM in Singapore. Oh well: one big happy family I guess.
This evening we stopped the engine twenty-seven nautical miles from Tarawa, Kiribati. Our rendezvous with the pilot was set for the next morning at 06:00am. We had 4,000m (13,000ft) of water below us and the weather was clear and calm.
Day SIX onboard – Nov. 25th 2019
The pilot was on board at 06:02am. We were alongside at Tarawa, tied up and had the engine off at 07:28am. The ship was officially in Kiribati. Tarawa is one of the nation’s 33 islands and the entire Island of Tarawa is considered the capital. For some reason they pronounce “ti” as “s” so the correct pronunciation of Kiribati is “Kiribas”. It took a little time before the authorities had completed the health check and stamped my passport. I was off the ship and took my first picture at 08:57am. Would we be here for more than 24 hrs or would I need to return to Kiribati again? Time would tell. At 09:24am I had reached Kiribati Red Cross Society (KRCS) who had not seen the arrival notices but welcomed me regardless. I was soon seated across from Secretary General Depweh Kanono. There was a power outage and it was hot.
Depweh has been with the Red Cross since 2016 and came from a position at government. He told me that he would be leaving the country the following day and fly to Geneva in Switzerland which is a three day journey from Kiribati. In Geneva he would attend his first Red Cross General Assembly along with representatives from the other 190 Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies. KRCS formed out of the British Red Cross when Kiribati gained independence in 1979. They are well known for first aid activities and provide first aid training for preschool teachers which is a requirement by law. They are also well known for promoting blood donation but their activities do not stop there. Kiribati is prone to a variety of disasters. Harsh winds on and off generate waves which causes flooding across the flat nation. Rainfall is not regular and causes drought from time to time and for various reasons Kiribati is no stranger to outbreaks of various diseases. All activities which fall under the category of Disaster Management which is common part of the movements work. KRCS is also active within Red Cross Youth, Community Dissemination and Resource Mobilisation but it was the Solid Waste Management which caught my attention. Kiribati has a problem with garbage. Over 90% of the 130,000 strong population lives on the Gilbert Islands and around 50% are living on Tarawa alone. Everyone generates waste – what to do with it? Also some minds need to be turned as common practices in small remote communities in terms of waste management (or the lack thereof) can become a problem in more densely populated areas. And it has. The KRCS helps in spreading information about bacteria, health, good practice, recycling and storage of waste. This is done in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment. Looking across the table at Depweh and having met a handful of the staff I couldn’t help feel like this National Society was far more like family than an organisation. But maybe it was just my imagination. At times I find it hard to imagine a world without the Red Cross.
Tarawa Atoll and other Gilbert islands were invaded by the Japanese in December 1941 and liberated by the Americans two years later in November 1943 in the Battle of Tarawa. Stuff like this still plays witness to the bloodshed.
After our meeting Bweenata Arakua who is the Human Resource Manager offered to show me around on Tarawa. She organized a car for us and after some “island time efficiency” we were on our way. In between I had said farewell to Depweh and managed to purchase a simcard from hell. But I didn’t know that yet and the saleswoman was kind and helpful. In fact…the entire island was kind and helpful which I would soon learn. At 12:53pm we were on our way and made our first stop at a derelict Japanese bunker and canon from WWII. Tarawa Atoll and others Gilbert Islands were invaded by the Japanese in December 1941 and liberated by the Americans two years later in November 1943 in the Battle of Tarawa. History has set its mark on the nation even though the events took place 76 years ago.
Chart of Tarawa Atoll. See how narrow the Island is.
As far as I’m concerned Kiribati is a spitting image of paradise although I must admit that there was a fair bit of litter. I had a vivid dream years ago long before the Saga took off. I was in a warm climate standing on white sand in knee deep turquoise waters far into the ocean. There were several idyllic wooden houses on poles in the vicinity. It was essentially a shallow “water world”. Had the land sunken? I still see the images from that dream as clear as anything around me. Was it just a dream or was it more? Who knows? Kiribati is susceptible to experience a rise in sea level due to global warming and such a rise in the water level of the sea will cause contamination of fresh water with salt water making it unsuitable for drinking. To counter the very real risk of the entire country disappearing beneath the waves within the next fifty years, Kiribati has bought land from Fiji where they can start growing crops and possibly relocate people.
Just cruising baby! If you'd like a "SAGA phone cover" like mine then just visit the OUAS-shop. Bob has done a great job setting it up! :)
Bweenata was a great guide. She is a grandmother and made sure I ticked everything off my list. Kabunare Tiemti (pronounced “Sems” due to the “ti”) was our driver. They showed me historical WWII sites, parliament, Red Cross relief containers, the airport, several schools, various government buildings and South Tarawa from one end to the other. Tarawa is a looooooong narrow island, or string of islands I should say. For the most part you can see water on both sides of the island without having to be cross-eyed. It looks amazing! But I guess it would be very hard to hide from the ocean once those harsh winds blow. We had a local lunch which consisted of some rice, fish, coconut, breadfruit, pepper and fish eggs in a plastic bag. They use the Australian Dollar as their currency and a bag cost AUD 2.50 (USD 1.70). I treated the three of us and also bought myself some sort of coconut fruit juice which had been poured into a recycled plastic water bottle. We ate with our hands and it tasted really good. The fish had been smoked which for a moment sent me back to my childhood when my grandfather was smoking fish near the sea. At 5:15pm I was back on board the ship and had basically managed to do everything I needed to do: Red Cross meeting, took “arrival photo”, took the “Ross banner photo”, spotted a Maersk container, took a photo of “The Eyes of Kiribati”, gave a souvenir from Solomon Islands, bought a souvenir for Nauru, took 91 photos, created multiple GPS data points and managed the “sunset photo”. I did much more but these are the project relate “must do’s”.
That night I was biting my nails wondering if we would be leaving before or after the project required 24 hours? If we left before then I would need to return which would costs time. If we left having spent more than 24 hours then I would be able to list Kiribati as “done”. A shame in a traveller’s point of view as Kiribati seemed to be both formidable and interesting. However a huge win for the project as it could cut a lot of time of when I got to go home. I wouldn’t know until the next day. Nobody could say. It all depended on the cargo operations. I went to bed around 02:00am having scheduled and organized as much social media as possible with my hellish SIM card on what appeared to be a 2g connection.
Day SEVEN onboard – Nov. 26th 2019
I woke up with the alarm at 07:00am, dropped to the floor and took twenty-six push-ups. Then I got dressed and headed down for breakfast. It looked like they were wrapping up the cargo operations which indicated that we were getting ready to depart. So close and yet so far. If we could just make it to 09:00am then I would undeniably be on the safe side with the 24 hours. Why are the 24 hours so important you may ask? Well why is anything in life important I would reply. You need a certain grade to pass your examination. You need to cover a certain distance to accomplish a marathon. You need to be a certain height to board that ride. You need to be a certain age to vote. All of these limits were made up. Such limits form the world we live in and make society manageable and easier to comprehend. The Saga has three cardinal rules: absolutely no flying, no return home until the end and a minimum of 24 hours in each country. There is no slacking off. It is that or nothing. It may not seem important to you today…but it will be in the future.
Food on board is great! The chef really knows what he is doing!
Tarawa is quite far to the west among Kiribati’s 33 islands. Kiribati is in a sense huge. Not in land area but the islands extend about 2,100 km (1,300 mi) from north to south and 3,900 km (2,400 mi) from west to east near the international dateline. As such this country is the first to see the sunrise every day and the first to experience New Year. I would have liked to see some of the other islands and I would have loved to experience the sun on a new day before anyone else on earth. But during this particular morning I was worried that we wouldn’t stay for the full 24 hours and I was furthermore going out of my mind over the insanely unstable internet!! I ended up wasting two hours not getting something done which normally would have taken 20 seconds. My mood approved as the ship remained along side. The pilot was onboard 08:12am but the gangway was not removed until 09:03am and it was 09:12am before we were free of the last line. Talk about cutting it close!! Now how much time I spent in Kiribati is subject to debate. Someone might debate that I was in Kiribati the moment we left international waters in which case we clocked much more than 24 hours. However I’d argue that no one can claim we spent less than 24 hours based on taking my first photo on land at 08:57am and lifting the gangway at 09:03am the following day. Some people will care – most people won’t.
Leaving Tarawa. Farewell Kiribati.
As we headed into sea I asked the captain if I could buy some internet onboard the ship. 50mb costs USD 10 which is pretty steep but one needs to consider that it is a satellite connection at sea – and how amazing is that. When you’ve been living on a USD 20/day budget for more than six years then it becomes a part of who you are. However I needed peace of mind and bought the internet. Minutes later I was done online and the routine onboard continued. ETA Nauru was set for November 28th at 07:00am with the pilot boarding at 08:00am.
Day EIGHT onboard – Nov. 27th 2019
Some days are meant for nothing at all. After breakfast I watched a few episodes of West World and went back to sleep. I skipped lunch. Around 4pm we crossed the equatorial line back into the Southern Hemisphere again. That makes thirteen crossings within the Saga. Eight on land and five at sea. I miss my fiancée. Sometimes I look at my bed and imagine her lying there sleeping. I guess I miss her more when I’m offline and communication is cut. I’ve been fed up with creating social media posts for a while. Thankfully I’m not doing any now that I’m offline so that is a bonus. Social media has become a large part of the Saga. It is where most friends, fans, followers and family get their updates. It’s where I spend hours upon hours of my time. I had a closer look at the plan for reaching the final thirteen countries…we may even be revisiting Kiribati once more after Marshall Islands unless we manage a direct connection on our way to Fiji next year (we will be visiting Fiji twice within this project). It would be fun to see Kiribati again although it is no longer required.
By bed on board.
Day NINE onboard – Nov. 28th 2019
“Island time” is as strict as the favoured dress code around this part of the world. From our first four pacific island nations I have gathered that the dress code is western style tropical clothes: short trousers and light shirts. I got to see more of that on this day as a rather large delegation of more than ten Nauruan officials came onboard to do official stuff but certainly also to score a meal and look around. That is actually a cultural element however let’s face it: if you are living in a small isolated country, that consists of a single island, which you can drive around in thirty minutes or less, then getting to come on board any large ship is great entertainment and spices up the routines. As you may have gathered already we reached Nauru on this day but I did not leave the ship. For various reasons, which I will get to in another entry, it is not possible for a ship as large as ours to come along side and most ships must stay at sea, while cargo is offloaded onto barges, which ferry the cargo inland. And that operation in itself becomes complicated do to strong winds and swell. So we did not begin cargo operations on this day. In the afternoon we turned the engine off and drifted into the night… Cargo operations were set to begin the following day at 08:00am.
This is Nauru. All of it. The smallest country in the Pacific.
Day TEN onboard – Nov. 29th 2019
For many years I have been releasing the Friday Blogs on Fridays. It kind of makes sense – doesn’t it? Well this Friday it was not possible because I remained at sea. The ship was standing by at the mooring station at 08:00am but the swell was deemed too great for cargo operations and we were advised to stand by until 1:00pm. Speed at sea is measured in knots which is abbreviated kts. We turned the engine off and drifted again. Under the conditions we drifted away from Nauru at 2.7 kts (nautical miles per hour (5 kph / 3 mph)). During the night we had managed to drift 27 kts (50km/30mi). As the weather did not improve during the morning we were told that there would be no cargo operations on this day and that we would try again the following day: Saturday. As such when this day ended we had been off the coast of Nauru for two days already. A funny feeling being onboard a ship looking across the ocean at a country I can see but not touch. Not off limits due to authorities, conflict or bureaucrazy; but due to weather.
Some of you know that I have struggled with some mild depression over the years. This is a very demanding and at times incredibly stressful project to manage. And there has been no escape from it for more than six years. Picture yourself building a card house. Setting up the first two cards is done carelessly and should they happen to fall over then it is a rather small loss. However placing the top cards is a completely different case. Having reached 190 countries we are currently in the process of “building the top of a large and complicated card house” so to say. It demands a great deal of focus, coordination and collaboration. I am happy to share with you that I have never felt sad while onboard one of these vessels. The good ship “Capitaine Quiros” has become the 23rd container ship to carry the Saga forward. The crew on board have been just marvelous! Hardworking and disciplined men in a routine of: responsibilities, meals, rest and recreation. One day can easily be mistaken for the next. However there has often and again been enough time for many of them to offer me an act of kindness, a friendly smile or an interesting conversation. I am utmost grateful to Captain Zemtsov, his brave men on board and to Neptune Pacific Line for taking part in this historical journey.
I will have much more to share with you over the course of the next two weeks as I expect to be attached to this vessel until December 15th…at least…
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - feeling rather accomplished.
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