The stars aligned (fetaui Tu8)
Day 3,438 since October 10th 2013: 201 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic!
(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).
Finally on the home path
A lot of people have come together to make Once Upon A Saga a success story. Far more than any of us really know. I don’t believe any one person could ever reach every country on their own.
Last week’s entry: Maybe we’re never leaving Tuvalu?
Much can be said about Tuvalu. I cannot believe that I ended up spending 56 days within the tiny, flat, island nation. At least I didn’t have to extend my visa twice. I care about Tuvalu. If I didn’t then I wouldn’t be concerned about Tuvalu’s future. And I am concerned. The Tuvalu Trust fund was established in 1987 by Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom to supplement Tuvalu’s economy. The fund has contributed roughly 15% of the annual government budget each year since 1990. Think about that for a moment. That is for more than 30 years. Tuvalu’s economy isn’t magically going to turn around and create a prosperous future for the 11,000 beating hearts. No, it will only get worse. The 15% contribution doesn’t even cover the elaborate infrastructure projects which are in addition to the government budget. Then couple that with a very unhealthy import/export balance and the writing is definitely on the wall. You could have a village on top of Mount Everest if you wanted to. You’d need to supply the villagers with a constant stream of oxygen, food, building material etc. But it could be done. Tuvalu is essentially the peak of Everest within the Pacific Ocean. A modern lifestyle can be had in Tuvalu – it just comes at a very high price. Yet, people seem to be a lot busier talking about climate change issues, than they are talking about sustainability. I wonder if that is because climate change is at arm’s length?
For mysterious reasons we would frequently only have one spoon onboard the good ship Tala Moana? I dubbed it "the ships spoon".
Somehow, I completely overlooked that Tuvalu can be abbreviated as Tu8. I saw Tu8 in writing several times but never thought about it. I even knew that ‘valu’ means eight. It took me about forty days to put that together. That’s how slow I can be. I’ve been saying ‘fetaui’ a lot lately. It essentially means ‘see you later’ or ‘see you again’ in Tuvaluan. And who knows – maybe I will see Tuvalu again someday. This entry is however being written while onboard the good tugboat Katea, while heading south towards Fiji. Within 48hrs everything transitioned from a hopeless scenario to a clear path ahead. In the last two entries I mentioned Mr. Tabaeko from HALL Australia at TCAP (Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project). It was Chief Engineer Malae who first mentioned that a tugboat was heading back to Fiji soonish and told me to look for Mr. Tabaeko. Malae is a really good guy and we’ve had many conversations onboard the good ship Tala Moana. Can you believe I ended up living onboard Tala Moana for 27 days? That has definitely made good value of the return ticket I bought from Tuvalu High Commission back in Fiji in December 2022! The ticket ran me about USD 500 but over time it has given me food and accommodation for 32 days at USD 15.60/day. That is called seeing the glass half full.
The good ship Tala Moana was my home for 27-days straight. I'll miss the crew.
According to the last plans I heard, the good tug Bellarine is to escort Tala Moana across to Fiji on March 14th. It could happen? However, what a gamble for the Saga if it won't?
Since meeting Mr. Tabaeko, I have been checking my in-box as well as my spam mail many times a day. He said he would email me. But last week, Friday, I learned that neither Mr. Tabaeko nor Mr. Jacob (also HALL) had found time to speak to Captain Tui of the good tug Katea. Naturally I was losing heart and had very little faith left in departing Tuvalu on that tug. But then something strange happened. One of those things which make you wonder about coincidences here in life. Saturday morning, I was sitting all alone on the bridge of Tala Moana while sipping my morning tea. The ships VHF radio is usually tuned in on channel 16 as is the norm. It is the internationally recognized channel on which you can call for someone: a ship, a service, an office, for help etc. Once contact is established you agree to switch to another channel and have your conversation there, in order to leave channel 16 open for anyone else. Simple. Suddenly I heard Capt. Tui onboard Katea speaking to Mr. Apisai (Katea’s agent). They were talking about getting Katea cleared by authorities Saturday so that they could leave Sunday. This was important news for me!! First of all, I had been told that Katea’s agent was Mr. Sione at Tyone Shipping. Capt. Logo of Tala Moana is related to Mr. Sione so he had written him a message and we had been waiting for a reply. But I now knew the agent was Mr. Apisai – and we had some history already. Mr. Apisai was the agent for the German cruise ship which was due in Funafuti but never arrived. He is also the agent for NPDL who operates container ships to and from Tuvalu but have not been helpful. Another bit of information from the radio conversation was that Katea was planning departure for Sunday - not Monday as I had been told. The peculiar coincidence in all of this wasn’t only that I was on the bridge at the right time to hear this – the radio was set on channel 14 for whatever reason? If the radio had been on channel 16, as it should have been, then I wouldn’t have heard it. What are the odds? Time and channel! Very small I’d say.
Our friends at Swire Shipping have confirmed I'm welcome onboard!! :) As long as I test negative for COVID-19 on a PCR test within 24hrs of joining.
I raced over to Mr. Apisai’s office which is near the port. He was there. So far so good. After a brief explanation of what I wanted Mr. Apisai used his handheld VHF radio and called Capt. Tui to put in my request. Capt. Tui, who is Fijian, sounded really friendly. He also sounded like he was open towards the idea of carrying a passenger but he was concerned with how Fijian authorities would react to it. I felt great relief from the first time I heard Capt. Tui’s voice on the handheld radio. I just knew I was going to get onboard. From this point onward it was the usual stuff with paperwork, formalities etc. I returned to Tala Moana full of hope. But also rather surprised that things had changed so quickly and that I might be leaving the following day. Weekends are weekends in Tuvalu and Sundays are sacred. Many will attend church on Sundays and the authorities are off duty. I had my fingers crossed that my paperwork would go through in time to join the tugboat. Meanwhile Capt. Logo wanted to take me out to see some more of Funafuti’s islets. Knowing this was likely my last chance I accepted so into the tender and away we went.
Funafala is an islet within Funafuti atoll. Many Tuvaluan's shifted from Fongafala (the main island) to Funafala during WWII. Such pristine tropical beauty...
Capt. Logo is a proud Tuvaluan and I can understand why. Tuvalu definitely has something special. If you ask me then I'd say it is its people.
There was a bit of drama when I, far across the lagoon, received an email from Mr. Apisai about my documentation having expired. It was just a misunderstanding. The documentation I had provided wasn’t outdated but I had to provide more reason for why I wanted to join the tug. As such Capt. Logo and I cut our trip short and headed directly to the good tug Katea, where we encountered Capt. Tui, and by coincidence Mr. Apisai just happened to show up in a small outboard motorboat. Under the noise of the engines, we sorted everything out and agreed I would join the following day between 1-2pm for a 4pm departure. Solid!! Back onboard Tala Moana I supplied Mr. Apisai with the extra documentation and that was it. I later learned that Mr. Jacob from HALL Australia at TCAP had emailed Capt. Tui Friday afternoon, which undoubtably helped. Sunday came and I had little chance to say fetaui to the many faces, hearts and minds I’ve met all across Tu8. There were even very few crewmembers onboard the good ship Tala Moana as those who could, had returned home during the weekend. I took my farewell with the few seafarers which remained. A few members of the kind Tuvalu Red Cross had wished to see me off but never made it to the wharf. Capt. Logo and three of his children joined me in the tender as we made our way to the good tug Katea. It was a short but hot and humid voyage under a blue sky and scorching sun. I had help getting my bags onboard the tug and afterwards Capt. Logo, who long had held me in his prayers, swung the tender around so that we could shake hands before he sailed off. Good man!
Such relief!! Hard to get to. Hard to leave! (without flying).
Not only were we leaving Tuvalu: I WAS ONBOARD A TUGBOAT!!! That was pretty much a childhood dream come true!! Check that one off the list. Now I just need to become a ninja for a while, a fireman, a lumberjack, and a few other things. So far so good. The good tug Katea is operated (and owned) by HALL Contracting. HALL has a strict social media policy which requires everything to be approved by their communications department and I have been requested to refrain from sharing any operational specific or personal information / photographs on social media without prior approval. As such I’m just going to share nothing apart from a HUGE THANK YOU for having me onboard. Capt. Tui’s crew was amazing and took really good care of me. I was well fed and we even had access to Netflix onboard (when the network was strong enough). As it turns out, tugboats move about a great deal while at sea. Up, down, side to side. I had some foresight and popped a motion sickness pill, kindly supplied at no cost from the pharmacy within Princess Margaret Hospital in Funafuti. Tuvalu is good like that. Even with the active ingredients floating within me I barely held off seasickness at times. But I managed with plenty of food, water, tea, and sleep. I shared a cabin with George where I had the top bunk for the entire voyage which lasted from Sunday afternoon until Thursday morning. Four sweet bug-free nights.
The good tug Katea was pulling a huge barge 350m (1,150ft) behind her. Fascinating business!
We still have HUGE distance to cover - the HARD way! Our final two are Sri Lanka and the Maldives within the Indian Ocean. Orange = visited.
Now we are finally on the home path and there is lots to look forward to. First of all; my friend Phil, whom I got to know while in Hong Kong, has invited me to stay a few nights at Garden Island Resort on Taveuni. Taveuni is a gorgeous Fijian island with some solid elevation and, from what I hear, pristine snorkeling and diving. Then around mid-March we will continue filming for the Salomon documentary as my friend Mike returns to Fiji. Mike will hang around until I join Swire Shipping’s vessel to Singapore around March 26th. Ultra-wifey is coming to join me in Singapore which is perfect as she loves food and Singapore is definitely the scene for that!! As such the beard comes off in April. Maersk is back in the game and is looking into helping with the connection from Singapore to Sri Lanka! There is more than one option to reach the Maldives from Sri Lanka so that is looking good too! And my friend Jessi, who works at Gambit PR in Dubai, has helped secure a four-day complimentary hotel stay for ultra-wifey and I at a dreamlike location within the Maldives (final country). I should be able to return to Sri Lanka the same way I came back and from there Maersk is once again looking helpful in getting the Saga through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean Sea from where CEO of Ross Energy and founder of GEOOP Lars Andersen can pick me up and drive me back to Denmark! Lars has a passion for racing his 1968 Porsche so it could be fast! Yeah – it is finally beginning to look good. I could be having Danish soil under my feet by August this year!! And in addition to everything else we met our target of raising DKK 50,000 (USD 7,100) for the Danish Red Cross in Ukraine. It happened as Bjørn W. donated DKK 1,301 meeting the exact target! Well done everyone. We are making a difference for the most vulnerable human lives. I’ll start a new collection which will cover over broader humanitarian work worldwide.
The crew of the good tug Katea: Capt. Tui to the left along with Jovanny, Rodel, Joel, Setu, George, Kopen, and Romeo!! What a great crew!! :)
Fair winds and following seas to the crew onboard the good tug Katea!! I really enjoyed their company and they truly took good care of me. Good food, lots of tea, good conversations, a comfy bunkbed, and passage back to Fiji. It means a lot! Tuvalu was likely our last truly complicated country in terms of bureaucracy and logistics. Especially logistics. The bureaucracy really only extended up until they reopened their borders on December 1st. Captain Tui escorted me to a bus terminal in Lautoka, Fiji, where we parted. From there I began an 18-hour journey with a bus, a ferry, a bus, 5 hours of sleep on an uncomfortable bench at a bus terminal in Savusavu, a taxi (because I missed the bus by 10 min at 06:00 in the morning, another ferry, and finally a 15-minute walk to Garden Island Resort, where I will do some: running, some hiking, some reading, some resting, and some work. Let’s keep on keeping on!
I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross Energy / Geoop
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Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - supported by people around the world.
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Once Upon A Saga