Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Tarawa Lagoon - A Tale of Two Anchorages and a Clearance (Part 1 of 2)

[This is Part 1 of 2]


We arrived in Tarawa, Kiribati last Wednesday around mid-day, which is our favourite time of day to enter a new lagoon (the sun is the highest, and any variations in depth caused by shallows or coral bommies are the most visible). The route was well charted; we could soon see why our friends had confidently used the shipping channel to the main town after dark following their first visit.

We had a funny, and apparently typical, experience clearing in. On arrival, we called "Tarawa Radio" on VHF Ch 16. They told us to anchor near the big commercial ships that were anchored off the long wharf and wait for instructions regarding the boarding party (Customs, Immigration, Quarantine) that would come to the boat to clear us in. Another yacht hailed us as we arrived, reiterating that we should anchor close to shore, as the members of the boarding party did not like to get wet, and inviting us to to join them at anchor further along the lagoon near the Parliament buildings once we had cleared. Shortly after we had eaten lunch and launched the dinghy, Tarawa Radio called back to say that there would be no boarding party, and could we come ashore to clear in at the Customs office instead. Given the conditions (short, sharp, big seas, and afternoon naptime for Benjamin), we asked whether we all needed to come, and were told to Stand By while he checked. An hour later, he called back to advise that the officials would come to Fluenta after all, because they wanted to see the whole family; we ramped up the post-passage cleaning/tidying, and continued to Stand By. Finally, after almost another hour (by which time, we had given up any efforts to get Benjamin to nap), he called back: would we please (all) come ashore to their offices? No problem; ten minutes later the entire family, with diapers, documents, etc, in a dry bag, set off in the dinghy.

15 kts of wind from the far side of the lagoon made for a bouncy ride with careful boat handling necessary to keep us dry, then the (somewhat protected) inner harbour required a different kind of careful navigation due to a spider's web of mooring lines, bow/stern anchors and floating debris. Given the state of most of the vessels we passed, the I-Kiribati (people of Kiribati) are a brave and hardy group: all they boats have seen some hard living and the passenger catamaran ferries did not look especially seaworthy, let alone comfortable. We nosed in to a seawall where a man was waiting for us, tied up with a bow line and stern anchor to keep the dinghy from chafing, asked some rather dubious-looking folks sitting there if the dinghy would be OK, and hoped for the best. The first thing to meet us was the smell: the garbage dump is right beside the harbour, literally on the other side of a chain-link fence. Whew! In the tropical heat, it was not Tourism's best moment!

By now it was 4:15, and the Customs building looked dark and deserted. We were not filled with confidence when our escort (not the man we had spoken with, but a guard) told us it was closed; however, we relied on our instructions from Tarawa Radio and hoped for the best. Sure enough, we were met by young and friendly staff from both Immigration and Customs, and ushered upstairs to the board room for the paperwork. Benjamin stayed calm and awake (hooray!), Victoria worked on her crochet project, and Johnathan waited (somewhat) patiently, becoming the reason Benjamin stayed calm and awake as the process wore on (not only did Johnathan use a pen to draw airplanes on Benjamin's hands, but there was great excitement when he drew missiles too :) Every clearing-in process has its own quirks. In Tarawa two of the forms we filled out were actually blank sheets of paper on which we wrote our information: our last five ports, and our 'don't have' list (don't have weapons, plants, animals, large sums of money, etc). Both of these are usually standardized forms, so it gave us a bit of a chuckle. Given the time of day, the Customs officer told Max to come back in the morning and he would escort him to Quarantine.

Our stern anchor was a mixed blessing: it had worked as intended to keep the dinghy from chafing, but it had become totally fouled on who knows what in the process. Looking at Max in his best (clean) shirt and his best (clean) shorts, and at the murk of the (anything but clean [worse than Halifax Harbour even]) water, I sent out a silent request for some kind of help. Hardly a moment passed before we saw a man, who had already been swimming, coming towards us with goggles in hand. He had seen Max struggling with the anchor, and had arrived to help. Without a moment's hesitation, he dove down and handed us our anchor. Full of gratitude for the kindness of strangers, we thanked him effusively and braced for getting wet as we headed back to Fluenta.

The following morning (after an eventful night ... read on) Max presented himself at Customs only to be met with blank stares when he asked for Quarantine - our officer was not there, and it was obvious to the rest that if he wanted Quarantine, he should have gone to that building not to Customs! Given the language barrier (English is spoken, but minimally) Max didn't try to explain, and just went down the block (and then up the dirt alleyway) to Quarantine. When he got there, the woman was *not* impressed to find out that we had arrived the previous day and had already cleared Immigration and Customs: her office was supposed to be *first* and only because it was Christmas would she not fine Max for our transgressions! When he explained that we had simply followed the instructions from Tarawa Radio, she said that her phone wasn't working, so they wouldn't have been able to call her to join the boarding party anyway. Having made her point, she completed our clearances and authorized us to take down the "Q" flag.

[Part 2 of 2 to follow later]

At 2016-12-19 4:24 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 03°04.52'N 172°47.09'E
At 2016-12-19 9:53 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 03°04.51'N 172°47.09'E

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