Captain’s log May 04
Today we said good-bye to our good friend and supercargo Heidi Beman. Her father is a bit under the weather over there in England and Heidi went to cheer him up. Heidi was a real powerhouse and we will have a job on our hands to fill her shoes. As well as keeping track of the cargo, the money and the customs documents she was the leader of the 12-4 watch when the ship was at sea. We have a special challenge this trip. We must load a 5 ton truck and an excavator on the hatch. They are disassembled to get the weight down to our maximum lift capacity of five tons. We must take them to Puka-Puka and load them on a barge. They will be taken ashore to help with the construction of the cyclone shelter. We must then load the barges on deck and take them fifty miles to Nassau Island and unload them. They are a pair which can be handled separately or bolted together. We will put them in the water, bolt them together and load another disassembled excavator. This time at sea the excavator, a tractor, a magazine of explosives and an air compressor will be loaded in the hold. The barges will be loaded on the hatch and we will go fifty miles back to Puka-Puka and unload. Simple. (oh yeah, right....Mama KWAI)_
In Rarotonga the digger is brought to the dock and disassembled. We sling it very carefully and hook the derrick on the top.
The winch is engaged and nothing happens. It will not lift the digger. We had loaded cargo all day and it was getting late so we quit. The next morning we had another un-successful go at it. We could lift it with the topping lift but the ship would heel and we could not swing it on the ship. It just moved farther away. We rigged a series of blocks and dialled up the hydraulic power. We also rigged an extra block on the cargo heist which gave us double the lift. We lifted the machine and pulled it aboard with a forklift pulling from shore. We also had safety’s rigged to prevent the load from taking off when the ship heeled the opposite way. It went well.
With lessons learned and the equipment in place, lifting the truck was easy. I went to the movies that night. Sometimes I don’t even care what’s on. When I came out the wind took the door out of my hand and blew my hat off. This did not bode well. I got to the ship and a good two meter swell was rolling directly in the harbour. We were stern to it and had no chance to move so we put out every available line and waited it out. It calmed during the night and we were fine.
Thursday May 12 1430 was our slated departure time. At 13:00 local time Our hard working Cook Leslie Scott (Cookie) signed off the ship. A veteran of five voyages, three in a row, I never knew her to make a bad meal. Leslie is a loyal Kwai fan. We are her crew and she takes care of us. She gets involved in everything from sail and cargo handling to stocking up the Kwai store. She also makes a great cup of tea. I hope she takes with her as much love as she gave us. We said our good-byes and turned our attentions to loading 20 passengers for the 5 day voyage to Puka-Puka. We always set all sail and make good time with the southeast trades. The weather was fine and the passengers were talking and reading and listening to the radio and some were watching a movie.
May 14 2011. 2200. One of the passengers was standing at the rail with a pack on his back. That was the last time he was seen. At 0900 the next day the passenger Manuel Anthony Fortes was reported missing. We took in sail and re-traced our path to the place where he was last seen. 12 hours later we began searching the area in a grid pattern. Our crew and members of the construction crew who were his work-mates stood watch day and night for two days We were joined by the Police vessel Te Kukupa from Rarotonga and later by an Orion Aircraft from Kiwi Rescue in New Zealand. At 0500 Tuesday May 17 the search was called off. We continued on our mission to Puka-Puka. On Thursday the 19th of May at 0730 we dropped off two passengers, picked up three passengers and some coconuts and set sail for Puka-Puka.
Puka Puka is an odd shaped Atoll which contains a group of islands called the danger islands. They are called danger islands because of a westerly current which sets across the reef, not; as the locals would have you believe that there are gangs of females hungry for sex, waiting at dark intersections to waylay unsuspecting young men to drag off into the jungle. After hanging around for days at dark intersections on Puka-Puka I can tell you definitely that this is not true.
I have however, had some experience with the westerly current. That definitely is true. Don’t attack Russia in winter and don’t try to sail to windward past the east side of Puka- Puka. We managed to hook our anchor on a little coral outcropping at the mouth of the pass on the eastern side of the atoll at 1630 local time the same day and disembarked our passengers.
Friday May 20 we had the excavator and the truck unloaded by 11:30. We did a brisk business in Kwai store and began offloading some of our 300 tons of cargo. Senior Constable Brian Opo of the Cook Islands Police took statements about the incident and bought some ice cream. On Sunday the crew took a tour of the main island and the out lying motus. We discharged cargo all day Monday and prepared to depart for Nassau. We were prepared for 5 passengers. 35 passengers showed up. We had two barges completely covering the main hatch so the passengers bunched up all together in a big cosy looking cocoon on the aloha deck behind the galley. We departed at 2200 and arrived in Nassau at 0700. All the passengers went ashore to assist with moving the equipment down onto the barges. Each barge has a 60 hp outboard on the back. They can go five knots with any load. The ship heaves to while the barges go ashore. The machines drive up ramps onto the barges and the barges are brought to the ship. The ship is in a seaway open to the waves and swell so it has to be pointed exactly into the waves to minimise movement when the lifting is happening.
If a five ton excavator were to start swinging at the wrong moment, bad things could happen. God has to smile on you as well because no matter how well the ship is placed, it can still roll. Our rig is rigged, our slewing tackle is manned, our preventers and our tags are in place. The excavator is on the barges and secured alongside. The swell is rising and falling about two meters. The winch is engaged. The barge rises up, the runner goes slack. The wire comes in. the swell goes down and the excavator is clear of the barge. The swell rises again and takes the weight of the machine momentarily one more time. When the swell falls this time the machine is well and truly lifted. It rises slowly above the rail. The ship rolls and the slewing tackle goes slack. The men quickly take up the slack and take a turn while she rolls the other way. It stops directly over the hold. The taglines in the hold take over and the machine settles down on a pad of carpet already laid down for it. There is actual applause from the barge. I come down from the bridge and shake the hand of Tanawai, the winchman, a true maestro. Stress turns to relief all over the ship. This is what we came to do and of all the bad things that could possibly have happened, none of them did. The rest of the cargo is easy although Tanawai did at one point, have a small tractor swinging quite briskly but he caught it by bouncing the wheels on the hatch coaming. We loaded the barges back on deck, picked up our 35 passengers and got underway at 21:30 the same day. I was fully expecting to stay there for two days. When a group of Puka Pukans gets to-gether and decides to do something, it gets done. We arrived back in Puka Puka 0730 Wed. May 25. We discharge our machines and Rineta our new Kiribati supercargo performs her magic in the Kwai store. It’s a fun game for her. She was a village clerk in the real world so the accounting is a snap. She wheels and deals and gets gum and candy from the customers after they buy it. The people love her. I decide to really stock up for next trip. Come big or sleep in the streets.
We get underway at 1900 and at 0700 are hove to off the pass at Nassau island again to pick up passengers and coconuts. We left the people of Nassau a gift of 16l of ice cream to thank them for the food which they always give us when we come. We picked up 8 passengers to go to Raro., 20 bags of coconuts and some mail. We set sail and hauled in our sheets impossibly tight. The sails kept us from rolling in the head sea and we managed to hang on to them all the way to Raro.
Tuesday May 31 at 0730. We made fast alongside the outer international dock in Avatiu Rarotonga and prepared to load what was to be our heaviest load yet. I keep saying that don’t I. Well this time it’s true and no-one can legally load any more because we are right to the bottom edge of our plimsoll mark and we had to take cargo off so we wouldn’t be too heavy. We spent a week in Raro. We were loaded in good time but spent time to completely re-arrange and clean the ship. Everything was offloaded, cleaned and re-loaded. We took time to re-stock Kwai store and do a little painting and maintenance. June 04 Gabriel Boylan, a veteran of two voyages signed off to re-join his family in Nebraska. Gabe was deck crew and as such worked very hard through some very long days. He did it unfailingly and he did it with a smile. He was a friend to us all and he will be missed.
June 07 in a southeast wind and rough sea, the Kwai, loaded to her marks set sail from Rarotonga to Puka-Puka via Nassau island. She has 22 passengers on the hatch and 10 crew.
At this days writing we are 1852s16112w It is 1400 Wednesday the 8th day of June.
We are motor sailing on a course of 330T at 7.2 kts. The seas are rough and from the east. Our backstay chain plate parted last night so our Jib is down. A brilliant sun bursts out from behind the clouds occasionally and spreads it’s warmth and cheer. Once in awhile the Kwai ships a wave over the rail and fills the deck with about a foot of water. The crew is frolicking in it. I may join them soon. I had two yellowfin tuna hearts for lunch. Two fish went for the hook at the same time and we caught both of them. One by the mouth and one by the tail.It was the damndest thing.