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SEA Currents Blog

SEA Currents: Robert C. Seamans

July 21, 2016

Experiencing Kanton

Jinxue Chen, St. John's College

2° 40.3’ S x 171° 42.7’ W

At anchor in Kanton lagoon

1820 Nautical miles travelled


98% moon, warm weather, 30°C

Souls on Board

I found it most unexpected in my life on the sea is how people get affected by their surrounding environment. From the perspective of my personal experience, we are deprived from internet and news currently. I hardly read anything every day. But I got used to this new life immediately. The thing I contemplate the most nowadays are food, seawater, zooplankton. Aristotle, Descartes from St. John’s College seem to be so far away from me. From a cultural perspective, I realize how such tropical sea is absent in most cultures. Every time when I see moon hanging aloft in the sky, shedding silver lights all over the sea, I recall some Chinese poetries depicting moon and Yangze River, the swimming prisoner from Mount Cristo, several stops on the journey of Odessey, the young man from Kafka on the Shore. in daytime, however, facing the warm sea wind, colorful underwater world, I am mute. Because most of the literatures that I read were written in around 30-40 north latitude, where the rivers are wide and foggy, sea is constantly gloomy and cold. Those descriptions of water have formed my recognition of the world, preceding real experience. In contrast, I have no words but only childish fantasies towards tropical islands, like the jungle in The Moon and The Sixpences, the place where Montaign’s cannibals live. Even the tropical winds are blowing to the boat day and night, my recognition and fantasies stay as they are, not get shaped by real world experience.

It has been over one month since the program first started. From the afternoon watch of yesterday, we started our anchor watch. Comparing to the previous schedule when we needed to be on watch for 6 hours every 18 hours, the current schedule which only requires one hour watch three times a day is undoubtedly much easier.  Yesterday, people with odd school numbers visited Kanton while people with even numbers stayed on boat and did snorkeling. And it was the other way around today. My number is 6, so today is my first day on land since 3rd July.

2 o’clock in the morning, Haidee and Jen woke up Jennah and me for watch. I was so sleepy at that time——I was right in the middle of a dream about food. We have been having western cuisine for most of the time on the boat, gradually I started to fall asleep recalling Chinese dishes. Last night it was a revisited disturbing dream: I only have one week left in China during a vacation, but suddenly I realized mom hasn’t taken me to eat spicy pot or duck blood noodles yet. Waking up in hunger and sweat, Jennah and I started our watch. It always feels natural and comfortable with Jennah. As time went by, we started to sing: Zombie from The Craberries, Falling Slowly and If You Want Me from the movie Once…

8:00: we arrived Kanton. The houses in Kanton were generally 30 cm away from the ground. Inside the room, the floor was covered by mats. Kenton people usually kept their windows and doors open to get more air flow. We could see children playing from outside. There were twenty-nine living on Kanton and houses were not far from each other.

After around thirty-minutes’ walk on the island, we encountered a channel. It was said that the channel came into being only in the past one year by floods. We were there at around eight or nine o’clock, which was the time for high tide. There was a local man carrying a red bicycle on his shoulder, waded across the channel. The water was above his waist. We united with the scientists Kersey, Nick and the first mate Ryan near the channel. Everyone followed the example of that local man and lifted bags above head. Thanks Kersey for offering to help me along the way, she’s always so nice.

Abandoned factories and bunkers were everywhere on Kanton. It was said that this island had been colonized by the UK since 19th century. During WWII, the USA used this place for missile testing. It also once functioned as a transfer airstrip for planes that flew through the Pacific Ocean. This function declined with the development of aviation. Kiribati started to own this island after its independence in 1970s. So on the island, there were lots of military projects left behind by Americans fifty years ago. In those buildings, there were broken tiles, russet iron boards that feel like burnt rice crust, and lying shelves. We explored a deserted generator spot with the boat engineer Ted. The red metals were in sharp contrast with lush green trees. It brought out a feeling of steampunk to me.

A single lane road was around the island. Victoria, Ruthann, Panyu, Tom, Broke and I went along this road and discovered a radar tower and a factory with steel bars hanging in the air, looking postmodern. At noon, we had lunch at a pavilion with wooden poles and a roof. Flags were hanging all over the beams. The first one on the left was a Chinese National Flag with “2014, Dalian, Second Dream” written on it. The one next to it was a Sea Semester flag from the first trip to PIPA. After that, there were flags from Australia, Austria, Indian and other places. People wrote their identities on those flags. Some came here for scientific research, some came in a family motorsailing. Sadly none of us had markers, so we couldn’t leave any words there. I sat there, imaging all those people with different lifestyle, who were on different sailing routes, somehow passed through this one remote geographical location. In no time, their adventure became the past, so will be our present one.

After lunch, we continued on the big road. We saw a cemetery with the cross hidden in a jungle. Both Tom and I thought it was tragical for people to pass away on this island, since people stay here for only two years. They probably didn’t get the chance to return home. Not far away from the cemetery, there was Fatina Catholic Church which was similar to the building we stayed for lunch,built by wooden roof and poles.Kiribati is a religious country.

Marching on, we saw several rusty military jeep in the jungle and along the road. They looked like the ones in The Jurassic Park 4, with color in between russet and yellowish brown. Not sure whether wind and rain destroyed their original color. One jeep had US AIR FORCE GBC 156B on its door. There was a long wall composed of rocks along the jungle, seeming to be a coastal wall. We climbed and spotted a deserted yellow boat on a beach. We hailed “Wreck! Wreck” and strode there. The boat was not huge. It was around three to four meters long with “Pacfic Glory 8, No.1” imprinted on the side of the boat. Warriors climbed this two-meter boat using their strong biceps. and told me from the boat that it was a Japanese boat which seemed to sail in 2016. They also found some emergency drinking water that would expire in 2018 and drank some. Panyu and I were not interested in climbing high, so we decided to take photos of each other at the beach. This fun activity lasted 20 minutes.

3:00 pm, we trampled water to return to the other side of the island. Because of it was low tide, the water was much lower than it in the morning, maybe around knees. We found a pretty beach to do snorkeling. The color of the sea was gorgeous. It was dark blue near the shore, white in the middle (probably caused by clay?) and pale teal in the afar. After these past few days of snorkeling, I have attained familiarity with snorkeling. It was fun to float with a snorkel. Under the sea was so quiet, I could only hear my greedy breath. Lots of unknown fish were jovially swimming around, and carols were like lotus, one over another. It was a pity that beautiful carols could be so spiky and dangerous.

4:30 pm, we took the rescue boat back to the boat and retuned to the island at 5:00pm. Today, the Kanton residents invite us to dinner on the island. We first took off shoes and sat in a 10 m^2 house for a while, then went to a pavilion. The dinner started at around 6 pm. We took food in succession and started to enjoy the performance by Kanton residents. The food was incredible: Deep fried fish, fried fish, crab stuffed with noodles, clams, boiled coconut which omitted a smell of lotus seed, sweet papaya and tons of coconut… The performance was amazing as well. They were conducted by an elder, who seemed to be in power in the community and blew whistle to give commands. The dances were like the one I saw in Japanese Matsuri: people sang together with huge volume;in dance, after each moment, people would keep still for a while before changing to the next gesture; the whole process accompanied with lots of clapping hands of beating ground. In return, we also performed some songs: Heeve away, haul away、South of Australia、This Land Is Your Land、Country Road、As I Go Down To The river To Pray、Lean On Me、 Cotton-Eyed Joe. Ben, Corrina and Panyu also taught some local kids dance.

项目至今已逾一个月。从前天的下午班(afternoon watch)开始,我们进入了停泊班(anchor watch)模式。相比之前每18小时需要值6小时的生活,现在的每天两三次一小时的值班无疑轻松很多。且这一小时只需要进行两次停泊检查和一次船体检查。其他的一切工作都停止了——实验室,海水监测仪器,掌控舵盘……静止的船很乖巧,闲暇时间便是我们难得的假期。昨天是学号为奇数的同学们上Kanton岛上游玩参观,偶数同学在船上留守站岗并下水嬉戏;今天反之。我的学号是6,于是今天便是我自7月3日以来第一次登上陆地的日子。
夜很黑,我们连蒙带猜地完成了两次以三个地理坐标为参考的船体位置记录。和Jennah在一起的时间总是自然舒适,自然而然地便唱起了歌。The Cranberries的Zombie, Once中的Falling Slowly, If you want me。歌还没有唱完,新的一班站岗时间便到了。


岛上有一条约一车道宽的还算平整的大路,我和Victoria, Ruthann, Panyu,Tom和Broke沿着这条路一起去了一个信号发射站,一个顶部的钢筋都悬在半空的『后现代』风格工厂。中午,我们在一个由木柱和庭盖组成的建筑中休憩。木梁上挂满了旗子,先是一副写有『2014年大连船只Second Dream』的中国国旗,再是2014年的第一次SEA航向PIPA的Robert C Seamans,之后是澳大利亚,奥地利等各国国旗。有的是科研原因,有的是家族航行。很遗憾我们当时谁也没有携带马克笔,所以没有办法留下新的印记。只静静坐在旌旗之间,想着各样的人生,各种航行都经过在这一含有人烟的地理位置,俯仰之间,已为陈迹。
食过午饭,继续沿着大路而行。我们在丛林见隐隐看见一个有着十字架的墓地。我和Tom都觉得一共就在岛上呆两年时间,在这期间逝去不得以葬身家乡真是大不幸。离墓地不远处,是Fatina Catholic Church,和午餐处的建筑相仿,是只由庭盖和木柱搭成的。建筑本身有些像中国的自行车停车处。Kiribati应该是信教虔诚的国家。
再往前走,我们在丛林中和路边看见了许多破旧的军用越野车,就像是侏罗纪公园四的一样,颜色介于铁红和土黄之间,不知是不是风吹雨淋把原本的颜色磨灭了。其中一辆的驾驶座的车门上印有US AIR FORCE GBC 156B。丛林边有石头堆起的小坡,似乎是海堤。我们爬了上去,远远地便看到碧蓝的海边有一艘被废弃的黄色小船。大家一边欢呼着『沉船、沉船!』一边大步向海边走去。船不大,大约有三四米长,船体侧面印有大大的Pacific Glory 8, No.1。
下午四点半,我们坐着救生艇回到了船上。匆匆用海水冲洗、换好衣服后,五点我又搭上了去Kanton的小船。继昨天在船上的宴会后,今日是kanton居民在岛上宴请我们。我们先脱鞋进了一个大约十平米的房子,席地而坐着聊天,玩猜词游戏。待船员们也到齐后,我们陆陆续续走到外面来乘凉。大约六点,我们在外面的台子上坐好,排队拿了食物,准备好看Kanton居民的歌舞表演。食物妙不可言,有炸鱼,包着面条的螃蟹,清洗好的扇贝,一种鱼,又一种鱼,煮过的汁水丰沛的椰子有莲子的清香,甘甜的木瓜,一箱箱的椰子……表演也很棒。年纪最大的男子似乎是村长,用哨声指挥歌舞队起止。歌舞有一些像日本祭祀时的歌舞,音量很大,每一个姿势会定一会,再换下一步,佐以许多击掌。作为报答,我们也唱了一些歌:Heeve away, haul away、South of Australia、This Land Is Your Land、Country Road、As I Go Down To The river To Pray、Lean On Me、 Cotton-Eyed Joe。 Ben、Corinna和盼瑜还教了几个当地孩童华尔兹。

Categories: Robert C. Seamans,Protecting the Phoenix Islands, • Topics: s268  port stops  phoenix islands • (0) Comments
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