In  the early 70's  I was Mate then Master of a small former German – built "Horn" ship ( formerly ‘Ingrid Horn’), owned by the Gilbert and Ellice Island government Wholesale Cooperative Society. The ship was called the "Moanaroi" - which translates to something like "Smooth Sea"

The Moanaroi was a very pretty ship of about 1,000 get, having two holds, served by two sets of 15 ton owl derricks, the reason for which will become apparent..

Accommodation was all aft, and included a dormitory area within a converted part of the #2 hold, because we had an all up crew of 28, and frequently carried as many as 64 deck passengers.

The all white hull was set off with a beautiful painted 'figurehead' on each bow, of a native mermaid. The crew being islanders this was fairly obvious. The whole had been hand painted by our Third Mate - a Gilbertese by the unlikely name of Joe Kum Kee. Joe was of mixed parentage, and may have been the by-product of the Japanese Second World War invasion of Tarawa. Anyway, other notable characters amongst the crew included our Ellice island bosun, a chap called Bopoti (pronounced Bobose) ) who stopped the Aussie stevedores in their tracks when he demonstrated how to carry two by two hundredweight bags of copra - one under each arm, instead of ripping the sacks open with hooks. We also had a real character in the form of a self-styled Carpenter called Tokatati (pronounced Tokatass), but more of him later.

The voyages of the 'Moanaroi' regularly took us throughout the 27 islands in the former colony, collecting copra (and enormous cockroaches) as we journeyed South, for discharge in either Suva or Sydney, where we would backload with general cargo for Tarawa and the out-lying islands. Tarawa was however the distribution point so a fair bit of double-handling took place. We also had side trips to places such as Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides, where we would drop off a "deck cargo" of male plantation workers. Sometimes I could fill up one of our two cargo reefer lockers with a private consignment of avocados, (which were only fed to the pigs in Santo) but which our erstwhile ship -chandler in Sydney would sell to fine restaurants -with a percentage for me of course.

Another side trip would take us North of the Colony to Majuro in the Marshall Islands where our Aussie beef was gratefully received by an Island Group that was very American in it's culture, being one of the Trust Territories. Majuro was different in a number of ways from the Colony to the south, one being the fact that we entered a fairly large lagoon, and actually berthed alongside a wharf. Most other island destinations could only offer an anchorage. I should just mention here that none of the Islands offered even rudimentary pilotage, and hence the Master was responsible for some fairly hairy pilotage and ship-handling of his own. Reef and Atoll islands differ quite a bit in the manner that you approach them - coral heads, steep outcrops to name but two of many hazards. Back to Majuro. - How many reading this will have had the job of collecting freight on cargo I wonder?. one or two ex Bank Line perhaps but that is about all. In Majuro I often had as much as $100,000 (1970 values) being the freight on several tons of beef. Most of this came from small traders by the way, so there was always quite a bit of coming and going to the Master's cabin when we were in Majuro - one of the reasons why the ship quite legitimately had an issue to the Master of a .45 colt revolver!

Another interesting diversion was the instruction I had to carry out one voyage "To proceed to Christmas Island (Pacific) and load the ship with anything that I thought could be usefully used" back in Tarawa. You may remember that this was the Christmas Island used in atomic testing. Difficult to determine therefore what would be un-contaminated after all these years, although I did notice there were some very large fish caught at the anchorage there, but none of the crew would eat them.

I remember going into the ex RAF officers lounge, and finding all the glasses standing on the bar just as they had left them, when I believe they were told to evacuate the Island and to leave things "Just as they are." Another sight to behold was a warehouse hut stacked floor to ceiling with coffins - just in case?

The more notable things we loaded included a couple of old Dennis fire trucks (one ambition fulfilled) and several vintage motorcycles. More useful material included builders supplies. A memorable experience.

I didn't yet mention the need for our large derricks. The fact was that we carried on deck our own flotilla of small craft - two whalers, two flat bottom boats and one launch. All were about 25-30 feet long. The whalers we used to steer through the surf onto an atoll island, place our two tons of produce at the feet of the islanders, load them up again with bagged copra and float a line through the surf for our launch to tow them back out to deep water. The flat bottoms we used more extensively in shallow water lagoons. As we sometimes made several stops in one day, and because there was government ordinance prohibiting me from taking the ship into some lagoons at night, time was occasionally of the essence, and that's why we had big derricks for the size of ship. Have you ever seen a small ship with her anchor aweigh being chased by a launch and whaler? The winchman skills deployed in snatch-lifting a fully-laden whaler from the open ocean are on a par with anything that you would see on a North Sea oil rig (in winter ).

And what about Tokatati you might ask? He was our carpenter remember? Well Tokatati was a good man, but like many a sailor before him, he always "hung one on" when he returned home to Tarawa, The locals had what they used to call "island night" - a sort of disco if you will, and of course the seamen and those fortunate enough not to have to go to sea frequently clashed over the girls. On more than one occasion therefore I had to go and bail Tokatati and his pals out of the local police station after a night out. The magistrate was a Welshman, only known as Toby Jug to the locals, because that is what he looked like. He had formidable bearing, and a very low opinion of drunken sailors. Came the day when he informed me he would have to lock Tokatati up if he couldn't behave himself, and my protestations that he was always sober at sea were taken with a pinch of salt. Anyway he let Tokatati off, with a final warning. Then a few weeks later I was told that we would be taking Toby Jug on a trip around the islands, as a passenger, in his role as Circuit Judge of the Crown Colony. He looked at Tokatati twice when he came onboard, but after about a week actually admitted to me that he seemed likeable enough after all - and that's when Tokatati got his own back.

We were at one of those lagoon islands that dried out at certain times, and so it was that the unthinking Toby Jug went ashore to hold court. When he looked out at sunset there was no water and we were about a mile away at sea. He had no choice but to request sleeping accommodation off the Island elders. They fixed him up with a hut, and no sooner had he retired than Tokatati threw in a couple of the local girls - and poor old Toby Jug never got over it! Neither did he mention it to me, but for some reason the ship's crew either singularly or collectively were never criticized by the Beak again.

READ ON - THE PARTHIA INCIDENT

 

 

 
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