I stepped ashore, setting foot on dry land for the first time in 105 days. This was now my third arrival after prolonged periods at sea, so I wasn’t surprised when the ground seemed to lurch beneath my feet. My brain had adapted to being on a constantly pitching boat, so now it was over-compensating when I stood on terra firma. I looked up at the crowd of several hundred people that had come to greet me, and wondered if my first act on arriving in Tarawa would be to topple over like a drunkard.
Then two big hunky men in traditional island outfits approached and knelt in front of me, forming a cradle with their arms. “Thank heavens for local tradition” I thought, as I sank gratefully onto the proffered cradle.
I was carried to a plastic chair, and the hunky men were joined by several more who performed a local dance of traditional welcome. I felt like visiting royalty as I smiled appreciatively. They presented me with a coconut, its top lopped off so I could drink the cool, refreshing, sweet coconut water inside. It was exactly what I needed. I was feeling a bit woozy after my exertions. It had been an exhausting 3 days.
As I approached Tarawa from the south on Sept 4th, I hadn’t been sure if I would manage to make landfall under my own steam. Given the strong easterly winds that had prevailed over the previous few days, I thought it much more likely that I would get close to the island but miss it by several miles, and would need a boat to come out to catch me as I whizzed past.
But finally Neptune decided to give me a break. I had already made it safely past the island of Abemama (where Robert Louis Stevenson lived for a while). I was making good progress in a northwesterly direction, but there was a problem. Unless I managed to shift course to north- northwest, I would run slap into the island of Maiana. I had to choose whether to go south of it, which would mean I had no chance of getting to Tarawa under my own steam, or else east of it – which was the way I wanted to go, but was it possible? Under present wind conditions, no, it wasn’t.
Then, finally, the long-awaited southeasterly wind arrived. Woohoo! Now I was in fine shape. The wind only lasted a few hours, but I was able to ride it all the way up the east side of Maiana, which lined me up nicely for Tarawa.
I rowed late into the night until I was reasonably sure I was clear of Maiana and its reefs. Then I tried to grab a quick nap, but I kept opening one eye to squint at the GPS to make sure I wasn’t going to shipwreck. At one point I got up and rowed some more, just to make doubly sure. It would have been a real shame to get this far only to end up on a reef within sight of the finish.
So as I approached the final 20 miles into Tarawa, I had had less than 6 hours of sleep in the previous 48 hours, and the heat was brutal. The wind had dropped away to nothing and the sun was intense. When I got to 9 miles out, I really wondered if I was going to make it. After rowing 3000 miles, the last 9 seemed to loom very large. I put some good rocking music on to help me through.
And finally, mile by mile, I crossed off the final hours of my voyage. After each mile I posted another Tweet and had a bite of food. A boat arrived to escort me the last mile or two to land. On board were Nicole, Hunter (from Archinoetics) and Conrad (our cameraman). Also Rob, the New Zealand High Commissioner, who put his sea kayak in the water and paddled alongside me.
But I could feel that I was getting depleted. As I always seem to do, I get over-excited on my final day and push myself too hard. I arrive on land dehydrated, sunburned and exhausted.
The last mile was really tough. I wondered if it would ever finish. Rob told me I was rowing against the incoming tide. I was reduced to counting tens. Just ten more strokes. Then another ten. Then another ten. As I crossed my finish line of latitude, I collapsed backwards off my rowing seat.
But nothing that an ice cold beer wouldn’t cure (oops, ignore this bit, please, Dr Aenor!). Nicole knew what was needed. I heard some splashing as I lay on the deck with my eyes closed, and then Nicole’s head popped up over the side of the boat. She had jumped off the escort boat into the water and swum over to Brocade, beer in hand. It was a bit warm after its time in the water, but tasted pretty darned good regardless. Now that’s what I call a dedicated Program Director!
So now I am on Tarawa, quite possibly one of the most remote places on the world. I’m dying to tell you all about it, but this blog is long enough already, and the Solicitor General’s wife’s aunt is waiting to give me a much-needed massage. So I’ll sign off now, but will tell more tomorrow. I intend to blog every day until we leave Tarawa, probably Sept 17th. But internet access here is very limited, so please forgive me if I miss a day or two.
Photos and videos coming soon. Stay tuned!
Photos of Roz Arriving in Tarawa!
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