Cruise to Fanning Island

Land Ho

After two days and nights at sea, our first view of Fanning Island.

As my wife, Lynn, and I are leaving on a cruise in a few days, I thought it would be fun to share our cruise experience from a few years ago.

Tabuaeran, Republic of Kiribati

Fanning Island, known also as Tabuaeran, is a coral atoll, part of the Line Island chain located about 250 miles north of the equator. Though uninhabited when first discovered by the Europeans, the island is now populated by about a thousand citizens of the Republic of Kiribati. For a time, Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) had a presence there. They built an infrastructure, and even the elementary school is named NCL Primary. It was built for the people of the island by the cruise line.

Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) no longer stops at Tabuaeran, a detour on its Hawaiian cruises due to the Passenger Vessel Services Act of 1886. That portion of US maritime law is meant to protect US ship transport companies from foreign shipping engaging in cabotage. A profitable venture for a passenger ships, cabotage refers to the transport of passengers or cargo to multiple ports along the coast of a country. With the advent of aviation, the law now applies to foreign passenger and freight aircraft, as well.

This US law is of particular importance to cruise ships of foreign registry, which most cruise ships are, I suspect due to higher fees and various compliance regulations in the United States. Simply put, a foreign registered cruise ship must include in its itinerary of multiple US stops, at least one foreign port of call. Fanning Island, some 1100 miles due south of the Hawaiian Islands was NCL’s foreign port for Hawaii cruises.

GPS Route to Fanning Island

The cruiseship TV had a GPS channel that displays current ship position. This photo was taken the day before our arrival at Fanning Island.

In 2007, Lynn and I signed on for a cruise around the Hawaiian Islands. We wanted to visit Hawaii, and a friend suggested a cruise around the islands was the best way to go. Your hotel room travels with you, unpacking and repacking luggage happens only once, and you travel at night when you are sleeping, each day wakening in a new port with new sights to see. We had reserved two weeks in our schedule, but all of the cruises around the islands in US ships were only seven day cruises. We wanted more cruising time and NCL’s Norwegian Wind, a ship of Bahamian Registry, was offering a 12-day cruise. Only seven of those days were in Hawaii, however. The remaining five days were the required visit to a foreign port. Today, the Norwegian Wind is history, sold shortly after we sailed, and the Pride of America, NCL’s US registered mega-cruiser provides 7-day excursions around the Hawaiian Islands.

It is now a little more difficult to travel to Fanning Island. If you are not yachting, and won’t be planning a stopover on your personal tour of Micronesia, I submit this photo essay for your approval.

Tender

One of the tenders with a load of passengers heads for the island.

Coral atolls are a ring of living plants with a lagoon in the center. If you click on the link to Fanning Island and switch the map view to satellite, you’ll see a bird’s eye view of the atoll. (You may have to zoom out to see the entire island.)

A cruise ship cannot approach very close to the island’s shallow beaches, so tenders brought us to shore and back. Most cruise ships use lifeboats as tenders to shuttle passengers from ship to shore and back when the water is too shallow to allow the ship to dock at the port.

Norwegian Wind

Shortly after our cruise, the Norwegian Wind was decommissioned, sold to an Asian company and converted to an off-shore gambling casino.

To save a bit on our cruise fare, we purchased an obstructed view cabin. There was normally a tender outside our picture window. We lucked out in that “our” tender was used daily. Before we awoke each morning, “our” tender was taken down from its moorings, and returned to block our view just prior to sailing. You can see our cabin just aft of mid-ship to the left of the leftmost tender.

Shipwreck in the bay

A rusting hulk rests in the lagooon.

On our way to shore, the tender entered the lagoon at Weston Point and docked at English Harbor, on the western side of the atoll. Inside the lagoon were anchored a few yachts, some smaller boats, and the rusted remains of a shipwreck. If you click on the Fanning Island link and zoom in on the satellite view, you can see the shipwreck in the lagoon just east of English Harbor.

Approaching the dock

A view of the shore as the tender approached the island dock.

Approaching the island, we could see some of the infrastructure built by NCL to support their cruise ships. NCL crew members brought food, drink and gear ashore with them ahead of the passengers in preparation of a grilled picnic lunch on the island. Visitors from the ship enjoyed watching the school children’s chorus singing for us at the dock. We could browse the make-shift souvenir tables, find a spot on one of the beautiful white sand beaches to swim, or simply enjoy the warm tropical sun.

Warriors

Warriors in ancient native war dress pose for a fee.

Behind the warriors, vendors were selling their wares. Yes, they happily accepted US currency. One must be careful, however, signage is not one of their talents.

Alright, I'll Pay

Be sure to read the signs carefully. It appears this guy raised his price.

Friday morning, upon our arrival, the cruise ship anchored. When we arrived on the Island, however, it was Saturday morning. We had crossed the International Date Line which jogs slightly east so that Tabuaeran can remain in the same time zone as the rest of the islands in the Kiribati Republic. Upon return to the ship, it was Friday night again. Insert lame joke here about which horse won the fifth race at Churchill Downs tomorrow.

Brothers

A boy cares for his brother just prior to his group’s performance.

Native singers and dancers entertained the foreign guests. Making the assumption that there is no school on Saturday, that would explain the large numbers of children who were present.

Residence

No, this is not photoshopped. Yes, many of the residences look like something the Professor built on Gilligan’s Island.

To get an idea of how the residents of the island lived, we walked away from the party going on at the harbor. I suspect the houses further from the beach were not quite as luxurious as the ones we walked by.

Tropical Squall

Right on schedule, the afternoon squall rolled through and gave us a cooling shower.

Shortly after lunch, a tropical squall developed just to our west and eventually the island received a short but fairly intense rain. It was over as quickly as it began, and the sun once again bathed the island in tropical warmth.

Coconut Milk

Lynn’s first taste of the juice of the coconut. Her opinion: It was sweet, warm, and simply, “OK”.

Lynn picked up a grass skirt as a souvenir for our granddaughter, and we shared a drink from a coconut. The “milk” is clear, not white as you might expect from the common name.

After an interesting day, and a wait in line to have our passports stamped “Republic of Kiribati”, we returned to the ship for the two-day cruise back to Honolulu, and the disembarkation of our cruise.

John Steiner

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11 thoughts on “Cruise to Fanning Island

  1. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge – Family | Journeys with Johnbo

  2. A great read ! I used to live on Fanning when it was a relay station for Cable & Wireless Ltd.
    I think the cable station was eventually taken over by the Cripps Institute of Oceanography when cable repeater stations on the sea bed made the relay station obsolete. The settlement at English Harbour was home to the Palmer family who managed the copra plantation on behalf of Burns Philp & Co..

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  5. My husband and I took that cruise, the sixth last voyage of the NCL Wind. We have been on 27 cruises and Fanning Island is on top of the list of most amazing places we’ve been. We didn’t go to the each. We rented bikes, from NCL, and toured the island, stopping briefly under the trees while the rain passed. The homes were remarkable in their use of island materials and corrugated aluminum. It was such a treat to see the warriors in their woven palm and fish parts outfits. All of the items for sale at the market were island finds, literally. Our lives were so enriched by this visit. In addition we loved the 4 sea days travelling to and from the island. We were apaulled when we overheard other cruise passengers complain that going to Fanning Island was a waste of time. To us, it was a journey back in time, one we will never forget. Thank you for your story and for stirring up memories. I wish another cruise company would pick up this itinerary.
    Louise Reynen and Skip Layton, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

  6. My husband and I took that cruise, the sixth last voyage of the NCL Wind. We have been on 27 cruises and Fanning Island is on top of the list of most amazing places we’ve been. We didn’t go to the beach. We rented bikes, from NCL, and toured the island, stopping briefly under the trees while the rain passed. The homes were remarkable in their use of island materials and corrugated aluminum. It was such a treat to see the warriors in their woven-palm and fish-parts outfits. All of the items for sale at the market were island finds, literally. Our lives were so enriched by this visit. In addition we loved the 4 sea days travelling to and from the island. We were apaulled when we overheard other cruise passengers complain that going to Fanning Island was a waste of time. To us, it was a journey back in time, one we will never forget. Thank you for your story and for stirring up memories. I wish another cruise company would pick up this itinerary.
    Louise Reynen and Skip Layton, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

  7. Hi, I am in a Seabourn Ship as I write this, very disappointed. We stopped at Fanning Island this morning and raised the national flag of Kiribati, we were stopped for 15 minutes, canoes and a fishing boat started to come out to great us, then the captain announced that the swells were too high and it appeared the water near the island looked unsafe so we wouldn’t be going ashore. The swells didn’t appear high at all to the 10 of us looking out, no white caps, just gentle swells. Then I come inside and start googling to look at photos of what I am going to miss…. and I find the 1886 U.S. maritime law which is the Passenger Services Act, it prohibits foreign ships from traveling between U.S. ports without stopping in a foreign country. Our last port was American Samoa.
    Only 30 minutes later the captain announces we will be docking at Kona earlier than we had thought….. and we are going faster than ever… 18 knots.
    A couple weeks ago we were in Port Vila in Vanuatu and the taxi drivers stoned the tour busses, with people in them….
    Why would we not stop at Fanning Island? Has something changed? Or does this law make ships comply with laws they want to skirt if there is a reason they can grasp onto?
    I feel badly for the people who were excited about our visit…. imagine living there and seeing us pull up closely and then cruising away before the canoes and boat could inform us all was well.
    Loved your photos, wish they were mine!

    • Sorry to hear you didn’t go ashore. I don’t know much about the maritime law, but do know NCL chose to register a ship in the US so they would no longer need to stop at a foreign port on their Hawaiian cruises. I do wish there were more options for cruisers to visit Fanning Island.
      Safe travels on your journey, my friend.

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