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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.