Fanning Island is located pretty much right smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, halfway between Hawaii and Australia. It is part of the Republic of Kiribati, which consists of 32 coral atolls. Ships pass by this island fairly frequently when traveling between Chile and China or from Long Beach to Australia. Since the island looks like the shape of a footprint, it is also named Tabuaeran which means “heavenly footprint.” It is only 13 square miles in land area with an enclosed lagoon of 426 square miles. Fanning was discovered and named by an American, Captain Edmund Fanning in 1798. To our good fortune, his great great grand nephew is actually on board our ship! In the first part of the 20th century, the TransPacific cable was built and ran right through the middle of Fanning Island. During this time, there were lots of houses and cars and even some electricity, but as of 1963 the cables were no longer there and the island’s population diminished. Today there is no electricity and the population is only about 2,000. They get about 80 inches of rain annually and maintain seaweed farms. Very few people wear shoes and they still live in traditional wooden/thatched homes, although there are still some stone houses left over from when the TransPacific cable was being laid.
The official language is English and the currency is the Australian dollar. No food or water is sold on the island. The locals, when they know a ship is coming (which isn’t very often), will set up their crafts near the pier (the pier, by the way, is really a small wooden dock that HAL maintains during it’s twice yearly stops at Fanning. The locals, especially the children, love to see our ship arrive in the spring and the fall, and they are all smiles when we come.
So you can imagine how excited everyone on the ship was to be able to stop at this unique and wonderful little island.
We had been at sea 2 full days and were set to arrive at 8:00 AM on Wednesday. We awoke to dark and squally skies and we seemed to be circling the island. Our greatest fears were realized, when, shortly after 8:00 AM, the Captain came on the loudspeaker to inform us that, due to the bad weather, we would not be able to safely anchor nor tender to Fanning Island. POOH.
Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE on board was really disappointed. Hundreds of us had brought donations of supplies and clothing, etc. for the people of the island; many of us holding back some supplies to be able to give to the children personally. None of it was to be. But safety comes first, and our Captain made the right decision. I couldn’t help but think about Captain Fanning’s great great grand nephew, not being able to step on the island that his ancestor had discovered all those many years ago.
So now, we’ve been at sea a full 5 days with high hopes that the weather will cooperate and we can tender tomorrow (Sunday) at Rarotonga, one of the Cook Islands. Today it rained quite a bit and the sea is a bit rough with high winds. Let’s hope that tomorrow is a better day. We’re all pretty itchy to get off the ship!