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PAGO PAGO: One day the Port Captain of Pago Pago called all ships in the harbour with a request if anyone could conceive of going to the little atoll of Swains Island, some 220 nautical miles to the north, carrying provisions. Departure was as soon as possible.
Palangi in paradise

THE REEF: The reef around Swains Island is massive, and there is no lagoon. Visiting boats must therefore stay at anchor on the narrow shelf of land just outside the reef, or drift for weather and helm for as long as they stay.
Cyclone season is approaching, and the freighter M/V Sili, that usually does these trips about 2-4 times a year, had just been in dry dock, and was not seaworthy for the moment. Swains Island is a privately owned island, that was all but destroyed by cyclone Percy in 2005. The approximately 50 inhabitants there have since lived in American Samoa, awaiting the reconstruction of their community. This time with modern standards and internet link to the school and administration. Swains Island, or Olosenga as it is called in Polynesian, is geographically a part of the Tokelau islands, one of the most desolate and least visited areas of the enormous Pacific Ocean. (The Pacific alone covers almost one half of the earths surface). None of the altogether four atolls there have airports. Two janitors, Palapi and Alatina, now live on the island, making repairs and preparing the reconstruction. It was these two that hadn’t had visitors in almost two months, and who needed our aid.

We at Underveis saw an opportunity to return all the favors and hospitality that we have enjoyed here, and the opportunity to visit an island that practically no one else not living on the island ever has visited. As islanders from the island of Røst, we also know how precarious life can be with communications breaking down. We volunteered, and already the following morning we took onboard the cargo bound for the two chaps at Swains, and set sail. The distance of some 220 nautical miles each way, is roughly equivalent to the distance between Bergen and Shetland. Getting there took us two days, and when our sails rose to the horizon, the two boys came speeding out in their skiff to welcome us, being very happy indeed to see us.

Swains Island doesn’t have a seawater lagoon, and no proper passes in the coral reef surrounding the island where one can enter. We therefore had to sail all the way up to the reef and anchor faithful Underveis as close to the reef as possible. Only a hundred meters from the reef, the seabed plunges to a depth of more than 600 meter, and continuing downwards, so it is steep and hard to find a good spot to anchor. With the help and guidance of our newfound friends, we were able to find a good anchorage, and spent two entire days exploring the island, hunting langusters, a Pacific lobster without claws, and eating coconut crabs, big crabs that live on terra firma and eats coconuts.

JANITORS: Palapi and Alatina are like janitors in Swains Island, and they are preparing the islands infrastructure for the planned rebuilding after the Cyclone Percy hit the island in 2005. Here they are dragging their skiff over the shallow reef and into the beach, carrying us in it. Behind Palapi can be seen ”the landing”, constituting little more than a crack in the massice reef!

# Swains Island is an atoll in the Tokelau chain, the most northwesterly island administered by American Samoa. Culturally a part of the Tokelau Islands, politically it is an unorganized territory of the United States of America. Swains Island has also been known at various times as Olosenga Island, Olohega Island, Quiros Island, Gente Hermosa Island, and Jennings Island.

# Swains Island has a total area of 1.865 km2, of which 1.508 km2 (151 ha) is land. The central lagoon accounts for the balance of 0.358 km2. There is a small islet of 764 m2 in the eastern part of the lagoon. The atoll is somewhat unusual, featuring an unbroken circle of land enclosing a freshwater lagoon cut off from the sea.

# Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, a Portuguese navigator sailing for Spain, is believed to have been the first European explorer to have discovered Swains Island on 2 March 1606. He named it Isla de la Gente Hermosa, which means "island of the beautiful people" in Spanish. Later, there was an expedition from Fakaofo to the island. The male inhabitants of the island either fled or were killed by the invaders, while the women were taken back to Fakaofo. The subsequent infertility of the island is attributed to a curse placed on it by its last chief.

# In February 2005, Cyclone Percy struck the island, causing widespread damage and virtually destroying the village of Taulaga, as well as the old Jennings estate at Etena. Fortunately, only seven people were on the island at the time. Coast Guard airdrops ensured that the islanders were not left without food, water and other necessities. A Coast Guard visit in March 2007 listed 12 to 15 inhabitants, and showed that the island's trees had largely survived Percy's wrath.

# The currency is USD, but there are no ATMs on the island. Nor anything else, apart from the dwellings of those who live there, a Toyota 4 WD motor car, a generator, a small skiff and an SSB radio.

(Source: Wikipedia)

PURE EXPERT: The art of climbing coconut trees for coconuts is taught from childhood in Polynesia. Alatina jumped up and fetched us some. Rune drank nine coconuts on the first day alone. It was so hot!
THE TREE OF LIFE: ”The tree of life”, the Polynesians call the coconut tree. They use the tree and the leaves to build houses, baskets, boats and all sorts of things with, and the coconut itself can be eaten at all stages, even after it has started evolving into a new tree, as shown here. It can be drunk, eaten, used to feed hens, mosquito repellent and almost anything else you can imagine. They also make a very strong rope out of the fibers in the outer shell.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK: At Swains there are no telephones, and no postal services. Alatina and Palapi are isolated for months at a time. Here, Alatina is communicating through the SSB radio, their only link to the outside world.
Walking around on the sandy white beaches, with no trace of human activity, was an awkward feeling. Some places we saw the tracks of turtles that come ashore in the nights and lay their precious eggs. The palm trees in Swains Island are very tall, over a 100 foot! The Polynesians use the coconut for everything from food, drink, mosquito repellent and fodder for their poultry. On the first night, Finn Olav performed his flame spinning show down on the beach, juggling, spewing and swallowing fire.

As we were getting ready to depart, the two guys became a bit saddened, and declared that they missed their families and wives sometimes. They gave a big farewell banquet for us and gave us several baskets full of fish, coconuts, breadfruit, crabs, lobsters, palm leaves and bananas. And some packages with small gifts that they wanted us to give to their families. All contact with the mainland is by SSB radio. They have no telephone and no regular postal service. We were much more loaded upon our departure than when we had first arrived! Hopefully, the inhabitants of Swains Island will soon be able to move back home to new, cyclone safe homes and a newly constructed church, schoolhouse and infirmary.

After two days of sailing, we entered Pago Pago again, where senator Alex Jennings (the islands representative in the parliament of American Samoa) greeted us, and we gave him the gifts and unloaded the cargo, fruit and crabs that we brought for him and his family from Palapi and Alatina. When we had been away, the islands newspaper had written about our voyage, so we had almost become local celebrities.Jolly fun, and a very rewarding thing to be able to contribute a little. So far on our voyage we have too often felt like net receivers of hospitality and services, so we always try to do something in return. Palapi and Alatina received a picture book from Norway, a large cartoon od redwine, seasickness pills and some Cola glasses from us as thanks for the incredible hospitality that they had shown us. And for those of you that wonder about the title: Palangi means “white” in Polynesian, and is a term used to describe white people. It is not derogatory at all, but quite simply a way of denoting white people. It was a true privilege to be palangi in Swains Island, that’s for sure!

LOBSTER: In the Pacific there is a special species of lobster calle languster. They have no claws and live on the reef. At night they come out, and can be caught. Also a delicacy, straight from the casserole, as here.
COCONUT CRABS: The coconut crab is one of the biggest delicacies in the entire Pacific. They have come ashore permanently, and live in little caves in the sand. The coconut crab feeds on coconuts that it climbs the trees to find. Here Palapi is showing off to big and colorful specimen that are about to become our dinner!
MOORING: The skiff is moored on the reef itself when it is not being hauled out of the water.
Port Vila, Efate, 26.10.2008
FOOD AND SMOKE: Alatina carrying the precious goods ashore. Tobacco, flour, sugar, batteries and some personal effects from their families. You can imagine how good the smoke tasted”
THE KILL: The coconut crabs are big, strong and robust. Here, one is killed off by Palapi using a machete. A quick stab between the two larger claws, and it is over.
FAREWELL BANQUET: The whole gang gathered for our farewell banquet. It is the last day for us, and we have to get going. Lobster, uru (breadfruit), barracuda and coconut are on the menu. We ate until we couldn’t eat no more!
PROUD HUNTERS: Two proud hunters with the languster catch of the night. Armed with torches and spears they wander the reef searching for their prey.
ON OUT WAY OUT: We are on our way back out to Underveis, with the 13 foot aluminium skiff they use. Loaded with fruits, crabs and all sorts of good stuff.
THE LEFTOVERS: Emppty shells on three different plates. In the end, Alatina simply helped us peel lobster, so we wouldnt have to waste time, but only eat and enjoy ourselves!
AT ANCHOR IN THE MIDDLE OF ETERNITY: Underveis at anchor just outside the reef in dead calm weather. A few hundred meters behind the ship, the ocean bed plunges to some 2000 meters!
US TOGETHER: From the left: Rune, Alatina (wearing black), Palapi and Finni.
LOADED: Underveis was much more loaded when we left than when we arrived. It was sad to say goodbye, but that’s what it is like to be on our way all the time.
OVERHEATED: The two have an old wreck of a Toyota to help themselves with. There are only a few hundred meters of dirtroad son the island, but the car boiled over in the strong sunshine anyway.
COCONUT OIL: From the coconut tree they also retrieve a sweet oil that can be used for cooking and making sauces. Lovely, as everything else coming from this tree. (See the bottle to the top right in the picture.)