The Tabuaeran Atoll, also known as Fanning Island, is part of the Kiribati Republic which is comprised of 32 coral atolls (24 are inhabited). Atolls are defined by a ring-shaped coral/sand land area and an interior lagoon. Some lagoons can be accessed from the ocean through either man-made or natural channels. In the 1800s, the British blasted a deep water channel through the coral to be able access the lagoon anchorage and landing pier.
The Fanning's shape resembles a human footprint and was aptly named Tabuaeran which loosely translates as "human footprint." It consists of an oval-shaped coral reef surrounded by white sand beaches. The 426 square miles of lagoon is surrounded by an oval strip of 13 square miles of land. The lagoon is mostly shallow with a maximum depth of 50 feet. The land is thickly covered with native bush and coconut palms up to 90 feet high.
The majority of the population, numbering about 2,000, is employed harvesting coconuts and farming seawed, mostly for markets in Japan. There is no electricity and sanitation infrastructure. Recently, several block houses were constructed with metal roofs and solar panels. Another innovation which came to the island is a satellite Internet connection. As on other Pacific Islands, missionaries came here to convert the pagan natives as evidenced by a Catholic and Protestant church located on this small atoll.
There is a marker on the island in honor of William Greig who settled the island in 1857. He declared himself the "King of Fanning Island" while living there. Not sure if the locals were his willing subjects. Earlier on June 11, 1798, the then-uninhabited atoll was discovered by American Captain Edmund Fanning who earned the moniker "Pathfinder of the Pacific."
Cruisers will find a small market near the landing pier with some local crafts, such as shell jewelry, baskets and wood carvings. There are no other facilities here for cruisers.
We met a couple in their late 30s from a recently arrived sailboat Pinnochio, a 44-foot steel-hulled vessel. They have been sailing for three years with seven kids aged three to 15. The youngest was six weeks old when they left from Montreal three years ago. Pinnochio was anchored for four days, next to a 70 ft steel cargo boat plying the waters of the Kiribati Islands. They are on the way to Hawaii, Vancouver, BC, and finslly returning home to Montreal via the challenging Northern Passage.
The natives were very friendly. As can be seen from the pictures, Debbe was the Pied Pieper for the local children who flocked to her to hold her hand.