Saturday, March 20, 2010

Part 1-7 The Island of Sea Turtles, The Island of Seabirds

Now the Ryuusui-Maru was kicking up waves, moving North-West along the Hawaiian Island chain.
One day the sun came up and we found ourselves in sight of the French Frigate Shoals. The French Frigate Shoals are a crescent shaped coral reef, inside this reef are several a small, sand islands. We chose one of these islands and anchored the Ryuusui-Maru one nautical mile offshore.
We immediately lowered the fishing boat to send an exploration crew on land, and the fishing captain led five sailors and fisherman ashore.
When the fishing boat landed, the six men found several large, black, moving objects.
After going for a closer look, they found the objects were Chelonia mydas with meter long shells, shuffling about the island. Mixed in were a few hawksbill turtles as well.
"Catch every last one of them!"
Everyone, from one side of the island to the other, turned the turtles onto their backs.
Like this, with their heavy shells below them and short legs and neck which can only be pulled into their shells, the turtles are helpless. These large creatures are remarkably strong from the front, so if you are trying to turn one from the front you need three or four full-grown adults. However, from the back, a single person can roll one with ease. A single turtle weighs from 130 to about 220 kilograms.
They put the turtles in rope baskets, "and ready, and heave!" and in pairs hoisted the rope onto their shoulders and carried them to the fishing boat moored at the water's edge.
In the sheer delight of this catch, they carried more and more turtles, piling them up upside-down until it looked like the waves would come in over the gunwales.
"Thats enough already," shouted the fishing captain. "If we load any more the boat will sink under the turtles. Make as many trips as it takes!"
I, in charge of the men keeping watch back on the ship, was hugely satisfied with the catch brought back by the fishing boat, and loaded the the turtles upside-down onto the deck.
After this coral reef of sea-turtles, we continued further to the North-West.
We passed nearby a pyramid-like island whose upper peak was pure white. This island was called Gardener Island. No grass or trees grow on it and its peak is white from bird droppings.
There were just so many, it was an island of only birds. From far away, the flocking birds looked like paint splashed across the sky. The island itself looked marbled with fat.
At exactly noon of the second day after passing this island, the lookout spotted something that looked like two or three hairs growing out of the distant horizon. It was Laysan Island.
On this low coral island, green vines and weeds grow thick and beautiful over the white sand. The distinctive two coconut trees and one hornbeam tree standing on the island make it a good landmark for voyagers at sea. Ten odd years ago the Americans brought several workmen across the ocean and performed a large scale gathering of bird droppings, which was then sent to Hawaii as fertilizer for sugarcane.
There were a great many fish in the ocean around the island. In other words, there were many fish to eat, so birds flocked there too.

Since the Ryuusui-Maru had set sail out of Honolulu, more than one month passed before we knew it. When we arrived near the deserted Lisianski Island, it was already mid-May.
We brought the boat near Lisianski Island and dropped the anchor. Here we checked the alignment of our chronometer; the exact clock used to determine the position of a boat. After measuring the height of the AM, PM and noon sun with the sextant, and then calculating the latitude and longitude, we found that our chronometer was still exact.
Lisianski Island is a low sand island. Grass and small trees grew and there were many seabirds, sea-turtles and fish. Several seals, like the owners of the island, sat on the beach. When they saw us coming, they fled to the sea.
The name of this island is Russian, named in memory of the captain of the Russian ship that discovered it in 1805.
On May seventeenth, after exploring this island, the Ryuusui-Maru headed further to the North-West, for the last island of the Hawaiian Island chain. We were heading for water, and Midway Island.
At this time, the quarry loaded onto the Ryuusui-Maru was one-thousand shark, three-hundred-and-twenty Chelonia mydas, two-hundred hawksbills and many, many seabirds.

Of the seabirds, the Albatross is the biggest. It's meat is edible though it doesn't taste good, and it's eggs can be eaten as well. The large tail feathers are used to decorate Western-style hats for women and the soft breast feathers are good for lining the inside of women's coats. The other feathers are exported as stuffing for pillows and blankets.
When an albatross takes flight from the ocean, as long as there is wind, it need only face it, stretch it's large wings, and it will waft into the air with no difficulty at all. However, when there is no wind they must flap their wings, kick and run over the surface of the water before they jump into flight, just like other birds.
On land, the albatross is a terribly awkward runner and walker. Anyone can come at one from the front and simply pull out it's wings and there is nothing the bird can do. For this they are so fittingly called the "Fool's Bird." Even more, in the gigantic flocks on deserted islands, they can be easily struck down by anyone with a strong pole.
In any case, the Ryuusui-Maru had a fantastic catch, we had already met our goals for exploring these islands. Once we had dug up drinking water on Midway Island, we could sail straight from there, upon the ocean, home to Japan.
Everyone on the Ryuusui-Maru was filled with high spirits.

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