Fanning Island

From Palmyra Atoll, we travelled 200 miles southeast to Fanning Island, another atoll in the Northern Line Group of the Line Islands. Fanning Island is part of the Republic of Kiribati, so this would be our first exit from the U.S. into another country since leaving Seattle last September, over 4,000 miles ago.

The entry channel has plenty of depth, but current there can run at 4-5 knots. We’d arrived about an hour before low water slack on a 1.7-foot exchange and conditions looked good to enter. The current still was ebbing a bit, but we had no trouble passing through.


Most of the atoll is shallow with coral heads throughout. We anchored just south of the channel off the main village, flying a yellow quarantine flag until we’d cleared into the country. We’d attempted to make radio contact several times before entering, as the Kiribati administration requested, but it turns out the village radio was not working. Shortly after we’d anchored, however, a skiff came out from the village with officials representing customs and quarantine, and the police chief representing immigration.

They reviewed our papers and requested a brief inspection of the vessel. Generally the process went smoothly and efficiently. Spitfire wandered out on deck during our meeting, and his paperwork was in order as well. Once we’d cleared into the country, we swapped the quarantine flag for the Kiribati courtesy flag.


The Fanning Island population is about 2,000, and fishing is a major activity. No matter what time of day or night, someone always seemed to be out fishing, either from shore or by boat.

A road reportedly rings much of the island, so we brought the bikes ashore to check it out. In the picture below left, we’ve landed at the pier you can see in the background of the topmost picture of Dirona at anchor. The picture below right is the road heading north towards the channel. The main settlement and administrative buildings are to the left of that photo. Generally the village was clean and tidy, and appeared well-run.

The road was wide enough for a truck until we got to the southeast end, then it became more of a footpath, but still quite rideable, with stone bridges across small channels.

We’d apparently set off during rush hour: the road was quite busy–we passed several trucks and many groups walking or bicicyling. Bicycles are a particularly common mode of transportation here. We also saw the occasional motorcycle and moped. The people were very friendly, pretty much everyone smiled widely and said hello as we passed.

Most of the buildings were built in a traditional style, with thatched roofs. In front of those in the picture below left, a large pit has been dug with plants growing inside. This was fairly common. We also saw at least a half-dozen larger gathering places like the one below right.

Other sights along the way: bananas and a sleeping pig.

From 2000-2008, Fanning Island was a weekly stop for the Honolulu-based Norwegian Cruise Lines ships to work around Jones Act restrictions that a commercial ship built outside the US cannot travel directly between two US ports. We saw several signs and other vestiges of their presence there. In earlier history, Fanning Island also was the terminus of the British Pacific telephone cable from Barkley Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. Now we’ve been at both ends. From Fanning, the cable system linked to Australia via the South Pacific.


We eventually reached a point near the southeast tip where the bridge across a channel was gone, and turned back. We might have carried the bikes across, but the day was becoming hot and we we felt we’d gone far enough already. We stopped on the way back for lunch overlooking the lagoon.

We did a dive the next morning. We anchored the dinghy in about 25 feet just south of the entrance channel outside the atoll and dove south to 60-feet. The quantity and variety of sea life was amazing: 3′ Giant Trevally and Double Header Wrasses, the biggest we’ve seen; schools of Barracuda that circled us completely; many varietes of Butterflyfish and Angelfish, in particular the striking Flame and Golden-Spotted Angelfish; and a sea turtle. Unfortunately the camera battery hadn’t been charged properly, so we didn’t get pictures for this one.

We’d arrived on a Wednesday, and originally planned to stay until the following Monday, but the weather was looking to deteriorate over the weekend, so we decided to leave for Nuku Hiva after the dive instead.

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7 comments on “Fanning Island
  1. Michael Dusek thank you all for your detailed encounters while visitingFanning Island. I was fortunate enough to sail from Honolulu to Fanning in 2000 as a deckhand bringing supplies for NCL to begin the project that needless to say was entirely a waste of money for them due to the Jones Act being overturned midway into the project.But what an experience I had! Nearly a year on the most beautiful place Ive ever seen.I recall cruising one morning on the north side of the island and not being able to move through a pile of giant eagle rays that seemed to be mating. The sight of more than 200 of these huge creatures gently swimming in pairs while keeping perfect synchronicity with one another was next to seeing my own child being born in terms of amazement for myself.

    • Wow, that sounds ike fun Michael. We did see some Norwegian Cruise Line buildings still there on Fanning Island. I’ll bet you had an incredible time while there. We did a dive just outside of the entrance channel and really enjoyed it. We didn’t see has many Manta Rays as you did while at Fanning but we did see a group of 30 or so Ray’s on one of the dives we did at nearby Palmyra Atol.

  2. Good hearing from you Filo and, yup, we are having a ball. It’s been a pretty big adventure so far.


  3. Eric, you are right, the stay in Fanning was too short. Partly we didn’t waste much time while there doing a ride of the island on our bikes one day, and explore around the lagoon via dinghy, and then diving the channel the next day. But other part of our motivation to keep things moving is we have friends who we want to meet in French Polynesia. They are coming in from Mexico and a week ahead of so we want to make sure we get a chance to get together with them.

    We did enjoy Fanning and could easily have spent a week there.


  4. filo says:

    very cool!

  5. Eric Meslow says:

    Great update! I follow you two daily. I was wondering why the short stay…but it makes sense watching you guys slog your way against the current and wind and waves.

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