Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Down in the boondocks

Yesterday I decided to explore the dock area and the southeast end of the island, including the power plant. Walking south from the Lori Lyn Apartments, about a half-mile, you come to Kammer Beach. It is the first in a series of nice beaches that travel southwest toward the Dynasty Hotel (Kammer Beach, Taga Beach, and Tachogna Beach).

From there I turned west towards the docks—in fact the docks start at the side of Kammer beach and run for several blocks. There are a couple of construction/dock companies, or perhaps shipyards that you pass, then you come to the dock area itself.

The main dock area was built by the Seabees during WWII, and continues to stand today (although it is deteriorating badly). The last typhoon to hit the island (named King Kong, or as they titled it locally, Kong-Rey) damaged the dock area severely. During the last month or so they have been doing repairs to the dock (which simply means lots and lots of concrete!), and are just putting the final touches on their work. You will notice other structures damaged due to the typhoon--specifically a large building that is nothing more than a shell!

At one time several large ships—perhaps five or six—could have been accommodated here, as they have one long arm against the shore, and another shorter arm farther out. But now, only the dock against the shore is available. I have seen two ships at dock, and perhaps three could be accommodated.

Generally, there are only two ships that come to Tinian: the Dynasty Ferry and a cargo ship that comes to deliver goods from Guam or Saipan. We have talked about the ferry that runs between Saipan and Tinian several times a week, mainly to bring tourists to the Dynasty casino. The cargo ship has a large crane on the back to load and off-load goods, as the dock itself has no crane or other facilities to off-load material. Should the U.S. military decide to use the property they have leased on Tinian, they might decide to re-open the larger port area.

Tucked behind and to the west of the main dock is a smaller dock for small water craft. There are very few places for a boat to tie-up, so most pull their boats every day. There is a smaller cargo boat that comes to this dock almost every day. A small boom-truck from the island meets the boat and off-loads the cargo onto the back of the same truck, then delivers the goods around the island.

Just outside the dock area is a long man-made reef or barrier wall that protects the dock from damage from storms—most of the time anyway. It is made of steel panels and concrete blocks, all of which is slowly rusting away.

You will notice in the pictures that nothing is wasted on the island. There is a rusted bucket of bolts dry-docked just a few feet away that two men were using a welding torch on. At first I assumed that they were taking it apart (just look at the thing!), but to my surprise, they were not using cutting torches, they were using welding torches to weld supports inside the frame of the ship—they are in the process of repairing it!

From the dock I followed a small dirt road heading west along the coast. At numerous points along the way, small roads diverted to the shore where beach areas could be found. The dirt road came to a dead-end, so I had to back-track a ways to find another road leading north to the main (paved) road leading to the power plant. This small road reached the western end of the man-made reef, which closed the western end by running into the shore.

Along this road I came to some old buildings with a sign in front of them. It was here that the first sugar cane plantation was started back in the early 1900s. Tinian Island became known as “Sugar Island” due to the large amount of sugar cane grown here. At one time there were two sugar factories that produced 1,200 tons of sugar each! However, the war brought all of this prosperity to an end. Now, little is grown on the island—almost all food has to be shipped in.

There is also a small monument to the suicide victims of the war. Thousands of Japanese soldiers and civilians jumped off the sheer cliffs along the eastern side of the island, rather than be captured by the American forces. There is a much larger and more appropriate memorial right at suicide cliff, so it is puzzling why this one is here.

On to the power plant! Tinian’s power plant is relatively new, having been built in conjunction with the casino. It was over-built, with the assumption that the island would bring in a lot of business, and additional casinos. As a result, the severe power outage problems faced by other islands in the CNMI are not experienced on Tinian. Perhaps the only oversight was not putting in a back-up generator. The power plant is a large diesel powered generator. If the generator ever goes down, even for maintenance, all the power on the island is down also.

At the end of the road leading to the power plant, a dirt road continues until it hits the ocean. There is no beach here, but a beautiful view of jagged, volcanic rocks and crashing waves.

Having taken a much longer walk the day before, I decided to head back to the village. I had forgotten to bring my water, so by this time I was really dragging. Fortunately, Mario the power guy came to my rescue! As I was heading up the dirt road that leads north to the main road going to the village, Mario was driving down towards me. He stopped, looked me over, and asked if I would like to have a drink of water (he always carries a 5 gal water container in the back of his truck for the power crews). I quickly agreed, and soon had some very cold water to quench my thirst. We talked for a while, and, in parting, he said he would be looking for me on the roads—so that he could come to my rescue again!

It was a warm sunny day, and I was really dragging as I walked along the paved road back to town (this is the same road that goes to the city dump and turtle cove). I stopped at Fleming Store to get some water and some more Sugar Pops for Terri, then headed home.

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