Ebon Atoll

EBON: Type of basket, which the atoll is thought to be shaped like

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FACT FILE
Number of Islets: 22 Population: 706 Land Area: 2.22 square miles Lagoon Area: 40.09 square miles Yacht permit fee: $25 Mayor: Ione L. deBrum

This most southern atoll in the Marshalls was the island that had the first permanent settlement of missionaries from the Boston Congregational Church in 1857. Its southern location ensures that the Ebon islands are always lush and green. In 1994, Ebon was the last of the inhabited atolls to get a runway, finally removing its fame as one of the most isolated places on the planet.

Its more recent claim to fame, however, is that on January 30, 2014, castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga landed on Ebon’s shores after drifting 6,700-miles over 13 months in a small boat. A Salvadorian national, Jose had been working as a fisherman in Mexico. His fishing partner died relatively early in the voyage. To read more about the extraordinary story, click on this link to the London Daily Mail. (Note: The author of this web site covered the story exclusively for the Mail.)

By Spike Jackson of the yacht Holokai in 2008

Description: Ebon is the island with the first permanent settlement of missionaries from the Boston Congregational Church in 1857. This is an important occasion for the Marshallese. Locals are hoping to transform the original Missionary House into a Museum.  Ebon was the last inhabited atoll in the Marshalls to get a runway, allowing Air Marshall Islands to begin a weekly service to what was, before 1994, one of the most isolated places on the planet.   Ebon is infrequently visited by yachts.  Its nearest neighbors are the small atoll of Namorik, 117 km to the northwest and Jaluit, which has a ‘yacht capable’ lagoon.

Its location gives Ebon one of the highest annual rainfalls of any atoll in the Republic.  The vegetation is lush with taro, bananas, papayas, lime trees and other fruits and vegetables. The locals would appreciate pumpkin and watermelon seeds.

Most people live Ebon-Ebon which is neat and clean.  The homes are much more separated then on other atolls in the RMI.  Children from the east side walk or bike 5 miles to and from school.   Toke island and Enilok island also have small villages.  Some of the other small islands have a few people living there.

Useful contacts (as of 2008) include:

  • Arby Reuben lives at end of runway and has excellent English.
  • Mart (sounds like Mark), radio operator on Toke island.
  • Pastor, Presbyterian Church: Carter (they have a radio, call sign ‘Rube’, pronounced rube-ay)
  • Senior guy in that area: Aaron Silk
  • Paul Capelle, recently moved into small house newly built from local materials, spent 17 years in Hawai’i so has excellent English

Aaron Silk also speaks good English.  Said there are 35+ local canoes tucked in under the trees, a race recently fielded 25-30.   One middle-aged man knows how to build them and is instructing the younger men, most of who are eager to learn.   ‘Holokai’ discussed possibility of sending used sails from yachties at the end of the season.  Also described the ‘Yokwe Net’ (frequency 6.224 at 7:45am each day) and encouraged local radio operators to listen/join

Facilities:

  • Ebon has one truck that can be ‘hired’ for a supply of your own gas.   The operator is free.  Expect for many other people to ride along on your journey, taking advantage of the vehicle operating.
  • several radios
  • a small island store,
  • small clinic with ‘doctor’ who seems to know what she is doing
  • New (2008) and well-maintained Council building opposite school that has a modern kitchen and three bedrooms upstairs.
  • The airport has a small terminal building and occasional  planes.
  • Ebon is consistently in the top five copra-producing atolls, they have a regular copra ship run.

Sailing Information: The circular-shaped atoll consists of a deep central lagoon covering 104 km². It is about 6 miles across, surrounded by 22 islets on the east, south and west sides. They have a combined land area of 5.75 km².

Pass: The only pass is located on the southwest side.  The winding Ebon Channel leads into the lagoon and entry should only be attempted at slack tide, with very good light.  Even at slack tide a swift flow, small whirlpools and strong eddies will be encountered (see images above).

Ebon Channel splits into two possible channels. 

All anchorages are deep.  The near coast shelf is just a few feet deep and scattered with coral heads.  This shelf rapidly drops off to the lagoon shelf of about 100 feet.  There are no anchorages less than 70 feet deep but 100 feet is typical once you allow for scope and swing room.

Enilok Anchorage  N4 36.846 E168 40.330  (70 feet)  This is located on the west coast.  Though exposed to the prevailing trade winds it lies behind the coral reef and very little motion is felt.    There is a long reef about 150 feet from shore which stretches the entire island and up to Toke Island to the north.  Between this reef and shore is mostly deep water but it is impossible to make entry into these secluded waters.  You anchor outside this reef and inside the extensive reef which makes the north pass.

Ebon Ebon Village Anchorage  N4 34.812 E168 42.077  (70 feet) This is strictly a day anchorage and only in very light winds.  It is on a lee shore and subject to the fetch of the entire lagoon under prevailing wind conditions.  This anchorage quickly becomes untenable with more than 15 knots of wind.

East Anchorage  N4 36.790 E168 46.066 (100 feet) This is well sheltered in prevailing winds but very far from the village center.  Anchor well off shore to allow for swing room due to the depth of the anchorage and the required scope.

The following is an excerpt from the diary of trader James Lyle Young who visited Ebon in 1876 on the brig ‘Vision’:

The only entrance into the lagoon is on the S.W. side, between the islets of Mej and Jurij, it is long and has a sharp bend in it and is dangerous on account of the strong tides and eddies.

The first part of the passage (from outside to the inner ends of Mej and Jurij, (Emej and Enearmij on map below) is about 600 yards in length and from 200 to 300 yards in width, the course through this part is N. by E. 1/4 E.

On reaching this spot with the inner ends of the two islands, the passage narrows to 150 yards in width and the channel divides with two with

  • one branch running off to the North West round Mej islet (this branch is not practicable owing to its crookedness) and
  • the other running E. N. E. into lagoon. Following this channel for about 1200 yards on an E. N. E course the deep open water of the lagoon is reached. This part of passage is of an average width of 150 yards or perhaps 170 yards and at the inner end it is 120 yards only. About 300 yards from the inner end a branch goes off to the Northward which may be followed but it is better to keep the straight channel if possible.

Throughout the whole length of the passage very strong eddies prevail; the tides running quite 8 knots on Springs. 3 to 4 knots on neap tides. There is 15 to 25 fathoms of water in the passage but hardly room to anchor in case of wind failing or heading ship off. Anchorage is formed inside in 15 fathoms off mission station, on a lee-shore however with the prevailing winds (N.E.). There the “Maria” schooner was wrecked on getting under way.

There is anchorage outside off the S.W. point, just abreast off mission station close to reef if the N.E. wind is steadily but it is not to be recommended, here the “Glencoe” schooner was captured and all hands murdered in 1852.

Small vessels anchor off Jurij island on the East side of passage, about 300 yards inside the mouth, in 7 fathoms coral bottom with two anchors out close to the shore. This anchorage is safe enough in Easterly or S.E. weather but only for vessels under 100 tons, and it is desirable to bring up on it at slack water as it is on the edge of the tide way. There is a considerable amount of current 4 ê 5 knots on springs on this anchorage and even a small vessel has barely room to swing when the tide turns, if she swings round inshore.

The best way is to come in at slack water and drop one anchor then when the tide begins to run pay out say 30 to 35 fathoms and when the vessel tautens the chain under the influence of the current, drop the second anchor and haul in on the first one, until there is about 20 fathoms out on each anchor. If a vessel is anchored in the proper spot she will generally swing round at the turn of the tide out shore, but it is advisable to have a kedge and line ready to cause her to do so, should she incline to swing around inshore, as there is very little room. The depth of water in center of passage should the anchors drag off the ledge is from 17 to 25 fathoms but the current is too strong to lie there with safety. No vessel should lie here, even in steady trade-wind season, a moment longer than is absolutely necessary.

 

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