Captain's Log #38, 31 August 2005

PICTON CASTLE's Days in the Lagoon

Rikitea, Mangareva, French Polynesia

In the days to follow at anchor at Rikitea, Picton Castle crew tended to taking care of their ship in ways we could not do at sea. The pine decks got oiled again, which is very important to do. Susanna and her sail-making gang took rolls of canvas ashore to the nice new village pier where we laid out a new flying jib and did the last layout and final cutting of new foresail. It was a perfect sunny calm day for laying out sails and the smooth cement wharf was just right too. We found that our stalwart and much-abused Cape Island skiff had taken a strain and was leaking more than a ship's launch and rescue boat should. So we got a bunch of hands and pulled her up on a convenient public boat ramp for inspection and repairs. We launched our Lunenburg dory, too. Rikitea is a perfect lagoon for small boat sailing.

After a couple days the ship started to look white again due to the efforts of the duty watch and the application of a few buckets of paint. Progress was slowed perhaps by a gaggle of kids who swam and paddled surf boards out to the Picton Castle from shore to petition the notion that we might rig a "Tarzan Rope" and that they could then swing off it and plunge into the waters of the lagoon perhaps, maybe indefinitely forever. Sure, why not? So, every day the ship was crawling with kids diving, swinging, splashing and running around laughing and squealing, asking a thousand questions, wanting to know if they could this or that, go here or there. It was a lot of fun. Jeff Hicks's French is pretty good, so he rode herd on these pint-size hooligans. We had to put a halt to this for one day to get the decks oiled. Later the kids paddled out with bags of Pamplemouse as thank you gifts to us. Merci beaucoup to young Tivini and Thierry. "Pamplemous" is the French word for grapefruit but we use the term to distinguish South Pacific grapefruit from all others. Much sweeter, flavour a bit different and utterly delicious. They grow everywhere, even along the road. You can help yourself to a fallen one but don't wander into a yard to pick one up or off a tree.

One of the finest things to do at a beautiful Polynesian island is to go on a picnic. It goes like this. We could stock up on provisions from the ship but we have been eating nothing else for weeks, so we don't do that. Instead you pack a bag with what we need—a knife, a cup or two, maybe a cork-screw and even some bread-sticks if there are any left—and hop into the skiff for the boat ride into the village landing. There we set about finding the "Chinese Store." Sounds a bit racist but doesn't seem to be. Years ago, immigrants from China set up stores all over the South Pacific. Even if the store is not actually run by an islander of Chinese extraction, it is often still called the Chinese Store. It seems that many of these stores are run by someone who appears to be oriental or partly so. In any case, off to the Chinese store. They are simply a kind of corner general store with a bit of everything, including baguettes, cheese, fruit, wine, cold Hinano beer, cookies, postcards, soap, and a selection of pareos too, even good for a picnic blanket if you are not already so equipped. Today we buy a baguette, some Brie and Camenbert fromage, a couple of Oranginas, a bottle of wine, a cucumber, a couple of Kit-Kat chocolate bars and a piece of preserved mango out of a big jar. All this goes into a fine a Pitcairn basket to tote. We don't have Francs Polynaise but we are in luck—US dollars will be taken instead with some exchange scribbled on a piece of cardboard that is serving for accounts receivable today.

Now, unless you have some place specific in mind, you wander down the road that passes along the lagoon's edge. From time to time folks pass by in a truck or on a scooter perhaps, always with pleasant "Bon Jour!" Sooner or later you find a lovely spot to sir over-looking the lagoon and islands. Under a shade tree for sure but never under a coconut palm tree. If one falls while you are having your sweet picnic and hits you on the head that could be curtains. Not much more to say about picnics; can be done with a group or solo. They key is to go slow. We have all heard of fast food. This is slow food. It is import to have a pretty setting and not be in a rush.

Sunday rolled around and the entire crew was encouraged to give church a try. They were assured that lightning was very rare around here so it was unlikely that they would be struck down as any of them crossed the threshold into the sanctum within. Dress nicely, demonstrate respect, meet people and become washed over with the amazing harmonies of Pacific congregational singing; and it probably wouldn't kill anyone to pause for a moment or two of reflection, either. The church—a cathedral really—has quite some history or infamous legacy, depending on how you look at it. In the early 1800s a very energetic priest came to Mangareva to save the heathen. Estimates of population at the time hover around 6,000 souls. The priest, a Father Laval, got the ear of the head guy, king, chief, what have you, who told the islanders to do what this guy says and he set about on a building spree that leaves much architecture around until today including this massive and quite beautiful church. It was, however, a little harder on the locals whose population which went down to something like 500. This decline took several decades, and there may have been other factors as well, such the Peruvians' nasty ploy of kidnapping large gangs of Pacific islanders into slavery in Peru. But with disease and malnutrition due to having stopped farming and fishing in order to build these massive things of stone, the Mangareva folks took a beating. At some point people got pretty sick of that program and things changed again. This cathedral of volcanic stone and coral was at one time the largest church in the Pacific, we are told. As was church policy from Roman times, it sits on the site of the most important Marae or holy site on the island. It holds 1,200—or about twice as many folks as there are to attend even if everybody in Mangareva were to go. And many do go.

Some of the crew got to visit a Black Pearl Farm. Emile—a friendly Mangarevan who drove down to the wharf one day with his French-Korean pal Kim just to see what was going on (a wharf being a proper and fitting locale from which to witness the goings on of the world)—has a pearl farm. We were invited to go take a look-see. It turns out that Emile is related to the Pitcairn Islanders through a Young that came to Mangareva and settled years ago. Emile told me that many of the folks here are related to the Pitcairn crowd. Pitcairn families even own some land here, nice centre-of-the village, lagoon-front land. They better come and claim it some day soon, methinks. Anyway, a bunch of crew piled into Emile's speedboat and rocketed off to inspect his pearl farm. Black pearls are the big source of income here and they are doing quite well at it, too. Some of the Picton Castle crew bought finished pearls in one or two family shops ashore but everyone is looking forward to Rarotonga for more of the gems. Pearls are something oysters do not want. But what do oysters know?

A black industrial-looking vessel steamed into Rikitea while were here, the Southern Salvor, a former oil supply boat, now a vessel serving Pitcairn island as a supply ship, was taking cement and heavy tools to the island as well as workers. One of the crew is Jason, a lad from Pitcairn and a good friend of Pania's, so we had a visit; sent him packing with small things to the island as that's where they were headed. We thought we would send all our empty banana stalks back to Pitcairn and ask for refills or our deposit back. That was sort of a joke.

One day whilst walking about the village, we chanced to become acquainted with a family who suggested, "Why do we not have a traditional dance party on board your ship?" Not being able to think of a good reason why we should not do so, we were left with the proposition to, in fact do just that. It became paramount that we host a big traditional Mangareva dance fest on the deck of the Picton Castle. While enjoying a cup of coffee with our acquaintances we made some calls and this became the mission of the day. Excitement was building, you could feel it. "Danse sur le grand voilier dans le lagon! Ce soir!"

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Putting_the_skiff_back_in_the_water,_Mangareva (19K)

Putting the skiff back in the water, Mangareva.

Susannah_and_her_gang_lay_out_the_sail--Mhairi,_Ivan,_Paulina,_and_Andrea_M.,_Mangareva (25K)

Susannah and her gang lay out the sail -- Mhairi, Ivan, Paulina and Andrea M., Mangareva.

Laying_out_the_foresail._Amanda_and_Andrea_M._help_Susannah_our_sailmaker,_Mangareva (22K)

Laying out the foresail. Amanda and Andrea M. help Susannah, our sailmaker, Mangareva.

Kimbers_and_David_Matthews_having_a_picnic,_Captain_taking_photos._Mangareva (31K)

Kimbers and David Matthews having a picnic, Captain taking photos, Mangareva.

Early_Sunday_morning_in_Rikitea._Most_Island_residents_are_in_church._Mangareva (19K)

Early Sunday morning in Rikitea. Most island resident are in church, Mangareva.

Removing_the_pearl_from_the_shell_at_the_pearl_farm,_Mangareva (20K)

Removing the pearl from the shell at the pearl farm, Mangareva.

Captain's Log #37, 31 August 2005

In the Lagoon off Rikitea

The Picton Castle swings at her anchor chain just off the beach inside the protected lagoon at Rikitea, Mangareva. The lagoon is still; we can even hear the occasional dog bark. The Gambier Islands Group, often called after its principal island of Mangareva, is the most southeasterly of the large swath of islands that make up French Polynesia. Rikitea is one of the best anchorages in the South Pacific and one of the most beautiful island settings in French Polynesia, which is to say, in the entire South Pacific. Our ship has been over a month at sea and banging around Pitcairn; the hook down securely will bring a welcome respite.

We put in to Mangareva mostly because it is such a good anchorage in delightful French Polynesia but we have an aim as well. The natural setting of several high islands within a coral ring of an outlying atoll formation makes for perfect small boat sailing and handling, in particular, overnight longboat expeditions. So this is what we set out to do here at Mangareva. Soon the 23-foot Monomoy—designed as a surf rescue boat for the treacherous Nantucket Shoals ship graveyard region off Cape Cod—will be rigged, laden with supplies, radio check-ins and routes confirmed and ten sailors will be off, to return the next day. This we will do three times, until everyone who wishes has a chance to sail away in the longboat. Strongly encouraged, this expedition is very popular. The Monomoy is, incidentally, virtually identical to the "copra boats" that every island out here used to have several of not so long ago. These boats were used to get goods and people in and out through the passes to the waiting schooners and later to small freighters. They're all gone now, except for ours.

The longboat, in the command of Sam the Mate, has just pulled away and set sail for Aukena, an island inside the barrier reef about three miles away. We can see Aukena from the ship in the lagoon. It's a small volcanic mountain surrounded by beach and turquoise waters. Even with lots of crew sailing off in the longboat, plenty will still be going on ashore and aboard. Onboard, the Bosun has swung out the work skiff to launch so we can put the sea-stained topsides to rights. The watch has clambered aloft to loose all the canvas sails to dry them out thoroughly after their soaking of the day before. Today, lots of airing the ship out after the wet frontal passage.

Captain Dan Moreland

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Picton_Castle_drying_sails,_sending_down_the_foresail_to_get_repaired_and_painting_rusty_topsides,_Mangareva (20K)

PICTON CASTLE drying sails, sending down the foresail to get repaired and painting rusty topsides.

Monomoy_leaving_to_go_on_an_overnight,_Mangareva (33K)

Monomoy leaving to go on an overnight, Mangareva.

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Monomoy returning to the ship, Mangareva.

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The Monomoy returns to the ship incognito, Magareva.

Captain's Log #36, 30 August 2005

Passage to Mangareva

After a little get-together on deck with all hands of the ship and the many that came out in the boat, it came time to carry on. We said some emotional good-byes and then it was over the side into the waiting long-boat. The Good-Bye song spread across the widening water followed by a cheer for Pitcairn by the ship's crew and the visit came to a close. The big Pitcairn longboat with Randy at the tiller and all of us waving like mad, made a flying pass at the Picton Castle and chugged away headed for the landing in Bounty Bay. Once again the Picton Castle was alone in the ocean. We braced around the backed main-yards and pointed the jib-boom to the WNW and steered for Mangareva in light conditions.

As Pitcairn shrunk astern, all hands mustered on the quarterdeck to be reminded that as sweet as Pitcairn was and is for us, we were now at sea again and that meant we must also be seamen again with all that that construes and implies. Also, Jane somehow missed out on bread-sticks while ashore so it seemed necessary to make some. Irma's and Meralda's recipes were consulted, coconuts cracked open and grated on the ships' "ana" (Tahitian coconut grater), and we were off. Plenty bread-sticks poured forth from the galley this night and all was well with the world once again. We were bound for Mangareva.

Curiously there is not much contact between Pitcairn and Mangareva even though it is only 300 miles away and has an airstrip and regular supply boat service. We knew we would be there soon. We all wanted to be at sea for awhile to digest and ruminate on our Pitcairn experience but the Gambiers are way too nice to pass up. We motored through a calm clear night and chewed on breadsticks as well as our thoughts.

The next day came in fair and mostly clear with light winds, a perfect sunny day at sea. On lookout, Ivan spotted the top of Mount Duff some 35 miles off on the port bow early in the morning as we headed around the north side of the barrier reef. Mangareva is the ideal South Pacific island group for colonization—a group of high islands with good farm land and protected coves and bays to pull up your canoes, all surrounded by the barrier reef of an atoll formation sprinkled with motus—little coral palmthatched islets. I needed to get our ship inside the reef and through the three passes through these various reefs while the sun was high enough to see the character of the bottom. It is almost always a bad idea to pilot in coral waters with a low sun or with the sun not at your back. We got through the first two passes without a hitch but the last one into the delightful, still, and protected lagoon of Rikitea had the setting sun right in my eyes. The entrance channel to Rikitea is narrow, twisty, and shallow with a few coral heads in the way, so we anchored outside for the night in 100 feet of water, pretty deep.

Overnight in the early morning hours, wind and rain piped up out of the NE. The anchor with lots of very heavy chain out held fine, but these winds made a lee shore of a coral reef only 100 yards or less astern—not so lovely. So we hoisted the boats, stood by the engine and kept all hands on stand-by, figuring that this weather would back around and get lighter and we could head in to the inner lagoon. Thus it was, and we heaved in and followed the serpentine pass through the coral heads and got anchored again. But the story was not over, no, not yet.

In the late afternoon violent squalls hit us at anchor inside the lagoon. Our anchor pulled through mud on the bottom and our stern-post nudged on a shoal. By then the 2nd Mate had the engine fired up and all hands were getting ready to move the ship and set the other anchor, which is better in this type of muddy bottom. Working in the cold rain sweeping in with the squalls, we moved the Picton Castle and re-anchored off the village pier. There we had more swinging room (but we might have to shift again if the supply boat arrived while we were still here). Before evening we were all snug in our new anchorage in ten fathoms, the 1,500 lb. "old-fashioned" stock anchor down with 300 feet 1-1/4" stud-link chain out. It remained gusty for a couple hours and then turned flat calm. A small low-pressure system had passed just south of Mangareva and we had felt its sting.

Sunday morning broke fair and clear, with church bells pealing across the lagoon, preceded by a prelude of a small few roosters around the bay crowing as roosters do in the early morning. We could hear a couple of dogs barking without much enthusiasm. At last the Picton Castle and her crew were truly safely at anchor at one of the sweetest isles of French Polynesia and the South Pacific. We had sails to dry and the white topsides showed the streaks and scars of the 4,000 sea miles we have sailed from Panama so far. Time to get a little paint spread around.

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Longboat_leaving,_Pitcairn (22K)

Longboat leaving Pitcairn.

Approaching_Mangareva (24K)

Approaching Mangarava.

Drying_sails,_Mangareva (19K)

Drying sails, Mangarava

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The Picton Castle finally in a quieter Anchorage after the squalls, Mangarava.

Captain's Log #35, 27 August 2005

South Pacific Ocean: Pitcairn Farewell

I had ambitions of writing an expanded series of detailed stories of our days on Pitcairn Island. I even got some crew to pitch in with writing, which often seems like pulling teeth. But as the smoke from the bolt fades astern over the horizon and we have been to Mangareva in the meantime, I will just give the gist or something like that.

Pitcairn Sports

Very popular activity was mud sliding. This is sliding in the mud. It can scare mothers and fathers. It involves sliding in mud down steep ravines, climbing back up a rope and doing it again. You get very muddy. You also can go very fast if the mud solution is just right. Pitcairn has the slipperiest mud in the world. Your clothes get dirty too. Tons o' fun.

Feeding

The national Olympic level sport of Pitcairn, no details to follow.

Touring Pitcairn Island

You have not properly been to Pitkern if you have not: Climbed Down Rope and up to Christians Cave, gone over to Tedside and visited Mrs. T, climbed Ship's Landing Point, gone to Highest Point, swum at the Landing and at Big Pool over at St. Paul's (Big Pool is awesome!), posed by the Bounty Anchor AND visited every household for a cup of tea. Should go fishing, too.

Fishing

Jill H. and Andrea M. went fishing with Vaine. They launched his canoe from the Landing, headed out on the open sea and came back with 17 big tuna and wahoo. They dropped some off at the ship and brought the rest ashore and shared them around. They loved it.

A Piece of the Schooner Bluenose II sails around the world
(or at least to Pitcairn so far)

Nova Scotian Senator W. P. Moore gave to me a small piece of oak taken from a recent refit of Canada's National and Provincial Tall Ship, the Schooner Bluenose II, to take around the world and return to her home port of Lunenburg. Here we took it ashore and it is held by Jacob Warren, a senior Pitcairner and 6th generation descendent of Masters Mate Fletcher Christian, Midshipman Edward Young, the other mutineers in the Bounty and their Tahitian ladies. A true gent he is, too. I am proud to say that I pulled with Jacob in a long boat called Dumpy years ago.

Party at Pawl's

Pania's dad, Pawl, makes sure that he holds 24-hour open house while we are here. Cool drinks, music and darts are all there is to do, but it seems that's enough. A little hard on Pawl, but he is a noble soul. A good time was had by all, complete with a last-night-ashore mellow dance party.

Making Rolls

We also call them Bread Sticks—thin yummy pretzel-like affairs that we eat and chew on constantly. However, since we eat them all the time they need to get made by somebody at some point. So here is the recipe. On Pitcairn they are called rolls 'cause you roll them out. Go figure, eh? Olive showed Lynsey and Margot the finer points of the art. They taste some good!

RECIPE FOR ROLLS

(Bread-sticks)

6 cups flour
6 teaspoons baking powder
½ cup shortening
A bit of salt
Coconut milk or water

Mix dry ingredients, add enough liquid to make a stiff dough. Take small pieces of dough about the size of a walnut and roll them out into thin sticks about the size of a first-grade pencil, you know the kind. Bake in a 400 degree F. or 200 C. oven for 30-45 minutes.

Bake them twice: once to a light gold colour, maybe a touch brown on the bottom, and let them cool. Then bake them again to make them a bit more dry and crispy.

Sitting around with Len

When I first came to Pitcairn as the 21-year-old Mate of the Brigantine ROMANCE I stayed with Len Brown and his family—Thelma, his wife, and two of their five children, Yvonne and Clarice. We all got on famously and stayed in touch over the years.

Clarice and Yvonne live in New Zealand with their families and very sadly, Thelma has passed on. So Len is always making carvings from Miro wood and bangs about in his house by himself more or less, so I figured this would give me a good chance to torment him from time to time. I would go over to Len's and we would visit while he worked on a carving. Len makes the best carvings. I made the mistake of saying that I wanted a huge shark but there weren't any on the island—in a day one was done, complete with real teeth from a shark. It is stunning. We had a lot to talk about. I am particularly interested in the old wooden sailing/pulling longboats. Len was skipper of one called the SURPRIZE. There is a picture in 1957 National Geographic of him and his crew on their annual round-island race. These boats were the predecessors to today's massively rugged and durable aluminum motor-longboats that serve the island today. The pulling boats were about 37 feet long with 14 men at the sweeps. There was still one left that we used when I was at Pitcairn in the ROMANCE in 1975. We used this boat to pull in and out of the surf at Henderson Island collecting Miro wood. This was the wildest time for this young seafarer. Len is the Master of these craft and I doubt there is another such an experienced expert longboat skipper anywhere. I don't know one, anyway. We talked a lot about how those boats worked and points of sailing in Pitcairn waters. If I write much more about Len he will get embarrassed and chew me out which he has done before.

Helping Out (a little)

Concrete: Building a new jetty and paving the steep road up the hill of Difficulty; Ivan, Bruce and others helped. This will reduce erosion and make the road passable when wet.

Doctors: They've got a full time doc on the island so Doctor Jeremy did not have much work this time.

Dentist-chair and dentist: Now on the other hand, Pitcairn does not get dentists all the time, but we had Picton Castle veteran Dr. Mhairi Russell who with Ivan installed a new dentist chair and then she (not Ivan) performed a number of procedures.

Computers are big on Pitcairn, as there are anywhere else. Our computer maven, Bruce, checked them all over for whatever ails computers; it is beyond me, anyway. And last, our professional Massage therapist Barbara Johnson ran a massage clinic on Pitcairn for the first time to great acclaim, especially to the gang putting in 12-hour days pouring concrete.

What else?

Lots else went on. Concerts—sort of a talent show up on stage at the meeting house, MC'd by Cookie, lots of foolishness. Ashore lots of Frenchy's clothing for trade and sale, donated flour and oil etc. to an island "share-out," and most of us bought plenty of carvings and the fine baskets and, of course,e fids which are made special for our crew and very popular.

Then and Now, a Celebration

Much has changed on Pitcairn Island over the years. But before we get too sentimental about these changes, we must look around our own communities and towns and the same can be said of them. No, Pitcairners do not put out in island-built wooden longboats being pulled by 14 men at oars to set sail to make for the South Hampton Auckland Liner anymore. For one thing there is no UK/NZ Immigrant liner anymore. But we no longer have fleets of fishing schooners sailing out of Lunenburg and Gloucester, either.

They are paving the Hill of Difficulty road. Some charm will fade with that but the wonderful dirt road of our waterfront road in Lunenburg got paved not long ago and renamed Bluenose Drive. I liked it better before, but it sure is cleaner now and never muddy. Sure, these and other things have changed, but much has changed for the better too, and probably more and positive changes to come. But what has not changed one little bit is the stunning natural beauty of the island once known as Manga-ke-ti-rangi. What has not changed is the welcome the crew of the Picton Castle get on Pitcairn island. What has not changed at all is the profoundly over-the-top generous hospitality of Steve and Olive Christian, Jay and Carol Warren, Mavis, Jacob and Meralda Warren, Irma and Dennis Christian, Royal and Cookie, Dave and Leah Brown, Randy and Nadine Christian, Terry and Vula Young, Vaine and Charlene, Brenda Christian and her husband Mike, Pawl and Daphne Warren, Simon and Shirley Young and the rest who call Pitcairn Island home. And of course, tough-as-an-old-boot Len.

Sailing from Pitcairn Island

It is hard enough to get to Pitcairn Island. The only thing harder than getting to Pitcairn is leaving and sailing away.

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Waves_crashing_into_St._Paul's (26K)

Waves crashing into St. Paul's big pool.

Andrea_M_and_Jill_Herback_fishing_at_the_landing (20K)

Andrea and Jill holding fish at the landing

August_27,_2005__Jacob_Warren_holding_part_of_the_Bluenose,_Pitcairn (23K)

Jacob Warren holds a piece of the BLUENOSE II.

Capt_and_Pawl_playing_darts,_Pitcairn (27K)

Captain and Pawl at darts.

Olive,_Lynsey,_and_Margo_make_breadsticks,_Pitcairn (25K)

Olive, Lynsey, and Margo make breadsticks.

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Captain and Len Brown

Landing_and_longboat_in_times_past (17K)

The old-time longboats.

Mason,_Steve,_and_Ivan_pouring_concrete_on_the_hill_of_difficulty (37K)

Pouring concrete.

Mhairi_Russell_checks_Meralda_Warren's_teeth (15K)

Mhairi Russell checks Meralda Warren's teeth.

Captain's Log, 25 August 2005

Going Home

By Pania Warren
Member of the Picton Castle Crew and from Pitcairn Island

I haven't been home for 11 months maybe! I was so excited to see everyone I couldn't sit still! The Captain kept teasing me saying that we were gonna sail right past to Mangareva. I knew he was joking; he was just as excited as I was. It was awesome seeing the island first thing in the morning. I was jumping all over the foc's'le head showing off my neighborhood to all my shipmates.

After what seemed like forever, I spot the longboat crashing through rough seas coming out to meet us. Oh, the excitement! As they pull closer I make out my Dad and my brother sitting on the front of the boat. Then I see David, Randy, Dave, Steve, Vaine, Brenda, Terry, Dennis, Andrew, and some other people. They pulled up alongside, my Dad pops over the rail and I jump on him and gave him the biggest hug my little arms could give. I turned around and squeezed my brother. It was so cool to see my 2 bros again. It was awesome seeing everyone again! Everyone was buzzing! Indescribable.

Crashing through the waves around Matt's rock back towards the landing, looking at my rock realizing how much I loved Pitcairn. It was MY turn to tease the Captain. I told him I've already taken all of my things home ready to move back in. He didn't buy it.

I've never had such fun in 8 days in a long time. Mud sliding, swimming in St Paul's, walking in the mud, birthday parties, parties, catching up with everyone, especially my Dad and Brother. Everybody looked so well! I can't write anymore, homesickness is kicking in.

All I can say is the biggest Thank You to the Captain for taking me back home, thank you to all the crew for kickin' it with me and enjoying my home town. They enjoyed it more than I did! And thanks to all the Pitkern People for putting up with us. EVERYBODY had so much fun. We won't forget it ever!

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Pania_at_Mangareva (13K)

Pania Warren.

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Pania spotted the longboat.

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Mason Warren, Pania's borther.

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Pawl and Pania.

Getting_ready_to_leave--the_off-watch_crew_and_the_Pitcairn_Islanders (41K)

Getting ready to leave-- the off-watch crew and the Pitcairn Islanders.

Captain's Log #34A, 22 August 2005

The Pitcairn Chronicles…

by Kimberly Helms

1 planer and some band-saw blades!

I believe you are very lucky if you get to go to Pitcairn once in your life. I have been lucky enough to have been twice now. For over a day I couldn't manage to shake the dream-like quality of being back on the island. The last time I had said good-bye I didn't know how but I was pretty certain I would some day make it back to this beautiful Island and the friends I had made here. Well, here I was back at Big Fence with Steve and Olive Christian and loving it. As soon as you arrive here, you are snatched up by folks and taken into their homes like part of the family, and to be back again—well, the second time you arrive on the landing is even better than the first. Pure Magic.

To make it doubly lucky, I get to work on the island for our whole stay. Sounds great? It is.

Apart from what you would imagine a purser to do, like customs and immigration, or dealing with money, I also deal with much of the business part of things. Included in that is Pitcairn. We bring a lot of orders to Pitcairn. This time it included 10 cases of peaches, an ATV, a planer, a huge band saw, several hundred spare band-saw blades, several hundred pounds of flour, and lumber, to name just part of it. Lynsey, the bosun, actually takes the orders and fills most of them when we are in Canada and then I make sure everyone gets their order and then pays for it. Sounds easy, right? Well, as long as you are organized and can remember that you traded 10 bags of cement for 15 magnets, 13 fids, 2 carved turtles and some patches, then all will be well! I also have a clothing sale with good second-hand clothes that we bring from our local Frenchy's in Lunenburg. I also sell things like machetes, flip-flops and any odds and sods I have found from Canada to Pitcairn.

What I basically do is put the whole order at Big Fence and then get Steve and Olive Christian to help me out, as they know specifically who on the island ordered what. Once all is sorted we separate the orders out, give people a call on the VHF and they come roaring down on their bikes to pick it up. Later on, I walk around the houses and collect either money or wooden carvings which the Pitcairners carve out of Miro wood and Tau wood—gorgeous carvings of sharks, dolphins, turtles, models of the Bounty and longboats—as well as beautiful woven baskets and carved jewelry. And as I walk around doing the bills people feed me. Blimey, by the time I would make it back to Big Fence I would be rolling down the hills, breadsticks clutched in one clammy hand and a half-eaten nectarine in the other, trying not to slip in the mud, belly sloshing full of tea and breadfruit puffs and wondering how I would eat my dinner. Arriving back at Steve and Olives I was greeted by the smell of frying fish, fresh salads, breadfruit chips and boiled bananas. Oh, okay just a bit more. It truly was so difficult to be me on Pitcairn!

The Picton Castle crew all get to stay on shore with the families. To do this without eating the islanders out of house and home, we send ashore "Care" parcels filled with flour, milk, sugar, oil and such like as well as a bigger share-out, which would include tea, corned beef, rice, and butter. It really is a lot of fun.

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Len_Brown_making_a_special_order_for_the_Captain (15K)

Len Brown making a special order for the Captain

Clothes_sale_on_Pitcairn (33K)

Clothes sale on Pitcairn

Dinner_at_Steve_and_Olive's,_Pitcairn (32K)

Dinner at Steve and Olive's, Pitcairn

Captain's Log #34, 14 August 2005

Headed to Bounty Bay and a crew changeover on the third day

The Picton Castle and her crew have circumnavigated Pitcairn Island over night. Wind is out of the south now and blowing 20 knots or less, not bad for heaving-to. It is good to have some wind when hove-to, or if the seas are large you roll your guts out as we did last night. Cross seas from every which way due to the strong shifting winds. No one slept a wink, but we survived. Len Brown and a few others had sent some fresh fruit out in the first boat to give the shipboard gang a taste of Pitcairn as we hove-to and waited our turn to run ashore.

In the morning we woke to a gray, rain-spitting day with seas laying down but also to hot pancakes made by Jane and her galley-mate. The wind had picked up just enough to steady the ship's motion so we all had a nice sit-down breakfast at tables in the salon. After breakfast with the gang packing and then getting ready to switch out, we saw some blue breaking through the cloud cover. Very cheering it was. Towards the middle of the day we steamed in closer to Bounty Bay. Conditions were moderate.

At about 1300 we could make out the big long boat bounding out around the jetty of the landing with the shore watch. We had more supplies to unload as well—a big standing band saw and a 4-wheeler had to go ashore. Soon enough the longboat came bashing alongside the Picton Castle and got made fast to the special Pitcairn Longboat mooring lines we had rigged. The dozen or so tires scattered along the topsides were doing their best.

More_unloading_cargo (19K) Getting crew onto the ship.

First we unload crew gear from the boat onto the ship. No wearing back packs clambering over the rail. If you slip, you do not need a back pack on while you are swimming to safety. Then the shore watch clambers back aboard the ship. Lastly we turn to with open hatch and start passing supplies over the side. For heavy items we have a strong tackle rigged on the main yard-arm and one rigged to the main-stay directly over the hatch. Hoist on the Stay-Tackle, then transfer to the Yard-Tackle over the side, which lowers it into the boat. All this has to be done with some dispatch and sensitivity with both the ship and longboat tossing and heaving in the seas. But the crew learn how to work together to do it quickly and safely. In fact, in this case, quicker usually is safer. It is quite an orchestration. And it is very good experience for the crew to learn to handle heavy gear like this. The Mates, Bosun, and all hands did a very good job, and soon the ship was unloaded.

Unloading_cargo,_Pitcairn (18K)Getting cargo out of the hold.

In the Merchant Marine ships when they do this with cranes, it is still called a "Yard and Stay Rig."

The ride into Bounty Bay in the Pitcairn longboats is a thrill no one can forget. Even our short trip of less than half a mile in modest conditions is exciting. We head in for the narrow entrance to the landing around the jetty. If there are any seas at all, the boat stops just outside the harbour, a couple of the experienced boatmen look over their shoulders to asses the seas, then they pick a smooth and fly in at full throttle (PICTURE of boat coming in) and hard left around the nose of the jetty, hugging it very close, then hard right and full astern to stop her and bring her into the landing itself. Waiting hawsers are place on the big cleats fore and aft. Then we unload the boat onto the rough concrete of the jetty. Perhaps we can get someone to tell about their two mile run from Pulawauna dead to windward in gale force seas on the first run ashore. Now that must have been an exciting ride!

Longboat_First_Watch (26K)First watch on their way into the Landing Point.

Soon the boat is unloaded of us, our gear, and the islands supplies. A big wire is placed on the stem of the boat and a winch hauls her up into a shed. The crew are all milling around mystified as what to do, staring about themselves taking in the dramatic surroundings of Bounty Bay. Seas crash along the shores onto huge black boulders, sending spray skyward. Above these boulders are cliffs so steep that nothing can grow on them.

First_watch_going_ashore (32K)Coming in to the Landing Point.

Ship Landing point, a sheer peak so called because it somehow marks where the Bounty landed ashore three weeks after the Bounty gang found Pitcairn in 1790 and Fletcher decided this was it. The little cove that is the landing is so small an eight year old could toss a stone across it. A ramp guides the boats up into the boat sheds: one for the three long boats, one other for the small private "canoes" that folks use for fishing and getting around on their own. Gazing up at the cliffs, it is mostly all rich green of forest and jutting palms with gashes of gray-packed volcanic ash and brick-coloured streaks of red stone. Somehow all the gang are picked up by Pitcairn families, their gear tossed on four-wheel ATVs (called bikes, regardless) and we all start the scramble up "The Hill of Difficulty."

Pitciarn_landing,_starting_up_the_hill (35K)Starting up the Hill of Difficulty, Pitcairn.

The_hill_of_difficulty (35K)Earlier visitors struggle up the Hill of Difficulty, well named.

The_hill_of_difficulty_runs_from_where_I_am_standing_at_the_top,_around_and_down_to_the_landing_you_see_below (20K) The Hill of Difficulty runs from the landing you see below around and up to where I standing, at the top.Ship_Landing_Point_and_the_landing (20K)The high peak is Ship's Landing Point.

Aptly named, this step road is quite a climb up to "The Edge," which is, of course, the edge of the cliff overlooking Bounty Bay. There the brown dirt road evens off some, although the Pitcairn roads almost never get actually flat for more than a few yards at a time. A few of us pull off at a house called "Big Fence," so named because once long ago there was a big fence hereabouts, maybe to keep a goat in. No one can remember the fence anymore. This is the home of Steve and Olive Christian, and soon we will be made to feel at home too, for a few days on Pitcairn's Island deep in the South Pacific Ocean.

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Captain's Log #33, 10 August 2005

Ashore on Pitcairn

Our stay at Pitcairn Island is drawing to an end. The ship has been hove-to for seven days. The crew have been taking turns minding the Picton Castle in rolling seas and coming ashore in the big, powerful island longboats to spend time on the island. There have been massive amounts of trading various supplies for carvings and baskets and other souveneirs. We cleaned the island out. This is good news. It has rained much of the time, making the dirt roads as slick as can be. We have been to all sorts of get-togethers at many of the houses and simply much visiting back and forth. Crew have been all over, to Highest point, Down Rope, Ted Side, up to Flat Lands and to Ship Landing Point, down to Big Pool and of course to the Landing in Bounty Bay many times. There have been a few late night parties and Pania has gotten to visit with her Dad and Brother. There is so much to tell, much of which will not get told, but in the days to come we will give it a try. This is just a dry sampler. The sun has come out today, the wind laid down and now we must sail to the westward.

Captain Dan Moreland

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Pitcairn Longboat 2 Pitcairn Island longboat receiving supplies Pitcairn Island--crew and a distant view of the ship

Captain's Log #32, 3 August 2005

25-06S / 130-07W

Hove-to off Pitcairn Island

The Picton Castle sailed up to and anchored off the SW corner of Pitcairn yesterday in a NE gale. Later, after we packed half the crew ashore, we shifted around to Ginger Valley, expecting northerly winds overnight. We found a good lee in Ginger Valley. Just after 7 AM this morning the wind shifted around the corner to NW and built up to most of a gale again. Up anchor smartly and get away from the rocks. I got a call from Steve on the radio to see if we could unload some more of the Pitcairn supplies. So we moseyed down the shore to see about finding something we could call a lee. Soon we saw the big powerful launch motoring around St. Paul's, bashing through the seas with Pawl the bow-rider at the front.

It is the dead of winter at Pitcairn Island. One can expect weather in the winter. It is also the dry season, so you can expect dry. But, no, it is blowin' a holy holy and raining to almost zero visibility. So we got to unload some more supplies for the island into the longboat hove-to just a few hundred yards off the cliffs of Tautama on the south side of Pitcairn. Steep black volcanic rocky cliffs loom high above our little barque. Did I say steep? Sheer vertical precipices a thousand feet high is more like it. Peaks above us are lost in the bottom of clouds scudding over the island. Draping tangles of greenery break up the volcanic wall overhead. Swells roll in and crash and swirl about a few exposed rocks only slightly offshore. Squalls bang off the cliffs and come screaming down on us, heeling the ship over. Cold rain lashes Andrea and Rebecca at the wheel as we maneuver the ship between the rocks to find a smooth so the longboat can come alongside.

Soon the hatch cover is off and 2x4s, band-saw blades, boxes of tea, buckets of cistern sealer, and who-knows-what-all-else is handed up on deck, then across the pitching rail of the longboat. Dennis, Terry, Young Dave, Andrew, Cookie, Mike and a few more stowed everything safely in the bottom of the boat. The watch onboard does a great job getting the ship secured as the long boat steams away again into the rain and mists.

Tautama was at one time a very important stone quarry for making adzes. Pitcairn stone adzes are apparently found all over the islands and atolls of Polynesia. The old Polynesian name for Pitcairn seems to have been "Mata-te-ki-rangi." Reportedly recent archeological inspections indicate that quite a few hundred years ago Matatekirangi may have been home to 2,000-3,000 Polynesians, maybe more. And then they took off. When and to where, no one yet knows. Maybe they just went to nearby Mangareva. It seems that the last great vaka voyages around the vast Pacific took place in the 14th century, after which it seems there came a world-wide century of rough cold weather (sort of like today!). A century of bad weather put a stop to those long, distant voyages and broke the chain of practice and training of these supreme navigators, thus putting an end to the greatest era of navigation ever known. More later along these lines.

After we completed the unloading du jour, the rain socked in, the wind piped up to a cold gale, and we pushed offshore. Now the Picton Castle is hove-to on the starboard tack, yards braced sharp, main-topmast staysail set, wheel hard right, ship's head SW away from the island, drifting at about a knot to the south by west. We are snug as can be under the conditions, which, to quote my friend Steve Christian, are "bloody awful!"

But we are snug. The strong breeze keeps the rolling down, we have hot coffee on the stove, baskets of fresh fruit from the island, and some tortillas getting made in the galley. So we couldn't be any better off. The poor fools ashore have missed all the fun out here. Here onboard the Picton Castle, we feel sorry for them.

Captain Dan Moreland

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Captain's log #31, 2 August 2005

Pitcairn Island Landfall

21 days, 16 hours from Wreck Bay Galapagos to anchor off Pulawana, Pitcairn Island, South Pacific Ocean. About 2,800 miles.

Pulawana is the southwest point of Pitcairn Island; some charts call it Point Christian. We are anchored at Pitcairn Island. Let go the hook at 0845. This is sort of like being anchored in the middle of a very big ocean next to a large rock covered with green.

Our passage to Pitcairn ended well. Wind kept building over last night into gale force conditions this morning. The crew kept shortening sail on the Picton Castle to put the brakes on so we would not get to the island in the middle of a black night. Even then Pitcairn Island hove into view in the murk before dawn. Sun broke through long enough to see the island in pretty light framed by the sails. We sailed around the west side of the island known as Tedside with hopes of finding a good lee off Ginger Valley. Hopes were dashed when it seemed that no such lee existed-just as there is no lee at the trailing edge of an airplane wing. But we anchored anyway in about 80 feet of water and 1/3 mile from land in the roily Pacific Ocean.

Soon the longboat was motoring by with a bunch of familiar faces after a wet ride from Bounty Bay. The boat bashed alongside in the heavy seas against a dozen or so tires the bosun had prepared for this day. Greetings all around and baskets of fresh fruit passed aboard. One hand from the boat fell into the sea trying to jump from the boat to the ship. Only quick thinking and expert boat handling by Randy Christian saved the day and prevented serious injury. Next we broke open the hatch to start unloading and transferring supplies from the ship to the boat. We soon decided it was too rough to handle the heavy stuff; that would have to wait. Maybe we'll be able to do it when we shift to the other side of the island. At that point half the crew of the Picton Castle piled into the launch. They were last seen slamming into waves headed around the west end of Pitcairn for the landing at Bounty Bay-a boat ride our crew will never forget. In two days we will switch the watches, and the gang onboard the ship will get to take the longboat ashore to begin their visit with my friends on Pitcairn's island.

Pitcairn Island ahead!

Pitcairn longboat arrives alongside.

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August_2,_2005_Pitcairn_Island_ahead (28K) August_2,_2005_Pitcairn_longboat_arriving (39K)

Captain's Log #30, 1 August 2005

Great Sailing Approaching Pitcairn Island

We are having a beautiful morning here 300 miles and two days from Pitcairn Island. Heeling slightly to a fine breeze, our barque is sliding along at six knots 20 days out of San Christobal, Galapagos, 2,600 miles ago.

After we motored for a couple days in no winds, the breeze filled back in from the north, then eased around to northwest. Now the Picton Castle is sailing right along again, with small seas, clear skies, and 15-18 knots of good wind. We have been catching fish lately, too. A couple of mahi-mahi, a couple of tuna and a big wahoo have been hauled kicking and flapping over the rail by our brave sea hunters. Sushi, cevechie, fillets, fish steaks and curry followed closely afterwards. Chibley gets all kind of friendly with Joe at times like these. And the blood lust of our savage lads boils to the surface during such a fishing melee.

A few days ago we had visits from a whale. A minke whale about 30-35 feet long spent some time with us swooping and passing back and forth in our stern wake. We think that the same one returned a day or two later for a second visit. He (or she) seemed quite curious about this ship sailing along. He stayed with us for some time, drawing the crew from all over the ship to the stern. Billy got out his fiddle and played the tune he knows (he says he only knows one). The whale seemed to react to it, but I can't say whether with pleasure or pain. Anyway the stern was crowded with crew and it was wild to watch this whale swim along with us and very closely too.

At the moment of writing the Picton Castle is only a few miles off Henderson Island, one of the Pitcairn group. This island is called a "Makatea" Island, which means it is a raised coral atoll. A coral atoll is usually a ring of a reef, often with a few small islets called motus inside the ring. When you have a Makatea island, the whole affair is raised, forming a dry basin surrounded by a circular ridge and then sloping down to old coral reefs. It seems that one whale boat and crew from the famous ESSEX ended up on Henderson and perished in cave there. The skeletons were still in situ when I went to Henderson in the Brigantine ROMANCE in 1975. We sailed the 100 miles up from Pitcairn to collect Miro wood, a pretty, red/brown fine-grained wood used for making carvings to sell to passing ships. For five days, the Pitcairners cut wood and we rowed their 37-foot wooden pulling-boat in and out of boat-crunching surf loading this precious cargo onto the ROMANCE to take back to Pitcairn. We lived under tarps on the shore while the Brigantine hove-to offshore. There is nothing remotely resembling an anchorage at Henderson. One of our crew, Mike Henderson, is of the family for which the island is named.

The whole gang is very excited to get to Pitcairn Island. Returning crew Lynsey, Kimberly, Rebecca, and John are pretty pumped up. Morgan is sort of philosophical about returning but one could be forgiven for suspecting that maybe that has to do with keeping his expectations under control. But no one is more excited than Pania Warren. Why? Because for Pania, Pitcairn Island is home. At age 18, Pania is a natural-born sailor, having grown up on boats at Pitcairn. On our first trip in 1998 Pania, who was 11, visited the ship wide eyed. On our second and third trips, Pania came out to the ship, stayed on board the whole time, and hung around with the crew who had the watch. Always running around in the rigging, she was and now she is a crew in this ship. Always willing and cheerful and not a little cheeky, Pania is sailing to Pitcairn Island in a sailing ship, something Pitcairners haven't done in some time, not since the days of the copra schooners in the 1930s.

But it is not enough that we sail to Pitcairn. No, we have to talk to Pitcairn on the Single Side Band radio. After several days of trying, we got through to Dave Brown at seven o'clock last night. Pania was so excited that she couldn't figure out what to say, but she did get to talk to her Dad, Pawl Warren, who is a good friend of all on board. Pawl's house becomes sort of a natural clubhouse for the younger crew. It was loads of fun for all of us to chat on the radio and make tentative plans for the visit. Now the excitement has turned in on itself, and everyone is trying to be cool about it. Including Pania. It isn't working.

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August_1,_2005_Whale_watching_on_way_to_Pitcairn (34K) August_1,_2005_Mhairi_on_the_helm_early_morning (11K) August_1,_2005_Finally_we_get_through_to_Pitcairn_Island_and_were_all-excited (31K) August_1,_2005_Pania_Warren_talking_to_her_Dad_on_Pitcairn_on_the_SSB (20K)

Captain's Log 29 July 25, 2005

16-47S / 115-49W

Light Airs in the South Pacific

Beautiful sunset, not much wind. The Picton Castle is sailing along at about two knots in this very pleasant and comfortable evening at sea. Almost no clouds. While making for a pretty sky and excellent sunset no clouds at sea usually means little or no wind. The large swells we had yesterday are gone and we are left with some small swell left over from winds that are elsewhere. Four Tropic-Birds wheeled and squawked circling the mast trucks for a while. We caught a large Mahi-Mahi in the fishing line towed astern.

A very productive day though; Sailmaker Susannah with her helpers Morgan, Paulina and various from the watches are stitching away on a few sails. A new t'gallant is headed for the home stretch. A new upper-topsail is just getting started with seaming. An old, I mean very old, flying-jib is getting a new head and some patches to be bent and set again. This sail was made in 1964 for the topsail schooner SHENANDOAH of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. This magnificent sailing vessel, under the command of Captain Robert S. Douglas, cruises the coast of southern New England giving many young people their first chance to set canvas sails and haul on braces. In our early days he gave us this sail. Now we nurse it along to get few more watches out of it here offshore in the trade-winds. Well, we're working on the trade-winds too. They will be back, by'm'by. Bosun led much work: The long-boat is getting a good overhaul, scraping, refastening, new wood here and there for the floor boards. Routine rigging survey underway. Varnishing the bridge-rail, skylights getting painted.

Today's safety drill/work-shop was to close every watertight hatch, sky-light, port-hole, door and scuttle including the hurricane hatch to the salon in the 'tween-decks. Then open them again and to make sure they were all in perfect working order. After that we discussed damage control issues, probabilities of events, materials and techniques and what we might do in different scenarios. A lot of "what ifs" proposed and discussed.

Now at dawn the next day we find that the breeze has dropped to none at all. The ship sits on the ocean patiently. Sails fill and slat as she rolls a little. Not a mirror calm but not a ripple of wind either. Time to burn some precious fuel, we have run out of precious wind.

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Image of <em>Picton Castle</em> heading to Pitcairn Island (16K) Image of Dainie starting the <em>Picton Castle</em> main engine on the way to Pitcairn Island (34K)

Captain's Log 28 July 24, 2005

Lat: 16-54S / 113-25W Yards Squared

Impossibly beautiful days and nights sailing in this South Pacific

Night Watch

An exquisitely beautiful night watch: A three-quarter moon, indigo sky speckled with stars, Southern Cross off to port, Orion coming up over the port quarter, Venus to starboard earlier on. Sea are small and gentle, the wind smooth and aft as the helmsman steers the Picton Castle WSW (about 250 degrees). For the first time on this passage the yards are squared.

The ship dips and rolls gracefully in the modest swells which mostly come from astern, the trucks and yard-arms arching, moon-white canvas masking off parts of the starry sky for moments from time to time. These sails with their pattering buntlines lift in the gentle winds but none the less haul us forward at 4 knots. Nothing wrong with 4 knots, happy to be sailing at that rate we are. The breeze is pleasantly cool. We might be barefoot, but many wear sweaters or light jackets at night. As we sail along, small seas slap, slurp and gurgle along the ship's side trailing astern in eddies of bubbles. Some of the crew are studying the moon with binoculars. Small cotton tuft clouds hint to us that this breeze is steady and that it should be with us for a little while anyway.

Some time ago a young man who had taken some time away from school to go to sea in a ship sailing in the Pacific wrote this:

"One night, while in these tropics, I went out to the flying-jib-boom, upon some duty and having finished it, turned around and lay over the boom for some time, admiring the beauty before me. Being so far from deck, I could look at the ship as at a separate vessel; and there rose up from the water, supported by a small black hull, a pyramid of canvas, spreading out far beyond the hull and towering up almost as it seemed in the indistinct night air, to the clouds… the light trade-wind was gently and steadily breathing from astern; the dark blue sky was studded with tropical stars; there was no sound but the rippling of water under the stem; and the sails were spread out, wide and high... So quiet too was the sea and so steady the breeze, that if these sails had been sculptured marble, they could not have been more motionless. Not a ripple upon the surface of the canvas; not even a quivering of the extreme edges of the sail-so perfectly were they distended by the breeze. I was so lost in the sight, that I forgot the presence of the man who came out with me, until he said (for he too, rough old man-of-war's man himself as he was had been gazing at the show) half to himself, still looking at the marble sails, "How quietly they do their work!""

Richard Henry Dana

Morning Watch

Four bells in the morning watch; 0600, 6 AM. The cook is up and in his caboose. He has concocted a small mug up on the port pin-rail outside the galley by the fore-backstays for the watch to fortify themselves before they begin morning wash down. The night sky is with us yet with only a hint of the loom of a sun stretching, yawning, and thinking about rising in the east. Soft yellow light pours out of the Dutch doors onto the coiled lines of the pin rail and pine decks either side of the galley. This, in contrast to the moon shadows and shades of dark blue that are the rest of the early morning canvas here at sea in this ship before dawn. We have fresh coffee and a chunk of fresh, thick bread with butter and jam to start the morning. The cat is making one of her ship-check tours on the quarter-deck. Then she jumps into the long boat hanging in the port davits over the sea. This she does for some inscrutable feline reason.

The hint of rose in the east grows to a glow of certainty that we have a sunrise on our hands. Sighs of relief all around: the sun rises once again in the proper quarter. All is well; we can commence to go about our day unperturbed. Soon we'll do wash down. Soon check the nips on the bunts, soon brace the yards to a quartering wind, soon be bathed in southern ocean sunshine against the blue sea and sky.

Captain Daniel Moreland

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Image facing the bow on an early morning, about to furl sails on way to Pitcairn Island (36K)

Captain's Log # 27, 21 July 2005

Lat 14-27S, Long 109-22W

Rolling Down the Trades

Our barque heels to the strong southeasterly tradewinds here at 12½ degrees south of the equator in this Pacific Ocean. We have 20-25 knots of wind on our port beam. White-capped seas are 10-12 feet, sometimes more. A sea slops over the weather rail amidships once in a while. Not a one comes over that North Sea counter stern of hers, though. I have yet to be witness to a sea climbing over the stern of the Picton Castle, she just raises her stern and the seas pass under. The ship makes a steady 7-8 knots, scattering flying fish out of her path, surging ahead in the occasional squall, only slowing down after the squall passes, having stolen our wind for a short time. Then the sails and bunt-lines slat briefly until the wind fills in again with the squall dancing away on towards the lee horizon in a gray fuzzy piece of spinning attitude surrounded by blue sky and sun-light.

The Picton Castle has averaged 150 miles a day for the last five days and looks like another one coming up. That's pretty good sailing. The crew are all loving it, this being much of what we all came in this ship for. Across the chart table is spread a dog-eared, much folded, discoloured and marked up chart of the South Pacific; revealing from above the equator at Nicaragua in the north to Cape Horn and 60 degrees south and from Chile in the east to just shy of Pitcairn Island in the west at 120 degrees west. "Old Coffee Stains" we call this well-worn chart covered with smudges and daily positions ticked off in progression from Galapagos towards the southwest and tiny Pitcairn Island from previous passages in this ship. If Magellan could have had this chart! He managed to sail across the South Pacific at just the right latitude to miss almost every island. That was tough for him and his lads. What if Ferdinand had found Tahiti instead of the Philippines?

The Picton Castle is sailing the path of the crew of the ESSEX. In 1820 the whaleship Essex was stove in and sunk by one very angry Sperm Whale at 0-40S and 119W or about 1700 miles west of the Galapagos and about 1200 miles to the ENE of the Marquesas. It seems this large whale took exception to the whale boats off the Essex killing all the whales in his pod, so he hauled off and battered the Essex by driving into the ship head first until she was so wracked that she could float no more. The ship didn't sink that fast, but sink she did. The men had enough time to get some gear off the Essex and into their light 28-foot open whale boats, but then what? Then things got worse. It seems that the young skipper wanted to head to a place he knew. This was Chile and dead to windward, thousands of miles. There were easy islands to leeward including Tahiti, the Tuamotus, or the Marquesas, and he knew this, but he was much feared of possible cannibalism. Joke was on him, I guess. They could have been on safe land in a matter of an easy downwind sail if they had dared. But they tried to make for Chile instead, which was pretty hopeless. My guess is that he was really just trying to remain in the area where he thought another whale ship might sight them and pick them up and sooner rather than later. Turned out to be later; becoming the stuff of a horrific story of the sea.

A new look at this saga has been taken by someone I used to know. Nat Philbrick has written In the Heart of the Sea, an excellent and well-told revisit of the wrecking of the Whale Ship Essex and the subsequent trials of the crew in their whaleboats, which included eating each other. Brought forward in a modern sense, this story as told by Philbrick is also a cautionary tale of things that go wrong at sea when adequate and appropriate measures and planning are not taken beforehand and crew and staff are not trained beyond their narrow industrial job descriptions. Perhaps he was a qualified whaler but was generally uninformed on subjects that should have been of professional interest to any mariner expecting to operate in those waters. I would add "even back then," but perhaps most especially "back then." Commonly skippers were eager for information from returning voyagers so as to make the success of their own voyages more likely. Fairly good information on the nature of the islands nearby was available at the time. In so many ways the Essex incident is no different from any other marine disasters a series of small factors exacerbated by a major incident, followed by more small factors and decisions that result in catastrophe. Read the book.

One of the Essex boats apparently got to Henderson Island, one of the Pitcairn group a thousand miles and more ahead of us, and there they died. This island is 1500 miles to the SSE from where their ship went down. I think their skeletons lie in a cave there to this day. We will sail right by Henderson on the way to Pitcairn. It is a rare raised coral atoll island. I went to Henderson in the Brigantine Romance in 1975 with a gang of Pitcairners to collect Miro wood for carving. Uninhabited, it is a nasty brute of an island but coconuts grow many places, and that means water and food. (That is, if you know about coconuts or aren't too exhausted to do something about them.) William Bligh made an open-water voyage of almost 4,000 miles in a boat that was considerably smaller than a whale boat, filled with 19 men, and he saved every man. He might have been a rascal to work for, but he was a seaman of the first water. He knew his stuff.

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Captain's Log #26, 17 July 2005

08-15S ⁄ 099-53W

Strong winds, high seas, split sail

Blowing pretty fresh last 24 hours, seas 8-12 feet and sometimes a cross-eyed cantankerous sea makes it to16 feet, all just about on the port beam. Frequent squalls with a little rain and a freshening of the wind. Not bad though. Good squall training. Pretty lumpy it has been, but now on Sunday morning conditions have been laying down some. A lot of stars in the morning sky and the seas and swell seem to have gotten a bit smoother. We still are making plenty of good forward motion on our way towards Pitcairn Island, now a mere 2,000 miles away. The PICTON CASTLE has sailed about 800 miles in five days since Galapagos, not too bad.

During the night we got a vertical split in the main upper-topsail right along a buntline patch. We will have to send that sail down and bend on another one first thing as it gets light. Rebecca and the 4-8 are hauling up onto deck the replacement sail here before sunrise. Sunday at sea may mean no tarring and painting, but sails-our means of locomotion and auto-perambulation- must be attended to. The gang sent down one split sail and sent up a reserve upper-topsail, this one a much-patched old thing from our first voyage. The job was finished in short order (less than one hour) without even taking in the main t'gallant. The bosun, chief mate, and sailmaker had a good gang. As it was a squally day, the mate stayed on deck to keep an eye on the weather, the steering, and the set of the sails. The bosun led the gang with her usual keen efficiency, and the sailmaker immediately started repairing the damaged sail. If the photos were in black & white the images would be straight out of books by Alan Villiers or Eric Newby, The Last Grain Race or Falmouth for Orders. Oh, yes, also except for the fact that these three ship's leadership staff are women-strong, seasoned by the sea, and enormously capable.

Occasional squalls spiced our day, none terribly fierce but some times giving the Picton Castle quite a surge along. In one squall we were making 9½ knots and it felt just fine. We had a 150 mile day today, not bad at all. We will see what tomorrow brings. Seas are down, that's nice for sleeping.

July 18, 2005 0614

09-44S / 102-12W

Morning came in fair and mostly clear. Squalls are becoming less frequent. The seas are down substantially and the winds are warmer but still fresh. The ship is still making a steady 6½ knots. This is just fine. The 4-8 watch just reset the royals and flying jib. The look-out is looking out, the cook is in his galley, God is in heaven, and the Picton Castle is rolling down the trade-winds into the south seas. All is as it should be.

Captain Daniel Moreland

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Captain's Log #25, 17 July 2005

Lat 07-02S, Long 098-03W; winds SE force 5, seas SE 6-10 feet

Deep Sea Sailing

Dawn breaks with gusty winds and small rain squalls spotting the morning horizon as it brightens into day. The royals, flying jib, gaff tops'l and spanker were taken and stowed in the night. The breeze was piping up overnight, moving the Picton Castle right along over these big South Pacific swells.

As soon as it turns light enough to see clearly, the 4–8 watch turns to with some morning chores. First they will go around the deck and take the slack out of any running rigging that may have stretched a little since yesterday. Braces, halyards, sheets all get a pull. Some, like the main-topmast-staysail halyard on the main fife rail, get a tackle clapped onto them to stretch out the luff. Then a few nimble hands will climb aloft to re-nip buntlines and leechlines. In a ship like this on a long passage, we nip the bunts and leeches up to the jackstay, thus taking the strain off so they don't chafe on the fore side of the sails. Through the night, inevitably some of these nippings part. The nippings are made of little threads that will break easily. We use yarn. In the old days threads were pulled out of a patch of sail cloth. This is actually a very important practice. On a few weeks' passage, these buntlines could saw right through a sail. Our running gear is only manila fiber rope. In big ships, where the gear was often wire, this duty was doubly important. I am sure whale ships did just the same thing; they couldn't not but nip bunts.

After a good look over the rigging, the watch turns to giving the decks a thorough washdown. Rebecca is going through the veggie lockers and tossing over the side any oranges that have turned. Fresh stuff doesn't last long in these tropics.

With the passing squalls, which weren't very threatening, our wind has gone a little lighter. After the washdown hose and brushes are put away and we have given the sky a chance to declare itself, we will loose and set some sail and see how they stand. Wind often comes back after squalls pass, too. It is quite a beautiful morning. Dark blue sea spattered with white caps and patches of froth.

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Captain's log # 24, 16 July 2005

Squalls and Varnish

by Purser Kimberly Helms

It was a touch squally this morning on the Picton Castle, occasional drizzle and overcast. Lynsey bosun was getting quite cranky as the sanding on the fly rail was so nearly done and ready to be varnished… Every time she said the word varnish it would start to rain again! But now Amanda is finally able to get a coat of varnish on it, and it looks gorgeous. The watches spent literally hours sanding it to a perfect finish. Now to try and stop bloody minded people from touching the wet varnish!

The daymen riggers who include Kathleen Zirone, David Matthews, David Zimmer, and John Kemper were last seen heading aloft to check and overhaul seizings. As the dayman carpenter, Logan is making noise with some tool and creating a lot of sawdust, which is getting everywhere. He just finished overhauling the floor in the port side head and it was closed for a few days. A lot of crew were happy when that reopened this afternoon!

Susannah, our sailmaker, has just finished patching the old mainsail with the help of her assistant Morgan. The 12–4 went aloft to bend that sail back on a few minutes ago. Lots of projects are being completed today. It feels good. Oh yes, and the sun has come out, making everything seem sparkly after the dreary overcast this morning. Lunch was a particularly good stir fry and rice and some homemade bread. All in all, a lovely day in the South Pacific. “I can see clearly now-the rain is gone.”

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Captain's Log #23, 15 July 2005

Bound for the Deep South Pacific Ocean

One day out of San Cristobal the Picton Castle picked up a fair wind for the South Pacific. Around Galapagos the winds are often light and variable, and sometimes are right on the nose for a ship headed towards the southwest, as are we. But we have gotten lucky, one day out and in fair trade-winds. Just now we are making six knots on the port tack, steering SW, wind abeam. Thousands of ocean miles lie ahead of us.

Today a few dozen dolphins crossed our bow, leaping high out of the seas in tight formation at the very same time. How do they do that? Then they crossed from starboard to port, clearly headed somewhere. Quite a sight! We can only conclude that they were having an excellent time. They swam and capered around the bow for a little while and then carried on to wherever they were going. Where could that be?

Every ocean has its characteristic swell and seas. In the North Atlantic you will find that the swells are close to synchronized with the weather. You rarely have big swell without the weather that caused that swell being nearby. In the North Sea-like the Great Lakes, which are simply inland seas without the salt content-the seas tend to be close together and steep. Seaman call them “square waves” because that's what they seem like. The Indian Ocean can be serene or lumpy. We have a South Pacific swell. Long, broad, gentle, and quite-large swells roll in under the Picton Castle from far to the south. So far apart that we barely feel them go under us, these rolling hills of ocean are probably generated by big storms in the Roaring Forties far, far away.

Upon sailing from the Galalpagos with fair winds and good steady weather, we break out what are called “daymen” or “idlers” in a deepwater sailing ship. “Daymen” are crew who work all day with the bosun, sailmaker, carpenter or donkey-man (that's sailing ship lingo for engineer), getting meaningful projects taken care of without having to steer, stand lookout, or perform other such watch-keeping duties. These salts also get to sleep in and skip night watch. It is a great chance in “flying-fish” weather to get lots of rigging and other projects done. In the old days only the very best and experienced Able Bodied Seamen were selected for this duty. They would turn-to as daymen in the trade-wind passages and leave the steering to the Ordinary Seamen and Apprentices. When their ship got out of the trades and back into the higher latitudes, they would go back on the watches. With their large crews, the clippers probably didn't have this practice, and I don't know what whale ships did. Over the course of this voyage in the Picton Castle we will spread it around a little more than they did in the old days. It is a popular assignment and most people like it. No one has to be a dayman. But it is a good chance to learn and practice a shipboard specialty.

Bosun Lynsey, who is foreman of the day-men gang, has four aloft trimming rigging, making fair leads for running rigging, taking care of chafe, reserving this and that, seizing in new ratlines. Soon they will begin tarring the standing rig. They just brought down the big fish-tackle from the fore topmast to overhaul it. We won't need that for about 2,500 miles. Traditionally the anchor gear is stowed when off soundings on a long passage in a ship like this. No sense in it all flopping around get worn and sunburned for no reason. The trick is to remember to put it all back as we get near land again.

Sailmaker Susannah is patching our mainsail on the quarter-deck with her assistant, Morgan. That sail is old and owes us nothing. We still have some sails from 1997. We get about five years out of our sails. That's five full years of use in the tropics. We think that is pretty good. Sailmaking is a full-time job in the Picton Castle . We have enough canvas, twine, and needles aboard right now for a whole new suit of sails. At sea all the sails are made entirely by hand. We might be the last sailing ship to do this. Making a ship's sails onboard used to be the norm.

Soon we will start celestial navigation classes on the quarter-deck, give those sextants a workout.

Captain Dan Moreland

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Captain's Log #22, 14 July 2005

What the Picton Castle crew did in our four days at Wreck Bay in the Galapagos Islands

Don't expect any prose here. While in the Galapagos the Picton Castle crew did the following:

  • Carried donated books to schools ashore.
  • Gave tours on board to friends they made ashore and to the Commander of the Naval base and his family.
  • Spent way too much time on the internet.
  • Went diving.
  • Snorkeled at Kicker rock.
  • Checked out giant tortoises, blue footed boobies, salt sneezing marine iguanas, and sea lions. They are everywhere.
  • Hung out at sidewalk cafes. The coffee is awesome.
  • Had a big barbeque at the Hotel Orca with Ecuadorian music from the Andes.
  • Caught up with folks who are friends of the ship.
  • Took on fuel by skiff runs-it's very cheap here.
  • Did much provisioning. The fruit is all organic, and so is the coffee.
  • Enjoyed much dining ashore in little cantinas.

Everyone fell in love with Senorita Viviana. She is from Quito . She spoke perfect North American English and had time for everybody. Graciously, Viviana helped us get to know the Galapagos.

That's all you get.

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Captain's Log #21 July 10, 2005

Wreck Bay, San Christobal (Chatham)Galapagos Islands, Ecuador or Los Islas Encantadas

The Picton Castle is anchored in Wreck Bay in 6 fathoms and good holding. Misty rains roll over the low hills to windward in the SSE breezes that prevail. This bay was named Wreck Bay by the time Darwin showed up in the little BEAGLE before the mid-19th century. Must have been a wreck hereabouts.

It is difficult to relate this Galapagos port of today with the uninhabited and untended archipelago of the age of sail and whaling. Little Ecuadorian cruise ships now pick up and drop off passengers and school groups, and there are severe restrictions on travel in islands that were once no-mans-land without a nation. Yet this very activity is a direct legacy of the world of whale ships like the CHARLES W. MORGAN, now preserved as the last of her kind at Mystic Seaport Museum . No major European colonizing nation wanted these islands. They had no gold, no water, no lumber, no coal, no oil, no nothing, really. A few pirates put in from time to time a long time ago. Very few commercial sailing cargo ships found their way here. They were not really on the way to anywhere if you sailed around Cape Horn or were bound there, and the area has strong currents and light/variable winds. Steam ships had no reason to put into the Galapagos after passing the Panama Canal or when headed for that short-cut. No, not many ships found any reason to come to the Galapagos. Except, of course, whale ships-these vessels put into the Galapagos Islands quite frequently in the era of whaling under sail, and they left biological and cultural and social marks that have become the forest we can not see because the trees are in the way.

Everything we can see and know about these islands, and in fact the very reason we are here visiting them today, is due to two events:

  • Darwin 's visit and his subsequent publication of books on the notion of evolution, and
  • the fact that whale-ships routinely put into these islands to get firewood and, most important, gather the giant land tortoise. Whale ships spent months at sea. Once numbering in the tens of thousands, these big tortoises can survive for months at sea without food or water. They thus make an attractive source of fresh meat to a whale ship bound to cruise for months on end. The taking of tortoises from these islands reduced their population towards the point of extinction. Happily, they did not quite vanish, as did the Dodo in Mauritius in the Indian Ocean.

The story is much longer and more complicated than this. Nonetheless, the attention that Darwin 's work brought and still brings to the Galapagos, combined with the ecological impact of the whale ships and whaling in these very islands, created the legacy we find ourselves surrounded by today. Every action, regulation, and human endeavor in these islands today is based on this legacy.

Today the islands are a national park and wildlife reserve, administered seriously and proudly by Ecuador . These islands inspired the first forays into "eco-tourism" that has become so popular around the world. All this due to whale ships and whaling well over one hundred years ago.

Captain Daniel Moreland

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Captain's Log #20—July 7, 2005

The Galapagos Islands

Last night at about 0300 the Picton Castle sailed past the north east end of the island of SanChristobal, our destination in the Galapagos Islands. The 12-4 watchtook in t'gallants and courses and braced the main yards aback—putthe rudder hard right and hove the ship too until dawn. As the sunrose through a cloud broken sky,the details of the island began toemerge. The 4-8 watch then braced the main yards back to the porttack and we sailed the Picton Castle closer to the shore to get abetter look as well as get going and into Wreck Bay, get cleared in,and get this visit started.

Oh, by the way, his SalineSerenity, King Neptune and his elegant, merry and sophisticated court did visit the ship yesterday, sorted out a few minor proceduraldetails and went on their merry way. After their departure the Picton Castle was once again free of that infestation known as"pollywog". Sighs of relief all around and a fresh aire ofsatisfaction among all. Little more can, or needs be said. But A WHOLELOT OF FOLKS suddenly decided to get hair cuts yesterday. Don't knowwhy, something in the air, apassing fad, maybe.

7th July 2005

The Galapagos is on the horizon this morning, purple hazed hills and big rocks that just stick out in the middle of nowhere. The landscape looks almost barren from here, a bit like the moon. Small beaches dot the coastline under the sloping mountains and shine white in the morning sun. Lots of birds keep coming to check us out as we motor slowly in the calm along the coast of San Christobal.

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