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Small Boat Expeditions

By Joanna Clark and Mike “Fred” Weiss

Picton Castle crew members enjoyed sailing the 22′ dory Sea Never Dry and the 23′ monomoy longboat during the small boat expedition to the island of Akmaru, located about 5nm away from Mangareva. For beginners to small boat sailing, the first few days were an abrupt introduction, as winds gusted to 35 knots! Luckily, the monomoy’s spars, crafted in the weeks preceeding our expedition, held strong in the breeze (at least a bit better than the leeboard and rudder, which were repaired and strengthened after the first night out). The sail to the island was mostly a beat (sailing upwind), which made it somewhat dicey when we had to navigate around treacherous coral heads near the beach where we landed. Crew members in the monomoy got to row for a while, making the arrival to camp all the more satisfying. After an exciting sail, we arrived in Akamaru, which means “to go slowly” in Mangarevan, to set up camp for the evening. The first night, the 8-12 and Delta watch camped; the second, 8-12 and 12-4; the third, 12-4 and 4-8; and the last, 4-8 and Delta. Even though our campsite consisted of trees and hammocks, living quarters on the ship were nonetheless reflected ashore. “Bro-camp,” as it was quickly dubbed, mimicked the sleeping arrangements of the forepeak, with the guys setting up their hammocks around a separate campfire, building lean-to’s out of palm fronds and generally taking a page out of Survivor as they prepared for their overnight stay. At “Base camp,”a largecampfire was made near a vacant shelter. Here, meals were prepared and eaten, and at night coconuts were opened up and enjoyed plain or with a little bit of rum mixed in. A few locals joined us also, and stories were exchanged and marshmallows were roasted.

Some of the more daring explorers swam out to “Goat Island,” a small island just off of our beachhead. Rumours went around well before the expeditions even set out that there were thousands (if not millions) of goats roaming wild on this island and that we could hunt them at our liberty, which got several people sharpening their machetes. However, upon arrival to “Goat Island,” the few goats that were there were not to be found. Also we learned that they are not wild, but somebody’s property, so the goat hunt was called off. It did make for a nice swim, though! Just down the beach, very near base camp, was a house with a pig pen and free-roaming fowl. The people who lived there were very friendly, and allowed some of us to say hello to their livestock. The pigs, of which some were adults and many piglets, seemed to have a coconut-laden diet and it was observed that they didn’t smell at all. There was also a scenic path that led to a quaint church, with beautifully maintained grounds. Some people who went for an early morning stroll were greeted by a very friendly woman who took them back to her house and fed them breakfast, before insisting that they depart with a box full of fresh fruits and vegetables. The kindness of these French Polynesians is not to be understated.

The voyages back to Picton Castle in the lagoon at Rikitea were quite speedy, with the wind on our quarter. For many, this was a familiar return to small boat sailing; for others, the only other sailing vessel they’d ever been in was the Picton Castle . While quite different from sailing a big square-rigger, the lessons we’ve learned while aboard made handling these fine boats almost intuitive, and we managed to maneuver them through challenging waters and deal with less-than-ideal situations (there were a few things that broke on both Sea Never Dry and the monomoy) that required us to improvise and think like true sailors. Hopefully, that’s what we’re all becoming.

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