Captain's Log

Archive for August, 2010

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Life Aboard at Tedside-Pitcairn Island Log #5

When Picton Castle arrived at Pitcairn Island, we anchored just off Tedside. On previous visits, the ship has either anchored (the Captain says he is going to write a ‘cruising guide’ to the island having anchored all around it over the years – good holding, no shelter, huge seas) or hove-to offshore, drifting around and coming back toward the island to meet the longboat for crew changeovers. The weather for the first half of our visit was very good, with light winds and small swells. Partway through our stay the wind and swells picked up, causing the ship to roll at anchor. However, the holding was good, it was perfectly safe and it would have been rougher at sea so we
remained anchored for the full time.

With half the crew ashore and half the crew aboard at any given time, we were able to get lots of work done on board. Work continued on the sailing rig for the longboat, with a second layout of the new jib on board and a second layout of the new mainsail ashore in the Square. Tablings were done on both sails, and the grommets and roping were done on the jib. The inside of the longboat got a coat of paint, the spars made by the carpenters were varnished and the hardware required to rig the boat was built. The longboat can also be rowed, so the oars were sanded down and given coats of varnish. We’re trying to get the longboat ready so we can use it for overnight expeditions in Mangareva – at this rate, this is going to be one good looking boat by the time we get there!

One of the biggest projects was putting the hold and sole back together, after the cargo was emptied from those areas. The hold practically echoes now, and our considerable galley and deck supplies look like just a handful of things compared to the volume of cargo unloaded at Pitcairn. Having unlashed everything in order to get the Pitcairn cargo out, we took this time to reorganize and tidy things up before lashing them down again. With the weather as good as it was for the first part of our stay, we got a lot of varnish work done on the pin rails, on the door to the forward head and the small pin rail on the quarterdeck just outside the charthouse.

With Donald ashore for the full visit (the man works hard and needs a break from time to time), the crew took turns in the galley. It was fun for people to cook for a day, although they have a new appreciation for Donald who is always able turn out consistently good meals on time. And there was good fishing from the ship at Tedside, including a small shark which found its way to the barbeque. Our freezers are more full than when we arrived and Donald has a new supply of fish to work with for upcoming meals. Two Pitcairn goats may have also found their way into the freezers on board, much to Donald’s delight.

Our crew were aboard for a public fishing day, launching the two big longboats to go out to different spots around the island to catch some fish. While we don’t always have the best luck fishing from the ship, everyone did very well from the Pitcairn boats, catching two big wahoo and five tuna, 50 or so nanue, over 150 red snapper and some coral trout. Dennis was apparently kept so busy removing fish from hooks and killing them that he had no time at all to get his own line in the water. Many folks from the other watch also went fishing, but in small boats called “canoes” owned by individuals on the island. “Canoe” on Pitcairn means a small rectangular boat with a flat bottom and low freeboard, often built of plywood, powered by a small outboard engine (not what I traditionally think of when I hear the word canoe). These small boats can be launched and handled by one or two people, unlike the longboat which requires a crew. Massive wahoo and other large fish were hauled on these expeditions. Many of our crew really love fishing, so it was good experience for them to get out on the water to fish with people who are really good at it and fish regularly to make up part of their food supply. And anyway, maybe the freshest fish
in the world, from the hook to the pan in short hours…

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Market Day-Pitcairn Island Log #4

We had been shopping for specific items to bring to Pitcairn in both Canada and Panama, loading all sorts of assorted goods in the hold for delivery on arrival; lumber, tinned food, petrol, tools and even turtles. In addition to the things specifically ordered, we brought hundreds of pounds of clothes from Frenchy’s, a Nova Scotian chain of second-hand stores. We set up shop in the Square on two consecutive afternoons for the islanders to come and shop. It really was like a Saturday morning at Frenchy’s – a shopping frenzy with lots of people,
clothes flying. I think everyone found something they liked that fit. Parents and grandparents were happy to find all sorts of kids’ clothes, and Shawn will be comfortable in his new pyjamas. Judging by the lines full of fresh laundry hanging out to dry
the next day, many Pitcairners will soon be sporting new outfits.

The islanders weren’t the only ones shopping. Our crew picked up a number of unique and beautiful items made only at Pitcairn. Aboard we’re all familiar with the woven plastic baskets made on Pitcairn because we use them all the time on the ship – we keep our cups and mugs in Pitcairn-made baskets below the coffee station on the aloha deck. It was time to replace them, so we got a couple of new ones during our visit. A number of the crew also picked up baskets for themselves as souvenirs. A different kind of basket is also made on Pitcairn, these ones are smaller and are made with leaves from pandanaus palm trees, dried and dyed. While the plastic woven baskets are strong utility baskets for carrying things around, the pandanaus woven baskets are more delicate and perfect for storing small collections of things. Pitcairn is also known for its wood carvings, made from miro, tau, cabbage wood and “pilau”. Many of our crew have new fids which they will use on the ship, but many also purchased decorative sharks, fish, whales, turtles, birds, canes, bowls and Bounty models to take home as souvenirs. There are avariety of other handicrafts for sale on the island, including jewellery, soaps, hand embroidered pieces and hand painted pressed leaves, all of which are beautifully made with a high degree of craftsmanship. Bees are also kept on Pitcairn, making some of the most delicious honey in the world. If you want some of these for yourself, you can find them on Pitcairn
Island websites and order them to be delivered by mail.

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Bradley’s Birthday- Pitcairn Island Log #3

During our stay, a certain young Bradley celebrated his 9th birthday. It’s Pitcairn tradition to have a public dinner for a birthday and with our crew ashore Bradley had a huge public dinner. Bradley made a point of informing the Captain of his birthday, telling him to invite all the crew and to instruct them all to bring him presents. The Captain did just what he was told. As Bradley’s birthday dinner was on the first day
ashore for the starboard watch, the Captain radioed out to the ship to let the crew know they were expected to be there, to come to the party with presents in hand. Every single person on the island attended that night, bringing heaps of food, much of it traditional island dishes. All of the dishes were put out on tables in the Square and there was so much food that even if you had only a teaspoon of food from each dish, you wouldn’t have been able to sample everything. Bradley had a chocolate birthday cake and everyone sang to him. As he had almost thirty extra birthday dinner guests who were instructed to bring gifts, he did very well with birthday presents, scored big time, much to his delight, receiving things like soccer balls, sunglasses, art supplies, mini army men, and piles of candy.

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Pitkern Ilan -Pitcairn Island Log #2

What makes Pitcairn so special to us? Well, for starters, the island itself is strikingly beautiful. Pitcairn is a tall rock rising steeply out of the sea far from anywhere with a rocky and mostly inaccessible coastline, lush green valleys filled with banana trees and pandanaus palms, breathtaking ocean views, sparkling turquoise blue water at St. Paul’s pool, regal Norfolk pines dotting the tops of hills.

It could be the island’s history, including the Polynesian history of Pacific navigation, exploration and settlement before 1400 plays a part. Certainly at the top of the list is the story of the famous Bounty mutiny in the late 1700s and the ongoing story of the folks who have called this island “home” since 1790. It could be due in part to the fact that we have just sailed 3,000 miles under canvas across and down the wide South Pacific to reach Pitcairn.

But even with all of the above it is most certainly the Pitcairners themselves and how they make us sailors feel so welcome. Although heirs to a centuries old legacy of back to the land life on this storied island, each living soul there now has made a conscious decision to live the unique rugged lifestyle that is necessary in this remote place. Our crew find that the people of Pitcairn are a lot like us- in our world on the Picton Castle – all hands rely on each other because they have to, they must conserve resources and can make or fix anything from anything. They know each other well, tease each other (and us) mercilessly, and pull together when called upon.

When our crew first came ashore after a thrilling ride in the big longboat, each met their host family at the concrete jetty of the Landing in Bounty Bay (seas bashing spray over the black volcanic rocks where the Bounty met her end), threw their bags and themselves on the back of a 4-wheel ATV (known on Pitcairn as “bikes”) and drove up the steep switch backing ‘Hill of Difficulty’ on their way to their new home for two days. From that point, each crew member had a somewhat different experience ashore as they were involved with the lives of their hosts. We had been told, as Picton Castle approached Pitcairn, that everyone on the island was trying to get all of their work done before our arrival so that we could all relax and spend time together during our visit, so it wasn’t quite business as usual
when we were there. We were, however, part of all sorts of island fun.

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Pitcairn Island- The Story of Picton Castle at Pitcairn 2010 begins…

The Captain says that the only thing harder than getting to Pitcairn Island is leaving. He is absolutely right. Picton Castle sailed away on a beautiful Monday afternoon in fresh easterly breezes after an eight day stay. Each of the two watches was able to spend four days ashore exploring the island and getting to know the islanders. There were definitely tears in a few eyes at the Landing at Bounty Bay as everyone said their goodbyes, some in the eyes of Picton Castle crew boarding the longboat to sail away and some in the eyes of Pitcairn Islanders staying behind and waving from the jetty as the longboat pushed out into the big Pacific swell and back to the
ship. An amazing time at an amazing place with wonderful folks and truly friends of the Picton Castle. In fact, we’re considering renaming both, either Picton Island or Pitcairn Castle or both!

Before we get to the delightful aspects of our visit to Pitcairn Island – it was not all fun and games, far from it. We had a medical emergency ashore which called upon the skill, talent and training of the islanders and ship’s crew to deal with as well as the help of the Island Administration and French Navy. One of the popular things to do around Pitcairn Island is to clamber all over the steep cliffs, down to various parts of the shore around this beautiful island. A few days ago, while climbing back up from the shore with a group of crew and islanders, our Jimmy lost his footing and took a nasty tumble, falling down the side of an area called Down Rope. The group had gone down to see ancient Polynesian petroglyphs on the rock walls. The crew and islanders provided first aid where he fell, then transported Jimmy in a stretcher up the cliff to the well equipped medical clinic with the island’s doctor Bruce and our medical officer Gary in attendance all the way. Jimmy had broken his arm pretty badly so it was thought best to get him evacuated to full medical facilities in Tahiti as soon as possible. A French Navy vessel nearby could get him there much more quickly than we could, even going as fast as possible. So with the help of Governors Representative Lucy Foster and Mayor Mike Warren the call went out and soon Jimmy was on his way, along with two
Pitcairn Islanders who also had to get to higher level medical care. We are all extremely grateful to Commanding Officer Lieutenant Alexander Blonce and the crew of the La Railleuse for their rapid response and solid seamanship. Jimmy is now in hospital in Tahiti and all reports say that he is doing well.

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Arrival at Pitcairn

Picton Castle sailed past Henderson Island, one of the Pitcairn Islands, on Sunday afternoon. There are actually four islands that make up the Pitcairn Islands – Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno. Pitcairn is the only one that is regularly inhabited, although the islanders make occasional expeditions to the other islands. Henderson is a raised atoll, one of only a few in the world. The Captain visited there on an expedition to collect wood on a previous visit to Pitcairn, while sailing around the world on the brigantine Romance in the 1970s. As we sailed past, he told us about landing the longboat on the beach on the north side of the island, chopping down trees and floating them out to the Romance, anchored off, to be loaded on deck. At that time, most of the wood for carvings came from Henderson, but now most of the wood is grown right on Pitcairn Island.

We had motored through the day to reach Henderson, but once we were there the engine was turned off and we set sail again, including stuns’ls. We sailed through the night, making between 5 and 6 knots to cover the last 120nm to Pitcairn Island. Paul sighted Pitcairn first on his 4-8 watch. By breakfast time we were just a few miles away, sailing in the direction of Bounty Bay, still with stuns’ls set on the port side of the foremast. As we approached land we took in the stuns’ls, and sailed along past Adamstown, around Matt’s Rocks and over to Tedside where we dropped the starboard anchor.

Shortly after 10am the Pitcairn longboat came out to meet us. The longboats are pretty incredible boats – very strong and sturdy, able to carry piles of cargo and people. The people of Pitcairn are great boat handlers, bringing the longboat alongside as gently as possible in the considerable swell. We had fenders all along the starboard side, and two heavy braided lines, one run from the bitt on the well deck and one from the bitt on the aloha deck, for the longboat to tie up to. There were all sorts of happy hellos as the Pitcairn Islanders came aboard – crew who hadn’t been to Pitcairn before introduced themselves eagerly and crew who were returning greeted old friends heartily. In between the chaos of meeting and reacquainting, Brenda took care of the immigration formalities by stamping our passports and Simon handed over some forms for each crew member to fill out. We got the lumber and barrels of gasoline, which had been stored on deck, unlashed and ready to load into the longboat. The next step was to open the hatch to the cargo hold so that we could pass things up. A previous log mentions a partial list of the cargo we carried to Pitcairn – all of it was passed up and over the rail, including lawn mowers, empty stainless steel drums, canned goods, bags of cement and more.

The first load of cargo went ashore with the starboard watch, who helped to unload it, then came back to the ship with the longboat for the second load. By the time we were done with the unloading, the cargo hold looked completely different – so empty, aside from the usual galley supplies and deck supplies. After the second load of cargo was loaded, the port watch loaded their personal bags and jumped into the longboat. Getting cargo into the longboat can be a bit of a challenge, with the longboat and the ship both moving in the swell, and getting people in and out takes waiting for the right moment when the longboat is an easy step/jump from the ship’s rail. The little turtles went ashore on the second long boat ride, getting sloshed around a bit in the bucket as the longboat beat through the seas toward the Landing. We got a good look at the steep, rocky edges of the island, and then saw the roofs of Adamstown as we motored past. To get into the harbour, the longboat crew look behind them, waiting for just the right moment between swells, to quickly scoot in and around the jetty, getting the boat tied up quickly alongside. It was an exciting ride and the port watch gave a cheer for the longboat crew once we were safely tied up.

As we got off the longboat, we started moving cargo and greeting again, getting the longboat unloaded for the second time and saying hello to the islanders who had come down the Landing. After all the cargo was ashore, crew found their bags, along with care packages for their hosts, then met their host families and threw their bags and themselves on the back of their hosts’ 4-wheel ATVs (referred to here as “bikes”) for a trip up the Hill of Difficulty and on to the homes where they would be staying for the next two days. Already changes were obvious to those of us who had been to Pitcairn before – the Hill of Difficulty was just being cemented on our most recent visit and now the paved road goes through Adamstown, past the square and all the way to Len’s house.

Within minutes of being ashore, some of the crew said to me that they were starting to understand why Picton Castle crew who have been to Pitcairn before speak so fondly of it. The atmosphere at the Landing, as crew and islanders met, was one of excitement and anticipation. It was hard to tell who was more pleased – we as guests or our hosts.

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