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Pukapuka

By Chief Mate Michael Moreland

“Danger Island” hove into sight in the early morning hours after five rough and wet days sailing from Palmerston. No sleeping on the hatch for our 13 passengers bound back to the island, otherwise known as Pukapuka, but we were able to make up comfortable accommodations throughout the ship. Now, in the lee of the island, the trade winds had laid down a notch along with the seas, making our approach right up to the edge of the reef a bit more manageable. Not even the slightest hint of an anchorage here as the reef has no shelf and goes from 6 feet deep to 1200 feet right away. No problem though, following local practice we put out a new wire mooring pendent just spliced up onboard and a long polypro hawser and we tied up right to the reef. As long as the trade winds blow just so out of the east, the ship lays fine, a good distance off the jagged coral, but if the wind goes light or shifts in a squall we have mere minutes to fire up and let go the mooring to get away. However, the weather was cooperative and allowed us to settle back on our mooring about 200 feet from the reef. Small boats from the island were alongside immediately, islanders pouring over the rail to greet us and reunite with the friends and family who had been away from Pukapuka for around six months. There would be no cargo offloading this day in observance of the Sabbath, but our crew were quickly ferried ashore through the pass in the reef to the beautiful sandy beaches of Pukapuka to walk around, explore and meet the people. The turquoise of the lagoon is stunning.

The next morning, bright and early, the island barge was out alongside and we wasted no time in starting to offload all the cargo we had been carrying for three weeks from Rarotonga. The hatch was ripped open and 30 tons of dry goods were rapidly chained by hand from ship to barge. About three barge loads of food then it was on to the fuel. Twenty 200 litre drums were hoisted over the side by yard and stay tackle and twenty 100 lb tanks of propane as well. Reggae music helped the crew stay in rhythm and we had the ship dry of cargo by lunch time. The smokers in the crew were happy as now they could smoke again. It was a great learning and working opportunity to handle and look after the cargo for the past three weeks. It was a fun challenge right from the start in Rarotonga: figuring out exactly how much we could take, arranging delivery, organizing on the dock, then finally loading into consigned spaces on deck and in the hold and having everything fit right and with no spare space. It was sometimes hot, sweaty work, but very rewarding at the end of the day and quite a thrill to be the only square-rigged vessel delivering cargo under sail. Some of the crew wanted to load up again and keep going, others were just glad to see it go and have our deck space back. Either way it was a memorable venture and a rare one at that.

The rest of our stay in Pukapuka was a fascinating immersion into a rarely visited true South Seas island culture. Home stays were organized, with crew spread out around the island, mostly with families who had been passengers with us, with hospitality coming back ten fold. Kai kai or feasts were arranged with all sorts of local dishes and drinking coconuts abundant. Social nights were organized at the town hall with a great sound system playing local island music with young and old, islanders and crew alike dancing and carrying on through the night. It was to be a short and sweet visit to famed Pukapuka, as the wind was not cooperating any longer and the ship hove-to offshore, but our new friendships were sealed and with one last feast onboard the ship, and an impromptu song and dance around the hatch, we said goodbye to our friends and shipmates from Pukapuka.

What a thrill for us here deep in the South Pacific at ‘Danger Island’!

crew unload cargo at Pukapuka using tackles
local boat bringing cargo ashore at Pukapuka
PICTON CASTLE from the beach in Pukapuka
view from aloft while moored to the reef at Pukapuka
what a feast in Pukapuka!

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