Captain's Log

Archive for October, 2010

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Time to Sail…

Despite the ticking of the clocks one now finds across the world, despite the ringing of bells or alarms reminding us of places we need to be and things we need to be doing when we get to these places, time never feels the same. Some days seem to ooze or drip by and others move so quickly they give you whiplash. When you think about it, maybe time is a strange concept. It is, after all, a human construct – a way of making the world make sense. Yet it is also very culturally specific. This awareness of time, or lack thereof, is particularly exaggerated on a ship. Perhaps it is the regimented routine of the watch system and perhaps it is partly the limitation of space (also a human construct). You know exactly where you are going to be for eight hours of the day – give or take a foot or two – and for the other 16 hours -well you know approximately where you are going to be – give or take a foot or two. Sometimes, just sometimes, it is a flurry of activity, a slight break in the regular routine, that creates the illusion that time is flying – or in our case sailing. This particular passage was one such example.

It’s trajectory (or momentum) began when Mate Mike called three ship drills before we had even left Suva Harbour. Fire in the paint locker, abandon ship and a man overboard drill were all completed carried out by all hands after over a week exploring ashore in Fiji – followed by a muster to discuss the strengths and weaknesses that were observed in each drill. Time didn’t slow down then though.

STOW THE SHIP FOR SEA! BRACE THE YARDS! UP AND LOOSE SAIL!

Big projects had been completed in Suva, but a ships work is never done and consequently neither is a sailor’s. One of the biggest projects to be done was to lavish some attention on the beautiful 20′ lapstrake skiff built at Lunenburg’s Dory Shop for the Picton Castle about four years ago (www.doryshop.com). She had been sitting atop the galley house for many months – and a good boat should never go to disuse – so Paul and Jan worked together with a growing team of interested and eager carpenters to scrape and sand her and get her in tip-top shape.

Then there were the afternoon workshops. The Captain did one on rigging – discussing different boats and ships and their general rigging designs – the strengths and weaknesses, benefits and drawbacks of each one and a bit of the history behind particular rig ‘designs’ and their development. The crew had so many questions – it being such a huge topic that one would only assume there would be a multitude – that the Captain held a second one, Part 2, the next afternoon.

WATCH CHANGE! SET THE SPANKER! HANDS TO SET THE INNER AND OUTER JIB AND THE FORE TOPMAST STAYSAIL! DINNER BELL! RINGY DINGY! YUM!

This eight day passage from Fiji towards Vanuatu was also filled with birthdays and celebrations. Paulina celebrated hers the day we left Suva with a batcave party – Bermuda style. Mitch got an un-birthday cake the next night because we had missed his birthday the month before during our busy visit to Rarotonga. Then came Joh who rocked the Mad Hatter tea party theme in the batcave. Then came Rebecca’s turn and she had a tropical bling wow of a gathering in the foc’sle. Then South Africa Day. Then Canadian Thanksgiving. Phew! Thank you Donald and the galley crew for the feasts and the cakes!

The daymen had also joined the regular watch system for a time and that added a bit of extra excitement to night watch. New faces or gaits to recognize in the dark. New conversations and stories. More hands to set sail or loose sail or furl sail or brace. Need two pots of extra piping hot coffee? No problem. Need the galley scrubbed? It’s already done.

NOW STOP.

It is time to take in the surroundings. The passage is almost done. There are 70 nm left until we reach Espiritu Santo where we will clear into Vanuatu. Take a look off the port bow. Ambrym island glows out of the night mists with a burbling volcano – its firey crater illuminating the surrounding clouds, turning them hues of pink and red. A reflection above of what lies below. The moon hangs bright in the sky – the stars competing. Wait for the sunrise. It will shatter all of your previous conceptions.

For eight days our hours were filled with satisfyingly hard work, celebration, dazzling beauty, soft laughter and quiet conversation. Yes, time is strange. And time on a ship, stranger still…or not.

Paul, Shawn and Jan cut planks for the skiff
Paulina s birthday cake
Rebecca s island bling party
riggin workshop
Taking in the natural beaty
work on the skiff

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A Rescheduled South Africa Day

The Picton Castle boasts nationalities from around the world. We have Canadians and Americans, Norwegians and Germans, Dutch and Grenadians, Swiss and Bermudians, Pitcairners and Palmerstonians, Irish and British. We also have South Africans. Since we enjoy celebrating all of our national holidays aboard we were excited to see what our South African representatives had planned for September 24th. The first surprise was that they went on strike! They postponed South Africa Day until further notice with placards and signs and chants. Perhaps it was the timing. We had just sailed into Suva and the city and all of it’s excitement awaited us. South Africa Day deserved our undivided attention it seemed, and at sea.

So we waited… until we were four days into a busy and beautiful sail and then on October 8th we heard the word from Georgie and Davey that the time was nigh. The day had been a busy one, but the activities were set to commence at 4 pm and everyone was excited to participate. The creativity of this crew (especially when it comes to costumes) never ceases to amaze. As we all gathered at midships we had it all. We had a lion, a tiger, a leopard, a giraffe, a gazelle, two elephants, an exotic bird, a tokolosh (the South African equivalent of a boogey man), safari guides and trackers, tourists on safari, city tourists, a helpful taxi-cab driver, musicians, a Georgie look-alike and a Davey look-alike, a Mandela look-alike, rugby players and ‘football’ players and braai masters (braai being a big BBQ in South Africa, a BBQ with only meat, nothing else, not even potato salad and, oh yes, plenty of cold beer).

You could take a ride in a cab for a very reasonable price around to see the wild animals on the plains of Kruger National Park (the galley house), jump in again to visit the braai masters at a backyard BBQ in Johannesburg (starboard side) and then take the quick ride to Sibo’s Shabeen (a local bar) on the hatch where everyone gathered for music and refreshment.

Davey (from Durban) and Georgie (from Johannesburg – aka “Jo’burg”) organized some trivia questions and combined it with rugby-like passes – pitting one watch against the next in a fearsome match. Some of the questions included:

Which animal is not in the big five? Is it a) the leopard b) the cheetah c) the buffalo

What was the prison Nelson Mandela was kept in? a) Westville b) Robben Island c) Guantanamo Bay

What is the National Flower? a)the rooibos b) the protea c) the dagga

Where is the best surfing in South Africa? a) Durban b) Cape Town c) Jeffrey’s Bay

And the crew favourite…

Are there mosquitoes in South Africa?

4-8 showed off their smarts and crossed the line to victory first.

This was quickly followed by a gumboot dancing competition. Davey and Georgie demonstrated a well-rehearsed and seamless example of this athletically synchronized dance form and the rest of us were forced to compete – sans rehearsal or forewarning – for best gumboot dancing duo. Hilarity naturally ensued. Among the pairings we had a football player dancing with an elephant and a rich tourist with a cheetah. The crew was reassuringly encouraging and the music choices brilliant. The competition was stiff but 8-12 walked away with the prize in the end.

The evening finished off with a delicious braai. Yay for South Africa Day – the Rainbow Nation. Well worth the wait!

Ali and Taia gumboot dance
Big game hunting
Georgie and Davey call the trivia

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Bula Bula Fiji

A few days before we sailed into Suva harbour the Captain held a muster on the quarter deck to talk about Fiji. Some of the crew, including Mate Mike, Rebecca, Ollie and Logan, had been to Fiji before and they regaled the crew with stories of past adventures, recommendations for sightseeing, and general tidbits and facts about this rich and fascinating island group. Guidebooks to Fiji were scattered around the salon as people made their travel plans on their off-watch. Those with similar interests made agreements to travel together, while some craved solitude and had more of a solo exploration in mind.

With the ship divided into a generous watch system there was plenty of time for everybody to get their Fiji on. The crew had three days off in a row to do whatever they wished before returning to the ship for a day of ships watch, ships work and rest. By 5pm on the first day everybody who was off piled into the skiff and headed for the Royal Suva Yacht Club. The yacht club is a wonderful first impression of Suva. It’s architecture has an almost colonial feel to it, while it’s interior mingles a splash of retro cool with 50s country club sophistication. And fully manned and membered with locals and lots of Fijian kids in small boat programs – Captain says it is his favorite yacht club in the world.

One could easily spend months in Suva alone and not discover all of the hidden gems of this eclectic city. We had just over a week. While reading guide books is a good start to discovering a new country everyone found that the locals were more than happy to be our guides. As one man put it, “Bula and welcome to Fiji. Help me, help you, blow your mind.”

Eating can be one of the most enjoyable ways to explore a culture. Without food there would be no industry, no creativity, no dancing, no art and no life. Inspired by the Asian and Indian influences in Fiji the ‘batcave’ girls began their Fijian experience by draping themselves in fabric and bangles and dining out at a little Indian restaurant called Ashiyana. This ‘restaurant’ quickly became the crew favourite and most of us dined here at least twice during our stay. Everything on the menu was absolutely delicious, but it was Nisha, who served us with wit and grace, who brought us back time and time again. She took particular pleasure in teasing the Captain when he came to dine. She remebered him well from previous visits when the Picton Castle crew also claimed Ashiyana as their own. While it was clear that our culinary loyalty was to Indio-Fijian cuisine, the crew did eat elsewhere. One evening Swiss Chris, Mike, Paula, Ollie and Dave Brown ate at Daikoku where the Japanese teppanyaki chefs prepared a flaming meal to show and where the saki flowed like water. Indeed there were no shortages of good restaurants in Suva, but the crew did more than just explore their taste buds during the week.

The busy markets provided there own kind of stimuli. Nadja and Donald found their utopia in the busy downtown outdoor Marketplace market where the selections of fresh fruit and produce overflowed the stalls. This market is acres big. All kinds of produce from the country and a babble of nosies, a heady brew of fragrances. Others discovered the downtown craft markets (Suva flea market, Government craft centre, and Suva handicraft centre) where local artisans sell their wares at reasonable prices if you are willing to bargain. In local lore it is bad luck for the vendor to lose their first customer of the morning. Joh and Brad took advantage of this superstition and walked away with amazing local art for a ‘steal’. In the past the Picton Castle had acquired a lot of cargo and at the mere mention of the ship our crew made friends. The Captain personally had quite a few friends in the craft markets and was invited to birthday parties and weddings during the week.

Many of the crew got away from downtown Suva during our week stay. Frankie took a trip to Caqalai to go diving. Having been to this particular reef twenty years before she was curious to see how time and tourism had changed the natural environment. Tammy spent an afternoon diving to a wreck in a nearby harbour. Paulina, Lauren, Ollie and Siri took a seven hour bus ride into the mountains of Viti Levu to visit Navala, one of the last truly traditional villages in Fiji. They brought with them gifts of kava as an offering to the chief and were treated to a cultural treat in return. Ali and Vicky later took the same trek to the village where the local school now boasts an illustration of the Picton Castle on their chalkboard next to a poster of an Inuit girl and her husky which represent Canada. We truly have sailed a long way from home!

Rob M took the twenty minute flight to the island of Ovalau and spent some time exploring the city of Levuka – the first European settlement in Fiji and Fiji’s first capital city. He said it looked like an old wild west town. Roselyne and Jan took the same trip and while dining at a downtown restaurant met the provincial representative for Moturiki, the island next door. After spending a few hours with him they were invited to visit the island where they were treated like family and participated in a local kava ceremony. They visited the rural school where the children performed a dance for them and they witnessed the most curious tradition (developed since the colonial era) of synchronized, regimented tooth brushing – to the beat of a drum.

Alex, Meredith and Paul rented a vehicle and drove around to the south end of the island on a drive aptly named Coral Coast drive where they took in the sites and the sunset. The ‘brocave’ boys also rented a truck, piled it high with surf boards and ‘bro-raderie’, and set out in search of good surf. When they found no waves that day but they didn’t give up, they attempted to surf the famous Sigatoka sand dunes instead. The Suva Forest Park which is a 30 minute bus ride out of town offered a refreshing break from hectic city life. Lorraine and Tiina spent some time hiking around the well marked paths in this tropical forest and many of the crew found themselves taking an afternoon swim in the deep pools of the forest. Ollie captured some amazing footage of Taia swinging off a rope into the cool recesses of a pool 30 metres deep. After those rope-swing heights most are ready to tackle our fore-yard rope swing from the fo’c’s’le head with renewed bravado.

But you don’t have to escape the city to get off the beaten tourist path. Despite the fact that Fiji is a major international vacation destination, Suva is not a tourist-filled city. Unlike New York City or London or Rome, the local population here is not jaded by outsiders and is genuinely interested in showing you a good time and curious about your impressions of their country – swelling with pride when you say that you have truly enjoyed your stay. While crossing a busy intersection one afternoon Katelinn met a group of local women who invited her back to their home for dinner and out to the clubs for a night of dancing. We all enjoyed nights of dancing on the town at Traps Bar, O’Reilly’s and Friendly. Adrienne, WT, Donald, Paulina and Mitch rented an apartment in the hills above Suva for the week and many o’ crew spent their nights there – tuckered from trekking or dancing and ready for some R&R or a long-anticipated Skype conversation with family at home.

Yes, Fiji was a rich and enjoyable experience and almost everybody was lucky enough to fall in love…with a Bollywood movie by the name of DABANGG! This movie inspired more conversation and laughter and impersonation than any other movie to date. All I can say to our friends and family back home is GO SEE IT! When your best friend, father or daughter break into spontaneous dance -complete with hip thrusts and bended knees – or when their t-shirts burst into a million pieces when they flex their newly developed sailor muscles – you will understand the meaning behind it all!

Vinaka Fiji!

A market in Suva
A school visit on the way to Navala
Cheri, Jo and Brad enjoy a home-cooked meal
Our sushi chef
Siri, Lauren, Ollie and Paulina explore Navala
The Captain explains the game plan to Nadja, Donald, Paul and Bronwen

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The Lights of Suva

As the Picton Castle sailed into Suva Harbour on the 25th of September, after a sweet sailing passage from Pukapuka in the northern Cook Islands, the crew could not help but remark that it was strange and somewhat surreal to see big city lights once more. In sailing across the South Pacific it had been four months since Panama, since they had seen bright big city lights on the horizon glow like this; the plethora of possibility beckons like this; the threat of over-stimulation looms like this.

Those on lookout the night before were constantly reminded that we were no longer ‘off the beaten track’, or maybe on a really different ‘beaten track’ – we were sailing to the capital of the South Pacific. The ship had sailed through the largely uninhabited Lau Group of Fijian islands some 90 miles to the east the previous afternoon, sailing past mysterious looking islands and rock formations. As we made our way in smooth seas toward Viti Levu (the biggest island in Fiji) lights twinkled on the horizon. Some were from Fiji’s outlaying islands and some from ships heading to or from this busy cosmopolitan centre. All of them blended with the setting stars of a shifting night. Dawn was fast approaching and we took in sail, attempting to delay our departure by just a few hours. At sunrise we hove to at the pilot station just off the breaking reef surrounding Suva harbour.

They say that you can smell land before you see it and that every piece of land has a distinct smell. Rarotonga smelled of sweet incense, Palmerston of sun-bleached sand and cool coconuts, Pukapuka of fresh rain and salty palm. The island of Viti Levu smelled of bush fires and yet as we drew closer to Suva a city smell became distinct. Automobile fumes, factories, industry, late nights, coffee, curry, bargain prices…you could smell it all. Wasn’t bad at all.

Fiji is the name as pronounced by the Tongans and was later adopted by the Europeans. The islands formally known as Vitu were originally inhabited by an eclectic group of people of Polynesian, Micronesian and Melanesian descent who lived on this large group of islands for 35 centuries before European colonization. Fiji is the largest land mass anywhere around. Canabilism was pretty big here well into the 19th century. With the arrival of the Europeans came the shift to large scale agriculture and plantations. With plantations came the need for cheap labour and a lot of it. Indian indentured labourers were brought in by the bureaucrats of the British Empire back when much of the world map was pink, to work the fields and many stayed in Fiji afterwards. Not to get into the political or historical climate too deeply (although it is rather fascinating) the result today is a beautiful mishmash of cultures, cuisine, mentalities, languages, religions and politics. And in spite of the occasional coup, all seems to get along remarkably well.

With all of the islands in Fiji (all 300 of them) to chose from, why did the Captain choose Viti Levu? Why Suva? The answer is multifaceted. Practically speaking Suva is an excellent anchorage and the perfect place in which to provision the ship for the long passages ahead. We would provision in Suva for five months of deck supplies, engine room gizmos, cleaning supplies, galley instruments and canned goods. Suva is also an interesting city. It is a cosmopolitan hub with grit, hutzpa and flavour. It hasn’t forgotten its past, but it is remembering to define it’s own future. Cities say a lot about a country and Suva is no exception. It is a smorgasboard of delightful surprises. It is the largest city in the South Pacific and is also home to the University of the South Pacific which is jointly owned by 12 different nations. The result is a multiethnic, multilingual and multicultural campus, contributing even more to the general feel of the city. Suva is loud, busy, smelly, fragrant, friendly, old and new – the captain says he wouldn’t want us to miss it. It is also very central. Those in the crew who felt adventuous could easily leave the island itself and travel -seeking out and creating their personal journey. Beaches? You got it. Traditional Villages? You’ve also got that. Fine dining? Well, yes. Especially Indian. Shopping? Yup. The Captain says that some cruising yachts avoid Suva but he wouldn’t want us to miss it for the world, so delightfully rich and real it is.

As we motored into the main harbour the sun winked at us through the morning haze surrounding the city. We waited for the pilot to arrive to guide us into the quarantine area where the health and environment officers would board – followed by the immigration and customs officials accompanied by our agents. It had been a beautiful sail and now it was time to explore something new. Something big.

Chinese fishing trawlers in Suva Harbour
Picton Castle in Suva drying sail
Pilot comes aboard
Suva waterfront

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Reflections and Plans

An open letter to Sail Training International:

We are now 1/3rd of the way and 10,000 miles along in this, Picton Castle‘s fifth voyage around the world. This really has been an excellent voyage thus far with truly a great gang, officers and trainees alike; set out in May south to the Caribbean no problems and only one gale and even that one helped us on our way. Quick Panama Canal transit and I love that country anyway, Galapagos good enough. We had a great time at that storied isle for a week after 20 days at sea, all under sail. Short 300 mile hop to Manga Reva and French Polynesia and the lovely lagoon anchorage there, and wonderful overnight sailing/camping trips in longboats and dories to motus for small boat handling training and experience. Trading for black pearls also popular there. Then a ten day passage in fair winds to Rarotonga for a long visit. Wonderful time there at our homeport island. Onward 250 miles NW towards Palmerston Atoll. and then continuing on to Pukapuka Atoll up by Samoa w/14 islanders aboard! On top of our full complement. All this with permission (and even requested by) of the Cook Island Ministry of Transport and of course, literally tons of supplies to replenish the island – nice to have cargo hold sometimes.

We were asked to take desperately needed food supplies on a mission of mercy to Pukapuka which has not had a supply ship in many months. Keen to help in Rarotonga we put out the call for emergency goods for this atoll and soon the wharf was piled high with emergency rations. And the islanders to get home. My mates Melbourne and Haua Marsters (of the famous Palmerston Marsters, he of three island wives in 1868) came up with us as far as Palmerston.

Our Rarotonga visit was tremendous. We go alongside inside the small harbour of Avatiu instead of anchoring off – Brigantine Yankee, on the reef for 40 years or more since being wrecked there is long gone now but well remembered – but there are pictures of her at various restaurants and bars as well as the museum. Rarotonga is not hard to get to by air and, as a manner of speaking much like Tahiti was 30-40 years ago except cheaper and the folks all speak English. Just a great place with many like minded folks. We made many visits to schools with donated supplies collected in Nova Scotia. They usually thanked us with a lunch and a performance of kids dancing for us which is truly enchanting – then we had about 1,000 school children aboard to visit the ship over the course of a week scrambling around the ship, much fun – Plenty running around for the gang on the Rarotonga (6 miles x 4 miles), island dance/feast nights and so on,as well as watch and ship’s work. It truly is a great place. I can strongly recommend a visit to Rarotonga, Cook Islands as a fantastic island getaway vacation spot to anyone. A good place for ship to get things done too.

Weather was fine while we were there. The big things are these: After many meetings with Cook Islands cabinet and the Prime Minister we got our trading licence for the new ship (see Zebroid in the latest ASTA directory) and met with various business interests, I believe we now have the final financing for our first Pacific Schooners Auxiliary-Sail Supply Ship; to be renamed Tiare Taporo after the last big trading schooner hereabouts. The desire for regularly scheduled, dependable professional service, well, they are crying for this they are virtually begging for us to get started. We met with many local business folks, all of whom were very savvy, see the merit and possibilities easily – so, I think we are done with that – now to get started and get the ship fixed up and gone and going towards the islands. And then the next one and the next one and so forth. It is a great model for isolated island groups, and our plan includes a comprehensive apprentice/sail training component. And it is good work for our operation in Lunenburg Nova Scotia to refit such a vessel.

We had great visits to Palmerston and Pukapuka and stories should be up on our website for Palmerston with Pukapuka soon to follow – Now under way for Fiji about 900 miles away. We are also considering a return voyage to Europe in 2012, you all at STI made us feel so welcome and we had such a wonderful, meaningful time in 2008 for the ship and our trainees we figure we have to go again. We are hoping to send our two Shore Team to the Sail Training International conference in Norway in November too.

Chief mate Mike dances with a student in Rarotonga
Delivering donated books in Rarotonga, Cook Islands
Joani, Nadia and Johanna stitch the rope covering onto a new sail
Julie and Paula rigging for stuns ls on the way to Pitcairn Island
Nadja, Rebecca and Johanna take noon sun sights

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It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This

We all gathered on the quarterdeck for a muster with the Captain on our third day of sailing since leaving Pukapuka. The sun was shining brightly on the wood of the decks, on our backs and on the calm ocean – causing the small breaking crests to sparkle. The wind was strong and fair and filled our sails with gentle care. The Captain cracked open a coconut with four sharp smacks of a machete and passed the drinking nut around the circle. “It actually does not get better than this, ” he said deliberately. “This is it. Ocean voyaging under sail. This is what it is all about. ” Looking around the circle it was clear that most everyone realized the magic that we were experiencing out here at sea in perfect conditions of blue sky, balmy trade winds and small seas as we sail from an atoll called Pukapuka to the Fiji Islands.

As Shawn wrote in his log Fish On!, the very next morning at 6am the 4-8 watch caught a huge marlin. Most of the ship was still asleep when the fish took the hook, but few of us were asleep for long after this leviathan was hauled aboard. Awakened by muffled squawks and shouts of excitement and the most tremendous flapping, all rose sleepily and were confronted by a fish the size of most of us (and bigger than some…). The day didn’t end there though. Sometime in the afternoon frenzied shouts brought most of us to the pin rail and the foc’sle head. A pod of pilot whales had come to say hello. There must have been about twenty of them in total and they were in the mood to play. In the past we have seen dolphins come to race the bow of the ship through the water, but this was a rare sight indeed. Their shadows shimmered beneath the surface of the water as they came in from port and starboard to frolic underneath the headrig. They flipped and rolled and breached and seemed to smile at us and the ship as if the Picton Castle was an old friend they had not seen in a while. I hate to anthropomorphize the situation, but it seemed as if they were saying, “Well done. This is the way to travel the seven seas.” ‘Mitch’ (Mike M) looked at me as we sat on out in the head-rig and said simply, “This is what we signed up for.” We sat and watched them for what seemed like hours until ship duty called.

There was indeed much to do. The crew remained divided in a three watch system, but the mates had selected a few of the crew to be daymen. David Brown transitioned to an apprentice in the engine room. Under the guidance of Chris and Katelinn he will learn the subtleties and intricacies of the world below decks – a world equally as alive, fascinating and in need of care as the deck and the rigging. But as he is one of the regular engineers at Pitcairn Island looking after the island generators, tractors and so on, no one figures he’ll have even the slightest problem in Picton Castle‘s engine room.

Logan and Siri took Davey Laing and Georgie under their wings to teach them the ways aloft. They overhauled and repaired blocks and inspected and tarred the rig. The rigging crew also sent down the fore royal sail for repairs and when the sailmaker team of Joani, Lauren and Paulina repaired it – they bent it back on. The wind was also perfect for stuns’ls – which give us the ability to get a few more knots out of her. Many were eager to lend a hand and helped send up the three stuns’ls (lower, topmast and topgallant). My-oh-my she must have looked a sight from afar and one could almost envy the birds and the fishes their view.

The sailmaking team was also busy making a new royal and spent their days on the quarterdeck with wide brim sun hats working away. As we all discovered sailmaking is no easy task. Rebecca put on a few ditty bag workshops and on a small scale we all got to experience stitching canvas and sewing grommets.

Sophie was made bosun’s mate to assist bosun WT and the two of them delegated general ship projects on deck. The crew painted the BBQ, stripped, sanded and oiled/painted the galley frames, repaired leaky portholes, oiled and rust-busted ratchet straps, scrubbed the base of the windlass, and on and on and on. Jan worked on several carpentry projects around the ship and Paul had help from Shawn, Tammy and Megan to finish up the new rudder for the monomoy.

We had daily classes with subjects ranging from cargo to weather and as we got closer to Fiji. On the same day as the marlin and the pilot whales the 8-12 watch caught two big tuna weighing over 300 lbs and we dined on sushi and tuna steaks for days and the mahi mahi continued to bite. Life was full and life was sweet with plenty of scrumptious food served up by the one and only Donald. As we approached the International date line which would launch us into the next day and into the Eastern Hemisphere we all couldn’t help but feel that it was not the destination, but the journey – or the voyage in our case.

7 played beneath the bow at once
Momma and baby pilot whales
Ready to set some stuns ls!

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Sailing On

As we sailed from Pukapuka on September 16 our laughter could almost be heard above the ships horn which signalled our away. We were giddy for a variety of reasons. For one, we’d had a great couple of days enjoying the hospitality of the people of Pukapuka. Among the highlights for us were the cross island tours by motorbike and pick-up truck; the home-stays with delightful families (who just like Palmerston ‘Atollers’ bent over backwards to make us feel welcome and cared for); the grand feast the islanders prepared to welcome us ashore; the island crafts (Adrienne, Sophie, Paulina and Roselyne in particular were keen and mate Mike purchased the most extraordinary hat); the rainy boat trip Yo and Cheri took to the nearby motu. Pukapuka has several islands all linked together by miles of coral reef. At low tide you can feasibly walk from one to the other – in good sturdy walking shoes – but most prefer to visit by boat.

Cultural subtleties make for the most interesting of island visits. On Monday the Picton Castle crew and a few Pukapukans organized a dance party. We had heard legend told that Pukapuka is renowned in the South Pacific island group for their singing and dancing and, well, we wanted to be a part of it. So DJ Mate Mike and a man named Billy put together an excellent play list which mingled Western ‘unst-unst’ dance beats with traditional island ‘swoosh-swoosh’ tunes. The crew danced and danced and made several announcements inviting the locals to join us and yet, but for a few, we are alone in the lights on stage. The island certainly showed up – everyone gathering around the perimeter of the outdoor dance hall – and we were assured that they were all thoroughly entertained by our dancing. But we were perplexed as to the reason why more did not get up and join us. At the next night’s dance we got our answer.

Again we threw a dance party. Pukapuka dance party 2010. Many of the host families made us beautiful flower crowns and leis to wear and we were assured there would be a big local turnout. Once again there was and once again the locals were gathering on the perimeter and at first we danced alone. Robert Hoffman informed us that the night before many people wanted to dance with us, but that it was custom to be asked to dance. So we rallied the troops and ran out into the crowd inviting the locals onto the dance floor. And they came! And we danced! What fun!

So yes, as we sailed away we smiled. During our stay we had unloaded a massive amount of cargo – dancing and laughing in good company as we did so. We had been forced to let go the mooring when the wind shifted and the 4-8 watch – under the careful guidance of the Captain and Second Mate Paul – spent the night heaving to off the island. We had visited an island a wee bit off the beaten path. An island in need of regular shipments of supplies with no anchorage and friendly people. Just before we left many of the islanders came out to the ship – accepting our invitation to host them. In farewell and thanks they sang to us – their voices filling the sails with incredible harmonies – their singing bringing even some of the saltier of the sailors to the verge of tears.

We also smiled that day for a different reason. We were heading out to sea. The promise of wind was in the air and the crew was ready. Lorraine put it well when she said that the islands were amazing, but it was the sea that had truly called her back to the Picton Castle after close to eight years on land. All hands to set sail and we were off – out of the lee of the island and once more into the sweet, deep blue of the South Pacific.

A host family makes lays for our dance party
All three stuns ls set
Dance party 2010
Farewell lunch- Puka Puka
Stuns ls catch wind
The feast they laid out for us

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