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Christmas Day on the Picton Castle

Christmas Day on the Picton Castle was a happy affair from start to finish. And what a thrill to have Christmas at sea! The early morning sky was a baby blue. The sun seemed to reach its arms through puffy white clouds to cast its long shadows on the deck. The waves rocked us gently to and fro and the wind was just cool enough to allow the crew to don their gaudy Christmas vests and sweaters and wear their Santa hats.

Knowing that Donald’s day would already be a full one, Meredith, Paula and Rebecca had helpfully volunteered to cook Christmas breakfast for the crew. Woken by Rebecca at 5 am, the three women stormed the galley and whipped up a magnificent feast. Happily and thankfully we served ourselves scrambled eggs, french toast, waffles, sausage, bacon, sauteed tomatoes and onions, baked beans and fruit cocktail – a regular massive fry-up. Carrying our overflowing plates we made our way to the hatch where we ate our breakfasts by the little plastic ‘Iksmas’ tree. It seemed Santa Claus had managed to find us out here in the middle of the Indian Ocean after all – for there were already heaps of presents underneath the tree. This little tree has been the yearly Christmas tree for the Picton Castle since she was reborn as a tall ship. During the tree lighting ceremony on Christmas Eve the Captain had told us the story of how he had spent his early childhood in Aruba – where his family had an almost exact replica of this little tree. Some 35-odd years later, and quite by coincidence, an acquaintance had given the Captain this tree. I imagine it will be the ship’s tree until the last green shredded paper branch has fallen off. Tradition is an important part of a traditional square-rigged ship after all.

After breakfast the crew scurried off to finish their presents, wrap them and get them under the tree. The pile of presents continued to grow and soon threatened to overflow the hawser that was set up to contain them. A few squalls on the horizon also threatened us during the day. More than once we were forced into squall dodging mode. When the winds picked up the helmsman was instructed to fall off, the yards were braced and Mike, Paul, Rebecca or the Captain ordered a new course. When the rain came the little tree and the presents were protected by a large tarp. When we were successfully clear of spitting weather our course was readjusted and the tarpaulin removed.

Shortly after breakfast Donald, Paul, Michael S and Davey set up the BBQ on the well deck. The Christmas feast this year included a suckling pig we had purchased in Bali. The pig was stuffed and hung from a spit on the BBQ. It sizzled and smoked and cooked away -with our resident ‘braii masters’ on hand to rotate and baste and safeguard. The smell of roasting pig permeated the forward sleeping compartments of the ship as the smoke wafted downwind.

Bacon, tomato and cheese filled crepes were for lunch with the aid of our galley trio Joh, Liam and Susie – and then most of the crew wandered off for an afternoon nap – a necessary part of Christmas Day. At 3 pm the entire crew, dressed in their finest, gathered midships to officially begin the festivities. Everyone munched on cookies made by Lorraine, Joh, Shawn, Susie, Taia, Tammy, Robert, Brad and Sophie; peppernotter from Siri; Pitcairn breadsticks by Pania; and mince meat pies and egg nog courtesy of Vicky and Ali – as WT and Megan handed out the presents. The pile had become so large that it took us at least 2 hours to distribute all of the Christmas – and belated Hanukkah – gifts. The Captain took the helm as we opened the presents – he said the ship steered herself just fine. The crew all got pareaus from the Picton Castle. The pareaus were handcrafted lava-lavas or sarongs made by Haua Marsters. She is a resident of Rarotonga (and a good friend of the Captain’s) who had accompanied us from Rarotonga to Palmerston with her husband and two small children. The Captain had also personally purchased thoughtful presents for all of the crew – and so his stint at helm was interrupted at least 45 times as the crew made their way to the quarterdeck to thank him.

The days had grown quite long in the Southern Hemisphere – this being their summertime – and so we did not serve dinner till later in the evening. As the sun went down – in festive hues of tangerine, pomegranate and cranberry – we ate our dinner of suckling pig, roast turkey, stuffing and potato skins smothered in cheese. The lights adorning the tree and the standing rigging lit up our expressions of contentment long after the sun had dropped below the horizon all around.

Everybody in one way or another contributed to making the day a success. Whether it was helping to decorate like Joani, Tiina, Mitch, Astrid, Lauren, Dan and Clark, etc; rewriting ‘Twas the Night before Christmas like Adrienne; dressing over the Christmas top like Niko and Dave; dressing to the nines like Frankie and Oddrun and many others; working for weeks on their presents like Chris, Jan and Nadja, etc; or pitching in with the clean-up like Katelinn, Fred, Josh and Abbey, etc. Even self-proclaimed Christmas scrooge Logan entertained by theatrically singing along to the Christmas carols. And he knew all of the words… Thank you to all for a wonderful day and happy holidays to all of our loved ones far away.

Christmas Breakfast by the tree
Crew photo on Christmas Day
Handing out presents
Megan on helm -Christmas Day
Paul, Davey and Michael tend the Pig

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