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Cargo, Easter Weekend and Weather

By Kate “Bob” Addison

The evening of Easter Saturday finds Picton Castle still snug in her berth in Avatiu Harbour, Rarotonga, Cook Islands. By now we were planning to be underway, well on our way to Aitutaki with our hold filled with cargo for the outer Cook Islands, and our bunks full of passengers – mostly islanders taking the rare opportunity to get home. But unfortunately the weather gods seem to have very little respect for our carefully laid plans, and have conspired to produce singularly unhelpful wind forecasts for the next few days.

Aitutaki is due north of Rarotonga, and Palmerston lies to the northwest, making the prevailing easterly trade winds perfect for a passage from Rarotonga. Unfortunately the weather we are seeing now is not the usual steady trade winds, but the effect of a small low pressure system passing through the region and creating northwest and westerly winds. If we were to have left on schedule the winds would have had the combined effect of turning the next passage into an uncomfortable motorboat ride, bashing into wind and swell and then, worse, making it impossible for us to unload cargo once we finally made it to Palmerston.

At Palmerston, as at so many other islands, the boats must come out to the ship through a narrow pass in the reef on the west side, usually lee side of the island in the normal easterly tradewinds. This they cannot do if there is big westerly swell crashing on the reef, nor can a ship like ours anchor there under these conditions. We would have to stay well off shore. The thought of a couple or three of days hove-to off Palmerston in rolly weather was not so appealing, so Captain decided we were better off spending the weekend alongside in Avatiu – let this low blow through and winds get back to normal – and so here we are.

Today was busy, hot and hard work but rather fun, loading all of our cargo into the hold. The chest freezers packed with meat and vegetables went into the hold first, hoisted into the newly organised and emptied space using tackles on the yard and stay. A mate calls the loading operation for each piece of cargo, and a team on each tackle hoist away, hold or lower as ordered in order to lift the freezer or whatever up from the dock, swing it in over the rail and lower it down into the cavern that is the open cargo hold once the timber and tarpaulin hatch is removed. Eased into position using a tag line and a couple of hands, the freezers and everything that follows is neatly stacked, Tetris style, before being lashed to make sure it stays put when we’re underway.

Next after the freezers were the barrels for deck cargo, lining the starboard breezeway where the huge blank spars used to be before being hoisted ashore to make more room. Next were two giant water tanks, hollow cylinders made of tough green plastic, they are destined for public use on Palmerston, and I expect they will be a big help in managing water security on the island. Quite challenging to load something so bulky, but the plan worked well and they went in with no problems. Then, after the very bulky stuff was loaded, the smaller break-bulk cargo could be stacked on top – boxes, bags and sacks of a very mixed domestic cargo including everything from crates of eggs to a child’s tricycle.

We also loaded fresh provisions today. Dry food, cans and frozen meat arrived yesterday, but today was the Saturday market. Nadja was there by 6am, and by 7:30 she’d visited all of the produce stalls and bought an amazing array of fresh fruit and veggies. The quality is very good here, and I very much enjoyed walking round the market helping to collect everything she bought. It took several trips, but luckily the market is barely a cable from the ship so the walk was short if well laden. We would have had more people to help carry, but Sam needed all hands to lift and launch the monomoy, so we were each carrying a minor mountain of vegetation and hatching plans to build ourselves a hand cart for next time.

Meanwhile, the monomoy was upside down over on the hard at the other end of the harbour – she’d been getting some TLC while we’ve been here, recaulking and sealing for her bottom seams and a fresh coat or two of copper bottom paint should keep her watertight and protect the wood for another year or so. Only 23 feet long, but very solidly built, lifting the monomoy takes some serious power. Handling her manually makes us appreciate the powerful reduction on the block and tackle of the boat falls that we use to hoist her back up out of the water, until she’s hanging off the port side of the quarterdeck from the steel davits.

Good Friday was a very good day. All hands were working until lunch, and then after a visit from another group of school children, the off watches were cut loose. Most of them spent the afternoon and evening at a big annual Easter beach music festival, with plenty of local and imported live music, food carts, grassy patches to laze about on and a sand dance floor in front of the stage. Picton Castle crew contributed to the entertainment too – our very own Finn was a great success with his gas-can banjo, and our gang were dancing centre front for pretty much the whole evening. There were fairy lights in all the trees and bonfires close to the shore once it got dark, the whole effect was very pretty and magical.

So now everything is ready for us to sail on Monday, and we’re making the most of being ready early with two thirds of the crew getting the whole day off tomorrow, and the duty watch looking forward to a quiet and easy ‘Sunday almost at Sea’. We will celebrate Easter with a big lunch and ice cream, and there might even be chocolate eggs if the Easter bunny pays a visit…

From the crew of the Picton Castle to all our friends around the world, Happy Easter weekend!

caulking sydney
loading break bulk
Waiting to receive cargo

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