Captain's Log

Archive for June, 2013

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South Pacific Paradise in Pukapuka

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Pukapuka is marked on our chart as ‘Danger Island’. The ominous name was given by a British ship in the 18th century due to the large, encompassing reef that extends far past the visible motus and frequent high surf and current. Picton Castle approached at midday, which is the only way to visibly navigate in the South Pacific. The reefs can be seen clearly in good light and giving the reef a respectfully wide berth, we made our way up to the small pass off the main island where two small aluminum barges were waiting with throngs of people. There is not even the resemblance of an anchorage at Pukapuka, as the reef drops off to 3,000 ft just a few feet seaward from being awash. So for the duration of our stay, the ship simply drifted several miles off the island and motored back to the pass for crew exchange.

We unloaded all of our cargo with the ship holding station about ½ mile off the reef, the captain on the bridge continuously, giving helm orders and engine commands from to keep her laying just so. The mates were running the cargo operations smooth as always and before long, our cargo hold was empty and the off watch was told to get ready to go ashore. Half the crew clambered down into the Pukapukan’s big aluminium barge and headed towards the pass into the huge triangular lagoon. Traversing the pass was mildly terrifying as the current rips through and there is very little room for maneuver between the unforgiving walls of coral. But the barge has a powerful outboard engine and the island boys running the barge clearly knew their stuff, so we arrived safely on the beach, stepped off the barge onto the coarse coral sand and found ourselves on our third tropical paradise island of two weeks.

And what an island! Pukapuka is incredible. For a low atoll it’s very lush with banana, papaya and taro growing in the interior and the usual multitude of palm trees fringing the coral sand beaches around the edge. There are free range piglets and chickens everywhere, and tiare and frangipani flowers growing by the side of the coral roads. The lagoon is huge, with two big motu as well as the main island called Wale (Pronounced wa-lay) or Home Island. There are about 400 people living here, and almost half the population are children. Laughing seems to be the island’s official sport and just a smile or a ‘hello’ from one of our crew seems to be enough to turn their natural shyness into laughter. English is spoken, but only as a second language, and at home everybody speaks Pukapukan – I am told it is quite similar to Cook Island Maori, but probably even closer to Samoan. I have read that Pukapuka is only part of the Cook Islands because it was discovered by European explorers at the same time as the other Cooks – geographically it is closer to Samoa, and probably culturally closer to Samoa too. Another fascinating glimpse into the path of the ancient Polynesian settlers.

Walking up the beach we were greeted by two or three groups of people waiting there with pick-up trucks and mopeds to welcome us, to collect their cargo and in the case of the small children to enjoy the spectacle of a large group of white people all coming to visit their island. There was a moment of mutual shyness and then crew and children started smiling and waving to each other and soon people were laughing and picking crew members to come and stay with them. Once the cargo was all accounted for and our crew all had a home for the night we were invited to the Catholic Church Hall in the village of Ngake for a welcoming feast. I think this was as much to welcome our passenger, visiting Priest Father Freddy as us, but our hosts were incredibly generous, and the spread was fantastic with chicken, fish, fried coconut cakes, taro and of course cold coconuts to drink.

After eating too much we headed over to a covered area by the main wharf for a small craft market and then a display of dancing, all put on by the youth group of Pukapuka. The dancing and drumming were spectacular! First the men danced an expressive and energetic warrior victory dance and then the men and girls dancing together in a colourful riot of knee-knocking, hip wiggling energy called a drum dance. The last dance was a ‘round the world’ and Picton Castle crew were invited to join the professionals dancing a few couples at a time in the middle of the circle. A-mazing!

After the dance the on watch went back to the ship to keep her safe for the night and the off watch dispersed into the three villages with their families for the night. Sunday is a strictly observed day of rest on Pukapuka, so church, snoozing, walking and visiting were the order of the day. Church as usual in the Cooks was characterised by incredible singing and ladies in fine hats. The highlight of my evening walk was meeting the island’s doctor, a delightful gentleman from Burma who was contentedly cracking open coconuts to feed to his flock of equally contented chickens.

Monday was another day, with the change of the watch at 10am, another market at noon and a big social mixer dance in the evening. For the market we brought out our second hand Frenchy’s clothes from Canada and sold sack loads of them to the local people cheap cheap. There was the usual trying on of ridiculous hats and dresses, and I think everyone had a good time and got some good bargains too.

The dance that evening was a riot, starting with another display of traditional dancing by the locals and moving on to a Polynesian party mash-up with Picton Castle crew and locals mixing it up in the old copra shed on the beach. The songs were eclectic in the extreme and the dance styles were just as crazy. Locals and crew alike had an awesome time, blowing off steam after the hard work of the last couple of weeks and enjoying real, modern Polynesia. It was just one of those magical South Seas nights you will never forget, with the full moon reflecting in the still lagoon, drum beats, dancing, flower necklaces, grass skirts and drinking coconuts.

Tuesday was our departure day, so we mustered on the beach early the next morning and after a leaving ceremony for the passengers who were to sail with us, we loaded back onto the barge to head back out to the ship. There was an hour or so of happy chaos saying goodbyes and sorting out cargo and passengers before the locals climbed back into their barge to go home and we got underway, our course back towards Rarotonga seven hundred miles to the southeast over the sparkling blue Pacific Ocean.

A barrow full of coconuts!
Don t forget the brooms!
Going home
Inland trail
Liz and Paul en route to shop
Machetes at the shop
McKayla and Nikolaj
Nolan, Nick and Anne Sofie
Welcome feast
Welcoming committee

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Nassau

By Supercargo Katie Bruce

22 June 2013

As we approached Nassau under full sail, there was much to be anticipated of this small coral cay surrounded entirely by a narrow reef. Nassau, sometimes described as a suburb of Pukapuka, has a somewhat transient population of approximately 100 people, many who come from Pukapuka to tend to the coconut, taro and banana plantations.

Once all sail was stowed and we were hove to near the only access point, the Motu Nganogao (Lonely Island) barge filled with anxious islanders came alongside to load cargo, passengers and our crew. One of our passengers, Father Freddy, the first priest to visit the island in 10 years, would be performing ceremonial duties during the few short hours we had ashore. Nassau typically sees a ship every 5 or 6 months making it arguably the most isolated of the Cook Islands and our visit that much more meaningful to the islanders.

We loaded onto the barge and were welcomed ashore by three women with three wheelbarrows of cold coconuts. Although we are becoming accustomed to the abundance of drinking coconuts, we would never refuse this refreshing welcoming tradition.

With only two hours and one square kilometer to explore, the crew divided if only for a short time before eventually meeting for a swim and unexpected feast. A quick walk around the island exposed its endless ocean views and fresh breeze felt from beneath the towering coconut trees that engulf the entirety of Nassau. The island has a school, two churches, a hospital, volleyball court and mostly thatched roof homes. If you managed to stray inland, the center of the island has seemingly rich soil used to grow taro and bananas.

Once congregated back along the shore, many of the crew bathed in the warm, crystal clear waters and spent some time playing with the children. The church services had ended and we were summoned to a feast, despite our scheduled departure time we couldn’t resist saying yes to the offering. We made our way to the church hall and dined on lobster, grilled parrot fish, boiled taro, fried coconut cakes, sweet donuts and a plethora of cold coconuts. The islanders, dressed beautifully for church, performed a welcome song in English and several traditional songs in Maori. The young men performed a dance while the elders played drums.

We were overwhelmed by their hospitality and generosity. We parted ways shortly thereafter, trading tea, sugar and rice for several bunches of bananas. Rasmus, who had left quite an impression on the younger generation, left them a soccer ball that was sure to be the only one on the island.

As we sailed off under full sail, with Nassau astern and the sun setting portside we couldn’t help but be content with the beauty of the islanders and knowing that we were among a small population who had visited their piece of paradise.

Supercargo Katie Bruce

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The Magic of Palmerston

By Kate “Bob” Addison

15 June 2013

Most people in the world never get to visit Palmerston Island, but thanks to the Picton Castle I find myself here for the second time in just a few months. And this time we had the privilege to carry ten Palmerstonians home with us from Rarotonga as well as the ship’s cargo hold, nearly full of assorted break-bulk domestic cargo. Our crew head ashore and back to the ship through the narrow passes in the reef in the islanders’ tough work boats into the lagoon and onto the coral sand shores of “Home Island” and get shared out into islanders homes.

Upstairs in my bedroom at Bill and Metua Marsters’ Yacht Club on Palmerston Island, the fresh southeasterly breeze is blowing in through the large unglazed windows. The overhead light is already switched off and I’m typing by the light of my head torch. The point of bright light strapped to my forehead has brought some moths out of the darkness and every now and then one crash lands on my face all aflutter. The occasional insect bounces off the screen, attracted by the glow, and there’s a delicate beetle in the style of an underfed earwig that’s been scurrying around the top left corner for the past ten minutes. The sounds are of palm fronds rustling in the wind, and of lagoon water sloshing gently across sand. It’s a fresh, white, tropical noise. The main smell up here is the timber of the building and a hint of sweet tiare and frangipani flowers.

The weather has turned noticeably chilly – the first time in months I’ve needed a blanket at night and the coolness of the fresh breeze makes for excellent sleeping weather. It is, in fact, winter here in the southern hemisphere. But the same cooling breeze was less restful for the Picton Castle last night – she was anchored in her usual place on a shelf, close to the reef on the western side of the lagoon in the outflow of the pass through the reef. At about 3am the strengthening breeze pushed the ship out away from the reef and she dragged her anchor right off the shelf and into the deep water just a few meters away. This is the reason Captain keeps half the crew aboard the ship at any time in these typically difficult South Seas anchorages.

So the crew on board were called on deck to hoist back the shot and a half of anchor chain (that’s about 20 fathoms or 130 feet of chain) that was hanging straight down into the deep. The main engine was fired up quickly, but was not really needed as the trade winds were pushing the Picton Castle safely away from the reef. For the next hour the crew slowly but surely got anchor back onboard, with much sweat and grunting. The ship remained hove-to for the night, drifting slowly to leeward with a nice easy motion. It’s actually safer to heave to in this way than anchor, though it means less sleep for the crew. Then in the morning the ship steamed back to the anchorage and with the help of Bob Marsters and Chief Mate Paul, who dove and marked the perfect spot with a buoy, they were able to set the anchor perfectly, where she lay securely for the remainder of our stay on Palmerston.

Meanwhile ashore, the off watch were sleeping peacefully, enjoying the magic of a night on Palmerston after a busy day of snorkeling, volleyball and eating. Palmerston is an incredible place and it’s sometimes hard to believe that we actually get to go there, from the postcard beauty of the palm fringed white coral beaches and turquoise lagoon to the perfect kindness and hospitality of our hosts. The Palmerstonians could not be more generous in sharing what they have with us – they welcome us into their homes, give us beds with brightly coloured covers to sleep in, feed us with parrot fish, local chicken and chops until we’re much too full and then object very strongly when we try to help wash the dishes. The little children run out for hugs and the mamas kiss each of us on both cheeks welcoming us to their island and their homes. Wander around Palmerston and it won’t be long before you’re invited in to somebody’s home for a cup of tea or some cold juice and a chat about what the old Picton Castle crew are doing now, about home and about family and friends across the sea.

But we like to think it’s not an entirely one-sided experience and we do our best to give something back to the people of Palmerston too. From carrying their families and cargo from Rarotonga to running a Saturday shop ashore selling basic foodstuff, toothbrushes, flip flops, timber, and machetes. People were a bit disappointed that we didn’t have soft drinks, chocolate biscuits or tobacco to sell, but the children had fun digging through the second hand clothing from Canada and buying bridesmaid dresses and hats for a dollar an item.

18 June 2013

And now it’s Tuesday morning and we are at sea again, Palmerston Island already feeling like something of a glorious tropical dream as we get back to real life aboard our familiar ship. On Monday morning we invited the whole island out to the ship for a little light lunch and a look around the ship before we sailed. It was happy chaos with children swarming everywhere and the adults congregating around the hatch and bridge chatting with our crew and trainees and with each other. The school children had prepared a dance display for us accompanied by the traditional Cook Island drumming, and then there was a round the world dance where men choose a lady and the couples dance together first slow and then fast in the middle of the circle, or in this case, in the middle of the cargo hatch.

Great fun for both crew and locals but even the loveliest of times must end sometime. So the Captain thanked the locals sincerely for looking after our crew so well, and for coming aboard to see us off and there were hugs and kisses and goodbyes before the locals all climbed down into their strong aluminium boats leaving the crew and our passengers for Pukapuka to get ready to go back out to sea.

Our crew needed to quickly switch back into sailor mode, so we split up into watches to clean and stow the ship for sea, before a full man overboard drill was called with all gear deployed and the rescue boat launched and recovered. Oscar the MOB buoy was recovered quickly and without incident and the gear was all washed in fresh water and replaced in its brackets around the ship. Finally Captain was happy that we were ready to get underway, so we heaved up the anchor, ran up aloft to loose topsails, staysails and courses and set sail on a new course bound north by west for Nassau.

After church
All aboard
Church
Dan Hakon and Tamatoa
Hats in church
Lagoon
Lunch
Main Street
Shanna in a hat
Ship s shop

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South Seas Trading Barque

By Captain Michael Moreland

June 12, 2013

Picton Castle slipped her lines today from the wharf in Avatiu, nearly full of cargo in our 100 ton cargo hold and inter-island passengers bound for Palmerston, Nassau, and Pukapuka. It was a day with a hectic pace and plenty of hard work, with the mates Paul and Dirk brilliantly orchestrating the loading and stowing of all the cargo that had been accumulating in the Pacific Schooners warehouse over the last few days. It was a steep learning curve for the new trainees in the use of yard and stay tackle, carefully placing strops around up to 700kg loads, hoisting them off the dock with the heavy duty yard tackle then swinging the load in under control with the stay tackle, located directly over the center of the cargo hatch. From there, suspended in mid-air, the load was gingerly lowered down to the depths of the hold where a team was waiting to guide it into place as if it were a game of Tetris. This was repeated countless times with all sorts of items such as large chest freezers packed full of meat, pallets of dry goods, a pallet of very heavy tiles, a 3000 litre water tank, a motor scooter, and so on. In the end the hold was loaded start to finish in 4 hours and the hatch was battened down right on time at 1330.

Our 14 booked passengers had been milling about the dock at the same time with the same question: are you guys really leaving on time? Yes, we are. Our wonderful Pacific Schooner office team of Alana and Hana were there on the dock and began to shuffle people onboard, checking the manifest. Finally at 1415, all passengers were onboard, as well as all the crew and trainees and George the cat too. I held a quick muster, asking all of our new passengers to remain clear while we maneuvered, but also addressing the crowd of locals on the dock, thanking them for the Rarotongan hospitality and that we will see them in a few weeks. From there it was “stand by to get underway” and the trusty B&W Alpha engine roared to life, extra docklines began to be removed, and all the crew were spread out and ready to respond.

The wind was blowing the ship on to the dock, so getting off was going to be a bit tricky. But thanks to the help of the Avatiu Harbour tug, who pulled our bow off and pointed us out the pass, it was relatively painless. Once clear of the other ships and pointed due north it was only a short moment of steaming out of the harbor and then all at once we were in open ocean, smack in the middle of the largest ocean on earth. Another quick and abrupt transition for this adventure seeking crew. You could still make out faces on the dock when the ship began to feel the surge of the Pacific swell and with her jibboom reaching across the harbor mouth, we were off, bound for the remote northern group of the Cook Islands, laden with cargo and passengers just as a ship like this would have been routinely 100 years ago.

The success of the day was the culmination of several weeks of planning, training, advertisement, logistics, and problem solving here in Rarotonga. It had been a time of transition with almost total crew turnover, with 15 new trainees, 5 apprentices, and 5 new staff crew including a new cook for the first time in five years. Each day leading up to the sailing date had goals to meet in many different aspects of the ship’s operation including, ship orientation and training for new crew, apprentices and trainees, provisioning, engineering, rig checks, and so on.

On top of our usual outfitting and training for sea, which we have done countless times, we had the added aspect of booking and receiving cargo, which we had never done on a commercial basis on this scale. First of all, to make a go at this, we had to get the word out. Word of mouth seems to be the accepted method of advertisement, but we wanted to make it more official and professional than that. We placed colour ads in the local and widely circulated daily Cook Island News. Several front page stories were run as well with news on our future endeavors. We even used our own resident movie star and former shipmate, Billy Campbell, to help by being interviewed by the number one radio station on the island. In the end and just at the end, it all paid off and the cargo and passenger bookings came just in time. Our cargo team of Purser Kate “Bob” Addison and Supercargo Katie Bruce did a phenomenal job of keeping all the cargo straight with proper manifests and receipts as the bulk of the goods came in the last two days. The rates we decided on were the same as the other shipping company as we have no aspiration to undercut an existing shipping outfit, nor do we want to overcharge. We hope and feel that we are providing a fair and reliable service and our only goal is that the islanders who we are serving walk away happy.

It is easy for one to get romantic and nostalgic when talking about carrying cargo under square sail, but the truth of it is that it’s just another job with its own challenges and rewards on a ship that is full of challenging and rewarding work. And it is a good deal of work, but all good seamanship and excellent training for all. That being said, we do feel a sense of pride and honour to be living every deep water sailor’s dream of running a South Seas trading Barque in this year of 2013. And not just carrying token amounts of cargo around, but moving goods and people that need transporting, and all on a fine ship that has little need of a main engine, but relies on the skills and sweat of the crew, her hand stitched cotton canvas sails, and the sweet trade winds to fill them.

Asst engineer Billy overhauls the trash pump
Dan wipes down the quarterdeck rail
Nikolaij and Liz overhaul spanker standing rigging
Nolan at the watercooler

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New Beginnings

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Wednesday June 5, 2013

It’s Wednesday night here in Rarotonga and there are just a few stars peeking out from the black black sky. The day was a big muggy, but now it’s cooler and quite lovely, though still warm enough to be in shorts and t-shirt on deck. I’m perched on the quarterdeck enjoying the gentle sway of the ship and the subtle smells of a tropical night; a hint of diesel and fried chicken mix with the smells of the soil and the sea. The dramatic mountains that make up the familiar backdrop to our berth here have vanished into the darkness, making the lit-up ship seem bigger and more important than she does in the day. With the number of people walking or driving past to have a good look it’s easy to believe that we are in fact the star of the show.

We have a whole new crew aboard for this new voyage which started on Monday and it’s great to have them here; a ship full of happy excited people is a very agreeable thing. There is a whole gang of them chatting and laughing on the main cargo hatch on the main deck right now. I’m not sure who’s on watch and who’s just hanging out but who cares really. They are all getting to know their new shipmates, soaking in the fact that they have finally arrived in Rarotonga and their South Seas voyage has actually begun.

This voyage is known as ‘Aloha Polynesia!’ But it could perhaps better be described as ‘Kia Orana Cook Islands!’ By popular demand we are pressing our fine barque into cargo and passenger service in our Pacific home of the Cook Islands, delivering food and other much needed supplies to some of the outer islands in the country. It will be the first chance in a long while for some of the islanders to get home, and we are delighted to welcome them aboard as our passengers and guests.

This voyage, like so much else on ships, can be described as ‘same same but different’… it’s still training in the ways of ships and the sea, exploring remote and fascinating places under sail, and trying to do a little bit to help the communities who are so extraordinarily generous and welcoming to our crew time and time again. But with the cargo and passenger operations the focus is different on this voyage, and the timeframe is much shorter than our usual year-or-so voyage. It’s going to be a whole lot of hot, sweaty hard work, and it’s going to be great.

There’s a lot to do before we sail a week from today, but unusually for the start of a voyage the ship needs relatively little work since the crew from the South Pacific Voyage which just wrapped up worked so hard to make her nice before they signed off, and that was only a week or so ago. But with a whole new crew there’s a whole load of training that needs to be done. A few hundred feet from our berth is the mouth of the harbour, and the other side of that is the open Pacific Ocean. So our crew need to be pretty sharp the moment we sail off the dock.

We have a good gang, lots more experience than a usual group of new trainees, mainly because of the apprentices we have along for this voyage who are all either graduates of the State Training Ship Danmark (Nikolaj, Anne Sofie and Rasmus) or students of Maine Maritime Academy (Jeff and Nick), and also because we have a fair few returning crew – Shaun, Shanna and Mark all sailed with us last summer on the East coast of the USA and have come back for a Pacific adventure.

We’ve been busy the last few days doing ship’s work like overhauling and sending up the spanker gaff and boom and all the associated standing rigging. But training has really been the focus of the week: we’ve been doing aloft training, with all hands climbing ‘up and over’ the fore top with help and encouragement from the pro crew, sail handling drills of bracing, setting and striking sail, loosing and stowing square sails and headsails, walkthroughs on deck to learn the hundreds of lines of the running rigging, studying handbooks to learn the seemingly endless nautical terminology, the policies and procedures that keep us all safe and the ship running smoothly. We’re had safety orientations and we also have lots more safety drills to do.

Today was an introduction to launching and recovering the ship’s boats and I promise hoisting the boats will get easier once everyone learns to pull together! There have been walkthroughs of the ship’s domestic routines, the proper way to clean the accommodation and scrub the decks, learning about scullery duty, keeping the galley and scullery clean and stocked with snacks and coffee, and helping out new cook Shawn in the galley. Shawn has a tough act to follow in the shape of the legendary Mr Donald Church, but he is doing a brilliant job – we had pan seared wahoo steaks with pawpaw salad, baked Mediterranean vegetables, rice and green salad for supper tonight, yum!

And so we are in good shape, but we still have much more to do before we sail – and then next week we start to load the cargo!

Capt Michael Moreland explains how to launch the ship s boats
Dirk and Finn rigging the spanker gaff
Jeff varnishing the spanker boom
Nikolaij and Liz overhaul spanker standing rigging~0

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Daysails and Awards

Editor’s note: Apologies for not keeping you fully up to date in the Captain’s Log. We’ve wrapped up the South Pacific Voyage and are just beginning the Aloha Polynesia Voyage which will see Picton Castle sailing entirely within the Cook Islands, offering our award-winning sail training program while we deliver cargo and passengers between the islands. It’s been a busy time with crew and trainees departing and arriving, and lots going on in Rarotonga. The Aloha Polynesia Voyage is off to a good start, and ship’s purser Kate “Bob” Addison will keep you up to date on all the happenings of this exciting voyage. But first, a log to wrap up the South Pacific Voyage…

19th May 2013

By Kate “Bob” Addison

It’s another glorious day in Rarotonga with a light ESE breeze carrying Picton Castle quietly back towards her berth in Avatiu Harbour. The island ahead of us is glowing in the afternoon sunshine, the folded peaks of the mountain ranges a rich, complex green and the fringe of beach coral-white.

We are heading home to the harbour after a very agreeable daysail, a situation most unusual for our barque. Normally when we cast off our dock lines and climb aloft to loose the sails, hoist the skiff and set sail it’s because we are setting out to sea for a week or maybe a month, making on of the long ocean passages for which Picton Castle is renowned. But this time we’re not actually going anywhere, just out for a sail. It’s a very relaxing experience for our guests aboard – cool drinks, fresh fruit platters, and the only lines they were obliged to haul on were the boat falls – with just 13 crew aboard (and one of them 9 months old), we simply couldn’t hoist the skiff without the help of our passengers. But they laid in with a will, and I think they enjoyed helping out a little.

Day sailing does let you see things in a different light. It shows off the skills of our crew who have nearly all now been sailing this ship for a solid eight months, and that really shows. At the start of a training voyage you just couldn’t leave the dock and set sails and then turn around and come back again with such a small crew. It relies on every single person knowing their job and doing it quickly, competently and with no fuss. And it’s so great to watch how much our gang have progressed since we left chilly Lunenburg last October. Captain has described this sail as the final exam of the voyage, and all aboard have passed with flying colours.

On Friday night this South Pacific Voyage officially ended and we hosted an awards ceremony and dinner aboard to mark the occasion. We were delighted to welcome Dkembe and Niko’s families aboard to join us, all the way from Bermuda and Colorado respectively. Donald cooked up a feast which was served in the salon with dinner music and fancy ice cream for dessert. After dinner the Sea Service certificates were awarded to all hands together with South Pacific fishooks, the Polynesian symbol of the navigator and proudly worn by Picton Castle crew, it’s a symbol that once you have become crew you never really stop being crew. There were kind words from the Captain for each of his crew, and a few tears and lots of laughter as he adroitly captured the personality of each person.

The next part of the event was held on the main deck in the relative cool of a tropical evening. There were all sorts of silly awards presented, each one suggested by the crew for one of their shipmates, and accompanied by music and photos. Lots of fun, and also good to step back and look at the voyage, celebrate our accomplishments and appreciate the slightly oddball salty family that we have become. The awards all given and the tearful acceptance speeches all made there was nothing left to do but for the Captain to call for the Mate, and with a “Mr Mate, that will do the watches!” the voyage was done.

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