Thursday, June 20th, 2013
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.