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Arriving at Penrhyn

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Sunday July 21st, 2013

Picton Castle is at anchor inside Penrhyn Lagoon at a position of 8°59’S 158°05’W. It’s a very calm and beautiful spot. The port admiralty pattern anchor is holding well in nine fathoms of water, and the ship is still and quiet. The lagoon here is huge so there’s a bit of fetch, and you can hear the wavelets lapping at the hull. But the ship is still.

It’s a welcome relief after the constant movement of the last week. And at Atiu too we were simply hove to in the open Pacific Ocean, so it’s the first time the ship has been perfectly still since leaving her dock at Rarotonga ten days ago. It’s a strange sensation, being consciously aware that nothing around you is moving. Feeling the unusual luxury of being able to place a cup on a horizontal surface and knowing that the surface will stay horizontal and the cup and contents won’t take flight, and sleeping without bracing yourself in your bunk against the roll.

We had an excellent passage up from Atiu, a little over 700 nautical miles in eight days, almost the whole passage under sail alone. We just had to fire up on the last day to push closer to the easterly trade wind than we could make under sail. But a ripping sail with a little of everything you could hope for on a decent South Pacific passage. We had calm weather with light winds and sunshine, then a perfect force five sailing breeze with seas building making the ship dance and at the end a couple of days in an area of low pressure with squall after squall blowing through, the main decks knee deep in swirling white water sloshing from scupper to scupper, or rushing out through a freeing port with a dull metal thud, the rain sometimes vertical and sometimes horizontal, stinging the helmsman’s eyes as she tries to hold her course. It’s never been cold though; on a passage north from 21 to 9 degrees south the water is warm and the air temp has been pretty steady at around 28°C. That makes a big difference to the comfort of the crew – getting soaked is a lot less unpleasant when the water is warm and the sun’s out!

And then the final approach to Penrhyn today, with all hands called after lunch to lay aloft and stow all sail. Land had been visible for a couple of hours, a low dark smudge on the horizon in the glare of the sun off the starboard bow. By the time we were aloft stowing the land had resolved itself into distinct motu and islands set in the coral ring around a huge lagoon. The turquoise water with pale shallow spots and lush vegetation made the view stunning, and exasperating not to have a camera in my pocket.

We steamed once past the passage into the lagoon to check it out, and then made our approach with AB Pania at the helm, chief engineer Alex at the engine controls on the bridge, second mate Dirk on the instruments in the charthouse and the Captain conning the ship from the port main shrouds. The pass is straight and short but the water rips out, churning the water up and making current strong enough to push a ship right off course. But the team did a great job holding her steady and in just a few minutes we were inside the reef and all was calm. Chief mate Paul and his gang got the anchor out, and our passenger, Lloyd, who’s a commercial diver heading for the pearl farms of Manihiki, dove down to check it was holding well. It is.

All fast, and the crew turned to to get the ship clean and shiny after a week of damp living spaces and salty surfaces, and then at 4pm a swim call followed by BBQ to round off an eventful and successful Sunday at sea.

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