Friday, August 2nd, 2013
By Kate “Bob” Addison
The lagoon at Penrhyn Island is enormous; it looks like you could arrange all of the other Cook Islands inside the fringing coral reef and still have clear water to go snorkeling. From where Picton Castle was anchored at the northwest corner of the lagoon you couldn’t even see the reef far away on the southern side. What you could see was a handful of picture perfect islets that stud the reef close to our anchorage, just smudges of fine white sand each with a couple of palm trees and the bright clear lagoon gently lapping the beach. And then a little further away, the buildings of the town of Omoka just visible on the western side of the lagoon.
We could have spent weeks exploring the endless miles of uninhabited motus at Penrhyn, where giant sea turtles make their nests and coconut crabs scuttle across the sand, but even our four day visit was plenty of time to fall in love with this spectacular island.
It was Sunday lunchtime when we made our approach to Penrhyn, and since the Day of Rest is taken seriously in the Cook Islands, we planned to just go in, drop our anchor and chill out for the afternoon before heading ashore on Monday morning.
It’s the only atoll in the Cooks that we can comfortably take Picton Castle inside as the passage through the coral is wide and deep enough. But any excess water sloshing in the lagoon from wave or rain must flood out again through the pass, so the current is ripping and the margin for error is very small. The ship must be exactly on the right course to make sure she’s not set onto the reef by current or wind, and there are few second chances for a ship that gets out of shape. We had an excellent team of sailors to bring us in: AB Pania at the helm with apprentice Jeff to assist, chief engineer Alex manning the engine controls on the bridge, with second mate Dirk monitoring the instruments in the charthouse. The Captain had the conn from his position high in the port main shrouds, and I was clipped in up on the main top taking photos from aloft.
It was pretty exciting coming through the narrow pass in the coral, watching the water swirl around the ship and feeling her powerful main engine throb near full throttle as she fought against the current. And then suddenly all was calm; the water around us became flat and serene and the ship’s roll dampened to nothing. Captain maneuvered us to our anchorage and then Chief Mate Paul and his gang on the foc’sle head let go the heavy port anchor and two and a half shots of chain. Picton Castle swung gently on her cable and then came to a stop in the middle of a large circle of clear blue water.
The crew exhaled collectively and then turned-to cleaning and airing the whole ship after a damp few days at sea. By tea time the ship was all shiny and sweet-smelling, her decks glistening from a good wash and the accommodation much pleasanter for a good clean and airing. It being a Sunday, the rest of the day was spent relaxing: a swim call with swing rope off the port side, mahi mahi on the barbeque and popcorn, punch and dancing on the cargo hatch.