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On The Way To Nuku Hiva

By Anne-Laure Barberis, watch officer apprentice from France

February 21st, 2014

This morning, as I woke up, the Picton Castle (as it sailed to Nuku Hiva) was already buzzing with activity. There were people doing the routine tasks: dish washing, cleaning, sanding and varnishing, wire brushing and painting, without forgetting our auto-pilot which is the person manually steering the ship. Others were accomplishing less common tasks: wire splicing, unrigging a sail and folding it to store it away, taking the altitude of the sun above the horizon with a sextant. No sail handling was happening at the moment, but I knew the morning watch had a lot of fun setting again the whole set of canvas (which had been taken away as we motored once again) and listened in awe as the overpowering noise of the engine died away and Picton Castle slowly made her way under wind power only.

Yet, amongst the workers, people were enjoying their rest hours. The cook was sitting on a bench forward, enjoying the sunshine, whose warmness was made bearable by the gentle breeze. On the aloha deck, aft, a few others were doing that very same activity. In the dark salon was some reading and computering. Tonight, this salon, now so quiet in order to keep the 0-4 watch sleeping undisturbed, will come to life: some will play cards or guitar, read a book picked from the very interesting and sea-oriented onboard library, while others will dedicate themselves to a personal and time consuming project: the making of canvas hammocks.

Thankfully, time is not something we lack on board: our eight hours of watch per day, during which all sail handling and maintenance jobs are performed, gives us ample time to just sit there, enjoying the day, or why not do some personal laundry in a bucket of seawater, before hanging it on the specially rigged and very convenient laundry lines.

With the starting of celestial navigation classes after departure from Mangareva, one cannot venture on the quarterdeck around 12h without encountering a bunch of persons, sextant in hand, trying to figure out the index error or, almanac on their knees, calculating the exact time of meridian passage, i.e. the time when the sun will be at its highest point, for our longitude. As minutes pass by and the sun approaches its zenith, the UV filters of the sextant will be carefully chosen for the best but unblinding observations and, driven from the sky to the horizon, the sun’s altitude will be measured, exchanged, commented, until someone exclaims that the zenith as been reached and the sun has started to go down. Then further calculations will be made and the latitude will be found. That is, an approximation of the latitude, which two days ago located us almost 60 nautical miles away from our actual position! GPS is a wonderful thing.

This morning, we came into sight of our first land since we departed from Mangareva. The island Fatu Hiva was spotted on our starboard bow, and Nuku Hiva will be reached in the next few days. Way too soon if you ask me…

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