Captain's Log

Archive for February, 2014

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Arriving at Mangareva

By Chelsea McBroom

February 9th, 2014

The Picton Castle anchored just outside of Mangareva, waiting until the following morning before we went through the pass and around the coral, which was easier to see with morning light. The Captain announced a swim call and after everyone prepared themselves they peered over the edge of the ship to see the current flowing clouds of jellyfish past. Meg, being one of the bravest, jumped in first with her scuba gear and began to giggle at each little tickle. Noticing that Meg wasn’t being stung, some of the crew followed suit. Although disturbed, I decided to jump in, if only to be able to say I once swam with jellyfish and couldn’t stand the sensation. It got worse as I swam towards the ladder where all the jellyfish were pushed and gathered, and so I hauled myself back onto the ship as quickly as I could. Others like Gustav, Mark, Meg and Maria weren’t as squeamish and marvelled at all the jellyfish they could see swimming around and below them. Even after the swim call was over, the looks of amazement stayed. It was a perfect way to end the evening.

The next morning, another beautiful sunny clear day, the crew hauled up the anchor and motored into Mangareva. The coral was visible with odd discoloured shapes in the water throughout the pass and John and the Captain kept a close eye, giving direction to Pania at the helm. They made it look easy moving carefully around each area and before we knew it we had dropped anchor just off shore next to a few yachts. A wooden shack could be seen, like an island boat house, off in the distance where pearls were said to be harvested. Few houses could be seen along the shore of the island and a hill behind them looked down upon us.

When the Captain and I took the skiff to shore, people biking and walking down the main road called “Bonjour!” and the Customs officials were friendly. We were told the clinic had only two nurses and so we offered our doctor if he was needed during our stay. The yellow stone building at the end of the street was the post office, open from 7am to 2pm, said to exchange money if needed. Cafes and general stores were scattered down the street selling shelves of candy, canned goods and biscuits, sometimes vegetables, but no grocery store. We were told that a boat shipment of fresh vegetables and other necessities came into the down a few times a week, the locals buying out most of it before the stores closed. The café had a small menu with a Russian salad or potato salad, chicken and frites, steak and frites, or fish and frites. The frites always served with a bit of dark ketchup or sauce on the side and a topping of butter.

That night the off watch went to a mobile food stand that was set up by the dock for their dinner, having the same simple menu, and the woman there only began cooking once it was all ordered. There was a wooden roof over a few large tables with chairs, placed over a floor of sand and the walls decorated with palm leaves. Once we were settled with our meals, the people working and cooking there for us came out and sat for a drink, turning on some of their music for us to hear. Although none of us could speak French or communicate very clearly, we looked at each other across the patio giggling as we danced in our seats to the same tune.

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Leaving Pitcairn Island

By Chelsea McBroom

February 9th, 2014

The day we left Pitcairn nobody from the Picton Castle wanted to leave. It’s easy to imagine that occurring at just about any port we visit, but it was different in this case because we felt as though we were leaving a home of sorts; in such a short time we were a part of another family. We understood that poor weather would reach us and since we were anchored in a unique spot on the reef by the shore, it didn’t make sense to stay and take any chances. A difficult decision was made and we got ready to sail for Mangareva.

The off watch that stayed the last night on Pitcairn made their way back to the ship early afternoon. Once again the long boat was filled with coconuts, bananas, melons, papaya and little pineapples which were loaded onto the hatch immediately, kept from rolling by a wall of bags from the returning watch. Cookies and punch were made for our short visit as some of the islanders came aboard to say goodbye. When we couldn’t say thank you enough, and the swell of the ocean began to knock the boat alongside when the wind picked up, we had to part ways. The islanders jumped back aboard their longboat, wishing us a safe voyage and motored around the ship, waving their arms in the air.

The crew was already standing by the windlass to heave up the anchor when they motored past the bow and towards the Landing. The crew heaved up and, motoring with fore and aft sails, the ship made its way towards Mangareva, Pitcairn slowly shrinking into the distance. It didn’t take very long for us to remember that we would have crew leaving us in Mangareva. The Captain decided that we should have a social celebration at 1630, our last one together before Steve, Beamy and Amy left, and drew up a little sign with different coloured felt markers and posted it on the scuttle doors: “WEAR YOUR PAREAU and LAVA LAVA’s”. The crew changed out of their work clothes and into French Polynesian style wear; sarongs and clean tops, decorated with Pitcairn necklaces and beads. The 4-8 watch took short fifteen minute turns on the helm so they could all participate.

Before it all began we were given a run down on our route for the rest of the voyage, the Captain concluding, “I’m living a dream; it may not have been my dream, but it’s someone’s dream and it’s a pretty awesome one.” There was a bowl of savoury and a bowl of sweet popcorn made to go with the fresh fruit punch. The Captain was the DJ, playing themed music – Bob Marley and the Beach Boys included. Soon Donald sent out dinner; baked fish in curry, rice, sliced avocado and cucumber and the cheese rolls Lily baked. It was the perfect evening with all sails set and a warm trade wind. The few clouds in the sky were dipped in orange shades of pink as the sun set and the Captain said, “Just look at those clouds,” and they were beautiful lumpy hats of cotton candy near the horizon, “they’re unique works of art. No one else will see what we’re seeing right now. It doesn’t get much better than this.”

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Pitcairn Island Part 3

By Chelsea McBroom

February 5th, 2014

The Picton Castle crew’s hour of fishing aboard the Pitcairn longboat was successful. Steve was kind enough to pick me up from the Landing after we had brought in the boat to hose it down and watch the locals filet the fish. We went and picked up Emily (aka Emi, age 9) to join us and went exploring around the island.

I met Miss T, a big old tortoise brought to the island from the Galapagos on the Yankee ages ago. She loved eating whole bananas and cucumbers. I could tell she had quite the appetite since I knew that she’d had visitors all day feeding her and still she couldn’t resist our offerings. She’d slowly raise up her head and open her mouth with great effort and with an inhale chomp down on the half cut of yellow cucumber Emi had in her hand, juice coming out of her nose, making it disappear within seconds. We got back on the ATV and as we drove over the bumpy winding roads Emi told me of her love for horses (she could trot and prance like one too) and of the 16 goats she had caught, named and kept. We passed a fresh water stream and the old radio station as we drove up to the highest point that had a bench overlooking the island. Steve said it was a great spot to go with a picnic in the evening when it was cooler.

When we could no longer stand the heat we were taken to St. Pauls Point and the big pool surrounded by rock and fed by the ocean. The majority of the pool was deep and the water very clear and warm and so blue. Nolan, Teis, Gustav, Lian were there too, swimming and snorkeling. We splashed and played and when my hands were wrinkled and pruned we were called to head back. The cookout was soon and Emi and I had just enough time to shower before we began our walk down to the Landing to begin the cookout.

We were handed a platter of treats as soon as we arrived: chocolate dipped apricots, balls of coconut, fudge and chocolate marshmallow squares. I watched fascinated under the boathouse as the locals cooked the fish in a variety of fried ways. As people arrived, the table of food grew until it was covered in bowls and platters of rice, bread fruit fritters, salads, fries and fish. Our plates were piled high and just when I thought I couldn’t eat any more, the banana cake, chocolate pudding and lemon cake were pointed out. Once everyone had eaten and socialized the crowd gathered to watch Picton Castle crew share their talents. Hannah started it off with a joke, Lian brought out his guitar and played a few songs, Lily and Beamy juggled together, Hannah played her viola, and then Denise, Hannah, Beamy, Vai, Teis, and Nolan did a traditional Tonga dance. In return the locals got up together and sang to us of the island, thanking us for the visit and then handed out handmade necklaces, posters and hugs. It was time to go – Emi wished that I would come back and visit her and her goats and I hoped to see Steve and Olive again. I was sad to leave when my watch jumped aboard the little motorboat (blowing kisses) and went back to the ship with our bags just after the sun went down.

Concert at the Landing at Pitcairn Island

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Pitcairn Island Part 2

By Chelsea McBroom

February 5th, 2014

The crowd at the fitness test / obstacle course at the top of the island finished off the watermelon and left soon after to avoid the light rain. Steve whisked me away on the ATV and we rode down the steep hills back to the house to get ready for dinner. Shawn Christian, newly elected mayor of the island and Steve and Olive’s son, came over to the house while we ate chips and black olives and watched a projected video of the Brigantine Yankee anchoring at Pitcairn when they discovered and hauled up the Bounty anchor in 1957. Olive and Colleen were in the kitchen cooking and called us in when the stir fry, rice and fresh cucumber slices were ready. Conversation was had about the community and Pitcairn family history – the wonders and mysteries still very interesting to this day. As we all filled our appetites our hosts insisted I take a shower (for the sake of enjoyment for they insisted it wasn’t my smell) and go to bed for I was falling asleep at the table.

In the morning it was another beautiful day with a stretch of blue sky and fairly calm seas. The Captain had been keeping a thorough eye on the ship and its anchorage and had been checking weather forecasts constantly. The Picton Castle was anchored off Bounty Bay and conditions were good. The ship was in good hands with the mate and his watch monitoring any movements throughout the day and night.

Olive made us toast, sunny fried eggs (free range from the island), sliced avocado (so buttery in flavour, which also came from the island), and beans. After, the Captain and I strolled along the road and visited more friends: First we stopped at the store to stock up on some bug spray to avoid dengue fever in the coming islands. Steve had the key and let us in for our purchases. Next we visited Mavis and Meralda. Their house has a little pond in front of their porch with an assortment of goldfish and an old tub with a few turtles in it that Picton Castle had brought on an earlier visit. Meralda showed me her handmade tapa cloth, a thick paper or cloth that is often painted with dye and made me a smoothie-like drink made with passion fruit and melon. It used to be what islanders made clothes from years ago. Right across the road is the museum which had opened just for the crew to see it and so I raced over to get a look at the pieces of history kept safe there. Lots bits and pieces of the Bounty and interesting stories on the wall. We didn’t have much time, we had to be at the landing for 10am to join the islanders on a fishing trip in the long boat.

Many of the crew joined, we even picked up some on the ship, all making sure to put on some ships work clothes to get messy in, sunscreen and hats. They launched the long boat down its long ramp, we all piled in and and steamed around an anchored around the island where it was a bit shallower and the fish could be seen in the crystal clear waters. The locals shared their reels of line, sinkers, hooks and bait. Brenda, the customs officer for the island, was catching sometimes two at a time she was so quick, breaking their neck through the gills and tossing them into a bucket. These are a popular fish known by their Tahitian name of ‘nanue’. We sat with the wheel of line behind us and just enough line gripped in our hands dropped from the boat. Although I’d experienced fishing when I was a kid, I had poor luck and only caught one. Lily, Gustav, and Teis were at the bow with me catching one each every few minutes. Within the hour the boat had caught about 80 fish and if it wasn’t for the amateur fisherman (such as myself) that needed assistance and the extra lines in the water, the locals would have doubled that. The day had just begun, I still had so much to see and do, and it was decided that our bounty would be used for dinner that night for a cookout and a concert, a variety show done by the crew, at the Landing.

Pitcairn longboat approaching Picton Castle

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Pitcairn Island Part 1

By Chelsea McBroom

February 3rd, 2014

The Picton Castle approached Pitcairn Island early yesterday and anchored in Bounty Bay just a short distance from shore. Pania steered the ship in to the anchorage. We anchored under sail power alone. This little island loomed tall over our ship, what a gorgeous sight. Brilliant blue waters and the soaring peak of Ships Landing Point high overhead. Soon the big longboat came bashing alongside. All the folks aboard yelling greetings to Donald and the Captain, whom they call ‘Danny’. This sounds weird to us crew. But we must discharge our 12 tons of cargo from New Zealand before anything else. This went quicker that I imagined. And soon the off-watch piled on top of the lumber and goods and went careening off into the boat habour not far away. We would stand watch and look after the ship for the day and night.

I had no idea what to expect when the Pitcairn longboat pulled up along-side the Picton Castle for the crew turn-around. The crew from the off watch returning to the ship were piled on top of it with their bags, about to pick me and my watch up for the day. Our watch (Watch Officer John, Lian, Meg, Nils, Lily, Mark, Maria, Gustav, Steve and Amy) had spent the evening after a day of work with a swim call and the awning up and over the main hatch, then watching a movie and falling asleep there for the night (which was very nice) but I was looking forward to finally seeing the island I’d heard so much about. We were anchored close to the shore of Bounty Bay, near a small rock island with a planted palm tree growing out of its head, Adams Rock, and we are told where the Bounty anchored for the last time before being driven ashore and burned.

My excitement took on a new high when the other watch motored closer towards the ship, bouncing and leaping in the swells, all the returning crew with big lopsided grins, clearly excited for us and our first time ashore on Pitcairn Island but crushed that they had to return to the ship so soon. Short and quick summaries were given of what to expect (“You’re going to love it!”) when Beamy, Finn, Alex, Teis, Peter, Hannah, Vai, Denise, Nolan and the Mate came back aboard and within minutes our backpacks and care packages were loaded onto the big flat inside of the longboat with some of the welcoming islanders. The swell of the seas lifted and lowered the boat a meter and more and we each hopped on as it came level with the ship. We all waved goodbye and turned towards our beautiful destination, Pitcairn Island, the lush and mountainous island ahead. It was a short but exhilarating trip before the boat was docked at the landing, everything unloaded and then the 40 foot boat itself hauled up the long ramp and into the dry boathouse by the islanders and crew.

I was introduced to Steve Christian, an old friend of the Captain’s since his days sailing on the Brigantine Romance, with his warm dark eyes and big smile, and directed to one of many ATVs on the landing. This one had a built-in structure to hold two passengers on either side of the driver and a sign over it that said ‘TAXI’. My luggage was thrown into the back and a line of ATVs carrying Picton Castle crew drove up the steep cement paved road, called the ‘Hill of Difficulty’. Easy to see why, it would be a job to push a wheelbarrow up this way. It was only a few minutes before we reached the top (near a an area called ‘The Edge’) and to one of the first houses (a basic four walled white structure) where the vehicle stopped in front of an open doorway. There sitting in the sunshine sat Colleen, stripping away long green leaves and rolling them up to dry so she could later weave hats and baskets. Colleen was a Norfolk Islander visiting, and is a descendant of Pitcairn Islanders that moved off this island in the mid 1800s to Norfolk.

The house, known as “Big Fence”, was large and simple with space for things like drying onions, making colourful woven bags, or carving and lacquering wooden pieces and shapes to make sculptures of dolphin, sharks, turtle, birds and of course, the Bounty. There was a large eating table that could fit eight or more just outside of the kitchen where I set our hosts gifts (which were very much unexpected and appreciated). There was a wide view of the ocean out the back which didn’t seem altered or man-made and only the yards of the ship, like little toothpicks, could be seen below. There was a garden shaded in the back and smoke appearing from garbage being burned to heat water for the house. Family photos covered the white walls down the hallway and an American visitor (who clearly was an artist) had painted an underwater view of dolphins on one wall. I was shown to my room by Olive, Steve’s wife who smiled heartily and joked with us immediately, and the bed was made with freshly laundered sheets and the same beautiful view.

Pitcairn longboat alongside

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Approaching Pitcairn Island

By trainee Nolan Walker

February 3rd, 2014

My watch (4-8) is awakened at 3:30 this morning with declarations of scattered rainfall and warm weather, a welcome change from the seemingly inevitable wake-up, “It’s cold, windy, and you probably will want your foul weather gear.” The sudden change in the weather can only signal that we are getting closer to arriving at our destination: Pitcairn Island, it’s getting warmer, a lot warmer. So I stumble on deck, scrubbing the sleep out of my eyes, armed with my technicolor foul weather gear, looking like a ripening mango, and settle onto the port side of the cargo hatch where our watch will often muster (unless the conditions are less than forgiving). We are all wearing a slight hunch the way you might when a light rain is falling, or perhaps it’s just that not many of us slept well due to the quick change in climate of our living quarters. Finn, our leading seaman, declares that Maria (from Denmark) should go and take forward lookout on the foc’sle head and sends Chelsea (from Toronto & our purser) to the helm, while the rest of us take the quarterdeck, but not before a couple of us grab our due portions of coffee that could rival even that of the heavy Texas style trail coffee of cowboy lore. I arrive on the quarterdeck and take my seat next to Steve (from Boston) who, ever the optimist, has arrived with just shorts and a foul weather jacket.

Our morning watches start out much like this, as we wait until the sun begins to reach its fiery fingers through the encompassing night, usually carrying promises of rain and sometimes pockets of wind. The moon is a sickle as it gleams beneath the waves of clouds that pass it over, and the rain is keeping steady tempo in fat, warm drops. As the sun begins to rise and the rain begins to dwindle, I go to relieve Chelsea at the helm as she moves on to make the next ship’s log entry; making note of the course given, wind and swell direction, swell height, cloud cover and barometric pressure, and taking the current latitude and longitude. By now the sun has reared its head and I have to take off the personal sauna that is my foul weather jacket and make a non-serious prediction that it will rain again now that we have all taken our jackets off (and it’s too bad I forgot to knock on wood). No sooner do we start our daily deck wash, far far away from where our jackets are stowed, than it begins to rain quite a bit, though, at least the sun is out. I retreat down the foc’sle head ladder to head for the well and main decks for scrubbing and am met with a nice salt water greeting from the hose man, my mistake for not looking up.

During our deck wash, Finn (lead seaman) is preparing a new lower ratline of hemp for the port mizzen shrouds where we all get a lesson on proper ratline seizings and technique once the deck wash and fresh water wipe down is finished. All the while the sails (save for the topgallants and royals which were stowed last night), have been patiently hanging in their gear heavy laden with the burden of the incessant rain, waiting for to be flashed out again and dried. This we undertake just before the changeover of the watch as Maria goes up the foremast to loose the topgallant and royal sails and Peter (the doctor on board whom most call “Doc”) goes up the mainmast to loose the topgallant. Gustav (from Denmark), myself, and Finn ready the fore topgallant staysail, which requires we pass the sheet over the galley house, make off the standing end to the main shrouds which Gustav does double quick, and move the main lower topsail buntlines to the same pin while shifting the clew line over and making off the t’gallant staysail sheet to the pin which was previously occupied by the main lower topsail clew. In this case, easier done than said. We then proceed to flash out all sails and clew them back up to set out for drying. And as we had to start the motor last night (or as some people call it, “set the iron jib”) due to a falling out with the wind, we make due for now with our fore and aft sails and move on pleasantly and diligently about our business as each hour takes us closer towards Pitcairn.

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Bounty Bay

January 31st, 2014

The Picton Castle is anchor in Bounty Bay, Pitcairn Island. We sailed in and dropped the starboard anchor under sail a couple days ago. Don’t worry, the anchor had the chain on it. Pania, Lead Seaman and 8th generation descendant of the mutineers and their island wives steered us in. The ship is heaving gently in the bright blue rolling swell coming in from the east. We have a truly stunning South Pacific day here.

Many of the gang are ashore with more out in the huge long boat, fishing on the south side of the island. The ship is handsome at this, one of the most remarkable anchorages and islands of the world. She is a bit rust streaked from hinges of the freeing ports after a month at sea that took us to 43 degrees south latitude. We are anchored right where they found the Bounty anchor in 1957 – set astern as they ran her up on the rocks just next to today’s landing. There will be more to report as the crew come with their stories.

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Knots and Bounty

By Chelsea McBroom

January 27th, 2014

“Essentially someone gave another turn or twist to a knot and then gave it a new name,” says the Mate, Dirk, as we all sat googly-eyed, staring at the long list of knots we should know before us. We were having a workshop on Advanced Knots on the quarterdeck of the Picton Castle (our three-masted square-rigger crossing the Southern Ocean for Pitcairn Island) and each given a fathom of old rope to whip at each end and practice with.

To put us at ease the Mate went on to say that although it seemed like an incredible amount of knots, half of them were related and in a sense we were familiar with these new knots already. He then made sure to confirm that we knew the difference between a hitch, knot and a bend; a hitch is used to tie around an object, a knot used to hold or prevent a line from moving, and a bend used to run two different lines together.

There’s something magic about knots; it reminds me of playing cats cradle as a kid and simply turning a boring piece of string into an intricate design. Although in this case knots are way more useful. The mate went seamlessly, without pause to consider his next move from one knot to the next, the majority of crew becoming obsessed with getting the neat-looking carrick bend or the unlisted but requested turks head right.

When sailing from Sydney to Auckland, I experienced what it was like to work the 12-4 night watch which had a touch of magic too. Everyone seems to be in a dreamlike state in the dark, with the moon and stars to light the way around the ship. Like Lily, one of our Aussies, said to me once about being on the 12am-4am, “We kind of go back to bed afterwards wondering if it was all just a dream!” Our 4-8 watch finally got a taste of it last night, thanks to the change in our clocks recently, when we stayed up a half hour past our usual 8pm finish to stow the fore t’gallant and watch the stars emerge.

Later that night, I was even more pleased when Pania, our Lead Seaman from Pitcairn Island, included me, and whoever cared to join in her, in an anniversary tradition of “Burning the Bounty”. It was Bounty Day, January 23. And the 224th anniversary of the Bounty being set afire at Bounty Bay, Pitcairn Island. This day is celebrated every year at Pitcairn, Norfolk Island and in Pitcairn Islanders’ homes around the world. It is Pitcairn’s day of identity, like Canada Day or the 4th of July.

Pania had crafted a mini version of the ship; cut out square sails, a piece of cardboard for the hull, and used three skewers for the masts and then waited until the sun had set before putting it alight. It was too windy to burn the little ship out in the open, so in one of our totes which had a little water in the bottom, Pania set it down, somewhat sheltered by the pin rail where we all could see, and put her aflame. It was a pretty sight and I couldn’t help but imagine what the original Bounty looked like over two hundred years ago on the shore of Pitcairn Island where the mutineers may have left her in such a state.

Captain recommends reading “Bounty” by Caroline Alexander, after reading “Mutiny on the Bounty” by Nordoff and Hall.

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Departing Mangareva

Greetings all from the charthouse of the Picton Castle. The Barque is motor sailing towards the North in light breezes and we are hoping to get into the Easterly trade winds later in the day. We are bound for Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas.

I relieved Dan Moreland as Captain of the Picton Castle on February 11th in Mangareva as the ship was greeting 12 new crew, sending out overnight expeditions in the long boat and generally making preparations for departing to the North. Having all “layed along” on the morning of the 13th we began to haul back our big Port anchor in a calm environment with a light rain just past. All looked uneventful for a conventional departure from Mangarevas coral bound harbor and the windlass, powered by a dozen crew, began its work.

Now it’s a popular conventional wisdom that if things seem to be going too well then watch out for anomalies. As we had the anchor hove short and were just breaking it out of the bottom, a squall dropped down from the island hills with winds gusting above 30kts and lots of rain and pushed Picton Castle‘s bow back in towards the anchorage. This is a small anchorage without a lot of room to maneuver. Happily the crew were quick to the braces, the engine delivered the necessary “horses” while Chief Mate Dirk won the anchor forward and Watch Officer Sam stayed put with the navigation gear keeping track of our position relative to the surrounding coral. Picton Castle tacked twice under power – bracing up sharp on either tack – to get clear of the channel out of the anchorage – about ½ mile long. Bosun Pania got a great workout throwing the eight turns of the helm from side to side as we maneuvered. The rain was over in an hour and we motored slowly out of the atoll and into open water.

So, that was my experience on my first day of operating Picton Castle. It left me with an appreciation for having good officers, a strong crew and a well-found ship. Also, just now, an appreciation for open water with 1,000 fathoms under our keel… The weather prognosticators predict a fair breeze by afternoon and so on we go.

Cheers, Captain John Beebe-Center

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