Captain's Log

Archive for April, 2014

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Rarotonga – Part 2

By Chelsea McBroom

Wednesday April 9th, 2014

It was a bright sunny day in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, a bit windier than usual and people were kite surfing along the shore closer to town. The beach stretched into town and the waves could be heard crashing with the sounds of traffic.

Pania, Maria, Lily and I, crew of the Picton Castle, were walking down the main road, looking for a place to get lunch, when Jenny and Mary drove by on a scooter. Jenny and Mary are a mother and daughter that sailed with the ship from Rarotonga to Palmerston last year. When Mary recognized Pania with glee, she waved wildly at us grinning.

The majority of locals here drive scooters – sometimes I even see adults driving with children no older than two years old on the back. Tourists often make the mistake of renting them and thinking they’re invincible but the locals seem to be used to it.

The only thing that seemed to be open was the Rarotonga Fried Chicken place which was inside a warehouse. We stopped there and sat at a picnic table to eat our fried chicken or fried fish. Jenny and Mary pulled into the driveway and came to chat with us. It was clear they had fond memories of their experience with the ship and they gave us each a hug in greeting and asked about our journey so far. Mary spends much of her time volunteering at the whale museum and spoke to us freely and with maturity. They live in Rarotonga now and love it – the only oddity being the amount of stray dogs around.

During the day the dogs were hardly noticed and seemed to run around independently. Maria, who’d been my purser assistant, and Lily our cook, like to go for runs in the evenings. Now and then they would have to pass a group of dogs and did what they were told to do and stooped down for a rock or pretended to throw one in their direction if they came near. They’d scatter immediately. The dogs are often entertained by the many wild chickens that wander through the town.

When our wild dog stories, or recollections of sailing French Polynesia were shared and the food had disappeared, Mary and Jenny said their goodbyes, saying how good it was to meet us, hoping to see us again, and got back on their bike and drove away.

roads in Rarotonga
scooters at the market in Rarotonga

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Rarotonga – Part 1

By Chelsea McBroom

April 8th, 2014

The day before we arrived in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, as we were sailing the Picton Castle from Huahine in French Polynesia, we had a workshop to introduce the island of Rarotonga to the crew. Everyone who had been to Rarotonga before gave the others advice on visiting the island, what to see and do. Captain Moreland and voyage coordinator Maggie also sent me a long list of things which I posted on our scuttle doors for the crew to read. Here’s what they sent:

“Rarotonga is a fantastic port, and a pretty special one for Picton Castle because it’s our home port. Avatiu, as painted on the stern of the ship, is where the ship will be tied up. Picton Castle has a lot of friends and supporters on the island and you’ll be welcomed home, even if you’ve never visited before. Wear your Picton Castle t-shirt proudly here so you’ll be recognized as crew.

Here are a few hints and tips to make your time in Rarotonga pleasant and fun:

– The common greeting is Kia Orana, which technically means Long May You Live.

– Avatiu is just to the west of Avarua, which is the main town on Rarotonga and the biggest town in all of the Cook Islands. It’s the centre of government and commerce for the country.

– Don’t try to bargain or barter. The asking price is the price, and offering less is rude.

– The island is pretty easy to get around – there are two public buses that take the road that runs around the perimeter of the island, one clockwise and one anti-clockwise. They’re great in the daytime but stop running in the early evening most nights. The bus ride all the way around is an hour or so. Renting a car, a scooter or even a bicycle will also get you far. And it’s pleasant to walk, too.

– Getting a Cook Islands drivers’ licence makes a good souvenir, and technically it’s required for car and scooter rental.

– Scooters are fun, but be careful. We’ve had crew have scooter accidents on previous visits and it’s not pretty.

– If you like the beach, go to Muri Beach. There are a number of resorts and restaurants and shops along the beach and it’s beautiful.

– At the north end of the Muri lagoon is Avana, where the vaka is often anchored if it’s in port. This is where a number of vakas met to set out from for Pacific exploration hundreds of years ago. Vakas continue to be a big part of Cook Islands culture, both sailing and rowing vakas. Along with the vaka in Rarotonga, Picton Castle is the co-flagship of the Cook Islands Voyaging Society.

– Speaking of paddling vakas, the vaka teams often practice in the late afternoon after work, setting out from Avarua harbour, right next to Trader Jack’s (our unofficial hangout spot – check out the Picton Castle art and memorabilia that decorates their walls).

– On Saturday morning is the Punanga Nui Market, right next to the ship. It’s one of the best markets in the world, with fresh produce, things to eat, black pearls, handicrafts, even dancing and entertainment. Definitely worth checking out, even if you’re not a shopper. It’s frequented by tourists and locals alike.

– There are lots of great places to eat in Rarotonga – try a beach BBQ night at the Aro’a Beach Resort on the west side of the island, or the Ariki Cafe just inland in Avarua, or Cafe Salsa near the CITC department store in Avarua.

– Even while you’re on watch, keep an eye out for whales, they tend to swim close to the island and you can see them spray and sometimes breach just outside the harbour. The whale research centre is just inland from Avatiu.

– Go to an Island Night. There are plenty of them, on all different nights of the week at all different resorts and restaurants. It’s a dinner and entertainment kind of night, and mostly for tourists, but there are a lot of excellent local dancers and great local foods. It makes for a fun night!

– Go to church on Sunday morning, even if it’s just for the cultural experience. There’s a big Cook Islands Christian Church in Avarua and the singing is absolutely amazing.

– Not much else happens on Sunday in Rarotonga. If you have errands to do, don’t even try to do them on a Sunday. It’s best to find a beautiful spot on the beach to relax and enjoy instead.

– If you’re considering getting a tattoo, Rarotonga is a great place to do it. There are lots of talented tattoo artists on the island and many previous Picton Castle crew have been tattooed by them.

– Try the cross-island hike. It takes a few hours and is somewhat physically demanding, but it’s gorgeous. The trail starts behind the hospital and lets you out on the south coast near a waterfall (and a bus stop).”

It was easy to tell the crew was excited to experience the island people on board talk so much about. We docked at a familiar spot on the wharf when we arrived – near the warehouse, the market, CITC (a big grocery store), Palace Burger (a small burger stand with fish and chips and milkshakes too) and the road into town. The greeting often used here is “Kia Orana” which means “Long May You Live” otherwise the smiling people of Rarotonga will say “hello” as you pass them in the street.

I feel very lucky to be here with the ship. One day as Lily and I were ordering provisions from CITC (the perfect day for me to wear a Picton Castle t-shirt) a gentleman came up to ask me about the ship and its trip to Palmerston. He smiled recalling the ship from last year.

Alex, the engineer; Pania, our bosun; Lian and Nolan, long term trainees; and Finn, a lead seaman, had all been to Raro previously and recounted their positive experiences visiting the island. We were told often locals will meet you and invite you to their private parties or events. Teis and Erin were invited to a bachelor party when they were out on a Wednesday and Averil was invited to hang out with a group of local teachers for the rest of the week. Trader Jacks, a restaurant with a patio overlooking the shore, has walls of ship memorabilia including images of the Picton Castle. You can sit on the patio there at a picnic table and watch people kite surf and swim.

From where the ship is docked in the bay, there is a small bridge that connects us to the area of the Saturday Market. It’s rows of little one room houses painted in many different bright colors and in the middle, a courtyard area with covered stands for vendors. The little houses are shops; cafes, a fish fry, a place to buy sarongs, a tattoo parlor etc.

There’s one movie theatre further down the road through town. It has one screen is playing “Captain America” for the month. Next month it’s the new “Spiderman”. A hot dog stand is set up outside the building if people are hungry. To get a ticket everyone lines up inside at a table where a woman sits with a cashbox. There’s also a line-up inside to get candy, popcorn, an ice cream cone, or a can of pop. The locals fill up the back two rows of the theatre first – the ones with plush leather seats. The night I was there the room filled with kids and a few adults for the six o’clock showing. It was one big community of people in the theatre that knew each other and they talked over their seats as they waited for the previews to start. When I exited the theatre the room was filled with a crowd of more kids and teens with tickets to the eight thirty showing.

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Could Have Fooled Me

By Chelsea McBroom

April 1st, 2014 (April Fool’s Day)

It was another beautiful evening aboard the Picton Castle and Anne was looking sorrowful as she came out of the charthouse, having found that we were again going slower than 2 knots. In trying to make it for our early morning meeting with the tug boat in Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, she knew if we continued sailing at this speed, that we would need to motor.

The ship was rolling more exaggerated and the air was hot even as the sun lowered. Lily, our cook since Tahiti, outdid herself once again with fried fish and rice – favourite meal of Pania, our bosun. I was making coffee for the oncoming watch at around 1900. I grabbed the stainless steel thermoses from the aloha deck and hobbled to the galley. I went around the back of the galley house to turn the gas on, where a handful of off watch crew were sitting and giggling in the dark, and climbed in the galley door. I took the small box of matches and lit the first match which as usual fluttered out as I tried to light the bare skewer I had in my other hand. I cupped my hand and lit the next, finally keeping it alight long enough, smelling the gas, and continued to poke the skewer down to the pilot lights at each burner. I put on the kettle and a pot full of water and escaped the hot room to lean on the pin rail outside to wait for them to boil. It didn’t take long before coffee was done and I walked around the ship to make sure the next watch was awake. I found most of them in the salon reading, writing and listening to music.

I went to bed as soon as possible and woke many times with my head reaching as far as it could for the foc’sle hatch and the sheets sticking with humidity. Erin woke me at 3:30 and I sleepily prepared for the morning. I joined my watch on the hatch (Hugo, Mark, Anne, Kim and Lily had joined us for a few hours) when Sam, the watch officer, called down to us to clew up the mainsail. It seemed a random command given the calm and quiet, but we hopped to it. He returned shortly to call out loudly “Now bunt up! Come on!” and to me something seemed fishy. I stopped hauling lines and stood back to look up at the quarterdeck where Sam had been standing. Suddenly a light came on, shining on a US flag waving atop the spanker. And then Frosty, our plastic snowman decoration, lit up above the chart house. And quietly in the distance I could hear voices singing, then a bit louder and recognized the American anthem. What date was it? April 1st, 2014. April Fools. Supposedly Sam had told the Captain that there was a hole in the sail as we were clewing it up. I’m still not even sure the rest of my watch was awake enough to notice. Happy April Fools!

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Lily’s Letter

By Lily Donovan

March 31st, 2014

Editor’s note: Lily Donovan joined Picton Castle as a trainee in Sydney last October and has been aboard ever since. When our regular cook, Donald Church, left the ship in Tahiti for some time off, Lily took over as ship’s cook. She wrote a letter to friends and family at home and has allowed us to share some of it with you.


After 6 months at sea, I face my final 4 weeks. Time has passed in the blink of an eye since leaving in Sydney last October. However if I think about the things we’ve made, fixed and learnt, the people who have joined us, those who have left us, the places we’ve been to and the people we’ve met; then time stretches out, slows down and is filled to the brim with experiences.

I can’t remember the last time I wrote, but to recap some highlights, we spent Christmas in the Bay of Islands, NZ. We had two Christmas parties, one as a work Christmas the week before to get into the festive spirit, and one as a family Christmas feast and presents on the day. The food was great and I was assistant cook for the Christmas feast. The handmade gifts and creativity everyone shared was impressive and very kind. As a crew we came together so much more over this time because we were all thinking about home, and instead found family among ourselves.

This was an important bonding experience to have before embarking on our one-month voyage to Pitcairn Island. We left just after Christmas, and celebrated the New Year at sea – twice actually – as this happened to be the day we crossed the dateline! The nautical version of a New Year celebration is a symphony of flares being set off into the night sky, guitars and singing, then a quiet moment for reflection before returning back to work or

The continued voyage to Pitcairn was a test of our resilience, camaraderie and humour. I was on the 12 – 4 watch, standing both AM and PM watches. In this routine the days rush by; day shift, night shift, day shift, night shift. We filled our spare time with many games of 500, Craphead and Pictionary. We watched movies and celebrated birthdays. But all of this nice stuff was to combat the constant damp, wet, cold weather. Our beds grew damp, our clothes were never dry, our boots constantly soaked. We stood watch in the day in the rain, and in the night, often in the rain too and always in the freezing cold. Here’s an excerpt from my journal about the cold; “Currently on night watch I wear jeans, wool socks, boots, my PJ top (seems easier to get out of bed at 3.30am to start work if I don’t have to get out of my PJs!) thermal shirt, wool vest, flannel shirt, hoodie, foulie jacket & pants, knife and harness, 2 scarves and one beanie.” If you can imagine all of these layers, then imagine the constant rain on top of all of this, water sneaking it’s way up your boot, or down your sleeve or a wave coming up and over you in a big swell and into all your clothes. We are all good sailors and didn’t pack too many extra clothes, which means for the next watch we just wore the same again, but wet. I know you’re trying to imagine how crappy this feels, but actually living it for 32 days was a real trial, and I can’t explain the feeling of relief experienced when the 4am ‘Watch below’ knockoff call is made, you can crawl down into the dark, peel off the wet layers and climb into a (slightly) dry bed and hide away until the next work shift starts in 7 hours.

So, I make it sound terrible, but we survived, on muffins, a nice sunset, a great win at cards, hot chocolates, borrowed clothes, midnight talks, fish caught off the stern, the thrill of going aloft, by learning lines, some whining and moaning, making great friendships and in the end laughing at it all. We made it to Pitcairn on the evening of January 28th and while we floated for a night in sight of the long awaited island we reflected in the quiet on how quick and effortless the whole month actually felt, now that we were at our destination.

Our time on Pitcairn Island was short – too short – but we did what we could with the time that weather and itinerary allowed. I was hosted on the island for a night with Mike and Brenda Christian, direct descendants of the lead mutineer Fletcher Christian (from the Bounty, Captained by William Bligh). Pitcairn was settled by mutineers and Tahitians, and the current locals are mostly made up of descendants of these original settlers. There are only about 50 people living on the island now, the maximum at one stage was 200, which was when they relocated some people to Norfolk Island to avoid over population. So, it’s a very small, steep, hilly island now with just a handful of people. I think I may have met about 30 of these locals in my time there, and everyone was very friendly, welcoming and proud of their island. Some small interesting facts for you about Pitcairn Island:

. There are no cars; everyone gets around on quad bikes.
. Income is mostly reliant on passing cruise ships. Families take charge of a certain style of souvenir, whether it’s wood carving, jewellery or paintings and when a cruise ship passes by these families take their long boats out to meet the ships, where the islanders jump on board with their goods to sell to the cruisers.
. Transport to and from the island is only on board cargo ships (unless you sail there on a tall ship like us!) so the locals have to plan all their trips away very carefully. Our host Brenda spent so much of her previous year away because she had to leave the island for two separate weddings, and had to wait months for the return cargo ships to bring her back.
. This is the same situation with food and supplies: 3-month provisions, with a few things traded here and there on the cruise liners. Therefore the simple island homes are decked out with an extra room ‘pantry’ with two or three deep freezers, two fridges, and massive storage of dry goods. . Fresh fruit and some vegetables grow in abundance – so even without the delivery people won’t go hungry. When walking around the island I ate bananas, avocado, coconut and passionfruit from the trees, and the ship was given all of these fruits in abundance and about 20 watermelons on our departure!

We left Pitcairn after 3 days, (after 32 days of sailing to get there) due to oncoming bad weather, and headed for Mangereva which was about 10 days sail. It was funny, but after a month at sea we had no tolerance for it at all, and we couldn’t wait to be back on land again! That 10 day sail felt very long! Might I add, by this time, it was hot hot hot and humid.

The weather has changed considerably since arriving in French Polynesia. There is still regular rain, but it’s warm and tropical (just as unpleasant when you are standing watch drenched to the core!). In the beginning we had quite a few major squalls that required extra crew to wake up in the night to assist with sail handling. One of these I lost both my towels, blown off the washing lines and into the ocean. It was a miserable day! With this temperature change suddenly we were standing midnight watches in shorts and singlet tops, preparing ourselves for the 6am sunlight with sunnies and sun cream. Now there is barely any wind; I lie in my bed at night sweating like I have a fever. A solid nights sleep is impossible as I curl up next to the metal wall to cool off, or hang my legs out of the bed to catch a breeze. The temperature of the wooden deck yesterday was 72 degrees celcius – most people decided to wear shoes! I had a heat rash across my belly last week, which seems to have settled again. Just giving you an idea of the contrasts in temperature that we have experienced!

I’m not sure if it’s the heat getting to us, or our loss of any fashion sense (if we had it at all!) or maybe just a sense of abandon living as sailors, but there has been a lot of experimentation with hairdos recently. I’ve gone red and am experimenting with how little I can actually wash my hair. There have been Mohawks cut, heads shaved, legs and armpits stopping getting shaved, beards braided and a constant trial of moustaches and facial hair with the boys! It’s been fun, and a great feeling to have the results of these trials really not matter!

In Mangareva we picked up about 12 new crewmembers and said goodbye to three influential members of our crew. There was Amy A from Canada, Amy B (Beemy) from the UK, and Steve, our 70 year old crew member who is dear in our hearts as the man who ran with us young ones and held his own. I think he had a really great time with us, he always worked his hardest – beyond what his body could handle – he always had a wise remark about “What are we’re really doing here?” and boy could he laugh in the bad times! These three people were here for a shorter time (only 3 months) of the trip, but left a lasting mark on the ship and the people here. In exchange our 12 new crew were mostly bright-eyed kids from USA, Canada and the UK, with a few older crew to balance out the mix and calm it down. It was really nice to feel like the experienced hand and teach people how to climb aloft, to show them around and to literally ‘show them the ropes’.

From Mangareva on to Nuku Hiva, Papeete, Moorea, and Huahine it was a collection of French Polynesian tropical islands with lagoon bays, huge green mountains, swim calls, fresh fruit, days off adventuring by car or bicycle, friendly locals and a small town vibe (apart from Papeete which is Tahiti’s capital where we encountered a large amount of karaoke bars and lady boys!).

It’s time to wrap up this novel of a letter, but I hope you’ve had a great insight into life on board the Picton Castle, which has been my life for the last 6 months. This ship is always a challenge, we deal with the heat or cold, the repetitive jobs, the lack of privacy, saying goodbye to much loved crewmembers, missing family and home, getting woken for work in the dead of the night, and doing things that make us nervous like leading a team in sail handling, cooking for 30, or relying on each other to handle the ship in bad weather.

But these challenges we face offer rewards far greater than the hardships we suffer. I’ve made friends with people from all over the world, who have stories and experiences to share that inspire and energise me. We see a part of the world so few people experience – the open ocean – which includes the star filled sky, orange sunsets and silver sunrises. We notice the world around us, whether it’s a dolphin diving alongside, changing cloud formations, or a land bird. We’ve sailed to tiny islands where the curious kids chase us shouting “Bonjour! Hello!” and locals give us gifts of fruit, flowers or jewellery. We’ve worked in the dead quiet of the night, and the piercing heat of the day to keep the ship – our home and livelihood – a place that we can be proud of. The Picton is a grand ship and after all the hours of scrubbing, sanding, tarring, stitching, greasing, painting and cleaning, we’re all proud to sail into a port and see people impressed with our home.

My favourite things:
. Swim calls off the side of the ship
. ‘Marlin spike’ punch parties
. Rigging new lines or temporary ratlines aloft
. Working aloft at night, or at sunrise, or at sunset, or in a squall, or near land
. Working aloft in general!
. Chipping rust
. Sail making
. Cooking yummy healthy food for everyone (or choc chip muffins!)
. Exercising on the fo’csle
. Playing cards or watching a movie with everyone
. Sitting out in the evening listening to someone play the guitar
. Eating fresh caught fish
. Dress ups and general silliness
. The quiet when the engine turns off and we start to sail again
. Sail handling
. The sound of water and waves when drifting off to sleep
. A good load of hand washed laundry
. Raising the anchor with the windlass
. Tropical fruits

Thanks for reading the novel; I hope you’ve enjoyed this little excerpt of ‘life at sea’.

Lily x

Lily at the sewing machine

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Chasing Pins

By Chelsea McBroom

March 30th, 2014

I like to think about my first month aboard the Picton Castle, when there were nearly fifty people aboard sailing from Sydney, Australia to Auckland, New Zealand. That was nearly six months ago now. One of the best things about being aboard the ship, and also maybe one of the hardest, is seeing such great people come and go. There were a lot of wonderful people that came aboard that leg and unfortunately left at the end of it, but I feel like we took advantage of that month on the ship.

I’m recalling the Seamanship Derby, when the watches dressed up in team spirited attire, challenging each other to a competitions in pinrail chase, knot tying, helm, and boxing the compass. In the boxing the compass challenge, the watch stood in a circle on the hatch, being given the coordinates and direction (clockwise or counterclockwise) on the compass to begin, and each person saying aloud the next coordinate. North, North by East, North North East, East by North, East, etc. It could be easy, but it required a lot of focus or concentration as the other teams yelled and distracted the players.

For the helm challenge, the chosen helmsman of the watch had to take the wheel and stay on course within 5 degrees. Whoever stayed on course the longest won. One team had squirt guns and aimed water at the helmsman’s faces, they didn’t play nice.

In knot tying each person on a team had to complete a knot individually and the whole team had to finish together before the others. The last, most exciting of challenges, was the pinrail chase. The Captain would call out a line of running rigging on a pin or sometimes even an object like a cowl vent or our dory, Sea Never Dry and one person from each team (lined up parallel on the main deck) would quickly walk to find it before the others. Teammates would shout at one another, giving direction and words of encouragement until someone found and placed their hand on the pin as one of the judges stationed around the ship would call the winner.

Points were given to the teams with the most “pizzazz” or that managed to bribe the judges the most often. I was on the competitive team that played nice, so we didn’t win. But I still laugh thinking of it.

I was reminded of that day because yesterday the Captain had a pinchase at 1630 with port watch against starboard watch and the swell of competitive team spirit was alive once more. It was a really great opportunity to show support for our fellow team mates and the winners were given a bucket of chocolate ice cream and a bag of spoons by our cook, Lily. I’m sure the losing team had the last laugh though, when hands were called to stow sails aloft, and starboard watch had a belly full of ice cream.

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Slow Moving

By Chelsea McBroom

March 29th, 2014

It quit raining soon after the Picton Castle sailed from Huahine and it somehow got even more hot and sunny. We had hit a high and there was barely any wind (and, it seemed, no air below decks to breathe). We laughed when switching over helm duty, not sure that we were really moving anywhere – perhaps sideways if anything. The meter said we were going less than a knot. The Captain was patient and knew we had enough time to get there.

I try imagine what tall ships would have done when they didn’t have a motor or engine to power them – they probably accomplished a lot. In fact, there are other tall ships sailing today that don’t have engines. But going so slow felt mildly torturous.

Three marlin followed us during the night, the male was nearly as long as I am tall, swimming right at our stern and gleaming in the moonlight. Don’t say it out loud but it’s been quite a while since we caught a fish. Alex, our engineer and fisherman, ran around taking in lines and reeling them out, frustrated that they were so close and yet couldn’t be caught.

Right before one of my 4pm to 8pm watches Erin ran through the ship saying “All hands shower party on deck.” I didn’t know what this meant until I dragged my deliriously hot self out to the main deck where they had rigged up two fire hoses (the Captain explaining it was like those new fancy showers with more than one shower head) and everyone was grinning in a bathing suit being power washed. Getting drenched was not a new experience for us. Pania cooled off the old fashioned way – when she was done one of her many Bosun tasks she poured a bucket of water over her head and kept on working.

We started the motor soon after, deciding we needed to catch up on some distance and hopefully some good wind. We took in the courses, the t’gallants, the royals, and motor-sailed for the day before we found the wind we were looking for. Last night we set all the sails and stopped the engine, delighting in the silence and air moving through the ship again.

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