Captain's Log

Archive for the 'South Seas Voyage 2013-2014' Category

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Dragging Anchor in Palmerston

By John Kinley, apprentice

April 15th, 2014

It was a dark and stormy night. The crew of the Picton Castle was restless as the anchor chain cranked and rattled in the hawse pipe. The anchor’s fragile grip held our bulky ship in the lee of the small atoll of Palmerston on a narrow strip of reef. As the wind picked up, so did the stress exerted on the 90+ feet of chain in the water as well as the sounds of creaking metal. The intrepid crew was all awake lying in their bunks and awaited the call that was thought to be inevitable at that point in the night.

Lightning flashed, the rain fell and the wind blew. Suddenly the ship churned in a swell and the anchor lost its flimsy grip. The gallant Captain John Beebe-Center gave the order “all hands hands on deck!” The word was spread quickly to the ready and waiting crew who jumped to action. The engineer, Billy, was ordered to start the engine and he did so as quickly as you would start your car after your wedding night. Chief mate Dirk ran up to the foc’sle head and started organizing the crew followed by mate Anne-Laure. “Ship the windlass bars!” he yelled as the weather worsened and the crew did as told. The bars were placed into position and the work began.

The crew was motley. There were our undaunted leaders, Finn and Meg, whose faces were focused and hard. It was a sight to see as Meg and the Captain maintained control of the ship at helm and Finn lead the deckhands under the sharp and vigilant mates. The deckhands were all ready to do as told. There was Vai the Tongan queen, Avery the maverick, Erin the powerful, ‘goose’ Gustov the Viking, Simon the brave, Peter the wise, Chelsea the pure and then there was me, the frustrated one and clearly the most badass. We heaved on the windlass as hard as we dared. The wind continued to howl and the waves began to crash. Even Billy the engineer came up to help heave up the anchor. He did so with the burning fire of the powerful Picton Castle diesel engine in his eyes and heart.

It was no use. The anchor and chain was vertical as it had fallen off the narrow anchorage and hung between the ship and the dark depths of the ocean. The windlass would not grip and the anchor would not rise. So, the quick thinking officers came up with a plan. We would attach a block and tackle to the chain and hoist with the capstan at the same time as heaving with the windlass. It took some time to organize and the weather still beat on our poor souls. However, the crew was hard and there wasn’t a face among us that thought of giving up. We were going to persevere even if it took us all night.

The ship heaved to and both the gallant Captain and Meg the bold came to lend a hand on the foc’sle head. After a few trial and error methods, the capstan and block-and-tackle was working. The anchor would rise about a meter and a half until we had to reset the block-and-tackle and heave some more. It was tough and a lot of work but we were making progress.

The storm raged on. I went below decks to sort out the chain locker and slowly the robust crew hoisted the chain. It was hot and muggy and I worked to keep the chain organized. The chain came closer and closer to the anchors resting position and more and more chain came into the locker. While I was in the chain locker the storm continued its wrath on the crew above decks. I wasn’t there, but I heard at one point in time Simon the brave picked up a trident and fought off a sea serpent that came up out of Davy Jones’ locker in a sarong. The chain suddenly came faster down into the chain locker and I can only imagine that the crew gave up on their mechanical devices after the serpent started to attack and pulled on the chain with their bare hands. The Tongan queen, Avery the maverick, Chelsea the pure and Goose the Viking yanked on the chain while the others battled the sea serpent. Erin, with her powerful hands, literally jumped on the serpents back and punched the thing in its eye. it was crazy. I mean I wasn’t there or anything but I heard it was crazy.

I came out of the chain locker covered in mud to the sound of cheers. The rain and wind continued but there was a sigh of relief afterward and we split up into two person watches for the rest of the night. The Captain thanked us for a hard fought battle and we were sent below decks to get some sleep. I’m not sure what happened to the sea serpent but our cook Lily does make a mean fish dish every now and again.

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The Night The Anchor Dragged In Palmerston

By Captain John Beebe-Center

April 15th, 2014

Sometimes you just know.

Being at anchor at Palmerston Island presented some logistical challenges – primarily because one goes from no sounding to a coral reef in about 200 yards distance. The out fall of the lagoon and the prevailing Easterly breezes are what keep an anchored ship from drifting up onto the reef once their anchor is down. Getting an anchor down and hooked up on Palmerston is possible – it has been done many times before now – but it always bears watching and is always a little tenuous. Captain Moreland’s advice for being hooked up was twofold; watch out for squalls and don’t put out too much chain because if you drag off the reef all the chain and the anchor will be hanging straight down in the water column and the windlass (crew) will have to pick up the whole dead weight.

So there we were, anchored up with a lovely sunset behind us and all bearings and electronics assuring us that we were dug in well. The sound of the breaking reef – a noise difficult for any sailor to sleep through – was gradually subsiding into background noise when I turned in for the night. Around 0230 I felt the anchor chain shift a touch and sat up to hear the wind begin a ramping up of pitch and volume, grabbed clothes and headed for the bridge.

When I got there I ran smack into McBroom who was looking worriedly at our electronic bearings and at a wall of black that had just “disappeared” Palmerston Island. I called Billy the Engineer to light off the main engine. I knew that shortly I would be using it either to keep us on the anchor or off the reef. And then the squall was there! Nice, big, extremely wet, very loud with a bag of wind. The anchor gave a half-hearted effort and then surrendered and we slid quickly from 6 meters of water to no bottom.

The crew aboard (remember that half the gang is ashore doing a home stay on Palmerston) head to the foc’sle head to begin hauling back the whole starboard ground tackle assembly which is indeed-hanging straight down in the water column. With that much weight on the windlass the Mate was obliged to rig a tackle to the capstan to help take the load. The gang worked like heroes for about two hours to win back that starboard hook and somewhere in there Erin and I went sailing around with the awning after which we posted the watch and drifted, quite comfortably, out to about 7 miles from the island.

Simon got up a great protein rich breakfast (Lily being ashore) and we got the main engine back on line and began heading for the island all the while speculating on what would be going through the minds of our shipmates when they woke up, looked out from their vantage point on the island and saw their ship gone.

Well, shouldn’t have worried about the gang. They were immediately reassured by the Palmertonians that we had simply been blown off the reef again – an event that they have witnessed with some regularity. Still, for me it was the first time and I will recall that, when I heard that first bit of rising moan from the portlight, I knew we were in for a longish night.

Sometimes you just know.

Cheers, Captain John

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Picton Castle’s Palmerston Visit

I was delirious with exhaustion and hesitant to go ashore at Palmerston Island after our night of heaving up the anchor aboard the Picton Castle. The ship was hove-to, like the night we arrived. We had drifted seven miles. The weather was gloomy and I could see us making a quick getaway that night if it got any worse. But after getting advice from Captain John, who also considered what Captain Moreland would say, “Suck it up and go because you’ll probably never be here again.” I packed my things and stood by on the quarterdeck. I realize now how ridiculous I was to even consider putting off my visit.

The large tin boat filled with port watch crew and empty fuel bottles came alongside and we quickly transferred their ‘cargo’ for ours – passing over backpacks and food gifts. I hopped in the boat along with Simon, John, Vai and Avery. It was still windy and the swell was large, especially as we neared the coral. The man driving the boat was calling out to his sons sitting in the bow with us, using them to transfer weight and move around the shallow coral pieces. One would lie himself forward and back and the other would move outboard and inboard. It felt as if we were moving five times faster than our little skiff and I had to close my eyes, laughing with anticipation, as we moved between the reef formations and sticks poking out of the water as markers. We were all grinning like it was a ride at the fair; Vai was holding a piece of rope tied to the bow like she was riding a horse.

We hardly slowed coming up onto the beach where we were greeted by other islanders who helped us with our bags and directed us to wait further inland where we would be paired with a host for the night. Simon and I were paired together with Melbourne and brought to meet his family who spoiled us with food and kindness our entire stay. We were taken to a small house with a blue door, two small trees grew up and over like a canopy on either side of it, in full bloom of pink flowers. The first room we passed into was like a living room, the furniture and cushions covered in different colored island print, old family photos along the walls and dream-catchers hanging from the rafters. There was a room with a curtain instead of a door with a toilet and a wash basin. Behind this area there was a kitchen and eating area and two other bedrooms. It was all empty of personal things and given just to the two of us for the night. Simon graciously gave me the biggest bed in the front room, where we both decided was a nice sunny area to stay, and we left our things to explore the island.

We were shown the Telecom building, a small stand for people to buy internet or phone time, the small cemetery, the clinic where I met the nurse for the second time (a lovely lady), passed the administration building and came back around again, only to pass by a house with our shipmates Gustav and Erin sitting outside of it under an awning with their hosts. We were called over and invited to sit and enjoy our second lunch of the day – raw fish, steak, rice, potato salad and chilled coconut water, right out of its shell, and lime juice to drink. Once we finished the food and conversation we went back to our hosts where they sat us down and brought us tea and biscuits. We talked about the ship and our plans, then we were given the idea of a nap – something we rarely get to indulge in – and we went to find our beds. But we’d forgotten where the house was.

We were searching for it when a familiar voice called out to us, calling us over to another house. It was Bill, another local, who again introduced himself as Bill Clinton, and gave us each a seat. He sent his kids to get hot water for tea and a plate of biscuits while we spoke with him and his parents. Vai was staying there and was in the kitchen making meat patties and getting her hair braided by one of the daughters. Soon Erin and Gustav passed by who joined us, and then Avery and John who sat next to them and Billy who strolled up last. We spoke of the past, of other boats or ships that visit the island and their experiences.

We were all excited (perhaps I was especially excited) for the afternoon beach volleyball game that they have every day at around 4:30 or 5. Simon and I felt we should find our house sooner rather than later and went in search for it again with Erin and Gustav following behind us. Thankfully we found it right next door then went for a stroll along the beach looking for sea shells, seeing crab and bright blue lobster shells and hermit crabs galore. We decided to make our way back and followed the sounds of kids gathered at the court.

Family and friends sat along the far side of the yard watching, while few sat on a bench nearby the court, refereeing. The majority of players couldn’t be older than sixteen and they were very good – passing, setting, spiking. They yelled and cheered with each goal. Avery, Simon, John, Vai and I were excited to play and stepped up when the ref called for Picton Castle to step up to one half of the court. We needed another player so I convinced Lily to join us. Vai leaped and slid like a true player. Although unfamiliar with working as a team in this way, we all did our best. We lost! Of course. But we realized they were taking turns between teams and knew we would have another go, getting more excited and focused with each game.

As this went on, kids played beside us at a smaller sandy court. The group of us, some with cameras out, went over and spent time with them, letting them take photos of each other making funny faces, having them climb on our backs. Simon also showed them hand stands and circus tricks between playing our volleyball games. We never did win. We continued to play even as the sun went down with the few kids that were left, even as it became hard to see. Then we headed back to the house for a parrot fish feast – fried, and cooked in a broth, with donuts, rice and sweet coconut patties. Simon and I were each given a cold coconut and told to have third and fourth helpings. I could have exploded.

As Simon and I finished dinner, we could see the lights of the Picton Castle in the distance through the palm trees and couldn’t help but wonder if they had anchored again. Our hosts assured us the ship was too far away to be anchored on the reef and sure enough noticed it drifting away over time. I’d heard the evening before there had been a party on Palmerston with port watch, and as exhausted as I was when I went ashore with the starboard watch, I was afraid if I went to sleep I’d miss another party.

Feeling social we followed the sound of music and found a group of islanders gathered at a picnic table, Anne-Laure’s hosts, and sat with them. We became overly excited when we noticed a trail of giant hermit crabs trying to get into an enclosed garden and was momentarily distracted by looking at them, Simon taking photos. Billy joined us at the picnic table but we soon wondered if there were people gathering elsewhere and we left to do a walk around.

Again we followed the sound of music and found ourselves at Edward’s house, where he sat with (another) Simon and our crew member John K playing guitar and ukulele and singing tunes. We could barely keep our eyes open as Eddie sang us some beautiful island songs and John played some of his own. We spoke of our interest in hermit crabs and we were told to visit the ship wreck on the other side of the island where they often gathered.

Before calling it a night we walked over to the wreck, an overturned fiberglass hull used as a shelter for fisherman, but found no hermit crabs. The moon was big and bright and there was a large aura around it – space between it and the clouds. We had more than enough light to walk the beach back to where we started and go to bed.

I awoke to the sound of roosters and chickens outside the window and the church bells ringing. There was an 0600 and 0630 service that morning as well as a 1000 service later in the day. Many locals went to every service (there was a 1600 service as well). Simon and I decided to attend the 1000, and so did Lily, Anne-Laure, Erin, Avery, Gustav, Vai and John. One of our many hosts sat outside the church ringing the bell, calling people to service.

I walked in and sat to the left beside Gustav but stopped when I heard a “PSsst!” from Erin, pointing out to me that all the women were sitting on the right. Oops. I got up and sat next to Anne-Laure. I looked around at all the beautiful hats all the women were wearing made out of this light golden straw with different patterns of hearts and geometric shapes tightly woven in. They were all decorated differently, with shells, ribbon woven into strips, bright colored thread braided, fabric flowers and colored straw. The room was bright with sunlight.

It was the singing that blew me away. The men and women complemented one another, one side singing with a deeper tone and sometimes different words, the women hitting much higher notes. It had an island sound and although I couldn’t understand the language I found myself getting goose bumps – feeling joyous and thankful. The ship and it’s crew were blessed and wished a safe journey.

After the service Simon and I joined our hosts for lunch – chicken and rice with a coconut sauce. I must have looked tired after my third helping because Jo, our host, mentioned a nap and suggested a handmade hammock or cot that was on out the beach. It sounded so wonderful I probably looked excited at such a suggestion and she went almost immediately to find a blanket and pillow, lying them on a cot for me, and dragging the cot under the shade of a palm tree. Absolute bliss – the picture you see on vacation brochures but it’s never the same in reality. I went over and curled up for our last half hour on the island, more relaxed than I’d been in months, listening to the palm trees in the wind, seeing the flash of bright blue and turquoise water as my eyelids fell.

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Ready for Anchorage

By Chelsea McBroom

April 13th, 2014

Port went ashore to Palmerston Island while starboard stayed on board to continue with a day of ships work. Melbourne, a man from Palmerston, came by asking if we had any soap to spare and so I brought him a bag full of bars to take back. Some locals came to pump out some of our fuel for the island as well. Crew spent the day replacing broken ratlines, spot painting, and end-for-ending lines. When the day was done, a watch list was posted and specific instructions were given to note the depth, the GPS and any change in weather through-out the night.

I went to sleep early, exhausted from the long day, and was woken up by Meg for night watch at 0150. It was pouring rain and the wind had picked up. Clearly the ship had moved since we arrived but in a fluid curved line. It was just after Meg had gone to bed that I felt the rumble of the anchor moving. The Captain came up from his cabin having heard it and I showed him the changes. At that point he wasn’t certain we had moved, but he asked me to wake Billy, our Engineer on board, to fire up for comfort. Crew appeared on deck, having heard the change and waiting to see what happened next.

I reassured them that everything was fine but then the Captain called out, “Anchors dragging! All hands on deck!” and I hopped about, calling it out in the superstructure towards the batcave and the mate, the salon and the foc’sle towards to brocave. Most people were already awake and ready at the windlass to heave up the anchor.

It wasn’t long before we realized the metal pads weren’t catching us we pushed and pulled up the windlass bars. The anchor wasn’t being picked up. Faces were long and shadowed as we attempted multiple solutions – drying and cleaning the pads with acetone, taking the port anchor chain off the windlass. The only brightness or colour, lit by the anchor light hanging above us, was that of our coats – the mate was in orange, the captain in red and all of us standing at the windlass bars in orange, red, yellow and blue.

The tackle was finally brought up and attached to the base of the windlass, the other end hooked to a link of chain and the rope was wrapped around the capstan to take some of the weight. This worked, bringing up a meter and a half at a time as the tackle was moved and placed, trying to bring up about 27.5 meters in total. We knew it would be a long night. The windlass bars hiccupped and tightened in place, stalling us as we tried to haul-up. “Down to starboard! Two, six!”, “Down to port! Two, six!” until finally the tackle wasn’t needed. We pushed and pulled, up and down, breathing heavily but moving like robots and then the mate called out “Anchor’s at the water line!” and we all cheered, still bending with the windlass bars.

It wasn’t long before the mate called “That’s well! Unship the windlass bars!” and we whooped and hollered some more. By then it was 0500 and the watches were doubled for the rest of the morning until all hands at 0800. We had the ship hove to for the rest of the night, quietly falling seven miles away. When I went back to bed I couldn’t sleep, my adrenaline was pumping and my brain was still wired for action.

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Arriving at Palmerston Atoll

By Chelsea McBroom

April 12th, 2014

The Picton Castle sailed to Palmerston Island quicker than expected. The winds reminded us of the Roaring 40s and all we needed to sail with to get us to five knots were the topsails, the foresail, the inner jib and the main topmast staysail.

The Captain originally planned for us to arrive at daylight on the morning of the 11th, but we were just a few miles to the island soon after midnight. The Captain was running the 12-4 and I was at helm at about 0100 when he told me to turn the helm hard to starboard handsomely. All the sails were taken in but the lower topsails, which were braced on a starboard tack. The wind force still being a four, I watched as the ship slowly came around on the compass, feeling the odd rolls of the swell and the wind coming around. I didn’t know what to expect and after passing a few compass points, the ship stopped and was steady going less than a knot of speed. I was hesitant to step away from the helm but the Captain assured me it was okay. I sat nearby to make sure it didn’t turn from it’s place. I watched as the ship hung in a balance, hove to, while we went about the rest of our watch duties: deep cleaning the galley, lookout, ship checks, wake-ups. The four to eight took over for us as usual and we went to bed, prepared for all hands to be called at 0800.

Exhausted from an early morning and working through the night, the crew groggily ate breakfast as we motored towards the reef. It was another clear beautiful sunny day with little cloud and good wind. As we got closer to the island we could see small boats motoring towards us. It was the Palmerston people coming out to greet us and take their personal cargo brought from Rarotonga. One of the items was a giant empty fresh water tank that was strapped to our hatch.

The Captain watched the locals as they pointed us in the direction of the reef where they thought we should anchor. It was a very sensitive anchorage, dropping the anchor literally right onto the reef, but the wind and current were in our favor, pushing us away from the shallow wall. We met with Customs – Simon, Alex and “Motha” who were incredibly friendly – and I sensed the excitement that surrounded our visit. A few others came aboard to chat with the crew while some stayed in the boats to receive boxes, freezers and wood – and then the water tank which crew pushed and lifted, Simon from Palmerston actually crouching underneath it to help it up and over the side of the ship and into the boat. When we finished, port watch gathered their things and went ashore for the night while starboard stayed to continue the day of work.

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Rarotonga – Part 4

By Chelsea McBroom

April 11th, 2014

A family in town that ran a bike rental shop were given a tour of the ship and were so pleased with how excited the kids were, they offered to repair our Picton Castle bicycles.

Somehow I always end up riding the bright pink cruiser bike with the back pedal brakes. Very professional. I rode it whenever Lily and I went to provision, or when we biked past the airport to get to a beach, or the one time Pania, Nolan and I tried biking to the other side of the island (turns out it’s at least an hour and a half long ride) but only got as far as that beach.

Instead to get to the other side of the island I took the bus, which I recommend to anyone who goes to Rarotonga. The bus driver was wonderful: he had a microphone headset on and made jokes the entire way; he sang; he said the police were looking for him and every time a police car drove by he turned his head so they wouldn’t see him; when he stopped the bus to use a public washroom on the beach, he said he had to go check his email, then said the wifi wasn’t working when he returned; he asked everyone who got on where they were from and in doing so made conversation between passengers; he also pointed out some great areas to explore and told local stories. But if you’re not travelling very far, biking is the way to go.

The majority of crew on the off watch spent their second to last day in port biking around and enjoying the island instead of getting their personal tasks done, not knowing it was their second to last day. It was the first time I had seen all the bikes being used.

I stayed on board working with port watch that spent the day, even through dinner, changing chafe gear on all the ship’s docking lines. I hadn’t realized the full severity of the situation until that night on watch. The swell was coming into the harbour at Avatiu and causing the ship to move around quite a bit while tied up against the big cement wharf. I could feel the change in movement of the ship as it lurched forward and back. It was situated on the wharf to be parallel with the waves coming in, so if the swell increased we were moved forward and aft, as opposed to docking adjacent to it which would cause the side of the ship to go up against the dock. This put much weight on our lines and as the ship moved, the lines tightened and loosed, often causing the chafe gear on the lines, which would normally be protective, to entirely miss the spots it was meant to cover as the lines moved against the ship.

When I woke Erin at 0050 to take over and did my ship check, I noticed our stern line chafe gear being pushed off with the movement, causing the line to be rubbed directly. Erin woke the next on watch, Gabe, and the three of us took the hour with leather pieces and a crow bar to repair it safely. I thought we’d saved the day but by the next morning we had chafed through two lines and it hit us that staying any longer would be a nightmare in such a state. It was all hands for the day to manage the line chaos until we could leave. All the bikes, except for two, were put back. Lily and I raced to the stores we had ordered provisions from to check invoices and pay so they could be shipped as soon as possible. Once that was done, John, my new purser assistant, and I made trips to the Port Office, to Customs, and to Immigration so that we could leave Rarotonga as soon as possible.

It took us 4 hours before we were cleared out and were able to start sailing to Palmerston. It’s always hard leaving a place when you aren’t ready or don’t expect it – especially when our personal tasks go unfinished (such as reaching out to friends and family as planned!). But it was a relief to move on.

Vai and Maria in the batcave

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Rarotonga – Part 3

By Chelsea McBroom

April 10th, 2014

April 5th was the dreaded day when Pania, the Picton Castle‘s bosun, and Sam, the watch officer, cleaned out their bunks and packed their bags. Their time with the ship was over (for now) and they were signing off in the port of Rarotonga. We went to dinner at Trader Jacks the night before, Pania, Sam, Dirk (the chief mate), Captain John and I, to say thank you to them before they left. Pania and Sam shared their intentions for future adventures. Sam shared his often wild imaginative scenarios like what it would be like to have a small mule or pony to help us aboard – somehow attaching a halyard and bribing it with plates of food on the aloha deck. Pania gave us examples of her bosun temper tantrums, flapping her arms and making weird noises.

I should have been ecstatic because Pania was moving out of her penthouse bunk and I was moving in. This meant a bigger bunk and a porthole for ventilation (and shock when I realized I was one of the longest on board to be given such a bunk). But despite my joy at the new home upgrade, Pania was a goofy sort to have around, the kind that made the simplest of tasks somehow humorous – not to mention that as a bosun she was full of helpful information. It was going to be weird not having her around. I knew the 12-4 would especially miss Sam, the watch officer who called out sailing commands in Norwegian or Danish and who would spend time on the foc’sle head belting out songs as he played his ukulele, and I’m pretty sure the very person behind the American April Fool’s joke.

It’s times like these that one must remember that this is part of the ship life! People leave but it’s never really goodbye and you’ll more than likely see them again. Sometimes people leaving means new people are joining and in this case Gabe and Billy signed on the same day Pania and Sam left. Gabe is our new lead seaman who I first met in Lunenburg in 2012. He made me feel included when I didn’t know anyone and danced around the Dory Shop with me. Billy is our other engineer who sailed the South Pacific last year and is already familiar with crew on board. See?! Crew come back!

Just when you get used to the way things are, something changes and life gets more interesting.

the crew dressed up for a marlinspike party

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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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