Captain's Log

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

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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.

Hi,

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
sleep.

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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Leaving Huahine

By Chelsea McBroom

March 28th, 2014

After the starboard watch returned to the Picton Castle from their overnight expedition in the monomoy, they told us excitedly that they had sweet revenge on the sand crabs that had bothered the port watch the night before. Late at night they decided to cook and eat them all, leaving only bits of shell behind.

On the same day the starboard watch returned, the Captain and I went ashore to clear out, doing all the formal customs and immigration procedures at the Gendarmerie (police station), in preparation to depart the next morning. The gentleman who helped us there didn’t speak a word of English but was wonderfully patient and relaxed and soon we had our papers to leave Huahine.

Lily (the cook), Maria (assistant purser who put both empty shopping bags over her shoulders and called herself a pack mule) and I went from there to the Super U Grocery to provision, stocking up on canned beans and lentils, celery, oranges, grapefruit, carrots, and the only green, lettuce-like thing we could find that’s strong in taste and seems to be similar to spinach and bok choi. We loaded the skiff with our goodies and went back to the ship.

The wind had picked up and so on night watches we kept a keen eye on the mooring as it bobbed and the lines stretched, making sure to check the chafe gear. Someone had taken Frosty, a large plastic light-up snowman that comes out on Christmas (and will sometimes mysteriously appear in my bunk with a “Sweet Dreams” eye cover on) and set him inside the mooring’s giant shackle and he sat there comfortably, staring at the ship with his top hat, mitts and broom under his arm.

First thing the next morning, right before the ship was about to leave, Lily and I took the skiff into Huahine to get bananas and eggs. There was a constant mist in the air, which soon became rain and I was glad I remembered to bring my foul weather jacket. We were dripping when we reached the dock. An older woman was there, sitting at her table in the street, her table covered in ginger, nuts and fruit and on the ground in front of her were two large stalks of green bananas for us. Farther down the road was a woman selling eggs. I wanted to use up all the French Polynesian coins, so I handed over 680 French Polynesian Francs for a tray of 20 eggs. She smiled and laughed with me, seeing I counted wrong, handing back a coin and taking another from my hand. I walked into the rain and stood, holding the cardboard tray carefully, waiting for Lily to join me. The lady from the egg stand came rushing to me out from under her tent with a plastic bag and delicately placed the tray inside it. She smiled and handed it back to me, folding the opening of the bag under. “Merci!” I said with appreciation, imagining the cardboard wilting from the rain and the eggs crashing to the ground. We walked past the first lady who sold us the bananas and waved, saying thank you and goodbye, she grinned at seeing our familiar faces and returned the enthusiasm as we went to the skiff and headed off, back to the ship which was preparing to sail for Rarotonga.

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Overnight Expedition in Huahine

By Chelsea McBroom

March 27th, 2014

It was decided at the last minute that I should join the port watch on their overnight trip in the monomoy, our rowing/sailing longboat. It was a Sunday In Huahine, when everything is closed or closes early, and I knew that I would accomplish more on my To Do list on a Monday or Tuesday.

I quickly gathered my things as the Mate Dirk and a few of the crew assembled the mainsail two headsails – a floral patterned flying jib was one of the two headsails. I made sure to bring my foul weather jacket (although had it rained like before it wouldn’t have saved me from getting wet), my hat, water and a sleeping mat. Somehow we managed to fit all 11 people (Kim, Teis, Hugo, Nolan, Alex, the Mate, Denise, Vai, Pania, Averil and myself) and what we had packed, including a cooler of beverages and food for lunch, dinner and breakfast, inside the boat.

We knew right away, as it was a very warm sunny day without breeze, that we would have to row to find wind. So even with all the sails ready, we shipped our oarlocks, and carefully raised each oar to await the Mate’s orders. Try as we might, we didn’t sail much that day. Although it must have been a few hours of rowing in total, we thankfully dropped anchor more than once along the reef where the water was a lighter, clearer blue, to go for a swim and cool off.

The spot we chose to stay for the night was a small beach the Mate had seen from a distance. It was deserted and had a small shack built upon it out of sheet metal and leaves. I assumed it was an area fisherman might go to prepare – it had a counter and a bench, it smelled like fish and had a 2014 calendar hanging on the wall. Once we anchored and tied the Monomoy we could see stacks of cement bricks behind the trees, in the shape of a large house. We were told later that it used to be a resort that was destroyed by a hurricane, now cleared of all debris, but not yet sold again.

Afraid of what the weather might bring, we first began setting up a shelter with a very large tarp we brought with us and plenty of manila. It was a frustrating task – the tarp was acting as a giant sail and would pick up with each gust of wind. I found this ironic considering we were lacking wind to sail there and yet our tarp wasn’t. We tried folding the tarp to have a piece for the bottom or floor, for the side or wall and for the roof of the shelter, but the wind tunnel it created had enough force to pull the lashed grommets from it.

The Mate had been preparing his shelter for the night – the monomoy itself – and I thought of the question I asked myself the last time we went on an overnight trip: “What would Dirk do?” This time we had him with us for me to ask him myself! Like magic he brought out some of the oars from the monomoy and directed us in lashing them together to create a frame, then lashing the tarp to it and raising it up to fold bits of the tarp under, weighted by rocks and logs for a floor. The wind no longer gave us a problem and the shelter was secure all night.

We had visitors join us, a family that brought us cake and fresh bread and guacamole (SO DELICIOUS). The four kids played nearby in the dark and the sounds they made convinced us angry wild animals were coming to attack. It hardly rained until the following morning but I doubt any of us slept. Even drenched in bug spray I could feel the mosquitoes biting at every uncovered bit of skin during the night. It was so hot that being covered to be protected from the bugs meant waking up overheated.

And then there were the sand crabs. Luckily the majority of them didn’t spend their time close by, and if you wandered over to where there were big holes in the sand off to the side, you could hear them crawling. They were about the size of my fist and I woke up on three separate occasions to one crawling over my sleeping-bag-covered feet or near my head which I didn’t notice until I heard it leave. At one point in feeling one at my feet for the second time I kicked my feet up and sent it flying onto Pania’s sleeping mat next to me – she of course woke up with the same start, kicking in the same fashion and I turned on a flashlight. There it was, it’s large claw up in defense and it’s beady eyes upon us. Clearly it thought that if it was still it wouldn’t be seen, because it didn’t leave until Pania kicked sand at it and sighed with relief.

We left the next morning, sailing slowly in the rain, nice and early, giving us a chance for another swim. The rain would quiet and then we would turn and watch as the cloudy mist of rain in the distance crawled closer towards us, “5, 4, 3, 2…” getting us drenched in our sarongs and bathing suits.

Coconut technology is an important lesson

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Biking Huahine

By Chelsea McBroom

March 25th, 2014

Starboard watch had their day off ashore at the French Polynesian island of Huahine while port watch was aboard the Picton Castle loosing and drying sails.

Our original plan for our day off was to rent kayaks for the day and paddle around the island, making a stop at a beach somewhere to swim and have lunch. Lucky for us, as Lily and I wandered the town looking for the kayaks and Maria and Sam stayed at the Yacht Club doing internet things, we realized we were not stuck on the idea and would have to be a bit flexible. Now that I think of it, we hardly see kayaks being used around the island, although we saw them used all over New Zealand, instead here they have these long narrow canoes, connected to another parallel bit of floating material for balance that seem to skim above the water.

We couldn’t find what we had in mind. We were even offered to be driven in a motorboat around the island to a beautiful beach, but we decided to rent bikes instead and follow adventure anywhere we liked. The bikes were a little rickety – I rode a neon pink cruiser that had back pedal breaks, not really meant for bumpy dirt roads and its chain kept coming loose. The rest of the gang were given white and blue mountain bikes (at least they LOOKED like mountain bikes but had rock hard seats and no shock absorption at all). We were pretty proud of our vehicles. Lily and I had talked about missing our bikes at home – having the wind in your hair, the exercise, and having the freedom to take any road – and commented how nice it was to be biking again.

People that had gone for a scuba dive that morning, Erin and Mark, joined us with their bikes. The six of us stocked up on provisions for the weekend as well as some bread, meat and cheese for lunch. I made sure to get a jar of seedy mustard and Mark made sure to get traditional Australian biscuits to share (bless him, I love cookies).

We rode our bikes around past the yellow post office building and across the island to a big patch of grass beside a rocky beach where the waves crashed. We found shade under a palm tree to share our goodies and chat, and once that was done we were on the road again to seek another nice looking place to sit. It felt like we biked forever – we passed many locals excited and happy to greet us, curious barking dogs, and went around the entire airport to reach another beach. This one had beautiful white sand to lie on and more crashing waves. I nearly fell asleep there. A local gentleman with his wife and kids drove up to us there and in broken English tried to explain that there had been thieves in the area and that we should watch our things. Such an effort to tell us and so considerate, it was very kind. We soon left anyhow so that we could catch the 7pm skiff back ‘home’ to the ship we were exhausted from our adventures and the bright hot sunny day.

monomoy moored for expeditions in French Polynesia

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Huahine Impressions

By Chelsea McBroom

March 23rd, 2014

On Thursday March 20th we connected the Picton Castle‘s mooring lines to a small floating island made out of yellow plastic and a core trunk of metal with a giant shackle atop it. It took us a try or two before we decided on the best way to moor – one stern line and two from the well deck to keep our lines from dragging underneath us and catching our rudder as we moved with the current.

It was about 1300 when we finished and lunch was ready for us. Lily had made macaroni and cheese with broccoli, tuna and peas and a salad. She’s been doing a good job of working vegetables into nearly every meal – even our oatmeal that morning (which was delicious!) had grated carrots.

Starboard watch was given the afternoon off and were in the skiff within minutes heading ashore – the longest skiff ride to shore we’ve ever had. We a moored a fair distance from the docks, but near enough to the island to smell land (because, trust me, when you’ve been away from land for long periods, you remember the smell when you near it again) and near enough to see the road that follows the shoreline.

After preparing dinner Lily went for a run from the dock all the way to the shore opposite the ship (a fair distance) and said there were many cute puppies and beautiful friendly people along the way. While starboard watch went ashore mostly for internet purposes, I stayed on the ship feeling satisfied with my recent internet connections.

After hand-washing my laundry (which smells cleaner but still looks like I rolled in the mud, I napped on the well deck while the crew who were on duty wire brushed and blue steeled. I can recall Captain Moreland telling us that often sailors in the past have preferred to stay aboard than go ashore – people are corrupted by ports, plans become repetitive and aren’t we here to do ship things? But I think I’m going to like Huahine.

So far it’s been sunny and bright with squalls at night. This morning Simon, Gustav, Lily and I took the skiff ashore to get some fresh vegetables, baguettes and fruit. The supermarket and bank are steps away from the dock, along with other little shops, and the streets are lined with local fruit and vegetable vendors. We bought bananas there but there was papaya, orange banana-like things, grapefruit, mangos and star fruit. It was a busy morning – everyone was smiling and friendly, whistling and calling to each other across the street. The ladies that worked at the market all wore dresses in floral prints in bold red and green and pink – the one that helped us was decorated in swirly red necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings.

This island reminds me of Nuku Hiva, perhaps even more convenient to us with its shops, but not as touristy as Papeete nor as deserted as other islands. We have already met people that have welcomed the ship and offered any local help if needed. Not knowing what to do with themselves, Lily told people on the off watch that they may find something to do when they meet new people ashore – and so the adventures begin.

Samantha and Averil help out in the galley

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Leaving Moorea for Huahine

By Chelsea McBroom

March 21st, 2014

It was so hot aboard the Picton Castle I had to sneak out of the foc’sle to the cargo hatch amidships more than once to sleep. I was the only one who did, which probably had to do with the unbelievable gusts of wind that came through Cooks Bay at night. At each gust I would wake to catch my sleeping bag as it flew away from me and to look around at the surreal black and white scene of the ship’s yards above and the full moon trying to escape the quickly passing clouds.

Our first evening at anchor, all starboard watch hands were called to take in the awning that hung over the hatch. Because of the gusts, the awning luffed and flapped vigorously and Sam the watch officer thought for sure it would take flight. We gathered silently in the middle of the night, the wind howling in our ears, each of us standing at a lashed corner of the canvas and with each command, took the lashings down to one turn and then at the precise calm moment let down the awning so it wouldn’t fly away. It was quickly folded and put into the hold. This took only a few moments before we were sent back to bed.

I was woken up just a few hours later for my 03:00 night watch when fortunately, the wind had become more consistent in force and less gusty therefore making me less paranoid. The wind wasn’t as forceful during the day, but the coxswain struggled against the current when making skiff runs and at one point a gust lifted hard plastic plates from the aloha deck counter during breakfast and flew them overboard and at crew sitting on the bench, actually causing injury. Although the island itself was appreciated, the bay was not welcoming and we were relieved when we heaved anchor and sailed for Huahine.

During the sail to Moorea, watches were unnecessary for such a short journey. As we made for Huahine, we were put into sailing watches again. Even so it was just for a day and an overnight trip and some of the crew wished for a longer journey. Huahine became visible and lights could be seen in the distance and the island was still just a shadow. I have been told we will travel around to the other side of the island to rest for the next four to six days, and to our excitement, weather depending, we may do some rowing and some overnight trips in the monomoy longboat. Hoping for a drier night of camping this time (knock on wood, cross your fingers and anything else you can think of)!

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The Cooks Bay Breeze

By Captain John Beebe-Center

March 20th, 2014

Cruising through French Polynesia has been wonderful for viewing and experiencing of flora and fauna, amazing geographic formations and beautiful scenery. It has shown us crystal clear waters, excellent fishing and some great coral.

Cooks Bay had its own wonders in store for us. Besides the rough-hewn peaks and lush greenery and the sleepy little village of PaoPao, Cooks Bay had wind. And not just a little wind – we’re talking gusty wind to get the attention of even a seasoned mariner, or air traffic controller for that matter.

The geography for helping to generate these breezes is perfect in that Cooks Bay has a fjord-like shape to it, long and narrow and oriented North to South. With the seasonal winds having a Northerly cast this sets up a compression/funneling situation that can seriously accelerate the breeze. This would be in the nature of a “williwaw” or katabatic wind. On the first night of our visit around 2230 we started to hear the moaning of an approaching gust of wind. This moaning continued to get louder and we could actually see the wind line approaching on the water several hundred yards away. Clearly this was going to be interesting and I was able to consider the wisdom which had inspired putting out our large 1500 pound anchor and 3 ½ shots (or about 315 ft) of chain.

The gust that hit was estimated by myself and watch officer Sam as being in the mid 50 knot range. It came with rain and pushed Picton Castle over several degrees. The squall let up after a few minutes and we were able to see up to windward an approaching series of wind lines on the water stretching away towards the mouth of the Bay. Each one represented another gust of wind – not quite so “interesting” as the first but each strong and loud and worthy of a look on deck to make certain all was well. While the rain component of the first gust stopped the gusts themselves did not. They diminished in the afternoons but were generally with us throughout our visit. We made friends with our neighbors, the Ketch rig Sinbad, who had been in port for months. They told us that their wind gauge had registered 82 knots as their maximum gust that season. After a few days of this it was pleasant to recover our anchor this morning (which had been driven waaay into the mud) and to make our way to sea again en route to Huahine. So, Cooks Bay, a beautiful place and worth a visit. Put out your best ground tackle…

Cheers,
Captain John

Captain John leads a workshop

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Moorea

By Chelsea McBroom

March 19th, 2014

The Picton Castle arrived in Moorea in the early afternoon, just hours after sailing away from Papeete, and anchored in Cooks Bay. The water was brown with sediment and the current strong. Moorea is another very green lush island but with many peaks and the full sky of clouds passed mistily over the tops. I had heard many of the crew describe the island as a place they imagined dinosaurs still existed or that Godzilla lived. The trees were tall and ancient and we saw large groups of bamboo sticks growing. As we passed into the bay more than one waterfall could be seen, one falling higher than another in the distance, towering over the ship.

Port watch was given that evening off to go ashore – the Mate returned from his quick trip ashore to check out what was there and told the crew what was open on a Sunday (very little). The following day starboard was given the day off, the day after was port’s day off again and the crew took the opportunity to rent vehicles to drive around the island. The Captain and his wife Deborah told us the majority of shops were at the outermost areas of the bay, a decent walking distance from where the ship was anchored and so for some, having a bike or car made sense. People seemed to be most interested in visiting a waterfall or the fresh juice shop which gave tours and samples.

Alex, Pania, Lily, Nolan and I had lunch at the nearby pizza place (which was an outdoor bar and sitting at a bar stool you could watch them make and bake the pizza that was ordered) and drove around the island before the evening, having stopped to swim in the bluest water and the whitest beach, to walk as close to the waterfall as the signs would allow, and to pick up some fresh produce for the ship.

When we returned to the bay area we had a craving for fish and chips, a dish I thought we would have been sick of from eating nearly every day in New Zealand. We found a kind man who ran a restaurant which was normally was closed on a Tuesday for dinner. But he seemed to be familiar with the ship (and came out wearing a Picton Castle hat and a grin on his face) and decided he would make us all fish and chips and serve us himself on the patio. Teis and Averil joined us just in time and we were the only customers. The gentleman spoke little English but didn’t let it stop him from teasing us at every moment – just when dinner was ready he came out with four very small saucers with little bites of fish and lettuce on each and said “bon appetit”. We pretended to be too full when he brought out the actual plates, heaping with bread fruit chips, salad with avocado and fried fish. At the end of the meal he brought around a plate of flower heads for us to put behind our ears and gave us a kiss on each cheek.

getting ready to sail the monomoy

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