Captain's Log

Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

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Vanuatu – Cyclone Pam

The crew of Picton Castle were shocked and saddened by the news of the vast destruction reportedly caused by Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam to the tiny and beautiful island nation of Vanuatu.

It wasn’t so long ago that we were last there, trading clothes, knives and pots and pans for fresh fruit, handmade baskets and tiny model dug-out canoes, learning to speak a little Bislama and playing on the beaches with hordes of inquisitive small children.

We had a wonderful time in Vanuatu – from the tiny but bustling capital, Port Vila on Efate to wonderful Banam Bay on Malekula Island, which is like visiting another world, or at least another time.

We were welcomed into the villages like old friends, and the arrival of a ship full of sailors seemed like a great excuse for singing and dancing and string bands playing on the sandy beach under the stars and coconut fronds. It’s our favourite way to visit, when the islanders enjoy the party as much as our crew.

But Vanuatu is not a place to be in a severe cyclone. Low-lying villages and fragile buildings with thatched or sheet-tin roofs are no match for 26 foot sea surge and 180mph winds. And an economy based mainly on subsistence farming will not make the recovery any easier.

So we’re grateful to the quick response from New Zealand and Australia, and all of the aid agencies who are working to get basic supplies to these gentle and gracious people, who had so little to start with and who now face total devastation.

Our thoughts are with all in Vanuatu, but especially our friends in Malekula, Maewo & Pentecost.

– Captain Daniel Moreland and the crew of the Picton Castle

If you would like to help, please consider making a donation through an aid agency of your choice. Here are a few agencies that are already working to provide relief in Vanuatu.

Red Cross – Canada
UNICEF – New Zealand
Oxfam – Australia

Tammy_DSCN1058
Picton Castle crew in Asanvari, Maewo, Vanuatu

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Passage to Rarotonga-Tradewinds gone astray #3

South Pacific south-east tradewinds, as pleasent and fine to sail in as they are, and depend on them we do to get across this ocean, are not quite as reliable as say South Atlantic tradewinds, which never seem to quit. Due to a low between two highs far to our south, yesterday the wind built and built to near gale force strength out of the NNE and then petered out all together, great sailing while it lasted. Then last night the wind went around and blew from the west for about 10 hours! The 8-12 evening watch had to wear ship (a controlled jibe with lots of hauling of braces) to steer north which was not so bad – then in the early AM the 12-4 and the 4-8 watches wore ship again as the wind came back out of the north so we could steer west again. Then the wind gave up and became light headwinds. On went the ALPHA with a deep rumble. We shall steam under power and head in the general direction of Rarotonga about 800 miles away until the wind makes up again as it surely will. We want to get to Rarotonga on time anyway, all sorts of folks meeting the ship and some of our gang have to head home to jobs and schools, all very sad. We just passed south off Atoll Hereheretue, too low to see. Been catching fish pretty well lately since Paul got the squid lures Steve and Olive at Pitcairn recomended…

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Passage To Rarotonga, Strong Tradewinds still with us #2

Mid-day, 20-16s/141-46w

The Picton Castle is about 400 miles NE of Manga Reva sailing along in strong NNEly winds. Seas are moderate and not too lumpy. The ship is shortened down to upper topsails and still we>are making a comfortable and swift steady 7-8 knots. I suppose that we can expect the breeze to die down soon enough as NEly winds we are getting are the normal easterly trades being bent and accelerated around a low to our south I think. Soon I expect the winds to lay down some and go back more into the east. Meantime we are sailing along just fine. As we get further north on this heading the weather is also getting warmer. Rebecca and her sailmaking gang laid out a new royal on the dock at Rikitea which they are hand seaming up now and the 5-6 year old fore-t’gallant got a rip in the clew last night so that sail is sent down for fixing – don’t need or want it set now anyway in this breeze. If we were further off the wind we would be happy to have it set.

All around is the Pacific is a deep rich blue and covered with white caps – the ship is easy to stear under this sail combination and she is romping along. If anyone is interested in what weather we have or what might be coming our way you can check out www.passageweather.com for ocean routing weather forecasts or www.weather-forecast.com for island forecasts. There are of course, many other weather forecasting sites but these two are simple and clear and do not require any interpretation or training to grasp.

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Strong Tradewinds-Passage to Rarotonga #1

21-12S / 139-23W

The Picton Castle is sailing strong out here in the South Pacific Ocean – as I write we are under all plain sail in force 5 tradewinds blowing in from the NE. With Manga Reva well astern we are steering northwest around the infamous French nuclear test site atoll, Marururoa about 20 miles off. The chart indicates that “Access Interdit” or ‘access forbiden’…No problem, didn’t want go there much anyway! From Manga Reva we are shaping a course NW up to a point about 100 miles south of Tahiti, then we will steer west, then west- south-west for Rarotonga. This course will take us away from and around a weak low presure system on our direct track to the Cook Islands that would give us foul winds, at least that is the notion. As with so much at sea, subject to change! With these fresh winds we have been getting a daily (and nightly dose of squalls). These squalls come up from our windward quarter, give light rain and an increase in wind speed that usually send the ships speed over eight knots, sometimes up to nine which is pretty fast for us and, as long as everything is under control, makes for a quite thrilling ride! Yes, we have to mind our stearing and be ready to take in the lighter sails but this gang is pretty good by now and while wary for change, these squalls are exhilerating without being menacing or too powerful. And they all send the Picton Castle romping towards Rarotonga and the delightful Cook Islands.

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Small Boat Expeditions

By Joanna Clark and Mike “Fred” Weiss

Picton Castle crew members enjoyed sailing the 22′ dory Sea Never Dry and the 23′ monomoy longboat during the small boat expedition to the island of Akmaru, located about 5nm away from Mangareva. For beginners to small boat sailing, the first few days were an abrupt introduction, as winds gusted to 35 knots! Luckily, the monomoy’s spars, crafted in the weeks preceeding our expedition, held strong in the breeze (at least a bit better than the leeboard and rudder, which were repaired and strengthened after the first night out). The sail to the island was mostly a beat (sailing upwind), which made it somewhat dicey when we had to navigate around treacherous coral heads near the beach where we landed. Crew members in the monomoy got to row for a while, making the arrival to camp all the more satisfying. After an exciting sail, we arrived in Akamaru, which means “to go slowly” in Mangarevan, to set up camp for the evening. The first night, the 8-12 and Delta watch camped; the second, 8-12 and 12-4; the third, 12-4 and 4-8; and the last, 4-8 and Delta. Even though our campsite consisted of trees and hammocks, living quarters on the ship were nonetheless reflected ashore. “Bro-camp,” as it was quickly dubbed, mimicked the sleeping arrangements of the forepeak, with the guys setting up their hammocks around a separate campfire, building lean-to’s out of palm fronds and generally taking a page out of Survivor as they prepared for their overnight stay. At “Base camp,”a largecampfire was made near a vacant shelter. Here, meals were prepared and eaten, and at night coconuts were opened up and enjoyed plain or with a little bit of rum mixed in. A few locals joined us also, and stories were exchanged and marshmallows were roasted.

Some of the more daring explorers swam out to “Goat Island,” a small island just off of our beachhead. Rumours went around well before the expeditions even set out that there were thousands (if not millions) of goats roaming wild on this island and that we could hunt them at our liberty, which got several people sharpening their machetes. However, upon arrival to “Goat Island,” the few goats that were there were not to be found. Also we learned that they are not wild, but somebody’s property, so the goat hunt was called off. It did make for a nice swim, though! Just down the beach, very near base camp, was a house with a pig pen and free-roaming fowl. The people who lived there were very friendly, and allowed some of us to say hello to their livestock. The pigs, of which some were adults and many piglets, seemed to have a coconut-laden diet and it was observed that they didn’t smell at all. There was also a scenic path that led to a quaint church, with beautifully maintained grounds. Some people who went for an early morning stroll were greeted by a very friendly woman who took them back to her house and fed them breakfast, before insisting that they depart with a box full of fresh fruits and vegetables. The kindness of these French Polynesians is not to be understated.

The voyages back to Picton Castle in the lagoon at Rikitea were quite speedy, with the wind on our quarter. For many, this was a familiar return to small boat sailing; for others, the only other sailing vessel they’d ever been in was the Picton Castle . While quite different from sailing a big square-rigger, the lessons we’ve learned while aboard made handling these fine boats almost intuitive, and we managed to maneuver them through challenging waters and deal with less-than-ideal situations (there were a few things that broke on both Sea Never Dry and the monomoy) that required us to improvise and think like true sailors. Hopefully, that’s what we’re all becoming.

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Black Pearls

The lagoons at the heart-breakingly beautiful French Polynesian island of Mangareva produce the best black pearls in the world, at least according to the pearl farmers who live and work there. The farms don’t look like much – just wooden shacks over the water built on concrete pillars on top of a reef and a bunch of buoys in the surrounding waters. These shacks look like casual fishing houses one might find on a lake somewhere. Despite their modest appearance, what they produce is truly spectacular.

While in Mangareva, Picton Castle crew befriended a number of pearl farmers, or more accurately, they befriended us. There are quite a few different farms surrounding the island and each farm employs anywhere from two to twenty people, depending on the size of the operation. Within the farm there are a number of different jobs, so the guys we met identified themselves as divers, surgeons or bosses. Some of the farmers invited us out to their farm, so they came to collect five of us in their big aluminum work-boat the next morning and take us to the other side of the island. Upon arriving at the farm, we got out of the boat and went inside. There were about ten people working that day, two of them wearing wetsuits (we were right in assuming they were the divers). That morning they had collected about 40 cages of oysters and brought them to the farm building. The buoys we had seen above the water mark where the cages are, underneath the water, attached to long lines between the buoys. The cages are kept at depths of up to 12 metres and the divers use only snorkels as they plunge below the surface to collect them. Once the cages are at the farm, they are opened up and the oysters are removed. Using big butchers knives, any extra growth on the outside of the shell is scraped off. The oysters are stacked in crates and passed to the next station where another person uses what looks like a fine chisel to open the oyster shell a quarter of an inch, enough to stick in a plastic wedge. From there the oysters go back into the crates and on to the surgeons. Picking up one oyster at a time, the surgeon kneads the soft tissue inside the shell to feel for a pearl. If something is felt, the surgeon inserts a tool which pries the shell open about half an inch – just enough to get the pearl out without separating the tissue from the interior of the shell. Each surgeon’s workbench (there were two surgeons at the farm we visited, including the one woman working at the farm) has a clamp with a spring mounted on the bench for them to put the oyster in so that they can work with both hands while the shell is at eye level. With a tiny scalpel, the surgeon makes a very small incision in the oyster. Using a long tool with a small metal ring on the end, the surgeon kneads the pearl toward the incision, popping it out and scooping it out of the shell. If the pearl is good, something of the same size is inserted back in through the incision to the pearl’s original resting place and the spreader is removed. If the pearl is misshapen, deformed, ridged, or nonexistent, the oyster is removed from service. Each oyster can be grafted in this way four times, each time producing a successively larger pearl. The oysters we saw were on their second graft, so the surgeons were replacing the pearls in the good pearl producing oysters with freshwater pearls from the Mississipi delta for the oyster to use them as a core to continue to form an even bigger black pearl around. All of the oysters that have been reseeded are put back into cages. The cages look to me like shoe racks – about two feet wide and four feet long with rows of pockets on one side and a line on top to tie it to the line below the water. Each oyster shell has a small hole drilled in it for a piece of fishing line to go through. The oyster is placed in the pocket, then the flap of the pocket is closed and the oyster is tied in place to keep it in the pocket and to keep the pocket shut. As the oysters are placed back into the cages, the cages are hung below the dock at the farm building so the oysters spend as little time as possible out of the water. At the end of the work day, the cages are brought back out to the buoys and tied to the lines below the water again. In order to produce the best result, the oysters need to have maximum water circulation around them. It takes two years to grow a pearl, but the cages are brought out of the water for cleaning every three months or so. They used to use scrub brushes to remove the underwater growth, but now they use pressure washers. The farm we visited has between 200,000 and 300,000 oysters, kept about 20 to a cage, so I imagine the cleaning is constant – as soon as they have them all clean, it would be time to start again. While we were at the farm the guys opened up the rejected oysters and cut out just the muscle for us to eat raw with some lemon juice. Kind of like a scallop. We also got a whole bag of oyster muscles to take back to the ship for the rest of the crew to enjoy as well. We were then each invited to choose one pearl – not the rejected ones, but a high quality round one with lustrous colour. They are best displayed in salt water and we learned that the best way to polish them is to put them in a jar with a lot of salt and a little water and shake. The value of the pearl is determined by its size and colour – some shine red, blue or green. Shape seems to be less important, as long as it is smooth and shiny. A single pearl, one that is large, perfect and has good colour, can be worth thousands of dollars. Throughout our time in Mangareva, a number of our crew recieved some black pearls as gifts and some by trading. The slightly misshapen pearls are of little value to the farmers because they’re not worth much commercially, but to me they’re just as interesting. Many of our gang can now say they have some South Seas treasure!

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Mangareva Arrival

As we sailed away from the lee of Pitcairn Island, we had one new face aboard – David Brown, a young man who grew up on Pitcairn and is the grandson of Pitcairn legend Len. David will join us for a while to see some of the South Pacific and see what he can learn from the ship including some navigation. It’s winter in the South Pacific so he’s feeling the cold (we’re mostly in shorts and a long sleeve shirt during the day, with long pants and maybe a sweater or jacket on night watches – average daytime temperature here is about 20 degrees, which, after the heat of the Caribbean and Panama, seems a bit chilly), but so are we, so he fits right in with the crew and is learning quickly. Looks like he grew up here.

We had a sort of quiet 3-day passage from Pitcairn to Mangareva in great sailing conditions. There was plenty of work going on, especially to get the small boats ready for expeditions. The new sailing rig and sails for the longboat were completed just in time. However, there was a general sense of deflation on board -what the Captain would describe as a “Pitcairn hangover”. Not a literal hangover, nothing to do with booze, just a necessary period of recovery after an incredible visit and the tough moment when we had to say goodbye, no one wants to say goodbye at Pitcairn.

We approached the Gambier Islands from the northwest, slowing down a bit overnight so that we could pilot into the lagoon with good overhead daylight. We had four reef passes to go through in order to get from the open ocean to the very protected anchorage off the town of Rikitea on the main island of Mangareva. Using all navigation tools available to us, including the chart plotter, GPS, paper charts, radar, bearings, range markers, buoys, depth sounder, lead line, a lookout aloft to spot the colour changes in the water that mark the shallow reefs, as well as the Captain’s local knowledge, we came in under power as the Captain carefully piloted the ship in. The Captain says this is one of the most protected anchorages in the South Pacific, but the basin, with reefs and land as the perimeter, is small for a vessel our size. On two mornings during our stay we heaved up the anchor to reposition it after the wind shifted overnight and we swung around on our anchor chain.

As the Captain and I went ashore to clear the ship in with the Gendarmes, the Chief Mate put the crew to work cleaning topsides. By the time we had all forms filled out, all passports stamped and we were ready to return to the ship, there was a huge visible difference. The ship looked great, all four of our small boats, including the longboat, the skiff, our dory Sea Never Dry and our second skiff, were in the water alongside the ship, ready to go for the next day’s expedition. The crew were divided into four watches here, allowing each person the opportunity to participate in two overnight sailing expedition to the neighbouring island of Akamaru.

Mangareva is an extremely pretty, small island with a population of about 800. In years gone by the population may have been as much as 2,500. While there is no way for visitors to withdraw money on the island, our crew found a family who does laundry, a decent wifi signal at the anchorage (believe it or not!) and a few small shops and one restaurant. And being French, of course there was a ‘boulangerie’ producing delightful long thin baguettes, the famous French bread. Every morning and afternoon the bakery opened and folks crowded around for their loaves of bread and so did our crew. We also found people who were happy to see us, many remembered the ship from our last visit here five years ago. Many were generous, inviting different crew members in for a meal or a drink, giving us fresh fruit and vegetables. The island itself is beautiful, with small homes along the coast and up the mountainside, each with a well-tended garden in front. The Catholic cathedral, built by driven missionaries to the area in the early 1800s at enormous cost to the island in material, lives and gardening put aside, was under massive repair, a three-year project to fix the roof, but the religious community is still quite active, with a three-day spiritual retreat under way over the weekend we were there.

Perhaps the most stunningly beautiful part of the Gambier Islands is the sea within the lagoon. The shallow water is a light turquoise blue, the colour you imagine when you think of tropical paradise. The water is a darker indigo blue in the deep sections and kind of jade green over the very shallow reefs. At low tide, the jagged edges of the reefs stick up just above the surface of the water. These waters are home to the oysters that make the black pearls Mangareva is famous for, but more on that to follow…

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Pitkern Ilan -Reflections

By Billy Campbell

The Captain has always said the only thing better than going to Pitcairn once is going again. I wasn’t sure how that could be. Not that I suspected he was lying (Captains are above that sort of thing). It simply seemed impossible that reality should match the memories. It’d been 5 years since my first time. What memories I had, had reached mythic proportion.

It’s a place I find tiny and mighty, all at once. Where the sweetest breezes come soughing down-valley through banyan, pine, banana and breadfruit trees, carrying the scent of grapefruit and guava. Where I may stand at the edge of dizzying heights listening to the bleat of wild goat, the distant cry of a white tern circling fathoms beneath my feet, and look down to comprehend what seems a larger portion of the planet than I have ever seen from a plane.

Behemoth shadows of cloud move on the face of the blue Pacific, stretching away into time, almost, lending a perspective unlikely from greater or lesser heights, a feeling particular to this island. It makes both sky and earth seem immense as well as trifling, and things close-by (like a tern) seem distant, while it makes others so faraway I can’t even see them feel close, as if I might spy the highest minaret of the Kremlin from Pitcairn, could I but leap a few feet further into the air.

The island also feels as if it’s the sole devotion of the world’s mightiest ocean, which — unruly though she may be — marches all 7000 miles of her longest fetch to humble herself in its lap, helpless to do anything but seethe and boil against the jag of its volcanic girth, surge and pump through its hollows and crevices, cracks and fissures, its blowholes, as if she would suffocate the place, only to be dashed into spume again and again, endlessly submitting to Pitcairn’s will in geysers of white.

I could watch the sea come against this shore for hours, years, listen to its thunder, taste its salt-spray on my lips, my skin, feel it in my hair. The sun on my face and sea at my feet, here of all places, feels different. I feel stretched a thousand different directions, as wide and open as the sea herself.

Yet the island is tiny. There are fifty people on Pitcairn, fourteen miles of road (less than one of it paved), two dogs, one tortoise (her name is miss T, and she’ll block the track to Tedside until bribed with fresh-split coconut, or banana, which she accepts with what seems a good deal of ingratitude), and zero things poisonous, unless you count the bees of summer. As of this writing, though, Pitcairn’s winter, one could bushwhack naked through its darkest tangle (I’m prone to such, given tequila) without fear of worse than a mosquito-bite.

The most treacherous and thrilling aspect of the island is also its next-most beautiful: its precipitous drops. And there are plenty of place-names — Break’im Hip, Freddy Fall, Down Isaac — to attest so. We may have added a name this visit but that’s Jimmy’s story to tell, as Cap says, and we are grateful he’ll be able to. I hope they call it Jimmy Bus’ Ass, if they do re-name part of Downrope. It would be like them.

And that brings me to Pitcairn’s most beautiful aspect, by far. Its people. Descended of the mutineers of HMS Bounty and their Polynesian counterparts, they are as salty and rough and warm and jocular as you’d imagine it’d require, having clung 220 years to a windblown rock in the middle of the sea. You know them mere minutes before they’re taking the piss out of you, giving you a new nickname, ribbing you for shyness or some imaginary ineptitude on your part. Even their kids do this. I suppose it’s the only way for a people for whom the few vessels stopping by yearly provide such fleeting contact with the outside world.

In the years I’ve known him, I’ve never seen the Captain as moved as he is on raising Pitcairn, except, that is, on letting it slip below the horizon. He wasn’t overstating things when he said it’d be even better. He’s been proving it to himself for years.

It took a tearful farewell on the landing yesterday, a batch of hugs, and one heartbreakingly brief nose-rub with Mavis Warren, to be reminded how deeply truthful the Captain can be.

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Island Concerts-Island Names -Pitcairn Island Log #7

We had two “concert” nights at Pitcairn again at the public square, one with each watch. For weeks before our arrival, crew had been practicing their acts. On both nights, this variety/talent show was opened by the school children singing together. From there, the Picton Castle crew presented their acts. The port watch opened with Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and closed with the choreographed dance from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video (with the narrated moves including “booty bounce” and “roar turn” – it wasn’t the same without Jimmy, who was the master choreographer, instructing us on the movements). In between, Meredith amazed everyone with a powerful opera aria which filled the very sky and Fred and Liam got a chuckle with the story of Roger the trainee. The starboard watch concert was opened and closed by the Picton Castle All Star Gypsy Band (Michael, Siri, Nadja, Alex, Katelinn and Paula) playing Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan tunes, Katelinn played a violin solo and the comedy duo of Jehle and Caselli emceed the evening with jokes to
make you groan. Both nights ended with the islanders on stage singing “In the Sweet Bye and Bye” and “The Goodbye Song” in beautiful harmony. Dave Brown made the Captain go up to the front and sing with islanders on both concert nights.

We had warned the crew before we arrived at Pitcairn that they could maybe expect to be teased a little, good way to make friends quickly. There’s no predicting what you’ll be teased for – maybe your ears stick out or you have short hair, maybe you are vegetarian or wear a certain item of clothing. This teasing, all in the spirit of familiarity and jest, dished out and taken in equal measure, often leads to surprisingly thoughtful and appropriate nicknames. In our crew, we now have the following folks: Shortbus, Noshorts, Acorn, Boilerhead,
Wingnut, Dork, Phantom, The Cardinal, Brainy, Lumberjack and Goldilocks. But we are not going to say who is who, oh no…

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“Stalking the Wild Breadfruit…”-Pitcairn Island Log #6

The Captain likes to have a good supply of coconuts on board and Nadja is always involved in food provisioning for the ship, so she asked Dave Brown about collecting coconuts, breadfruit and anything else that the island might be able to spare. After over a month out of Panama fresh provisions are pretty short, no, they are nonexistent. The hunting and gathering party met at Meralda’s and after about five servings of breakfast and ten cups of coffee each they set out. They took with them a ladder and a long reaching pole with a hook on the end. When growing close together breadfruit trees are quite tall, with no branches until the canopy at the top of the tree. The tall ladder was leaned up against the tree and held in place at the bottom. The crew then took turns climbing up the ladder, long pole in hand, to try to hook the stem above the breadfruit and pull the breadfruit down. This sounds easy, but the trees are really tall, the pole was very long and hard to control, it was tough to see around the tree from being so close to the trunk at the top of the ladder, and the breadfruit are spaced out quite widely in the treetop. While one person was up the tree with the pole and one other was holding the ladder, everyone else was under the tree, preparing to catch any breadfruit that may have been hooked and knocked down. Any time a breadfruit was successfully knocked down, the entire expedition let out a giant whoop, especially Georgie who was perhaps the most enthusiastic breadfruit hunter in the bunch. However, the breadfruit were elusive and difficult to capture, so the crew had to call in
reinforcements in the form of Dave and Meralda who had .22 rifles to shoot the stems of breadfruit and knock them out of the trees. This, by the way, is normal. The shooting may not have produced significantly more results than the ladder/pole picking method, but it was certainly equally entertaining and suspenseful, wondering with every shot whether a breadfruit would fall out of the tree, or if it would just be a leaf or nothing at all.

While on the breadfruit hunt, Donald was distracted by giant bunches of bananas. Apparently the better way to harvest a stalk of bananas is to chop down the entire tree, rather than cutting just the stalk. With a machete in hand, Donald commenced chopping down banana trees with great vigour. Again, the crew were standing below to catch the fruit, and often had to fight their way out from under a pile of banana leaves, having caught the stalks as the rest of the tree fell over on top of them. The breadfruit picking device became a
grapefruit picking device a bit further down the road, with more success. The pole was not quite long enough to reach from the
ground so a crew member climbed the tree partway and from there it worked like a dream, placing the hook just above the grapefruit and pulling it out of the tree. To complete the gathering part of the hunting and gathering morning, the crew went to Meralda’s garden to pick some spinach. The spinach was much more tame than the other fruits and veggies, having been planted in a garden for easy harvesting.

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