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Arriving at Rarotonga

During the early morning hours of Saturday August 21, Picton Castle hove to off the east coast of Rarotonga. It was thrilling to wake up with a view of the island, lush green hills rising above the white sand beaches, with the highest rocky points shrouded in puffy light grey clouds and the sun shining on the coastline. On our passage from Mangareva, we had sailed when the wind was strong enough to keep up our speed, although we had to motor a bit when the wind went light. Arriving in Rarotonga on Saturday morning was important – not only did we have new crew members waiting on the dock to greet us and join the ship, we also had a rendezvous arranged with Marumaru Atua, the new 70-foot sailing vaka (double hull sailing canoe) of the Cook Islands Voyaging Society.

As scheduled, Marumaru Atua sailed from Avana, the pass at the north end of Muri lagoon where vakas from a number of different Pacific islands convened for the voyage that would start the migration of Pacific people to New Zealand. The last time Picton Castle was in Rarotonga, the big sailing vaka (Te Au O Tonga, which is now in Aitutaki) had been damaged by a cyclone so we didn’t get to see her in working order. Since we were here five years ago, the Voyaging Society has purchased this new vaka which was stunning to see under sail as she came out of the pass. The vaka, crewed by as few as four people on a day sail and as many as 12-16 on a long voyage, is a traditional double canoe with two main sails, steered by a giant steering oar. Marumaru Atua takes advantage of modern construction methods, being built of fibreglass and with the option of different booms and sails to create a Bermudian rig that can be reefed on deep ocean passages. With her traditional sails set, Marumaru Atua sailed out of Avana and up the east coast of Rarotonga ahead of us, then tacked around us as both vessels sailed along the north coast towards Avatiu. The crews of both ships seemed delighted by each other’s vessels and the opportunity to sail in company with one another.

Thanks to an article in the Cook Islands News about our arrival, there was a bit of a crowd waiting on the wharf at Avatiu when we arrived. We took in sail and motored through the pass in the reef into the harbour, where the Captain had to turn the ship around in the tiny basin and back the ship into the corner of the harbour at a spot alongside just a couple of metres longer and wider than the ship herself. Years of shiphandling experience paid off as the Captain made this difficult manoeuvre look almost effortless. The harbour at Avatiu is shallow at the western end, where small yachts and fishing boats dock and deeper at the eastern end where the cement commercial wharf is. Along the south wall, sailing yachts were tied stern-to in a row, while the eastern wall had three cargo vessels tied up starboard side-to and one empty slot for us in the southeast corner. Once the ship had been cleared for entry into the Cook Islands, our joining crew came aboard for lunch, followed by their first muster. At the muster, we said goodbye to the departing crew members, hello to those joining and then all who sailed in were welcomed with fragrant flower ‘eis placed around our necks.

Picton Castle is incredibly lucky to have two homes, both of which embrace us warmly. Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada is our base of operations, the place where the ship was refit and where our office continues to be. Avatiu, Rarotonga, Cook Islands is our port of registry, the flag we fly and the port painted on the stern of the ship. In both of our homes we have built strong relationships with organizations and individuals who are part of our greater Picton Castle family. While sailing into Lunenburg and sailing into Avatiu are two very different experiences, they’re both home. It’s good to be back in our tropical home once again.

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