Captain's Log

Archive for March, 2013

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Rarotonga Update

By Kate “Bob” Addison

We’ve been busy unloading the hold ready to take cargo to the outer Cooks. Second mate and handy carpenter Sam built a new platform to help keep the cargo better organised and make more usable space – the hold looks huge when it’s all empty. Now the crew are loading lumber and totes of food back in again.

Meanwhile over at a warehouse on the wharf, chief mate Michael is accepting, organising and measuring cargo with a team of helpers. We’re accepting all kinds of cargo, bags of rice to freezers full of frozen food, and of course adding names of passengers to the list. Our route for the next few weeks will be somewhat determined by where the cargo is bound for – so far we have lots of cargo for Aitutaki and Palmerston Atoll.

The outdoor market on Saturday right nearby the ship was lovely and we bought lots of fresh fruit and veggies. There were drummers and dancers, cold nu (young coconuts) to slurp from and lots of wood carvings, shell jewellery and colourful pareaus. Our sailing time is set for 1pm on Saturday so we’ll have time to go to the market once more before we sail and stock up for the next passage.

The off watch have been taking Sea Never Dry, our Lunenburg-built dory, out for day sails, round to Trader Jacks, or anchoring off the reef to do some snorkelling before sailing back. Some people have rented cars or scooters, or taken one of the dozen or so bikes from the ship to tour around the island.

Church on Sunday was very lovely, and we were all invited in for tea and sandwiches after to meet the locals and other tourist types. We had the local Sea Scouts aboard yesterday, and the children from the Avarua Catholic School are coming at lunchtime today to visit the ship. We’re having a dinner for all of the Palmerston people here in Raro tonight – there seem to be dozens of Marsters here, so I’m looking forward to matching names to faces.

The pictures in pareaus are from a workshop/fashion show/marlinspike we had just before Aitutaki to make sure people knew how to dress properly before we got to the Cooks!

Dancing at the Saturday market Rarotonga
Dawson at the Pareau fashion show
Nadja helps unload the cargo hold
Niko guiding the blank spar onto the dock
Pareau fashion show (1)
Pareau fashion show (7)
Sailing Sea Never Dry to Trader Jacks
Vaka training

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Aitutaki 2

By Kate “Bob” Addison

During our stay in Aitutaki, Picton Castle was anchored right in the pass in the reef opposite the main town of Arutanga. The idea is that the outflow from the lagoon keeps the ship’s head to the reef, and stops her swinging about too much.

There is a more or less constant outflow because there is a more or less constant inflow in to the lagoon over the reef between the motus on the windward side. Anchoring in the pass works well most of the time, though we did swing when the wind and tide were contrary. Quite exciting to have our stern to the reef, and the watch on duty ready to heave up the anchor, fire up the main engine and get underway at a moment’s notice should the anchor start dragging or the winds and swell become too strong and make the anchorage unsafe. We didn’t have to move in the end, and Captain says this is the first of the bad South Pacific anchorages – he said it is actually quite good for a terrible anchorage, and welcome to the real South Pacific!

To get ashore, the duty watch ran a scheduled skiff service in through the pass in the coral. It was a bit exciting with breakers all along the reef and full throttle needed to go in against the currents, which rip and swirl in the narrow gap in the reef. We are told that there’s been talk about blasting the pass to make it large enough for ships to come inside. It has been talked of for years we are told, but no sign of it actually happening.

I have to confess I’m quite glad as it’s so pretty and peaceful here, anchored a little way offshore, and the skiff ride is good fun. Though it’s true we would all sleep better if we were snug inside the reef, especially the Captain and mates who are called by the crew member on night watch if the weather changes, or in any doubt.

There was much enthusiasm to sail the monomoy around this stunning lagoon, so on the second day at anchor the watch launched and proceeded to tow the monomoy with the skiff through the strong outflow of the reef pass. A bit of a tricky operation, the mate rigged up the tow line off a bridle and hooked up to the monomoy with the second mate at the steering oar on the monomoy to keep her from getting out of shape and veering off into the reef. Both boats got through without a problem and the tow was let go off the beach next to the small boat landing inside and the monomoy gracefully coasted in, dropped an anchor and swung around stern to the steep beach and tied up her stern to a perfectly situated coconut tree.

The following two days the watches took turns setting out on epic lagoon sailing, leaving mid morning with the sun climbing overhead to light up the coral heads to be avoided. A lookout standing on the bow forward was need almost the whole time with hand signals indicating with way to turn in order to miss the coral head. The wind was perfect for this, not too strong and the monomoy snaked her way around the pale blue lagoon with relative ease. Upon finding a particularly stunning section of deep blue water with tall coral around, the monomoy would drop her perfect little old fashioned stock anchor in 20 or so feet of water, sail would be taken in and a swim call would ensue.

We also welcomed a group of school children aboard on Friday afternoon – the year 5 and 6 classes from Vaitau Primary School had been studying Tall Ships as part of a wider curriculum about international trade and shipping. They came out in the skiff, very well behaved, all in lifejackets, and sang us some lovely songs after their tour of the ship. The children also gave us jars of jam, some for the ship (delicious, thank you!) and some for us to take as “cargo” to the schools in the outer Cook Islands, along with letters that they had written to the children there.

We like having children aboard – it’s great seeing how excited they are, and how quickly they take everything in, and reminds us of what a cool thing it is to be sailing all over the world in a beautiful traditionally rigged ship. We hope it might broaden the perspectives of the kids and maybe inspire some of them to become sailors one day, or to pursue any other dreams that they might have.

Mooring monomoy after a day sail
Rowing monomoy out through the pass at Aitutaki
students on Aitutaki make jam in school and brought some to the ship

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By Kate “Bob” Addison

Aitutaki was the Picton Castle’s first call of this voyage in the fabulous Cook Islands. The second most populated of the Cooks, Aitutaki is to Rarotonga what Bora Bora is to Tahiti – similar in style but smaller, sleepier and even more heartbreakingly beautiful. We anchored off the pass at about 1000 last Tuesday and customs and immigration officials sorted us quickly. It is amazing to see the surf pounding on the reef so close with a beautiful blue lagoon and green island not too far off after a week at sea.

Aitutaki is an atoll with a central proper island, less than 10km long and maybe a quarter as wide. The top of the island is a sharp, straight hook, the narrow peninsula being almost entirely taken up with an impressively long runway, built by the American military in WWII.

From this hook the reef continues in a more or less straight line, turning corners at the famous One Foot Island and Maina Motu, to make a distinctive triangular shaped lagoon. The lagoon colour varies from bright blue through crystal clear turquoise to a darkish green, and the temperature changes too, from refreshingly cool in the clear water, to soup-warm in the greenish parts where there is almost no flow of fresh salt water from the dark blue ocean.

There are amazing sandbars so you can splash way out into the lagoon ankle deep, and then dive off the sandbar into deep clear water. The snorkelling is amazing too; there are coral heads dotted everywhere attracting colourful fishes and I saw the biggest giant clam I have ever seen, at least a meter across and rather startling when it suddenly snapped its shell shut inches from my toes. We are told that you DO NOT want to get your foot stuck in one of these.

An island of incredible natural beauty, Aitutaki is much lower than Bora Bora or Rarotonga with just one small mountain, Maungapu, at the northern end of the island. The mountain itself is said to have been stolen from Rarotonga by the warriors of Aitutaki. According to the story, the warriors decided that they needed a mountain for their island – at that time just a sandy atoll – and so they took their canoes and went on a marauding expedition to steal the mountain of Raemaru from Rarotonga. When they got up close they realized the mountain was a bit too big for Aitutaki so they just took the top part back with them, carried aloft between them on their spears, and fighting off the Rarotongan warriors with their spare hands. Back on Rarotonga the mountain of Raemaru is still distinctly flat-topped today, a reminder of where Maungapu was sliced off in the days of legend. All makes perfect sense to me…

The first European discoverer of Aitutaki was Captain Bligh, arriving on the Bounty in April 1789 – just 17 days before the famous mutiny. It is said that he dropped off the first papaya, now growing everywhere. European missionaries followed soon after in the 1820s and 30s, and their influence is still strongly felt in the Cook Islands today as faith is a large part of life here. As it is described here; “they brought the Gospel”. There are many churches on Aitutaki, the oldest dates from 1828 and is very lovely with simple arched stained glass windows and painted wood carvings decorating the high arched roof and round pillars. Sunday is recognized as a holy day; most shops and cafes are closed and more or less the only traffic on a Sunday morning are bikes, cars and trucks carrying the faithful to church, dressed in their Sunday best. The ladies almost all wear elaborate straw hats, some decorated with fresh flowers, some with white or coloured straw flowers, the men mostly suits and ties despite the heat.

The singing in Cook Islands churches is justifiably famous. Something magical happens when the strong and joyful Polynesian voices join together in song. The men and women sing different parts and the harmonies ring out, powerful and true, easily filling the church.

There is also evidence of the island’s strong faith outside of church – almost every house has a sign posted in the garden with slogans like: “Say no to Sunday flights, the Sabbath is more important than the dollar!”. Religious views aside, I found it rather nice to spend time in a place that so openly recognises value other than the financial.

Aitutaki’s cafés and shops are more spread out than on Huahine or Bora Bora, and transport is helpful. Luckily the main road around the island is very flat so a bicycle is perfect, or for the less energetic, mopeds and cars are pretty cheap to hire and good fun to buzz around the island. Most of our gang hired mopeds for a day or two – Signe formed a 50cc biker gang on her off-watch, known as “Skou’s Angels”. The local people mostly ride on mopeds – even very tiny children, still in diapers, clinging tight to mummy or daddy’s back and the very littlest held on to the grown up with a pareau tied round their middle. The older children fly around on bicycles, dodging the chickens that wander in the road, tiny fluffy chicks in tow.

Transport was nice to have, but walking was a delight too. Strolling along the main road just outside of the town of Arutanga at sunset the sounds are terribly evocative and tropical – birds warbling in the trees, cocks crowing, crickets chirping and the sea breeze making the palm fronds swish a little. The scents of frangipani and tiare mingle with the clean salty smell of the seashore and the stars are bright overhead. So walking was a delight but surprisingly hard to do – I found it impossible to walk more than 100 meters without being offered a lift in a car, pick-up truck or on the back of a moped. And if they didn’t stop then the moped riders would all give a wave or a smile. It really does feel as though we are genuinely welcome here, and not just for our tourist dollars (though of course the “Picton Castle economic stimulus package” does bring in a few dollars to hotels, car hire, ice cream and souvenir shops).

The sense of wellbeing we found at Aitutaki was increased by the glorious weather – it’s the first settled weather we’ve had for a while, and the bright sunshine makes everyone cheerful. It helps that the sails finally got properly dry, so the on-watch are spared the daily duty of loosing all sail, flashing them out, or setting the sails briefly to spill any water out and then bunting them back up immediately, and stowing again at the end of the day. The accommodation is all nicely dried and aired too, which makes everything smell better below. It’s hot when the sun beats down, but there’s almost 50% cloud cover most days, white and fluffy scudding sedately across the bright blue skies bringing welcome shade and cool. It’s like the weather is joining the people to welcome us to the Cook Islands.

Gabe climbing for coconuts
Lady on her way to church
Scooters with a view

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Bora Bora 2

Bora Bora – what an evocative name, no? If the soft drum beat of Bora Bora drifting murmuring past your ears does not conjure up visions of the South Pacific, what will?

(Well, I’ll get to that more later when we consider Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Manihiki, Rakahanga… sweeeeeet)

Bora Bora, the name and the island, may well be the most and best recognized of south seas idol sirens. This no doubt is due to the fact that it truly is a beautiful tall mountain island in a lovely setting of a young atoll lagoon. But this world wide recognition of Bora Bora as the “south seas paradise” probably also has something to do with the Second World War and some US Navy sailors a long time ago.

Sometime after the commencement of hostilities in the Pacific in the early 1940’s, the USA sent a large contingent of the US Navy to occupy the island in order to set up and operate an air strip. They figured that they needed airstrips every so often to get airplanes across the broad Pacific to reach and supply the western islands where some real war was going on, Solomons, New Guinea, Guadalcanal and so forth.

But there were some ticklish points to consider; Bora Bora was France and France was out of the war, a large part of France was under occupation by Nazi Germany and the rest under the the collaborationist regime known as Vichy France which was openly unfriendly to the Allied cause. This US presence at Bora Bora no doubt irritated the government of Vichy France, but they could do little about it being so far removed, virtually half a planet away. And maybe they had their own troubles closer to home anyway.

Back to the story. WWII was a rough go a lot of places where soldiers and sailors were sent. But not everywhere was so seriously affected, not every military installation was on constant “red alert”, anti-aircraft guns manned and jittery, tensions running high. Bora Bora became legend in the annals of the Pacific war as the “oh-my-gosh-you-were-based-there in the war?” You see, absolutely nothing of a martial nature occurred at Bora Bora. Not a single shot fired in anger, no sign of anyone you might call an “enemy”. Just a bunch of young America Navy guys from the cities and farms of the United States looking after an air strip they scraped off a motu (now the modern airport for the island, naturally enough), making friends with the locals of this beautiful, friendly unspoiled sunny tropical island with sweet lagoons for fishing, diving, sailing, swimming, feasting, dancing of a night, making coconut wine, walks on the beach holding hands… and nothing resembling war anywhere near or, even thought of that much perhaps.

Then the war is over. Probably the news came by telegram, no doubt a big party to celebrate, after that, nothing, just as before. Bora Bora changes not at all, except that these men head home. And they tell stories of “their war” – perhaps some were chagrined to admit how easy they had it at Bora Bora while others fought and slogged it out. More probably a little bit quiet about how many babies they left behind at Bora Bora. Yes, there is something of a generation of half American Bora Bora islanders born circa 1943-46. Anyway, the legends of Bora Bora in the modern western consciousness were born along with these babies, now grandparents themselves. Now let us slip forward a few decades and bring our Picton Castle crew into the picture.

After a day sail from Huahine only 40 miles to the east and steaming through the well marked pass, we anchored off the small main town of Vaitape at Bora Bora. The anchorage is deep but very good holding as we found out that night when some particularly strong squalls blew through. Our big 1,500 pound anchor and about 300 feet of stout inch and a quarter chain kept the ship completely secure through the night. Our barque with her square-rig windage budged not a millimetre.

The cruise ship Paul Gauguin sailed in and anchored a couple days. This caused all the little shops to open their doors but we saw few of the cruise ship passengers; perhaps they were whisked off on tours.

The next few days there was plenty to do for our gang at this legendary island. We launched the longboat and raced all around the gorgeous turquoise lagoons, sailing, tacking here and there under reefed main. On shore many of the gang took bicycles for round island rides. This easily done on a leisurely day. Plenty of beautiful scenes and vistas along the way as you circumperambulate the iconic towers of lava that were once the centers of volcanoes. And nothing better than going to the local grocery store and getting a few baguettes, some cheese, Orangina and Hinano and heading off for a picnic in the shade by the lagoon, tossing bits of bread to the many colourful fishes.

There are a couple nice watering holes as well such as The Bora Bora Yacht Club where internet was available with something cold to drink. Little road-side stands sold mangoes and pamplemousse. Many purveyors of black pearls to be sure but most of us are waiting for Rarotonga for this sort of thing. And in the evenings, you could get a fine and HUGE meal at one of the BBQ caravans near the waterfront under the night sky at an open air table with your shipmates. Around these tables amidst the bbq savors, much talk of islands and passages to come.

We are sailing for the Cook Islands now, where, to those of us who have sailed these waters before, the South Pacific adventure really begins. Rarotonga; stunningly beautiful, very friendly, accessible and so much to do – mountain climbing, rent a scooter to take you around the island, school kids aboard and dancing – “Island Night Feasts” and dancing – Dancing at Trader Jacks, heading over to The Staircase for, you guessed it, more dancing – sailing in the big ocean going double canoes, called Vakas – black pearls galore – Saturday farmers market near the waterfront, fun nights at Banana Court – head over to Muri Beach Lagoon where it is believed that the fleet of vakas that headed off to settle New Zealand, not a thousand years ago assembled from all the islands and set forth – it is often said of Rarotonga by visitors – “this is what I thought (hoped) Tahiti would be like”. Rarotonga is perfect. And Picton Castle both knows Rarotonga well and is well known in Raro.

But first we will anchor at Aitutaki 200 miles ahead to the WSW – Aitutaki could well be the untouched island that Bora Bora once was. And Aitutaki is certainly the island paradise that many dream Bora Bora to be, but alas, is not. A smaller yet still high center island with lovely topography, pristine blindingly white smooth sand beaches, One Foot Island, a motu to sail to across the broad lagoon with top snorkelling – or visit the 1828 church. Soft and quiet, peaceful, and friendly, very few shops, no tour buses lined up – a great place for us to sail our long boat and dory too. And we have good friends too, at Tamanu Beach Resort where barefoot is the order of the day to be sure.

I could go on and on but I will restrain myself and wait for later Logs: In Rarotonga we soon expect to load up supplies into our 100 ton hold and on deck and help bring islanders back to their home islands before sailing onward. Palmerston Atoll; a tiny atoll with about 60 folks who have hosted Picton Castle crew many times in the past – fishing, learning to dance, much feasting, maybe some island project to pitch in with, certainly a “shade tree” medical clinic by our ship’s doctor. Manihiki; famous as one of the most beautiful atolls in the entire South Pacific and for the best black pearls – and no harbour or anchorage at all, the ship must heave-to to discharge our supplies. Rakahanga; a true old school Polynesian atoll living quite traditionally and quietly. Tongareva aka Penrhyn; also pretty serious about black pearls but here we have something of an anchorage and can even enter the lagoon if conditions suit. PukaPuka; the famous island where we actually “tie up to the reef”. Suwarrow; uninhabited but a pristine lagoon perfect for anchoring our barque and exploring, boat trips and camping expeditions. Onward we sail for Samoa, where it is well believed that exploring vakas set out from to discover and settle all of the rest of Polynesia; Tahiti, Marquesas, Hawaii, Rapa Nui, Tuamotus, Mata-ki-terangi (Pitcairn). Tonga: the South Pacific doesn’t get any more “old school” than this; the only and last actual south seas island kingdom, never, ever colonized by a European nation.

Bora Bora mountain
Picnic on the beach

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Bora Bora

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Last Thursday morning saw the Picton Castle sailing for Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, 500 miles away from Bora Bora, all square sails and fore-and-aft sails set as we made the most of the fair, light, trade-winds.

Our last port was Bora Bora, and we upped anchor and cleared out last Wednesday afternoon – in a bit of a rush as it turned out because of some fun with immigration officials. Most places in the world give you 24 hours to depart after clearing out, and in most places in the world there is a local immigration office or police station that can handle the paperwork no problem. French Polynesia used to be like that too – you went to the local Gendarmerie at your last island, where a friendly policeman stamps all your papers and checks all is in order before wishing you ‘bon voyage!’ Then the next morning you get under way. No big deal at all, and charmingly like clearing in and out of French territories elsewhere. The French Caribbean is sweet that way, very smooth and cordial. Not so here at Bora Bora.

We don’t know if the rules have changed in French Polynesia, or if the immigration department is just trying to validate its own importance in the strained economic climate of government ‘efficiency savings’ (we have seen this before), but now it seems that not one, but two immigration officials must be flown to the island from where you plan to depart the group, put up in a nice hotel, fed, watered and then flown back to Papeete, all at the expense of the vessel. No matter that the clearing out takes maybe an hour, and all they do is check the crew list and stamp the passports since we are also required to submit all of the customs forms electronically in advance, so it seems to us that it’s not so much work to justify a day trip from Papeete. They check nothing else. They do nothing else. One guy can do this in 15 minutes. Or maybe that’s just what an ignorant sailor would think.

And we were surprised that these gentlemen actually insisted on watching the ship sail out from Bora Bora. Said they had to by law. Hard to imagine that they see every one of the hundreds of cruising yachts off like this, makes us feel kind of special… Maybe they had a big influx of illegal immigrants escaping from the arduous life aboard square-rigged sailing ships. Must be all that sail-handling, power showers and the sunset guitar session on the foc’sle head making them want to jump ship. Or, perhaps it was the fact that we have Aitutaki next on the voyage plan – I mean, it is often called the most lovely island in the Pacific, but next to Bora Bora they must have thought that was too horrible to contemplate for our indentured crew, and that they were at high risk of abandoning ship shipmates and voyage in favour of working illegally in French Polynesia – perhaps washing dishes in a fancy restaurant or cleaning the rooms in an exclusive hotel?

But the most surprising about these immigration officials was their obvious delight at the idea that we might leave a couple of hours later than originally planned so that we could stow our boats and finish up some jobs before we left. The reason for their pleasure? A free night in a hotel and a whole extra day of being paid to do nothing but hang out at Bora Bora! When we tried to say we would leave immediately to avoid this additional expense, there suddenly arose an insurmountable language barrier – though our French had been perfectly adequate to be understood just minutes before. Eventually I had to go and call our agent and ask him to stop booking hotels and flights for the officials they were calling him for as they were so adamant that they would stay the night and fly home the next day. It seemed we ruined their plans of a little getaway overnight in lovely Bora Bora….

Bora Bora was nice, but the point of it is really the fabulous lagoon and the stunning peaks of the mountain of Bora Bora, rather than life ashore itself – a wonderful spot for snorkelling and diving in clear turquoise water with plenty of coral and colourful aquatic life. Our gang had a great time cycling all over, stopping for picnics and a swim on the beach, and then heading to the cheerful food caravans by the little town for dinner of steak-frites or crepes. The island is beautiful of course, but it is all carved up into expensive resorts – almost every beach is private, and there are cars everywhere. And the hordes of $1,000 a night bungalows over the water? The Captain says they look to him like prisoner-of-war camps from World War II movies…

Bora Bora seems to miss out on the friendly fun atmosphere of Huahine – most businesses seemed to be catering to tourists rather than locals – expensive black pearl jewellery, scuba diving centres, fancy imported clothes. And this all really changed on the day the cruise ship Paul Gauguin was in town too – suddenly all of the shops and little stands that had been shuttered, opened up to sell their wares to the visitors, the people running the stores changed from their every day plain pareaus and t-shirts to very lovely special occasion dresses tailored from patterned pareau cloth. It’s very nice stuff that they sell too: bright colourful pareaus or sarongs, many handpainted with big bold tropical flowers; black pearls and carved pearl shells, strings of shells or flowers to bedeck your darling, wood carvings and things woven from pandanus. All very lovely, but definitely not catering for a local crowd. Like many a sweet tropical island this one has been a little bit swamped by the forces of higher end development for others, oh well. Hard for places to find the balance, some pull it off, not sure how they do it. Still a nice place to visit, and I am sure friends could be made ashore in due course.

And so I risk making enemies of everyone back home in the snow, by saying Bora Bora was ok – good time had by all and great holding at the anchorage – but Huahine was much nicer. And the Captain says if you liked French Polynesia, you are going to love the Cook Islands and Aitutaki is up first….only 400 miles away in sweet South Pacific trade-winds – not so bad….

Bora Bora
Lovely lagoon
PC and the bungalows

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Aloha Polynesia!

Announcing the new and improved Aloha Polynesia voyage! We are thrilled to have been offered the exciting opportunity to carry cargo and people amongst the islands of the Cook Islands. While making passages and visiting islands, we’ll be offering the same top-notch sail training program for which we’re known. Experience the real South Pacific in the unspoiled beauty of the Cook Islands, true Polynesian hospitality, and deep-water sailing passages. No experience is necessary to become a trainee crew member, just a strong back and a willing heart.

Join us as a trainee crew member this June, July and August. Visit the Aloha Polynesia voyage page for all the details and to apply!

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By Kate “Bob” Addison

Well here we are in Huahine, just 100nm from Papetee, but worlds away from the bustle of the big city. Huahine is a large, volcanic island, which looks like a reclining pregnant lady if you stand on the dock at night and look back at the silhouette of the islands curving round to your left. It’s something like a more lively version of Mangareva, and impossibly beautiful, especially in the moments between clouds when the sea shines down and makes the green-ish water inside the reef here all turquoise and sparkly. All very beautiful too.

We are made fast to a 120 ton mooring, which makes for much more secure holding than our anchors in this deep harbour in some of the strong squalls we have been having. The big port admiralty-style anchor weighs about one ton, plus a ton for each shots of chain, so that’s about four tons total if we have three shots of chain out – and Captain says that’s quite heavy ground tackle for a ship our size. The extra-secure holding of a decent mooring is particularly handy as the weather is rather squally, with wind and rain funneling down between the mountains at intervals. There is not much room to drag before the coral reef either, so we’re very happy to be on such a nice mooring with three lines holding us fast – one to the gypsy head on the main windlass and one each to the two well deck bits – Captain says we’re snug enough that he can sleep at night.

Not that the crew are doing too much sleeping at night – there are lovely and lively restaurants along the waterfront under the broad shade trees in the town of Port de Fare (or ‘Home Port’), and caravans selling Poisson Cru in coconut milk, or grilled chicken and chips. I am told this is how les Roulettes at Papeete used to be before their spot was all jazzed up – paved, and crowded and planted with Parisian street lamps and chichi plant pots – self-consciously catering for the cruise ship crowd and the expat middle class. In Port de Fare there are just a handful of vans pulled up at the side of the road with a stack of plastic stools and a couple of tables that you can grab if you’re quick, and a wall to sit on if you’re not, patronised mostly by locals who speak to us as friends and equals, rather than as wallets-on-legs.

But enough about the night life! The real reason we’re here (other than because it’s lovely, and quite the coolest of the Society Islands) is to exercise the small boats and build mastery at handling small boats in our crew. Yesterday morning was all hands so we could launch the Monomoy long boat and Sea Never Dry our pretty sailing dory, and get them rigged up for sailing, and then right before lunch Captain Moreland gave us an inspirational talk, to give us some context about why we take small boat work so seriously, and how it is such a good way to teach the skills of a mariner. So many of the skills you need on a ship can be learned on a boat, and the rapid response of a small boat makes it easy to see when you’re doing something stupid. As an added advantage, the consequences of doing something stupid are often much less severe in a small boat, so it’s a great way to play and learn and have fun with boats.

After lunch, which was spicy, cheesy tomato pasta bake, the 8-12 watch with Mate Michael went out on an all-afternoon expedition with Monomoy – a glorious beam reach towards town and then short tacking up the coast to see what there was to see, avoiding the coral heads, take a look at the fishes and the pod of dolphins in the lagoon, breaching in twos and threes, just hanging out. Out to the reef to say hi to the surfer dudes (and dudettes), the monomoy tried some surfing too, riding the smaller waves, though she couldn’t quite keep up with the surfers on their boards – a bit heavier and more draft than a surfboard, not quite a fair race! Eventually, after what was universally acknowledged to be a great afternoon, they sailed into town, dropped their hook and ran a line ashore, moored up ‘Med style’ stern to, and splashed ashore to check out the town.

Meanwhile AB Allison had taken Sea Never Dry out for a sail with a gang from the 4-8 watch. They had a ripping sail under jib and reefed mainsail, but sadly their sail was cut rather short when the five-year old wooden mast finally gave way just below the sheet hounds, and the crew had to stow the rig and row back to the ship. No serious damage done and not a bad way to experience your first dismasting. We have a blank spar, so making a new mast will be the next big project for our carpenters, but until then we might jury-rig something from our Palmerston project-boat Sydney’s mast so we can keep on sailing.

Monomoy sails into town
swim call moored at huahine

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