Captain's Log

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Amazing Atiu

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Monday July 15th, 2013

At 1000 hours this Monday morning Picton Castle is at position 17°25’S 158°52’W in the Cook Islands, making northing under square sails to t’gallants, staysails and spanker. The wind is a fresh force five, and the day is a bright active one, with cumulus clouds rushing across the sky and small squalls blowing through bringing light rain showers. We are braced up sharp on a starboard tack steering east by north. This is sweet trade wind sailing at its finest, and our ship is dancing along at five knots.

Yesterday we set sail from Atiu after unloading about twenty tons of cargo using yard and stay tackles down into the island’s big aluminium barge. The cargo was hard, heavy work: much of the cargo was building supplies and the pallets of cement must have each weighed half a ton. There was a fair sized swell running too, making the barge ride up the side of the ship and then slam down again when the wave vanished out from under her. So that called for some snappy work on the tackles: hoist away stay tackle, hoist away yard tackle, ease away stay tackle and then when the heavy load is hanging from its yellow cargo strops right above its position on the barge wait for the wave and at the perfect moment burn it down on the yard tackle quick as you can so it’s safely placed on the barge and not bashing into the side of the ship, or worse into the crew of the barge.

Our crew did a phenomenal job, getting this heavy cargo unloaded safely and quickly in the traditional way: getting the strops on the next load, hoisting smartly and then lowing away with skill. We had three tag lines rigged to stop the heavy loads swinging around too much, and there’s skill manning the tag lines too – take up, take up, take a turn on the pin and then ease away smartly as the load is lowered.

So we’re glad that the cargo went so well and since we have much smaller amounts of cargo for the Northern Group islands this sailing feels like a vacation, a reward for all of our sweat and aching muscles.

Atiu itself was a fascinating island, and one I hope to return to. Geographically it is different to Rarotonga or the sandy atolls of Palmerston or Pukapuka. The island is basically one low hill with sheer cliffs around most of it, interspersed with white sandy beaches. It looks a lot like the Galapagos island of San Cristobal, only smaller and more lush, the black rock being made of dead coral rather than volcanic rock. We ran around and stretched our legs, visited Oravaru beach where Captain James Cook is said to have discovered the island on 3 April 1777, played in the surf and waves inside the reef and drank local coffee brewed from beans that grow in the valleys.

Meanwhile the ship was hove to, alternately drifting away from the island and motoring back upwind to get close enough for the crew change over. So a sweet island, but great to be at sea again, sailing with this trade wind instead of bashing into it.

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