Captain's Log

Archive for February, 2014

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Nuku Hiva – Part 1

By Chelsea McBroom

February 23rd, 2014

Yesterday I went grocery shopping in Nuku Hiva with Donald and my new apprentice assistant Maria, crew of the Picton Castle. The day was cloudy but very humid. It’s a very green island like the last we’d visited but seems more populated, having more city lights at night. Scattered fire trees and palm trees could be seen from our anchorage in Taiohae Bay. We took two large empty blue plastic basket woven bags and slathered ourselves in bug spray before hopping into the skiff and motoring over.

As soon as we arrived on the wharf, Henry (whom we hadn’t yet met) called over to us from a small line of shops across from us, telling us about all the fruit he had available, “Mangos! Mangos!” when we asked “Banco? Banco?” hoping to take out some money. We kept following the road up, eventually finding the post office ATM and then heading to the farmers’ market that had been open since 4am so we could buy mango, avocado (HUGE ones, didn’t even recognize them), banana, grapefruit, tomato and lettuce. Thank goodness the young lady there could speak English – she was very helpful, giving us English amounts and writing us receipts.

We had been told that picking from the trees was frowned upon here so we avoided it entirely, but lots of mango and grapefruit could be seen growing and falling along the road. We found it difficult to find Vienna loaves to buy for sandwiches, not knowing where to start, and yet everywhere we looked we saw people eating them – sitting under trees, in a courtyard, or the front step of a building, breaking off pieces to eat with cheese – so we found ourselves motioning long loaves of bread and pretending to eat them until they responded excitedly pointing us in the right direction “Pain! Pain!”. We found and bought about 20 loaves at a small grocery past the closed bank.

After getting groceries and heading back to the ship, my lovely assistant was relieved from her duties to join our watch ashore while I tried to send an email to the office – our satellite communications connection was giving us trouble so I tried the wifi at the café on the wharf but it didn’t seem to like my email account as I was clicking the same buttons or refreshing my browser window over and over. The café is very simple with a small glass counter indoors filled with piles of large tarts made with meringue, peaches and custard, as well as cakes and donuts seemingly made on site. There’s an expansive awning that covers a scattered number of large rectangular plastic tables and chairs. There was a small booth made of plywood where two young girls sat with their laptops and headphones.

Those that sat eating lunch or drinking coffee were locals and those who’d been visiting for long periods of time and conversations were being had across the patio – Henry sat at the back, giving us advice and a couple from Australia spoke to us, asking us about the ship and what our lives were like aboard. I could see the ship from there, anchored amongst the moored yachts and other boats.

Just when I could see some crew aloft on the t’gallant yards, the looming dark clouds that covered the bay could hold it no longer – it began to pour rain. “Who brought this rain?!” One of the local ladies called out smiling. Supposedly the weather had been sunny all week, “It wasn’t raining until you guys got here!” She pointed to us crew who were huddled together at the time (Pania, Alex and Maria) all of whom pointed at me with the blame. “It was her,” they giggled.

The three of them were waiting for their ride – a lady was going to pick them up, take them to her farm and then horseback riding. “The smell of wet horse is worse than wet dog,” said Maria, worried about what she would experience in this weather. The roads by the shore were slick with mud but they were taken up into the mountains of the island where the weather was more moderate and later said it was an amazing time – showing me pictures of the farm covered with wood and greenery and decorated with animal bones hung with saddles and horse riding gear. The rain didn’t last long and I took the opportunity to find more of the starboard watch – walking past a fence dusted with perching colorful finches, kittens napping in the grass, a front yard with wandering bare untethered horses and bushes of small white flowers with a scent I recognize but can’t remember the name of.

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Starboard Watch Adventures In Nuku Hiva

By Peter Crawford, trainee from New Zealand

February 22nd, 2014

Saturday 22nd of February started in pleasant fashion with a midnight disco serenade from a club on shore. The Polynesian/western fusion accompanied a half moon rising over the eastern edge of the crater we are anchored in. Rain had cleared the hatch of those trying to sleep on deck. It was calm and clear, a beautiful night.

This is the first liberty day for Picton Castle‘s starboard watch in Nuku Hiva. Port watch took ship maintenance while starboard watch went ashore, however the first task for all was domestic duty. This ensured that the ship was clear and fresh throughout all living areas. After these duties the skiff schedule was implemented and starboard watch went ashore. Insect repellent was the order of the day due to the resistant presence of ‘no-no’ flies which the Captain says, “Suck, suck.” Port watch commenced duties including preparing and painting various bits and pieces as well as changing t’gallants, both fore and main. After a heavy downpour interrupted work, all sails were set and clewed up to allow them to dry and air.

The same downpour caught starboard watch at various places on shore. Avery and I sheltered under one of the many trailered boats around the edge of Taiohae Bay. Our watch was first to explore for the services we all longed for: laundry, general store, wifi and ATM, all high on the list. Activities were also sought; horses, ATVs scuba and island tours were all available and tours were booked for both watches for the next few days. Some of the advanced divers will also dive in what is expected to be a great, deep water coastal dive, as there is no surrounding reef here.

The Doc took a trip up the Taipi Valley in the footsteps of Herman Melville. He commented on the sights that still occur, that show how the paintings of Gauguin reflect real life on the island – young people on horseback is one example. To wrap up a good evening for starboard watch, we enjoyed an hour of terrific ukulele and guitar playing by some locals on the wharf before the
last boat home. It is good to remember that tall ships have evolved over a very long time and that many of our forebears have been a part of that evolution.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Len Crawford (my father). Known to his shipmates as Tarzan, Len was a fine sailor, sailmaker and rigger who went to sea as a very young teenager at the time the Picton Castle was built. He had the skills and knowledge that today are displayed by our senior crew. He worked on sail, steam and diesel merchant vessels through the depression, up to and through the war years and mostly in the Pacific. He saw the beautiful places, the stresses of the depression and the horrors of war. He was a fine sailor like so many of his shipmates in those ‘transition days’.

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On The Way To Nuku Hiva

By Anne-Laure Barberis, watch officer apprentice from France

February 21st, 2014

This morning, as I woke up, the Picton Castle (as it sailed to Nuku Hiva) was already buzzing with activity. There were people doing the routine tasks: dish washing, cleaning, sanding and varnishing, wire brushing and painting, without forgetting our auto-pilot which is the person manually steering the ship. Others were accomplishing less common tasks: wire splicing, unrigging a sail and folding it to store it away, taking the altitude of the sun above the horizon with a sextant. No sail handling was happening at the moment, but I knew the morning watch had a lot of fun setting again the whole set of canvas (which had been taken away as we motored once again) and listened in awe as the overpowering noise of the engine died away and Picton Castle slowly made her way under wind power only.

Yet, amongst the workers, people were enjoying their rest hours. The cook was sitting on a bench forward, enjoying the sunshine, whose warmness was made bearable by the gentle breeze. On the aloha deck, aft, a few others were doing that very same activity. In the dark salon was some reading and computering. Tonight, this salon, now so quiet in order to keep the 0-4 watch sleeping undisturbed, will come to life: some will play cards or guitar, read a book picked from the very interesting and sea-oriented onboard library, while others will dedicate themselves to a personal and time consuming project: the making of canvas hammocks.

Thankfully, time is not something we lack on board: our eight hours of watch per day, during which all sail handling and maintenance jobs are performed, gives us ample time to just sit there, enjoying the day, or why not do some personal laundry in a bucket of seawater, before hanging it on the specially rigged and very convenient laundry lines.

With the starting of celestial navigation classes after departure from Mangareva, one cannot venture on the quarterdeck around 12h without encountering a bunch of persons, sextant in hand, trying to figure out the index error or, almanac on their knees, calculating the exact time of meridian passage, i.e. the time when the sun will be at its highest point, for our longitude. As minutes pass by and the sun approaches its zenith, the UV filters of the sextant will be carefully chosen for the best but unblinding observations and, driven from the sky to the horizon, the sun’s altitude will be measured, exchanged, commented, until someone exclaims that the zenith as been reached and the sun has started to go down. Then further calculations will be made and the latitude will be found. That is, an approximation of the latitude, which two days ago located us almost 60 nautical miles away from our actual position! GPS is a wonderful thing.

This morning, we came into sight of our first land since we departed from Mangareva. The island Fatu Hiva was spotted on our starboard bow, and Nuku Hiva will be reached in the next few days. Way too soon if you ask me…

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Lily’s Birthday

By Chelsea McBroom

February 20th, 2014

It was Lily’s birthday on the 19th aboard the Picton Castle, all sails but the flying jib were set as we sailed to Nuku Hiva, so cupcakes were made the night before, just after dinner, as the galley and scullery were being cleaned. I used the boxes of devil’s food cake we had in the hold and six of the Mangareva eggs that Donald gave me permission to use. “I’ll lay three and you lay the other three,” he said. Lian joined me, playing a list of eighties music on his iPod amplified by an old chicken soup container. Both galley doors were open to try and keep it cool with the oven on, but the cupcake papers started to fly and so the starboard galley door was closed.

The cupcakes were still in the oven when our watch ended, the bright white light turned off and the red switched on, and Meg offered to keep an eye on the cakes. She left them out, saran wrapped for us the next morning, cooled and ready to be decorated.

It was quite a day to have a birthday – a beautiful hot day, with a cloud piercing sunrise, but all square sails were taken in at around 5am; lowering the royal, t’gallant and upper topsail halyards before casting off each sail’s sheets and clewing, then bunting up; and so our watch went aloft to the t’gallants and royals to stow and the motor was turned on. Lily and Kim were having a time stowing the main t’gallant, which can be the heaviest and most awkward of sails to stow – it’s heavier and bigger than the fore and the ears need to be flaked inboard. To the relief of the birthday girl, after the fore I went aloft to the main to help.

Back on deck we coiled down the piles of rope scattered everywhere and somehow managed to get all the ship checks and wake-ups done (for the galley team, the daymen and the next watch) in time. It wasn’t until after we’d had our naps that Lian and I readied the cupcakes – at first experimenting with all the colored icing tubes, creating blobs and smears and then deciding that sprinkles atop of the chocolate icing would do just fine. We put them in the freezer to keep them from melting.

That evening the Captain had dinner in the Mess with those invited while Lily took the deck and when they came out just before 7pm, those awake were mustered on the hatch to sing Happy Birthday (30 crew hanging out on the hatch in the dark pretending to have a purpose). Unfortunately the one cupcake made by Lian with a candle on it, especially for Lily, did not stay lit long enough to walk through the breezeway and out into the open air at the hatch, but the thought counted and a wish was still made (which we all hope comes true). Donald brought out three scoops of ice cream for the birthday girl and we were all very jealous. Every one of the 36 cupcakes were devoured. Lian brought out his guitar to improvise a song which gave us all the giggles before we put everything away and went back to the quarterdeck to stand by on watch.

Before I knew it all the excitement was over and we’d gone back to sleep to start another day, bringing us another day closer to the next birthday (and any reason to celebrate and eat cake is a good one).

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The Community At Sea

By Captain John Beebe-Center

February 18th, 2014

Being at sea aboard the Picton Castle on this leg of our journey has turned into a nice exercise of training, work and fairly comfortable living all while occupying this smallish steel world apparently all alone and in the middle of nowhere.

The training is courtesy of some unsettled weather which has brought us great sailing towards Nuku Hiva also numerous squalls, 6-8 per day, requiring taking in of all the lighter sails and then resetting them once the squall is past. We have been doing this by watches, without resorting to calling for “all hands” and the sailors, old hands or recently joined, have really improved their skills.

There is a feeling of pride among the watches for being able to do the job without resorting to wake anyone else up for help. The waking up part due to the fact that most squalls seem to happen at night. So picture a soul who last week was on a plane to join a ship in Mangareva now able to correctly identify dozens of lines adjusting a lot of sails that they didn’t necessarily know existed before they arrived – in the dark. I would equate the line and sail handling learned on this leg alone as being the equivalent of a month at sea under other circumstances. Add to this daily workshops and this becomes a really good classroom.

In terms of the work getting done; with the arrival of more sailors in Mangareva we moved some of the apprentices into daymen positions, working on projects during the daylight hours rather than standing a watch. Pania has taken over as Bosun and Denise has joined her for this leg as a “Bosuns Mate” to help move the deckwork along and to learn more ship husbandry skills. These two have access to all “on watch” crew who are not steering or otherwise looking after the ship for all the maintenance projects which keep Picton Castle in good form from paint and varnish to rigging and overhauling gas bottles, etc. Meanwhile apprentice Teis has joined Engineer Alex as “Oiler” for this leg, learning about and working on generators and the main engine and seems to developing a real capability for trouble shooting problems with the heads.

Comfortable living may be a little difficult to completely convince people of who know the Picton Castle – especially those who have voyaged in her. Picton Castle is a fairly simple ship and there’s no denying that – just now – it’s getting really hot as we move up to the 8 degrees S latitude of Nuku Hiva. But somehow it cools off just enough in the evenings to be reasonably comfortable in the bunks. The wind out here at sea certainly helps. Of course all good things regarding comfort hinge around the galley and Mr Donald Church’s efforts to keep us all well nourished. In this he demonstrates a conversancy of cooking aboard Picton Castle based on natural ability and more than seven years aboard as Chef. On this leg he also has three helpers per day for all the chopping, cleaning, coffee making and what have you.

All in all a nice underlying feeling of sustainability, as though we would be sailing – and could be sailing – indefinitely. But Nuku Hiva is at 300 miles now under our lee bow and the wind is fair so on we go.

Cheers, Captain John Beebe-Center

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Morning Haul

By Chelsea McBroom

February 18th, 2014

I had been dreaming I was seeing my friends back at home again when I was woken at 3:30am this morning onboard the Picton Castle on its way to Nuku Hiva. I’m living in the foc’sle now (no longer in the once called “Chel-salon” because at one point I was the only one sleeping there) below the bosun, with the engineer and the lead seamen, and I often forget where I am.

Keeping my curtain half open during these hot nights so the air from the foc’sle head hatch can come in, whoever is waking me is suddenly very close to my face as I become conscious and it’s always a surprise. I still don’t know who it was who belonged to the voice that woke me, but they told me the weather was full of random squalls as usual and to take a jacket. I turned on my light to keep me awake but still I closed my eyes and snoozed for another ten minutes before I scrambled to put my harness and knife on, taking my torch and jacket on the way through the foc’sle curtain, through the carpenters shop and out onto the well deck, where, to my relief, it wasn’t raining.

My watch was gathering for our muster at the hatch and thanks to the bright moon we could see one another and greet each other with a personal good morning instead of living in a dreamlike, zombie state in the dark. When everyone had arrived (Denise has been an apprentice daymen with the Bosun, Mark in the engine room and other crew members have been taking turns with galley duty so we are often short a couple) the Captain updated us on what other watches had experienced for the last eight hours, which was squalls and sail handling, and what to stand by for: taking in more sails for another potential squall.

Once the lookout and helmsman were sent to replace those positions from the last watch, we began the order of taking in sails: the royals, the main t’gallant staysail, the outer jib, the t’gallants and the spanker; lowering the halyards of the square sails, casting off the sheets and hauling on the clews and buntlines; casting off the outer jib halyard, easing the sheet and hauling on the downhaul; casting off the peak outhaul, easing the clew outhaul, hauling in the clew, hauling on the leeward brails and peak inhaul.

Within the hour when the squall had passed and missed us entirely, we did it all in reverse and set them all again – the majority of the work being done on the halyards as Kim, who’s even taller than me (he’s got to be at least 6″3) hauls as high as he can reach, Doc hauls the line below him, and I kneel down to help. “We’ve got this,” the Doc says between breaths, pulling down the rope at the same beat, “Kim’s got the penthouse and Chelsea’s got the basement.” Then as we think we can’t haul anymore our lead seamen Mark tells us to “sweat it out” and we take the line to the pin, one of us taking hold of the end of it as the other two push the line outboard and then back down towards the pin. “Well the halyard!” calls Mark, “That’s well!” we reply and holding the weight, make it off to the pin. My hands are still burning now as I sit in the office, next to the chartroom and see the sun has risen looking through the window. I can hear the sloshing as my watchmates begin the morning deck scrub – better get back to work.

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On Turquoise Water

By Dr. Peter Sharp, ship’s medical officer

February 15th, 2014

On turquoise water clouds pile high: green hills, white terns thought homeward fly.

The Picton Castle left Pitcairn on the first of February 2014 with a big swell rolling in on Bounty Bay and motor sailed north until the next day loaded with tons of fresh fruit – papaya, coconut, cantaloupe, watermelon and avocado generously given to us by the Pitcairners. The next day as squalls spitting lightning rolled by, we set sail and sailed for the next five days towards Mangareva.

On the afternoon of the 5th of February we were anchored under the northwest of the main island; tall, wooded, paradise-like. The next day we motored down the tortuous narrow channel past coral reefs with the wind aft to anchor at Rade de Rikitea under Mount Duff. There remora swam free waiting at the sea sink for food scraps.

Ashore was a Post Office, shops, a phone box out of Local Hero, and a bar. Baguettes and real coffee, the Church of Saint Michael an imposing structure and stone ruins. Kids swam out to the ship to swarm aboard and use it as a dive platform. Fast fiberglass outrigger pirogues shot by. Sun drenched or just drenched by passing downpours.

Zika an anthropoid borne viral illness that can be found in the area is said to be mild, but one woman currently suffering from this (to whom I spoke) would not agree; headache, overwhelming fatigue, arthralgis and rash. I also met Floyd, a young local man, who was generous and friendly and seemed to know everybody.

On the morning of Thursday the 13th of February we weighed anchor just as a tremendous squall came down on us and began to motor sail in a curtain of heavy rain. Captain John explained we would motor sail towards Nuku Hiva where the computer model predicted fair wind. As the full moon came out behind a huge Charlie Bravo we started to set sails on the 14th. There was relief as the noisy iron staysail was turned off.

Today the 15th of February sees us sailing at 4 knots northward with everything set except the flying jib. Spectacular sunsets. A great marlin having taken one of our fishing lines and leaping high contemptuously snapped it. What a life. To think: I could be sitting in traffic on Campbell Street.

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Leaving Mangareva

By Chelsea McBroom

February 17th, 2014

The Picton Castle had spent days in Mangareva looking for certain foods – potatoes, sausages, eggs – but just couldn’t find them. There was little potato in the shops and we didn’t want to buy them out, the closest we could find to sausages were cocktail weenies, but on the very day we were to set sail for Nuku Hiva, our friend on the island came through with an order of ten dozen local eggs. As silly as it may sound, after spending all that time searching for some, getting the eggs made my day. Not only that but it meant Donald had more ingredients to use when cooking, which meant he was happy, which meant we were all happy.

After returning from the dock and hoisting the skiff the crew stood by the windlass as usual. This was the first time our new crew used the windlass and I laughed to myself recalling the day in Auckland when I was showing around Anne-Laure, our new French apprentice, and the look on her face when she realized we heaved up anchor manually. Luckily everyone was keen to help out, turns were taken if needed, and pitchers of water were brought up. Yachts anchored forward of us moved aside and just as the anchor began to reach the water line I looked up from the windlass bar and noticed the squall – a large dark looming cloud in the distance – coming towards us.

The mate called “that’s well!” just as the wind hit us and we ran to get our jackets and stand by. It poured in buckets for hours, we were all soaked to the bone. As we motored away from the island, lightning could be seen in the distance and we were told to cover our bare feet with rubber soled boots. We went around slacking gear over and over as the manila rope swelled and tightened.

After lunch in the salon (which included hot lentil soup) all hands braced around the yards, then the crew was put into watches and the 12-4 took the deck. Still recovering from sleep deprivation during the overnight monomoy trips, many of the off crew took the opportunity to nap and when they awoke the rain had subsided and fore and aft sails were set. It wasn’t until the following day that we were able to set all sails and even since, we have had to take in and set sails repeatedly from the passing squalls along the way. At least the crew are getting familiar with speedy sail handling.

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Camping Trip in Mangareva

By Chelsea McBroom

February 15th, 2014

The starboard watch overnight Monomoy trip turned out to be a very wet one. We had been lucky with weather since the Picton Castle had arrived in Mangareva, having only a few light squalls now and then, but that night it poured. It wasn’t until the following day that I found out what the chief mate, Dirk, would have done (and that is use the mainsail from the Monomoy for shelter) but at the time all we had was a very large and very holey tarp to use and a basket woven mat to sleep on under our sleeping bags.

It wasn’t until the sun was just about to disappear that people had the motivation to build something shelter-like. We took the bits of lashings we’d brought, folding the tarp in half to lash that part of it up and the other half blanketing the ground. Lian wrestled trees and old branches to make us posts to hold up the sides. Unfortunately even by this point it had rained quite a bit so we were soaked, hardly being warmed and dried by the bonfire we’d created and some things were left dripping. Maria said she went to bed in wet clothes and a very damp sleeping bag and woke up in the same uncomfortable state. Pania and Erin had brought hammocks which they had strung between the trees and seemed relatively dry.

Our tarp shelter did rather well, and it didn’t rain again, but now and then I would be woken up by a large drip falling from the trees, onto the tarp, and then directly onto my face, once into my eye. Gustav made a friend – a cat, whom Pania was sure was pregnant because she ate an entire can of cocktail sausages, who kept him company throughout the night.

The majority of us woke at around 6am and began cleaning up, antsy to get back to the ship to say goodbye to those leaving (Amy, Beamy and Captain Moreland), some temporarily. Everything was covered in sand. Once it was shaken out and packed away as Lian strummed away on his guitar and a bit of coffee was made for those desperate coffee drinkers, hands were called to the monomoy. The tide had gone out and the boat was fairly beached. We heaved the boat together wading through the warm sea water and this time brought our things out to the monomoy before jumping in and sailing off.

Sam, the watch officer, commented that it was a good thing we left early; there wasn’t much wind until we came out from behind the small island and towards the ship. The sky was clear and the cool of the morning slowly dissipated. Some of the crew were kept awake at the helm, main sheets, jib sheets and leeboard as we tacked back around the coral and others scooted down between the totes of supplies and backpacks for a snooze. There was hardly any chatter but for the commands of the watch officer; it was a boat full of sleepers and daydreamers.

Getting as close as we could to the ship by wind, we eventually took out the oars to row with just enough time to say goodbye to our friends – once again shocked by how quickly people become family members on board and how fast time goes by before they go.

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Overnight Expeditions in Mangareva

By Chelsea McBroom

February 12th, 2014

Ever since the Captain of the Picton Castle mentioned overnight monomoy trips, I had been very much looking forward to it. Port watch went first, lowering the boat and reattaching its pieces – the mast, boom, mainsail and jib. They packed it full of sleeping bags, fruit, frozen fish we had caught, fresh water, bathing suits and towels. Lucky for them it was a very dry day and night when they camped. When they returned I heard stories of playing a game of football with a coconut (the American team lost) and of Vai finding crabs and smashing them against the rocks to be cooked. Their advice was to drown ourselves in sunscreen and bug spray and to watch out for centipedes.

When it as our turn to go next, the supplies were replenished and the backpacks exchanged. A large tarp was brought with a basket woven mat to sleep on. Once we were ready, we rowed to town to get snacks, then before we knew it we were off, sailing towards a distant island. Sam, our new watch officer, had been to Mangareva with the ship last year and had sailed the Monomoy for an overnight trip with that crew and led us to some familiar places along the way. As we got closer to our destination we could see more white sandy beaches and the water took on brighter hues around each bit of coral as we maneuvered around areas where pearls were being harvested.

We anchored by an attractive looking beach and all jumped out of the boat, some swimming nearby with a snorkel and goggles, others swimming to the nearby shore. Maria built a sand castle (a Picton Castle with a moat of course), Nils cracked open some coconuts with the hatchet, and Pania found a swing hidden and made off to a tree. I watched her as she pumped her legs forward and behind, flying through the shade of trees along the shore. Everyone turned a shade of red – the sun felt more direct and it was hotter than usual – our sunscreen was melting off and no one wanted to put clothes back on over their suits. We tacked and rarely jibed in and around the maze of coral, trying not to drag the rudder or leeboard which we passed over peoples’ heads as leeward changed. Passengers shifted their weight with the wind, toppling over one another to prevent the boat from tipping too far or from taking on water.

When we arrived and beached, the crew got out on either side of the monomoy, walking the boat around the bank behind a wall of coral to our sheltered camping spot. The island was home to few families and our neighbours graciously supplied us with bananas, melons, papaya and open coconuts at a stage where the jelly has turned to a foam-like candy. We were caught by surprise when a girl with a fresh white flower behind her ear came around to each one of us greeting “bonjour”, and gave us a kiss on each cheek while we cooked and prepared dinner, then left us with a handful of vanilla beans.

overnight expedition in the monomoy at Mangareva

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