Captain's Log

Archive for March, 2014

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Leaving Huahine

By Chelsea McBroom

March 28th, 2014

After the starboard watch returned to the Picton Castle from their overnight expedition in the monomoy, they told us excitedly that they had sweet revenge on the sand crabs that had bothered the port watch the night before. Late at night they decided to cook and eat them all, leaving only bits of shell behind.

On the same day the starboard watch returned, the Captain and I went ashore to clear out, doing all the formal customs and immigration procedures at the Gendarmerie (police station), in preparation to depart the next morning. The gentleman who helped us there didn’t speak a word of English but was wonderfully patient and relaxed and soon we had our papers to leave Huahine.

Lily (the cook), Maria (assistant purser who put both empty shopping bags over her shoulders and called herself a pack mule) and I went from there to the Super U Grocery to provision, stocking up on canned beans and lentils, celery, oranges, grapefruit, carrots, and the only green, lettuce-like thing we could find that’s strong in taste and seems to be similar to spinach and bok choi. We loaded the skiff with our goodies and went back to the ship.

The wind had picked up and so on night watches we kept a keen eye on the mooring as it bobbed and the lines stretched, making sure to check the chafe gear. Someone had taken Frosty, a large plastic light-up snowman that comes out on Christmas (and will sometimes mysteriously appear in my bunk with a “Sweet Dreams” eye cover on) and set him inside the mooring’s giant shackle and he sat there comfortably, staring at the ship with his top hat, mitts and broom under his arm.

First thing the next morning, right before the ship was about to leave, Lily and I took the skiff into Huahine to get bananas and eggs. There was a constant mist in the air, which soon became rain and I was glad I remembered to bring my foul weather jacket. We were dripping when we reached the dock. An older woman was there, sitting at her table in the street, her table covered in ginger, nuts and fruit and on the ground in front of her were two large stalks of green bananas for us. Farther down the road was a woman selling eggs. I wanted to use up all the French Polynesian coins, so I handed over 680 French Polynesian Francs for a tray of 20 eggs. She smiled and laughed with me, seeing I counted wrong, handing back a coin and taking another from my hand. I walked into the rain and stood, holding the cardboard tray carefully, waiting for Lily to join me. The lady from the egg stand came rushing to me out from under her tent with a plastic bag and delicately placed the tray inside it. She smiled and handed it back to me, folding the opening of the bag under. “Merci!” I said with appreciation, imagining the cardboard wilting from the rain and the eggs crashing to the ground. We walked past the first lady who sold us the bananas and waved, saying thank you and goodbye, she grinned at seeing our familiar faces and returned the enthusiasm as we went to the skiff and headed off, back to the ship which was preparing to sail for Rarotonga.

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Overnight Expedition in Huahine

By Chelsea McBroom

March 27th, 2014

It was decided at the last minute that I should join the port watch on their overnight trip in the monomoy, our rowing/sailing longboat. It was a Sunday In Huahine, when everything is closed or closes early, and I knew that I would accomplish more on my To Do list on a Monday or Tuesday.

I quickly gathered my things as the Mate Dirk and a few of the crew assembled the mainsail two headsails – a floral patterned flying jib was one of the two headsails. I made sure to bring my foul weather jacket (although had it rained like before it wouldn’t have saved me from getting wet), my hat, water and a sleeping mat. Somehow we managed to fit all 11 people (Kim, Teis, Hugo, Nolan, Alex, the Mate, Denise, Vai, Pania, Averil and myself) and what we had packed, including a cooler of beverages and food for lunch, dinner and breakfast, inside the boat.

We knew right away, as it was a very warm sunny day without breeze, that we would have to row to find wind. So even with all the sails ready, we shipped our oarlocks, and carefully raised each oar to await the Mate’s orders. Try as we might, we didn’t sail much that day. Although it must have been a few hours of rowing in total, we thankfully dropped anchor more than once along the reef where the water was a lighter, clearer blue, to go for a swim and cool off.

The spot we chose to stay for the night was a small beach the Mate had seen from a distance. It was deserted and had a small shack built upon it out of sheet metal and leaves. I assumed it was an area fisherman might go to prepare – it had a counter and a bench, it smelled like fish and had a 2014 calendar hanging on the wall. Once we anchored and tied the Monomoy we could see stacks of cement bricks behind the trees, in the shape of a large house. We were told later that it used to be a resort that was destroyed by a hurricane, now cleared of all debris, but not yet sold again.

Afraid of what the weather might bring, we first began setting up a shelter with a very large tarp we brought with us and plenty of manila. It was a frustrating task – the tarp was acting as a giant sail and would pick up with each gust of wind. I found this ironic considering we were lacking wind to sail there and yet our tarp wasn’t. We tried folding the tarp to have a piece for the bottom or floor, for the side or wall and for the roof of the shelter, but the wind tunnel it created had enough force to pull the lashed grommets from it.

The Mate had been preparing his shelter for the night – the monomoy itself – and I thought of the question I asked myself the last time we went on an overnight trip: “What would Dirk do?” This time we had him with us for me to ask him myself! Like magic he brought out some of the oars from the monomoy and directed us in lashing them together to create a frame, then lashing the tarp to it and raising it up to fold bits of the tarp under, weighted by rocks and logs for a floor. The wind no longer gave us a problem and the shelter was secure all night.

We had visitors join us, a family that brought us cake and fresh bread and guacamole (SO DELICIOUS). The four kids played nearby in the dark and the sounds they made convinced us angry wild animals were coming to attack. It hardly rained until the following morning but I doubt any of us slept. Even drenched in bug spray I could feel the mosquitoes biting at every uncovered bit of skin during the night. It was so hot that being covered to be protected from the bugs meant waking up overheated.

And then there were the sand crabs. Luckily the majority of them didn’t spend their time close by, and if you wandered over to where there were big holes in the sand off to the side, you could hear them crawling. They were about the size of my fist and I woke up on three separate occasions to one crawling over my sleeping-bag-covered feet or near my head which I didn’t notice until I heard it leave. At one point in feeling one at my feet for the second time I kicked my feet up and sent it flying onto Pania’s sleeping mat next to me – she of course woke up with the same start, kicking in the same fashion and I turned on a flashlight. There it was, it’s large claw up in defense and it’s beady eyes upon us. Clearly it thought that if it was still it wouldn’t be seen, because it didn’t leave until Pania kicked sand at it and sighed with relief.

We left the next morning, sailing slowly in the rain, nice and early, giving us a chance for another swim. The rain would quiet and then we would turn and watch as the cloudy mist of rain in the distance crawled closer towards us, “5, 4, 3, 2…” getting us drenched in our sarongs and bathing suits.

Coconut technology is an important lesson

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Biking Huahine

By Chelsea McBroom

March 25th, 2014

Starboard watch had their day off ashore at the French Polynesian island of Huahine while port watch was aboard the Picton Castle loosing and drying sails.

Our original plan for our day off was to rent kayaks for the day and paddle around the island, making a stop at a beach somewhere to swim and have lunch. Lucky for us, as Lily and I wandered the town looking for the kayaks and Maria and Sam stayed at the Yacht Club doing internet things, we realized we were not stuck on the idea and would have to be a bit flexible. Now that I think of it, we hardly see kayaks being used around the island, although we saw them used all over New Zealand, instead here they have these long narrow canoes, connected to another parallel bit of floating material for balance that seem to skim above the water.

We couldn’t find what we had in mind. We were even offered to be driven in a motorboat around the island to a beautiful beach, but we decided to rent bikes instead and follow adventure anywhere we liked. The bikes were a little rickety – I rode a neon pink cruiser that had back pedal breaks, not really meant for bumpy dirt roads and its chain kept coming loose. The rest of the gang were given white and blue mountain bikes (at least they LOOKED like mountain bikes but had rock hard seats and no shock absorption at all). We were pretty proud of our vehicles. Lily and I had talked about missing our bikes at home – having the wind in your hair, the exercise, and having the freedom to take any road – and commented how nice it was to be biking again.

People that had gone for a scuba dive that morning, Erin and Mark, joined us with their bikes. The six of us stocked up on provisions for the weekend as well as some bread, meat and cheese for lunch. I made sure to get a jar of seedy mustard and Mark made sure to get traditional Australian biscuits to share (bless him, I love cookies).

We rode our bikes around past the yellow post office building and across the island to a big patch of grass beside a rocky beach where the waves crashed. We found shade under a palm tree to share our goodies and chat, and once that was done we were on the road again to seek another nice looking place to sit. It felt like we biked forever – we passed many locals excited and happy to greet us, curious barking dogs, and went around the entire airport to reach another beach. This one had beautiful white sand to lie on and more crashing waves. I nearly fell asleep there. A local gentleman with his wife and kids drove up to us there and in broken English tried to explain that there had been thieves in the area and that we should watch our things. Such an effort to tell us and so considerate, it was very kind. We soon left anyhow so that we could catch the 7pm skiff back ‘home’ to the ship we were exhausted from our adventures and the bright hot sunny day.

monomoy moored for expeditions in French Polynesia

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Huahine Impressions

By Chelsea McBroom

March 23rd, 2014

On Thursday March 20th we connected the Picton Castle‘s mooring lines to a small floating island made out of yellow plastic and a core trunk of metal with a giant shackle atop it. It took us a try or two before we decided on the best way to moor – one stern line and two from the well deck to keep our lines from dragging underneath us and catching our rudder as we moved with the current.

It was about 1300 when we finished and lunch was ready for us. Lily had made macaroni and cheese with broccoli, tuna and peas and a salad. She’s been doing a good job of working vegetables into nearly every meal – even our oatmeal that morning (which was delicious!) had grated carrots.

Starboard watch was given the afternoon off and were in the skiff within minutes heading ashore – the longest skiff ride to shore we’ve ever had. We a moored a fair distance from the docks, but near enough to the island to smell land (because, trust me, when you’ve been away from land for long periods, you remember the smell when you near it again) and near enough to see the road that follows the shoreline.

After preparing dinner Lily went for a run from the dock all the way to the shore opposite the ship (a fair distance) and said there were many cute puppies and beautiful friendly people along the way. While starboard watch went ashore mostly for internet purposes, I stayed on the ship feeling satisfied with my recent internet connections.

After hand-washing my laundry (which smells cleaner but still looks like I rolled in the mud, I napped on the well deck while the crew who were on duty wire brushed and blue steeled. I can recall Captain Moreland telling us that often sailors in the past have preferred to stay aboard than go ashore – people are corrupted by ports, plans become repetitive and aren’t we here to do ship things? But I think I’m going to like Huahine.

So far it’s been sunny and bright with squalls at night. This morning Simon, Gustav, Lily and I took the skiff ashore to get some fresh vegetables, baguettes and fruit. The supermarket and bank are steps away from the dock, along with other little shops, and the streets are lined with local fruit and vegetable vendors. We bought bananas there but there was papaya, orange banana-like things, grapefruit, mangos and star fruit. It was a busy morning – everyone was smiling and friendly, whistling and calling to each other across the street. The ladies that worked at the market all wore dresses in floral prints in bold red and green and pink – the one that helped us was decorated in swirly red necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings.

This island reminds me of Nuku Hiva, perhaps even more convenient to us with its shops, but not as touristy as Papeete nor as deserted as other islands. We have already met people that have welcomed the ship and offered any local help if needed. Not knowing what to do with themselves, Lily told people on the off watch that they may find something to do when they meet new people ashore – and so the adventures begin.

Samantha and Averil help out in the galley

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Leaving Moorea for Huahine

By Chelsea McBroom

March 21st, 2014

It was so hot aboard the Picton Castle I had to sneak out of the foc’sle to the cargo hatch amidships more than once to sleep. I was the only one who did, which probably had to do with the unbelievable gusts of wind that came through Cooks Bay at night. At each gust I would wake to catch my sleeping bag as it flew away from me and to look around at the surreal black and white scene of the ship’s yards above and the full moon trying to escape the quickly passing clouds.

Our first evening at anchor, all starboard watch hands were called to take in the awning that hung over the hatch. Because of the gusts, the awning luffed and flapped vigorously and Sam the watch officer thought for sure it would take flight. We gathered silently in the middle of the night, the wind howling in our ears, each of us standing at a lashed corner of the canvas and with each command, took the lashings down to one turn and then at the precise calm moment let down the awning so it wouldn’t fly away. It was quickly folded and put into the hold. This took only a few moments before we were sent back to bed.

I was woken up just a few hours later for my 03:00 night watch when fortunately, the wind had become more consistent in force and less gusty therefore making me less paranoid. The wind wasn’t as forceful during the day, but the coxswain struggled against the current when making skiff runs and at one point a gust lifted hard plastic plates from the aloha deck counter during breakfast and flew them overboard and at crew sitting on the bench, actually causing injury. Although the island itself was appreciated, the bay was not welcoming and we were relieved when we heaved anchor and sailed for Huahine.

During the sail to Moorea, watches were unnecessary for such a short journey. As we made for Huahine, we were put into sailing watches again. Even so it was just for a day and an overnight trip and some of the crew wished for a longer journey. Huahine became visible and lights could be seen in the distance and the island was still just a shadow. I have been told we will travel around to the other side of the island to rest for the next four to six days, and to our excitement, weather depending, we may do some rowing and some overnight trips in the monomoy longboat. Hoping for a drier night of camping this time (knock on wood, cross your fingers and anything else you can think of)!

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The Cooks Bay Breeze

By Captain John Beebe-Center

March 20th, 2014

Cruising through French Polynesia has been wonderful for viewing and experiencing of flora and fauna, amazing geographic formations and beautiful scenery. It has shown us crystal clear waters, excellent fishing and some great coral.

Cooks Bay had its own wonders in store for us. Besides the rough-hewn peaks and lush greenery and the sleepy little village of PaoPao, Cooks Bay had wind. And not just a little wind – we’re talking gusty wind to get the attention of even a seasoned mariner, or air traffic controller for that matter.

The geography for helping to generate these breezes is perfect in that Cooks Bay has a fjord-like shape to it, long and narrow and oriented North to South. With the seasonal winds having a Northerly cast this sets up a compression/funneling situation that can seriously accelerate the breeze. This would be in the nature of a “williwaw” or katabatic wind. On the first night of our visit around 2230 we started to hear the moaning of an approaching gust of wind. This moaning continued to get louder and we could actually see the wind line approaching on the water several hundred yards away. Clearly this was going to be interesting and I was able to consider the wisdom which had inspired putting out our large 1500 pound anchor and 3 ½ shots (or about 315 ft) of chain.

The gust that hit was estimated by myself and watch officer Sam as being in the mid 50 knot range. It came with rain and pushed Picton Castle over several degrees. The squall let up after a few minutes and we were able to see up to windward an approaching series of wind lines on the water stretching away towards the mouth of the Bay. Each one represented another gust of wind – not quite so “interesting” as the first but each strong and loud and worthy of a look on deck to make certain all was well. While the rain component of the first gust stopped the gusts themselves did not. They diminished in the afternoons but were generally with us throughout our visit. We made friends with our neighbors, the Ketch rig Sinbad, who had been in port for months. They told us that their wind gauge had registered 82 knots as their maximum gust that season. After a few days of this it was pleasant to recover our anchor this morning (which had been driven waaay into the mud) and to make our way to sea again en route to Huahine. So, Cooks Bay, a beautiful place and worth a visit. Put out your best ground tackle…

Captain John

Captain John leads a workshop

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By Chelsea McBroom

March 19th, 2014

The Picton Castle arrived in Moorea in the early afternoon, just hours after sailing away from Papeete, and anchored in Cooks Bay. The water was brown with sediment and the current strong. Moorea is another very green lush island but with many peaks and the full sky of clouds passed mistily over the tops. I had heard many of the crew describe the island as a place they imagined dinosaurs still existed or that Godzilla lived. The trees were tall and ancient and we saw large groups of bamboo sticks growing. As we passed into the bay more than one waterfall could be seen, one falling higher than another in the distance, towering over the ship.

Port watch was given that evening off to go ashore – the Mate returned from his quick trip ashore to check out what was there and told the crew what was open on a Sunday (very little). The following day starboard was given the day off, the day after was port’s day off again and the crew took the opportunity to rent vehicles to drive around the island. The Captain and his wife Deborah told us the majority of shops were at the outermost areas of the bay, a decent walking distance from where the ship was anchored and so for some, having a bike or car made sense. People seemed to be most interested in visiting a waterfall or the fresh juice shop which gave tours and samples.

Alex, Pania, Lily, Nolan and I had lunch at the nearby pizza place (which was an outdoor bar and sitting at a bar stool you could watch them make and bake the pizza that was ordered) and drove around the island before the evening, having stopped to swim in the bluest water and the whitest beach, to walk as close to the waterfall as the signs would allow, and to pick up some fresh produce for the ship.

When we returned to the bay area we had a craving for fish and chips, a dish I thought we would have been sick of from eating nearly every day in New Zealand. We found a kind man who ran a restaurant which was normally was closed on a Tuesday for dinner. But he seemed to be familiar with the ship (and came out wearing a Picton Castle hat and a grin on his face) and decided he would make us all fish and chips and serve us himself on the patio. Teis and Averil joined us just in time and we were the only customers. The gentleman spoke little English but didn’t let it stop him from teasing us at every moment – just when dinner was ready he came out with four very small saucers with little bites of fish and lettuce on each and said “bon appetit”. We pretended to be too full when he brought out the actual plates, heaping with bread fruit chips, salad with avocado and fried fish. At the end of the meal he brought around a plate of flower heads for us to put behind our ears and gave us a kiss on each cheek.

getting ready to sail the monomoy

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Last Days in Papeete

By Chelsea McBroom

March 16th, 2014

On Thursday it began to pour in Papeete, where the Picton Castle was alongside. Even if the rain became lighter, it seemed to always be raining and for two days following. I know it’s just water but it seems to make everything more difficult; it ruins any plans to walk around the city or have a picnic in the park and many of the outdoor food stands are even closed. Peoples moods somehow mimic the weather and everyone becomes sleepy in disposition. Then there’s more to look out for during night watch such as slacking gear, bailing out the skiff, checking the movement of bumpers as we rock alongside, making sure the awnings do not hold water etc. The crew got used to it all very soon, like fish out of water, wearing their bathing suits as they worked in the rain.

In order for the ship to get more fuel and fresh water, we had to move to an adjacent dock just feet away on Friday morning. So as it rained cats and dogs, lines and the gangway were removed, the skiff was sent out and a few crew sent ashore to handle lines at the other dock as the ship motored into place.

The Captain decided it was best to stay another day with bad weather coming our way and so starboard watch had another free day in port. One might say it’s pathetic, but an overwhelming need to nap came over me and some of the other crew and most of the day was spent sleeping. It was the kind of day you could imagine being at home, cozy and curled up in bed reading or watching movies and getting some R and R, so we took advantage of it. The majority of shops close early here on Saturdays and everything was quiet but for the sound of water drops. Crew quickly went to grocery and hardware stores to stock up on gadgets and provisions or hid in cafes.

First thing this morning, Sunday, because it was cook Lily’s day off, Teis and Hugo made breakfast, preparing us for a day of sailing to Moorea. The oatmeal and apple sauce muffins were steaming hot and warmed us from the inside out. The weather had caused us, although still humid, to feel refreshingly cool and the food was comforting.

Again, just a couple days from our last move, we were preparing to leave the dock. We tidied and did domestics, removing all of our garbage, folding away the awning, singling up lines, removing the gangway, standing by to pick up the last few lines before heading off and hoisting the skiff. The harbour pilot joined us at 09:00.

Still overcast and grey, the rain finally subsided. We motored away from Papeete as people waved to us from the dock, and we began setting fore and aft sails, loosing topsails and courses, then later the t’gallants. The swell climbed higher the further away we became – some turned green at the sudden change and some crew had looks of excitement, finally getting a chance to absorb that we were once again sailing the open seas, even if it was just for a day.

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Provisioning in Papeete

By Chelsea McBroom

March 14th, 2014

Grocery shopping in other parts of the world is not like grocery shopping in North America. The Picton Castle‘s agent here in Papeete drove me, our new cook Lily, Anne-Laure (apprentice and our French translator for the day) and Maria to the Carrefour – the biggest grocery store in town similar to a Superstore. None of us truly understood the amounts of food we would be purchasing.

Lily had organized a list, categorizing the items in a way she thought the store’s aisles would be grouped and sent us to gather each category on our own. Each of us had a shopping cart about the size of a wagon, what I think to be the average sized shopping cart, and very soon I realized we would need many more.

My first mission was pasta and rice. The list told me to get about 20kg each of fusilli, spaghetti, bowtie and elbow. I threw fusilli, spaghetti and some bags of bowtie into the cart and realized there wasn’t room for anything more. I awkwardly threw my weight behind the cart, guiding it over to where Lily might be so we could figure out what to do next. We decided we would gather our full carts and place them in front of a couple closed cashier isles at the far end until we were done and ready to pay for it all.

And so the madness really began, and it continued for about five hours. I filled bags with tomatoes, green peppers, apples, cabbage, carrots and more, realizing very quickly that they needed to be weighed and labelled before they could be bought. For some reason things like pasta and rice were in very separate sections of the store and since they didn’t have signs in French or English, we found ourselves speeding through aisle after aisle scanning the shelves for what we were looking for. The employees were friendly and tried to help us; they knew looking at us that we were in the same group when we were found searching for an item, but often the language barrier prevented it. On more than one occasion, as I went to drop off a full cart, I would see a kid looking at the piles in awe and counting them in French.

We left frozen items for last and Maria and I ran to grab them as the others started to place everything on the conveyor belt to be rung through. The girl working at the cash kindly turned away people trying to wedge themselves into our line and bagged groceries even though that wasn’t something they did at the store regularly. Clearly our lineup of about 20 full shopping carts was a cry for help.

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Welcome to Papeete

By Maria Andersen, apprentice from Denmark

March 13th, 2014

I was woken up by a loud voice calling down to the batcave telling us that they needed all hands to harbour stow sails and getting the ship ready for port, so on deck we went with harness, shoes and a proper shirt so the people of Papeete wouldn’t be too shocked by sailors in dirty work clothes.

As we were stowing the sails making sure that everything looked nice and ready for coming alongside, we saw the city growing bigger and bigger in the distance and we quickly agreed that we probably would need a lesson or two on how to behave in a big city without getting lost or run over by a car, for the last two months we have been on the ship or visiting smaller islands so the thought of a big city is in fact rather scary.

We came into the harbour with the help of a pilot then Captain John parked the Picton Castle like she was a car. We got her moored up and placed the gangway over the side of the ship after a bit of a struggle, and now it is hanging over the starboard side with a little help from the course yard.

Later that evening port watch was stood down and starboard watch had the deck. That night my night watch was much different than being at anchor outside a small island. Just across the road, small vans were parked, selling local food and much more and during the night. You could hear the music playing from the city centre and happy voices laughing in the distance.

Next day starboard watch was off so we went into the city to find out that everything was closed because it was Sunday, except for one bar where they fortunately had wi-fi, so we sat down and got antisocial, calling home, writing friends and checking bank accounts. After that I decided to go for a run because there was not much else going on, and then met up later with the other guys. That night we had food from one of the vans parked across from the ship, and we soon agreed that next time we would share because the portions were huge but really nice.

The next day on watch it was time to do provisions so me, Chelsea, Anne and the new cook Lily went to the supermarket, prepared with running shoes and a bottle of water we went off to different areas of the store. My main things were cheese and canned food so I filled a whole wagon with tomatoes in tins, baked beans, fruit cocktail and much other good stuff. Afterwards I filled a wagon with 30kg of cheese and two wheels of cheese. Try to ask me if people looked funny at me, thinking that I was going to have a major cheese fondue later that day. After five hours we only needed to check everything out, we ended up with an enormous receipt and 20 shopping carts filled up with food for the hardworking people on the Picton Castle.

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