Captain's Log

Archive for April, 2014

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Near Tonga

By Chelsea McBroom

April 21st, 2014

Supposedly the Picton Castle has crossed the date line but the Captain decided we wouldn’t change our dates or times until we are anchored at Tonga. Perhaps by doing this he thought his birthday would be skipped but he couldn’t fool us. Lily cooked on her day off and worked in the galley with Simon and Avery who were cooking (a sort of sweet and sour chicken and friend rice) for the rest of the crew.

I tried to keep the Captain’s birthday dinner in the mess a secret until the last moment, but unfortunately the word got out. In addition to the Captain and the mate, the room was filled with Avery and John, their first time to the mess, and Samantha, Maria, Erin, and Lily. Laughing could be heard from the room’s portholes.

Later that night when I mustered for the 12am watch, we could see the golden moon rising just above the horizon between grey shadowed cloud. Our sails were in and we were motoring the rest of the way to Tonga. We heaved to at about 0200, then Finn and the Doc graciously took the deck while Gustav, Denise and I went back to bed.

All hands were called at 0800 for breakfast when Lily made the best hot-cross buns I’ve ever had. At around 1000 the anchor was dropped closer to the island. Being a Sunday we decided clearing in wouldn’t be possible and that it was the perfect day to celebrate Easter.

The Easter Committee organized it all: Vai, Hugo, Lily, John K, Erin, Maria and I. After lunch was a swim call. Then we had a trivia game, this time life raft #1 on the station bill against life raft #2. Life raft #1 had Gustav blowing a whistle if they had the answer, life raft #2 had Alex, the chief engineer, with a bike horn. While John asked the questions and Erin kept score, Lily and I hid bags of goodies on the deck of the ship. The winning team went further, each individual person then needing to answer questions and if they got it right, could choose someone to be removed from the group until one person was left. Denise won, winning herself a Mickey Mouse hat. Then everyone was sent to find their bag of treats including ring pops, hubba bubba, glow sticks and sheriff badges (inexpensive chocolate was hard to find in Rarotonga).

Soon after we had popcorn and punch with people dressing up to attend. I saw a lot of leopard print fur. After dinner when the sun went down at around 2000, the crew voted for a movie and watched Top Gun on the hatch. A cheesy 1980s finish to a wonderful day.

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On Our Way To Tonga

By Chelsea McBroom

April 20th, 2014

The Picton Castle couldn’t sit around waiting for the wind to pick up, so we motored for a couple of days, with fore and aft sails, until we found enough wind to carry us to Tonga. The day came and hands were called to go aloft and loose. The Mate’s 8-12 watch helped us set the upper topsails and fore course before ending their watch and we handled the rest, coiling down the mess. The motor was turned off so all we could hear was the splash of the waves against the side of the ship and the wind in our ears.

I may be the only one who noticed the breeze get cooler, especially at night. The nights have been brightly moonlit and covered in stars and I’ve been wearing my windbreaker at helm and lookout. Captain seems to think my blood temperature has changed and laughs seeing a Canadian wearing a coat in 20 degree weather. I realize my friends back at home would slap me, having had to endure the cold winter.

The breeze makes for lovely sunny days on board and although we miss our bosun terribly, many crew have spent their time on deck doing salty things she used to do like carving, splicing, tarring, replacing ratlines aloft and enjoying the comfortable weather. So far our workshops at 1630 on the hatch have included Doctor Peter Sharp telling us some of his practicing secrets, Captain John Beebe-Center teaching us the herringbone, double baseball and t-stitch using a plywood technique, and Chief Mate Dirk explaining the codes and use of international flag signals. Crew are especially keen, now that they realize how much time is passing, to learn as much as they can before the ship arrives in Fiji.

The Captain has given people the opportunity to try calling orders for setting and taking in sails, so during watches, the less experienced get to practice. It forces those who try it to think about things like, instead of what lines need to be pulled, how a royal should be braced while being hauled up or eased down, or how a fore or aft sail should be trimmed. Once again, like when we sailed from New Zealand, we find ourselves with a small but very strong crew and I’m very proud of everyone’s hard work and whole hearted participation.

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Leaving Palmerston

By Chelsea McBroom

April 19, 2014

Starboard watch was taken back to the Picton Castle and switched once more with port watch so they could be ashore on Palmerston another night. Because the ship had hove to, two people had to be watching the deck at all times, so we were put into pairs and given a two hour shift every eight hours. Finn and I took the first watch in the afternoon and another at midnight. As part of the night orders, when the ship had drifted five miles, we were to wake the Captain who would then ask us to wake the Engineer and we would fire up and motor back to the island again. By about 01:00 we did just that and I took the helm, still locked on hard right, waited for the ship to come around and took off the eight or so turns just before the given course. It was another clear moonlit night and surreal to be steering the ship with two for company. We were hove to again by the time our watch was over and Erin and Gustav took over. It was peaceful once more when the motor was turned off and we went back to bed. The next morning with all hands at 0800, it was cloudy and rainy. The ship motored back to the island and waited for an appropriate time in weather to receive port watch back (although we told Palmerston over the radio that they could keep them, they refused) and when the clouds parted they were returned. The ship’s company said goodbye to the few islanders aboard the skiffs that pulled alongside and we were off, motoring south west until we could reach the right winds to take us to Tonga.

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Dragging Anchor in Palmerston

By John Kinley, apprentice

April 15th, 2014

It was a dark and stormy night. The crew of the Picton Castle was restless as the anchor chain cranked and rattled in the hawse pipe. The anchor’s fragile grip held our bulky ship in the lee of the small atoll of Palmerston on a narrow strip of reef. As the wind picked up, so did the stress exerted on the 90+ feet of chain in the water as well as the sounds of creaking metal. The intrepid crew was all awake lying in their bunks and awaited the call that was thought to be inevitable at that point in the night.

Lightning flashed, the rain fell and the wind blew. Suddenly the ship churned in a swell and the anchor lost its flimsy grip. The gallant Captain John Beebe-Center gave the order “all hands hands on deck!” The word was spread quickly to the ready and waiting crew who jumped to action. The engineer, Billy, was ordered to start the engine and he did so as quickly as you would start your car after your wedding night. Chief mate Dirk ran up to the foc’sle head and started organizing the crew followed by mate Anne-Laure. “Ship the windlass bars!” he yelled as the weather worsened and the crew did as told. The bars were placed into position and the work began.

The crew was motley. There were our undaunted leaders, Finn and Meg, whose faces were focused and hard. It was a sight to see as Meg and the Captain maintained control of the ship at helm and Finn lead the deckhands under the sharp and vigilant mates. The deckhands were all ready to do as told. There was Vai the Tongan queen, Avery the maverick, Erin the powerful, ‘goose’ Gustov the Viking, Simon the brave, Peter the wise, Chelsea the pure and then there was me, the frustrated one and clearly the most badass. We heaved on the windlass as hard as we dared. The wind continued to howl and the waves began to crash. Even Billy the engineer came up to help heave up the anchor. He did so with the burning fire of the powerful Picton Castle diesel engine in his eyes and heart.

It was no use. The anchor and chain was vertical as it had fallen off the narrow anchorage and hung between the ship and the dark depths of the ocean. The windlass would not grip and the anchor would not rise. So, the quick thinking officers came up with a plan. We would attach a block and tackle to the chain and hoist with the capstan at the same time as heaving with the windlass. It took some time to organize and the weather still beat on our poor souls. However, the crew was hard and there wasn’t a face among us that thought of giving up. We were going to persevere even if it took us all night.

The ship heaved to and both the gallant Captain and Meg the bold came to lend a hand on the foc’sle head. After a few trial and error methods, the capstan and block-and-tackle was working. The anchor would rise about a meter and a half until we had to reset the block-and-tackle and heave some more. It was tough and a lot of work but we were making progress.

The storm raged on. I went below decks to sort out the chain locker and slowly the robust crew hoisted the chain. It was hot and muggy and I worked to keep the chain organized. The chain came closer and closer to the anchors resting position and more and more chain came into the locker. While I was in the chain locker the storm continued its wrath on the crew above decks. I wasn’t there, but I heard at one point in time Simon the brave picked up a trident and fought off a sea serpent that came up out of Davy Jones’ locker in a sarong. The chain suddenly came faster down into the chain locker and I can only imagine that the crew gave up on their mechanical devices after the serpent started to attack and pulled on the chain with their bare hands. The Tongan queen, Avery the maverick, Chelsea the pure and Goose the Viking yanked on the chain while the others battled the sea serpent. Erin, with her powerful hands, literally jumped on the serpents back and punched the thing in its eye. it was crazy. I mean I wasn’t there or anything but I heard it was crazy.

I came out of the chain locker covered in mud to the sound of cheers. The rain and wind continued but there was a sigh of relief afterward and we split up into two person watches for the rest of the night. The Captain thanked us for a hard fought battle and we were sent below decks to get some sleep. I’m not sure what happened to the sea serpent but our cook Lily does make a mean fish dish every now and again.

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The Night The Anchor Dragged In Palmerston

By Captain John Beebe-Center

April 15th, 2014

Sometimes you just know.

Being at anchor at Palmerston Island presented some logistical challenges – primarily because one goes from no sounding to a coral reef in about 200 yards distance. The out fall of the lagoon and the prevailing Easterly breezes are what keep an anchored ship from drifting up onto the reef once their anchor is down. Getting an anchor down and hooked up on Palmerston is possible – it has been done many times before now – but it always bears watching and is always a little tenuous. Captain Moreland’s advice for being hooked up was twofold; watch out for squalls and don’t put out too much chain because if you drag off the reef all the chain and the anchor will be hanging straight down in the water column and the windlass (crew) will have to pick up the whole dead weight.

So there we were, anchored up with a lovely sunset behind us and all bearings and electronics assuring us that we were dug in well. The sound of the breaking reef – a noise difficult for any sailor to sleep through – was gradually subsiding into background noise when I turned in for the night. Around 0230 I felt the anchor chain shift a touch and sat up to hear the wind begin a ramping up of pitch and volume, grabbed clothes and headed for the bridge.

When I got there I ran smack into McBroom who was looking worriedly at our electronic bearings and at a wall of black that had just “disappeared” Palmerston Island. I called Billy the Engineer to light off the main engine. I knew that shortly I would be using it either to keep us on the anchor or off the reef. And then the squall was there! Nice, big, extremely wet, very loud with a bag of wind. The anchor gave a half-hearted effort and then surrendered and we slid quickly from 6 meters of water to no bottom.

The crew aboard (remember that half the gang is ashore doing a home stay on Palmerston) head to the foc’sle head to begin hauling back the whole starboard ground tackle assembly which is indeed-hanging straight down in the water column. With that much weight on the windlass the Mate was obliged to rig a tackle to the capstan to help take the load. The gang worked like heroes for about two hours to win back that starboard hook and somewhere in there Erin and I went sailing around with the awning after which we posted the watch and drifted, quite comfortably, out to about 7 miles from the island.

Simon got up a great protein rich breakfast (Lily being ashore) and we got the main engine back on line and began heading for the island all the while speculating on what would be going through the minds of our shipmates when they woke up, looked out from their vantage point on the island and saw their ship gone.

Well, shouldn’t have worried about the gang. They were immediately reassured by the Palmertonians that we had simply been blown off the reef again – an event that they have witnessed with some regularity. Still, for me it was the first time and I will recall that, when I heard that first bit of rising moan from the portlight, I knew we were in for a longish night.

Sometimes you just know.

Cheers, Captain John

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Picton Castle’s Palmerston Visit

I was delirious with exhaustion and hesitant to go ashore at Palmerston Island after our night of heaving up the anchor aboard the Picton Castle. The ship was hove-to, like the night we arrived. We had drifted seven miles. The weather was gloomy and I could see us making a quick getaway that night if it got any worse. But after getting advice from Captain John, who also considered what Captain Moreland would say, “Suck it up and go because you’ll probably never be here again.” I packed my things and stood by on the quarterdeck. I realize now how ridiculous I was to even consider putting off my visit.

The large tin boat filled with port watch crew and empty fuel bottles came alongside and we quickly transferred their ‘cargo’ for ours – passing over backpacks and food gifts. I hopped in the boat along with Simon, John, Vai and Avery. It was still windy and the swell was large, especially as we neared the coral. The man driving the boat was calling out to his sons sitting in the bow with us, using them to transfer weight and move around the shallow coral pieces. One would lie himself forward and back and the other would move outboard and inboard. It felt as if we were moving five times faster than our little skiff and I had to close my eyes, laughing with anticipation, as we moved between the reef formations and sticks poking out of the water as markers. We were all grinning like it was a ride at the fair; Vai was holding a piece of rope tied to the bow like she was riding a horse.

We hardly slowed coming up onto the beach where we were greeted by other islanders who helped us with our bags and directed us to wait further inland where we would be paired with a host for the night. Simon and I were paired together with Melbourne and brought to meet his family who spoiled us with food and kindness our entire stay. We were taken to a small house with a blue door, two small trees grew up and over like a canopy on either side of it, in full bloom of pink flowers. The first room we passed into was like a living room, the furniture and cushions covered in different colored island print, old family photos along the walls and dream-catchers hanging from the rafters. There was a room with a curtain instead of a door with a toilet and a wash basin. Behind this area there was a kitchen and eating area and two other bedrooms. It was all empty of personal things and given just to the two of us for the night. Simon graciously gave me the biggest bed in the front room, where we both decided was a nice sunny area to stay, and we left our things to explore the island.

We were shown the Telecom building, a small stand for people to buy internet or phone time, the small cemetery, the clinic where I met the nurse for the second time (a lovely lady), passed the administration building and came back around again, only to pass by a house with our shipmates Gustav and Erin sitting outside of it under an awning with their hosts. We were called over and invited to sit and enjoy our second lunch of the day – raw fish, steak, rice, potato salad and chilled coconut water, right out of its shell, and lime juice to drink. Once we finished the food and conversation we went back to our hosts where they sat us down and brought us tea and biscuits. We talked about the ship and our plans, then we were given the idea of a nap – something we rarely get to indulge in – and we went to find our beds. But we’d forgotten where the house was.

We were searching for it when a familiar voice called out to us, calling us over to another house. It was Bill, another local, who again introduced himself as Bill Clinton, and gave us each a seat. He sent his kids to get hot water for tea and a plate of biscuits while we spoke with him and his parents. Vai was staying there and was in the kitchen making meat patties and getting her hair braided by one of the daughters. Soon Erin and Gustav passed by who joined us, and then Avery and John who sat next to them and Billy who strolled up last. We spoke of the past, of other boats or ships that visit the island and their experiences.

We were all excited (perhaps I was especially excited) for the afternoon beach volleyball game that they have every day at around 4:30 or 5. Simon and I felt we should find our house sooner rather than later and went in search for it again with Erin and Gustav following behind us. Thankfully we found it right next door then went for a stroll along the beach looking for sea shells, seeing crab and bright blue lobster shells and hermit crabs galore. We decided to make our way back and followed the sounds of kids gathered at the court.

Family and friends sat along the far side of the yard watching, while few sat on a bench nearby the court, refereeing. The majority of players couldn’t be older than sixteen and they were very good – passing, setting, spiking. They yelled and cheered with each goal. Avery, Simon, John, Vai and I were excited to play and stepped up when the ref called for Picton Castle to step up to one half of the court. We needed another player so I convinced Lily to join us. Vai leaped and slid like a true player. Although unfamiliar with working as a team in this way, we all did our best. We lost! Of course. But we realized they were taking turns between teams and knew we would have another go, getting more excited and focused with each game.

As this went on, kids played beside us at a smaller sandy court. The group of us, some with cameras out, went over and spent time with them, letting them take photos of each other making funny faces, having them climb on our backs. Simon also showed them hand stands and circus tricks between playing our volleyball games. We never did win. We continued to play even as the sun went down with the few kids that were left, even as it became hard to see. Then we headed back to the house for a parrot fish feast – fried, and cooked in a broth, with donuts, rice and sweet coconut patties. Simon and I were each given a cold coconut and told to have third and fourth helpings. I could have exploded.

As Simon and I finished dinner, we could see the lights of the Picton Castle in the distance through the palm trees and couldn’t help but wonder if they had anchored again. Our hosts assured us the ship was too far away to be anchored on the reef and sure enough noticed it drifting away over time. I’d heard the evening before there had been a party on Palmerston with port watch, and as exhausted as I was when I went ashore with the starboard watch, I was afraid if I went to sleep I’d miss another party.

Feeling social we followed the sound of music and found a group of islanders gathered at a picnic table, Anne-Laure’s hosts, and sat with them. We became overly excited when we noticed a trail of giant hermit crabs trying to get into an enclosed garden and was momentarily distracted by looking at them, Simon taking photos. Billy joined us at the picnic table but we soon wondered if there were people gathering elsewhere and we left to do a walk around.

Again we followed the sound of music and found ourselves at Edward’s house, where he sat with (another) Simon and our crew member John K playing guitar and ukulele and singing tunes. We could barely keep our eyes open as Eddie sang us some beautiful island songs and John played some of his own. We spoke of our interest in hermit crabs and we were told to visit the ship wreck on the other side of the island where they often gathered.

Before calling it a night we walked over to the wreck, an overturned fiberglass hull used as a shelter for fisherman, but found no hermit crabs. The moon was big and bright and there was a large aura around it – space between it and the clouds. We had more than enough light to walk the beach back to where we started and go to bed.

I awoke to the sound of roosters and chickens outside the window and the church bells ringing. There was an 0600 and 0630 service that morning as well as a 1000 service later in the day. Many locals went to every service (there was a 1600 service as well). Simon and I decided to attend the 1000, and so did Lily, Anne-Laure, Erin, Avery, Gustav, Vai and John. One of our many hosts sat outside the church ringing the bell, calling people to service.

I walked in and sat to the left beside Gustav but stopped when I heard a “PSsst!” from Erin, pointing out to me that all the women were sitting on the right. Oops. I got up and sat next to Anne-Laure. I looked around at all the beautiful hats all the women were wearing made out of this light golden straw with different patterns of hearts and geometric shapes tightly woven in. They were all decorated differently, with shells, ribbon woven into strips, bright colored thread braided, fabric flowers and colored straw. The room was bright with sunlight.

It was the singing that blew me away. The men and women complemented one another, one side singing with a deeper tone and sometimes different words, the women hitting much higher notes. It had an island sound and although I couldn’t understand the language I found myself getting goose bumps – feeling joyous and thankful. The ship and it’s crew were blessed and wished a safe journey.

After the service Simon and I joined our hosts for lunch – chicken and rice with a coconut sauce. I must have looked tired after my third helping because Jo, our host, mentioned a nap and suggested a handmade hammock or cot that was on out the beach. It sounded so wonderful I probably looked excited at such a suggestion and she went almost immediately to find a blanket and pillow, lying them on a cot for me, and dragging the cot under the shade of a palm tree. Absolute bliss – the picture you see on vacation brochures but it’s never the same in reality. I went over and curled up for our last half hour on the island, more relaxed than I’d been in months, listening to the palm trees in the wind, seeing the flash of bright blue and turquoise water as my eyelids fell.

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Ready for Anchorage

By Chelsea McBroom

April 13th, 2014

Port went ashore to Palmerston Island while starboard stayed on board to continue with a day of ships work. Melbourne, a man from Palmerston, came by asking if we had any soap to spare and so I brought him a bag full of bars to take back. Some locals came to pump out some of our fuel for the island as well. Crew spent the day replacing broken ratlines, spot painting, and end-for-ending lines. When the day was done, a watch list was posted and specific instructions were given to note the depth, the GPS and any change in weather through-out the night.

I went to sleep early, exhausted from the long day, and was woken up by Meg for night watch at 0150. It was pouring rain and the wind had picked up. Clearly the ship had moved since we arrived but in a fluid curved line. It was just after Meg had gone to bed that I felt the rumble of the anchor moving. The Captain came up from his cabin having heard it and I showed him the changes. At that point he wasn’t certain we had moved, but he asked me to wake Billy, our Engineer on board, to fire up for comfort. Crew appeared on deck, having heard the change and waiting to see what happened next.

I reassured them that everything was fine but then the Captain called out, “Anchors dragging! All hands on deck!” and I hopped about, calling it out in the superstructure towards the batcave and the mate, the salon and the foc’sle towards to brocave. Most people were already awake and ready at the windlass to heave up the anchor.

It wasn’t long before we realized the metal pads weren’t catching us we pushed and pulled up the windlass bars. The anchor wasn’t being picked up. Faces were long and shadowed as we attempted multiple solutions – drying and cleaning the pads with acetone, taking the port anchor chain off the windlass. The only brightness or colour, lit by the anchor light hanging above us, was that of our coats – the mate was in orange, the captain in red and all of us standing at the windlass bars in orange, red, yellow and blue.

The tackle was finally brought up and attached to the base of the windlass, the other end hooked to a link of chain and the rope was wrapped around the capstan to take some of the weight. This worked, bringing up a meter and a half at a time as the tackle was moved and placed, trying to bring up about 27.5 meters in total. We knew it would be a long night. The windlass bars hiccupped and tightened in place, stalling us as we tried to haul-up. “Down to starboard! Two, six!”, “Down to port! Two, six!” until finally the tackle wasn’t needed. We pushed and pulled, up and down, breathing heavily but moving like robots and then the mate called out “Anchor’s at the water line!” and we all cheered, still bending with the windlass bars.

It wasn’t long before the mate called “That’s well! Unship the windlass bars!” and we whooped and hollered some more. By then it was 0500 and the watches were doubled for the rest of the morning until all hands at 0800. We had the ship hove to for the rest of the night, quietly falling seven miles away. When I went back to bed I couldn’t sleep, my adrenaline was pumping and my brain was still wired for action.

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Arriving at Palmerston Atoll

By Chelsea McBroom

April 12th, 2014

The Picton Castle sailed to Palmerston Island quicker than expected. The winds reminded us of the Roaring 40s and all we needed to sail with to get us to five knots were the topsails, the foresail, the inner jib and the main topmast staysail.

The Captain originally planned for us to arrive at daylight on the morning of the 11th, but we were just a few miles to the island soon after midnight. The Captain was running the 12-4 and I was at helm at about 0100 when he told me to turn the helm hard to starboard handsomely. All the sails were taken in but the lower topsails, which were braced on a starboard tack. The wind force still being a four, I watched as the ship slowly came around on the compass, feeling the odd rolls of the swell and the wind coming around. I didn’t know what to expect and after passing a few compass points, the ship stopped and was steady going less than a knot of speed. I was hesitant to step away from the helm but the Captain assured me it was okay. I sat nearby to make sure it didn’t turn from it’s place. I watched as the ship hung in a balance, hove to, while we went about the rest of our watch duties: deep cleaning the galley, lookout, ship checks, wake-ups. The four to eight took over for us as usual and we went to bed, prepared for all hands to be called at 0800.

Exhausted from an early morning and working through the night, the crew groggily ate breakfast as we motored towards the reef. It was another clear beautiful sunny day with little cloud and good wind. As we got closer to the island we could see small boats motoring towards us. It was the Palmerston people coming out to greet us and take their personal cargo brought from Rarotonga. One of the items was a giant empty fresh water tank that was strapped to our hatch.

The Captain watched the locals as they pointed us in the direction of the reef where they thought we should anchor. It was a very sensitive anchorage, dropping the anchor literally right onto the reef, but the wind and current were in our favor, pushing us away from the shallow wall. We met with Customs – Simon, Alex and “Motha” who were incredibly friendly – and I sensed the excitement that surrounded our visit. A few others came aboard to chat with the crew while some stayed in the boats to receive boxes, freezers and wood – and then the water tank which crew pushed and lifted, Simon from Palmerston actually crouching underneath it to help it up and over the side of the ship and into the boat. When we finished, port watch gathered their things and went ashore for the night while starboard stayed to continue the day of work.

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Rarotonga – Part 4

By Chelsea McBroom

April 11th, 2014

A family in town that ran a bike rental shop were given a tour of the ship and were so pleased with how excited the kids were, they offered to repair our Picton Castle bicycles.

Somehow I always end up riding the bright pink cruiser bike with the back pedal brakes. Very professional. I rode it whenever Lily and I went to provision, or when we biked past the airport to get to a beach, or the one time Pania, Nolan and I tried biking to the other side of the island (turns out it’s at least an hour and a half long ride) but only got as far as that beach.

Instead to get to the other side of the island I took the bus, which I recommend to anyone who goes to Rarotonga. The bus driver was wonderful: he had a microphone headset on and made jokes the entire way; he sang; he said the police were looking for him and every time a police car drove by he turned his head so they wouldn’t see him; when he stopped the bus to use a public washroom on the beach, he said he had to go check his email, then said the wifi wasn’t working when he returned; he asked everyone who got on where they were from and in doing so made conversation between passengers; he also pointed out some great areas to explore and told local stories. But if you’re not travelling very far, biking is the way to go.

The majority of crew on the off watch spent their second to last day in port biking around and enjoying the island instead of getting their personal tasks done, not knowing it was their second to last day. It was the first time I had seen all the bikes being used.

I stayed on board working with port watch that spent the day, even through dinner, changing chafe gear on all the ship’s docking lines. I hadn’t realized the full severity of the situation until that night on watch. The swell was coming into the harbour at Avatiu and causing the ship to move around quite a bit while tied up against the big cement wharf. I could feel the change in movement of the ship as it lurched forward and back. It was situated on the wharf to be parallel with the waves coming in, so if the swell increased we were moved forward and aft, as opposed to docking adjacent to it which would cause the side of the ship to go up against the dock. This put much weight on our lines and as the ship moved, the lines tightened and loosed, often causing the chafe gear on the lines, which would normally be protective, to entirely miss the spots it was meant to cover as the lines moved against the ship.

When I woke Erin at 0050 to take over and did my ship check, I noticed our stern line chafe gear being pushed off with the movement, causing the line to be rubbed directly. Erin woke the next on watch, Gabe, and the three of us took the hour with leather pieces and a crow bar to repair it safely. I thought we’d saved the day but by the next morning we had chafed through two lines and it hit us that staying any longer would be a nightmare in such a state. It was all hands for the day to manage the line chaos until we could leave. All the bikes, except for two, were put back. Lily and I raced to the stores we had ordered provisions from to check invoices and pay so they could be shipped as soon as possible. Once that was done, John, my new purser assistant, and I made trips to the Port Office, to Customs, and to Immigration so that we could leave Rarotonga as soon as possible.

It took us 4 hours before we were cleared out and were able to start sailing to Palmerston. It’s always hard leaving a place when you aren’t ready or don’t expect it – especially when our personal tasks go unfinished (such as reaching out to friends and family as planned!). But it was a relief to move on.

Vai and Maria in the batcave

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Rarotonga – Part 3

By Chelsea McBroom

April 10th, 2014

April 5th was the dreaded day when Pania, the Picton Castle‘s bosun, and Sam, the watch officer, cleaned out their bunks and packed their bags. Their time with the ship was over (for now) and they were signing off in the port of Rarotonga. We went to dinner at Trader Jacks the night before, Pania, Sam, Dirk (the chief mate), Captain John and I, to say thank you to them before they left. Pania and Sam shared their intentions for future adventures. Sam shared his often wild imaginative scenarios like what it would be like to have a small mule or pony to help us aboard – somehow attaching a halyard and bribing it with plates of food on the aloha deck. Pania gave us examples of her bosun temper tantrums, flapping her arms and making weird noises.

I should have been ecstatic because Pania was moving out of her penthouse bunk and I was moving in. This meant a bigger bunk and a porthole for ventilation (and shock when I realized I was one of the longest on board to be given such a bunk). But despite my joy at the new home upgrade, Pania was a goofy sort to have around, the kind that made the simplest of tasks somehow humorous – not to mention that as a bosun she was full of helpful information. It was going to be weird not having her around. I knew the 12-4 would especially miss Sam, the watch officer who called out sailing commands in Norwegian or Danish and who would spend time on the foc’sle head belting out songs as he played his ukulele, and I’m pretty sure the very person behind the American April Fool’s joke.

It’s times like these that one must remember that this is part of the ship life! People leave but it’s never really goodbye and you’ll more than likely see them again. Sometimes people leaving means new people are joining and in this case Gabe and Billy signed on the same day Pania and Sam left. Gabe is our new lead seaman who I first met in Lunenburg in 2012. He made me feel included when I didn’t know anyone and danced around the Dory Shop with me. Billy is our other engineer who sailed the South Pacific last year and is already familiar with crew on board. See?! Crew come back!

Just when you get used to the way things are, something changes and life gets more interesting.

the crew dressed up for a marlinspike party

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