By Kate “Bob” Addison
During our stay in Aitutaki, Picton Castle was anchored right in the pass in the reef opposite the main town of Arutanga. The idea is that the outflow from the lagoon keeps the ship’s head to the reef, and stops her swinging about too much.
There is a more or less constant outflow because there is a more or less constant inflow in to the lagoon over the reef between the motus on the windward side. Anchoring in the pass works well most of the time, though we did swing when the wind and tide were contrary. Quite exciting to have our stern to the reef, and the watch on duty ready to heave up the anchor, fire up the main engine and get underway at a moment’s notice should the anchor start dragging or the winds and swell become too strong and make the anchorage unsafe. We didn’t have to move in the end, and Captain says this is the first of the bad South Pacific anchorages – he said it is actually quite good for a terrible anchorage, and welcome to the real South Pacific!
To get ashore, the duty watch ran a scheduled skiff service in through the pass in the coral. It was a bit exciting with breakers all along the reef and full throttle needed to go in against the currents, which rip and swirl in the narrow gap in the reef. We are told that there’s been talk about blasting the pass to make it large enough for ships to come inside. It has been talked of for years we are told, but no sign of it actually happening.
I have to confess I’m quite glad as it’s so pretty and peaceful here, anchored a little way offshore, and the skiff ride is good fun. Though it’s true we would all sleep better if we were snug inside the reef, especially the Captain and mates who are called by the crew member on night watch if the weather changes, or in any doubt.
There was much enthusiasm to sail the monomoy around this stunning lagoon, so on the second day at anchor the watch launched and proceeded to tow the monomoy with the skiff through the strong outflow of the reef pass. A bit of a tricky operation, the mate rigged up the tow line off a bridle and hooked up to the monomoy with the second mate at the steering oar on the monomoy to keep her from getting out of shape and veering off into the reef. Both boats got through without a problem and the tow was let go off the beach next to the small boat landing inside and the monomoy gracefully coasted in, dropped an anchor and swung around stern to the steep beach and tied up her stern to a perfectly situated coconut tree.
The following two days the watches took turns setting out on epic lagoon sailing, leaving mid morning with the sun climbing overhead to light up the coral heads to be avoided. A lookout standing on the bow forward was need almost the whole time with hand signals indicating with way to turn in order to miss the coral head. The wind was perfect for this, not too strong and the monomoy snaked her way around the pale blue lagoon with relative ease. Upon finding a particularly stunning section of deep blue water with tall coral around, the monomoy would drop her perfect little old fashioned stock anchor in 20 or so feet of water, sail would be taken in and a swim call would ensue.
We also welcomed a group of school children aboard on Friday afternoon – the year 5 and 6 classes from Vaitau Primary School had been studying Tall Ships as part of a wider curriculum about international trade and shipping. They came out in the skiff, very well behaved, all in lifejackets, and sang us some lovely songs after their tour of the ship. The children also gave us jars of jam, some for the ship (delicious, thank you!) and some for us to take as “cargo” to the schools in the outer Cook Islands, along with letters that they had written to the children there.
We like having children aboard – it’s great seeing how excited they are, and how quickly they take everything in, and reminds us of what a cool thing it is to be sailing all over the world in a beautiful traditionally rigged ship. We hope it might broaden the perspectives of the kids and maybe inspire some of them to become sailors one day, or to pursue any other dreams that they might have.