South Pacific Voyage 2012-2013

At Anchor At A South Pacific Atoll

Morning broke clear and fair with gentle winds blowing across the lagoon and reef to our ship at anchor. In the low light of the early morning sun, the blue seas and skies takes on a rare richness.

We are anchored close to the reef and just to leeward of a small atoll deep in the South Pacific ocean. There is no other way but to anchor close. By any conventional measure, too close. A narrow shelf of anchorable depths of say, 4 to 12 fathoms drops off to thousands of feet a short cable off the reef. Anchor here or don’t anchor, heave-to instead.

But if conditions are favourable and steady, and if you keep a full navigational watch alert and ready to up anchor and beat it, there is no reason not to anchor for spell. But remain alert. Do remain alert. Many small South Pacific ships have ended their days during moments of complacency and on reefs just like this one. Including this one.

From where we swing at anchor we see the broad turquoise lagoon surrounded by small coconut-palm covered motus, nine in all, one inhabited by the 50 islanders that are hosting half our crew ashore just now. This afternoon the watches will switch out. A steady surge and boom of the surf on the reef hums louder and then softer not far from our bow. The ships heaves gently to the swell. As the sun steeves the lagoon and the small boat passes in the reef shine so brightly it hurts the eyes – it is beautiful none the less, insanely beautiful.

Minutes after we dropped the hook here yesterday, we were surrounded by island boats eager to take their cargo and supplies ashore – there our crew heaved away in excellent team work that would have impressed the old salts, hoisting from the hold and lowering on tackles into boats and barges alongside heaps of bags, packets, parcels and big boxes. This scene was yesterday, and now, but it could have been any time in the last two hundred years – and yet, our crew were providing a much needed service to this island. Cargo swung into the waiting boats, half the crew ashore, a deck sweep, and a swing rope rigged on to the starboard fore-yard arm and a swim call for the watch, not so bad. And a notch or two up from the old days. Followed by a vigilant anchor watch all night long. And, yes, the islanders brought heaps of cool coconuts for drinking, nothing quite like one cool nut to drink and dribble down your neck, best drink in the world.

They say you can used to almost anything in a couple weeks. Boot camp, mountain climbing rigors, a soul can even get used to being in a life boat after two weeks we read. You can also get used to day in day out astonishing beauty and wonder to the point all too quickly when the wonder slips away and all becomes normal and you take it for granted. This morning could be one of those moments, a day all very common in our lives in Picton Castle, yet it would be sad not to take it in, savour it for all it is worth and especially save it for another day, when the voyage is past and yet we sail onward in our memories…