Captain's Log

Archive for the 'Aloha Polynesia' Category

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Aitutaki and Home

By Kate “Bob” Addison

August 8th, 2013

It’s 0800 on Thursday the 8th August 2013, and Picton Castle is steaming towards Rarotonga. The familiar rolling emerald mountains are dead ahead, and looming larger every minute. It’s the end of another voyage, a voyage of almost four thousand miles offshore sailing around the Cook Islands. It’s amazing that we could sail so far without even leaving the country, and very nice not to have to clear in and out of every island too.

It’s been an incredible voyage in a lot of ways, from the fact that we were running a much needed inter-island passenger and cargo operation in a square rigged sailing ship to the very islands that we visited. In some ways looking back at the photos it feels like it was some other crew who were really there and we just saw it all on TV.

Dancing in the copra shed on Pukapuka, sailing the monomoy across the fabulous Penrhyn lagoon thick with reef sharks, stopping to assist a yacht in distress, and spending sweaty hours hoisting load after load of heavy cargo out of the hold to lower it onto the barge bobbing alongside the ship. We’ve had a med-evac from an airfield that was literally a field, we’ve played cricket in a tropical rainstorm with laughing school children, we’ve slept under the stars and in the houses of some of the most kind and generous people I have ever met. We’ve sold toothbrushes, clothes and staple foods to the islanders, and bought rito fans, hats and black pearls in return. Back on board we’ve stitched ditty bags and leaned how to do patch servings, whippings and splicings. We’ve scraped the deck and painted the ship and learned how to ‘hand, reef and steer’.

The final island call of Aitutaki was a mini vacation on our way home. We arrived on Tuesday and left yesterday morning because the container ship Tiare Moana was due in so we had to hoist our anchor and clear the pass for them. It was a glorious two day visit. I think it is actually impossible not to have a good time in Aitutaki. You’d have to try pretty hard anyway. The beauty of the lagoon and the island are justifiably famous, and the people are so happy, laid back and kind that the combination is irresistible. There’s enough infrastructure to get anything you want easily, but not so much as to feel spoiled or crowded. Definitely one of my favourite islands, Aitutaki is a gem. We were also lucky enough that our visit coincided with their Te Maevai Nui celebrations and on Aitutaki that means dancing!

The Tuesday night dancing was the story telling dances, slower and lyrical, the elegant, sensual dance is accompanied by singing and tells a story, usually a very traditional one that passes down these legends from generation to generation, keeping the tradition alive. The whole village is involved; the beautiful young people at the front in magnificent matching costumes, the elders forming the musical accompaniment at the back, and the Ariki or chief leading and telling the story. The best thing is that this has nothing to do with tourists, we just happen to be lucky enough to be there are the right time: you can see by the glances and smiles that the boys are dancing for the girls, the girls for the boys, and everyone trying to impress the judges in the hope that their village will be champions.

Then on Wednesday night it was the turn of the drum dances. Fast, energetic, colourful and spectacular. Maybe a hundred matching dancers, moving their hips and knees in time, the movements so fast and precise that the coloured rito skirts and leg bands become a blur and the audience, never mind the dancers, is left breathless. What an amazing end to an incredible voyage!

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Penrhyn to Manihiki

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Thursday August 1st, 2013

This is a bit of a catch up log, which takes Picton Castle from her anchorage in Penrhyn lagoon to Manihiki, our last island call of the Northern Group of the Cook Islands.

The saga starts in Penrhyn where our shipmate Tom had to be flown back to Rarotonga for a painful medical condition. In itself the condition was not life threatening, but his insurance company preferred to charter a plane to send him back to Rarotonga rather than risk possible complications arising in a small and remote hospital. So within two days of being admitted to hospital, the Air Raro plane touched down on the runway and the pick-up truck ambulance was carrying us to the airfield to see Tom on his way, being well chaperoned on his flight by a Rarotonga doctor. Typical of the intimacy of the Cook Islands, we knew the pilots who had made the four hour flight from Rarotonga, so it was good to know that Tom was in safe hands.

The other good news from this incident was that Tom and his insurance company kindly agreed to allow two pregnant ladies to fly back with him in the charter plane; one of the ladies was due in a week so the alternative would have been the Cook Island government chartering a separate plane in a few days once her case became urgent. It was clearly a better solution all round for the ladies to share Tom’s plane, saving public funds and a stressful last-minute flight. So we were delighted that common sense prevailed over what could have been a bureaucratic nightmare, involving government departments, two hospitals and a Dutch insurance company with twelve time zones between them.

The next morning we hauled back our port anchor, catted the anchor with fish tackle and the capstan, and steamed back out through the pass into the open Pacific to get underway for Manihiki. It was Thursday 25th July when we left Penrhyn, just one day behind our schedule, and after an easy three day sail we arrived at Manihiki mid-morning on Sunday. We weren’t sure what sort of a welcome we would get arriving on a Sunday, and especially a Sunday during the week long Te Maeva Nui constitution celebrations, so we were prepared to heave-to for the day and go ashore on Monday if we had to. But luckily a call for Picton Castle came out on channel 16 on the VHF radio explaining that everyone was at church but that they would be happy to send a boat out for us at noon.

So we busied ourselves getting the Manihiki cargo out of the hold, sending up Lloyd’s gear and making the ship look shipshape ready to send half the ship’s company ashore that day. Lloyd is a commercial diver from New Zealand who had accepted a post diving the black pearl farms in Manihiki for six months, or maybe a year, so Picton Castle was Lloyd’s ticket from Rarotonga, but also an adventure: he gladly stood a watch, and took his turn steering the ship, standing lookout and scraping the decks side by side with the rest of the crew so we were sad to say goodbye to our shipmate, but pretty impressed that his new home in Manihiki was such a sweet place.

Manihiki, more than anywhere else in the Cooks, reminded me of the Caribbean with its brightly painted wooden houses, gorgeous turquoise water and lush vegetation. Most of the island’s income comes from farming the famous Cook Islands black pearls. Lloyd’s new host and employer, Brian was glad to show us the trappings of his trade and explain the different stages in the four years it takes to farm a pearl, while we sat around under a mango tree in the garden sipping on coconuts and watching piglets snuffle and root in the dirt and tumbling over one another. There was just time for a swim before we went back to the ship for the night, our memories filled with sunshine and the scent of frangipani flowers.

In the morning the other watch went ashore, the boat loaded up with the Raromart goods for a fast and furious sale. Paul, Katie and I were manning the store for a frantic hour and a half, and then we packed everything up so we’d have time to go black pearl shopping before heading back to the ship. Shopping for pearls was a lot of fun, the farmers pouring a few hundred out onto a velour tray for eager hands to pick through to find the prettiest according to personal preference. My favourite are the bright green ones, or black with a subtle hint of pink and round or semi baroque shape. The pearls come in different grades from A through to ungraded based on perfection, though even some of the ungraded pearls are gorgeous, and have more interesting baroque shapes with rings that catch the light and elegant drop shapes rather than the sphere of a perfect pearl.

The price of a pearl is based on size, lustre, percentage of the surface with imperfections, colour, and shape. And they can be set in jewelry so as to hide any imperfections and thus increase the value of a beautiful but imperfect pearl far beyond its loose value. If anyone’s visiting the Cook Islands and looking for a gift idea for someone special they could do a lot worse than a pearl or two, loose or in an elegant setting…

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Penrhyn aka Tongareva

By Kate “Bob” Addison

25th July 2013

Penrhyn Island is named for the British ship Lady Penrhyn which arrived here in 1788. Its Maori name is Tongareva, which translates as Land Floating in the South.

We came ashore on Monday morning with our small consignment of cargo for Penrhyn wrapped in tarps to keep it dry on the twenty minute skiff ride. The sun was out and the waves across the lagoon just a couple of feet high so it was a most enjoyable commute. We tied up the skiff to a couple of large rocks, bringing her alongside in the old stone harbour where a number of aluminium fishing boats were pulled up high on the beach. The cargo ship Lady Moana, also out of Avatiu, was tied up to the newer looking wharf discharging cargo. She actually left Rarotonga a couple of days after Picton Castle, but caught up to us by missing out Atiu from her schedule.

Most of the off-watch had opted to sail ashore in the monomoy rather than taking the motor-boat option, so it was lunch time before they arrived, soggy from walking ashore from monomoy’s stern-to ‘med-mooring’ and beaming from a great sail, reaching across the lagoon on one long tack, dodging the coral heads marked with poles. The Okoma High School was right opposite the cargo sheds on the wharf and the Principal Tyronne very kindly allowed us to use the school’s brand new computer room to check our emails, and also let us use the showers at the school.

Supercargo Katie ran a shop selling all sorts of household goods, which was a lot of fun, especially because we had set up shop in the only place on the island where you could buy ice cream by the cone. Stripy candy-coloured ice cream in wafer cones became the must-have purchase for sailors and school kids alike, and between us we were soon working through the second 16 litre tub.

Ship’s shop finished, and it was time to have some fun so people dispersed to go swimming and snorkeling or hitching rides on the back of scooters or pick-up trucks to see more of the island.

Lloyd and Paul organized a spear fishing expedition that sounded especially exciting because the lagoon at Penrhyn is famous for its large number of reef sharks, a sign, I have heard, of pristine and healthy coral. The sharks are more or less harmless, but it must have been scary enough to be surrounded by sharks while fish blood was being spilled in the water, and the occasional fish dropped too. But the locals weren’t worried, and that’s always a good sign.

There were more shark sightings the next day from the ship: Nick was cleaning the fish from the spearfishing expedition ready to fry up for a delicious dinner, and as he threw the heads over the side the water started boiling as five or six sharks darted to the surface to fight for the tasty morsel. I was pretty glad to be safely on deck at that point, though snorkelling when the sharks are minding their own business in the deep water doesn’t bother me too much. George the cat was quite impressed with the spear fishing haul and guarded it closely and with great attention.

My highlight of the island was a ripping sail in monomoy back from shore to ship. With a skeleton crew of Captain, Dirk, Katie and myself we could certainly have used a little more weight, but with a reef in the mainsail and all hands far out to windward, she balanced well enough and we got back in just a few long, exhilarating tacks. Then close alongside we rounded up towards the ship, took in the jib, put her head to wind and glided sweetly alongside the ship. Grab the painter; take in the mainsail and ringy ding the bell went for dinner. Perfect timing!

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Welcome to Penrhyn!

By Kate “Bob” Addison

The lagoon at Penrhyn Island is enormous; it looks like you could arrange all of the other Cook Islands inside the fringing coral reef and still have clear water to go snorkeling. From where Picton Castle was anchored at the northwest corner of the lagoon you couldn’t even see the reef far away on the southern side. What you could see was a handful of picture perfect islets that stud the reef close to our anchorage, just smudges of fine white sand each with a couple of palm trees and the bright clear lagoon gently lapping the beach. And then a little further away, the buildings of the town of Omoka just visible on the western side of the lagoon.

We could have spent weeks exploring the endless miles of uninhabited motus at Penrhyn, where giant sea turtles make their nests and coconut crabs scuttle across the sand, but even our four day visit was plenty of time to fall in love with this spectacular island.

It was Sunday lunchtime when we made our approach to Penrhyn, and since the Day of Rest is taken seriously in the Cook Islands, we planned to just go in, drop our anchor and chill out for the afternoon before heading ashore on Monday morning.

It’s the only atoll in the Cooks that we can comfortably take Picton Castle inside as the passage through the coral is wide and deep enough. But any excess water sloshing in the lagoon from wave or rain must flood out again through the pass, so the current is ripping and the margin for error is very small. The ship must be exactly on the right course to make sure she’s not set onto the reef by current or wind, and there are few second chances for a ship that gets out of shape. We had an excellent team of sailors to bring us in: AB Pania at the helm with apprentice Jeff to assist, chief engineer Alex manning the engine controls on the bridge, with second mate Dirk monitoring the instruments in the charthouse. The Captain had the conn from his position high in the port main shrouds, and I was clipped in up on the main top taking photos from aloft.

It was pretty exciting coming through the narrow pass in the coral, watching the water swirl around the ship and feeling her powerful main engine throb near full throttle as she fought against the current. And then suddenly all was calm; the water around us became flat and serene and the ship’s roll dampened to nothing. Captain maneuvered us to our anchorage and then Chief Mate Paul and his gang on the foc’sle head let go the heavy port anchor and two and a half shots of chain. Picton Castle swung gently on her cable and then came to a stop in the middle of a large circle of clear blue water.

The crew exhaled collectively and then turned-to cleaning and airing the whole ship after a damp few days at sea. By tea time the ship was all shiny and sweet-smelling, her decks glistening from a good wash and the accommodation much pleasanter for a good clean and airing. It being a Sunday, the rest of the day was spent relaxing: a swim call with swing rope off the port side, mahi mahi on the barbeque and popcorn, punch and dancing on the cargo hatch.

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Arriving at Penrhyn

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Sunday July 21st, 2013

Picton Castle is at anchor inside Penrhyn Lagoon at a position of 8°59’S 158°05’W. It’s a very calm and beautiful spot. The port admiralty pattern anchor is holding well in nine fathoms of water, and the ship is still and quiet. The lagoon here is huge so there’s a bit of fetch, and you can hear the wavelets lapping at the hull. But the ship is still.

It’s a welcome relief after the constant movement of the last week. And at Atiu too we were simply hove to in the open Pacific Ocean, so it’s the first time the ship has been perfectly still since leaving her dock at Rarotonga ten days ago. It’s a strange sensation, being consciously aware that nothing around you is moving. Feeling the unusual luxury of being able to place a cup on a horizontal surface and knowing that the surface will stay horizontal and the cup and contents won’t take flight, and sleeping without bracing yourself in your bunk against the roll.

We had an excellent passage up from Atiu, a little over 700 nautical miles in eight days, almost the whole passage under sail alone. We just had to fire up on the last day to push closer to the easterly trade wind than we could make under sail. But a ripping sail with a little of everything you could hope for on a decent South Pacific passage. We had calm weather with light winds and sunshine, then a perfect force five sailing breeze with seas building making the ship dance and at the end a couple of days in an area of low pressure with squall after squall blowing through, the main decks knee deep in swirling white water sloshing from scupper to scupper, or rushing out through a freeing port with a dull metal thud, the rain sometimes vertical and sometimes horizontal, stinging the helmsman’s eyes as she tries to hold her course. It’s never been cold though; on a passage north from 21 to 9 degrees south the water is warm and the air temp has been pretty steady at around 28°C. That makes a big difference to the comfort of the crew – getting soaked is a lot less unpleasant when the water is warm and the sun’s out!

And then the final approach to Penrhyn today, with all hands called after lunch to lay aloft and stow all sail. Land had been visible for a couple of hours, a low dark smudge on the horizon in the glare of the sun off the starboard bow. By the time we were aloft stowing the land had resolved itself into distinct motu and islands set in the coral ring around a huge lagoon. The turquoise water with pale shallow spots and lush vegetation made the view stunning, and exasperating not to have a camera in my pocket.

We steamed once past the passage into the lagoon to check it out, and then made our approach with AB Pania at the helm, chief engineer Alex at the engine controls on the bridge, second mate Dirk on the instruments in the charthouse and the Captain conning the ship from the port main shrouds. The pass is straight and short but the water rips out, churning the water up and making current strong enough to push a ship right off course. But the team did a great job holding her steady and in just a few minutes we were inside the reef and all was calm. Chief mate Paul and his gang got the anchor out, and our passenger, Lloyd, who’s a commercial diver heading for the pearl farms of Manihiki, dove down to check it was holding well. It is.

All fast, and the crew turned to to get the ship clean and shiny after a week of damp living spaces and salty surfaces, and then at 4pm a swim call followed by BBQ to round off an eventful and successful Sunday at sea.

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Amazing Atiu

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Monday July 15th, 2013

At 1000 hours this Monday morning Picton Castle is at position 17°25’S 158°52’W in the Cook Islands, making northing under square sails to t’gallants, staysails and spanker. The wind is a fresh force five, and the day is a bright active one, with cumulus clouds rushing across the sky and small squalls blowing through bringing light rain showers. We are braced up sharp on a starboard tack steering east by north. This is sweet trade wind sailing at its finest, and our ship is dancing along at five knots.

Yesterday we set sail from Atiu after unloading about twenty tons of cargo using yard and stay tackles down into the island’s big aluminium barge. The cargo was hard, heavy work: much of the cargo was building supplies and the pallets of cement must have each weighed half a ton. There was a fair sized swell running too, making the barge ride up the side of the ship and then slam down again when the wave vanished out from under her. So that called for some snappy work on the tackles: hoist away stay tackle, hoist away yard tackle, ease away stay tackle and then when the heavy load is hanging from its yellow cargo strops right above its position on the barge wait for the wave and at the perfect moment burn it down on the yard tackle quick as you can so it’s safely placed on the barge and not bashing into the side of the ship, or worse into the crew of the barge.

Our crew did a phenomenal job, getting this heavy cargo unloaded safely and quickly in the traditional way: getting the strops on the next load, hoisting smartly and then lowing away with skill. We had three tag lines rigged to stop the heavy loads swinging around too much, and there’s skill manning the tag lines too – take up, take up, take a turn on the pin and then ease away smartly as the load is lowered.

So we’re glad that the cargo went so well and since we have much smaller amounts of cargo for the Northern Group islands this sailing feels like a vacation, a reward for all of our sweat and aching muscles.

Atiu itself was a fascinating island, and one I hope to return to. Geographically it is different to Rarotonga or the sandy atolls of Palmerston or Pukapuka. The island is basically one low hill with sheer cliffs around most of it, interspersed with white sandy beaches. It looks a lot like the Galapagos island of San Cristobal, only smaller and more lush, the black rock being made of dead coral rather than volcanic rock. We ran around and stretched our legs, visited Oravaru beach where Captain James Cook is said to have discovered the island on 3 April 1777, played in the surf and waves inside the reef and drank local coffee brewed from beans that grow in the valleys.

Meanwhile the ship was hove to, alternately drifting away from the island and motoring back upwind to get close enough for the crew change over. So a sweet island, but great to be at sea again, sailing with this trade wind instead of bashing into it.

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South Pacific Trading Barque

By Kate “Bob” Addison

July 12th, 2013

Barque Picton Castle is just twenty miles off Atiu, a raised atoll in the southern Cook islands, the first island call of this cargo and passenger run to the outer Cook Islands. We departed from Avatiu harbour, Rarotonga yesterday morning to start this second inter-island voyage; this time we’re heading up north to Penrhyn, Manihiki and Rakahanga after a short call at Atiu in the Southern Group. And then back to Rarotonga in August for the start of our next long South Pacific Voyage.

These cargo and passenger operations are a fascinating chapter in the history of our ship. Running a cargo operation under sail is definitely complementary to our core mission of sail training and adventure travel, it adds depth and purpose to our experiences and provides a true hands on training opportunity on board. The ship has always been about being part of something greater than yourself, of doing things that need doing whether you feel like it or not, simply because it needs doing. And now we have pressed our barque into a service that is bigger than the ship.

At the moment the ship’s hold is about two thirds full of cargo, about fifteen tons of which is building materials that will soon become new water tanks in Atiu. We are carrying a mother, and daughter and their dog back home to Atiu and a commercial diver up to work on the pearl farms of Manihiki. In a small way we are contributing to the workings of the Cook Islands, our home in the South Pacific.

The adventure for our crew on this voyage goes beyond snorkeling in crystal clear tropical lagoons and climbing coconut trees. We are meeting islanders on their own terms in their own homes: working with them side by side unloading cargo, being taken on family expeditions fishing or to church and then at night joining in with the dancing not just watching politely from the tourist seats.

It’s a chance to understand what’s important to different people; to see the world from different perspectives. For example, one evening in Pukapuka I saw people burning coconut husks in front of their house and sitting round the fire talking. I thought it was a great idea – free, carbon neutral energy that also acts as a natural mosquito repellent as the sweet smoke drifts up into the sky. But my island host was horrified, he said the people used to have electric street lights, but the new government wouldn’t pay to maintain them, so they were forced to regress forty or fifty years to the bad old days when fire was the only source of light. And while a fire might add a nice ambiance to an evening it’s difficult for the children to do their homework by.

Travel like this really makes you think about what’s important: education or well-being, prosperity or family, home or adventure. Maybe you can have all of those things. Maybe you have to prioritize.

And then effectively running a small business in the islands adds even more complexity, richness and challenge. It can be incredibly frustrating working with people who have a different culture to yourself. English is spoken throughout the Cook Islands, though generally as a second language and the standard varies in the outer islands. Misunderstandings are common because of cultural barriers as well as language: one person thinks saying no would be impolite while the other person thinks that saying yes, when what you really mean is no, is a rather strange and unhelpful thing to do. We are a little like children who understand the basics of the culture and how things are, but not all of the subtle nuances of how things are done.

But we are fortunate that almost all Cook Islanders seem blessed with a warm generosity and kindness, and a palpable happiness that means misunderstandings usually just end in laughter. And they do try to help us out: as the nice lady in the bank explained to me today, your cheque book will be ready in ten minutes, but that’s ten minutes ‘island time’ so you should come back in half an hour. I did and it was. Simple.

nolan at helm
splicing on the quarterdeck

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Seeking Ship’s Doctor, Mate and Lead Seaman

Aboard the Picton Castle, new trainees and crew are settling in and getting oriented to their new surroundings. The ship is currently alongside the wharf at Avatiu Harbour on the island of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. We’re spending a few days in port between Leg 1 and Leg 2 of the Aloha Polynesia Voyage in port in order to refresh provisions, take on more cargo, and do a trainee changeover. There are, of course, some trainees who have signed on for the whole Aloha Polynesia Voyage, so they’re part of the regular routine of watchkeeping and ship’s maintenance that happens even while Picton Castle is in port. We’ve said goodbye to some trainees and hello to others who are quickly finding their way around and joining in with standing watches and learning the ship.

Meanwhile, in our office in Lunenburg, we’re looking ahead to the South Seas Voyage which begins in Rarotonga on August 19th. Berths are still available for trainees. No experience is necessary to sail with us as a trainee, just a good level of physical fitness and a desire to be a full participant in sailing the ship.

There is a berth available for a ship’s medical officer for the South Seas Voyage. This is an ideal position for a medical doctor who wants to sail a square rigger. The medical officer essentially functions as a trainee, fully involved in the life of the ship and sailing her, until we need to call on his or her medical expertise. Picton Castle carries a fully stocked medical kit, and we have back-up resources available ashore to consult and assist as necessary. The position could be filled by one doctor for the full duration of the voyage, or it could be divided amongst a number of doctors. If you’re interested, please get in touch with voyage coordinator Maggie Ostler at

Applications are also being accepted for two professional crew positions. All professional crew must have, at a minimum, STCW Basic Safety Training. We’re looking for a mate, who will function as a watch officer and will be instrumental in delivering our sail training program. Mate applicants must have a license that is suitable for our 284 gross ton ocean-going sail training ship. We’re also looking for a lead seaman, who will assist the officer of the watch and lead and instruct the trainees on their watch. We prefer to hire lead seamen with their AB (USA), Bridge Watch Rating (Canada) or their national equivalent. Applicants of all nationalities are welcome. To apply, please send your resume and a cover letter that tells us more about you, your experience and your motivation for wanting to work aboard Picton Castle to voyage coordinator Maggie Ostler at

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Sunday at Sea, Canada Day and First Cargo Run

By Kate “Bob” Addison

1st July 2013

It’s Monday the 1st July, so Picton Castle would like to wish a very happy Canada Day to all our friends back home in Lunenburg and across Canada! We plan to celebrate this evening with a nice BBQ mahi mahi, ice cream for all hands and maybe even some fireworks… We are due into Rarotonga in just a couple of hours – Avatiu harbor is only 11 miles away and we’re motor-sailing directly towards it, though mountainous Rarotonga is not yet visible because of clouds on the horizon.

Yesterday was the first proper Sunday at Sea of this Cook Islands cargo voyage, and we had a very pleasant Sunday. There’s no ship’s work on Sundays, you just stand your watch and clean your own living space, and the cook gets the day off too. Yesterday Matthew, Nolan and Shaun did a great job of feeding us all, and despite some initial trepidation there was an excellent roast chicken with mixed veggies and roast potatoes for supper, and Matthew’s homemade bread and butter pudding after pasta for lunch. Bread and butter pudding – so English it made me nostalgic for the green fields of home!

Then at 4pm we had a little Sunday Soiree with popcorn, South Pacific musics, the party hatch cover on and everyone dressed up nice. The sun was out and the sails set and the crew and passengers were in good spirits. It’s amazing to look at the crew and realize what a team they have become in such a short time. It’s an incredible achievement to join a ship right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and then with just a week’s orientation set sail and make a go of cargo and passenger operations under sail. But that’s pretty much what these guys have done, and they should feel very proud of what they have learned and achieved in such a short time.

For a handful of trainees it’s already time to say goodbye as we reach the end of the first leg of this short voyage. It’s sad to see them go, there are some great characters leaving who we will miss aboard. But we also have new crew arriving today, and of course we are excited to meet out new shipmates and start to show them the ropes. As I think the crew aboard sailing back into Rarotonga will tell them: there’s an incredible adventure waiting for them!

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South Pacific Paradise in Pukapuka

By Kate “Bob” Addison

Pukapuka is marked on our chart as ‘Danger Island’. The ominous name was given by a British ship in the 18th century due to the large, encompassing reef that extends far past the visible motus and frequent high surf and current. Picton Castle approached at midday, which is the only way to visibly navigate in the South Pacific. The reefs can be seen clearly in good light and giving the reef a respectfully wide berth, we made our way up to the small pass off the main island where two small aluminum barges were waiting with throngs of people. There is not even the resemblance of an anchorage at Pukapuka, as the reef drops off to 3,000 ft just a few feet seaward from being awash. So for the duration of our stay, the ship simply drifted several miles off the island and motored back to the pass for crew exchange.

We unloaded all of our cargo with the ship holding station about ½ mile off the reef, the captain on the bridge continuously, giving helm orders and engine commands from to keep her laying just so. The mates were running the cargo operations smooth as always and before long, our cargo hold was empty and the off watch was told to get ready to go ashore. Half the crew clambered down into the Pukapukan’s big aluminium barge and headed towards the pass into the huge triangular lagoon. Traversing the pass was mildly terrifying as the current rips through and there is very little room for maneuver between the unforgiving walls of coral. But the barge has a powerful outboard engine and the island boys running the barge clearly knew their stuff, so we arrived safely on the beach, stepped off the barge onto the coarse coral sand and found ourselves on our third tropical paradise island of two weeks.

And what an island! Pukapuka is incredible. For a low atoll it’s very lush with banana, papaya and taro growing in the interior and the usual multitude of palm trees fringing the coral sand beaches around the edge. There are free range piglets and chickens everywhere, and tiare and frangipani flowers growing by the side of the coral roads. The lagoon is huge, with two big motu as well as the main island called Wale (Pronounced wa-lay) or Home Island. There are about 400 people living here, and almost half the population are children. Laughing seems to be the island’s official sport and just a smile or a ‘hello’ from one of our crew seems to be enough to turn their natural shyness into laughter. English is spoken, but only as a second language, and at home everybody speaks Pukapukan – I am told it is quite similar to Cook Island Maori, but probably even closer to Samoan. I have read that Pukapuka is only part of the Cook Islands because it was discovered by European explorers at the same time as the other Cooks – geographically it is closer to Samoa, and probably culturally closer to Samoa too. Another fascinating glimpse into the path of the ancient Polynesian settlers.

Walking up the beach we were greeted by two or three groups of people waiting there with pick-up trucks and mopeds to welcome us, to collect their cargo and in the case of the small children to enjoy the spectacle of a large group of white people all coming to visit their island. There was a moment of mutual shyness and then crew and children started smiling and waving to each other and soon people were laughing and picking crew members to come and stay with them. Once the cargo was all accounted for and our crew all had a home for the night we were invited to the Catholic Church Hall in the village of Ngake for a welcoming feast. I think this was as much to welcome our passenger, visiting Priest Father Freddy as us, but our hosts were incredibly generous, and the spread was fantastic with chicken, fish, fried coconut cakes, taro and of course cold coconuts to drink.

After eating too much we headed over to a covered area by the main wharf for a small craft market and then a display of dancing, all put on by the youth group of Pukapuka. The dancing and drumming were spectacular! First the men danced an expressive and energetic warrior victory dance and then the men and girls dancing together in a colourful riot of knee-knocking, hip wiggling energy called a drum dance. The last dance was a ‘round the world’ and Picton Castle crew were invited to join the professionals dancing a few couples at a time in the middle of the circle. A-mazing!

After the dance the on watch went back to the ship to keep her safe for the night and the off watch dispersed into the three villages with their families for the night. Sunday is a strictly observed day of rest on Pukapuka, so church, snoozing, walking and visiting were the order of the day. Church as usual in the Cooks was characterised by incredible singing and ladies in fine hats. The highlight of my evening walk was meeting the island’s doctor, a delightful gentleman from Burma who was contentedly cracking open coconuts to feed to his flock of equally contented chickens.

Monday was another day, with the change of the watch at 10am, another market at noon and a big social mixer dance in the evening. For the market we brought out our second hand Frenchy’s clothes from Canada and sold sack loads of them to the local people cheap cheap. There was the usual trying on of ridiculous hats and dresses, and I think everyone had a good time and got some good bargains too.

The dance that evening was a riot, starting with another display of traditional dancing by the locals and moving on to a Polynesian party mash-up with Picton Castle crew and locals mixing it up in the old copra shed on the beach. The songs were eclectic in the extreme and the dance styles were just as crazy. Locals and crew alike had an awesome time, blowing off steam after the hard work of the last couple of weeks and enjoying real, modern Polynesia. It was just one of those magical South Seas nights you will never forget, with the full moon reflecting in the still lagoon, drum beats, dancing, flower necklaces, grass skirts and drinking coconuts.

Tuesday was our departure day, so we mustered on the beach early the next morning and after a leaving ceremony for the passengers who were to sail with us, we loaded back onto the barge to head back out to the ship. There was an hour or so of happy chaos saying goodbyes and sorting out cargo and passengers before the locals climbed back into their barge to go home and we got underway, our course back towards Rarotonga seven hundred miles to the southeast over the sparkling blue Pacific Ocean.

A barrow full of coconuts!
Don t forget the brooms!
Going home
Inland trail
Liz and Paul en route to shop
Machetes at the shop
McKayla and Nikolaj
Nolan, Nick and Anne Sofie
Welcome feast
Welcoming committee

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