South Seas Voyage 2013-2014

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.