Our barque is rolling down the sea-miles in fresh southeast tradewinds deep in the South Pacific. We are bound for Palmerston Atoll in the Cook Islands. The ship is some 150 nautical miles northwest of Rarotonga and about 700 nautical miles a bit south of due west from Tahiti. The Picton Castle is sailing along strong. Yards are braced just off square on the starboard tack. We are under t’gallants with the winds astern at almost 25 knots, sometimes more. No mainsail is set in order to allow the strong winds to flow to the foremast and help with the steering, pulling the ship along instead of pushing her.
Today calls for the best helmsmanship. Large whitecapped blue seas roll up astern and lift the ship’s counter just as she was designed to do these many years ago for fishing in the North Sea, English Channel and the dreaded winter North Atlantic. Many a winter gale and worse has this ship sailed through without effect when fishing out of Wales and in the Second World War. Now it’s a delight to take these bright blue (and warm) seas under our stern as we cross this South Pacific Ocean under sail. Currently, Kirsten has the big teak wheel and doing a fine job of keeping the ship on course.
The low bright white clouds pass overheard swiftly, chasing us, then passing us, saying ‘c’mon you old windjammer, it’s about time you were with us’. Seas and foam gurgle in through the scuppers as the ship gently rolls and dips into a swell. The cats stay aft, no wet paws for them. From time to time the breeze picks up some and the rigging moans like a deep reed instrument fading to naught soon after as the winds lay down again. The rush of the seas alongside, like a white noise, calming and exciting at the same time. Our six-year-old ship’s boy revels in playing in these sunny warm south seas scuppers of his world, soaked as soaked can get, as he is closely watched by shipmates.
Grab lines are rigged on the main deck in the rolling, sailmaking continues ahead on the quarterdeck as a new topgallant sail shapes up. The ambrosia of tarred hemp is about as well as ratline renewal on the mizzen shrouds is underway by our French rigger Anne-Laure. The look-out forward has nothing to report besides flying fish launching themselves into the winds from the sea to fly out of our way. And fly they do. Fish that fly. Whales were about yesterday, their spouts frothy and clear against the blue of the sea. We should make landfall at dawn tomorrow. And anchor in the lee of this atoll off a calm boat pass through the reef leading into a lagoon. The steady tradewinds will hold us off the reef then too.