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Sailing to Rarotonga

a travel blog by Shellback Fire Coral

Bob-Kate joins the Barque Picton Castle to sail the wide accountantsea. From Lunenburg, Nova Scotia to Rarotonga, Cook Islands via Panama, Galapagos, Pitcairn & Tahiti
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Lunenburg, Canada

permalink written by  Shellback Fire Coral on May 1, 2010 from Lunenburg, Canada
from the travel blog: Sailing to Rarotonga
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The Atlantic

George Hill, Anguilla

The first of the seven seas is crossed as we prepare to slip into the Caribbean Sea from the squally Atlantic. Anguilla is to be our first port of call since Nova Scotia; we’re due to arrive on Monday morning (I’m writing at 13:28 ship’s time on Saturday 22nd May). The news that we are to stop in the Caribbean en route to Panama was posted during our 8-12 watch this morning and caused much excitement after a fortnight at sea and the prospect of another 10 days or so to Panama.

The Atlantic crossing went well, with just one “Goldilocks gale”, not too big, not too small, just nice and breezy, and exactly long enough for the excitement to wear off and the flat seas and sunshine to be welcomed by all hands with delight once it had passed. It seems Neptune was quickly appeased, a good omen for the voyage.

Our course has been almost due South, with a few points first to East and then to West to position us on the advantageous side of a couple of low pressure systems. We’ve been able to sail most of the time with a small amount of “iron topsail” to keep up our progress South when the wind wasn’t cooperating. We are a very pretty sight with all square sails set, the t’gallants especially have a lovely full shape when set just right, and the royals seem to be as much a part of the sky as the ship. We’ve had a couple of yachts come closer than strictly recommended by the collision regulations to take a closer look, but who can blame them?

As our latitude has dropped off from 45°N in Canada down through the thirties and twenties, the clothes have been also falling off the crew. The 15 minute layering ceremony of thermal underwear right up to waterproofs and woolly hat has been replaced by a shorts, t-shirt and sun block routine, although foulies still make an appearance in the squally moments especially at night. The water temperature has been building pleasingly from 4°C in Lunenburg to a respectable 16°C or so once we hit the wonderful Gulf Stream and is now a tropical 29°C. This was considered good news until the Cap’n explained that 29 degrees is the magical temperature above which hurricanes can form from a tropical low…I have to admit to watching with slight trepidation for each incoming squall just in case it’s a tiny hurricane that somehow escaped our satellite weather forecasting system and radar.

All hands have now settled into the routine of their watches, it’s an easy 4 hours on, 8 hours off with the different watches having ship’s work to keep them busy as well as sailing the ship. Rust busting, cleaning, helping Donald (our awesome cook), tarring, painting and greasing are all now as much a part of life as steering, keeping look out, running up aloft to furl or loose sails, and handling lines. We are starting to look a little more like sailors and less like dyspraxic geriatrics as we find our sea legs and to stare a little less blankly when the mate of our watch shouts out an order: “hands to the main braces” now only usually has one or two of our watch accidentally running for the fore sheets.

Today was a milestone on the Aloha deck: our first fish! Congratulations to Julie and Dan with Logan’s patented bungee line. It was a respectable size, but the Mate sagely insisted we return it to the Pescatorial Gods to improve the future catch. We also had a suicidal flying fish stun itself on Port side of the scullery, first flying fish goes to the Cap’n and the second to the ship’s cat, or is it the other way around?

So now the thought of rum and ice creams on a Caribbean beach is making for a party atmosphere on board, as people top up their tans to make ready for bikinis and dig out their shore clothes in anticipation of “cultural experiences” ashore.

The next time someone suggests sailing South to find the tropical trade winds I think I already have my answer.

permalink written by  Shellback Fire Coral on June 27, 2010 from George Hill, Anguilla
from the travel blog: Sailing to Rarotonga
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Caribbean Cruising, Panama and the Realm of King Neptune

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Ecuador

Anguilla and Bonaire were our two Caribbean Island stops, both wonderful but with a very different feel. Anguilla was the perfect beach island, populated mostly by honeymooning couples. The party each night was at Elvis´s beach bar but that’s mostly because the crew of the Picton Castle was drinking rum punch there and dancing on the beach. The people of Anguilla were crazy friendly; hitchhiking was just a matter of walking for 2 minutes out of town looking hot and tourist like until some kind person stopped to offer a ride. Once they heard we were from the big ship anchored off in Sandy Ground, almost everyone went out of their way to drive us to whichever beach, post office or bar we were heading for. The weather was hot hot hot, so we spent some time swimming and snorkelling to keep cool, and the roadside goat curry was epic.

Bonaire was much bigger and more touristy. We were also docked rather than at anchor, so crew could come and go at any time of day or night, convenient but less restful. The dock came in handy though, for sewing a mainsail for a boat called the Mermaid, the Captain being a friend of Captain Moreland and the boat needing a mainsail. This was good fun if quite frustrating as our crazy ancient sewing machines struggled to sew the heavy, stiff Dacron. I´m told sewing our own cotton canvas sails is much easier, so looking forward to when the sail making starts for the ship. The whole operation was under the command of the third made, Rebecca, who learned sail making on the Picton on her first world voyage. Flamingos were a Bonaire highlight for me – we hired a Jeep (held together with duck tape and its own soft top) to get around the Island, and drove into the hills where a huge lake is home to the awesomely pink birds. They look like they’re dressed up for a night out. We had a short windsurfing lesson, which was wicked fun, especially when Georgie and I managed to sail one of them tandem, me surfing on the back of her board. The nightspot was a groovy bar called little Havana, complete with some people other than the crew (shocking to see new faces) and excellent Mojitos.

Our next anchorage was off Colon in Panama, we had not cleared in through immigration so we stayed aboard except for a visit to a shiny yacht club which apparently didn’t count as ashore to the authorities. My favourite thing here was watching all of the ships at dusk and identifying all of the different navigation lights for specific vessels: white over red for pilots, red white red for dredgers, all these things I’ve never noticed except in books before. The canal crossing was more memorable for the sense of history then the actual crossing, although it was fun, and the locks bigger than I´ve ever seen, most of the work was done by professional line handlers and big train things that shunt ships through the locks. Lake Gatun was pretty spectacular with jungle right down to the water. No crocodiles sadly. Glad some of you managed to see us on the webcam, thanks for watching! Panama City was fun and rushed. We were on a dock on the Isle de Flamincos, an island connected to the mainland by a long causeway. Days were mostly spent manically shopping for presents for the families we will stay with on Pitcairn, as well as some supplies for the voyage anda small amount of treasure. There was also a fair amount of wandering around the old town, which looked like a South American version of Spain, and some dancing at Mojitos sin Mojitos, an excellent bar with no roof, its walls just the terraced buildings either side.

I am writing to you Pollywogs all as a Royal Shellback of the Court of King Neptune. Our equator crossing ceremony yesterday was epic, complete with Davey Jones, Aphrodite, Seamonsters galore and of course King Neptune himself. His trident was even used for a spot of pole dancing at one point. My sin against the Deep was being too white (fair, but rectified with tar pretty effectively), and my new Shellback name is Fire Coral, which I think is rather wonderful.

The sail from Panama was good, if short, with the Southern Cross appearing to show us the way, so now a few days to explore Galapagos and then nearly a month at sea before Pitcairn.

permalink written by  Shellback Fire Coral on June 27, 2010 from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, Ecuador
from the travel blog: Sailing to Rarotonga
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