Saturday, March 12, 2016

Shore Leave - Tahiti

After months of being at anchor or underway it was lovely to be alongside in Pape'ete. Instead of co-ordinating water taxis and tenders we were able to simply step off the gangway! The strange thing is that after so many months of visiting tiny little islands Pape'ete (pop 26,000) felt like a bustling metropolis. 

The first couple days I was still working so didn't have the chance to see very much. I also knew I would have some time off after so I wasn't too concerned. 

There's a big market in the city with vendors selling a range of items: straw goods, fruit and vegetables, ready to eat food (Chinese food on a baugette anyone?), fabric items (pareos etc), fresh flowers and of course black pearls. Pearls were everywhere in the city, from cheap ($10 US for a pair of earrings) to the incredibly expensive. Black pearls aren't always completely black, they come in shades of grey and some have a blue hue. I've heard of other colours as well but I think they're more rare and I didn't see any.  

On Sunday morning I went with the school to a service at this church. It was a special day, the anniversary of missionaries first arriving in Tahiti I think. For this occasion the ladies were dressed in all white. The 'regular' congregation sat according to tribe and at different parts of the service each tribe took a turn to sing a cappella. We didn't stay for the whole service, it was in Polynesian for one, also super hot and the students had another field studies trip to get ready for. 

I walked around the city (at least the few blocks closest to the ship) a fair bit. There were some fancy buildings (I think this is something official):

And some more modest. 

Being French Polynesia we wondered why the stop signs were in English. 

With a few days to explore, after finishing my rotation but before flying out, I got to see some of the island. Some crew mates rented a car and we drove around the island stopping a couple places. This is Pointe Venus where Cook watched the transit of Venus and I think where the HMS Bounty landed. 

Beautiful black sand beaches. This was taken just before I went wading and ended up soaked when I didn't notice the larger than usual wave approaching. 

The road pretty much follows the coast which makes for a very scenic drive. 

It's not all palm trees, we stumbled on a lily pad/water garden. 

The last night before flying out I joined some crew mates going to the nearby island of Moorea. We rented a cottage/bungalow where we enjoyed relaxed meals, wifi and a good amount of down time. 

It was fun going to the supermarket and picking things to eat. Especially since, being French Polynesia, there was a fair amount of French food. 

In the afternoon we rented bikes and rode to the beach for a swim, snorkel and walk. One of those "is this too good to be true" moments. 

The next day I took the ferry back to the main island in order to get to my flight. 

Between the ferry and the airplane I had time to stop by the dock and see Sørlandet set off for Fiji. First time I've seen her leave the dock while standing ashore. As much as I love being on board I was very content at watching her depart without me, on to new adventures and new places now. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Sailing Along - Pitcairn to Tahiti

This was the most challenging sail of the rotation movement wise. We had lots of days with rolling that made getting around the ship more of a challenge. In the last few days we had the grab lines up on deck and grey, rainy days that were a big contrast to the sunny, blue south Pacific we've enjoyed most of the time. Another "all hands" call came on this sail, happily in the middle of the afternoon, not the middle of the night. It turned out to be a bit of a non-event but as always, better safe than sorry.

It was also a challenge health wise with some flu type bug making its way around the crew. Not everyone got it (I stayed healthy - I'm sure that built-up-at-daycare immune system helped) but with such a small crew a few people down makes a big difference. We also had one crew member with a more pressing health concern so we detoured to Mangareva in order that he could get a flight to Tahiti and modern medical facilities. He's doing well now and we're excited to see him again when we get in. 

Day 5 Baking Club continued and my wish to have three Day 5s this sail came true. We made soft pretzels, ice cream sandwiches (for a student's birthday) and cinnamon buns. These days with extra baking help are great as I can plan to make snacks that are so much easier with a couple extra hands. 

Most of our days are similar but there are always a few variations. This sail I defrosted a fridge/freezer which meant I had some snowballs to throw at people. So strange on a warm sunny day in the south Pacific to be throwing snowballs around! Another day one of the Mexican students made guacamole from some avocados we obtained from Pitcairn. One evening I went to movie night in the banjer and watched Fantastic Mr Fox. Another evening I played Yahtzee with a couple students, it was a Norwegian version which surprisingly was different than the English version I'm used to!

One of the nice things about the classes here is that they have class time set aside to learn about the ports they will be visiting. This sail I went to one of the field studies classes and learned about pearl farming. French Polynesia is a big producer of black pearls and one of our ABs, Meg, has worked in the pearl industry so was able to do a presentation  with first hand information. 

I stood my only bit of night watch this sail, 22:00-23:00 one night as a small contribution to giving the students a night free from watch. I helmed for the hour under the stars, not a bad way to pass the time. 

After our last family dinner the students performed the skit they did for the talent show on Pitcairn. It followed a day in the life on board and they had some good impersonations of a few of the teachers/maritime crew. I laughed muchly. 

And so another rotation is finished (almost). Just 4 sails this time - and no shrimp! I won't be back before this school year ends and I'm sad I won't be sailing with these students again, they are a great bunch of people and a great crew to be a part of. 

Shore Leave - Pitcairn Island

I hadn't heard of Pitcairn Island before I started sailing but among tall ship sailors it seems to have a bit of an iconic status as a really cool place to go. It's also really isolated so it's not somewhere a lot of people go.  

Maybe you've head about Pitcairn from the mutiny of the Bounty. Back in the eighteenth century the mutineers brought their Tahitian wives to Pitcairn where they burnt their ship ensuring the rest of their days would be spent on this tropical island. Today most of the population (of 46) are decendants of the mutineers. 

The island is pretty small (3 square miles) and very vertical. This is the main road and actually rather on the flat side. 

We came in to our anchorage without a problem and soon some locals came out to clear us through customs and see the ship. Once that was all done the students, teachers, volunteers and a couple crew members headed off for a stay on the island. My turn would come in a couple days. In the meantime there were only 9 on board so not so much to do food-wise. Took advantage of that an baked up the rest of the marzipan into (over 300) kransekage cookies. 

On Wednesday morning the crew who were off switched with some crew who were on. Getting to and from the island required going in one of the local long boats. Those guys are crazy good boat handlers which is a good thing as the swell getting in and out of the harbour is not to be taken lightly. On our way in we motored around for a bit trying to catch fish but after an hour or so of nothing we went in to the landing point. It had been quite wavy so I was wet from spray over the side, then while I was on the pier a big wave came and soaked my feet so I wasn't off to the greatest start. 

Mike, one of my hosts, met the boat with his quad (preferred method of transportation on the island) and drove me up to the house where I'd be staying. 

After getting settled in and eating lunch I went off with the school for a hike to St Paul's Pool. The hike was hilly, through areas of vegetation (jungle? Forest?) as well as plenty of parts with no cover from the sun. 

At the end there were stairs which were very welcome. It didn't take us long to scramble down the last few rocks and get in the water in what I think is the most stunning place I have ever swum. 

We spent the afternoon here, snorkelling, taking pictures, climbing rocks, watching the surf and being amazed that we in this incredible place. 

On our way back from the pool some of us detoured to see Miz T, the resident Galapagos tortise. While we were swimming Terry, the police officer, found Miz T and left her a bunch of bananas to keep her happy. By the time we arrived she'd wandered off but it didn't take us too long to locate her and then we all had a turn offering bananas to her while we posed for photos. 

That evening there was a community supper in the town square. This is something the islanders do fairly often so it was well set up with tables and chairs enough for everyone. It was potluck style with households bringing a dish or two as well as dishes and cutlery for themselves and their guests. 

After dinner there was a special opening of the post office on my request! Usually the post office is open Thursday mornings (as well as two other mornings a week) but the supply ship was due to be unloading cargo at this time so they very kindly had a short evening opening so we could buy stamps and postcards. It was pretty good timing as the mail will leave early March when the cargo ship passes by on her return voyage, with mailing leaving only 4 times a year 2 weeks isn't much of a wait!

On Thursday morning I joined the school again for another hike up to Christian's Cave. (Named after Fletcher Christian, one of the mutineers.) The end of this hike was rather vertical and we were definitely using hands as well as feet to make it up. 

At the top there was a tunnel with a lookout (and a steep drop) at the end as well as the "cave" which isn't really a cave, more like a sheltered spot in a rock. We enjoyed the view and a rest and headed back down which turned out to be not as bad as expected. Just before we got to town there was a bit of a shower, very glad we were off the steep hill when that hit!

After lunch we had a bit of time to relax and pack our stuff before heading back to the ship. Many islanders came down to see us off and after giving them three cheers we set off singing a sea shanty to them. 

We returned back to our home, got our stuff stowed, rinsed off the boxes and boxes of fruit the islanders gave us (currently the passionfruit and bananas are ripening faster than they can eat them) and were off in an hour or two. I enjoyed Pitcairn but the anchorage was quite rocky so I was happy to be headed out to sea. 

Fun facts about Pitcairn:
Power (from communal diesel generators) gets turned off every night. 

They supplement the supplies from the quarterly supply boat with provisions from cruise ships that stop by (8-14 a year).  

One of their biggest sources of income is selling handicrafts, T-shirts, postcards, etc to cruise ship passengers. 

Most cruise ship passengers don't actually get ashore, the islanders go to the ship. 

Queen Elizabeth has stated that Pitcairn Island honey is her favourite breakfast spread. 

Last year the island produced about 3 metric tonnes of honey. 

Islanders don't pay taxes but help out with public works like unloading cargo or maintaining trails. 

The police officer, doctor and teacher are brought in on yearly contracts. 

Houses are equipped with 2-way radios as well as telephones. 

Sailing Along - Easter Island to Pitcairn

On this sail I finally made it aloft! Went up one evening to help stow a royal (the highest sail on a mast). Also made it out on the bowsprit to watch the sunset one night. Another day there was a double rainbow behind the ship. 

We had some smooth sailing, some days a little rougher. One morning I found water all over the aft pantry floor - the kettle had auto-stowed itself in a horizontal position. While cleaning that up I noticed some of the water was coffee coloured, found the source of that was the iced coffee in the fridge (which must've sloshed over the rim because the jug was upright). So the fridge got a good clean. When I thought all was well I went to refil the dish soap bottle, a wave came and in catching my balance I spilled soap on the floor. In case you aren't aware, it's very tricky to clean up liquid soap. All this in the space of half an hour. 

One morning we had some squalls come in that resulted in a 04:30 all hands call. We manage it well and got the ship going away from the storm in an organized chaos kind of manner. Although it was dark and rainy we weren't heeled over too much which was nice. 

I started "Baking Club" on this sail. On Day 5s a few of the girls who like to bake have free time in the afternoon and come bake snack with me. It's fun to have different company and they enjoy doing something homey and different than deck work. 

Worked a bit more on celestial navigation, another noon height and started learning about star sights. That's a bit more confusing and it took a couple sessions to begin to get my head wrapped around it. The mates were also into celestial nav and made a chart, as they would've in the days before GPS, showing our position a couple times a day. 

Speaking of stars I happened out on deck one night when there was no moon and no clouds and the stars were amazing. Out in the middle of the ocean there's no light polution so it's a spectacular show. 

Deck crew continue their varnishing projects which ends up making it feel like the ship is boobie trapped with various doors, railings and benches being wet or sticky throughout the day. 

The last day before arriving in Pitcairn the students had a "snow day" without classes and no deck duties till 10:00. The maritime crew continued as usual so my day was about the same. 

As always these sails are same, same but different, just like life anywhere.