Dkembe’s story in his own words
When I reached Galapagos, I was blown back by the beauty of the islands. I now see why it is called the enchanted islands because there is surely something enchanting about it.
We anchored off of St Cristobel, a fairly small island compared to some of the rest, but just as beautiful. As soon as we got close enough to see the island clearly we noticed that it was littered with seals.
Once we cleared in and were allowed to go on shore we found out that the seals were very tame and had no fear of people whatsoever.
We spent four days on St Cristobel — those days I spent riding around the town and relaxing on the beach. It was fun to go to the beach because in order to get there you had to take a hike through a very long passage but the long walk was worth it because the beach was truly beautiful from the seals and birds flying around to the rolling waves; to me, it looked like something straight out of a movie.
The beauty of the island was not only in the landscape but the people were just as beautiful as the island they come from. I’m not just talking about looks either. When I was there I felt the love in the air and everyone cared about each other. I could tell this just from how they greeted each other.
Whenever a local met another person they knew, they greeted them with a hug and a kiss on the cheek no matter who it was. It made me wish our island could be like that.
Another way I felt the love there was because I met a family while sitting at a restaurant. We had a conversation and not too long after they were calling me their adopted son in Galapagos.
This was incredible to me because this was around Christmas and I was missing the love that I had at home but these people showed me so much love that I almost felt at home.
Before I left — because this was the last night — they wrote me a postcard telling me to keep my beautiful heart and never forget them. Then they gave me a shirt that the mother had painted herself. It was a beautiful Christmas present straight from the heart and after this we said our goodbyes and I went back to the ship.
Now we are on the way to Pitcairn. We are having a great passage on this amazing square rigger. As I write this I’m approximately three days from our destination after three weeks at sea. I’m ready to get on land but I’m still happy to be on the water. It’s the most peaceful place in the world to me.
Pitcairn Island is a tiny island in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, far from anywhere else. It is home to the descendants of the mutineers on the
Bounty. There is no harbour, but we anchored on the lee side of these high cliffs. When we got to Pitcairn Island we were picked up by the locals in their aluminium long boats and instead of the usual three, we were on a two-watch system because the anchorage was a little sketchy.
It was sketchy because we were anchored right off the island and if the wind shifted than we would have to leave which means no matter what time of day or night we had to be ready to hoist the anchor and get underway. So half of us went on the island one day and the others stayed on the boat till the next.
I was on the first night off and I stayed with Dave Brown Sr and his family. He is the father of the ship’s chief engineer, David Brown Jr. There they treated us like family they fed us every night and gave us a roof over our heads every night.
I walked around the island meeting all the locals, who were just as friendly as the Brown family. I also walked to the highest point on the island where I could look and see almost end to end. It was very beautiful but after my long day of hiking I decided to go and sleep.
The next day I went back to the ship for my watch. The day consisted of mostly Osfo, spot painting and fishing. Osfo is an acidic substance that you spray on steel to eat the rust away, so we use it to clean rust streaks off the bulwarks and topsides of the ship.
After this we wiped it down with a damp rag, let it dry and then painted the spots that we had sprayed. We did this all day and by time we finished,
Picton Castle looked like she was new again.
At the end of the day we went for a swim off the side of the ship. We dove off the bow and rails of the ship, jumped off the swing rope and when that ended we ate dinner. For dinner we had a shark that the other watch caught the night before and some fish. It was good.
The next day I was back on land and it was the annual Bounty Day festival so we loaded up the boats again and went back to the island. That day I went to St Pauls Pool — this was a truly amazing work of God. The big circle of rocks is battered by the waves on the outside but in the inside it was calm and the water was clear as crystal.
In fact, the only time the water in there was disturbed was when the occasional big swell hit and the spray came over the rocks and the pool was topped up with clean salt water. We stayed there for most of the day, swimming and snorkelling, and after that headed to the Bounty Day festival.
Bounty Day is the day the
Bounty mutineers first landed on Pitcairn Island. They burned the ship so it wouldn’t be seen by His Majesty’s Navy ships passing and spent the rest of their lives on Pitcairn Island.
So these people’s ancestors were mutineers and they are proud of the story. The Bounty Day celebration is a big feast down at the boat landing, which is where we came ashore in the long boats. Then a model ship is built out of wood and coconut palms to look like the
Bounty, and when it gets dark it is set on fire to remember the day the original Bounty was burned.
When I got back to the landing dock there was already a crowd starting to show up and by crowd I mean all of the 50 people that live on the island and my fellow crew mates. I decided to take another swim off the wharf where I could do a little bit of diving. The local children hadn’t seen this before and they instantly asked me to teach them. Before I knew it, there was a group of people taking pictures and videotaping my dives.
After swimming for about an hour we enjoyed the feast. Once we finished eating it was time for the celebrations. They burned the model
Bounty and set off fireworks and that was my second day on Pitcairn.
The next day we switched with the other watch and went back to work. This day was pretty much the same as the last work day but we did more cleaning of the living areas this time. It takes lots of work to get the ship looking nice and clean again after three weeks at sea without stopping.
On my evening on Pitcairn, we put on a show for the locals which is a tradition since the ship first visited the island. There was dancing, juggling, playing of musical instruments and singing, all put on by the crew and I was the final act. I sang the
Picton Castle hymn — a song I wrote while on the trip. It explains what we do and how much I love the sea and that was my last day on Pitcairn.
Mangareva, French Polynesia, South Pacific Ocean
When we left Pitcairn we set sail for Mangareva in the Gambier Island Group of French Polynesia, the Isle of Black Pearls. Mangareva is a beautiful high island surrounded by beautiful coral reefs. When we left we were not planning to go here but because there was some bad weather brewing in the Pacific that would have given us strong headwinds to Tahiti, the captain decided we should shelter in the big lagoon at Mangareva and wait for the weather to pass and I was glad we did.
Once there I spent most of my time playing football with the locals. In Rikitea, they spoke French as well as a local Maori language so the only way I could communicate was with the ball. Once they saw that I could play we played all day every day until they had to leave.
This is how I met my friends Karl and Nui, two Tahitians who were on the island for vacation. I told them that we were heading for their home next and they said when I got there they would take me around the island and teach me how to surf. I was only with them for two days but now I had a plan for Tahiti. We also made overnight trips to outer islands in our 23 foot longboat.
Days went by and it was the usual play for two days, work for one and by the end of my stay in Rikitea the whole village it seemed were my friends. So on the day we departed, they all came to see me off but they wouldn’t let me leave before giving me a few gifts. I got black pearls from one guy, a T-shirt from another and a girl gave me a shell necklace that was made from the same oyster the pearls come from. This really touched my heart so I got their Facebook contacts and promised to keep in contact with them. Then she gave me a kiss and we left for Tahiti.
The sail to Tahiti was only about a week so before I knew it, I was back on sweet, sweet land again. Tahiti was the halfway point of the journey and the end of the first leg so when we got there we lost some of our crew. It was sad to see them leave; a few people cried. We had a marlin spike goodbye party for them. A marlin spike is a little party we sometimes have on Sundays at sea with popcorn and dancing, but this was a special occasion so we had a marlin spike on the ship when we were alongside the dock in Tahiti.
The next day I met up with my friend Karl. I spent the day with him and he took me all over the island. We went to a museum where I saw models of all the islands of French Polynesia. They are formed by volcanoes and the different height of the islands show the different ages, by how much the volcano has been worn away by the sea and weather. The very low sandy atolls are just the coral reefs left where the volcano has been worn away to nothing. The museum showed how the islands all got there, how they were settled and what the original settlers used to do for a living. It also showed me about their religion and the gods and spirits they used to worship before Christianity was brought to them.
After that we went to a black sand beach because I had never seen that before and was amazed at how beach sand could be black. It’s black because the rock is volcanic and when it wears away to make sand that also is black. I had always heard of it in movies and things like that but to actually see it was truly amazing. After this he showed me where he lived, then took me back to the ship. The next day I spent talking to my family. I was able to do this because I brought a sim card so all day was catching up with them. It was good news and bad news but regardless of the news I was just happy to hear from them.
The next day was our usual day of watch, painting and rigging mostly. We also dried the ship’s sails at the dock, because they are made of cotton canvas that will rot if it is left stowed when it is wet for too long. So we up and loosed all of the sails and then came back down on deck to set them. Lots of tourists came to ask about the ship because she looked so beautiful with her sails all set.
The next day Karl picked me up at about 12 and we headed for the beach. He brought his 14-year-old son along and we all went surfing. Now on TV, surfing looks like the easiest thing in the world but once you get on a board it’s a completely different story. The amount of energy it takes to get under the waves so you can ride on top of one is immense and by time you do finally get out, it’s just as hard to get on the board and ride the wave back in.
So after a few wipeouts I sort of got the hang of it but it was still pretty difficult for me. Then Karl took the board and showed me how it was really done.
It was incredible to see someone do this live and something that I never thought I would see, but on
Picton Castle it seems that you see everything, the possibilities are endless! After this, I went to eat with his family again and that was the end of my day.
A typical day at sea
My day at sea usually starts at 3.30am when I am woken up to get ready for my watch at 4.00. I am on the four to eight watch, which means I am on duty from four to eight in the morning and again from four to eight in the afternoon. At 3.50am, I muster with the rest of my watch and we receive a briefing on what has happened through the night.
Then we are given jobs for the first hour of the watch: one person on helm steering the ship on the course that the mate orders or sometimes steering by the wind, one person on the focsle head standing lookout and the others on standby.
We rotate every hour so each person gets helm and lookout once. After the hour of lookout, you do a ship check, where you go all over the ship to check every compartment to make sure there is no fire or flood, and nothing is rolling around.
If anything is not right then you fix it or go and get help. After lookout you get to write in the ship’s log book, with the position, course, wind speed and direction, wave height and direction, cloud cover and atmospheric pressure at that hour. You have to write neatly in the log and be able to tell how strong the wind is by looking at the sea and using your judgment. If you’re not sure what to write, the mate or AB helps.
When on standby we wait until the sun comes up unless we get a shift in wind. If this happens than we have to brace. Bracing is hauling on the lines that are connected to the ends of the yard. These lines control the yard which controls the angle that the wind hits the sail. This happens often so standby is really just people reserved for sail handling.
Once the sun comes up at about 6am we do a saltwater deck wash, scrubbing from the bow all the way to the quarterdeck. Deck wash is important because it keeps the ship looking clean and saltwater is good for the wooden deck. After that we freshwater rinse the metal surfaces so the saltwater doesn’t corrode them, and that’s the end of deck wash.
After this we usually set the royals. Royals are the highest sail on board, set from the highest yard on the main and foremasts. They are light air sails so most of the time we take them in before dark in case of squalls during the night. So my watch gets to reset them every morning. This is one reason why I like the four to eight watch so much because we get to set and take them in almost every day.
Once we come down from aloft, it’s time to set the sails on deck by casting off the clew lines and buntlines and hauling on the sheets, before hoisting the whole yard up the mast to set the sail.
By then it’s usually 7.50am and the end of our watch with the eight to twelve watch ready to relieve us, so we muster again, get stood down and then go eat breakfast.
After breakfast, I sleep till lunchtime. I wake up for lunch and then go help out the other watches. In addition to learning on my own watch, I can go and help out the other watches when I like and so I can learn even more about rigging and things I am interested in.
I don’t do it every day but on most days when I feel like I have a lot of energy and I know I can still function when it’s time for me to take the watch. I do this until it’s time for me to stand watch again.
The afternoon watch starts with us finishing up the rigging and painting projects that were opened by the morning watch and then cleaning up.
We put away the paint locker and clean up the deck. Cleaning the deck includes sweeping and coiling and hanging the lines and making everything tidy for the night. We do this for about a half-hour and then we usually have seamanship workshops with all hands and the captain or one of the mates teaching something and then letting us practise.
In these workshops we learn different types of rope work, such as splicing, seizings and knots, and maintenance, like how to sharpen tools, how to paint and varnish properly, basic sail making skills like sewing canvas, and practicing by making ditty bags. We also learn about blocks and tackles and many other things necessary to be a good seaman.
Once this is finished we usually take in the royals for the night. Once they are taken in, we up and stow, which is climbing up the rigging to furl the sail and lash it tight to the yard with long ropes or gaskets so it won’t blow out in the night. At sea it’s often just the royals that we take in each night, so just my watch does it.
Furling the royals is by far my favourite thing to do on board. Every time I hear that call I race up there. I take pride in making my stow as beautiful and even as I can. It doesn’t matter if it’s strong winds or no wind, I always try to make my stows perfect.
Then it’s time for dinner at 6pm and after dinner we clean up the galley and then at 7.50pm we muster again with the watch. The mate gives an update on things like: how we did on that watch, weather conditions, how far to the next port and any reminders or lessons from the watch. Then she says ‘watch below’ and we are stood down and go off duty until the next morning at four again. In the evening, I like relaxing by listening to music, reading or playing cards, before going to my bunk to sleep.
This is what I do every day at sea unless I’m on scullery duty when I help Donald the cook prepare meals by fetching him things from the hold or the vegetable lockers, washing dishes and keeping the scullery clean and the coffee, water and juice containers full for everybody. It’s a nice rest but I prefer to be working hard on deck to washing dishes.
Other things I’ve learned, though not at sea, include how to sail and row the small boat and also how to run the skiff with an outboard engine. We practise small boat skills in bays, harbours and lagoons where the sheltered water is not too rough. These are also important skills for any good seaman to have.