Geoffrey Jones, born and bred in the American state of Connecticut, touched down in Rarotonga a few weeks ago. He accepted the role as captain of the Pacific Schooner Ltd (PSL) vessel after being contacted by Canadian-based company director Daniel Moreland, who is a friend of his.
“Dan called me specifically and said, ‘Hey, we need somebody and this job looks like it’s got your name all over it – what do you think?” explained Jones.
“And I said, ‘Well, I’m aware of the vessel, I’m aware of your project – yeah, I’d like to be involved with that’.”
Jones’ present intention is to be the Tiare Taporo’s “summer captain” and trade off with someone who would captain the boat “on the other side of the calendar”.
The 54-year-old has almost 40 years of professional maritime experience behind him, having worked on boats since 1979.
He has a Bachelor of Science in marine transportation and nautical science from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and captained his first vessel, a passenger schooner, in 1985.
Jones said he had been “trying to play a little catch-up on what I walked into”, regarding the Tiare Taporo’s often controversial history, but added that he wasn’t here for the politics.
“I can say that the vessel is tough as hell,” he said. “A little surface rust – but you can see that we just painted almost the entire ship in a couple of days with two or three people.
“When I look at a vessel and its seaworthiness, you know, is it safe for people and cargo and the environment and that whole ball of wax – the first thing is the design. And unlike all the other boats around here, this was built for North Atlantic winter conditions. I mean, outside of Cape Horn, they’re probably the toughest conditions on the planet.
“This is a ship that was built as near as mortals can make to be able to take anything the sea can throw at it. And it’s in good shape as far as the structure’s concerned, the machinery’s in good shape, and that’s really what’s important. The rest is just cosmetics.”
Referring to the Tiare Taporo’s apparent inactivity since last November’s court-ordered scheme of arrangement, Jones said there was actually “a lot going on”.
“Life rafts were going out and getting repacked, safety gear was getting overhauled, machinery for generators and things were being ordered, crew was being lined up, so it didn’t look like much was happening down at the waterfront, but below decks and on the shoreside a lot has been going on.
“And it’s been ramping up, so what you’re seeing is like a whipcrack, where there’s all this lead-in to it, and the last little bit where it snaps is between now and the time that we board cargo.”
The Tiare Taporo is currently scheduled to depart on a round-trip voyage to the northern group islands plus Palmerston and Aitutaki from April 6.