Captain's Log

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Happy Thanksgiving!

One of the fun things about sailing with an international crew is celebrating holidays from different countries.  It’s the same in Bosun School, with students of a number of different nationalities.  We celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving back in October, and are celebrating American Thanksgiving today.

Niko is busy cooking up a big delicious dinner and we’ve put the usual projects aside for the day in order to focus on festive projects.  This upcoming weekend kicks off the holiday season in Lunenburg and we’re participating fully.  Today we are rigging up Christmas lights on Picton Castle’s masts, decorating a tree at the Fisheries Museum, and decorating our float for the Santa Claus parade.

On Friday evening, the vessels on Lunenburg’s waterfront will be lit up for the season.  The museum’s fleet along with the fishing fleet at Adams & Knickle usually participate, and we’ll be joining in the illumination as well.  The vessel lighting event begins at 6pm outdoors at the Fisheries Museum with warm foods and drinks from local restaurants, along with music and caroling.  At 6:30pm the vessels will be lit, along with the decorated trees at the museum, and at 7:30pm there will be fireworks over the harbour.

On Saturday, there are a number of markets and events happening throughout the town.  At 3pm it’s time for the Santa Claus parade.  Apparently there will be over 50 floats in the parade, including ours.  Keep an eye out for our brightly painted dory, Sea Never Dry!  We’ll take photos and post them for anyone who can’t join us in person.

So, the Bosun School is celebrating Thanksgiving by temporarily becoming a North Pole workshop, followed by a wonderful meal together.  We have a lot to be thankful for here.

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Now Hiring Mates

Picton Castle is now accepting applications for Mates/Watch Officers for the upcoming voyage. The voyage begins early 2018 and runs until May 2019. This is a sail training voyage for adults and will consist of significant blue-water passages.

Qualification requirements vary by position, but all professional crew must have STCW Basic Safety Training and extensive experience working on traditional sailing vessels. Mates must have, at a minimum, a 500 ton oceans mate certificate.

Please apply by sending an email with your CV and cover letter to info@picton-castle.com.

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Heaving Line Throwing Practice

When vessels come alongside to dock, they need to get lines ashore in order to tie the vessel to the wharf. Big ships need big lines. It’s not possible to throw these lines because they’re so heavy, so a lighter weight line is tied to the mooring line. These lighter weight lines, called heaving lines, typically have something heavy on the thrown end of them in order to make them easier to throw. On Picton Castle, the heavy part is a monkey’s fist knot, but we’ve seen other heaving lines with bean bags tied to the end, so use whatever gets the job done.

As the vessel approaches the dock, it’s the job of the crew to throw the heaving line from the ship to the shore so it can be picked up by the line handler ashore. Throwing one of these is not as easy as it looks. And getting the proper distance and aim is vital, especially when manoeuvering the vessel in close quarters.

In order to get good at throwing heaving lines, practice is necessary. The Bosun School students practiced yesterday, throwing heaving lines down the wharf from a certain point, trying to get the monkey’s fist knot into an empty garbage can at the end of the wharf.

First the lines have to be coiled very carefully so they won’t tangle when they’re thrown. The fixed end needs to be tied down (in real application it would be tied to the mooring line, but for practice we just tie it to anything handy, often ourselves). Then the part of the line with the monkey’s fist and a few extra coils are held in the dominant hand, swung back to gain momentum, then released, followed immediately by releasing the rest of the line from the other hand. Then recover your line, coil and practice throwing again (and again and again and again…).


Heaving line practice, photo by Alexandra Pronovost

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Who Would You Want To Sail With?

Each Picton Castle voyage has its own character, its own inside jokes, its own on-board culture. One of the exciting parts of planning a voyage is putting together the crew and trying to imagine how everyone will interact together.

While there are different individuals on each voyage, there are some common themes. People who sail in Picton Castle are pretty adventurous. Some have had other big adventures in their lives, for some sailing on Picton Castle will be their first big adventure. All have a strong desire to be a part of the crew, doing their part to get the ship from port to port.

Picton Castle crew come from all over the world. We like having an international crew. We tend to have a number of Americans and Canadians, but also quite a few Europeans and people from a variety of other countries. Most people are on the younger side, but there are always those in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and sometimes 70s. Our trainees come from a variety of backgrounds and have done all sorts of interesting things in their lives before sailing on Picton Castle. Some are recent graduates, some are taking a break from jobs, some are retired.

When we select our trainees, the most important question we consider is what each person will be like as a shipmate. The crew live, work, play and eat together in a fairly small space that, when at sea, they can’t leave. Imagine the kind of person you would like to share the experience with and you’ll start to paint a picture of what it means to be a good shipmate. Someone who is considerate, respectful, and friendly, with a good sense of humour, who is willing to do their share and then some.

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Wire Splicing at Bosun School

Students at Picton Castle‘s Bosun School have been learning to splice wire this week.

Captain Moreland started by demonstrating the method, then the students paired up to work on splicing their own wires together.  After each pair had completed their splice, Captain Moreland did a second demonstration of the technique, now that the students had a frame of reference.  After that, they worked individually on practicing splicing.

The wire they are using is 5/8″ trawl winch wire that has been used on local fishing vessels.  The wire can’t continue to be used for that purpose because there are parts that are worn, but we can cut away the worn parts to find short lengths of good wire that are suitable for practice.  Because it has been stretched and pre-formed by going through the fishing winches, it’s particularly difficult to work with.  As Captain Moreland would say, this is a good thing.  If you learn using materials that are more difficult to handle, you’ll be better at it when you’re using smaller or more flexible wire.  The wire we’re using is 6×24 and has a fibre heart.

Students started by learning to measure the wire, how to bend it, how to seize it, and how much of a tail to leave to work with.  They have been making eye splices and each student will make at least five splices during their time at Bosun School.

Today, the Captain inspected each student’s splice individually, providing feedback on their work.  For many, the first tuck needs to start sooner so there is no gap at the start of the eye.

More practice is on order for next week.  Students will continue using the practice wire until their skill is determined to be good enough to work on a real project.  By applying their skills immediately to a real piece of rigging on board a working ship, they can not only see the practical purpose of the skill, but they also know that their work has to be good enough to be counted on as an integral part of the rigging.  

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Erin Greig First Bermudian Woman to be Navigator

Former Picton Castle crew member, Erin Greig, was featured in The Royal Gazette in Bermuda yesterday.  Erin is the first woman in Bermuda to gain the Junior Navigator’s Certificate from Warsash Marine Academy in England and become an Officer of the Watch.  Her sea time on a number of sail training ships, including Picton Castle, helped to get her there!

Congtatulations, Erin!

The full article is available here.

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The Making of La Grande Traversée

Back in the summer of 2016, Picton Castle sailed on a transatlantic voyage where we filmed a television series on the way from La Rochelle, France to Quebec City, Canada.  The show was called La Grande Traversée and followed the lives of 10 “colonists” who lived life on board as it would have been for their ancestors coming from France to the New World circa 1700.

Well, mostly as it would have been for passengers crossing the Atlantic circa 1700. At that time, passengers wouldn’t have been involved in sailing the ship. But for the sake of television, the “colonists” stood watches alongside our crew and spent a lot more time on deck than their ancestors would have.

The passage from La Rochelle, France to Caraquet, New Brunswick, Canada, the ship’s first port of call in Canada, was 39 days. From there, Picton Castle sailed up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City, where the “colonists” and film crew disembarked.

Picton Castle was crewed by her usual professional crew complement plus a number of trainees. They sailed the ship from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada to La Rochelle, then sailed back to Canada with the “colonists” and the film crew. In addition to the ten “colonists”, we also had eight film crew aboard.

The film crew had the main salon as their living and working area. We took out one of the tables that it usually there and replaced it with a sturdy plywood table so that they could screw their equipment down to it. The rest of the salon with filled with camera and sound equipment.

The “colonists” lived in the area where the cargo hold is, in a special set that was built for this project to resemble the area below decks on a wooden sailing ship circa 1700. The set was built sturdily in Lunenburg, finished on the way across the Atlantic to La Rochelle, and fitted out with all the items the “colonists” would need before they boarded in La Rochelle. It had doors and ports that could open so cameras could look into the set from a number of different angles. There was a temporary wall built just forward of the foot of the stairs down to the salon so that the “colonists” would be kept separate from the salon and could not see the film crew and their equipment.

Our professional crew and trainees had their accommodations in the foc’sle, forepeak and aft cabins.

The director, Francois Balcaen, has put together a few short films from this voyage that show a bit of what it was like behind the scenes.

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Doing Laundry At Sea

People ask all sorts of questions when they’re considering signing on board Picton Castle as a trainee. One we’ve been hearing a lot lately is about laundry. How do trainees wash their clothes on the voyage?

There is no washing machine on board, so any laundry you do on the ship needs to be done by hand. Because we do our best to conserve fresh water, the washing and rinsing is done in salt water, with a final rinse in fresh water.

Salt water soap is on the packing list, laundry is primarily what you’ll use it for. You can buy salt water soap at camping and outdoors stores. Alternately, we’ve found that many kinds of lemon dishwashing liquids also foam up in salt water and can be used for laundry.

Captain Moreland says the best way is to put your laundry in a bucket of salt water and soap and let it sit overnight. The next day, give it a light scrub, then rinse in salt water. Your final rinse can be in fresh water, to get the salt out.

To dry your laundry, we have laundry lines hanging over the well deck. Depending on wind conditions, you may need a number of clothespins to make sure your favourite t-shirt doesn’t blow overboard as it dries! We generally clear the laundry lines every evening before it gets dark so they’re empty overnight.

Alternately, many of the ports we visit have laundry services ashore, so some people on board will take their laundry ashore and drop it off on their day off duty, then pick up their nice clean, dry, folded clothes before returning to the ship.

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A Beautiful Day To Work Aloft!

October is usually beautiful in Nova Scotia, with all the leaves changing colours. This year, October has also been warm, sunny and wonderful for being outdoors. Bosun School is taking advantage of the weather to spend some time aloft on Picton Castle. Students learned yesterday how to lead “up and overs”, the process of taking new crew aloft for the first time. Today they’re getting set up to make ratlines, which are like the steps of the ladder on the shrouds.

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Why Train Under Sail?

From the mid 19th century until the mid 20th century, sailing ships were the incubator and hatchery for almost all deep-sea steam-ship mariners be they naval or merchant marine. This is what came to be known as “trained in sail” or later, “sail training”. This training service came about due to the extraordinarily rich seamanship acquisition environment that was the deep water sailing ship. In the rapid-fire extreme requirements encountered during WWII for instant mates, lieutenants, commanders and captains, “90 day wonders” they were called, this chain was broken on national scales – but though this chain of traditional training has been worn thin, the skills of a sailing ship seafarer remain critical to the safe and cost effective running and management of modern motor vessels. A well run sailing ship is, now more than ever, the best place to prepare for and begin one’s career at sea.

Sailing to sea in ships is an amazing way of life and can be richly rewarding in countless ways. Not the least of these ways is that mariners can make a good living from ships and the sea. Often well in excess of what they could make ashore. Additionally, every job taken by a citizen going to sea leaves a job open in their country of origin. And successful mariners tend to contribute directly to their home economies and do so disproportionately to the cost and length of time of their educations. There is a great international demand for the next generation of seafarers.

But make no mistake, the sea is an extremely demanding environment not particularly forgiving to the inept, untrained or ill equipped. Good seafarers have to be excellent at a broad range of critical skills. It takes years at sea, working hard, learning at every turn, before one can call oneself a seasoned pro. Recently among flag state marine regulatory agencies there has been a welcome insistence on having a basic and advanced safety and marine emergency training for professional mariners resulting in the United Nations International Maritime Organisation (IMO) mandated STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for seafarers) Basic Safety Training (BST) and certification. Training in firefighting, PFDs, first aid, immersion suits, life rafts etc. This is all to the good and is to be applauded. It is important basic familiarisation with what a mariner is to be able to do when things go all wrong aboard a ship at sea. This training and these skills, however, are quite a bit different from the broad seamanship skills and training a mariner needs to be both useful aboard a ship and to also seriously contribute to the reduction of the likelihood of things going all wrong. BST is established to have a basic standard of what to do when things go wrong. Broad and deep seamanship skills are what contributes mightily to preventing things from going wrong in the first place. BST is how to bandage a cut. Seamanship is not getting the cut. This is where the Picton Castle and the Bosun School come in.

In addition to adventurous sailing and traveling to amazing islands and ports all over the world, the voyages of the Cook Islands Barque Picton Castle are about learning, teaching and passing along the required skills of seafaring. And by direct extension, the essential skills required of any resourceful mariner sailing in todays cargo ships, passenger ships, tugboats, supply boats, fishing vessels, yachts, the Navy and marine related shore positions. These include marinas, maritime schools, museums, sail lofts, rigging lofts, boat yards, ship yards, dry docks and sundry others.

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