Captain's Log

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Captain’s Log – Banam Bay

The Picton Castle sailed into Luganville, Santo, Vanuatu after a decent six-day passage under sail from Fiji. A beautiful approach between all the islands on a sunny morning as we sailed past “Million Dollar Point” the wreck of the SS Coolidge, the WWII transport ship that hit a mine at the entrance and was rammed on the beach to save lives, which worked. And down this big sound once filled with all manner of navy ships at anchor during the war years. And the setting for “Tales of the South Pacific” by James Michner. And finally at anchor under sail off the town.

I was hoping for a quick clearing in so we could head out for Banam Bay that night, but this was thwarted by events. No worries, we spent the night at Luganville and set off in the morning.

By later in the afternoon we were making approaches to Banam Bay. There is not much of a chart for this bay, but between coordinates and bearings from previous visits marked in our logs, as well as good local knowledge from these visits, we got in around the reef and anchored in 50 feet of water in hard sand. A good anchorage is Banam Bay, one of the few in these parts.

A lone outrigger came out to greet us. Afung Saitol was our visitor. His father was the famous Chief Saitol who was so wonderful to us over the years. His grandson Dixon has taken over many of Saitol’s duties as ‘cultural coordinator’ and I mentioned to Afung that I would come in next morning to say hello to he and his wife Yvonne and their baby girl Tammy. Yes, this little cherub is named after my wife. She is 4 years old. We had a quiet night at anchor with nary a light ashore.

The morning dawned balmy and clear. We could see the smoke from cook-fires drifting above the trees. The odd dog barking and a few roosters crowing without much enthusiasm over the still bay. The gang was excited to get ashore but first we had to pay our respects. The chief mate, our doctor, and a few others went ashore with me after breakfast to say hello and see what folks were in the mood for with our visit. The folks of Banam Bay are enormously friendly, gentle and hospitable but we do not want to presume that they have time or interest in entertaining us just because we showed up in a big sailing ship. Discussions and hopefully invitations would ensue. They did.

But first we take the skiff into the landing on the smooth calm beach (and a perfect chance to learn and practice beach landings in the skiff), we find some children who hold our hands and walk us down the beach, into the woods until we find the “Small Village” where Dixon is waiting for us. We chat and catch up, I see little “small Tammy” (adorable with big huge infectious happy grin and likes to be tickled), cool fresh coconuts all around, flowers for our ears as we sat under a lovely shade tree next to their cook house. Little kids coming up shyly to look at the visitors, us. Older folks came by to shake hands and re-introduce themselves. An exercise in gentile politeness from which we can all learn. Grace and calm. Some discussion of the devastating effects of Cyclone Pam some years ago, wiping out the village but all rebuilt now with no sign of damage. Thatch houses have that advantage.

Soon Dixon was coming up with ideas of what we should do in the intended three-day stay, starting with the idea that we should stay four days. We should have a welcome party tonight with kava and a string band. Great! We should make a ‘Kastum Dans” for us. Quite amazing this. We should have a market day so we can buy lots of fresh produce. Maybe we want a couple canoes? And other souvenirs? And I mentioned that our doctor Tomas was willing to hold a clinic to see folks who may be ailing. The clinic building is quite a nice one but their young nurse had died suddenly and no replacement had come yet. We talked about having a lunch ashore of local foods in the village as a fundraiser for the Local Ladies Association, $3 each, not bad at all. They were going to charge $1 each but we insisted on $3. So the plan was forming for a good visit to Banam Bay, and now with such plans well formed and guided by Dixon, all the Picton Castle crew were welcomed ashore at magical Banam Bay, Malekula, Vanuatu.

 

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Days’ Run – 9 October, 2018

A lovely Tuesday on board, the sun is bright and the sky is painted blue with collections of cumulus clouds. In order to arrive at Vanuatu by tomorrow, the Captain ordered our main engine to be fired up at 0600.  Lots of work to be done today, the spots on the foremast that were rust busted are receiving a coat of primer,  the oars from the Monomoy (our longboat) that haven’t yet been overhauled are being scraped on the well deck. The scullery porthole is also being scraped in preparation for paint, and sailmaking/ditty bag completion continues on the hatch today where a bit more shade lands on deck with the help of the sails to block the sun.

Sailmaking may seem like an easy task yet, on the contrary, it takes many hours of practice to get the skill of seaming down pat, along with the multitude of other skills that are required in order to complete or mend a sail. On top of the physical labour put into sailmaking, there is the managing and organization of all 20 sails plus the extras we keep stored on board. The sailmaker must track when a sail was made, ie how old it is and the numerous repairs it had done to it, these factors will determine when a sail needs replacing.

Everyone is looking forward to exploring the islands of Vanuatu and learning about a culture that is, for those who’ve never been there, very unfamiliar to us. There’s a rumour on deck that we will sail past a volcano, the crew is keen to lay eyes on it. This afternoon there will be a power shower at 1600! This way we’ll all be squeaky clean when we arrive tomorrow.

From: Suva, Fiji
Towards: Vanuatu
Date: October 9th, 2018
Noon Position: 16°23.5′ S x 169°11.8′ E
Course + Speed: WbN 1/2 N + 5.3 knots
Wind direction + Force: SE + 2
Swell Height + Direction: 1 1/2 m + Southeasterly
Weather: bright, sunny
Day’s Run: 124.6nm
Passage Log: 126.0nm
Distance to Port: 127.2nm
Voyage: 10196.8nm
Sails Set: Tops’ls, all heads’ls, main t’gallant stays’l, main topmast stays’l

 

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Day’s Run – 8 October, 2018

It’s Monday morning on board the Picton Castle and we’re back to our schedule of ship’s work to keep us busy on watch and, of course, to keep our lovely ship in good shape. Our engineer, Deyan of Switzerland, measured the monkey deck ladder with the help of his new assistant Kevin, of Sweden. Deyan plans to use the pipes that were once working as the heating system for the ship’s aft cabins to replace the ladder. He is prepping the pipes by grinding and cleaning them.

Our sailmaker, John, had a team of helpers this morning up on the quarterdeck including the chief mate Erin, trainees Sue and Braham, and third mate Corey, all assisting in seaming the main topmast stays’l, as well as Andy from Maine Maritime Academy. Crew members who are new to sailmaking were able to have a try at seaming scraps of canvas together and John guided those who are making ditty bags through the process.

Also spotted on the quarterdeck was our rigger, Anne-Laure of France, working high above the sailmakers seizing new ratlines on the mizzen shrouds. Sue and Robert rust busted the bottlescrews and turnbuckles on the foremast port side rigging.

Amongst this all, ship’s boy Dawson has been actively playing ‘catch me if you can’ as he calls it, which involves running all over the ship chasing him. When he closes his eyes, you cannot see him.

Off-duty crew members were doing their laundry on the well deck. If you think our ship comes complete with front load washers and industrial dryers, think again. We sailors do our own laundry, salt water buckets hauled up from the ocean, soaked, soaped and rinsed until the final fresh water rinse and hung to dry in hopes it doesn’t rain.

It’s been a active Monday morning. Our newest trainee from Denmark, Clara, paints the red racing stripe on our longboat. Tomas, our ship’s medical officer, sanded the gunnels of the dory Sea Never Dry and Dustin tarred the port side of the head rig. At 1500 the chief mate will hold a workshop on knots and splices for new hands and those who are interested in brushing up on their rope skills.

From: Suva, Fiji
Towards: Vanuatu
Date: October 8th, 2018
Noon Position: 16°59.1′ S x 171°16.2′ E
Course + Speed: W b N + 4.2 knots
Wind direction + Force: SSE + 4
Swell Height + Direction: 2m + southerly
Weather: Sunny, slightly overcast
Day’s Run: 97.3nm
Passage Log: 100.8nm
Distance to Port: 251.3nm
Voyage: 10070.8nm
Sails Set: All square sails, fore topmast stays’l, inner jib, outer jib, main topmast stays’l, mizzen stays’l

 

 

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Day’s Run – 7 October, 2018

Sunday at sea and a true one at that! Even the sun took some rest by sleeping in. An overcast start to the day set the tone for a relaxed day. After a busy time in port, getting the ship ready for sea and setting out again the calm day was much appreciated by all. Niko, of Colorado, USA, cooked up a lovely breakfast of scrambled eggs, peppers and onions. With no power tools running today, only the sounds of sawing logs were heard from fellow shipmates’ bunks. Those who weren’t resting enjoyed each other’s company by playing board games in the salon, working on personal projects and socializing on the aloha deck. This afternoon the crew was able to have a movie showing in the hold! Yes, we sailors do love our movies, but mostly the popcorn. This move was called Tanna, about the Vanuatu Islands. At 1300 our band of ukeleles and singers rehearsed on the well deck, sending lovely tunes throughout the ship. Early this evening we held a marlinspike; music was played, crew members dressed in their best or most ridiculous shirts and popcorn was had. Oh yes and we wore ship… even with all the fun we had today, sail handling always comes first.

From: Suva, Fiji
Towards: Vanuatu
Date: October 7th, 2018
Noon Position: 17°19.8′ S x 172°56.3′ E
Course + Speed: W 1/2 N + 4.4 knots
Wind direction + Force: SE + 4
Swell Height + Direction: 1-2m + SE
Weather: Sunny, slightly overcast
Day’s Run: 105.5nm
Passage Log: 106.2nm
Distance to Port: 348.1nm
Voyage: 9969.9nm
Sails Set: All square sails, fore topmast stays’l, inner jib, outer jib, main topmast stays’l, mizzen stays’l

 

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Day’s Run – 6 October, 2018

We sail along on a port tack, calmly through the South Pacific seas, with light winds today. Bustling crew members on deck work under the bright tropical sun; it’s a contest who can sport the biggest hat. The shroud seizings are being painted a fresh coat of white, to Niko’s enjoyment the foremast is being rust busted, and the sailmaker has had an abundance of assistants helping to seam together the main topmast staysail. Our second day out at sea after a long stay in Fiji, it feels as though everyone is settling back into their ship life once again. It’s refreshing to be surrounded by nothing but blue blue ocean, for as far as the eye can see. In port, we separate as a group: two watches are able to go ashore while the third remains on the ship. With the added distractions of technology, family and friends at home, the crew disperses, physically and mentally. When at sea we come together as a group, working with one another, laughing and playing, all while we sail this 180′ three-masted barque through the South Pacific.

From: Suva, Fiji
Towards: Vanuatu
Date: October 6th, 2018
Noon Position: 17°40.7’S x 174°44.3’E
Course + Speed: W by S + 3.3 knots
Wind direction + Force: SE’ly + 2-3
Swell Height + Direction: 1-2m + Southerly
Weather: Sunny
Day’s Run: 78.3nm
Passage Log: 79.9nm
Distance to Port: 453.6nm
Voyage: 9863.7nm
Sails Set: All square sails, all heads’ls, spanker, main topmast stays’l, main t’gallant stays’l, mizzen topmast stays’l

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Day’s Run – 5 October, 2018

After nearly three weeks anchored in Suva, the capital city of Fiji, we’re off on our merry way again. Yesterday at 10:30 am we sailed off the hook and sailed out of Suva Harbour past fishing boats and misty mountains in the background.

Our time in Fiji was well spent, the ship was hauled out of the water and was in shipyard for a total of three days. The Captain was rather impressed by the timely turnaround. It was amazing to see our steel-hulled vessel out of the salt water and resting comfortably on blocks on the marine railway. Every two years the ship is hauled out, this was a simple checkup at the doctor if you will. She was given a bath, two fresh coats of bottom paint, and was surveyed.

Meanwhile on deck, the work didn’t stop. Local carpenters were hired to replace our main deck pin rail. The crew had a lot of fun removing the old wood and watching and learning from the skilled carpenters as they worked intensely on our new Fijian hardwood rails.

For the crew that didn’t stay onboard while the ship was in dry dock, they took this opportunity to explore the island. A few even ventured as far as other islands in order to learn more about the Fijian culture. In the end, we all immensely enjoyed our stay. Best of all, our ship’s cat Fiji has now completed her first world circumnavigation!

Fiji the Cat – Excited about completing her 1st circumnavigation

Today marks our first full day back at sea. The crew are shaking off their shore brains, gaining their sea legs back and a few are fighting the inevitable seasickness. We motored through the night to gain ground, this morning all sails were set as we shut down the engine for a peaceful workday. Riggers and assistants worked together to bend on more sails today, the flying jib and main t’gallant staysail. Our sailmaker, John, was able to work on the quarterdeck, free of rain, stitching and seaming the main topmast staysail. The Captain foresees rain in our future, nothing we weathered sailors can’t handle. This afternoon there was a discussion held on Vanuatu, our next port of call, where we estimate we’ll arrive in 5-6 days.

From: Suva, Fiji
Towards: Vanuatu
Date: October 5th, 2018
Noon Position: 17°58′ S x 176°05.7′ E
Course + Speed: W by N + 5.7 knots
Wind direction + Force: S by W + 3
Swell Height + Direction: 1 1/2m + Southerly
Weather: Sunny
Day’s Run: 132.2nm
Passage Log: 138.9nm
Distance to Port: 531.6nm
Voyage: 9783.8nm
Sails Set: All square sails, spanker, main topmast staysail, outer jib, inner jib, fore topmast staysail

 

 

 

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Ship Yard in Fiji

Both prudent ship management and logical marine regulation call for ships to be drydocked from time to time and have their hulls inspected and looked after. This is only natural as most vessels are in a somewhat corrosive environment of salt water. Freshwater is different and much kinder to steel, not so much to wood, but that’s another story. And things grow in salt water: weeds, barnacles, coral, all sorts of things. If they grow on your hull, eventually the ship will be barely able to move through the water. All this plant and animal life can clog up engine cooling water intakes too. Meaning no cooling water to the engine or generators and so on. And wood or steel, even fiberglass and ferrocement can corrode or develop undesirable defects over time. So, we haul ships out of the water, inspect them closely, make such repairs or affect maintenance as required and launch them again.

If a vessel is subject to regulatory oversight by a Maritime Administration such as is this ship then it is also required to have the ship’s hull checked over by a qualified, competent third party independent surveyor/inspector. Anyone with an inspected American, Canadian, French, Danish flag (and many more) vessel goes through much the same process. And it is quite an interesting process for those keen on learning more about taking care of boats and ships, as our crew tends to be. Now it was time for Picton Castle to get drydocked and looked after, which we did in the city of Suva in Fiji. Two years ago we drydocked in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada (our home base) at the venerable Lunenburg Foundry, which had such a big role in refitting this ship into a world voyaging barque years ago. And two years before that we had drydocked here in Fiji. All went well four years ago here in rainy Fiji so I was optimistic about slipping again this time.

Last Friday just before noon and after a big big barge got launched, we heaved up the anchor and headed over to the shipyard. Suva is a large harbour with all sorts of vessels including freighters, tugs, and plenty far eastern long-liners fishing for Japan, China and Korea. We quietly made our way to the shipyard bulkhead and got tied up and set up lines to position the ship on the railway cradle. About 1500, the normal cool order of the ship became controlled chaos as we warped Picton Castle to center her over the unseen invisible cradle which we could see was heading into the water to fetch us. With all the lines just so, the cradle went under the ship at high tide, was lashed to the cradle and hauled up. By 1730 the Picton Castle was high and dry.

I was pleasantly pleased to see what good shape the bottom of the ship was in. But on we go. First, a high-pressure fresh water blasting to get rid of any weed and the last layer of bottom paint, now worn out. Captain Hugh Munro from New Zealand, who represents our regulatory body Maritime Cook Islands and the Ministry of Transport, was on hand to conduct the independent survey and inspections. A thorough inspection of the hull below the waterline is first on the list. Any defects to be noted. Check the wear on the zinc anodes, inspect the propeller and shaft. Open and inspect all through-hull fittings. Carry out a comprehensive shell thickness survey. Then get on with the work of getting the ship repainted for another two years in tropical waters. A primer coat of two-part epoxy paint anywhere there is bare steel, followed by a full coat of anti-corrosive paint on top of that and then two coats of anti-fouling paint. Also must paint the draft marks bow and stern, as well as the load line marks amidships.

What else? We fixed a chock damaged under the intense strains of the ‘mules’ of the Panama Canal transit, replaced a plate up on the bow, cleaned off the transducer (for the depth sounder) and replaced some drain bolts. By the end of the day Sunday, a mere two days after coming up, all was almost done. At this point senior staff (all hands are welcome) take a forensic round tour together (sort of like “cross-checking” on airline flights) of the bottom of the ship walking around her on the lift, check every inch, check everything that got done to make sure she is all buttoned up before she goes back into the sea. She looked great. All in all the Suva shipyard had done an outstanding job and in only two days. Very impressive.

The next morning, Monday, we turned to at 0500 and were headed down the ways by 0600. And all anchored by 0700 with a shiny clean hull all checked out and passing muster with flying colours. Now to restore the ship post shipyard (shipyards can be dirty) and to provision, fuel up, get what deck and engine room supplies the ship requires and look to getting back to sea again.

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Day’s Run – 17 September, 2018

Monday morning and we’re back at it full swing. The 4-8 watch set all sails as the sun glowing orange and yellow rose on the eastern horizon. After that, we sent them all to deck. Yes, that is correct. We unbent our sails, depowering our natural form of transportation and fired up the engine. It may seem strange, a tall ship removing all sails, yet there are a few reasons we did this. The first is that the ship will be dry docked for roughly 4 – 5 days and the forecast is rain, by taking down all sails we will not have to worry or care for them when they get wet, which leads to mold and decay. Another reason for taking them down is that this is a sail training ship and by unbending, which then leads to rebending sails, the crew learn a lot more about the rig, how objects work in the rig and they gain a larger appreciation for the vessel in which they’ve chosen to live for months or a year at a time. The more a crew member learns about the ship and the more tasks they get their hands dirty with, the closer they come to understanding this vast world of square rig sailing.

After successfully sending down 18 of 20 sails in 6 hours, a power shower was erected on the main deck for all those who wished to cool off to enjoy. Once the deck was tidied up and tools were neatly put away, a delicious dinner of lamb, green peas, salad and potatoes was served on the main hatch. It’s days like these that bring the entire crew together, working as a team on one visible and tangible project – well done crew.

From: Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga
Towards: Suva, Fiji
Date: September 17, 2018
Noon Position: 18°27.7′ S x 179°26.3′ W
Course + Speed: W by N (motoring)
Wind direction + Force: NE + 2
Swell Height + Direction: 1 1/2m + SE
Weather: Hot, Sunny
Sails Set: All sails were sent down, expect the foretopmast stays’l, the spanker and the gaff tops’l

 

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Day’s Run – 16 September, 2018

It was a quiet Sunday at Sea for those not cooking away in the warm galley, it was a relaxing, rainy Sunday. Everyone needs that once in a while. Crew members were huddled together over a laptop in the shelter of the salon enjoying entertaining television shows. Yes, we sailors do enjoy a great series or movie from time to time. Especially if it pertains to tall ship sailing or life at sea.

Plans and preparations to arrive in Fiji by Tuesday are beginning to unfold. The ship will be going into dry dock, which entails hauling our 180′ barque out of the salt water and resting it onto a cradle. A rather interesting and unique experience to witness and be part of, according to those who’ve seen it for themselves.

At 1600 Captain held a discussion on Fiji and what the crew has to look forward to, both with the ship and exploring the port. Bollywood films, exploring the museum, shopping at the market, rugby games and of course ice cream! As for the ship’s work while we’re in port, our sailmaker John of Massachusetts, USA will lead a team in laying out sails. We will even pull out our industrial sewing machine to seam together the cloths of canvas. Everyone is looking forward to some good old fashioned R n’ R in Fiji while others are keen to witness the ship in yard, the process that entails and the work that will take place.

From: Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga
Towards: Suva, Fiji
Date: September 16, 2018
Noon Position: 18°37.3′ S x 177°39.6′ W
Course + Speed: WSW + 4.6 knots
Wind direction + Force:  E’ly + 3 – 4
Swell Height + Direction: 3m + SE by E
Weather: Rain off and on
Day’s Run: 108.2nm
Passage Log: 111.8nm
Distance to Port: 136.7nm
Voyage: 9375.3nm
Sails Set: All square sails, Inner jib, main topmast stays’l

 

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Day’s Run – 15 September, 2018

And we’re off, sailing for Fiji. It’s always bittersweet leaving port. As the Captain says, “if we hadn’t left one place we would have never arrived at another.” Oh, the glories of traveling. Some places are harder to leave than others, thus far and I believe Tonga will remain one of the hardest ports to leave on many levels. The crew had a spectacular time exploring the island of Vava’u, in the Kingdom of Tonga. It provided us with both adventure and relaxation. The town of Neiafu was welcoming and friendly, our days off were happily spent exploring caves, swimming with whales, sailing, hiking and of course indulging in ice cream and fish ‘n chips. The town is a big sailing hub, attracting sailors from all corners of the world. Our crew made fast friends with both locals and visitors, some even having connections between friends or family back home.

One particular crew member, Vaufia, had a surreal time, as it was her first trip back home since sailing away in the Picton Castle 5 years ago. She has now completed her first circumnavigation. Her family was there on the dock to welcome her home. On our last night in Tonga, we were able to experience a little bit of her world. She and her family invited us in with open arms and threw a tremendous feast, along with dancing and music, where we celebrated the coming together of two families: Vai’s family and her Picton Castle family. It was truly magical to be all under one roof. The following day we made our last provisions at the fantastic Neiafu vegetable market, spent the last of our Tongan pangas on crafts and souvenirs and said our heartbreaking goodbyes. We hoisted the heavy port anchor, hauled on lines, loosed our canvas and set course for Fiji. Once out of the harbor, but still sailing between the islands and as we coiled down lines and were settling back into sea life, a huge humpback whale breached just off the stern on our port side. It was the perfect farewell from Tonga.

Ship’s work: Today the crew are focusing on gaining back their sea legs and shaking off their shore brains. Picton Castle sails along steadily between 4 – 5 knots, as on duty watches work to keep the ship looking sharp. Our starboard breezeway door was primed, the teak door to the carpenter’s shop was scraped, seizings on the shrouds were painted white. The sailmaker and his team of helpers finished sewing the rope cover on the new royal and seaming on the new t’gallant continued. Overall an excellent day back out on the vast South Pacific Ocean.

From: Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga
Towards: Suva, Fiji
Date: September 15, 2018
Noon Position: 18°38.7′ S x 175°45.9′ W
Course + Speed: W by N 1/2 N + 3.8 knots
Wind direction + Force: ExS + 4 Swell Height +
Direction: 2m + ESE
Weather: Periods of overcast, light rain and sun
Day’s Run: 98.1nm
Passage Log: 93nm
Distance to Port: 238.1nm
Voyage: 9263.5nm
Sails Set: All square sails, inner jib, outer jib, main topmast stays’l, main t’gallant stays’l

 

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