Captain's Log

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Steering for the North Star

At 25 degrees north latitude the Picton Castle sailed out of our beloved trade winds. The water temperature has dropped 5 degrees since the Virgin Islands and cloud patterns have shifted to those we remember from long ago over the northern hemisphere. We are maybe two days south of Bermuda, our last port before Lunenburg. But a couple of days ago all was as it has been for most of the last year.

The yards of the ship were braced up halfway on the starboard tack to catch a fine Force-4 southeast trade wind on the quarter. Sailmakers were stitching away on the main hatch sewing tablings on the sail we are making for the 1841 Whaling Bark Charles W. Morgan laying at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, USA. This sail is coming out quite fine and we are looking forward to donating it to the ship and museum. Susannah, Ivan, Morgan, Kathleen, and watch helpers have finished a new main t’gallant staysail that set very well, and they are about to finish a new main deck awning. That will be quite nice to have.

Logan, Bart, and JD are swinging adzes, draw-knives and planes at a 28-foot chunk of spruce shaping a new fore-royal yard. The first yard broke at the beginning of the last voyage. We made a new one by gluing up some planks we bought in Panama. A couple of the planks have softened up a bit (code for rotten) so now we get to make one properly out of a big piece of pine we have been carrying around for years in the port waterways just for this purpose. We hope to have it crossed before Lunenburg, of course. What traditional spar-making I know I learned from West Indian shipwrights in the Caribbean, from Mr. Ruben Petersen in St. Thomas and from Mr. Wesley “Bones” Pilgrim in Grenada. I enjoy seeing young carpenters gain these skills learned as young sailors did before the mast in wooden sailing ships.

Ollie, Tracy, Andrea D., and Shackle are rigging away. Almost all the lower shrouds have been completely overhauled since Cape Town. This is a big job. All the wire seizings laboriously clamped on in 1996 in the snowy Lunenburg winter have to be broken off to get at the serving underneath. It is the serving and the wire itself that needs to be overhauled, not the seizings; they are fine, just in the way. Then the 8 or 10 feet of 1-1/8-inch wire underneath gets cleaned and wire brushed, greased with viscous goop, parceled with fine canvas and reserved with tarred marlin. Then this stiff wire needs to be bent around the solid rigging thimble and secured. Lastly, four heavy wire seizings have to be passed around to hold the legs tightly together. This is old-time sailing ship rigging—hard and nasty at times—but the gang is good at it. Ratlines are being renewed and rigging screws overhauled at the same time. Pretty tarry crowd we have here.

After work is done for the day, Ollie, Shackle, and Torunn (from Norway) have been studying Scandinavian sailing ship terms, since they want to sail in the several Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish ships. They are all good sailors and seamen; they just need to learn this business in their own language. I help them by giving terms in Danish, which are mostly the same as Norwegian. We use a wonderful Danish book (still in print) called Haandbog af Praktisk Somaendskab by Jens Kusk Jensen; it is the best book of its kind. In the mid 1970s Captain Kimberly in the Brigantine Romance used to help me pour over his old copy of this book to learn Scandinavian sea terms. Learning these terms helped get me a four-year berth in the Full Rigged Ship Danmark. Not bad, I thought.

Amanda and Rebecca and all their helpers have been hard at it. Painting and varnishing was coming along in the fine weather. Pin rails got more varnish. The masts have all gotten painted out a nice buff. Oh, you can paint a ship forever…

Danie has Brett and Pania as his engine-room helpers. Brett is a veteran of the machinery, and Pania says she likes it a lot. They report that they have been doing lots of cleaning. Hot work sometimes but it’s important. Joe is putting out the meals and even more birthday cakes. Today it’s mac and cheese with lots of salads. Joe will be sailing in the Topsail Schooner Shenandoah this summer, cooking on. He is quite a talented musician, a guitarist and singer who writes his own songs that have a Celtic, Maritime, bluesy feel to them. He has three excellent albums out, so why does he cook in sailing ships? Says he likes the life.

A lot of hands are finishing up canvas sea-bags with certain urgency. Lunenburg and the 17th of June are not far away.

Carpenters among the shavings
Danie starting the Main Engine
Ivan the sailmaker
Kathleen on the wheel near JVD
Pania and Danie
Preparing lunch
Redoing the rig
Redoing the wire seizings
Sailors are carpenters, too.
Shaping the yard
Sunset on way to Bermuda

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