Thursday, June 15th, 2006
Day before yesterday the Picton Castle and crew were enjoying a lovely day sailing along homeward bound in the warm Gulf Stream—fine balmy west winds, small seas, sunny skies—not so bad. We had been making a good passage north from Bermuda without any problems. But this is the North Atlantic so we have the keenest interest in weather reports and predictions.
All this time a Tropical Storm called ALBERTO has been brewing and boiling in the Gulf of Mexico, which would properly seem pretty far away. But for a storm ready to hook up to 20 then 30 knots in forward motion while spinning around at 50 knots, it really isn’t so far at all. The predictions had been pretty far off for when it was going to break out of the Gulf, but all agreed that when it did, it would move fast and furious for right along the south shore of Nova Scotia. This makes it sound localized, but the system would spread gales from the Bay of Fundy to Georges Banks all the way down to Bermuda. So, being within rock-throwing distance of Nova Scotia, we fired up the main engine and paddled north as fast as we could, the idea being to get into a safe harbour and lashed alongside the closest secure wharf right away.
We made Shelburne yesterday in a light southwesterly wind on the port quarter. I was set to come sailing in under the lee of a low, rocky, pine tree–covered Nova Scotian headland, this time Cape Roseway of McNutt’s Island (McNutts = son of Nutts?). After a year of tropical fragrances, it was a delight to inhale the ambrosia of pine saltwater tide, seaweed and even a little wood fire smoke of the North. Harbourmaster Don Faye called us up and gave us a fine berth to wait out the predicted blow. We got the ship tied up starboard side to the pier with plenty of hawsers. Customs Canada graciously adapted to our changed port of entry and cleared us in along with a small container ship and a yacht dodging the same weather. A few big North Atlantic deep sea trawlers steamed in after us with much the same idea in mind. The short-term forecasts all called for a still night with winds to pick up in the morning. So, we set the watches and headed off to the “Wreck-Room,” the local pub. It might have been 8:30 in the evening when 30 or so Picton Castle crew wandered in. Apparently thinking about closing early due to light business on a rainy Tuesday night this all changed as we filled the place up. The friendly publican, Al, made us all feel welcome and at home. We took over the pool table and paid close attention to the Oilers / Carolina Hockey game on the big screens. We rooted for our Canadians to beat their Canadians.
One of the problems with predicting storms, of course, is that they don’t always do what you predict. Sometimes they are less intense than predicted, in which case people make fun of the weather forecasters. Sometimes a storm does exactly as predicted, which doesn’t seem to surprise anyone. And then sometimes the storms are a bit worse than forecast. That seems to be becoming the case with ALBERTO. While not coming right out and calling this a full-on hurricane, the latest warning that came over one of our little black boxes called this a storm with “hurricane-force” winds. Today, at four o’clock in the afternoon alongside in Shelburne, it is blowing very hard out of the NNW after doing the same from the NE a couple of hours ago. The Picton Castle is heeling away from the wharf as if we were sailing at about 5+ degrees and straining hard on all her lines. There is a roar in the rigging this crew has never heard before. All hands are standing by to do what is needed for their ship, but at this point there is little to do. The good news is that ALBERTO is blasting through pretty fast; tomorrow it should be gone to torment the south shore of Newfoundland and then off to Ireland. The weekend in Nova Scotia is predicted to be nice and sunny. Let’s hope so. We have just heard a MAYDAY from a yacht “Dad’s Dream” that left Bermuda with us bound for Halifax. Then we heard partial transmissions of a joint US Coast Guard / Canadian Coast Guard search and rescue operation. It is very, very rough out at sea south of us. We are anxious for their safety.
The weather has not stopped a small stream of visitors to the wharf including Mr. Milford Buchanan, who is making the finest little models of the Picton Castle for our shop in Lunenburg. Mr. Buchanan came down the wharf with his son and presented me with one of his handsome little wooden Picton Castles. I hope he comes back when he can come aboard for a “mug-up,” so we can show him around the real thing and thank him properly.