Thursday, February 8th, 2007
The Picton Castle‘s newly repaired skiff was launched last Friday morning. It was a grand occasion with all the crew onboard, hauling on tackles to lift it off the cargo hatch and over the rail into the water. The new and improved skiff is one in which we can be proud to pull up at any yacht club dock. It is sturdy and seaworthy, more spacious and comfortable than the spare one we have been using while this boat was being repaired. But the spare did a good job and we are glad to have her standing by. Just as the Picton Castle looks different from all the sleek, shiny, modern boats that are often our neighbors at anchor, our skiff stands out from all the grey rubber inflatable boats that everyone else uses as tenders. Carpenter Joe has done a fantastic job of repairing the skiff using metres of fiberglass cloth, gallons of fiberglass resin, metres of lumber, boxes of screws and all sorts of stainless steel and galvanized steel hardware.
After leaving Dominica the Picton Castle sailed to Iles Des Saintes, a group of small French islands that are part of Guadeloupe. Quaint is a good way to describe the Saintes, with a pretty main street with a variety of small businesses that cater to tourists. The streets are filled with rented scooters, except in the centre of town, which is designated for pedestrians only. Many of our crew rented scooters to check out the island. Ky in particular had a great time scooting around. The island has many beaches, most within easy walking distance of the main town. Our crew also found one of the best ice cream shops we’ve ever been to, with a wide variety of homemade flavours. There’s nothing wrong with eating two or three ice cream cones on your day off, is there?
Antigua was the next stop for us, and we found a space to anchor in Falmouth Harbour. There are two major harbours very close to each other, Falmouth Harbour and English Harbour, separated by a peninsula only a few hundred metres wide at its narrowest point. We found ourselves in very interesting company in Falmouth, with most of our neighbors being shiny superyachts. Several had their own helicopters, and on one there was a 42-foot sailboat on deck that you hardly noticed at first. The same one with the sailboat also had a sort of garage that opened up to reveal a whole stable of jet skis, speed boats, bicycles, and other fun toys. Le Grand Bleu, supposed to be owned by some Russian oil guy. We also saw Maltese Falcon, the most modern square-rigger imaginable. Instead of bracing the yards individually the entire mast turns, and the sails are stowed inside the masts, set by pulling them out to the ends of the yardarms like a shower curtain. We are told that she cost $280 million—wow! We stayed in Antigua a week and a lot of work got done on the ship. In addition to completing the skiff, Joe has started to make dutchmen in the quarter deck, replacing sections that are gouged. There were some major painting projects happening, particularly the bulwarks and stanchions on the main deck as well as the topsides. Pin rails on the quarterdeck were sanded and varnished. We got a lot done ashore as well, including some marine shopping at the island’s many chandleries—Second Mate Lynsey had a list as long as her arm—and the usual laundry and provisioning.
We launched the Monomoy and spent some time learning and practicing how to row. It’s great physical exercise, but more important, it teaches us about working together to move the boat through the water. The person on the port side all the way aft is the stroke oar, the rower who sets the pace that everyone else must match. Trying to row on your own agenda just won’t work because the oars get tangled and you annoy your boat-mates. When all the rowers work together they pull the boat through the water almost magically; when they don’t, it looks like a drunk spider with uncoordinated legs. The first few minutes in the Monomoy are often a little chaotic until the group finds its pace, and we saw huge improvements over the few days of rowing.
During their time off, crew went exploring to discover the best of the island. We met a local guy with a bus, “Sarge,” who took two different groups of people on an island tour. We saw everything from the bustling market in St. John to the most well-landscaped international airport around. The Caribbean plays host to the Cricket World Cup this year with many different islands each hosting a pool of teams in the earlier rounds. Matches begin in Antigua at the end of March. They are very proud of their brand-new stadium, which I hope they finish in time; the stadium is done, but the infrastructure around it (roads, parking lots, etc) still needs some work. The stadium will be named for Sir Vivian Richards, one of the best batters around and a former captain of the West Indies team, who is a national hero in Antigua.
Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour was another interesting place to explore, as its modern yacht facilities occupy the former British Navy base. The thick stone walls that once were the home of Lord Nelson himself now house restaurants, shops, a bakery, the customs office, a bank and a post office. Many boats tie up stern-to around the same dock to which British ships would have come for repairs and maintenance. The Dockyard certainly has its modern uses but has not forgotten its history, with informative signs and interpreters who guide visitors around and explain what things were like there 200 years ago.
We hauled up the anchor early this morning, and as I write we are moving along at about 4 knots under full sail. A whale was spotted, breaching, a short while ago. There are some flying fish to watch, the volcano on Montserrat is spitting a constant white cloud, and we hear the gentle sounds of sapphire blue water lapping against the hull. As I have heard Captain Moreland say, it’s not so bad to be us.