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Sailing Off the Hook

The Picton Castle got underway yesterday afternoon from Nevis by sailing off the hook. This means that the ship sailed away from being at anchor entirely under wind, sail and crew power, the engine was not used at all. It wasn’t even on. We had the fore yards braced on a starboard tack and the main yards on a port tack and all the sails loosed before we started heaving up the anchor. There is no electric windlass on the Picton Castle; the anchor is heaved up using a hand-powered windlass. We put five or six crew members on each side and they alternate pumping up and down, which turns the wild-cat that pulls in the chain. Each shot of 1-1/4″ chain is 90 feet, and we had two shots out. This means that the crew had 180 feet of heavy chain to pull up, as well as a 1,200 pound anchor. Heaving up the anchor is hot, sweaty work. Once the anchor was most of the way up, we took in the spanker and started setting sails on the foremast. This pushed the bow around and once we had turned, the fore yards were braced on a port tack to match the main yards. Less than half an hour later, we had set all sails and the ship was starting to pick up speed as we got farther out of the lee of the island.

Sailing off the hook is a great exercise in seamanship and sail handling, as orders must be carried out quickly and correctly. It usually seems a bit chaotic at the time with people dashing around the deck from line to line and hauling, easing or tending it as required, but yesterday afternoon everything went very smoothly and felt relaxed. One of the best parts of sailing off the hook is that we don’t have the noise of the engine. The silence allows us to hear other noises of the ship—the jangle of the lower tops’l sheets as the sail is set, the sound of the hanks of the heads’ls sliding up the stays, and the flapping of canvas as the giant mains’l and fores’l are set. It was a lovely trade-wind afternoon, bound for a couple days at sea under canvas alone.

Anchor chain and windlass
Hauling fore upper tops l halyard
Under full sail

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