Captain's Log

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Passage in the Caribbean Sea

“Good morning, this is your wake-up for breakfast!” comes the cheery voice from outside my curtain. It’s 0715 and time for the crew to be awakened for a day sail between islands. I slowly roll out of my bunk and put on my work clothes—shorts and a tank top that are already covered in paint and tar. I know that they’re going to get covered in some other ship goo today so it doesn’t matter much that even though they just came back from the laundry they don’t look clean. I head up towards the aloha deck after the bell has rung at 0730, signalling that it’s time to start eating breakfast. Donald has made pancakes with dried cranberries and oatmeal along with the fruit he cuts up every morning. One of the advantages of short passages is that we can go shopping more frequently and we almost always have fresh fruit and veggies on hand. I make a plate and sit down on a spar in the breezeway to eat. By now I know which of my shipmates will wish me a good morning and who needs to have a cup of coffee before they’re ready for a conversation.

At 0800 the entire crew musters on the cargo hatch to find out the plan for the day. Because we plan to get underway, some of the jobs that we usually do in the morning will be postponed until we’re sailing. The Captain tells us about the island that we’re heading to, and what we will do to get the ship underway. The crew who climb aloft go up and loose sails, those who stay on deck lay down running rigging coils on deck and single up the gear. Once the sails are loosed and crew are back on deck it’s “Hands to the windlass!” Everyone heads up to the foc’sle head and prepares to heave up the anchor using the hand-powered “Armstrong Patent” windlass. Second mate Lynsey and I head to the charthouse, where she will navigate and I will stand by for communications. MacGregor and Andrea go to the engine room to fire up the main engine as the rest of the crew begin the hot, sweaty job of hauling up the anchor. The Captain is on the bridge observing all aspects of getting underway while the Mate and the bosun are both on the foc’sle head leading the team on the windlass.

The rhythm of the windlass begins with the command, “Heave along!” There are two shots of chain out, meaning the crew have 180 feet of chain to haul up followed by the anchor itself. The Captain tells me to take the wheel. I hear one bell from the foc’sle head, meaning that there is only one shot of chain left to heave up. The Captain tells me to put the wheel hard left, and shortly after I hear multiple bells, meaning the anchor is off the bottom. The crew on the windlass breathe a sigh of relief because although it’s hard work at the end to lift the anchor itself, they know it will soon be finished. The ship turns left and heads away from land and once we reach the desired direction the Captain tells me to keep it steady.

After the anchor is housed properly and the bars are out of the windlass, the crew stand by on deck for sail handling. We set lower tops’ls first, then upper tops’ls and a few fore and aft sails. Soon we’re out of the lee of the island and the wind picks up, so MacGregor and Andrea shut down the main engine and we’re under sail alone. After a frenzy of sail setting all hands help to coil lines and clean up the deck. Then the duty watch musters so the lead seaman can assign helm, lookout, and other duties. Sara comes to relieve me on the helm while Stephanie heads up to the foc’sle head to take the lookout. It’s not long before she spots the next island amongst the clouds on the horizon. The rest of the watch break into two groups: one will do a deck wash and the other will do domestics. The deck wash team begins by picking things up off the deck to clear the way and rolling out the hose from its wheel in the starboard breezeway. Those on domestics break into smaller teams to tackle each of the interior spaces with brooms, sponges, bleach, toilet brushes and windex. The other watch has some time off to have a nap, read a book or just sit and enjoy the beautiful sailing and lend a hand where they can.

Once deck wash and domestics are done the duty watch starts on the day’s work as organized by the bosun. Most jobs involve painting, sanding, tarring or the like. This particular day we need to get the t’gallant rail painted and the wood trim on the galley house sanded so it can be varnished. Contents of the paint locker are unpacked as people look for the right colours of paint, thinner, brushes, stir sticks, containers to pour paint into and tarps. Jobs are begun and then handed off at the top of the hour as people relieve the helm and lookout. There’s a lot to do, but everyone pauses to look for a few minutes when the lookout spots a pod of dolphins on the port beam. Sea turtles are sometimes spotted too, but you have to be quick to see them.

Twenty minutes before lunch, someone from the duty watch goes to wake up the other watch and let them know that it’s almost time for them to eat and be ready to work. Donald has made his usual variety of dishes—everything from rice and peas to leftover chicken from the previous night’s dinner—along with a fruit salad, curried chick peas, and a vegetable and beef dish. The oncoming watch eats first and then musters before the off-going watch can head to lunch. The helm and lookout are relieved by the afternoon watch, the mates turn over duties and the off-going watch musters before they go below to eat. The afternoon watch picks up paintbrushes and sandpaper and carries on with the day’s work with some instruction from the bosun. The off-going watch linger over lunch and speculate about what time we will arrive at our destination.

Around 1430 all hands are called on deck to stand by as we come into our next anchorage. We take in and furl royals and t’gallants first, then the engineers fire up the main engine again so we can manoeuvre the ship more easily. All the proper flags are flown, including the flag of the country we are arriving in and the yellow “Q” flag. Andrea takes the helm as we approach the anchorage, Logan stands on the pin rail forward so he can take soundings with a lead line, and the Mate and the bosun are on the foc’sle head with a few helpers ready to let the anchor go on the Captain’s command. Lynsey is back in the charthouse navigating, plotting postions and the rest of the crew stand by on deck to take in sail. The orders come quickly to strike sail and the crew respond by repeating the orders and carrying them out. Once we get to the desired spot, the Captain gives the order to let go the anchor and the bosun releases the brake to let the chain run. MacGregor puts the engine in reverse and the chain pays out as the ship moves backwards. Once we have the anchor settled and the proper amount of chain out, we launch the skiff and get fenders, ladders and all the other accessories in place. All of the crew are put to work stowing sails, either working aloft, in the headri or on deck. The Captain and I are taken ashore by Ky in the skiff to go and clear in with Customs so half of the crew can go ashore when the work is done and enjoy some time off.

The crew get to visit some amazing islands this winter, enjoying beautiful beaches, lush rainforests, coconut trees, steel drums and some of the friendliest people around, but upon leaving the ship many say that the highlight of their trip was the sailing. “Breathtaking” was how Rosalie, a trainee, described watching the sails being set. Shirley and Ky were thrilled to see dolphins jumping and playing in the bow wake at night, causing bubbly green trails of phosphorescence. Sailing this barque can be a lot of work, but it’s an unforgettable experience.

Becky and Nadja stow the upper topsail
John on helm with Logan
Mary Anne coils lines
On the windlass
Picton Castle under sail
Yellow Q flag up on our way into port

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