Captain's Log

Archive for March, 2007

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The Sailors Came Back; They Just Couldn’t Stay Away!

In this line of work, it is a fact that you can never really be sure where or when you’ll meet your former shipmates again. This winter’s Caribbean Voyage has apparently come at a particularly nostalgic time for Picton Castle alum because the sailors came back. They just couldn’t stay away!

As of today, our crew is comprised of mostly former world voyagers and of crew who originally signed on as trainees, but just wouldn’t go home! There are plenty of familiar names and faces passing on deck these days. They belong to Captain Moreland (all four World Voyages), Chibley the ship’s cat (WV 1-4) Mate Lynsey (Ontario, WV 2-4), Purser Maggie (Ontario, WV 4), Deckhand Logan (Nova Scotia, WV 4), Chief Engineer Andrea (Ohio, WV4), Assistant Engineer Finn (Nova Scotia, WV 2), Deckhand Erin (Nova Scotia, WV 4), Deckhand John K (Virginia, WV 3-4), Mate Rebecca (Nova Scotia, WV 3-4), Deckhand Erik (New York, WV 3), Deckhand Jack (New Hampshire, WV 4), Deckhand Johanna (Nova Scotia, WV 4), and there is another former world voyager due to arrive in a few weeks! As for our trainees-turned-volunteers, we have: Nadja (Spain, tall ships2006, winter ’07), Mary Anne (Nova Scotia, winter ’07), Kelly (Alberta, tall ships 2006, winter ’07), Katie (Illinois, tall ships 2006, winter ’07), Stephanie (Virginia, winter ’07), Bronwen (Nova Scotia, South Africa ’06) and there are at least another two winter ’07 trainees due to return in the next few weeks!

What makes a sailor come back? I can think of as many reasons to return to a ship as I can think of for leaving in the first place! A sailor’s relationships with the sea and the vessels we sail in are personal, so every sailor will give you a different answer.

Loyalty to a vessel and her Master likely plays a role for many. My personal feeling is that if you take good care of a ship she’ll take good care of you, so maybe it’s part loyalty and part superstition.

To be a good shipmate and sailor, the lifestyle must appeal to you. The Picton Castle does not boast private luxury accommodations or amenities; we do not have cold drinking water nor hot water showers. We do not have air conditioning or even AC power to spare! You can count on the ship’s routine, and you can count on the routine being broken when the ship needs you; there is no such thing as truly “off duty.” The ship comes first, and all sailors accept that the lifestyle of serving in a ship might often find them living outside their comfort zones. The Picton Castle crew love the lifestyle and we are never truly happy unless we are a little dirty, a little sweaty, a little thirsty, or a little wet.

Why do former crew return to the Picton Castle? That this ship in particular is magical is no secret to those who serve in her. She will steal the breath right out of your lungs to fill her sails and you will gladly give it. If you do not believe me that the Picton Castle is a magical ship, stand back and watch what changes take place in the faces of children and sea-sensitive souls (who are otherwise invisible in a crowd) when they first step aboard her decks. Many compare her to the magic flying pirate ship in Peter Pan, which is not altogether off-base. Instead of pixie dust we rely on the magic of the wind, the ocean’s glittering phosphorescence and the influence of dolphins and whales instead of pixies like Tink.

Finally, there is a magic about this sailing ship that was best articulated by our former Bosun Michael. He said that serving in her isn’t like coming aboard to work and absorb information every day, instead it is like coming home to care for an old friend who helps us to remember something we’ve known a long, long time.

It’s really no wonder that these sailors came back. They just couldn’t stay away!

Double rainbow at sea
Headsails
Port anchor
Under sail

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Swim Call

A good duty day in port is one when work ends early enough for a swim call. The fore yard is braced slightly on a starboard tack so that the swing rope can be rigged, inflatable water toys are blown up, proper ladders or scramble nets are rigged over the side, and life rings are put out to float astern of the ship. Crew put on their bathing suits, some even bring their shampoo or soap for a salt water bath. Once lookouts have been posted, it’s time to enjoy a refreshing plunge.

The more timid people climb down the ladder into the ocean (there aren’t too many of those aboard). Some jump from the rail by the well deck. The more daring jump from the end of the bowsprit. And the most adventurous try the rope swing. The long rope with knots in the bottom for gripping is rigged from the starboard end of the fore yard. There’s usually a line up of people on the foc’sle head, and when it’s your turn you use the tag line attached to pull the rope up to you, then climb over the rail and stand on the cathead to prepare for your swing. Being careful to hold on tight and not get tangled in the tag line, when you’re ready you launch yourself away from the ship and out over the water. At the height of your swing you let go and fly through the air before dropping into the azure water.

Rope swinging is definitely a spectator sport. Watching is almost as good as swinging yourself. Some of the crew can do back flips. Others like to flail their arms and legs around after they let go of the rope. Some are completely graceful, making almost no splash at all as they enter the water. Some have notorious “signature” leaps. From time to time things don’t go as planned and someone ends up in a giant belly flop. Spectators on board and in the water cheer and cringe appropriately.

Even if the rope swing isn’t for everyone, floating around in the water after a long, hot, sweaty day is. Many of the crew have their own inflatable water toys, like Lynsey with her swimming bee and John with his small blue dinghy. Katie jumped in wearing a life jacket upside down like a diaper to keep her afloat sitting up. The water temperature in the Caribbean averages about 27 degrees Celsius, which is just about perfect; warm enough to be comfortable but cooler than the air so it’s refreshing. There’s no better end to a duty day in port in the Tropics.

Back flip off the rope swing
Ben launches himself off the rope swing
John relaxes at swim call
Lynsey, Finn, Andrea, Kelly and Nadja enjoy swim call

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The Green Flash

Watching the sun set from the decks or high up in the rigging as we sail Picton Castle in the tropics is nature’s television. Especially when we’re underway, the rails are lined with people as the sun heads toward the horizon after supper. Every trainee goes home with some beautiful photos of the glowing orb sinking below the water. The sky is saturated in colours ranging from the expected reds, oranges and yellows to exotic purples and pinks with all shades in between.

The one colour everyone wants to see at sunset is green. I don’t understand the science of it, but apparently just after the sun goes below the horizon on the water there’s some kind of weird light refraction that causes a green flash. The green flash is unique to tropical waters. The flash doesn’t light up the whole sky, but it’s definitely visible. The conditions must be just right in order for the green flash to occur: a clear crisp view of the horizon with no clouds. It’s quite rare to have the proper conditions to see the green flash, and even more rare to actually be looking at the moment it happens. This creates the mysterious appeal of watching for it every evening. Some people are skeptical the green flash even exists. I was doubtful at first, but having seen it twice, I’m now a firm believer.

Regardless of whether there’s a green flash on a particular night or not, watching the sun set is part of the culture in many places that have open ocean to the west. In Camp’s Bay, just south of Cape Town in South Africa, going for a “sundowner” is a social event. Bars and restaurants have big open windows and, even more popular, patios that overlook the ocean. People go and order a drink, sit somewhere with a good view and watch the sun go down. Sunset watching is a Caribbean thing too on the west-facing side of the islands. One evening in Nevis, sitting with a group of shipmates and local people under a gazebo at the port, we all watched the sun go down together. They had the same obsession with the green flash that our crew does, watching for it every night. Dominica has a restaurant and bar south of the capital of Roseau called The Green Flash, named for its prime location to watch for this elusive event. On board, we join the tradition by watching from deck every evening.

sunset through the fore braces

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Ship’s Work Never Ends

The “to do” list on the Picton Castle seems endless. There is always ship’s work that needs to be done and as crew, it’s our job to keep the ship in good shape. As a shipmate once said, “Rust never sleeps.” So keeping the steel of the ship’s hull and superstructure painted is a priority. The standing rigging always needs to be tarred, rails varnished, lines replaced, the deck oiled and more. All of this in addition to the usual household cleaning that needs to be done on a daily basis when you put lots of people together in a small space.

The engineers have been working on some electrical projects lately, making sure the steaming light works properly. This is the white light on the foremast that we must display when we’re under motor but not when we’re under sail. Andrea was freed of the engine room for a while to climb aloft and tinker with the light, but what finally fixed the problem was changing the fuse.

Painting the topsides has been an ongoing project, with the bulk of the work done over two days in port. Topsides are the outside of the hull above the waterline. When everyone works together it doesn’t take long. We had the work skiff in the water with four crew aboard to work from the bottom up. They equipped themselves with rollers to make the job go more quickly and brushes attached to long sticks so they could reach higher up the hull. There were also crew on board, wearing harnesses and leaning over the rails to paint from the top down. The two teams met in the middle. On the bow, where the hull curves up making a bigger space to paint, the middle sections were reached by a crew member in a bosun’s chair, which is basically a wooden seat on a line that can be tended from deck. We have also painted the masts using a bosun’s chair.

The carpenter’s shop on board was completely emptied, cleaned, painted and re-stowed. This particular space always seems to attract random weird stuff that nobody knows what to do with, kind of like the junk drawer most people have in their kitchen that’s full of stuff that might be useful someday but doesn’t have anywhere else to go in the meantime. The new and improved carpenter’s-shop-on-a-diet looks much better with less junk, and it’s easier to find the stuff we actually need and use on a regular basis.

The galley and scullery have also had a complete overhaul and reorganization. The galley got a paint touch-up, and the scullery has been properly stocked with good food. The crew has been snacking on lots of dried fruit and nuts discovered at the bottom of a pile of totes in the hold since we left Lunenburg. The scullery, where we wash dishes, is constantly being cleaned and tidied after every meal with the occasional major top-to-bottom cleaning.

The list continues. Just as we cross a few things off there are always twice as many to add. Sails must be loosed and dried when we are in port and then furled again at the end of the day so the cotton canvas does not rot. The fresh water pump in the galley needs to be fixed, the line for the fore t’gallant halyard needs to be replaced, and on…

galley clean and empty
katie paints the mast using a bosun s chair
scullery

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