Captain's Log

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East of Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas

Bound from: Sandy Cay, BVIs, towards Charleston, SC

Between the hours of 1800-1900 (6-7 PM) last evening the Picton Castle motored past her way point, San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. This is interesting for two reasons: First, the “way point” is a position on a chart that the navigator chooses to steer towards while planning a route bound from one place towards another. There can be several way points throughout a passage; it is not always an island as in this case, but the way point is usually in relation to a bearing, such as off a point of land or some other distinctive feature. Routing is fascinating, and I look forward to the workshops that are hosted aboard the ship. Second, San Salvador Island is what most historians agree is the first western land mass that Christopher Columbus discovered in his era of exploration. I do not know nearly enough about San Salvador’s historical record other than that piece of trivia, but it leaves an impression to pass so close to where history was made.

The sky the past two nights has been lit up all around us by electrical storms 30 or more nautical miles away. They are too far away to hear the thunder or the crack of lightning, but the light show is tremendous! To the West there was chain lightning tearing a path through the towering cumulous clouds, its white hot fire reaching up into the atmosphere and not down, as I am accustomed to seeing over land. There were a few bolts, however, that fiercely stabbed towards the sea. To the North there was a different storm altogether. The clouds were towering cumulous with moderate vertical extent, but instead of violent white streaks and explosions of light, the lightning rolled horizontally through the cloud making its way from one end to the other. The cloud’s shape was clearly defined by shifting colours of golden yellow and pink that in the dark of night gives the illusion of watching it through the lens of a very old movie camera.

Picture it: You are standing on the highest deck of a slow-moving ship as it slips through the water heading NW. You are leaning against the port taff-rail with your arms folded and even your ankles are crossed as you brace yourself against the gentle swell. Venus is the only source of real light because even the bright stars are too far away. Your gaze towards the horizon is interrupted by the brilliant light explosions of a not-too-distant electrical storm, but a storm distant enough that you can enjoy it. For ten, twenty, even thirty minutes you watch the storm that shows no sign of letting up and continually elicits “oohs” and “aahs” from your shipmates who are watching with you. Something then catches your eye that you did not notice before because your gaze was focused so intently upward. At first you believe it is the reflection of the lightning on the water’s surface, but when the next flash comes there is no reflection, so you watch the water more carefully to see if it happens again. The next vivid light display is suddenly echoed on the water’s surface, but a second too late to have been a reflection. It dawns on you now that it is the random blaze and sparkle of yellow, pink and blue-hued phosphorescence that has been churned up in the ship’s wake that has caught your eye. Alert, you watch the syncopation of flashing lights above and below and imagine they are playing variations of one another’s tune. Amused and a bit stunned by the effect of this display you have images of Mickey Mouse in a wizard’s costume conducting the waves and lightning to crashing classical music á la Disney’s “Fantasia.” You are still thinking about it when you turn in for bed.

Today the air is significantly lighter, so much so between breakfast and lunch that our weather log reads “light air” rather than the direction and force. The sea is not like the mirror of a flat calm, but there are just tiny breeze ripples like those you would expect to see on a lake. We are motoring along at 6.2 knots, and the compass course is NW ½ N. The sky is hazy and bright and the thermometer reads about 32°C. Walking barefoot on the freshly oiled decks is for daredevils only—there are no heroes in fire walking. Even Chibley does the hot-potato trot with all four paws when she scoots from one living space to the next trying to avoid the puppies and find a cool spot to sleep (usually Johanna’s bunk).

It is a Sunday at sea. That means there is no ship’s work but the watches still take their turn being alert and on deck, carrying on with the same helm and lookout rotations. Trainee David (from Texas) cannot stand being idle, so he took on the task of polishing the brass on the ship’s binnacle. He scrubbed that brass for four hours straight starting with Vim cleaner and following up with Brasso, a polishing agent. Not entirely satisfied with the nearly perfect results, he’s going to give it another go before we reach Charleston.

David also gave me an hour long knife-sharpening seminar after lunch today. I’ve kept my knife sharp enough, but I find I have to sharpen it more than I would like, and I don’t like to make time to sharpen it. This reluctance to keep my blade in top shape is a source of private shame for me. A sailor without a knife is generally useless, and a sailor with a dull knife is just as bad. David took charge and had me demonstrate the technique I’ve been using these past two years and he immediately pointed out that I was using too much pressure and my angle was too high, among other heinous scars I’d left on my otherwise sturdy blade. Throughout the next hour David showed me how to file my knife and to slowly graduate from a rough stone to a smoother one. When we reached the stage where we tried to shave patches of our arms with the blade, he led me below to the Main Salon, where he lives with 14 other people. He opened up his shaving kit and pulled out two more sharpening stones. David uses a straight razor to shave, not “those cheap disposable things.” He allowed me to run my hand along the smooth, almost polished looking surfaces of his razor stones and went to work honing the edge of my already sharp knife. I was tickled to get this special treatment, and he was as excited to share his knowledge with me as I was to be his student. We finished the seminar with laughter as we plucked hairs from our heads and swiped at them with the blades of my knife and his straight razor. His razor won every time, but he claims my knife is sharp enough to perform heart surgery. I’ll have to ask Doc Jeremy (our Medical Officer and a retired heart surgeon) what he thinks about that.

This afternoon there is a “Big, Big, Big! Water fight” taking place on deck. The watch has gone around closing watertight doors and dogging shut portholes. The last I saw was Jack (deckhand from Florida / New Hampshire) leading out our starboard fire hose. This is going to be a big water fight. When everything gets dried up and put away it will soon be time for our Sunday Marlinspike party. Many of those aboard the ship at this time have never heard of our Marlinspikes, but they’ve been informed to dress appropriately for tonight’s theme: “Goodbye, Tropics! Hello Charleston!” I expect the excitement will continue well into the night. Nadja (deckhand, Spain) has been working all afternoon to compile all the right music onto her iPod, and rumour has it we should be able to see Florida (or at least the glow of lights) maybe even as early as sometime tonight. I’ll check the chart to see when we are parallel to Jack’s house. For the life of me I cannot imagine why more people do not go to sea.

Evening at sea
Water fight!

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