Captain's Log

Archive for May, 2008

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Weather, Learning and the First Week at Sea

Photo by Ben RogersWind went light early this morning. There was talk of setting the deis’l and motoring a while, but thankfully the wind perked back up a few hours into a nice 15-knot westerly. A weak low-pressure system has finally passed over us, and now we are catching the top edge of the incoming high.

We’ve been learning a lot here, and improving daily, and of all the learning that’s been going on, some of the most fascinating has been the lessons in weather analysis, both in weather faxes and studying the sky overhead, and then how the ship’s adapts to the observations and predictions. One of the most basic fundamentals of this process is the direction the systems rotate, low pressure systems rotating counterclockwise, and highs clockwise. The way we catch these winds is very much like surfing wherein we want to ride on the northern edge of the highs, and the southern edge of lows for fair winds in our passage east across the North Atlantic. So far it has been going well, and today, as the high moved in and the winds shifted from northwesterly to southwesterly, the skies cleared and the air warmed up enough that people could shed layers and walk around barefoot. It feels good padding around the sunny deck without shoes, feels natural.

And after our 4pm-8pm watch I sat on the Aloha deck with Bruce and a bowl of cereal and watched the sun set behind us, the high wispy clouds turning to steel as the blushing tangerine glow skirted away, drawn slowly behind in the ceaseless parade of fire westward. Though we’ve only been gone a week, the voyage so far has been fantastic, due in no small part to the quick camaraderie and fast learning of the hands aboard.

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Sailing Along

Sailing along in the North AtlanticOur barque Picton Castle is sailing along about 400 miles ESE of Lunenburg. We continue to steer for a point just south of “the Tail of the Grand Banks”. Sea temperature is now up from 5c to about 10c (50F) and every degree it goes up we sense and it feels better every day. Seas are modest, about a metre or so, a bit more maybe. The ship is making over seven knots in these moderate conditions, not so bad. Mr. Church of St Georges, Grenada, the ships’ cook, is turning out some pretty fine meals from his emporium on the well deck. Chibley, the famous ship’s cat, is finding warm bunks to snuggle up into. The new gang is learning the ways of a ship day by day, which after all, is simply what that thing called “sail training” actually is about. Not training to sail but training under sail, getting your seafaring experience under sail instead of in a steamer, and thus is the origin of what we now call ‘sail training’. It is not actually teaching to sail or a specific skill set (although that usually comes about) but getting your seamanship ramped up and enriched resourcefulness due to working a sailing ship signed on before the mast while learning and carrying out the duties of a seaman. There is much to learn, however and that is our collective task, teacher and student alike, the ship and sea being the best and most effective teaching team of all.

Bunks are well stowed. Engine department is in their routine of charging batteries, making water to fill tanks, looking after small projects here and there. The main engine has been off since the Cross Island buoy. The Mate and Bosun are looking after reeveing off of new pieces of running rigging, seeing about chafe in the rig, not too much it seems. Not much painting yet, still too cool and dampness in the air. The ship’s varnish is in tough shape after the Nova Scotian winter just past. Oak and teak pin rails and fife rails all are crying out for attention, well, soon come. Over the winter the wooden yards were all sent down, set up in our warehouse and got stripped and plenty coats of varnish so they are well protected now and look pretty nice. But the ship is clean anyway and we are warm enough, the sun is out just now. A few small light bellied – dark backed dolphin are swooping and playing alongside. Just now we have a fair breeze just aft of the starboard beam, all sail set to the t’gallants and the ship is sailing along just as she has for so many sea miles before.

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A Passage Making Day

Lat- 42-54N

Long-58-08W

The Picton Castle sails along under main t’gallant in light overcast making about 6-7 knots in under 20 knots of wind abeam. Seas are under a metre. We are steering ESE for south of the tail of the Grand Banks, with the objective in mind of avoiding too much fog and icebergs that show up on our iceberg charts of that area. This also gets us closer to and eventually into the Gulf Stream where the water will warm us up considerably as well as give us another 12 miles a day boost in speed while we ride it. The Gulf Stream is quite the phenomenon. Because of this current, which is primarily over heated water from the Caribbean, palm trees actually grow in southern Ireland and SW England in Cornwall, strange but true. I have read somewhere that if the Gulf Stream should slow down, cool off or give up entirely; this would set off an ice age and do it pretty quickly. Just to make it more exciting, apparently it wouldn’t take much to tip the Gulf Stream into submission. Stay tuned.

Last night we took in mains’l, t’gallants, outer jib, and spanker in expectations of stronger breezes according to our weather forecasts. Didn’t come to pass but we still have a weather eye out as this is the North Atlantic and to think we are going get across without a gale is wishful thinking. It was a good exercise to handle sail anyway. But so far, every day the sea-water temperature has gone up a degree or so and across the western ocean we must wander…

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Back at Sea Bound Across the Western Ocean

Lat 43-29N, Long 061-21W

Course: ESE

Speed: 5 knots

Weather: fair and clear, SW winds force 4

Seas: less than one metre

In the Picton Castle we could not wish for a better start to a transatlantic passage bound for Europe. The one week delay in Lunenburg has given us perfect conditions to sail eastward from Nova Scotia for several days. We shut down the engine just past Cross Island at the mouth of Lunenburg Bay. The Schooner Bluenose II gave us a final send off near the Ovens. Just now on Monday morning May 26, 2008 we will be passing south of Sable Island leaving it on the port side, about 45 miles to the north. The plan is to steer SE and sail under “the tail” or lower point of the Grand Banks and then head more or less due east for a while before heading NE towards Ireland. This whole passage is about 2,700 miles. Sailing to the south of and below “the tail” of the Grand Banks will keep us out of much fog and icebergs, of which there seem to be quite a few this year. The ship is under all plain sail. Some sail is not bent on yet; royals, flying jib, main t’gallant staysail, and gaff topsail, all light weather sails are still in the ‘tween decks. The Mate and Bosun will bend them on sometime later when we get into warmer weather.

The SW wind is supposed to pick up tonight and then switch around to moderate to strong NW in a day or so, all good useable breezes for this ship and crew.

The North Atlantic was once known as the “Western Ocean” and “across the Western Ocean I must wander…” goes an old song of the sea.

Kjetil and Dave happy to be making 6 knots
Peter steers SE on the 12-4 watch

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How we get weather information and plan and execute a North Atlantic passage in the Picton Castle

Heading to North AtlanticA great deal of thought and effort goes into the weather planning prior to a Trans-Atlantic passage in a ship like the Picton Castle.

Well prior to sailing, the approximate departure date/time is established by consulting pilot charts, studying the Sailing Directions and consulting with professional and experienced masters who have significant experience in the passages intended. Capt. Jan Miles of the Topsail Schooner Pride of Baltimore II in particular was consulted on this planned trans-atlantic. He has made many transatlantic passages as master in 100-ton wooden schooners. This part of the process began over a year ago for this voyage.

Ashore, in the office, the master and mates start studying the internet weather information as part of their daily duties in the weeks before sailing. Two weeks out from the planned departure date we begin to closely monitor NOAA weather forecasting National Weather Service/NCEP Ocean Prediction Center, a key tool being the “Atlantic Briefing” on the Internet. The “Atlantic Briefing” is a ready compilation of NOAA radio weatherfax maps including 500mb maps (high altitude – shows jet stream movement), Atlantic surface analysis, wind/wave analysis and sea-state analysis. Another useful tool is www.passageweather.com.

The sailing plan is basically to first get south of the axis of the jet stream by sailing SE from Lunenburg so as to be on the fair-wind side of low-pressure systems and away from the worst excesses of these lows. Also it is good to sail south of the “Tail of the Grand Banks” at about 43 North and 50 West – this routing reduces the probable intensity of fog and icebergs. Once sufficient southing has been achieved, we’ll adjust course to sail along a latitude track (depending on winds) towards just north of the Azores and then make up towards Ireland. If conditions allow, however, perhaps more of a rhumb line course from the “tail” towards the coast of southern Ireland. If this proves desirable it will shave off many miles and shorten this passage by several days.

On board, we rely on the following Weather Information Acquisitions Systems:

  1. Imarsat-C – High Seas weather text forecast and warnings which come automatically to the unit for the entire North Atlantic (whole world actually)
  2. Navtex – Also automatic text weather forecasts and warnings for the entire North Atlantic.
  3. Radio Weather Fax Charts, received automatically
  4. SSB – weather routing advice from “South Bound II” which provides detailed analysis and recommendations to individual vessels by SSB schedule on frequency 12359.0, log on at 1900 UTC, transmit and receive beginning at 2000 UTC
  5. Daily copies of NOAA’s “Atlantic Briefing” sent by iridium e-mail to the ship. This consists of 12, 24, 48 and 96-hour maps and forecasts of the above maps.
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Leaving Lunenburg

Last Thursday, Picton Castle left the dock for the first time with the crew of the Voyage of the Atlantic. They didn’t go far, just out into Lunenburg Bay to have the compass adjusted, but it was enough to make the crew really excited about getting underway for the long passage across the Atlantic. When the ship came back into the harbour an hour later, she anchored a couple hundred metres off the end of the wharf and stayed at anchor until Saturday. While at anchor, the crew were able to get used to being self-reliant and had lots of opportunities for sail handling drills and small boat handling.

The break in the weather we had been waiting for finally came on Saturday morning. The sky was mostly clear, the wind was light and the swell was small. All of the pre-departure checks were done, all hands were aboard and a small crowd was gathered on the wharf to wave goodbye. Lunenburg Mayor Lawrence Mawhinney came out to the ship by boat to wish the crew well, to let them know that the local community is supporting them and to give a blessing to the ship and the crew. Mikayla (a young friend of the ship), Susan and I (who will continue working for the ship from shore) got into the boat with the mayor and Lynsey drove us ashore. Once she got back to the ship the boat was hoisted and stowed, the main engine was fired up and the crew began the work of heaving up the anchor. The spanker was set and taken in while the anchor was being heaved up, then once the ship was underway heads’ls were set, then lower tops’ls, upper tops’ls, the fores’l and t’gallants. The crowd of well-wishers on the dock cheered and fired off a flare, the museum blew its horn and everyone waved the ship goodbye until they were past Battery Point and out of the harbour.

Bluenose II got underway for her first sail of the season and left Lunenburg Harbour about an hour before Picton Castle did, and was waiting near the mouth of the bay to accompany Picton Castle. As both ships were passing The Ovens, they exchanged horns and cannon fire to wish each other well.

This truly is the beginning of a great adventure, and the culmination of months of preparation by the ship’s staff crew as well as each individual on the voyage. I hope you will continue to read the logs to follow along with the journey as they are written and posted from sea.

Heaving up and getting underway
PICTON CASTLE at anchor in Lunenburg
Sailing out of Lunenburg Harbour

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Preparing for Departure

The past two and a half weeks have been busy as the Picton Castle prepares to set sail on the Voyage of the Atlantic. Trainees have arrived, settled into their bunks, been trained in ship safety, emergency procedures and sail handling and have put some work into getting the ship ready to go. A sense of camaraderie has already developed among shipmates and this particularly keen group is eager to get underway.

After a winter of maintenance and overhaul, the ship looks fantastic and has come to life again with the care of the professional crew and trainees. With upgraded safety equipment, a few new spars, some additional navigation equipment and a full load of provisions, the ship is ready to set sail.

The crew and the ship are eager to cross the Atlantic Ocean, bound for Ireland, to begin their exciting year-long journey. Weather permitting, the ship intends to depart under sail from Lunenburg on Saturday May 24 at 10:00am.

Corey, Sarah, Jackie, Bruce and Susie bend on heads ls
Hoisting the rescue boat
Kevin, Tim, Bill, Nick and Kolin bend on the fore lower tops l
Nadja paints lettering on the hull
training with the fire department
WT, Susie, Nicki and Spenser prepare to bend on sail

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Ship’s Work, Abandon Ship and a Party

Friday was a sunny and warm spring day in Lunenburg and the crew of the Picton Castle took advantage of the good weather to get lots of ship’s work done. During these two weeks of preparations for the voyage we are combining training with work to make sure the crew and the ship are ready. The weather was forecast to be rainy and windy over the weekend and into the next week, so Friday was a good day to get a bunch of painting done. The topsides have all been painted and the ship’s hull is white again and the charthouse and galley house have been painted back to buff and green. The quarterdeck edge has been painted buff, the overhead of the breezeway and aloha deck has a new coat of tropical blue. With all this care and attention, the ship is looking great.

Friday afternoon, after the painting equipment was put away, the crew were instructed in abandon ship procedure. Chief Mate Mike reviewed the station bill with everyone, telling each person what their job is in an abandon ship situation and what number life raft they are in. The station bill is a document which outlines each crew member’s responsibility in general quarters (when all watches are on deck, usually arriving in port and leaving port), fire, man overboard, abandon ship, and also assigns each crew member a designated life raft. Station bills are posted throughout the ship and it is each crew member’s responsibility to know their job in each emergency situation. The crew first walked through an abandon ship situation, learning where or how to do their required task. Emergency equipment was collected and brought to the main hatch, living spaces were evacuated, a head count was done, watertight doors were closed and boats and rafts were simulated being launched. The walk through was discussed, questions were answered and all the equipment that was brought out was put away. Once everyone was confident in their job, an abandon ship drill was done. Each person carried out their assigned task, then mustered at the main hatch and donned their life jacket.

After some more ship’s work on Saturday morning, the crew headed down the street to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic on Saturday afternoon. They saw the film “Around Cape Horn” in which Irving Johnson narrates some of the footage he shot while sailing around Cape Horn in the 1920s. This film is on the Captain’s suggested reading list for trainees. They also had a tour of the museum, looking particularly at local history and involvement in fisheries.

On Saturday evening, the crew were invited to a party at The Dory Shop, a wooden boat building shop that is almost next door to Picton Castle‘s wharf. The weather was wet and windy, but the party guests were warm and dry inside the workshop. The fire was roaring and there was live music provided by Lunenburg fiddler Anna Ludlow and her accompanist on piano. The boat that’s currently being worked on there is the new skiff for Picton Castle and it seems appropriate that our new boat was surrounded by fiddle music, dancing and good conversations.

Crew don lifejackets in abandon ship drill
Kevin and David paint the charthouse
Party at The Dory Shop

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Life Raft Training

Outdoors it was cool and rainy, but the crew of the Picton Castle were swimming and enjoying the warmth this afternoon. We were at the local indoor pool, emOcean, but not for swim call. Joe from the Nova Scotia Community College came to Lunenburg to run a life raft training session for our crew.

The crew all headed up the hill to the pool with immersion suits and life jackets. Joe first showed the crew the contents of a life raft, the standard items that are packed inside it. On Picton Castle we have extra food, flares, water and other supplies that are easily accessible that would also be taken into a life raft if time permits. Joe then had everyone put on immersion suits and demonstrated how to inflate the life raft by pulling the cord and how to right it if it inflates upside down. The crew were able to practice getting into the inflated life raft in their immersion suits. They also practiced getting in and out of the life raft in life jackets.

The life raft that the crew used today for training is one the instructor brought with him, life rafts must be inspected annually and Picton Castle‘s have recently passed their inspection and been re-installed on the ship. Picton Castle carries four 25-person life rafts, two on each side of the quarterdeck. They can be launched manually or by hydrostatic release.

floating in immersion suits and a life raft
getting into the liferaft
jumping into the pool

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First Time Aloft

Today was the first time that the new trainees were aloft on Picton Castle. Going aloft is one of the things trainees most look forward to when they join the ship, it is also something that many of them are nervous about. Trainees are not required to go aloft and there is no stigma attached to not going aloft. Everyone is encouraged to try and the first climb aloft is strictly supervised by our professional crew.

Our aloft training started with a review of the Picton Castle safety aloft policy. Harnesses are required anytime anyone goes aloft. Trainees were instructed on how to put on and use their harnesses, to empty their pockets and remove any personal gear not attached by a lanyard, how to climb maintaining three points of contact, to climb on the weather side, how to identify standing rigging and clip their harness to it, and to not take any unnecessary risks. After discussing how to climb aloft safely, everyone put on a brand new sit harness. Harnesses were checked by the professional crew, to be sure they fit correctly and were fastened properly. The professional crew then were stationed at specific points on the fore shrouds to assist trainees with their first climb.

The first time trainees go aloft they are guided along a route that we call “up and over.” They start at the rail and climb up the shrouds to the futtock shrouds just below the top. The shrouds are angled slightly inboard, the futtock shrouds are angled slightly outboard and they can be more difficult to climb up. The first crew member is stationed at the rail, the next crew member is stationed at the bottom of the futtock shrouds to instruct the trainees on the most effective places to put their hands and feet. Above the futtock shrouds is the top which, despite it’s name, is not at the top of the mast but instead is about 30 feet above the deck. A third crew member is stationed on the top to assist the trainees with getting up onto the top. The top is a small platform and on the first time aloft, it is as high as the trainees will climb. Trainees will go across the top and climb down the futtock shrouds and the shrouds on the opposite side, again with the help of crew members stationed on the top, at the futtock shrouds and at the rail.

Each trainee who wanted to go aloft took a turn going up and over. Trainees climbed one at a time, and everyone else, including the Captain and the Chief Mate who oversaw this exercise, watched as each person went aloft for the first time. Most of them came down to deck with giant grins on their faces from the adrenaline rush and sense of accomplishment that usually accompanies a first climb aloft.

Everyone continued to wear their harnesses while procedures for heavy weather were explained. Lifelines were rigged amidships, nets were rigged amidships and in the breezeways and everyone had a chance to practice clipping their harness to the lifelines to move about the ship. The harnesses have all been numbered and one has been assigned to each person aboard for the duration of the voyage to keep with their personal gear and wear as necessary.

Ben, Paul, Nadja and Kjetil stationed to supervise trainees first climb aloft
Bruce goes over the futtock shrouds, first time aloft
Use of harnesses, lifelines and nets for heavy weather

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