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Picton Castle Early Captain’s Logs, Part 1

What follows below are the first Captain’s Logs that were written back when just getting the ship and working at seeing this dream come true. The story begins in Norway in May of 1993. We hope you enjoy the tale.

The Story of the Picton Castle

The Captain’s Running Letter
Captain Daniel D. Moreland

Chapter 1

The Saga Begins in Earnest—July 7, 1993

Some time in the late afternoon of May 22nd—after two transoceanic flights, a few taxi rides, a fond farewell or two, a bus ride, a ferry boat crossing, a few moments of Glib Chez Customs and a speedy “Hurtigbat” from Stavanger—the first wave of crew landed at Kopervik, Norway. We were greeted by the pacing, cigarette-smoking owner of the forlorn but proud Dolmar. He, Stale Kristophersen, picked us up in his raggedy Mercedes Benz, recently converted to diesel (same fuel as his boat, oddly enough). Car gas costs $4 a gallon, diesel $1 for ships. We made our way to the Dolmar ex Picton Castle.

There she was, on the other side of the island of Karmoy in a sleepy, pretty hamlet called Vedavagen, part way up a soft rolling fjord, much like a hidden inlet in Penobscot Bay.

She looked dirty, she looked big, she looked entirely unmanageable. The crew looked at me with puzzled faces, saying without words, “What have you gotten us into?” Tara thought that I had said the vessel was a little bigger than the full-rigger Joseph Conrad at Mystic Seaport was. She is—about 50% bigger. Smaller than the Bark Elissa anyway. We threw our gear aboard, opened doors and portholes to let some of the damp mustiness out and some clean Norwegian breeze in.

What a mess. Nothing had been moved since last December when Don Berkholz and I had surveyed her. An eight-degree list to starboard, scuppers like the beach at Coney Island at low tide. Wavelets of detritus caked up in all the corners. Rust streaked pilothouse, monstrous hawsers with great big hairy and unidentifiable knots in them at irregular intervals, and the color blue everywhere.

Blue hull, blue bulwarks, blue fo’c’sle head, blue pilothouse visor, a nasty, dark rust-streaked blue. Blue, blue, blue. What? Is the ocean and sky never blue around here? So they need to paint their ships blue? The decks 3″ pine over solid steel vaguely splattered with green paint. The fore deck hydraulic oil slurpy. So we looked around, kicked here and there to see a few rust scales slide off in great sheets. Kristophersen suggested we go into town and drink heavily and to excess. We agreed. We hopped over the rail of what was still his ship (still not too late to pull out!) and didn’t look back. We went over to a friend of his, Pal (Paul) and we introduced ourselves—DM, Tara, Jeff and Doug. I said I spoke Danish, but it has been 11 years, and that the crew spoke only English. Paul said, “Nevair mind spiking, we drink only”. And so it went, fluid if not fluent.

The sun didn’t seem to go properly down around there. Around midnight it got kind of murky. Captain Stale then took us to a country western bar draped with American, Confederate and Norwegian flags. Every one (locals, that is) knew all the words to our favourite American redneck music numbers, and then went on to introduce the next Hank Williams or Billy Ray Cyrus in Norwegian. Beers were five bucks each. Stale was buying. Many rounds later we took a cab back to the ship. New Dolmar crew still standing easily—Norwegians, not so much. The night sun confused us. It was still soupy, and the light was in the North and glazed with mysterious tones.

The next day was Sunday, and my brave crew and I began to face the ship and say she was ours and begin the improbable and Herculean task at hand.

The plan was simple, still is. Get the Dolmar seaworthy and functional as the motor vessel she is, then get her to the States, then Canada, and refit her into the beautiful steel square rigger that she can be. Oh yes, and give her original name back to her, the Picton Castle.

Chapter 2

The biggest, darkest, least-defined, least predictable period in terms of jobs, repairs and finances was this upcoming getting seaworthy period. Experienced mariners all, we still had just landed on the 65-year old freighter completely new to her. The engine room was in Norwegian. My Danish sailing ship vocabulary doesn’t necessarily cover Norwegian engineering. So for the next three weeks we scrubbed and scraped, banged on frozen hinges, ran machinery, tried out pumps, wondered why they didn’t work, wondered about the list, wondered about fuel and water capacity, tried out the radio, radar, made lists and ate Tubefisk. You haven’t lived until you’ve eaten Tubefisk.

In a of couple days, the second wave of crew—Tim Vierek, Jim Brink, Scott Strode and David Brumm—showed up in Stavanger after missing a flight in Amsterdam. They had all the electronic gear, lost one bag with the GPS. We got it back. Also, Jeff and Molly Bolster put some money in this thing, so they came to keep an eye on it. Don’t blame them. Oh, yes, just to make things more interesting they had their kids with them—Ellie, three and a half and Carl, 9 months.

So we did some basic systems checks and then it came time to move the mighty Dolmar closer to civilization to make it easier to spend money and fix things. She was now our ship and my command. Anyway, I had a piece of paper saying she wasn’t Kristophersen’s any more. Stale was going to steam with us from Vedavagen to Kopervik to help with the local knowledge. I let him handle her entirely; thinking I’ll have plenty handling of her in the next ten to twenty years and I might learn some things watching him. He was very good. He knew the machinery, so he would be there in case of a breakdown. Late in the afternoon of an overcast Wednesday, we set off on a three-hour tour. We took the inside route around the northern tip of Karmoy. We steamed around every little rock and went where any sane lobster fisherman would avoid. Rock islands stick up everywhere. You could reach out and touch them. That almost became the way we navigated when the fog socked in. Some time later the radar worked..for a while, until it blinked out. Jiggled a wire, it came back on. Thick dungeon of fog. Slowly nudging along we would see a rock, figure out which rock it was (they all look alike) and carried on.

Too deep to anchor, no safer to go back than ahead, calm weather, ahead we went. Then a big sigh of relief when we broke into Karmoy Sound, a long channel deep up to the edges. We took on fuel at a North Sea Mobil Depot and on into Kopervik. After we were fast alongside and the sun shining and anxiety level returning to normal, Stale told me he had never navigated that route before in the fog.

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