Monday, June 9th, 2008
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
Kopervik, Norway is a little seaport like many a Maine or Maritime coastal port in Canada, but without any tourist traffic to speak of. A few old coasters much like Dolmar tug half-heartedly at their slack hawsers when a puff of breeze or ship’s wake comes their way. Kopervik, which means “Copper Cove” from ancient Viking days, is a pretty harbour, a deep cove lined with stone bulkheads. The town crawls up the surrounding hills. Small, pretty houses with glazed tile roofs and pine trees all around. Norwegian pine, Norwegian wood, and the prettiest varnished pine work boats up to 50′-60′ trawlers.
For 10 days we stayed in Kopervik, cleaning, scrubbing, airing, banging things loose. Discovering the ship a layer at a time. The Dolmar was built as the Picton Castle in 1928 in Selby, England with a large steam plant and fished out of Swansea and Grimsby, I think. During WW II she was used as some kind of armed minesweeper. Maybe she was at Dunkirk; I’d like to find out. The year 1955 finds her being rebuilt and converted to diesel in Haugesund, Norway. Still for fishing. Then she went through a bunch of names – Steinfrost, Tungstein, Utstraum and Bergfrost – and the current 690 HP diesel was installed in 1965. At some point she stopped fishing and started freighting all along the coast of Norway from and across the Russian border down to Denmark and a far as Portugal.
There are layers of paint 3/8″ thick. Some places on the upper works it seems the rust is that thick, although when you measure it it’s much less. What we’re finding is that she is pretty much as advertised. She has what is generally conceded to be one of the most seaworthy hull designs of a vessel of her class, the North Sea trawler – and one of the finest marine engines ever built, the Burmeister & Wain Alpha.
The 10 days in Kopervik went slowly. All systems were a mystery. Long days in the sun up all the time. Made some friends who helped us run around and find stuff.
Now, you may not know this, but a “Snofteventil” is a very important piece of gear. It’s pronounced “SNOOfta-venteel” and it was a mystery to us. Stale had to run his other ship for a few days (I still secretly considered Dolmar his). He said we needed a Snofteventil, and that he had it, and would get it to us. I called him on the radio. He said it was in his pocket. Couldn’t be too big, I figured. It was a big deal, though. We waited for our Snofteventil. And waited. Soon we were calling all things that were mysterious Snofteventils. A lot of things were mysterious. Then we started calling things we knew Snofteventils. I won’t get into that. “Snofteventil” was the joke of the century. I guess you had to be there. Turns out its a little brass thing on a water-cooling pump. It means Sniffle Valve. I don’t think I’ll try to translate any more Norwegian jokes. Maybe it’s the air.
Stale and we became good friends, and he joined us down to Tananger – a five-hour steam in perfect weather, clear and crisp. Tananger is a small ship harbour just west of Stavanger. Then we carried on. Fixing of pumps, getting lifeboat davits to work, the list is endless. From Tananger we steamed overnight to Kristiansand, a large industrial port and home of the full rigger Sorlandet which I sailed in briefly. Dolmar’s lines and proportions are very similar to hers. In Kristiansand we tied up by a salvage yard which made us feel good, because the Dolmar was the best looking vessel there. It’s amazing the vessels they are breaking up in Norway. Their seafaring economy must be shot. While we were lying there, two beautiful vessels steamed in under their own power, with plenty of good gear, simply to be cut up and thrown away. Here I got a double-ended wooden lifeboat for $80. Teak doors, engine spares, a small capstan, 200 litres of paint, mattresses, galley stuff, a rigging vice, oars, 40 life jackets, a signal flag kit, etc. Time to push on. We had come into Kristiansand in a sightless curtain of fog with Jeff Bolster helping me pilot her in. Leaving, we had a crystal clear day, bound for Copenhagen. Getting underway in the afternoon, we made a compass table for our wildly erratic compass. One of the “Navigator’s Balls” had fallen off years ago and had never been replaced. We stole one from the standard compass binnacle atop the charthouse. It calmed it down a bit. Need to adjust the compass soon. Out of Kristiansand harbour and made course on due West bound for the Skaw.
The transit to Copenhagen was largely uneventful except for a couple of things. Steaming down wind in a Force four to five breeze following us. Dark blue sea as the late night sun edged lower to the horizon. White caps in orderly rows following along. I remember the last time I was this way in the Oslo-Copenhagen ferry. It was a dark winter’s night and there were westerly gales. In the middle of the night the sky broke and I was the only one on the aft deck to see the Northern Lights glowing up above. The ship was full of Scandinavians taking this chance to party and be inside. It was beautiful, the peaceful heave of the ship in the seas, a blustery gale abeam, occasional gusts of ice cold biting rain, and in between the aurora borealis playing out its secret ballet for me.
Back to M/S Dolmar. Half an hour into the 12 to 4 morning watch – the “graveyard shift” – the engineer comes up to the captain on the bridge and announces, “The water is coming in faster than I can pump it out.” Now, traditionally that is the definition of a vessel sinking. This, it occurred to me, was an advantageous moment to demonstrate utmost cool. “Is that so, Doug? Do you have any solutions or alternatives to sinking?” the captain queried. It seems we did. Added a bolt where one had fallen out of a seawater pump and off we went. No problem, but a good call.
After rounding the Skaw early in the morning, the weather turned foul and sloppy. The Dolmar pressed on, headed south. Around midnight that night we passed Elsinore Castle, leaving it on starboard. This is a very special moment for homeward bound Scandinavian ships, especially Danish ones; “Kronborg on Starboard” is a cry after many miles and in many cases many years. It had been many years for me, too since last I had dipped the white cross from Danmark‘s spanker staff at the end of the voyage homeward bound. But this was very much the beginning of a voyage. It was another murky, windy night. Ferries steering across our path, and big freighter coasters and tankers abeam and astern. Much traffic in this narrow slot between Denmark and Sweden. Three hours later, in the darkest part of the night, we chugged into Copenhagen harbour.
To be continued…