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Picton Castle Early Captain’s Logs, Part 3

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

The Plot Thickens – August 9, 1993

Sitting in my small but cozy cabin in the 290-ton motor ship Picton Castle and after only two and a half months on board, I find that the story of our project has already become rich and many layered.

We’re alongside the quay in Svendborg harbour in southern Denmark. The crew are banging rust like mad. A surprising number of beautiful Baltic schooners come and go in the course of a few days. The weather is dreadful for any kind of ship work, but it gets done anyway. They have a saying in Danish, “We have two kinds of winters here in Denmark, one white and one green.” This is the green kind. I don’t know how the natives get so tanned. We’ve lost what tan we had.

The heart of this ship right now must be the engine room. It is huge and has one of the world’s finest marine diesels as its impressive centerpiece. When quiet, it appears solid, patient and indestructible. When fired up, it’s a deep, rumbling beast of 690 horsepower. They must be Clydesdales.

The Engineer, “Dr. Motor”, my cousins Tim Viereck and David Brumm, have rarely seen the light of day as they peel back the ten years or so of neglect and let us say “highly economical” repairs and patches. The Burmeister & Wain Alpha is the Rolls Royce of her kind, and has a reputation for running and running and running. This one, installed in 1965, is not considered old. Most of the schooners around here still have their original Alphas from the 1930’s with pipes, floor plates you could eat off, and sometimes potted plants in the skylights. Someday…

The engineering department has done a sterling job of diving into that big engine. Skilled, dedicated and excellent at trouble shooting – if you want to know what they look like, watch the film “Das Boot”. Tim, with his eternally creative solutions when trained experts were stuck, was an enormous asset until he had to head home to take care of business. My other cousin Dave, from Oregon, came for adventure and has had plenty, maybe not what he planned on. He personally cleaned out the inside of a 10-ton fuel tank that had not been used in years.

Jeff Simmons, from Connecticut, the mate and veteran of the brig Niagara, schooners Spirit of Massachusetts, Pride of Baltimore I, Mary Day, Victory Chimes, Brilliant, Tole-Mour, the cargo ketch Edna and relief skipper of the sloop Providence, keeps the crew going on, getting the Picton Castle looking like something. Scraping and banging and wire brushing, priming and painting acres of topsides and bulwarks, charthouse, pilot house, poop deck stanchions, etc. The topsides are done, and were transformed from a rust-streaked blue to an elegant black, with a light yellow buff for the fo’c’sle head and deck houses. (I got 50 gallons of the stuff for $150, so you can bet we’ll use it lots). Jeff brings with him an impressive patience, a dedication for the life, an endless supply of salty jokes which eventually makes us beg him to stop and an ability to get elbow deep into his work, which makes him a tremendous help to me.

Tara Topley of Philadelphia, Bosun of the Picton Castle has been trying to learn Danish. “What for?” is the first question and “how?” is the second. I enjoy being able to speak Danish, but I don’t recommend trying to learn it. Tara’s maturity and integrity belie her youthful years. At 22, she has already been to sea most of the last five or six years, in some of the above mentioned vessels. She is a Bosun, and that means don’t cross her path and you might as well work to midnight if you want to make points with her.

Scott S. of Lancaster, PA is also dedicated to the life before the mast, and has the tattoos to show for it. The four masted Bark Sea Cloud and Schooners Spirit of Massachusetts and Te Vega have been graced with his profile, and now he has signed on as Apprentice to learn in depth the arts of a sailor.

Captain Carl Brown of New York, my bosom buddy and colleague in Affairs Maritime and Styling Pontification, has deigned to keep us on the straight and narrow with his insightful, take-no-prisoners, illuminating humour, as well as lending a hand on the bridge, not to mention swinging a mean rust hammer. Carl has taken a little time off from a blossomingly successful career as a playwright to help his old friend pilot this ship about. Carl has sailed in the Schooners Ernestina, Bill of Rights, Pioneer and Harvey Gamage, much of the time as skipper.

Phil Simmons, Jeff’s dad and a civil engineer, draws upon years in the Navy and as Chief Mate in the merchant marine, to come here and lend us a hand making meticulous repairs to various wooden parts of this mostly steel ship.

Jim Brink, Sailmaker of long standing, is here. The brigantine Romance, bark Charles W. Morgan, full rigger Danmark, brigantine Eye of the Wind, three master topsail schooner Capt. Scott, four masted Bark Sea Cloud, schooner Ernestina, bark  and others have all set his beautifully crafted creations. Quiet (most of the time) and steady, Jim has been my shipmate off and on for 20 years, and a first-class one at that.

Henrich has just signed on as cook, to leave the other hands free to pass the watch and keep the machinery. A desire to see something of the world other than Svendborg seems to be his big motivation.

We spent six weeks at the most excellent shipyard, Thomsen & Thomsen in Marstal on Aero, and island, a small one, off the main island of Fyn, an hour’s ferry ride from the mainland. There we dry-docked the ship, sandblasted and painted the bottom, attached 40 zincs, scraped and greased the 5 ½’ prop (original prop was 9′), removed an ancient WW II depth sounder transducer, drained and cleaned the 20 ton fresh water tank and the 20 ton ballast tank, drained 800 litres of waste oil from the engine room bilge, cut in the water line, trimmed the ship with ballast. 10,000 small and large jobs were done in the engine room, including testing all of the injectors, replacing a section of exhaust pipe, installing an air pump cylinder head, overhauling the pumps for fresh and sea water, attempting to make sense of the electrical system, re-establishing fuel lines, recommissioning unused tanks, lubing the controllable pitch prop and shaft, checking the bearings and cylinder walls, overhauling all the seawater and cooling pumps, and got the electrical panel working. Endless cleaning and mucking out of black greasy holes that had not seen the light of day since her rebuilding in Haugesund, Norway in 1955. Endless tracing of bilge lines, fuel lines electrical lines. Getting electronics – GPS, SSB radio, radar – on line. Jeff Bolster took over setting up the navigation department – charts, tables, almanacs, etc. – all with an eye to efficiency, safety and of course economy. Jeff and Molly and little Ellie and Carl were great sports, crammed into a mate’s cabin designed for one.

The upshot is that the ship’s hull is very strong and thick, and that the engine is also superlative. The electrical system is pretty antiquated, but I’ll see if we can keep it going. It seems strong enough. Lots of water tankage.

I’ve also managed to find here a worm drive steering gear at a fraction of the cost of a new one. From an old auxiliary sail ship of our size and laying someone’s garden in Jutland it was, my nautical spies had been eying for sometime, waiting for the right ship to come along. Boat davits, an anchor, spare parts for the engine, plus mahogany and teak doors off scrapped ships to go below.

The season is getting on, but it seems to have been worth it to get our machinery in order and at the same time get her banged and painted. I love steel! Take a rust hammer to something that hasn’t been stripped in forty years, and then sand and prime, it’s almost as good as new. Wood would be gone. She is also of that pre-war steel that by ship’s classification standard is considered more superior to modern.

This week we are loading a 19 ton extra fuel tank, complementing our existing 20 tons, to make the crossing in one go. We’ll take on 30 tons of ballast, re-deck the cargo hatch and spread and batten down a new weatherproof industrial strength hatch tarp. A weather fax is going on line as I write.

The plan at this point is still to take the Southern route, watching the weather carefully. Svendborg, Denmark to Brixham, England, to the Azores, by Bermuda and on to New England where we will throttle back a little, give the crew a breather, and collect rigging, masting and sailmaking supplies. Then by late October, early November, press on to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia where we’ll set up the Windward Isles Rigging School. There we will take would-be apprentice riggers to join in with our crew to rig this vessel into a lofty Barque. A turn of the century square rigged sailing ship. It is not every day that anyone gets to rig such a ship from the keel up. I expect I’ll take four or so apprentices and then the work, the real work, shall begin. We’re all looking forward to Lunenburg on board, to stop making ready for the sea and get on with the job of rigging and sail making. I’ve got a new clipper bow drawn up, and it is sort of halfway between the Balclutha and the Tusitala, the last American flag steel full rigger (also built in England).

A Final Note – Svendborg, Denmark

The fuel tank is aboard, a re-certified 16-person life raft is in its cradle, and a kind of weather fax is spitting out prognostications. The sun is up and the sky is clear. We’ve taken on 30 tons of sand ballast tonight to settle her down in the water in case of heavy weather. Our worldwide Single Side Band Radio speaks to us in a funny language. A few of the crew have new tattoos, fuel is aboard, and water is, too. Need some food. We’re ready to sail.

To be continued…

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