Captain's Log

Archive for June, 2008

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Plugging Along

43-50N / 025-48W

Wind SEly at force 5-6, steering NEly at 5+knots under upper topsails, courses, fore & main topmast-staysl’s

Our skies are grey, overcast and low clouds scooting across. But the barometer is pretty high and steady, we are sailing along just fine. The Picton Castle is about 800 miles from Ireland, the Azorean Islands are 300 miles to our south and Lunenburg is now about 1800 miles back in our wake, we have sailed every inch apart from four hours motoring in a flat calm a couple weeks ago. We are having a North Atlantic passage to be very pleased and satisfied with… thus far. We could crack on more sail and go a little faster but with the way seas are arrayed the fo’c’sle gang would get a bit of a roller coaster ride. We are plugging along just fine at 120 miles a day, not so bad.

Our afternoon workshops have been much about greater weather patterns, dealing with lows and sail handling and sail choices and decision making in strong winds and heavy weather.

Chibbley the cat supervises getting the fore royal ready to bend.Chibley the cat is very talkative lately. I am convinced that when she meows off at me or someone else she is absolutely sure that she is clearly articulating a very specific and logical point and quite likely giving instructions. She comes into the chart house, twirls around, meows at me or someone else looking up with her big, soulful cat eyes, flips her tail with a little curl at the tip and goes out on deck with one final glance. She has made her point clear and left us to sort it out. Trouble is, we have no idea what she said apart from “meow.” If she had words she would be using them. As it is I think she is pretty sure that she has words, maybe she does and we are just too dense to sort it out…she likes the cargo hatch if there are people on it doing something, like working on sails.

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Picton Castle Early Captain’s Logs, Part 2

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 3

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.

The “Snofteventil”

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.

Chapter 4

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…

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Bound for Ireland

30 miles NW of Flores Island, Azores, Portugal

Early this morning the helmsman of the Picton Castle was given the order to fall off four points (come to port 45 degrees in this instance) and steer for Ireland. Over 1500 miles from Lunenburg (and more if you add the meandering miles), it had come time to turn NE for the Emerald Isle and Cork – now less than 1200 miles away (in a straight line – who knows if we will sail in a straight line?). We had been sailing due east for some time, since we passed the “Tail of the Banks.” I had expected to have headed north easterly sooner and pass maybe 300 to 400 miles north of the Azores on our way towards Ireland. But low pressure systems, one after another passing over us to the north have kept us down here. Well, no more. We have a low stalled to our west with a healthy high to our east giving us fresh southerly breezes right on the starboard quarter. The ship is making 7 knots right now under upper-topsails in 8-10 foot seas and with somewhere around 25 knots of wind. Skies are bright blue, the seas dazzling and we can see the high volcanic Azorean islands of Flores and Corvo faintly off in the distance also on the starboard quarter. These waters were once famous for being whaling grounds. Why they called them ‘grounds’ instead of ‘waters’ is anyone’s guess. This morning a sperm whale and her calf passed us close by heading to the west on some business unknown to us. A couple of days ago it was killer whales following along. And it seems that almost every day for a while now we have had dolphins jumping around on friendly visits. Today is Sunday at sea; no tarring, no painting, no knocka-roost, no “make and mend” but still steering, keeping lookout, bracing yards and trimming sail, cooking and cleaning up. They gang is planning a kite flying contest off the quarter-deck with a fine ebony fid as a prize.

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Blowing Fresh

40-01N / 034-37W

0448, dawn: Overnight the mates have been doing their jobs, calling me from time to time as wind and sea conditions pick up. Winds are now blowing from the south at about 25-30 knots, gusty. Seas are moderate but have been building, blue with plenty of churning white-caps. We are steering east by south making 6 knots. What we have is a stunningly beautiful morning. Quite a few porpoise and even whales have passed by for a look-see at us in the last few days. The Picton Castle is under easy sail, spanker, outer jib, t’gallants and royals taken in and stowed well. The ship is making good headway and you really would not know it’s blowing fresh. We are getting the edge effects of a pretty deep low well to our northwest which should be heading away from us now. Doing us no harm and sending us along our way, good for the gang to see a little wind anyway. Stops them from piling dishes too high in the scullery when cleaning up, good to figure that out at sea in a ship. And a little heeling helps settle the bunk stowage with an additional dimension for lands-folks who are primarily accustomed to the defining force being gravity alone. This terranian outlook tends to evolve with a sea passage or two. And how does the Picton Castle ride? Why, she shames the gulls.

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Bending Sail and Killer Whales

Kolin, Kjetil, Jackie and Nick bend on the royal. Credit Donald Church.Pretty much an ideal perfect day here in the Picton Castle. We are about 1100 miles from Lunenburg getting close to the Azores. Skies are blue, seas small and sun spangled. The barometer is high. The watch is reeveing off new t’gallant and upper-topsail braces from fresh manila rope and bending on the main royal far aloft. Around 2:00 this afternoon we spotted two killer whales off the starboard quarter, jumping along in the breaking waves. A mother and her baby. The crew were a little excited, to say the least. They hung out with us for 15 or 20 minutes, coming so close alongside we could’ve hopped on their backs, before drifting back and watching us sail on. We tried to lure them back with tinned sardines, but to no avail. Yesterday we saw a couple sea turtles out here in the middle of the ocean, a friendly French sloop sailing on her way home from Boston, a basketball 1000 miles from anywhere, as well as several large cargo ships and tankers on this wet, blue highway. Never a dull day.

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Taking In Sail

The Picton Castle is having a typical North Atlantic passage. Maybe better than ‘typical’, so far. Right now we are at 42-18N / 045-00W sailing due east. That’s about 900 miles from Lunenburg and 1550 miles from Ireland. The trick is to not get too deep into the fairly stationary high pressure system that tends to lay over the mid-Atlantic, right now it is centered over the Azores, (nice weather but no wind) and then to not get to far north, avoiding the worst effects of the lows that roll off North America and often turn into gales. There have been several of these so far but they seem to not be blowing more than 35 knots which is the lowest category of a gale, not so bad for a ship like this one.

Of course, here is where it all happens for the crew. No amount of practice or drill at the dock is a substitute for the learning that takes place at sea. We are in ship’s routine now. Watches turn and turn about. Meals are served, dishes, pots and pans are washed. Man-ropes are rigged when it gets lumpy, taken down when things get smoother. Hatches are opened and closed depending on the weather. Look-out and steering around the clock, of course. This gang is picking steering up quite quickly. Most can “Box the Compass”: N, NxE, NNE, NExN, NE, NExE, ENE, ExN, E, ExS and so forth until all 32 points get named in correct order. We can take a pass on half and quarter-points for now. Why use points instead of numbers? Well, because you can see the points from the wheel in the dark of night and with rain on the compass in the day. Points are clear, points are simple, points make sense. It is easier. In the old days points were probably helpful as so many seamen were illiterate. We use numbers sometimes when manoeuvring in canals and channels when small adjustments and precision become paramount.

We are also handling sail. All plain sail is bent to the t’gallants. We often take in the t’gallants when it pipes up. Slack away halyard, cast off sheets, haul away clew-lines, bunts and leeches, haul in the slack from the braces, up and stow, get a good snug furl and pass the gaskets. Take in the spanker if the wind comes around aft. And maybe the outer jib at the end of our wooden jib-boom. Then keep on steering to the eastward across this Western Ocean bound for the “old world.”

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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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