Captain's Log

Archive for July, 2008

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Brixham to Kiel

English Channel passage from Brixham towards the North Sea

The Picton Castle crew got their ship under way under sail from Brixham in fresh westerly winds. She made her way under sail all the way until off the Elbe River, yards squared most of the time, all sails drawing. We are certainly getting our sailing miles in on this voyage.

We had a perfect Channel passage into the North Sea. We had plenty of fog and rain but a fair wind carried us along in fine style, hour after hour going six, seven, eight, even nine knots, at times we almost raced up channel. On radar and our electronic chart which is patched in with an electronic ship identifying system we could keep track of 20-30 ships at a time. The English Channel is like a busy road, most traffic is in the lanes steaming up or down. But there are also ships crossing the channel back and forth to look out for. All very interesting navigation and ship management.

We didn’t see much but it was nice that the mists cleared off Dover so we could see the famous white cliffs. Shortly the Channel opened up and we found ourselves in the North Sea with plenty of water around us. The sky cleared up properly and winds eased a bit and we slowed but still made good sailing time. There were still plenty of ships here too and now we had lots of oil rigs. Also, reading the charts around the British Isles and the North Sea we see the bottom covered with wrecks. It seems that a great deal of them are casualties of war. They must up fetch fishing gear on these wrecks all the time. The North Sea is not much more than a hundred feet deep in most of the part we are sailing.

Midnight Sun

We are getting pretty far north these days now being in the North Sea. One thing that means is that even well after the sun goes down (1000 or so) there remains a strong sunset glow to the north between sunset and sunrise a few hours later – it never gets really properly night time dark. As we head north to Bergen, Norway this phenomenon will become more pronounced. This and the sun rising so early is a nice advantage for navigating in these regions. It’s also pretty.

Approaching the Elbe

Hamburg, the big important centre of commerce and shipping, is up the Elbe River. And as it happens, the entrance to the Kiel Canal is at a place called Brunsbuttel at the mouth of the Elbe and this we were fast approaching, even a day earlier than expected due to the fair sailing. For most of the way the Picton Castle had been sailing in what’s called the “Inshore Traffic Zone” outside the traffic separation schemes. Traffic separation schemes are basically traffic routing, control and management schemes not altogether different than air what air-traffic controllers employ. Small ships, sailing ships and local coastal traffic often operate in the inshore zones where there is more freedom of movement, less control and we stay out of the way of the big ships.

But as we approached the mouth of the Elbe we entered the associated Elbe Traffic Separation Scheme. It was like going up a ramp onto a busy highway. You put on your blinker, look both ways and accelerate. And then steer carefully. From midnight through until 0800 arrival at Brunsbuttel we steamed down the Elbe, hugging the green side and watching large container ships, small freighters, naval ships, and yachts under sail slide past us and disappear. The lookouts got good exercise running back and forth from the foc’s’le head to report lights and traffic, and the helmsmen could see how much they’ve improved in the last two months, steering confidently while 1000 foot ships passed us at two-tenths of a mile or less. The watch officers consumed gallons of coffee. Just as the sun was rising, we steamed past fishing grounds full of beautiful little wooden beam-trawlers, hauling and setting nets in the warm morning light, surrounded by flocks of hungry birds. Shortly afterward we turned to hug the shoreline of Cuxhaven and carry on down the increasingly narrow and busy Elbe River to meet our pilot just off Brunsbuttel.

The Kiel Canal

The Kiel Canal is one of the world’s great shipping canals along with Panama, the St. Lawrence Seaway, Welland Canal (this one dodges about Niagara Falls, a good thing for a ship to do) and Cape Cod Canal. Built (or dug) in the 1890’s and I think expanded in 1912, much the same time as the Panama Canal, it is a very busy ship thoroughfare cutting off a long trip around the Jutland peninsula of Denmark and probably most significantly connecting the great German Naval base at Kiel with the North Sea so it wasn’t bottled up in the Baltic Sea. This was probably a key agenda item in 1912 as the Kaiser was building a Navy to rival his cousin the British King’s. Today, many ships use it each day and soon it was our turn to take the short cut onto the Baltic Sea ourselves.

Like many canals it begins with a lock. In this case it is not so much for lift or mountain climb as is the case with the Panama Canal but in order to control water current between two bodies of sea with differing tide levels. One of the first things we do when approaching a lock is to incarcerate Chibley, the ship’s cat. She might get the idea that we are tying up for awhile maybe she would hop ashore and have sniff around. So Chibley gets locked into a cabin somewhere. She seems to take it better if we explain well beforehand what we are going to do and then again when we do it. I know, sounds crazy but it seems to be true. If we just toss her in a cabin and lock the door she goes a bit nuts and calls us all bad names and then won’t talk to us when released for awhile…

Ben at the wheel, Dover
ditty bag class
Shackle replaces ratlines
stowing royals in the English Channel

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Picton Castle Early Captain’s Logs, Part 5

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

Voyage Across the Atlantic – March-July, 1994

After five months alongside the quay of the inner harbour of Ipswich, England, the crew was ready to go. On March 7, 1994, the Picton Castle (which we bought as the Dolmar) passed through the ancient lock gates of the wet tidal dock into the River Orwell. This was the beginning of a 5,000 mile voyage to the USA and Canada where she will become a square-rigged Barque for world voyaging.

It was a cold and blustery winter’s morning but it was time to get moving. After months of fretting over budgets and fixing things on the ship, we were underway again. We steamed slowly down the River Orwell, lashing down things on deck, checking the engine and double-checking the barometer. The Castle glided serenely past eight miles of farms, cottages, fields, little towns and shipyards, with laid up Thames sailing barges and other gaff-rigged vessels along the riverbank’s low grey countryside. A gale started to blow outside, so we brought her to anchor off Harwich for the night. It would be good just to get used to being on a ship in commission again for a night before we put our toes into the North Sea, an anchor watch to hear her ticks and groans.

One side of Harwich Harbour is a bucolic English country scene complete with thatched roof farm buildings and cows spotted about. The other side is a complex of the most modern marine industrial steel works with gantries, loading-unloading platforms and roll on-roll off facilities. What with the sister port of Felixstowe, this is the biggest container port in Europe. North Sea passenger and cargo ferries would be coming and going to and from Holland, Germany, Denmark, France and the deep sea all day and all night. We anchored on the farm side of the river.

The next day we steamed out into what they specialize in around here: a grey leaden heavy water headwind, just like all those nasty old European marine paintings. We were outward bound down the English Channel. All was well enough crossing the broad mouth of the Thames estuary, still a windward shore with the wind blowing off the land and across the subaqueous delta that makes up the hazardous approaches to the River Thames. We left that all well to starboard, passed a lightship or two and into the North Sea. As we made our course more southerly, the wind naturally came ahead. Rounding Ram’s Gate heading for the Straits of Dover, she started butting her head into a building sea. The weather for that day was advertised as force 5 or 7 and now it was all of that.

Dover approach.About the time we were abeam of Dover, and it was the narrowest part of the English Channel, it was pretty rough. The breeze was kicking up to a force 8 or 9, with seas tumbling through the straits, crowding and piling upon each other after their run in from the wintry North Atlantic. With the wind against the tide, we were still making pretty good headway over the bottom, but we were starting to take a pounding. The bow is 18′ high and it was starting to go under occasionally, with gross, grey, foaming breakers spewing as far as I could see. We were still pitching into it pretty hard even after the engine was brought back to half speed. It was getting dark, this was our first day at sea, the barometer was still dropping, and the 7½-second light at the entrance breakwater at Dover was winking at me through the gloom. I decided that after almost six months alongside, none of my crew nor the ship needed this kind of punishment. I put her hard right to steer north through the darkening dusk for Dover Harbour five miles away. This, of course, took the jarring seas off our bow and put them on our beam. Until now, we had been pitching and shuddering as she came out of the head-on seas. Now she began to roll. I forgot to tell the cook about this, and the galley took some punishment. Anything not iron riveted down, took a trip across the ship.

Oh well, an hour later we were at anchor inside Dover Harbour, behind the massive breakwaters. We twisted and yawed our way right up to the harbour entrance where a pilot boat met us and led us to our anchorage. It became suddenly still as Bosun Tara steered her in and we shot into the lee and slowed down. We stayed on the hook for two days of fog and gales. We watched as gales boiled and churned outside. In the daytime, the white chalk cliffs and castles dominate the scene when we could, in fact, see them through the fog. At night, the huge cross channel ferries took over. The weather didn’t bother them much, but then, every once in a while, one rolls over too.

Drug sniffer--friendly and cute.We could see the breakers through the cut in the breakwater and waited. While we waited, Her Majesty’s Customs Service wondered what this old black trawler was doing at anchor in Dover Harbour. They got so curious about us that they sent a boat out to inquire and maybe take a look around. They brought a drug-sniffing dog. I asked if this was a search and they said yes, in fact, it was. The dog was cute and he ended his visit by putting his paw print in the guest book. His name was Daniel. It was a cold morning, so HM Customs all had a cup of coffee before they left. It was nice to have visitors.

On our third day there (no shore liberty), the early morning anchor watch woke all hands with reports of calm winds, clear weather, and a sunny day in the offing. A high-pressure ridge was passing over us and we glided serenely out into the English Channel once again. It’s amazing how still waters around the world look much the same, but tortured seas take on their own distinctive characteristics: Long Island Sound; the North Atlantic; South Pacific; the Baltic Sea; the Grand Banks; the English Channel; all different when rough, similar when calm; but now it was calm.

I hugged the north coast of the Channel, having taken a hint now about the weather and its changes. It was, after all, the English Channel in winter. We steamed along, leaving Dungeness Folkstone (terminus of the channel tunnel – the “Chunnel”) and the Isle of Wight about three miles starboard. That night the barometer started to drop with the advance of the next low-pressure system lifting her skirts to trundle up the Channel as they are wont to do. The forecast was calling for gales again. Yea. Gales aren’t so bad in the middle of the ocean with lots of sea room and deep water to keep the seas spread out and almost no traffic. That, however, does not describe the English Channel.

We pulled into Tor Bay off Devon and anchored off the old fishing town of Brixham in the southwest corner of the bay. We ended gale bound here for a week. In Tor Bay that is. We didn’t stay at Brixham. We alternated between anchoring off Brixham when the gales were west to southwest and then shifting to an anchorage off Torquay at the northern end of the bay three or so miles away when the gales came out of the northwest. The crew didn’t get ashore to speak of. We dragged anchor once and the Mate Jeff got a second anchor down promptly. Screaming gales in the lee of Devon, the land of Drake and Hawkins as well as where my mother’s family came from a long time ago. It was kind of beautiful in a savage sort of way standing all those watches in the wind; straining at the anchor chains, sun and shooting clouds. Brixham, famous for its fleet of ketch-rigged sailing trawlers, is an enchanting old seaport that, with the exception of a new yacht marina where JW & A Uphams Shipyard used to be, is still a crowded old fisherman’s harbour. The “Crown and Anchor” pub saw our custom for pints as it has for untold generations of seafarers. The Uphams Shipyard built the Mayflower replica now in Plymouth, Massachusetts and sailed there in 1957 by Captain Alan Villiers. The Brigantine Yankee fitted out here for four world voyages just after the war. It also built the Brixham trawler ketch in 1935. That became my first ship in the Caribbean when I was fresh out of school those many years ago. They remembered her launching when I asked around, the Maverick ex-Cachelot.

Finally, we got a gale warning that lacked the usual confidence that we had been accustomed to and the barometer wasn’t doing its expected nose-dive. So the anchor watch woke all hands. Doug, the Engineer, rolled over the rumbling beast of a main engine and at two o’clock in the morning, we got underway again so we could make a daylight harbour entrance (always nice to do) in our next harbour, Falmouth.

At 06:00 we were three miles or so due south of Salcombe Bay, the resting place of the magnificent four-masted Barque Herzogin Cecelie, wrecked in 1936 on her way back from Australia with grain. Years ago, as Mate in the Brigantine Romance, put into Cape Town on a world voyage, I met some who had been crew on her, including Pamela Erikson, the skipper’s wife.

We were also pushing along pretty well into a force 5 or 6 with seas not too built up yet and with good visibility. We were headed for Falmouth, but I took her close to Plymouth on the way just in case the weather forecast was more accurate than I believed it was going to be. We passed north of Eddystone Light. It didn’t blow more than force 7, and by then we were in the lee of Cornwall. We got to Falmouth in eleven hours, 90 miles. That night it blew like hell. It turns out they were right after all, but we were happily on a mooring designed for huge ships in Falmouth’s inner harbour.

Falmouth is a lovely place, well known as a landfall for ships bound for England as well as the last British and European harbour for ships bound for deep water, like us. The last large commercial square-riggers bringing grain from Australia often made for Falmouth in the 1920’s and 30’s to get their orders for a port of discharge. There was no radio in those days. We found Falmouth very hospitable and it was a good place to lay out the weather. It was an excellent safe harbour, with a short row to the town dock, fine pubs and folks genuinely interested in the ship. In fact, a couple of old Navy salts said they recognized her and asked if she was the old “Picton Castle“. It turns out she participated in the raid on St. Nazaire. The raid on St. Nazaire in March 1942 was an attempt to put out of action the Normandie Dock in Nazi occupied France. This dry-dock was the only one that could take the German battleships Bismarck and Tirpitz. This, I think, was the first amphibious assault on Europe. While in Ipswich, we were put in touch with Tom Gamble who had served in our ship during World War II. One night he came aboard for dinner and regaled us with life aboard the HMS Picton Castle in the Royal Navy while Europe was in flames.

The steam-fishing trawler Picton Castle was one of five sister ships built for Consolidated Fisheries out of Grimsby. She had a triple expansion Amos & Smith 91 horsepower steam engine with 9-foot propeller. She was fishing mostly out of Swansea. In September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland and the natural fertilizer hit the ventilating system. Later that month, our ship and many others were requisitioned into the Royal Navy. She was fitted out as a minesweeper with, among other things, an acoustical hammer projecting from the bow. The weld marks for this can still be seen on each side of the bow, forming a sort of Maltese cross in welding bead. I expect we’ll leave it there. She served as both a minesweeper and a convoy export vessel, since she was capable of 12 knots under full steam. She was also armed, with a 12-pounder on the foc’s’le head, a .30 calibre Lewis machine gun on each bridge wing, a double .50 calibre machine gun aft of the pilot house and a couple of racks of depth charges on the stern. Her crew was made up of fishermen and reservists hastily mustered into service and made up a pretty rag-tag crowd. They called this fleet “Harry Tate’s” Navy, after a popular vaudeville comedian who was pretty scruffy and vulgar. I can understand why. The reservist officers were often not terribly acquainted with the Navy, ships, sea or war. They were also called the wavy Navy for their wavy uniform stripes. I understand this was not a compliment. It seems that efforts to get the old fishermen into uniforms were dropped early on.

Our friend, Tom Gamble, was regular Navy and he was the telegraph operator. He was also dyslexic. Apparently, both the British Navy and German forces thought the Picton Castle was using some extra secret code. No, Tom was just getting his letters and words mixed up. It seems this kind of curious situation was quite common, especially early on in the war. Tom told us of a time when a mine went off under her, sending her further into the air than she was designed to go. They choked her boilers with coal and steamed her to a dry-dock as fast as they could to repair her, but upon inspection, the only thing damaged was the nerves of her crew. The hull was fine. Tom showed us where his bunk was and described the ship and accommodations to us and showed us pictures of her in those days. The Picton Castle was otherwise employed while the evacuation of Dunkirk was carried out. During D-Day in 1944, she was working as a support vessel for the invasion escorting ships down the North Sea to various staging areas in England for the jump to France. One story, nay, claim to fame stands out as the night grew long in our mess room that night in Ipswich with Tom bringing the story of our ship to life. It turns out the HMS Picton Castle is single-handedly responsible for the liberation of Norway.

As the Allies advanced across Europe and Germany, Norway remained occupied by German forces. Without a major invasion but with plenty of resistance fighting, the German leadership figured out things weren’t going their way and pretty much took it upon themselves to back out of Norway. As the Germans retreated, the Allies figured they probably needed to clear the fjords of mines, etc. So at some point, a fleet of these naval mine sweeper/trawlers were sent to Norway to do the job, our ship among them. She developed engine trouble one night and fell out of the flotilla. Once they got it going again, the skipper calculated they were going to miss their rendezvous and their mine sweeping assignment. He had a chart of Bergen, Norway and he had to go somewhere, so to Bergen it was.

I can picture her now: a lone, bedraggled, grey steamer, streaked with coal dust, puffing and winding her way up the Bergen fjord unchallenged. An unkempt, makeshift crew of independent fishermen ignoring naval discipline, reservist officers hopelessly trying to instil some. Perhaps it was a kind of standoff. Quietly, she would have steamed into the deserted harbour of Bergen. She tied up in town. I doubt if much brass was polished and her dirty old Navy Ensign snapped grimly at the peak. All was quiet. Slowly, people started to come out of buildings to see this strange little vessel.

It had been a long time in Bergen since they had seen anything on a flag besides a swastika. The mayor decided to do something. He and the city council solemnly marched down to the ship and requested to come aboard this vanguard of the mighty Royal Navy. Finding the skipper, they shook his hand, holding it, and thanking him and the crew of the HMS Picton Castle “…for liberating Norway!” From that day in the mid-forties, she has been and forever will be known as:
The Liberator of Norway
(frelser av Norge)

She mustered out of the British Navy in December 1945 and was fishing again in 1946. She might well be the only British naval vessel from World War II still in active sea going commission. There was another thing Tom Gamble told us when he saw our wretched mutt. He started by saying it had been so long since, that he checked himself, realizing it had been 50 years. Our dog Yankee is the very image, an exact replica of the dog of the Picton Castle during the war. I asked Tom if he was as dumb as this one.

To be continued…

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Sailing from Falmouth to Brixham

It was just a day sail from Falmouth to Brixham. With the boat hoisted, engine fired up by engineer Christian (from Switzerland), anchor up, we steamed out of Falmouth against the light southerly winds and fell off on a starboard tack steering eastwards and set all sail. With the wind veering nicely into the southwest and picking up, soon the Picton Castle was slipping along just fine on her way along the coast of England. It became a pretty day. Seas small and with the sun opening up and warming us the sails turned from a mottled greyish brown to the pale creamy colour of the cotton canvas they are they dried out in our new-found sunlight. We sailed a few miles off Ham Rock and then past the mouth of the Salcombe River. These two areas play important roles in the loss of the 4-masted Bark Herzogin Cecelie in 1936. We rounded the Start, braced up and rounded Berry Head. In the falling light of late evening we let go the hook and clewed up just off the breakwater of Brixham Harbour, Devon.

Brixham is not very large, but it is a very significant fishing port in England. Behind a long north/south break-water, the inner harbour and the three basins that have been added onto it are probably not much more than 100 yards across. High stone wharves, a wrap around harbour loop street lined with shops, fishing suppliers, ship chandleries and the ubiquitous waterfront pubs The Crown and Anchor and The Blue Anchor all seem as ancient as the wharves themselves. Rows of two story houses raise in grade up the hills like rice paddies in the far east. The quays are crowded with fishing vessels of all types. Large 120′ beam trawlers (so called because a large beam like telephone pole holds their nets open rather than the kite-like paravanes of an Otter Trawl), little day trawlers and even the little tiniest trawlers of only 20′ to 30′ or so are spread around the small harbour, rafted up and often keel on the bottom at low tide. Tide must be 10′ to 12′ or so. The four fold increase in fuel prices recently is hitting the fishing fleet pretty hard these days. These forms of fishing could only develop around the premise of having large heavily powered stout vessels dragging big nets through the water or over the bottom using a good deal of cheap fuel. Cheap fuel is over now, probably never to be seen again. I think soon, over the next few years, we will be seeing slimmer, smaller vessels with much, much smaller engines using some form of hook and line fishing method selling to a local market in smaller amounts. Maybe we will even see auxiliary sailing rigs. Of course that still depends upon the fish cooperating by showing up, too.

What did people do ashore? I don’t really know. Soon it came time to sail and head on up the channel. But we had gale warnings on the radio, pretty strong ones so we shifted our berth around the corner to a less exposed spot in Tor Bay, set two anchors, plenty of chain and we waited it out. It came on to blow pretty hard and the shift from the SE to the SW which made the seas lay down but still blowing hard with rough to very rough seas in the channel, so we would wait another day. Since we were in a nice lee, a protected spot, we didn’t feel the winds and seas outside, so what to do? I was told that people actually wanted to go swimming. I couldn’t believe it but it was true. Cold water, but not as cold as Nova Scotia or Maine so they got the swing rope rigged up and those daring enough went over the side. The rest of us watched. Later, we carried on with a canvas-work workshop in the form of making canvas rigging bags down in the warm, comfortable main salon in the ‘tweendecks. Donald fed us massively while we waited out the winds. In the morning we got up, loosed sail, hove up the anchor and got under way for passing through the English Channel past Dover, past Holland and onto the Kiel Canal in Germany. That is after we freed the anchor from a long one inch thick wire cable a fishing boat had disposed of here in the bay.

Brixham
Brixham gales
Brixham harbour

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Picton Castle Early Captain’s Logs, Part 4

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

Passage to England – November 15, 1993

On a bright, clear, sunny Danish morning in early September, the crew let go the heavy hawsers, the Dolmar backed down on a stern spring and nosed into Svendborg Harbor bound for England. This was to be the first leg of a 4,000-mile, transatlantic voyage to New York, New England and then Nova Scotia.

The crew, including Mate Jeff, Engineer Doug, Bosun Tara, Cook Henrik, Deckhands Scott and Dave, along with others, had been working diligently for three months getting our staunch vessel ready for sea. We were joined by Danish Heidi Baatz, whom we had met in Svendborg. She came from the north part of Jutland. Her father was the skipper of 400-ton coaster and she had a desire to see the watery part of the world. She is also a rust banging fool, unstoppable with a rust hammer.

So we steamed northerly out of Svendborg Sound in between pretty and low wooded isles, passing yachts and coastal freighters to the “Great Belt,” the piece of water between the island of Fyn and the principle island of Zealand, home to Copenhagen. Denmark is a country of islands, and much of Denmark’s charm is a result of that. Now they’re building a huge bridge to Zealand from Fyn. It will be the largest suspension bridge in the world by a large factor. When done, it will connect the capital of Denmark with land traffic to Europe. Cost a bazillion dollars. Put a dozen ocean-going ferryboats out of work. Most Danes don’t seem to want it. I didn’t meet any Danes who thought the European Union was going to be good for Denmark, either.

The ship was performing well. The engineer developed and trained the crew in the minute details of engine checks of the fairly sophisticated engine room. Cylinder temperatures, cooling water discharge, lube oil cooling, voltage, and injectors, grease cups, bilge level, oilers and a lot of things were checked at fifteen minute intervals. The engineer kept a very close eye on his machinery while we started to get used to it all. The steering gear, radios, and safety gear were all up to date and we had conducted all the appropriate drills. The gang was glad to get under way. Smooth sailing in the lee of Jutland.

Rounding Skagen, the Dolmar started punching in the rolling remnants of a spent westerly North Sea gale. Stiffened with 60 tons of ballast, she had a pretty snappy roll. Good news for future sailing ship stability. Pretty tough on crew new to the sea, let the heaving begin. Things started looking pretty snotty. We had been land-bound for months, we were still learning the ship. Discretion being the better port of valour, I ducked here into the last harbour for a while, Hanstholm, and spent 24 hours there working on electrical system repairs and monitoring the weather. We poked back out the next morning, the seas were down and we started across the North Sea.

We had gotten this little black box called a Navtex and it spits out weather reports and predictions for the region the ship is in. A long tape of flimsy fax paper with terse pronouncements is its contribution to my mental health. Things were going fine, smooth seas; crew no longer throwing up, grey and light overcast as we steered southerly courses into the North Sea. We were buzzed frequently by fighter jets on manoeuvres. I don’t know from what country. Twelve years ago or so, when we were homeward bound in these waters in the full-rigged ship Danmark, and Breschznev was head of the Soviet Union, NATO manoeuvres used to be pretty thick around here. We heard later on the VHF radio that a fighter plane splashed near us and rescue operations were under way.

It was strange and amusing, listening to the radio on the bridge while on watch motoring along. As we passed in and out of range of commercial Norwegian, Danish, German, Dutch, French and eventually, English AM/FM radio stations, the languages changed but the bravado of the disc jockeys stayed the same. Picking up BBC Radio, I was reminded of old black-and-white war movies, and then of all the war that had been fought in these waters. We chugged along in these ancient European waters.

All was going well, the engine was going fine, the watches turning over, etc. I was aiming to make a daytime transit of the narrow part of the English Channel between Dover and Calais. Seemed like a good chance along for Plymouth. Our little weather box was reporting all kinds of lows and gale warning north and south of us with nothing special in our area.

But the wind was picking up and seas building. Then out spat a description of a very low-pressure area charging out of the North Atlantic into the English Channel. I figured it was the tail of the hurricane that had just danced around the western Atlantic. Still, no big deal until the black box spat out “Extreme Force 9 gale warnings English Channel 25′ seas in western approaches.” We had a chart for Harwich, a major port on the north side of the Mouth of the Thames on the southeast coast of England and fifty miles away. There we headed. By the time we were off the approach for Harwich, the weather had gotten pretty rotten and the ship was pitching and rolling in the nasty chop of the Channel. Past a couple of light ships and into Harwich harbour. Traffic control sent us to Ipswich, seven miles on up a smooth snaking river, past moored Thames sailing barges, into a locked-in wet dock. There we lay and glad of it. The gales shrieked outside and there were reports of shipping losses.

Here in Ipswich we learned that the Dolmar, as the HMS Picton Castle, has been in the Royal Navy as an armed mine sweeper from September, 1939 to December, 1945. It’s hard for me, in 1993, to imagine the deprivation, loss and courage of those times and in ships like this. I suppose I get a little taste at sea. We’re looking into the Picton Castle‘s routes, convoys and activities during WW II. The crew are working away during the day, and at night can be found promoting international good will at the Lord Admiral Nelson Pub as part of the Picton Castle‘s “philanthropic” international adopt-a-pub program.

So, after a few days in Ipswich, with endless frontal systems rolling up the English Channel, and with hurricane season in full flower, it seemed a good chance and wise idea to fly back to the States to do some serious fundraising and develop this little Barque project a little further. So I left the mate in charge and took a bus to Heathrow International Airport. Kuwait Air, no bacon, no booze, very good security and plenty of fuel.

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Falmouth

We had a good time sailing into Falmouth. The Picton Castle crew did a fine job at handling the sails and braces as we sailed up to the hook at Falmouth Bank just outside the small harbour. On one side we had large industrial docks servicing ships, tapering down to this small and historic-looking Cornish waterfront town. Across the water to the north are rolling hills of grassy fields speckled with black and white spotted cows and patches of rich green woods going down to the seas edge.

While the gang climbed the rig and got the sails all neatly harbour stowed we took the skiff in to find where we should run boats to. This was soon revealed by the presence of the ancient stone small boat basin, who knows how old? Worn stone steps lead to the top of the quay. Pretty little fishing boats and pleasure boats were staked off to lines and the stones in this well protected haven.

Soon the gang was ashore. The Harbour Master gave us an invitation that had been waiting for us to visit the Royal Legion establishment in honour of our ships Royal Navy veteran status. Our crew found their own things to do but we were having something of a reunion of old Picton Castle crew. It was perhaps inevitable that we made the Chain Locker, the nearest water’s edge pub, our operating headquarters and the first structure of any kind after getting off the skiff.

It is important to understand that a true pub is quite different than a “bar”. A true pub is essentially a sort of community center where anyone can go of any age and expect to meet up with certain others. Pubs are fast disappearing across England being replaced by bar which are just that, drinking establishments. The Chain Locker is quite a fine pub and there we met. Quite a lovely view too. Old pictures inside the pub show gaff-rigged fishing sloops all grounded out at low tide in this old and tiny walled-in basin. We can look across the harbour to those same fields and hills over an inlet crammed with boats of every description but with no shortage of fine plumb bowed wood built gaff-rigged sloops. The Chain Locker is jammed with nautical ephemera. And unlike many a maritime themed bar these life-rings, broken oars, black & white photos of ships under sail and wrecks as well as bits and pieces of ships are all real and have something to do with right here over the last couple hundred years. We learned that the Chain Locker had been built by Dutch prisoners of war in 1666. Which war, about what, I do not know.

In Falmouth we stared to get the gang going on small boat handling. Nicki and others took up the challenge and it was back and forth to the ship and dock. Instruction and practice, that’s what it takes. And good fenders.

Old friends and shipmates joined us here to visit. Anna who was cook in the Picton Castle came aboard with her two tykes, the 2 year old decided that shorts were out this season so he removed them and went racing around the pub squealing much to the amusement of all.

Kimberly (World Voyage 2,3, and 4) and Dave (World Voyage 4) took us on a small sight seeing tour of Cornwall, the highlight of which is a little bitty harbour called Mousehole, pronounced Mowzzle. But it means just what it looks like, a ‘mouse-hole’ of a harbour. Claire and Nobby, both engineers from the 1st world voyage sailed with us from Ireland and now they are off with their two Picton Castle kids to stay with family in England.

Then the weather looks good to sail and it came time so we are off towards Brixham about 70 miles away under full sail with Jackie at the wheel, grinning from ear to ear.

Jackie at the wheel, departure Falmouth
skiff landing Falmouth
Stowing sail, Falmouth
The Chain Locker, Falmouth

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