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Picton Castle Early Captain’s Logs, Part 6

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

England to Spain – March 1994

We steamed out of Falmouth Monday, March 28, after a little over a week’s stay and crossed the western approaches to the English Channel, bound for Madeira. The western approaches along with the Strait of Dover can be the worst part, the roughest part of the Channel. This time, the conditions were “fair to good.” We steamed SSW into a fresh southwesterly breeze. The sky was leaden and overcast. It was spitting rain, but the barometer was steady. The weather forecasts were such that I was convinced that if we didn’t sail now, we could be gale bound another week with a coming front.

All went well enough for the first couple of days. The main engine ticked over without complaint, giving the ship a steady eight knots. The crew got on watch routine. Meals and coffee came off the wood stove in the galley in regular pattern. She steamed well; all of the gear worked. We passed Ushant well offshore, as the sailing directions instruct. We carried on to pass Finisterre the same way, that is, well offshore Finisterre, land’s end on the other side of Biscay.

Around noon Monday, about 90 miles from Finesterre, at the southern side of Biscay, the barometer started to go down about one millibar per hour. It kept dropping into the afternoon and picked up in fits and bursts. The seas built up steadily. There was a severe gale forming south of Ireland that was going to slash its way up the English Channel. It turns out that it slashed more than that. I remember thinking I was glad we weren’t in the western approaches for this one. I’m still glad.

By late afternoon, the wind was screaming out of the southwest, we were in a full gale and the Bay of Biscay was living up to its reputation as a nasty place to be during a blow. Seas picked up to about 20′ and were pretty close together. It would have been worse had we been closer inshore, deeper in the bay. It looked worse to the south as well so we hove her to while we still had sea room to leeward. Even if we could have gotten around Finisterre, that would have put us on a lee shore. Not so fine. We set a sort of storm stays’l forward to help her lay off the wind and not wallow in the wave troughs. We secured the main engine too. As it got dark it was blowing force 9 and increasing. That night it got up to force 10 in my estimation. That’s not far below hurricane strength.

Around eleven that night, it was at its worst. The ship was rolling hard, with the wind and seas just a point or so abaft the starboard beam. She is ballasted pretty stiffly just now to keep her up upright, with big seas staying off the decks and cargo hatch. This, however, gives her a pretty snappy roll period and makes her pretty uncomfortable for human habitation. The cats and dog didn’t like it much either. But she didn’t scoop any real green water and that was the idea. How did she ride? Why, she shamed the gulls…

Just after midnight, with the crew keeping lookout on the bridge wings with flares standing by to alert bigger ships to our presence, the barometer went up a bit. A weather report spat out of one of our little black boxes stating the wind should go to a force 7 “for a time” before veering into the northwest and picking up to storm force 10. Good news-bad news. With the wind out of the SW, we had 300 miles of sea room into Biscay to the coast of France. We could stay here for several days if we had to. With the winds out of the NW we had about 60 miles of sea room and a lee shore on to the rock bound north coast of Spain. Not so fine. But it let up a bit. The Engineer got the main engine going again. We hooked her up and hammered our way for La Coruna, Spain, the closest port of refuge. We hadn’t drifted so much in 10 hours hove to. Fifteen miles or so. As dawn broke, we could see the high coast of Spain and feel the seas become low rolling swells on the rising shelf of land. We surfed into La Coruna, swung around the 30′ high stone breakwater and let go both the anchors. An hour later the wind out of the north was roaring again. We could see the tops of the seas breaking over the stone wall to windward of us. Then, just about all of the crew turned in for some well-deserved sleep. The cats chased each other around in the warm sunlight on the cargo hatch.

Quite a seaport, La Coruna. While gales blew outside, large wooden draggers and other fishing vessels streamed in. While we were there, freighters and tankers came and went. A lone yacht left one morning and got towed in dismasted the same afternoon. It would be an interesting place to come back to as a Barque with a shipload of crew. The yacht club took good care of us with their powerful hot showers.

La Coruna is a big city and carefully managed harbour. A section reserved for every type of vessel including an anchorage for ours. Small fishing vessels, large ones, small yachts, large ones, cruise ships, freighters and supertankers.

The lighthouse called the “Tower of Hercules” is claimed to be the oldest in the world established by the Romans ages ago. While here and in the first sunlight we’d seen for months, we made a jib for the Picton Castle and started painting her up.

The weather was getting better. Slowly the barometer crept up and it looked as if we were in for some decent weather.

Early one morning, after two weeks, the day came in fair and clear with some mist rolling down to the sea off the mountains. We got underway in the light land breeze. All hands were anxious to get going. I couldn’t help thinking that if she were rigged, we would have sailed off the hook and made our way to sea, piling canvas on her. Next time.

Once well offshore, the wind backed around in a northerly direction and slowly picked up. By the time we had Cape Finisterre on the port beam and we were sailing SSW, we had a good force 6 on the stern. We set out our little jib and talked ourselves into believing that it was really pulling us along. Slowly the coast of Spain and Portugal slip-slided over the western horizon as we knocked off 8 ½ knots for Madeira.

Four days later, we let go our big hook just off an old fort in the eastern part of the city of Funchal, Madeira some 600 miles off the coast of Morocco, Northwest Africa.

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