Captain's Log

Archive for September, 2008

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North Sea, Sailing from Bergen for Den Helder

The afternoon found the Picton Castle under full sail, sailing south in fresh winds in the North Sea. We were about 40 miles off the island of Karmoy, Norway steering SSW. The sky was clear, seas a dark blue-green and not so big. The wind was cool and from the north. It was good to be back at sea again after some days in port and steaming through the beautiful, mountainous, winding fjords of Norway. We had just sailed from Bergen after four days of an excellent tall ships festival held there. The Picton Castle crew acquitted themselves well there. Chibley went walkabout but we got her back with the help of the citizens of Bergen. There are many stories to tell about the last couple of weeks and some of them will be up and posted soon so stay tuned.

We have sailed from Kiel, Germany to Svendborg, Denmark, Copenhagen and on to Sweden and Norway. Ships, pulling boat races, crew parades, sailing in and out of small harbours, Norwegian crew from her days sailing hereabouts, good weather and bad all figure into our voyage of late and more. But for now we are back at sea sailing and looking after our wonderful ship, feeling the seas heave beneath our keel and feeling the kick of the wheel as well. The air is clean and cool and it is good to be back at sea. Donald and Buddy caught 80 fine fat mackerel off the stern and made a nice supper.

A few days later – not much useful wind in the North Sea, it went light and then to nothing but we were near the finish line of the race between Bergen and Den Helder when a front blew through knocking the big powerful Bark Statsraad Lehmkuhl out of second place and she fired up to motor into Den Helder. We did the same. But the wind kept on building and building right on the nose so we stuck into a broad bay south of Terschelling with little in the way of distinguishing features and dropped a big anchor to let the gale blow through, strong currents but very good holding. Three shots of chain out and a full gale but seas were small so a fleet of various big old Dutch boats with lee boards had their regatta anyway, most with triple reefed sails and not a few broken gaffs. Some say the Dutch are a bit wild about sailing…The next morning with the wind laid down, the tide came our way and we pushed on towards Den Helder.

Buddy and Donald in stripes
Chris and Kolin
local boats out enjoying the gale
Lynsey and Paul in new uniforms
Mike explaining the weather, ie why we are stuck in Terschelling in a gale
Paul teaching intro navigation
Sam and Nick working on their ditty bags

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Bergen and Tall Ships

Steaming through fjords of Norway

We could figure out why there are so many pretty veteran steamships along the coast of Norway. You can get anywhere by boat and you can’t get anywhere without one. Picton Castle sailed from Kopervik at the crack of dawn and we had been advised to take the inside route up the many winding fjords for Bergen where we would meet up with a great assembly of the some of the worlds large sailing ships. The day came in clear and cool with a brisk northerly wind. Springing away from the dock we passed on our usual long blast of the horn. The village was asleep and we would let them continue to snooze.

While a mariner naturally needs to pay attention all the time and particularly while piloting close to shore, navigating the fjords of Norway is pretty straight forward. The high rocky sides are pretty steep so, basically, if you are not scraping the rocks above the surface, you probably are not in serious danger of going aground. This, of course, is not a fail safe plan but it is close to a general rule of thumb.

Northerly we steered along the sea side of the coast for a few hours and then we steered the Picton Castle inside again. Along this inside route is a vast marine thoroughfare for ships and shipping, a bit narrow at times thus favouring small motor ships over sail. We wound our way around until we found ourselves off the entrance to Bergen. A number of the other ships were already in port so we sailed ever so slowly past them all and quite close until we made our berth at the head of the harbour next to the Second World War Memorial and not far from the fish market.

Bergen is known for rain but we mostly had lovely sunny weather. The harbour is small so all these ships quite fill it up. Again we found old buildings and shops and pubs dating back to the 1200s and 1300s. The fish market is something else, selling all manner of salmon, cod, shrimp and crab but also seal meat and whale meat. Chibley went walkabout, we thought, and was gone a few days but with help from the local media we got her back. It seems that she was chowing on a cheeseburger next to the fish market and this young couple decided to take her home. She has a bunch of tags identifying her as a ships cat but these got overlooked. After what was nothing less than a media blitz some friend of the couple got word to them that this cat was being missed and they brought her down to the ship and, no kidding, there was rejoicing throughout the city of Bergen. Talk of the town she was.

There are a lot of crew activities at these Tall Ships festivals. Tug of war, sharpshooting, church, various social mixers and sometimes pulling boat races. We had not entered the pulling boat races for some reason, but as they were starting right from our wharf Lynsey got a gang together towards the end of the afternoon-long competition – I am happy to report that even with a missing oar the Picton Castle pulling boat team smoked them all. Satisfying that is. There was also a Sea Chantey competition, this we did not do so well at to be sure. Our gang did a good job at the crew parade; what they lacked in military precision they more than made up for with joie de vivre and stellar examples of interpretive dance with flags of many nations.

We had wonderful get-togethers onboard with Norwegian crew from Picton Castle‘s Norwegian freighting days. Most of them took particular pleasure in seeing the engine room in such fine shape and all painted up. All Tall Ships events must have their Tall Ships Parade and this one was no different. After a captains’ meeting on who goes where and when, we all took off to circle the fjord before sailing out into the North Sea.

approaches to Bergen
Bergen Harbour
Guatemoc arriving in style in Bergen
Parade get-up
rocky Norwegian shores
ships in Bergen
sunset Bergen
the famous Viking ship race

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Along the Coast of Norway- Stavanger and Kopervik

When we sailed from Kristiansand we had fresh headwind which eventually died out to calm. Morning found us motoring along in light winds as we entered the fjord that would lead us into Stavanger. Soon enough breezes became fair and the Picton Castle was under full sail slipping along in a beautiful Norwegian fjord. Nice and slowly we sailed passing small villages surrounded by what seems to be stark wilderness. Jagged rocky islets, tall mountains far in the distance, it was hard to believe that we were sailing in the approaches to a not insignificant northern European city. Past small islands with sheep grazing on one side and on the other, the most modern port facilities for fantastic state of the art oil industry vessels.

We sailed into Stavanger harbour, got the ship turned around and moored with the crew doing a snappy job of it. The central part of the old downtown harbour is a fairly small ‘U’ shaped basin open to the north. Being quite old this bight is surrounded by very old buildings dating back for centuries, built with all manner of big wooden knees and what looks like basic log construction where they are exposed on the inside. Some of the buildings were over 700 years old.

Here we met Reidar, who sailed in this ship in the mid 1960’s as the Utstraum. He and many of his colleagues have been following the progress of their former vessel and were keen to see her once again. We also learned that many in Norway were big fans of the TV show that was filmed on our second world voyage, Tall Ship Chronicles, with the cat and I being recognized quite frequently.

This the part of Norway where fjords begin to get more dramatic as one heads north. The fellows from whom we bought the ship, Stale and Helgeir Kristofferson and their families would join us for the short trip to Kopervik which is pretty much where we picked up the Dolmar in 1993. Conditions were good for departing under sail so we sailed from Stavanger under full sail. The waters around here tend to be deep. On the plus side, apart from a few isolated rocks, as long as our yards are not dragging against a mountain we probably aren’t going aground. The steep rock sides to islands and fjords make for good radar ranges in poor visibility too. On the down side, there aren’t too many places to anchor for us, although there certainly are some.

By the middle of the day we were sailing up Karmsundet or the sound between the island of Karmoy and the mainland into Kopervik. Kopervik means Copper Cove, “vik” meaning cove. It is thought that this is how the Vikings got their appellation, “cove-ers” or people from the coves. There are ‘viks’ everywhere around here.

The ship and crew got a great reception in Kopervik. We had laid here for about three weeks in May-June 1993 just after buying the Picton Castle (then the Dolmar) just getting stuff sorted out and checked out at the beginning of this project. The Dolmar was based here (registered in Haugesund to the north) for many years so many folks who knew her here dropped by for a tour.

Stale has a new old ship with which he carries passengers on fjord tours. He was going down to Stavanger the next day to a rally of veteran steamships, so he invited anyone from our gang who wanted to go to come along. I think 15 Picton Castle crew went along in his 240 ton Gamle Sandnes. We had a nice stay in Kopervik and then we pushed on towards Bergen to meet up with a good sized fleet of sailing ships, mostly sail training ships and join the Tall Ships Races to Den Helder, Netherlands. The Kristoffersons talked me into taking the inside route along the fjords instead of going outside in the ocean. As the winds would be from the north and thus adverse this seemed like a nice plan and we would see some of the coast this way and exercise some piloting skills too. Bergen was 80 miles away with all the twists and turns.

Kjetil and Kolin clear the gaff topsail
narrow passage out of Kopervik
Paul and Matt getting phots of the ship under sail
Picton Castle back in Kopervik
Stale and family
under sail departure Stavanger

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