Friday, October 17th, 2008
When last we met, the Picton Castle was just sailing down the River Orwell from Ipswich, England past the mouth of the Thames and Dover and headed down channel. Weather looks OK for now. Weather hereabouts can be just as bad as all those Hornblower novels, gale after westerly gale this time of year. Mostly spent hurricanes and tropical storms from the other side of the Atlantic but still with plenty of punch left in them. And then in late October it can get worse. But we have a high building right now so we will put the pedal to the metal and get as far west as we can as quickly as we can.
We are bound for Wales to make our pilgrimage to the Picton Castle, an old Norman keep of sorts about 450 miles away. Then on to France and Saint Nazaire which this ship last visited in March 1942 while participating on the first surface assault on Nazi occupied France. This was to take out the big dry docks there, the only ones that could accommodate the German Battleship Tirpitz I have read somewhere. The HMS Picton Castle swept mines for the advancing flotilla. Then truly to head south to Spain and Portugal and away from this turbulent weather of northern Europe.
After spending the summer with all these fine Scandinavian sail training ships, I am pretty impressed how they bang around the nasty North Sea all the time. As commented on a lot already, the weather is volatile, oil rigs and an enormous amount of traffic (large and small) everywhere, Traffic Separation Schemes, the waters are shallow making for square seas and plenty of current. And on top of that most of these big sailing ships really aren’t doing traditional sail training anymore but more the two week adventure sailing that has become current today. Only the Danish full-rigger Georg Stage is still making conventional long term sail-training trips anymore, although all these ships do a good job at their craft. All these ships look great, painted nicely and clean as a whistle and with excellent dedicated crew.
We are all fine and looking to turn the corner soon, keen for some long sea passages and tropical trade-winds too. Coming soon to a barque near you (or us). However, regardless of any grumbling about the North Sea, it has been a great voyage so far and has all made for a pretty strong crew of the Picton Castle gang 2008. Now we are bound down the English Channel looking for a fair wind, steaming past the Goodwin Shoals light ship, past Dover, past Dungeness, past St Catherines Point, Isle of Wight and still no wind. Maybe we should put into that famous and venerable Naval port of Portsmouth and see what there is to see, since we are in the neighbourhood.