Wednesday, November 12th, 2008
Just now the Picton Castle is sailing about 30 miles off the coast of the Iberian Peninsula at the northern Spain-Portugal border. We are southbound. We have taken the corner at Finisterre out of the Bay of Biscay without any drama, in fact a fair wind filled and backed and followed us around as we went from steering west out of Biscay to south along this coast. Often times, stiff south west winds prevail and make getting out of the Bay of Biscay difficult for a square-rigged sailing ship. Not so this time. Once in awhile getting cut a little slack by the gods of this sea world is sweet.
Wind is from the north, yards are squared – all sail set to the royals. Sailing almost dead downwind in a pleasant force 4 breeze with 3-4 foot seas- smatterings of white caps. Steering is easy. To help with steering the spanker is not set and the weather clew-garnet of the mainsail is hauled up to let winds to the foremast pulling the ship instead of pushing her. It is still cool at 60F (15C) this morning but skies are fair and a pretty blue with fair-weather clouds scudding along. Plenty of porpoise and whales to be seen from time to time.
We had a couple owls hanging out on the mizzen crosstrees for a few days in Biscay. We locked up Chibley the cat while they perched and lurked and hitched their ride. They took off and flew away when within sight of the Spanish coast. Every day of southing gets us warmer and into more light. Getting pretty murky there at 50 degrees north latitude and above it was. We are now finally below the latitude of Lunenburg for the first time since that Atlantic crossing in May-June and dropping latitude every day. The cat is working on her tan on the cargo hatch, this time without owls lurking hungrily overhead.
David, our Shetland Island sailmaker, is finishing up a new main topmast staysail. He laid it out, cut it, seamed it by hand, sewed on the tabling and corner patches, stuck all the grommets and now he has just roped it finished and stuck a couple cringles for the head and tack. He is one of those annoying guys who, once shown something, can do it better than I can the second time he tries – I just showed him to make wire cringles. He will be making them better than I do soon enough. He has a spanker and a new jib on the go as well. Donald, the cook, has just let me know that he wouldn’t mind sailing as cook in the next world voyage, should there be one – that would be OK by him. Our trainee crew are advancing smoothly in log-keeping, weather observations and chart house work.
We are bound for a small port down river from Lisbon called Cascais (cash-cay-ees), 350 miles from our point of departure at Ares, Spain. Here, now that we are in good reliable sunny weather, we intend to spend most of a week at anchor getting the ship tarred and painted, maybe send down the mizzen topmast for an overhaul as well as rigging exercise. This is also a good chance to work on small boat handling and advance as coxswains. And of course, a run ashore as well, sailors have to do that– finally out of the fog and cold or that is the promise anyway. The sea water temp has gone up four degrees since leaving Ares, near La Coruna in NW Spain. Soon we will be complaining about the heat…
In the works (meaning, I have to write them) are Captain’s Logs for our time in Milford Haven, Wales, the Picton Castle‘s original homeport and our passage and visit to St Nazaire, France where we had a most remarkable time. The Picton Castle had last been there in March 1942 as part of a British raid in the Second World War to put out of commission a giant dry-dock that could handle the largest German battleships. France was wonderful and we had great sailing conditions as we left. Soon we will be out of this ship’s former trading routes, which at one time were from Murmansk in the Soviet Union as far south as Portugal.