Tuesday, December 9th, 2008
The Picton Castle was at anchor at Gibraltar after an excellent, 450 mile sailing passage from Mallorca. The ship and her crew have sailed over 8,500 miles so far on this voyage. We are surrounded by many large merchant ships anchored next to this famous rock. Dozens of anchored vessels fill this bay stretching off into the distance with the peaks of mountains of Morocco riding above the sea haze. At the southernmost point a large ship is being salvaged after dragging up on the rocks. It was big news. The ship was a complete loss, this looks like a clean up operation. She apparently dragged anchor and could not get engines started, we were told.
We had been at Majorca for a week for a longer stay in port than usual. This we did because we wanted to send the mizzen topmast down for an overhaul and take advantage of being alongside to get some work done that is easier that way. We usually anchor out. Palma was also the end of a leg and the beginning of the next one and the mid point of this remarkable voyage. There were some sad goodbyes to shipmates who had to get home and the welcoming of new ones.
This topmast was sorely in need of varnish. We could have taken care of that while it was in place by using Bosuns chairs, but it was due for a good check over anyway so we sent it down to the deck to get a thorough overhaul. It is also a nice piece of seamanship to send down a large spar like this and was a good chance to teach how this is done safely and efficiently. Now the topmast is back aloft all painted, varnished, greased and all the rigging checked and overhauled. Sailmaker David set the big sewing machine up on the wharf – he and his helpers, Sarah and Bruce, laid out, cut and seamed up two new topgallants and a new upper topsail in just a couple days.
The gang had a good time in sunny Mallorca – well, not so sunny with a low pressure system sitting on top of us and raining aplenty – and we got lots of good work done after the rain stopped. There is a quite a large yachting scene there with packed first class marinas and superb commercial waterfront infrastructure. Many German and British folk here, some on holiday, some as residents. There might be more Irish pubs here than in Dublin and the skyline of Palma is dominated by a magnificent cathedral built in the middle ages. The surrounding countryside is beautiful and varied. It is much like the American southwest in places and looks like the land of The Man of La Mancha in others; windmills, orange groves, dusty scrubby plains, jagged peaked mountains overlooking all. The family of our lead seaman Nadja lives in the country of this lovely island. The Nitschke family looked after their daughter’s ship and crew above and far beyond the call of duty, including having all the crew out to their home in country for magical feasts around the big bonfire with great steaming pans of paella and other delights.
The Picton Castle had great passages both to and from Mallorca while in the Mediterranean, light fair breezes sailing in east bound and strong fair breezes headed back west bound for Gibraltar. The ship made very good time under t’gallants in occasional stiff squalls but it was a fair wind and she surged ahead in each squall, 8-9 knots, fast for us. Gibraltar is an interesting spot and fuel is 35% cheaper here compared to Mallorca, so we will save $5K on a fill-up. Yes, that’s right, $5,000 will be saved by fuelling here. It costs $1,000/day to motor now in this ship, it used to cost $250/day not so long ago. I was last here in the Danish training ship Danmark. The hull of the 1877 Barque Elissa was here too, on her way to Galveston, Texas, at the end of a wire on her improbable path towards a full and amazing restoration. The Rock of Gibraltar is honeycombed with caves from the days when this was a major British Navy base. It is quite a formidable looking rock. There is an ape that calls this rock home – the only native apes in Europe apart from the kind that walks upright.