Captain's Log

Archive for March, 2009

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Motoroing Towards Dominica

As I write this log, we are about 50nm west of Guadeloupe, motoring towards Dominica. Most of the day was spent under sail, with the helmsman steering full and by, meaning to sail as close to the wind as possible while still keeping the sails full. To do this, the helmsman keeps an eye on the highest square sails set and watches for the leech (the side edge of the sail) to just start luffing, then falls off a tiny bit. Helm orders are usually given by compass course, so sailing full and by is interesting because the helmsman has to use some judgement and observation skills. All square sails were taken in at about 1600 at the change of the watch, and now we’re motoring. Not because the wind is not strong enough, but because it’s coming from the direction we want to go.

Today’s big excitement came just before dinner, as there were calls of “fish on” from the aloha deck. Second mate Paul had set the fishing lines this morning and a big mahi mahi decided to bite late this afternoon. Apparently the secret is to use real squid as bait, covered in a sparkly, jelly squid lure. We’ll see what Donald can create from this catch. Chibley showed a great deal of interest in the whole event, of course.

The watches were involved in a fair amount of sail handling throughout the day, taking in and resetting the flying jib and royals as wind conditions permitted. Carpenter Matt is continuing to put planks on the frame of a boat picked up in Grenada. David is working on rope coverings for a new sail, John is also involved in a sailmaking project, finishing the cringles on a new mizzen topmast staysail. Kjetil was teaching Sam to replace ratlines aloft, Erin was working on replacing ratlines as well. Deb and Nicki were assisting Paul with the monthly check of safety equipment. A number of crew, including bosun Kolin, Bruce and Spenser, were working at removing paint spots dripped on the well deck. Headsails are still set, so the 4-8 watch, including Kevin, Geoff, David, Gunner and Susie, tightened up the halyards using the handy billy, with the help of AB Ben.

The Captain posted a list of things to do in Dominica on the main scuttle door this afternoon, so the crew are getting excited to explore a new island. The ship spent an extended period of time there in the winter of 2007 while we filmed the reality-TV show “Pirate Master.” The Captain, Lynsey, Donald, Ben and myself were all there for almost three months and are very excited to go back. We’re looking forward to seeing old friends, visiting some of our favourite places again and introducing the crew to this incredible island, one of the most naturally beautiful and least touched by tourism in the Caribbean.

John works on the cringle
Kjetil teaches Sam to replace ratlines
Mahi mahi!
Paul and Matt confer on boat carpentry
Sarah teaches Nicola to steer full and by
Scraping paint drips off the well deck

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Motoroing Towards Dominica

As I write this log, we are about 50nm west of Guadeloupe, motoring towards Dominica. Most of the day was spent under sail, with the helmsman steering full and by, meaning to sail as close to the wind as possible while still keeping the sails full. To do this, the helmsman keeps an eye on the highest square sails set and watches for the leech (the side edge of the sail) to just start luffing, then falls off a tiny bit. Helm orders are usually given by compass course, so sailing full and by is interesting because the helmsman has to use some judgement and observation skills. All square sails were taken in at about 1600 at the change of the watch, and now we’re motoring. Not because the wind is not strong enough, but because it’s coming from the direction we want to go.

Today’s big excitement came just before dinner, as there were calls of “fish on” from the aloha deck. Second mate Paul had set the fishing lines this morning and a big mahi mahi decided to bite late this afternoon. Apparently the secret is to use real squid as bait, covered in a sparkly, jelly squid lure. We’ll see what Donald can create from this catch. Chibley showed a great deal of interest in the whole event, of course.

The watches were involved in a fair amount of sail handling throughout the day, taking in and resetting the flying jib and royals as wind conditions permitted. Carpenter Matt is continuing to put planks on the frame of a boat picked up in Grenada. David is working on rope coverings for a new sail, John is also involved in a sailmaking project, finishing the cringles on a new mizzen topmast staysail. Kjetil was teaching Sam to replace ratlines aloft, Erin was working on replacing ratlines as well. Deb and Nicki were assisting Paul with the monthly check of safety equipment. A number of crew, including bosun Kolin, Bruce and Spenser, were working at removing paint spots dripped on the well deck. Headsails are still set, so the 4-8 watch, including Kevin, Geoff, David, Gunner and Susie, tightened up the halyards using the handy billy, with the help of AB Ben.

The Captain posted a list of things to do in Dominica on the main scuttle door this afternoon, so the crew are getting excited to explore a new island. The ship spent an extended period of time there in the winter of 2007 while we filmed the reality-TV show “Pirate Master.” The Captain, Lynsey, Donald, Ben and myself were all there for almost three months and are very excited to go back. We’re looking forward to seeing old friends, visiting some of our favourite places again and introducing the crew to this incredible island, one of the most naturally beautiful and least touched by tourism in the Caribbean.

John works on the cringle
Kjetil teaches Sam to replace ratlines
Mahi mahi!
Paul and Matt confer on boat carpentry
Sarah teaches Nicola to steer full and by
Scraping paint drips off the well deck

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Sailing Off the Hook

All hands mustered this morning, after some of the off-duty watch returned to the ship, to prepare to get underway and sail away from Anguilla. The crew seem to have enjoyed their stay in Anguilla, relaxing on beautiful beaches and taking in the annual Moonsplash reggae music festival. Lots of work was done on board as well – repairing the flying jib sheet which had parted the night before the ship arrived in port, varnishing the fly rail on the bridge, continuing to restore the boat that’s currently on the hatch along with the usual painting jobs.

Sailing off the hook is something that this crew has become accustomed to, having done it a number of times, but it’s actually fairly rare to do it. Basically, it involves getting the ship underway by using only the sails, no engine at all. There was a shoal off our starboard quarter, a big cargo-carrying ship that just arrived this morning was in front of us and another vessel anchored a little farther forward. The fore yards were braced on a port tack, the main yards on a starboard tack. The crew heaved up the anchor, then set the fore lower tops’l to get the ship turned, then braced the fore yards on a starboard tack, matching the main, to get the ship moving forward under sail.

At this point in the voyage, it’s interesting to see the crew working together. Sail handling must be done quickly and efficiently in order for sailing off the hook to work well, especially when there are ships and other obstacles nearby. The crew moved quickly around the deck, I even noticed some of them getting into place for what they anticipated would come next. There are a few new trainees who just joined the ship a month ago in Grenada and they are catching on by watching and imitating the crew who have been here for a while.

Just now we’re sailing along in Force 4 easterly wind, past the island of St. Maarten. The sky is mostly sunny and the ocean is a beautiful sapphire blue. The 8-12 watch has just taken the deck and ship’s work is about to get started for the day.

Band plays at Moonsplash Reggae Festival, Anguilla
Bill paints the steps to the foc sle head
Chris, Eric, Sam, Jackie and Job relax in Anguilla
Corey and Job repair the spanker clew outhaul
Norm, Carl and Captain walk towards the reggae festival

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Arriving in Anguilla

I arrived in Anguilla just in time to see Picton Castle sail into the anchorage at Road Bay. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the ship sail up to an anchorage from the shore perspective before, so it was interesting to see it from another angle. Once the ship was anchored, the skiff came in to the public wharf with two teams of people – Donald, assisted by Jackie and Charlotte, was off to the nearest market to get some fresh provisions while the Captain and Lynsey, along with Clyde and Flemming, were heading to Customs and Immigration to get the ship and crew cleared in.

Once the clearing in and first provisioning was as complete as it could be, the crew who were off duty were able to come ashore. I went the opposite way, heading to the ship to get on board and say hello to the crew. I received a very warm welcome from all, even Chibley. It was great to finally meet some of the trainees in person – I have corresponded with all of them as they prepared to join the ship, even interviewed some, but there are a few who have joined on later legs of the voyage whom I had never actually met before.

Life on board seems to continue on as it always has. Donald continues to create excellent meals, last night’s dinner included breaded fish, roasted potatoes and a fresh salad. Lynsey had told me how musical some of the crew members are, and as a guitar, mandolin and drum were played on the hatch last night by Mike, Sam and Gunner, I could see that she was right. There’s a lot of this voyage for me to catch up on, Donald started last night by showing me the photos he has taken along the way.

PICTON CASTLE approaches the anchorage, Anguilla

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Small boat day, Down Islands style

It is often said around the Picton Castle that we only have a 300-ton barque in order to carry wonderful small boats around. This is only half a joke. Being competent at small boat handling is an essential component of being a good seaman therefore we have been on the lookout for a good place to launch all of our boats and use them without too much in the way of distractions from ashore.

After gale-driven bays and being alongside much of the time last summer in Europe, followed by increasing opportunity for small boat handling as we made our way down the coast of Africa, many of our gang have become well advanced in small boat handling. This they learn in the course of making boat runs to and from the ship and through direct study and instruction at sea and in the different ports. Recently in Carricou our crew has been learning and practicing beach landings in modest surf.

From Bequia we sailed south in the Grenadines for Mayreau, a tiny island with about 300 inhabitants and a sweet, quiet crescent moon bay with smooth waters, making this anchorage perfect for boat practise. The good Sloop Bob, Alex Brooks, Master and Picton Castle shipmate, with fellow Castle alumni John Gallagher and friends Sarah and Kiera sailed in company with us from Bequia to this secluded cove. Once anchored the Mate went straight at getting boats launched. One brightly painted 23-foot dory with new sailing rig, our 20-foot wooden skiff, our 24-foot fiberglass rescue boat and one 12-foot Senegalese fishing canoe. The next day was spent sailing the dory around with its big rig and tooling all around with the other boats. An island schooner sailed in for a couple of hours too. The day naturally ended with a big barbeque.

dory sailing Mayreau
Senegalese sails dory Mayreau
silhouette ship dory Mayreau
sunset cruise Mayreau

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Report from the Grenadines

The Picton Castle sailed into Hillsborough Bay, Carriacou – a part of Grenada in the Windward Islands – after a superb trade-wind passage from Brazil. We made landfall in the Caribbean at dawn with Petty Martinique, Carriacou and Union islands in sight ahead. Winds were strong, a steady force six and seas piling up as we roller coasted in steering due west. The Picton Castle sailed hard under upper topsails as we shot through the channel between Union and Carriacou. Braced up sharp, we made our way south in the lee of Carriacou, seas laying down naturally and delightfully. Around Jack A Dan Rock and braced up even sharper, the crew sailed their barque very close-hauled under lower top-sails and staysails right up to the anchor without engine assist. They had just sailed 2,030 miles under sail from anchorage in Fernando to anchorage in Carriacou in 13 days, 18 hours averaging a little over 6 knots. The only fuel used went for the generators and to feed the galley stove and I think to clean some paint brushes. This you can only do in a ship like this one when you have a “cracker-jack” crew like we do. This was a wonderful sailing ship passage.

Sunday – Hillsborough, Carriacou. I wasn’t sure we could clear in on a Sunday. Luckily, it turned out that we could as Donald, Cory and I went in to find out. The ship was out of fresh food so we were hoping some shops would be open and have something green to chew on. All around town we saw small booths being set up, sand-stands built, colourful flags on string snapping in the fresh breeze. Hillsborough was clearly getting ready for Carnival. Ferry boats arrived from Grenada packed with folks, all in a party mood, on this pretty Caribbean morning. We were just in time for a couple of days of Carnival there with plenty dancing in the streets and steel band into the wee hours of Jouve Morn, which requires getting up at 4 a.m. in your pajamas and more dancing in the streets. Not as crazy as the Trinidad or Rio carnival, but it was just right for us. After a month at sea from Senegal by way of the coast of Brazil, the legendary Grenadines were an enchanting archipelago to sail into. After our small Carnival we had a pleasant day sail down the 35 miles to St Georges, Grenada where we planned to stay awhile after all our many miles and months at sea.

In Grenada the gang stayed very busy. The duty watch looked after the ship: painting, sailmaking, small jobs in the engineering department. Our famous cook, Donald, has his home nearby and took all the crew there for a big barbeque, actually several times. For some of the gang their Picton Castle time was up and new folks showed up to take part in our West Indian island odyssey soon to come. Around-the-island tours, old sugar plantations, waterfalls, meeting my old shipwright friends, treks in the woods and plenty of roadside BBQ chicken any time you wanted. At this point a meal is not complete without chicken. The joke is “what’s for chicken tonight?”

From Grenada we sailed back north for Carriacou and Petite Martinique. Along the way the big and beautiful full-rigged ship, the Royal Clipper rounded up and sailed close to us and gave us a salute. As fun and appropriate as it is, two days of Carnival excludes much of what is interesting at this quiet island so there was much yet to see and learn and thus we returned. Boat building is a big thing here over in Windward and the crew wanted to check that out. Beautiful 50-foot gaff sloops are built for fishing and general inter-island transport. I got to see an old sloop that I had sailed in years before pulled up on the beach for possible rebuild. The Vaeta is her name. I would love to see her fixed up and sailing again. Maybe…

Bequia (part of St Vincent & Grenadines, the next nation to the north) came next with a fine overnight sail. Bequia is famous for whaling. They still have and maintain their first old whale boat called Iron Duke. I believe her to be an old New Bedford whale boat. She has been rebuilt many times, like George Washington’s ax – only four new handles and three new heads but there she is. The iconic “two bow” boat of Bequia and the other islands nearby were inspired by this one 28’ double-ended wooden boat – quite something. I think everyone pretty much fell in love with Bequia.

In these islands we are getting a good chance to get lots of small boat handling in for as many of the gang as possible. We have our Lunenburg Dory Shop-built 20-foot lap-strake skiff, as well as our 24′ fibreglass rescue boat. But now we also have an excellent 23’ dory all rigged up for sailing. Brightly painted with a mainsail made from colourful African fabric we got in Senegal, she is perfect for getting the feel of sailing small craft. So that’s what we are setting about to do, find a small anchorage and get everyone into the small boats. In the meantime we are sailing from anchorage to anchorage with the crew getting plenty of drill in close quarters ship handling under sail alone, followed by swim calls with a swing rope from the fore yard arm.

job jackie john underway Grenada to carriacou
lucas kevin kolin swincall
royal clipper
Sammy swingrope
sandy island carriacou
stowing sail underway Anguilla
Susie Saba inbackground

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On the Way to Anguilla

Maggie OstlerThis may be the first Captain’s Log written on board an airplane. While we’re breaking with tradition, I should explain that I’m not the Captain, either. I do, however, plan to write some Captain’s Logs over the next two weeks as I sail aboard Picton Castle in the Caribbean.

My usual work location these days is in Picton Castle‘s office in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada. There are two of us who work for the ship from shore, coordinating all the necessary details behind the scenes in order for the voyages to take place. Susan Corkum-Greek will be holding things down shoreside while I am away sailing.

I have sailed with the ship before – circumnavigated on World Voyage 4 as a trainee, then continued on through our Summer Voyage in 2006 that saw the ship sail the Great Lakes as part of the ASTA Tall Ships Challenge, then spent a winter aboard the ship as we did short sail training voyages and filmed a TV show in the Caribbean. About two years ago I came ashore to continue my work with the ship, focusing more on logistics and trainee recruitment. I am thrilled to be heading south to meet the ship for some proper tropical sailing.

As I fly along at 517mph, Picton Castle is sailing towards Anguilla at a much slower speed. They left the Tobago Cays on Monday (Mayreau specifically, with a brief stop in Union to clear out), planning to arrive in Anguilla on Thursday. I flew out from Halifax at o’dark-thirty this morning and, after an overnight stay in Saint Maarten, will arrive in Anguilla tomorrow, having covered a considerably greater distance.

The crew has had a good introduction to the Eastern Caribbean already. After an epic passage from Fernando de Noronha, Brazil, which started with sailing off the hook and continued for two weeks under sail alone until they reached Carriacou where they let go the anchor, still only under sail, the crew arrived just in time for Carnival. In fact, the island of Grenada was the original destination for this passage but because the ship made such great time (with help from some currents off the coast of Brazil), they arrived early and had a few days to spare during which they danced in the streets with the Carnival revelers and prepared the ship, which after a long ocean passage needed some attention to look her best coming into Grenada.

The crew had an extended stay in Grenada where they explored local markets, rum distilleries, sugar cane plantations and waterfalls. From Grenada they sailed for Petite Martinique, one of the outlying islands of Grenada that is very quiet and relaxing. After a second trip to Carriacou, the ship departed from the country of Grenada and headed on to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The first stop in this country of many islands was Bequia, one of the sweetest islands around. As winter is the time that cruising sailors are, well, out cruising in the Caribbean, the anchorage at Port Elizabeth was full of boats. Bequia has an interesting history of whaling and boatbuilding, but it’s also a great place to lime (liming being a Caribbean term for relaxing or chilling out). The ship continued on to another one of the Grenadines, Mayreau, for a few days before heading to Anguilla.

Because researching the ship’s upcoming ports is part of my job, I can tell you that Anguilla is British overseas territory, best known for its stunning white sand beaches. Picton Castle will be in port during the Moonsplash Reggae Festival, an annual event that is put together by reggae musician and local Anguilla restaurant and bar owner, Bankie Banx. Sounds like the crew will be in for some interesting adventures ashore.

Even more than enjoying the tropical warmth and beautiful islands, I’m looking forward to being aboard again. It’s kind of like coming home.

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Four-Legged Shipmates Looking for a New Home

Those of you who have followed the Captain’s Log for a while will remember Louie and Foxy, shipmates from the summer voyage in 2007. As the rest of the crew welcomed public visitors aboard for deck tours in Charleston, Norfolk, Newport and Halifax, these two roamed the decks as ambassadors, stopping for photo ops and other forms of attention. Picton Castle‘s puppies stole the show, threatening to upstage the ship which they called home.

Foxy and Louie started their lives in Dominica, the Caribbean island where we were involved in filming the reality-TV series “Pirate Master” in the winter of 2007. When they were first rescued and brought aboard the ship, they were tiny young puppies who would stay cool in the middle of the day by crawling under the veggie lockers on the aloha deck to find some shade. They grew quickly and, after a visit to the vet in Dominica to make sure they were healthy, started a summer journey that would end with being adopted into the friendly home of a shipmate in Nova Scotia.

Through the summer of 2007, Louie and Foxy, who are brother and sister, had grand adventures. They marched proudly with the crew in every tall ships festival’s crew parade, hid treats in rope coils on deck for the crew to find, settled into their own doghouse on the well deck, played endless games of tag and had their ears and bellies gently scratched by thousands of people. Upon returning to Lunenburg, they snuck off the ship one morning to head up the hill to the local grocery store and run on what they thought was their own dog-size treadmill, but for the rest of us is the roller conveyor belt that takes bins of groceries out to the parcel pick-up.

These two energetic young dogs are now looking for a new home. They are house trained, can sit and lie down, but need to be kept on a leash outside. As true island dogs, they are spirited and friendly, maybe a bit mischevious, and will make excellent pets for someone who has lots of love and attention to give. Their need for a new home is urgent, so if you’re interested in adopting a sea-dog or two please contact me at our Lunenburg office as soon as possible.

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