Captain's Log

Archive for August, 2009

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The Bosun School

The Bosun School, Picton Castle’s shore-side marine technical skills development program, is quickly approaching. Starting September 1, young mariners will come to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia to advance their professional development by learning skills that are often difficult to master while at sea carrying out programs. An irony in modern sail training and sea education programs today is that it is often difficult to find the time at sea to learn those very skills that help us do our jobs better. During the course of this three-month School, students will learn and practice advanced techniques in rigging, carpentry, sailmaking and general deck and rig maintenance.

Designed for young sailors of traditional vessels who have some experience at sea, this program will build on the skills you already possess. It can be challenging, at sea, to see a project from start to finish, learning all of the required steps along the way. By removing the constant distraction of keeping the ship sailing, you will be free to focus on the task at hand. Skills will be taught by experienced instructors, then you will have ample practice time to put those skills into action.

The curriculum will include the following: fibre rope splices and seizings; parceling and serving; ratlines; running rigging; tackles; blocks; wire splices and seizings; large hawser splicing; handling heavy gear on deck and aloft; setting up, surveying, maintaining and repairing standing and running rigging; rigs and rigging theory; bosun chair work; coatings and mixtures; ship handling theory and techniques; introduction to carpentry; small boat building techniques; fiberglass and epoxy repairs; sail design and construction; patching sails; laying out and cutting new sails; hand seaming and machine seaming; tabling and grommets; reef bands; roping; cringles; welding; damage control; marine outboard engines; capstan and windlass mechanics; deck bilge pumps; marine heads; small boat handling, including boats under sail, oar and motor; plus any other interests of students enrolled in the School.

The Bosun School will be led by experienced seafarers with specialized skills in the areas they are teaching. Some are senior crew members of the Picton Castle, some are marine tradespeople from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, an area well-known for its shipwrights and other skilled craftsmen. Captain Dan Moreland will oversee the program.

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia is the setting for the School. A small port town rich in seafaring heritage, Lunenburg is the ideal place to explore and practice a variety of skills. From a daysail on the famous schooner Bluenose II to weekly small boat races, from studying small boat construction at the renowned Dory Shop to apprenticing with local sailmakers, there will be plenty of opportunities for hands-on application of the skills learned in the School.

Advancing your skills will make you a more valuable crew member on board any vessel. The Bosun School will give you an opportunity to add technical skills and proficiencies to your resume or CV, which will open doors to future employment. Each student will be given a certificate at the end of the School, along with an evaluation of your skills.

The Bosun School can help you take the next step in your development as a seafarer. For more information, click here  or contact our Lunenburg office.

Meredith helps Jason with whipping
Ollie and Dave splice wire
Rebecca repairs a sail
Roping a sail
sending down the main royal yard

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Chibley’s Log

chibs on rail

Introduction by D. Moreland

It is a difficult thing to write a preamble for chronicles of such an internationally well-known character as Chibley the Cat of the Barque Picton Castle. So well known is she on every continent and at so many far-flung islands that I tremble at the task before me. But as the one selected for this intimidating task it falls to me to do my best at this, which is both an honour and a challenge. Now, mind you, cats can’t write, you probably knew this already and it pains me to point this out but for the sake of journalistic integrity, such a rarefied commodity these days, and for the sake of full disclosure, I must make this clear for those who might otherwise indulge in some cute anthropomorphic silliness. Cats can’t write and being a cat nor can Chibley. That said, this cat, and I dare say most other cats who find themselves domiciled in cohabitation with those on two legs and of scant fur, have ways of making their feelings and, yes, thoughts, perfectly well known. So what we have here is sort of a channeling of our esteemed feline’s point of view in her words as best as we can discern them. Anyone who has sailed shipmates (that’s about 1,000 of you out there) with her will tell you that there is little, if any doubt about her thoughts and usually without much, if any, divination. Chibley does not beat around the bush. But she still can’t write. So her most trusted associates have been called upon, without attribution, to write for her, opposable thumbs being wonderful things as well as these shipmates being literate; something Chibley, being a cat, is not.

Chibley came from the S.H.A.I.D. animal shelter near Lunenburg and joined her ship in autumn 1997. The captain went to the shelter to see about a cat to sail with them on their first voyage around the world. At the shelter Chibley sat up straight and licked her paws and whiskers while many of the other cats meowed and made lots of undignified noises and performed gyrations designed to get attention. She then looked up and said “I will go with you”. And so she did. Since that day Chibley has sailed close to 200,000 miles on four voyages around the entire world and Europe and Africa just recently. She has eaten her share of flying fish on trade-wind passages in the tropics, dispatched any number of birds (sad to say, but she is a cat) and enjoyed perfect health. The only times she has gone away from the ship are when well meaning people have picked her up as a friendly stray; this in spite of her numerous tags of identification on her collar associating her with the ship. This occurred once in Halifax and more recently in Bergen, Norway where the quest of locating her and returning her to the ship became nation-wide news in the TV and newspapers and a spirited public mission. Sometimes we wonder if she is not just a little bit of a media hound, er, feline.

Well, this is not entirely true. One time in the southern Indian Ocean, Chibley went off on her own we think. The Picton Castle was alongside at an island. It was very hot and she took off for a couple of days but came back before we sailed. There were some fishing boats nearby. Maybe they smelled yummy. Maybe she wanted some cool shade at night. Who knows? She didn’t say. After worrying the crew sick she just ambled back aboard, tail forming a furry undulating question mark as she ever so casually made her way up the gangway at midnight. She seemed oddly and inordinately pleased with herself, but she divulged nothing of her movements or adventures. From time to time we are asked why we do not, for her safety, lock her up in every port when alongside. The answer is simple; she is her own cat and she looks after herself quite well and we figured that out. Why do people who have cats in the house all do the same thing and never let their cats out? For the same reason, yet many cats are done in by cars while wandering freely outside. Which is safer? Living near a road with cars whizzing by or visiting a dock from time to time, say four times a year? Besides, Chibs is smart about such things. In truth, and she would not want this to get around, we do, in countries where it is required, incarcerate her in some location of the ship and keep her absolutely onboard. This, which she makes quite plain, she does not like at all. We are also often asked if she is the ship’s cat (or horrors, ‘mascot’); we say yes, sort of, but more better to say that the Picton Castle is Chibley’s ship.

So off we go here to attempt to chronicle Chibley’s remarkable sea-going life, the life of a sea cat. She who has licked more saltwater off her tail than any thousand lesser sailors have wrung out of their socks is putting forth her story here, personally for the first time. Do not expect a linear chronological narrative, this is a cat speaking a cat’s story and linear. Well, cats, it seems, just look at things a little differently; So, for our collective illumination and enlightenment, and even though she cannot write, here is Chibley’s Log. We trust that we will receive further installments as the spirit moves her…

Chibley’s Log – by herself; Chibley The Cat

Today – ate some food from a bowl, had some water too. Walked around home, see what’s going on. Not much right now. Home was still, dark and quiet and we had land tied up to us again which has been happening more than normal lately. The big hot Yellow was gone from the blue and I saw the sparkles up there. That happens a lot. Been a lot of grey fuzzy for awhile though recently. I had already gone on the land and sniffed it. Not so interesting, no fish, no burgers, no cats, a lot of peeps, a little bit of green grass so I chewed that and up-chucked and then I felt better. Felt good before but always feel good after a good up-chucking, don’t you? It was nice for the moment and not too many peeps about in the dark so snoozed on the hatch in case any of my friends needed to rub my belly. Sometimes they need to do that it seems and I kind of like it most the time.

Editor’s note: In the above account Chibley is referring to the Picton Castle’s stay in the lovely Cape Breton seaport of Sydney – “home” is of course, the Picton Castle. “Dark” is because it was night time most likely. Cats do not seem to make such a big distinction between night and day we don’t think.

Today – we had a get together of all the peeps at my home. I like it when the peeps do that, don’t really know why they do that but it is most likely to admire me. I let them. There is no bad in it. Then all the peeps pull in the big ropes, the big noise shakes my home and the land goes away. Then I went to the warm food place to see if there was something nice for me there. My friend who lives there sometimes has nice things to munch for me – I bring him things too, it’s only fair. Bits of Fish, very exciting! Up high there is no Big Blue but all is grey and fuzzy. This has been happening a lot lately. I hope it gets better but I don’t mind. I ate some food from a bowl and drank some water too.

Editor’s note: Here we believe Chibley is referring to a morning muster where the captain and / or mate describe upcoming events.These are common events. Chibley almost always attends these musters amidships around the canvas-covered cargo hatch, surrounded by the crew, after which it is pretty clear that the ship got under way. We think that she is also referring to fog and overcast skies in the above. She is more accustomed to the tropics. She seems to refer to her shipmates and all humans as “peeps.” Special peeps she calls ‘my friend’.

Today – still making noise but home is steady. Big Hot Yellow is back up in Big Blue. That’s nice. I can smell land getting close to us. I like how it smells. I wonder what land is coming to us? Maybe there will be burgers…

Editor’s note: The ship motored over smooth seas sailing from Sydney. When the Picton Castle approaches land from the sea, Chibley can often be found on the main pin-rail ( she is nicely protected by the t’gallant rail) with her head raised and if you look closely you can see her nostrils twitching. She is sniffing the breeze off the land. The crew do much the same the same thing too. Breathing in the perfume of pines and spruce of Nova Scotia (or palms and Frangipani of Tahiti in the South Pacific) is like ambrosia to those coming in from the salt sea after a long ocean passage.

Today – All very exciting – new Land! My peeps make a nice thing for me to go onto the land with. It is very nice of them. I went on the new land that came up to us today. Many, many peeps on the land. All size peeps. The small peeps always get excited when they meet me. I let them touch me as I am very nice to touch. Sometimes there are dogs, but I make them stay away. Dogs are gross. Well, most of them. I have met some nice ones too. But I still make them stay away.

Editor’s note: Here Chibley refers to a gangway and children. She also mentions dogs for the first time and although like most self-respecting cats she holds for short truck with dogs, here she allows for the fact that she was once pretty good buddies in Lunenburg with Rocky the famous Dory Dog, a story in itself. Rocky kind of had a crush on her and Chibley makes allowances for sentient beings that worship her.

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Manoeuvring a big ship in and out of the harbour in Pugwash is a bit of a challenge. Small, narrow and there is a strong current running through the harbour at about five knots for a good part of the day – the only time that a ship like Picton Castle could enter and leave the harbour particularly safely is about 45 minutes on either side of high tide. Salt mining is a big industry here so they load salt into pretty big freighters here, about 50 times a year, with two powerful tug-boats big salt ships get pulled in backwards to load. They get pulled in backwards as there is not room in Pugwash to turn them around. The sailing was good on the way from Pictou to Pugwash so we arrived at the entrance to the harbour before nightfall and anchored until high tide the following morning. Early Friday morning we heaved up the anchor, got underway, followed the narrow, winding channel into the harbour and got the ship tied up for our next and last Tall Ships Nova Scotia 2009 event.

The Tall Ships visit in Pugwash was combined with their annual HarbourFest, which meant there were all sorts of events going on. The duty-watch, of course, looked after the deck tours aboard the ship. The off-duty watch took in musical performances, beach volleyball, the across-the-harbour golf ball driving contest, the Nova Scotia Arm Wrestling championships and other fun events. No shortage of lobster-rolls, fried this and grilled that, cotton candy and Johnny Depp “Capt Jack Sparrow” look-alikes wandering about brandishing plastic swords and groaning that pirate “arrrr” that seems so necessary. We had three pairs of crew entered in the dory races, Sasha and Jason, Buddy and Bub, and Julie and Gratia. The two men’s teams ended up racing each other in the consolation finals. Our women’s team, Julie and Gratia, came second in the womens’ division and received medals. We take these sort of things in stride.

Pugwash is home to a giant salt mine, which supplies most of Atlantic Canada with salt, as well as markets in Quebec and the US. The wharf where the ships were tied up belongs to the Canadian Salt Company and is where they load salt onto large bulk carriers for distribution. Being a working mine, it is not usually open to visitors, but they arranged a special tour for a handful of crew with the mine manager, Grant Sutherland, and two supervisors, Gordon and Peter. After a safety orientation and being outfitted with safety gear, we went 1,000 feet underground in a small elevator, and stepped into a strangely quiet and dry underground world. The mine is made up of long tunnels that are wide enough to accommodate three big trucks side by side, with the overhead either 30 or 60 feet up, depending on what stage of mining that particular tunnel is at. Our group got into the back of two trucks and rode around on some of the 62 miles of underground roads through the mine. On the well-travelled main thoroughfares there is plastic mesh bolted to the overhead to prevent dust and other bits from falling, and to keep the wires that run through the mine supplying electricity out of the way. Big tubes also ran overhead in some areas, supplying fresh air to the mine. While some sections were lit by bright overhead lights, there were some sections that were completely dark, except for the lights we wore as part of our safety gear. We were told that miners are trained to look up every time they move into a new area in the mine to make sure that there is no danger of anything falling on them. There is a big machine with one pointy end that scratches the surface of the overhead every four to six inches to loosen and remove any bits that may fall before that area is opened up for people not in big, protected machines to work in. The machines they use are huge and powerful. We drove through the underground repair shop to see where they are all fixed. There is next to no moisture in the air in the mine, so equipment made of metal, covered in salt, does not rust. Because there is so much salt on them, those same pieces of equipment, if brought to the surface, would rust completely within days to a point where vehicle doors won’t even open and the equipment is absolutely useless. Everything goes in and out of the mine in the same elevator we rode in, including all the new equipment which must be dismantled, shipped down and reassembled below ground, and all the salt coming out of the mine. The whole tour was quite amazing.

Pugwash was also the setting of some of the very first informal nuclear arms limitation talks in the late 1950’s between the east and west. Quite famous back in the day for this, the town won the Nobel Prize for hosting these talks.

Pugwash being the last port of Tall Ships events, we figured we should host a party on our last night there for the crews of all the ships in port including Pride of Baltimore II, Roseway, Mist of Avalon, Fair Jeanne, and Theodore Too. We had been sailing company with all these fine ships and their excellent crews for a while at the different ports and now this was all coming to an end. The dress code was semi-formal so most of the girls were in skirts and dresses, the guys wore button down shirts with ties and even a few suit jackets. Pride of Baltimore II crew are a musical bunch and have formed a band, complete with guitars, banjo, fiddle and bass, who played two sets at the party. There was dancing on the hatch, great music and conversation, a good way to bid farewell to our little fleet. That same evening we had a reception for the Jost Vineyards family and staff and invited to them all to stay for our crew party – good time had by all. The next day, promptly with the tide, one by one, all the ships motored out of the harbour into the Northumberland Strait and then scattered to the winds. A salt ship lay at anchor waiting for us all to make room so the wharf could get back to is normal business. And thus ends Tall Ships Nova Scotia 2009.

Crew on the mine tour at Pugwash
Tim on lookout as MIST OF AVALON sails by

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