Captain's Log

Archive for June, 2010

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Necessary Server Maintenance

By Bronwen Kathleen Livingston
Reporting from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

At approximately 6:30 am the server that hosts our lovely new website (and our e-mail) unexpectedly went down. I was in bed, having a dream about exploring Panama La Vieja (Panama’s old city) and was blissfully unaware of the problem. The issue was resolved sometime mid-morning – much to our relief. In order to ensure that it does not happen to us again our web support team will be doing some necessary server maintenance this evening. We do trust that this will not be a terribly long operation and that the e-mail and website will be up and fully functional in a few short hours. We apologize for any inconvenience.

I did get an e-mail from the Captain this morning. Everyone had a wonderful time exploring Panama-not dreaming of exploring Panama as I was! The shopping is done, the deliveries are arriving, the new purchases are being lashed and the temperature is ‘hot’. They are planning to depart Panama City today bound for the Galapagos Islands. Another Captain’s log (or two) will be sent to me soon to post and Maggie and/or the Captain will regale us with stories of the canal transit, Panama City and their first days sailing in the Pacific. I must say that I can hardly wait!

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Canal Preparations

Wednesday June 9, 2010

All hands worked yesterday to prepare the ship for transit through the Panama Canal. We were at anchor in Anchorage Area B, at the northwest corner of the harbour. We came through the giant breakwater on Monday afternoon to anchor, surrounded by lots of ships, some many times our size.

In order to go through the Canal, the ship must meet certain requirements – we must bring everything that stretches beyond the sides of the ship inboard, so that means bringing the boats which hang in the davits aboard the ship, turning the davits in and cockbilling the fore and main yards (that means bracing them up sharp and tipping them). We launched both the longboat and the skiff to use them both for cleaning and spot painting the topsides – we want the ship to be looking spiffy for her transit – before bringing them on board. More crew were working inboard, cleaning and painting the bulwarks. In the meantime, another watch was working on shifting things on top of the galley house, putting the gangway inside the wooden skiff, moving our dory, Sea Never Dry, into the middle to make space for the longboat on the port side. Another group of people were working on rigging up yard tackles for hoisting the longboat to the galley house roof. There are also requirements for a boarding station with the ladder over the side of the ship, hand rails and steps down to deck so that canal personnel can board the ship easily, plus awnings to provide shade for them. Yet another small group was working on the mainsail for the Mermaid, roping it and working to get it finished in time to meet the deadline.

It’s amazing how much work can get done and how good the ship can look when the full crew are working together. After lunch, we were ready to hoist the long boat on board, using two yard tackles, the stay tackle and the upper tops’l halyard. All hands participated in this, lifting the long boat out of the water and maneuvering it inboard and forward onto the strongbacks. It was then lashed tightly in place for the Canal transit. It has rained periodically since we arrived in Panama, so our daily routine has involved loosing sail in the morning to allow it to dry and stowing it again in the afternoon.

Once the last few things were finished up and sails were stowed, two watches were set free to check out the Shelter Bay Marina. The seedy yet funky old Cristobal Yacht Club, where we have gone ashore on previous world voyages, was bulldozed in order to make more space for container terminals. Shelter Bay is an old US Army base, turned into a marina four years ago. Seems like a lovely place, and we were glad to be welcomed ashore there. The last skiff was an early one as things close down at the marina at 9pm, and also because we had an early morning this morning.

Before any Canal transit, the ship must be inspected by the Canal authorities and we had to shift anchorages for our inspection. All hands were awoken about 0530 to get underway at 0600, bound for Anchorage Area F, closer to the entrance to the Canal. Anchorage Area F is for yachts and other smaller vessels, so we’re surrounded here by a bunch of coasters, similar in length to us. The inspection will take place here at Area F, so we’re finishing up the final few things and standing by for the boarding officer to arrive. Where we used the skiff for runs ashore yesterday, and to have it available while we were underway this morning, it has not yet been brought aboard. We will use the same system of tackles that we used yesterday for the long boat in order to lift the skiff and bring it onto the main hatch for the transit.

We have a great view of all the vessel traffic here, watching ships come and go through the main channel. As we motored from one anchorage to another this morning, we had to cross the channel, going astern of a giant container ship and well ahead of a car carrier. We’re closer now to the cargo terminals, with giant cranes sticking up into the sky for loading and unloading containers. It’s incredible to see the size of the ships and the operation that is required to move goods around the world.

This just in: the word is that Pilot will board the Picton Castle at 0430 tomorrow and we’re to be at the fist lock about 0600 to begin our climb over this continent bound for the Pacific Ocean.

coaster neighbours at Anchorage Area F
crossing astern of the container ship in the main channel
Katie touches up the paint on the hull
lifting the monomoy onto the galley house strongbacks

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Watch us in the Panama Canal!

We now have our transit in the Panama Canal confirmed for Thursday June 10 (that’s tomorrow). You can watch Picton Castle on the webcams on the Panama Canal website. While schedules are always subject to change, our scheduled arrival at the Gatun Locks is set for 0602 local time and our scheduled departure from the Miraflores Locks is 1357 local time (note that the Miraflores time is our departure from the lock, so you’ll want to check in sooner to actually see us). Panama is ZD+5, which means that if you’re watching from Lunenburg, you should look for us around 0802 at the Gatun Locks.

Gatun Locks:

Miraflores Locks:

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Approaching Panama

Monday June 7, 2010

After the Seamanship Derby yesterday, the crew were rewarded with a power shower, cold juice and popcorn, Donald had been saving some ice in the freezer. It has been surprisingly hot and muggy since we arrived in the Caribbean Sea, hotter than any of us remember it being before. Hotter than many folks here are used to. For that reason, we had three days of power showers in a row – we usually don’t bathe daily, but in the heat it’s so refreshing to stand under the fire hose and have a moment’s relief. Kind of makes me think it’s the Picton Castle’s version of kids running through the sprinkler in the back yard.

Cold juice, or cold anything to drink is a special treat. We have five big chest freezers on board that store all of our meat and dairy products, as well as some frozen veggies, but we have no refrigerator. We use two coolers like fridges, replacing the ice packs in them daily to keep them cool. Because the freezers and coolers are used exclusively for keeping essential ship’s stores cold, to drink anything cold is a real luxury. We bought a few bags of ice in Anguilla that we’ve been saving to add to the containers of water and juice so we broke some out yesterday afternoon to celebrate the end of the Derby.

Following the power shower and the snack, the Captain held a muster to talk about Panama. He discussed that we would arrive at some point on Monday, going to anchor to make the necessary preparations to transit the Canal and then to wait our turn. We don’t yet know which day will be our day to make the transit, as we have to fit in wherever the Canal authority schedules us. He talked a bit about how the Canal works, that there will be a pilot and professional line handlers aboard for the transit, and that once we get settled on the Pacific side we have huge amounts of shopping to do in Panama. We’ll be buying a considerable amount of galley provisions as we won’t have the opportunity for full and complete grocery shopping for a while, not really until we get to Fiji, as well as some deck supplies and things to take with us to Pitcairn Island and other ports that we visit. The Captain talked a bit about some of the interesting things to see and do in Panama – visiting Old Panama City, the old quarter of the city and the Canal museum. You can do normal city things too, go to movies, wonderful architecture and museums, crafts, jungle treks, shop for the things you wish you had brought but forgot, etc.

We had a fantastic sailing passage from Bonaire, making 170-180 miles per day most of the time, under all square sail except the mains’l. As expected, we had to motor in calms the last 50 or so nautical miles to Panama. We fired up the main engine about 0600 for the final push towards Panama. Land was spotted by the 8-12 watch, and the lookouts were increasingly busy reporting ships and buoys as we approached the entrance to the canal zone. All jungle with very little signs of people living anywhere nearby. Just before 1500, as we were an hour outside of the breakwater under heavy over cast sky, it started to pour down rain and the rain kept up until just before we anchored. The traffic in the canal zone is highly regulated, with two entrances through the breakwater and different designated anchorage areas both inside and outside the breakwater for different sizes and kinds of vessels. We’re currently in anchorage area B, the northwest part, which is for all vessels with a deep salt water draft of less than 10 metres. Conveniently, it’s also close to a new marina at Shelter Bay with a dock where we hope to be able to take our small boat ashore. This marina is very nice and recreated out of an old US Army base and boat basin.

As we came through the breakwater, we could see the massive cargo terminals, storage areas and general infrastructure designed for the massive amounts of ships that come and go through these waters – and big and small ships anchored everywhere. After the sun went down and all the ships in the area turned on their lights, there are so many that it looks like a big town or small city, when it’s really just ships. And our little barque seems, well… little in comparison to some of the giant container ships and tankers anchored not that far away.

Once we got anchored, we spoke with our agent who told us that the crew members who will be joining us here in Panama would be arriving at the marina shortly for us to pick them up and bring them aboard. We’re pleased to have them join us. When the skiff came alongside with people and their luggage, most of the crew assembled amidships to greet the new joiners. There are a few familiar faces who have sailed with us before plus a few new folks. While they’ve been waiting for the ship to arrive, they’ve checked out Panama City, so they’ll be able to offer some advice on things to see and do.

Tomorrow will be an all-hands work day as we prepare the ship to go through the Canal. Nothing can stick out over the sides of the ship, so that means we have boats to bring inboard, davits to turn in, yards to cockbill and so on. We hope to go through the Canal on Thursday – once our transit time is confirmed it will be posted here so you can keep an eye on the Panama Canal website and see us on the webcams at the locks.

our neighbours in the anchorage area, waiting for the Canal
Paul navigates in the charthouse as we enter the breakwater

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Seamanship Derby

Sunday June 6, 2010

Late last week, a mysterious posting appeared on the door to the salon, something about the 512th annual seamanship competition. All hands were warned to study up on their knots, steering, ship nomenclature and general seamanship skills in anticipation. Watches held secret meetings and study sessions, planning not only their compass boxing and line coiling strategies, but also their team uniforms (or costumes) and to consider illicit ways to win favour with the judges.

The derby was scheduled for 1500 this afternoon, a competition of seamanship skills with a number of different events, pitting watch against watch. Mates Mike, Paul and Rebecca, with help from bosun WT and bosun’s mate Nicksa, were the judges, chief engineer Chris was the official scorekeeper and timer. Each watch started the competition with a presentation – something to intimidate the other watches, or tell everyone more about themselves and simply how wonderful they are. The 12-4 watch, all dressed in black with black grease war-paint stripes on their faces, arms and chests, first presented their bribes to the judges, including cold drinks, candy and potato chips. They then paraded onto the hatch with music and drumming, then sang a cheer, led by Meredith, talking about how they are on duty in the dark in the middle of the night, with a funny verse about each of the other watches and what they do. The 4-8 watch made their presentation next, bribing the judges with chocolate. They were all dressed in tie dye, aviators and bandanas and for their presentation they changed the lyrics to a popular song, describing the 4-8 responsibilities. The 8-12 then presented a skit about the “real housewives of the Picton Castle”, kind of a take-off on the Desperate Housewives or maybe Real Housewives of NY or New Jersey, whatever that show is, that talked a lot about domestics, the cleaning done to the heads and below, which the 8-12 watch do every morning.

The first event in the actual competition was a pin chase, which reinforces using proper names for parts of the ship. The three watches were lined up amidships, then the first person in each line was given the name of something somewhere on the deck that they had to race to touch first. Whoever touched it first was awarded a point for their team. Some of the things people had to chase after were lines, some were parts of the ship like the port fore upper tops’l brace block keeper plate or the fly rail. All watches did quite well in this event, although the 4-8 ended up in first place.

Next up was line coiling. The Captain demonstrated the proper way that a line should be coiled and hung – all turns even, no tail sticking out, hung close to the pin, and all coils on the rail of equal length. The mates cast off all coils on the main deck and each watch took their turn coiling and hanging them all again. This event was timed, plus points were also awarded for style. The times averaged between five and eight minutes, and the watch that took the longest had the nicest looking coils. The 4-8 watch had the best compromise of reasonably fast time and reasonably good looking coils, so they won this event as well.

From there, all hands moved up to the quarterdeck for the knot tying portion of the competition. Each person had a line, and when the mate called out the name of the knot, each person had to tie it. The watch was instructed to call out when each member of the watch had tied the knot correctly. The first watch to call out was then inspected by the judges to make sure the knots were all correct. Knots in the competition included the figure of eight, reef knot, bowline, buntline hitch, round turn and two half hitches, double sheet bend and for bonus points, a one-handed bowline behind the back (bonus points earned by Kate for her 8-12 watch, who ended up winning this round).

Staying on the quarterdeck, each watch then had to stand in a circle and box the compass, starting with north and moving clockwise. Each person had to give the next direction, in order, as it became their turn. We didn’t use quarter and half points, just the 32 points of the compass. This event was timed. The 8-12 watch completed this task in just over half the time it took the other two watches.

Each watch then had to choose their best trainee helmsman for the steering competition. The helmsman’s objective was to stay on course, within half a point and then within a whole point, for as long as possible, to a maximum of five minutes. In smooth water this is not so hard but in 6-8 foot following seas, this can be a challenge. Dan was up first for the 8-12 watch and he managed to hold his course well, but didn’t max out the time at five minutes. Julie was next for the 4-8 watch and, although there were a few tense moments for the spectators, she held it together and stayed within a half point for five minutes. Jimmy took the helm for the 12-4 and matched Julie, and was quite jubilant about his accomplishment. While Julie and Jimmy tied in skill, Jimmy got a few bonus points for style, so the 12-4 took this competition.

The final competition was the bucket race, where each watch was given an empty plastic tote and a bucket with a line on it. The buckets were tied to the ship (we always tie the bucket on when we pull up sea water), and each person had to take a turn retrieving a bucket of water from over the side, the filling the plastic tote. The first watch to fill their tote would win the race. This is harder than it sounds. This one was very close, but the 12-4 watch pulled ahead at the last second to win.

Each watch won two of the competitions, but with the secret scoring system of weighting the scores and bonus points, the 4-8 watch took the victory in the 2010 Seamanship Derby. While there certainly were parts of the competition that were on the silly side, there’s a very real and serious aspect of it as well – having a competition is motivation for everyone to review what they’ve already learned, fill in any gaps in their basic seamanship education to date and to be able to perform the required skill under the pressures of time and scrutiny. This event also heightens general awareness on many levels. It also gives the Captain and the mates an indication of crew skill levels that they may not all have the opportunity to observe every day. All hands did well in this competition and can be proud of what they’ve accomplished so far. For most of our crew, they didn’t know a buntline from baggywrinkle two months ago, so they’ve made great progress.

Chris the scorekeeper
Julie on helm with Rebecca and Nadja watching
the 8 to 12 ties bowlines behind their back

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Power Shower!

Friday June 4, 2010

A power shower, followed by part two of the splicing workshop, was the highlight of the afternoon for most of the crew. It’s really hot, hotter than usual at 33 degrees Celsius all day in the shade, and we’re all a bit on the sweaty side, so a power shower late in the afternoon was just the right thing. Logan and Meredith ran out the port fire hose, then rigged it up in the port shrouds so that it would spray down on deck. We use salt water in our fire hoses, so there’s no danger of running out of water and the shower can run until everyone has had their turn. Most people participated, putting on their bathing suits and bringing all sorts of different kinds of shampoos, soaps and scrubby things out on deck to bathe with. When we shower in our regular inboard showers on board we have to be careful about how much water we use because it’s fresh water and that we must conserve carefully. The way to do it is to turn on the water to rinse, then turn off the water while you lather up, then turn on the water again for a quick final rinse. The beauty of a power shower is that you can enjoy the almost endless sustained cool water battering down on you, as long as you make room for your shipmates every now and again.

The second part of the splicing workshop was on short splices today. Almost everyone had their homework done, having finished the two tapered eye splices in either end of their four fathoms of rope. After chopping their line apart, the next step was to splice the two parts together with a short splice. There are still more splices to learn, so there will most definitely be a part three to this workshop, and part four. We also had the first of several “Coconut-Nut Technology” demonstrations by the Captain, how to open a green drinking nut or crack a ripe eating nut. When sailing through the tropics it is important to know something about the almost ubiquitous and delightful coconut.

We’re still working on grommets on the mainsail for the Carriacou Sloop Mermaid, racing to be done this sail in time to deliver it to the boat and skipper John Smith in Panama. With an awning rigged up on the quarterdeck, there were as many as eight people sewing in grommets at the same time, including the chief engineer, medical officer and purser. The crew have really rallied around this project, and even now after supper I can hear someone tapping a brass liner into a freshly-sewn grommet. We usually finish ship’s work before supper, but some of the crew have asked if they can continue this evening.

There are plenty of other projects going on apart from sail-making. We’re slowly working our way through wire brushing all the shackles and turnbuckles on deck, then coating them with fresh black paint. The brackets which hold up the wooden steps from just outside the engine room to the quarterdeck were rustbusted and primed today. The ash capstan bars, which people have been working on scraping and sanding over the past few weeks, got a coat of varnish today. Everyone noticed the freshly-painted red trim around the sea sink – many folks have red stripes across their middles from leaning on the edge of the sink while they pre-washed their dishes (the sea sink attaches inboard of the rail on the aloha deck, it’s filled with salt water and dish soap before every meal so that each person can do a pre-wash of his or her own dish before stacking it up in the scullery for a proper full wash, rinse and dry).

Today’s menu included chocolate chip muffins, oatmeal and oranges for breakfast, pasta with tomato beef sauce and pineapple for lunch, and roast beef, roast potatoes, broccoli and cabbage and bean salad with pineapple and chocolate chip cake for supper.

Power Shower
Siri, Leonard, Georgie and Krista sew grommets

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Sailmaking and Splicing

Thursday June 3, 2010

Today is our first full day back at sea after leaving Bonaire yesterday, and our first full day under sail since before Anguilla. True to the forecasts, the wind continues to blow consistently from the east between Force 5 and 6, and we’re sailing along between 5.5 and 8.5 knots. We’re currently about 35 nautical miles off the coast of Venezuela, having sailed past Aruba last night. It continues to be quite warm below decks or in little corners where there’s not much wind, but on deck the breeze is lovely, with just enough water coming through the scuppers on the main deck to cool your feet as you walk amidships. With the swell between 6 and 8 feet, the crew are finding their sea legs once again, moving about the deck with much more comfort with each passing day. But it is hot to be sure.

A return to sea also means a return to the routine of sea watches. Almost everyone is steering the ship on their own now, and I’ve heard more than one person talk about how much they love their one hour of lookout time, when you’re mostly alone on the foc’sle head and you’re required to not talk to anyone nor have anyone talk to you. Just watch the sea all around you and the ship holding you too.

Working on the mainsail for the Sloop Mermaid continues to be a big project that takes a few people from each watch, plus a few off-watch folks who have taken an interest and want to be involved. The corner patches, reef patches and tabling were all sewn on as of this morning, so we’re on to the next step which is sewing in grommets. A number of people were working on practice grommets this afternoon, sewing a grommet they had made into a scrap piece of dacron. While making and sewing grommets is new to most of the people doing it, making grommets of synthetic line and sewing it into unforgiving dacron is new to most of us who have worked on canvas sails before. Where a needle generally parts the threads of the canvas to make its way through, it pokes through the stiff fibres of the dacron. This going to be a good sail, but we don’t like unwieldy dacron sailmaking so much…

The fore royal was sent down this afternoon for two small repairs. Everyone was involved in bending sail on in Lunenburg, so it was interesting to see the process in reverse. Where the Mermaid mainsail is laid out on the quarterdeck, the royal was laid out on the hatch amidships for the couple of patches it required.

At 1630, the Captain led a workshop on splicing, the first in a series. With his sailmakers bench set up on the hatch, the Captain started with an introduction to rope, how it’s made and why it’s made the way it is. From there he demonstrated two kinds of whippings, an eye splice, an eye splice with a west coast taper and an eye splice with a sewn taper. There are plenty of other splices, which is why this was the first in a series of workshops, but we started with these. Everyone got a 4 fathom piece of practice line and spliced an eye in each end, using the two different tapers the Captain had demonstrated.

Donald continues to turn out great meals – we had poached eggs (which Donald makes by baking the eggs in muffin trays) with small round pieces of bread so you could turn it into an egg sandwich, along with fresh oranges and papaya for breakfast. Lunch was salami sandwiches on cranberry bread with fresh pineapple slices and supper was roast chicken with macaroni, cabbage salad and fried plantain with chocolate cake for dessert.

Julie, Paula and Siri sew on tabling
Lorraine, Dan, Julie and Jo work on splices
Splicing workshop

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Sailing Off The Dock

Wednesday June 2, 2010

As forecast, we had fresh easterly winds this morning, classic trade-winds, perfect for sailing the Picton Castle off the dock. As the Captain and I made our rounds of Customs and Immigration to get our outward clearance, the rest of the crew prepared to get underway. Sails up to t’gallants were loosed, yards were braced up on a starboard tack, chafe gear was taken off the dock lines. Harbourmaster and senior pilot Rob Sint Jago said that we didn’t require a pilot aboard to leave, so when we were ready, we set sails, starting with lower tops’ls and the main topmast stays’l, cast off dock lines and sailed off the dock. There were a number of small boats that followed us as we set more sail and went through the deep passage between the town of Kralendijk and the little island of Klein Bonaire just off the town. As soon as we got the ship under way under sail, of course we had to retrieve our guys off the wharf who cast off the lines and get the boat hoisted, pronto. And on we sailed, good fun.

We sailed all the way up the coast of Bonaire, past the giant fuel depot where medium tankers bring oil from Venezuela and off-load it into giant tanks ashore, in order for super-tankers to come alongside and be filled up to take the oil onward, and past the northern tip of the island. Once out of the lee of the island, the wind picked up to a steady Force 5 to 6 and we’ve been flying along at 7 and even 8 and a half knots. This afternoon, we could see the island of Curacao in the distance and the shadowy outlines of its high mountains.

Once again the crew are shifting from land-mode to sea-mode, becoming sailors all over again. This requires a mental shift, turning on our brains to be acutely aware of what’s going on around us and reacting quickly to any changes. These short port visits don’t let us get too rusty, but it does require full effort and concentration to set all sail as we get off the dock.

Hoisting the skiff in Bonaire
sailing past Kralendijk

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Tuesday June 1, 2010

Picton Castle sailed in to Bonaire on Sunday, a last-minute surprise decision to pull into port and wait for better winds on our passage from Anguilla to Panama. Trade winds are usually consistent from the east in the Caribbean Sea, but we had been having very light winds and EVEN headwinds, causing us to have to motor for the whole way from Anguilla, which is unheard of! Winds have been forecast to be easterly again by today, so our plan is to sail out Wednesday morning, heading, once again, for Panama.

While stopping in Bonaire was a surprise, it was a pleasant surprise and well-received by the crew. Bonaire is known as one of the top scuba diving and snorkelling sites in the world, with the waters all around the island being part of a national marine park (which is why we were alongside a dock instead of at anchor – anchoring is prohibited here to protect the coral reefs). Liam took the initiative to find out who wanted to dive in Bonaire, certified or not, and to make arrangements with a local dive shop to get people geared up and ready to go. There were a number of our crew who had never been diving before who took advantage of the opportunity to try a “discover diving” introdution training program, and most of our certified divers (of which we have quite a few) did two dives in a day. Where the waters surrounding the island are all a marine park, there are dive sites everywhere. For the first dive of the day, the experienced divers only had to walk across the road from the dive shop and into the water to see an incredible display of coral, fish and eels.

Many of the crew also used their off-duty time to travel around and see the island. This was best done by renting a vehicle of some sort. At different points during our stay, there were rented scooters, 4-wheelers and Jeeps parked on the wharf where the ship was tied up. Fred even rented a bicycle and cycled around the south end of the island, which is quite an accomplishment given the incredible heat during our stay (34 degrees celsius in the shade!). At the south end of the island we saw salt ponds that looked like they were dyed green and pink (the colours are due to the algae and shrimp in the ponds, respectively) and giant pyramids of salt (one of Bonaire’s main exports). A number of our crew went kayaking in the mangroves on the southeast part of the island. Some headed north to the more hilly and forested part of the island, just exploring by taking every dirt road they found.

Bonaire is hot, sunny, flat and friendly. Just off the coast of Venzuela, the folks are a hodge-podge swirl of african, latin, dutch and indian all speaking four languages (Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamentu, a local language which is sort of a mix of the previous three languages), and enjoying life on this quiet island.

We have been making good progress on the mainsail for the Carriacou Sloop Mermaid, all the corner patches and reef patches are on and we will get the tabling on soon, then we have to sew in all the grommets, punch in brass liners and rope the edge of the sail – almost all the crew have been working on this sail on the hot, sunny cemment wharf we are tied up to. As dacron is harder for us to work than our usual cotton canvas, the gang has been working late every day on this sail, trying to get it done for delivery in Panama.

In addition to the Mermaid sail, the on duty watch have been busy with the main pin rails made of oak. After a winter in Lunenburg, they needed some attention in the way of scraping, sanding and a new coats of varnish. These wooden rails run the length of the main deck, from the foc’sle head to the forward edge of the quarterdeck. We took the lines that are usually made fast on this pin rail and led them inboard and doubled and tripled up the lines on the pins on the fife rail. Other ship’s work included scraping and priming topsides on the starboard side, plus a bit of rustbusting and priming the bulwarks.

The pier to which we’re tied up here is a commercial pier, so we’ve been sharing the space with a number of different vessels. First there was a small container-carrying ship which was here when we arrived, then left and came back Monday. The yard at the head of the pier has a number of containers on wheels, parked very close together. As some of the crew slept on deck, others were awoken by the sounds of metal containers grinding against each other – they were packed that tightly when the ship was unloaded and reloaded. The boat that arrived this morning is a pretty wooden vessel about 80 feet long, completely full of fresh fruits and veggies. About 15 vehicles were waiting for the boat on the wharf, and as they unloaded cases of bananas, watermelons, bags of oranges and assorted other fruits and veggies there was lots of shouting to see who would be able to fill their order from this boat first. Most fruits and veggies in stores and restaurants on Bonaire are imported from Venezuela. At a different pier, we also saw a similar style of boat unloading bales and bales of hay, must be for horses and cows.

The forecast is looking good for sailing most of the way, if not all of the way to Panama, so we’ll get going tomorrow. I think the crew would agree that Bonaire has been a pleasant surprise.

Alex works on the MERMAID sail
Nadia, Shawn, Jimmy and Brad discover diving
Paul scrapes the pin rail
PICTON CASTLE alongside in Bonaire
Working on the MERMAID sail in Bonaire

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Surprise Visit To Bonaire

Sunday May 30, 2010

We’ve been motoring since we left Anguilla, making our way south through the Caribbean Sea before turning west toward Panama. The Captain says that this is ridiculous. Normally this would be a passage done almost entirely under sail – the trade winds in the Caribbean Sea are usually so consistent at this time of year. However, due to the pesky low pressure system we’ve mentioned before over the Bahamas, conditions are not presently normal in the Caribbean Sea. We’ve been faced with either headwinds or winds too light to sail.

According to forecasts, which we follow closely, the pattern of winds which is normally expected in these waters at this time of year is predicted to return to normal sometime early this week. Until then, we’re stuck with a motorboat ride where we should be in some of the nicest sailing of the voyage.

Just before supper on Saturday, the Captain called a muster at which he announced that we would make an unscheduled stop at the island of Bonaire. The plan is to stop for a couple of days while the winds are not useful for us to sail, so that we can leave Bonaire and get some time under sail on the way to Panama once the wind patterns return to normal.

Bonaire is one of the Netherlands Antilles just off the coast of Venezuela. Together with Aruba and Curacao, they’re sometimes referred to as the ABC islands. Bonaire is ranked as one of the top three dive sites in the world, in fact the license plates on vehicles in Bonaire say “Diver’s Paradise.” Because the waters surrounding the island up to 60m deep are all a national marine park, anchoring is strictly prohibited. All vessels must either go on a mooring or go alongside a dock. Where none of the moorings are big enough to accommodate a ship like Picton Castle, we quickly made arrangements to go alongside the south commercial pier.

Approaching Bonaire, one can see the difference between the north part of the island which is hilly and green, and the south part of the island which is very low and dry. We motored toward Kralendijk, the main town on the island, where we would meet our pilot. Many harbours, including Kralendijk, have mandatory pilotage – every ship must take on a pilot who has outstanding local knowledge. We met our pilot and harbourmaster, Rob Santiago, and he hopped aboard as we made the last one hundred yards to get alongside the outside face of the south pier.

From there, the Captain and I set out to visit the Customs office and the police station in order to see to the necessary clearance and immigration formalities. All went well, and just after lunch the 12 to 4 watch took the deck and the other two watches were stood down. Suggestions for things to do while off duty here include diving, snorkelling, renting a car for the day to see the salt ponds and old slave huts on the south end of the island, checking out the flamingos that live there too, windsurfing in Lac Bay, and exploring the town of Kralendijk. The local currency is the Netherlands Antilles guilder, and while Dutch is the main language, most people speak English as well (for which our one Dutch crew member, Jan, is thankful, otherwise he may have to spend a lot of time translating).

Everyone seems quite happy about our surprise port visit while we wait for the wind. Picton Castle has never been here before, and only two of the crew, bosun WT and the Captain, have visited previously. We’re looking forward to exploring! It is very hot and sunny here, very hot….

Alongside in Bonaire
Bonaire over the taff rail
PICTON CASTLE through the market

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