Captain's Log

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Off Namibia

The day comes in overcast and grey, cool with a strong fair wind on our starboard quarter. The ship is sailing along fine in following seas with a few seabirds soaring about the stern. The royals are taken in and furled and the mainsail is made fast up on the main yard for ease of steering. The Picton Castle is 40 miles off the coast of Nambia. Crew are bundled up in sweaters, oilskins but still insist on going barefoot, can’t be that cold. We are bound for the small seaport of Luderitz from Cape Town, South Africa.

Soon, after a few days at Luderitz, we will be sailing across the South Atlantic Ocean the 5,000 miles towards the West Indies putting in only briefly at St Helena along the way. While too soon to think too much about the other end of this circumnavigation (we have 7,000 miles to go), perhaps it is not at all inappropriate to look back at our wake and say that this has been a wonderful voyage and an amazing journey for all aboard. Oh, of course, we all have our murkier moments – how could be otherwise in a voyage already 10 months long? But basically we have a great crew in the ship getting along remarkably well, sailing consistently in fair winds (when were not motoring for days in mirror calms off hot hot white hot north Australia). Good weather and great passages under sail have been a blessing on this voyage. We have sailed our barque into any number of remarkable, even astonishing small ports, bays, coves, open roadsteds, harbours and big city harbours.

The crew have adopted a new way of measuring time; no longer by month and day (who can remember all that?) but by place and name. “You remember at Raro so and so?” Raro, or Rarotonga properly, is really a time designator as much as a place. The same for Bali, Palmerston, Pukapuka, Pitcairn, Panama or South Africa. Later some of their acquaintances ashore might think them snobs for name dropping wild exotic places all the time but that will be incorrect and unfair. The places we have immersed ourselves in are no longer wild and exotic to us but part of our natural fabric and their names, as charming as they might be, are but bookmarks in time for our world voyaging crew. And 30,000 miles of hauling braces, heaving up anchors, cleaning heads, chipping rust, standing look-out and anchor watch, steering, hot weather, cold winds and squalls and all the rest is enough to take the ‘snob’ out of anyone. But they will be so judged anyway at times. So it goes.

Of course, the time in Cape Town for our Picton Castle crew was fantastic; quite literally. We have crew writing up their experiences there for you ‘just now’. In South African, “now now” means right away; “right now” means soonish and “just now” means we will be getting to it after awhile. So maybe the crew will be doing this “right now”, hopefully instead of “just now”. But for an overview of our Cape Town days we can say this.

Enroute from Reunion Island, the Picton Castle rounded the Cape of Good Hope in broad daylight and we passed it’s tall craggy cliffs only a few miles off under full sail. It was very exciting for most of us, a true sailors milestone and, on that day, a beautiful sight as well. Many of us thought of the thousands of sailing ships that have turned that very corner in fair weather and truly foul, bound either east or west, for the far east of Java, Sumatra, Japan, or China, or for the West Indies, West Africa, the Americas or Europe. Tea, hides, silk, spices, locomotives, soldiers and anything else in the holds of ships, sailing and steam propelled. To this day, the Cape of Good Hope at the bottom tip of Africa is crowded with ships sailing east and west. Even more so now with the expansion of organized piracy based in Somalia as ships divert away from the Red Sea and Suez Canal and take the old Cape of Storms road. But, anyway our small barque and her adventurous crew sailed around the Cape of Good Hope on a heartbreakingly beautiful day and right into a localized but quite strong gale in Table Bay, as the roadsted off Cape town is so named. There we found a calm lee right under Lion’s Head and dropped the hook for the night as other ships tugged and strained at their anchors further out in the slot off Cape Flats that funnelled all this wind and magnified it. Blew hard it did. But the Picton Castle was snug as a bug as the lights of the big city blinked so close by and drew us in.The next morning in a sunny calm we met our pilot right off the breakwater and twisted and turned our way into the inner harbour known as the ‘Alfred Basin’ built in the 1800s as the main harbour, now about three basins in from the grand commercial harbour that constitutes Cape Town port facilities. Overlooking all this is towering Table Mountain, as dramatic and stark as it must have appeared to the first San people, Dutch settlers, French Huguenots and later English conquerors.

In Cape Town the crew, on their expansive time off, climbed Table Mountain, visited schools and delivered donated schools supplies, went on safari, went to the movies (Black Swan, oh my goodness! True Grit, The Kings Speech), visited African markets, met crew from previous voyages, hosted the Cape Horners party, had school kids visit the ship (150 bright cheery kids all at once!), went out to Robben Island – once a prison of apartheid, now a museum to overcoming same, yes – tours in exquisite wine country, visits to the ‘townships’ and braais, many braais. A ‘braai’ is sort of a barbeque. Not quite the same, as true ‘braai’ involves only meat and no vegetable matter at all. At a BBQ one can expect in addition to hamburgers, hot dogs and maybe chicken and perhaps steak, potato salad, three bean salad, maybe humus and tabuli and so on. But at true ‘braai’ no, only meat and big pieces and plenty of it. And not just beef but springbok, kudu, boorvorst, zebra, ostrich as well as beef and pork. On great big charcoal or wood fired grills. Braais, well, more later on braais… And any kind of dining in and around Cape Town, well, you cannot get a bad meal there, just cannot be done.

Onboard the ship the duty watch kept at it in the fine dry Cape weather: sails were sent down and inspected and overhauled, yards were prepped and painted, some deck seams were reefed out, caulked and pitched, plenty of deck-oil and varnish were spread around, the ship underwent her annual safety inspection and al safety gear was overhauled and renewed where needed, completely restowed the hold, changed the oil in the main engine (150 gallons!), overhauled and painted/varnished the galley, shined up the engine room and plenty more. New crew joined and for a few, time had come to sign off and head off home as planned; all good shipmates and we will miss them all.

We were in Cape Town over three weeks and although we all wanted to get back sea (sort of, needed to anyway) and look forward to what’s ahead, I don’t think anyone really wanted to leave Cape Town. For, as the saying goes, “It is necessary to navigate”…

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